THE SUFFERING CHURCH
8“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.”
The church in Smyrna represents the suffering church from the 2nd and 3rd century. Every era has a suffering church, but the church at that time was the model church. Muslim countries of today and some authoritarian countries are still actively against Christians. People who believe in Jesus could be targeted at any time and lose their family, property, be persecuted or even killed.
PERSECUTED BY THE JEWS
9 我知道你的患難、你的貧窮( 你卻是富足的) ，也知道那自稱是猶太人所說的毀謗話，其實他們不是猶太人，乃是撒但一會的人。
9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
This passage is very short and does not need to be divided into sections of words of commendation, rebuke, encouragement or warnings because what is said is very simple; yet, from it, we can learn many very important truths. The Lord said to her: “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!”
This suffering church was first persecuted by the Jews. The lord said: “Those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” They claimed to be people who belonged to God; nonetheless, their actions showed that they were enemies of God. They where only looking to destroy the house of God killing ruthlessly all those who belonged to the Lord. They claimed to belong to the Jewish synagogue. But the Lord said that they were a synagogue of Satan.”
During the 2nd century many servants of God were killed, during those times, the persecutions came from those who claimed to belong to God. That kind of suffering is very hard to take, because those they thought were their friends actually were their enemies. Like what the Lord said in the Scriptures: “He who shared my bread has turned against me .”Being betrayed by a member of your own family is extremely heart-breaking. Jews at that time were second-class citizens. Their capability to persecute Christians was limited. The persecutions that followed were more horrific.
THE LORD KNOWS
9 我知道你的患難。9 I know your afflictions. 沒有錯，他們在受苦。主並非不知道，主關心他們的情況。所以祂說｢我知道｣。祂曾說：｢就是你們的頭髮也都號過了｣。祂用頭髮說明，最 碎小事祂都關心，每根頭髮都編了號。如果有十萬根頭髮，掉了一根，可說是小事。但這一根所不重視的，祂都編了號，何況整個人呢？
Indeed, they were in the midst suffering. The Lord not only knew it, but he also was very concerned about it. He said: “I know”. He once told His disciples: “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” He uses hair to illustrate the fact that He is concerned even about our most trivial little things; every single hair is numbered. If out of 100,000 hairs, one falls out, we can say that it is very insignificant. But , if even this very insignificant hair is numbered, how much would he care for our whole person?
In the early church, many Christians were poor. Rome had many cultic organizations, if people did not participate in their activities; it was very difficult for them to become rich. It was a very heavy burden for people in the old times to earn money to support their families. If they did not work, they would not be able to eat.
The eight blessings that Jesus talked about are not eight ways to obtain blessings, but eight kinds of “blessed people”. One of those kinds of people is the “poor”. Remember that poverty will not hinder God from blessing you, and cannot affect the love that you have for God. But the heart that loves riches can make people turn away from God, and make their spiritual life become impoverished; for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. In today’s society, whether national leaders or ordinary people, they are all pursuing economic take-off. They believe that the economy is the code name for happiness. The greediness for wealth makes people forget about God and turn away from the Lord.
RICH POOR PEOPLE
9 I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!
The Lord said: “Yet you are rich!” An abundant life is not being able to buy antiques worth millions of dollars or a private airplane. People who own those things worry continuously every day of their lives. Although they own million dollar mansions, they lack the warmth of home; they have to spend a lot of time and energy going to court to sue the other person. That is not an abundant life. On the other hand, those who are afflicted have the support of family members, the care of friends, and the provision of strength and grace from the Lord, so they live more abundant lives. You can see it when you read articles written by people who are suffering, their writings are very in-depth.
The Lord does not have words of rebuke or warnings for this church. This is a church that the Lord is very pleased with. The Lord praises them not because they have many strong points like keeping the truth, acting upon it, preaching it, doing good deeds, loving one another and loving the Lord. The Lord only said one thing: “I know your afflictions—yet you are rich .”It is not that they do not have other strong points, but rather, those strong points need not to be mentioned. The reason they were suffering was because they had all the virtues which the Lord admires, therefore, they became rich.
Difficult circumstances like persecution, disasters, sickness or unemployment, can lead to poverty. But the saints, even in the midst of suffering, enjoyed the sweetness of praying together, they felt that their needs have already been supplied abundantly.
James, chapter 1, mentions “trials of many kinds”, meaning that there are many kinds of sufferings. But later on, it says that God provides “every good and perfect gift”. God provides different gifts to cope with different kinds of trials . Outwardly they may appear poor but actually they are very wealthy. The home churches in China are very united because they are often under a lot of persecution, the Holy Spirit is greatly at work and miraculous signs are often seen.
THE MOST SEVERE PERSECUTION
10 Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days.
Do not be afraid to suffer. The churches today have no sufferings; that is something to be afraid of. Without sufferings their spiritual life will become feeble and lifeless. There is something more terrible than physical harm, and that is not having the nerve to do the right thing in front of people. In that case, it would be better to die than to live. Betraying loyalty and your conscience in exchange for temporary safety, that kind of an existence is pitiful. Not being able to face God or oneself in order to have safety is too great of a price to pay.
最初的叁個世紀，共有十個羅馬帝皇迫害神的教會。最嚴重的，可能是284 年纔登基的Diocletian ，他是極端殘暴的皇帝，像中國的秦始皇一樣｢焚書坑儒｣，他也燒掉很多聖經與其他相關的書籍。凡是談論主在橄欖山上論祂再來的書，全部都燒掉，以百萬算。若不是他，我們今天還會有很多關於末世預言的書。
During the first three centuries there were ten Roman emperors who persecuted the church of God. The most serious of the persecutions was probably during the year 284 when Diocletian assumed the throne. He was an extremely cruel emperor like the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang who burned books and buried Confucian scholars alive. Diocletian burned great quantities of Bibles and other related literature. Books about the Lord’s discourse on Mount of Olives concerning His return were burned in its entirety; there were more than a million books. If it wasn’t for him, we would still have many books that talked about prophecies of the last days.
He persecuted the church for ten years. Probably these are the ten that are mentioned here. In the beginning, when he assumed the throne, he did not oppose Christians. At that time, he was only involved in the cult activities of witchcraft. One time the evil spells did not work and he blamed the presence of Christians. Because of that, he ordered all the church elders to attend their sacrifice ceremonies. Christians, of course, did not follow his decree. Little by little, he killed more than 3,000 preachers; they were stoned to death, crucified, put into the lion’s den, frozen to death or burned to death.
“The devil will put some of you in prison to test you.”At that time the prisons were not used for punishing crimes but rather they were some sort of tools to force people to change their beliefs. As in the case of Wang Ming-Dao and other pastors from house churches who were put in prison, they could be set free provided they change their beliefs. The policies of Communist China and the Roman Empire were similar; their purpose is to persecute the church and force them to change their beliefs . They feel threatened when they see the great development of the church.
All sources of persecution to the church come from the Devil; but the Lord said not to be afraid. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul because their strength is limited, they can not do much harm. They might want to intimidate you by putting on a fierce look and showing you their ferocious teeth, but those are false teeth, they cannot even munch on a bone. The worse that could happen is killing the body which is the first death, which is something every human being has to experience sooner or later.
THE VICTOR’S CROWN
10 Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.
這冠冕，不是皇冠。皇冠的原文是 diadema 。這裡說的是優勝者的冠冕 stefanos ，像奧運優勝者當時所得的冠冕。現在奧運優勝者得的是獎牌，古代優勝者所得是樹枝、樹葉編成，能朽壞的冠冕。
This crown is not a royal crown. In the original language, the word for royal crown is “ diadema ”. Here it talks about a victor’s crown “ stefanos ”, like the crown given to the winner at the Olympics. Nowadays, the winner in the Olympics gets a medal. In the old days, the winner would get a crown made of leaves and branches, a crown that can rot and decay.
The New Testament mentions different kinds of crowns. One kind of crown is the crown of life which is given to saints who go through sufferings. Its original meaning is “the crown of abundant life”. The word life is used as an adjective which describes a life that is vibrant and energetic, not a life that is hardly surviving like a critically ill patient connected to IV fluids. Even after they go through sufferings, their lives are still full of vitality and profound intensity. Their lives become even better.
The modern society is oriented towards academic research; intellectual skills which depend on books and classroom studies. The Church is also influenced by these trends. They think that an abundant life depends on studying a lot and getting academic degrees. When the Church in Smyrna was under severe persecution, of course, they could not hold theological lectures or discipleship training classes and did not know much about church organization. But their spiritual life was abundant and although they did not get a certificate of achievement, they received a crown of abundant life as evidence.
During the time of Abraham there were no Bibles to read or spiritual books to guide him but he was known as the Father of Faith. The way to having a mature abundant life does not lie on following the patterns of this world. The most important thing is to be faithful until death that is how he gave evidence of his faith.
示每拿 smurna 這字，源自希伯來文的沒藥，沒藥在受壓的時候會發出香氣。教會經過火的試煉，基督的香氣就擋不住。就像茶，要泡出香味，一定需要用高溫的開水。
The word “ smyrna ” has its origin from the Hebrew word for myrrh. When myrrh is pressed it exudes an aromatic smell. When the Church goes through the test of fire, the aroma of Christ cannot be contained. Like tea, in order to give out its aroma, it must be boiled in water at a high temperature.
Of course, we are not trying to ask for trouble, but we must know our enemy, the devil. This is unavoidable. When a person believes in the Lord and loves the Lord, he will appear on Satan’s radar screen. Satan will use every possible method and weapon to target that Christian. But, if you are his good friend, he will treat you as his a close ally. If you can make the church feel lethargic and languid, then Satan will not feel threatened in any way and he will certainly not want to harass you at all.
MARTYRS WILL RESURRECT LIKE THE LORD, THEY WILL NOT BE HURT AT ALL BY THE SECOND DEATH
11 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.
As Christians, we want to have the crown of life; enjoy a spiritual life that is abundant and be richly blessed because our Lord is the one who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again and who lives eternally. The faithful disciples of the Lord will not be hurt by the second death. The phrase “second death” only appears in Revelation. The Gospel of John and the other epistles in the New Testament have no mention of it. These are words that John heard from the Lord during his later years in life.
The first death happens while we have our first body. Our first body will have to die as a result of sin. The second death will happen after a person receives his second body, which is the body that we will all have after the resurrection. The righteous and the wicked will all be resurrected. The wicked will resurrect to be condemned and will die the second death. The believers in the Lord will resurrect to eternal life and will not be harmed by the second death. The Lord told them that wicked people may kill them but they will be resurrected and will live forever like the resurrected Lord.
第二世紀中葉，示每拿教會的監督，約翰的一個學生 Polycarp ，已經九十多歲，被抓去拜羅馬的皇帝，要他宣誓離棄主，就可以得釋放。他回答說：｢我事奉主八十六年，主從來沒有虧待我，為甚麽要反祂？｣｢我有野獸、有火，你不怕嗎？｣｢你的火只燒一個小時，火湖的火是不滅的。｣
In the middle of the second century, the leader of the Church in Smyrna, John ‘ s first student, Polycarp who was already over 90 years old, was ordered to worship the Roman emperor and to renounce the Lord. If he did that, he could be set free. But he answered saying: “ Eighty six years have I served the Lord, and He has done me no wrong; how can I blaspheme my King and my Savior.” “ You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly.
我們沒有中間路線，凡想要保護自己免去衝突，就是失敗者。為主而活，不計較自己損失，纔是得勝者。能為主受苦，與主一同受苦，一起受死，一起復活，是一件榮 耀的事。We do not have a middle ground; whoever wants to protect himself to avoid conflicts is a looser. To live for the Lord without thinking of your own loss, that is being a real winner. If you can suffer for and with the Lord, die together with the Lord and resurrect together with Him; that is a glorious thing.