This is the third part in the Bible study series: The Churches of Revelation. What would you think of Christians who lived in poverty and were hated by their neighbors? In the book of Revelation, the church at Smyrna is famous for their poverty and persecution, yet Jesus Christ calls them “rich.” Join Gary Petty as we explore the church in Smyrna and how to deal with persecution.
[Gary Petty] Well, good evening everyone, and welcome to the third Bible study on the churches of Revelation 2 and 3.
If you will please stand we will ask God’s blessing on this study. Our great God and King, we come before you very humbly, Father, here in the middle of the week when we have an opportunity to get into your scripture. And, Father, all the things that are here are important for us and we need to be able to understand the message, not only to the people that received it but also how it applies to us. So, we ask you to guide us and direct us through this part of Revelation so we can learn, Father, what you need for us to learn so that we can live lives that are pleasing to you, as our father. Of course, Father, we ask all of this is the name of the one who makes it possible, our Brother, our High Priest, our soon coming King Jesus Christ. Amen.
As I said, this is the third study on this this subject. The first one was just a general study on Revelation 2 and 3 and the churches there – the message to the churches. And then we had one on Ephesus. It is important to understand – just to recap – that these seven churches actually existed around 95 AD. And John wrote a letter to these people. Now, this letter also has – in Revelation 2 and 3 – prophetic meaning. It stretches out across many, many centuries and it even has a message for us today. But when you look at any message in the Bible, the first thing we have to figure out is what it meant to the first people that got it. If you try to work backwards, we can just make up what it means to us. If you look at what it meant to those people – what they got out of it – what was the setting?
Now, I want to talk about the setting – of what it meant to be a member of the Church of God – God’s people – in Smyrna at the time that John wrote to them. There is not much said about Smyrna in the Bible – just these few verses here in the book of Revelation. And, yet, it was a church – one of these seven churches – in Asia Minor. There were actually more than seven, but this message covers the seven of them. And these people were important to God. Their church – what is happening to them – is different than any of the other six churches.
Smyrna was a very beautiful city in its time. Smyrna was known…in fact if you read writers not only of this first century AD, but further back than that – hundreds of years before – Smyrna is mentioned in the ancient writings. It is mentioned as a beautiful city – the buildings, the architecture. It was built on a hill with low lying hills around it. Just the hills and the trees…it was a beautiful place. I haven’t been there. Today it is a different city – now, a very large city. It was a fairly large city, because it was a harbor. It was known for music. It was known for culture. It was known for theater. And it was known as a world trade center. Goods from all over the Mediterranean came through Smyrna. There was a lot of wealth in Smyrna. I mean, a lot of wealth. Now, it was also a very very old city. Smyrna was a very old city. In fact, many historians believe it was founded by Greeks around 1,000 BC. That makes this city four times older than the United States at the time John wrote this. That is a long time to have a culture. That is a long time. That is generations after generations in a very expanding city – a very beautiful city.
But Smyrna was also famous for something else. Around 195 BC they figured out that there was going to be a new player in the Mediterranean – Rome. So, what they did was declare themselves – because they were a city state – the ally of Rome. And the result was, that for hundreds of years after this, Smyrna is one of the most loyal places to Rome in the entire empire. Well, you say that is interesting, but when we read through here, there is something that happens here that is very important. Around 195 BC they built a temple to worship and sacrifice to gods, and it was dedicated to Rome. So, when you went into this temple you prayed for Rome. You prayed for the empire. And you prayed for the emperor. Emperor worship in Rome was a very tricky thing. None of the emperors really declared themselves to be divine. Well, they tried to. Augustus was the first one that tried. The reason why is Haley’s comet went over and everybody saw it. He declared that it was the soul of Julius Caesar. Now, you have to understand that during that time period, many pagan religions believed that when you saw the stars you were looking at people who had died. Really famous people got to be stars. And they were stars in the skies. So, when Haley’s comet went over, he said, “That is my uncle, Julius Caesar. So, see I am sort of semi-divine. My uncle is a god.” He couldn’t declare himself a god, which was a good way to get killed. And many emperors declared themselves gods, and then somebody killed them. So, what happened was, you would sort of declare yourself semi-divine and hope nobody killed you. Because after you died, the senate had to declare that you were a god. And the senate sometimes didn’t want to declare that somebody was a god. So this was a little tricky business – this emperor worship. But the one thing you did know is, that you had to pay honor to the emperor. And in Smyrna you have a center of emperor worship. They had an entire temple dedicated to the emperor Tiberius. What does that mean? That means that they were probably more serious about worshipping the emperors than many people were in Rome itself. So, emperor worship is very important in this city. And it is a major attraction in this city, as people would come to worship these emperors.
So, let’s go to Revelation. Revelation 2. Let’s read the message. Now, you have to remember…we didn’t bring up the map this time. You’ve seen it before – where the seven cities were at the coast in that time. Let’s start in verse 8.
Revelation 2:8 Revelation 2:8And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things said the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;
American King James Version× “ And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These things says the first and the last who was dead and came to life ;” That’s a little different that the message to the others – how he introduces the messages. It is Christ that is doing that. It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ. Jesus reveals Himself a little differently here than He does in the other messages. And, this is only speculation, but I think it is worth mentioning. What are the reasons why he introduces Himself here as the One who was dead and alive? He is smacking emperor worship right in the teeth. Because emperors are emperors who have died and came back to life and were to be worshipped. So he is putting Himself, with this statement, directly in opposition to the emperor worship that was centered in Smyrna. When we go on it says: “ I know your works, and tribulation , and poverty, but you are rich .” Three things: works, tribulation, and poverty. You will see, to all the other churches, a lot of things said about them. This church is known for works, tribulation, and poverty. Now, I suppose at this point it would be easy to say, “This must have been a really bad church.” You know, the message to most of these churches isn’t very good. It is good to Philadelphia. We are going to see that the message to this church is actually a very good message. It would be easy to say that anybody that has lots of tribulation and poverty must be a bad church – God isn’t blessing them. Now, the works here – as we see in the context – are good. There is no condemnation or correction on this congregation at all. No correction and yet they are a church in tribulation but we will see they are a church in tribulation. They are being persecuted in poverty. That word that is translated poverty here in interesting in Greek. It doesn’t me just poor people. Well, that person lives in poverty. It means they were utterly destitute . They were absolutely destitute. We are looking at people living in the street. We are looking at people who can’t even feed themselves. So, we are looking at absolute destitution. This congregation is living persecution and in poverty, and yet he said, “Your works are good. I know your works.” And he never ever corrects them for it. You will see all the other churches were corrected, except for Philadelphia.
Now lets’ go on. It says later in the same verse. Notice what it says:
Revelation 2:8 Revelation 2:8And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things said the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;
American King James Version× “ but you are rich .” Spiritually, they are rich – because physically these people are destitute. It says “you are rich” so, before God, they are rich. And then he says; “ I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan .” There is a lot of speculation of what this synagogue of Satan is – “when people say they are Jews and they are not.” And you can find different commentators and different ideas on this. The one that really seems to probably make the most sense is, that he is actually talking about physical Jews. Now the reason that I say that is, that when you look through the book of Acts, you will see that much of the persecution of Christians carried out by pagans was originated by Jews who had rejected Jesus as the Messiah. Because why? Well, most of the first Christians were Jews and Proselytes (Gentiles who had converted to Judaism). So, we have this sect of Judaism that is taking all these Gentiles they had worked so hard to convert, who were moving over into this new sect that was claiming that Jesus was the Messiah. But since Jesus had been killed, that meant they killed Him and we have got to stop this. You also have a statement made by Paul in Romans. Let’s go to Romans 2, because here he is dealing with this idea that Gentiles were not as good as Jews. So, how do we relate…part of the book of Romans was about how Jews and Gentiles relate to each other inside the church.
Romans 2:28 Romans 2:28For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
American King James Version× “ For he is not a Jew, who is one outwardly, nor is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew, who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God .”
And, you know, all of chapter 2 is basically him explaining “when we talk about Jews, here,” – he said – “we are not just talking about physical Jews.” Now later in the same book, he would say that God still a plan for the people – the physical people – of Israel. He is not discounting that. But what he is saying is, in the church, the real Israelite here is the person who has received God and received His Spirit. That is the real spiritual Israelite. And so you will see Paul make a difference between physical Israel and spiritual Israel…and comparing God’s plan for physical Israel and God’s plan for the church.
When we go back to Revelation – and this is speculation on my part – it makes sense that what he is actually dealing with here is Jews that are stirring this up. They are stirring up this persecution that is coming upon the church. But the Gentiles would be the ones that were carrying it out. Now let’s look at verse 10.
Revelation 2:10 “ Do not fear any of those things which you shall suffer ;” Now the church in Smyrna was about to suffer a great tribulation. It says: “indeed the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested; and you shall have tribulation ten days; be though faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life.”
Now, once again, there has been a lot of attempt to try to find out how that ten days is fulfilled in history. There are historians that will pick out a ten day period in Smyrna when they know there was enormous persecution on the church. Others will take a ten year period and say this is what that is fulfilling. I am just going to tell you, “I don’t know.” I will tell you something else, though. For almost 200 years Christians were persecuted in Smyrna. It went on and on and on. In 155 AD we have Polycarp, a famous bishop, who stood up against the Roman bishop over the issue of whether you should keep Easter or Passover on the 14th. It is an incredible letter that he writes, because if you read the letter, you will see that they also had to have been keeping the Days of Unleavened Bread. So they are keeping the Passover on the 14th. And he is standing up to the bishop at Rome, and saying, “We will not keep Easter.” So he ended up being in trouble over that. He was martyred there in Smyrna. It is hard to tell where the story is true. We have actual writing from the second century where people describe it. We don’t know how much of it was true and how much was made up. It is hard to go in and see, but, according to the writings – and Polycarp was a very old man at the time – he had known the apostle John personally. The Roman soldiers who had captured him had actually sort of grown to respect him, because he was so noble and has the qualities of courage and other things that the Roman soldiers would have respected, and they bring him into the amphitheater there, and the people are chanting against him. And so he puts up his hand in front of tens of thousands of people and he speaks against them. So, he is condemned to death, they tie him up to a stake, and this is where we don’t know what happens. There are two things: people say that when he was walking into the amphitheater, people heard a voice saying, “You’re going to have to be a man now” – in other words, “You’re going to have to stand up here.” It was supposed to be God talking to him. We don’t know if that happened. They tried to burn him at the stake. According to legend, they couldn’t keep the fire going – it kept going out. And finally, one of the soldiers grabbed a spear or sword or something and just killed him instantly. And of course, everybody took that as, God was keeping him from dying a horrible death. We don’t know where the legend begins and ends, but, I think, it is pretty safe to say that he was killed there in Smyrna. So, we know that Smyrna was a place of persecution. These people never seemed to have gotten out of this. Their works were right before God – they were rich before God – but they were in constant tribulation. Now remember, 155 is 60 years, approximately, after Paul writes this. Whatever congregation is left there is still dealing with tribulation and poverty.
So, this is a group of people who remained faithful in the absolute worst situation. That is the great lesson of Smyrna. How do you remain faithful in the worst – whether it was in 95 AD or clear up 60 years later when there is still persecution going on? The people there stayed faithful to God. Their works were good.
Now remember how I had said, “Sometimes we can look at a situation like this, and say, ‘Well, if they were persecuted – they went through all this tribulation and lived through all this poverty – obviously, God wasn’t with them.’” And we do that, don’t we? It is easy in the United States to say, “Well, you know, if someone in our congregation is living in poverty, it is their own fault.” You find, if you talk to them, that it is not their fault at all. It is easy to say that it is their own fault. They need to just work harder. How do you know? It is easy to look at someone getting persecuted and say, “Well, they probably brought it on themselves” until you are getting persecuted, right? Then you want everybody to come over and comfort you. Let’s go to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. This is part of the beatitudes where Christ gives blessings on people who have certain attitudes – a blessing. I don’t know about you, but I would like a blessing, but I am not sure I want this one.
Matthew 5:10 Matthew 5:10Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
American King James Version× “ Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven .”
Blessed if you are persecuted for righteousness sake. Now, I have to admit – in the church – I have seen people persecuted because they are really obnoxious people, and then say, “I am being persecuted for righteousness sake.” It is really important here. People are persecuted sometimes just because they are mean to people. They can say, “Well, it is because I am being persecuted for righteousness sake.” I knew a man one time that got fired from a job just about every year – year after year after year. Then he would say, “It is because I am a Sabbath keeper.” I don’t know. I don’t want to judge the situation, but if you get fired about 12 times in 10 years, it is probably NOT because you are a Sabbath keeper. Just guessing! I don’t know. So, sometimes we have to realize what persecution is. There are some people who take great pride in their persecution. There is a Christian who lived in the second century know as Justin Martyr. Martyr isn’t his name. It is what got attached to him because he just lived his whole life wanting someone to kill him. “I’ve got to die for God!” He was all excited when he got arrested and condemned. So now he is known in history as Justin Martyr, because he wanted to die for God. I don’t suggest that we go around dying for God. He may grant you your wish.
Then he says in verse 11 ; “ Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake .” Christ said that there are going to be times that you may be talked about. This isn’t talking about violent persecution here. It is talking about losing friends, losing opportunities, persecution, suffering for the sake of Christ and for God the Father. So, we can’t look at the situation like Smyrna, and say, “Oh, there was something wrong with those people.” It is the opposite. These were special people. They were special people who stayed loyal during a time that they were suffering extreme persecution.
Now, the people of Smyrna would have been persecuted for rejecting emperor worship and for accepting Jesus Christ as someone who had died and was resurrected. Now, I know, all the emperors go through that, but they wouldn’t have called it resurrection. Their soul would have gone up through…eh, never mind. They became stars. Well, they were souls up there. They were conscious, but we see them as lights in the sky. But that is not the only reason they were persecuted. I find it interesting that when you look through why Jews were persecuted, you will see that early Christian churches, in the first and second centuries, tried to stop doing those things. They were persecuted for circumcision – especially in the Greek world where it was mutilating a baby boy. That is how they saw that. It was barbarism. They saw circumcision as absolutely barbaric. Who would mutilate a baby boy – a baby? The second was the Sabbath. I think it is Tasitus… either Tasitus or Satotius – Roman writers from the first century – who said that the Jews were lazy people and they could prove it. One day a week they didn’t work. How lazy is that? So they were seen as lazy and, also, they didn’t eat pork. The Romans came up with all kinds of ideas for that. They all had leprosy one time and found they caught it from pigs, and so Moses made them stop eating pigs, and the leprosy went away, and therefore they don’t eat pork. They had all kinds of stories, because they couldn’t figure out why anybody would not eat pigs. But you have to understand that the Romans ate everything. I mean everything ! So, you look at these misunderstandings of how they saw Jews, and you see why early Christians of the first and second century gave up the Sabbath, they gave up clean and unclean meats, because they were persecuted for it. But then Christians became persecuted for very specific things.
William Barkley, the famous Scottish commentator, did a lot of research on this and has some good quotes of why they were persecuted. They were persecuted for cannibalism in some places. Sure, they got together and they ate somebody’s body and drank his blood. They must be cannibals. They are crazy people. So, they were accused of cannibalism. They were accused of destroying families and I have read in some sources that have accused Jews of that, and they accused Christians of that. They destroy families. Because once you marry into them, suddenly they don’t let your kids go to the pagan temples. In the pagan world you have to understand that there wasn’t really competition between religions. They accepted each other’s religions. Years ago, when we went to Pompeii, one of the things that I found fascinating is, right in the middle of Pompeii is a small temple to Isis, who is an Egyptian goddess. That didn’t seem strange in a Roman city. There were people there who worshipped Isis. Freedom of religion is part of the Roman world. Jews had freedom of religion. So, the Romans just wanted them to keep their religion to themselves. The Romans actually passed special laws protecting the Jews. You couldn’t take a Jew to court on the Sabbath in the Roman world. There were special laws protecting them, because the last thing Rome wanted to do was get some God angry with them. So, you just honor all of them and you are pretty much covered. But the Christians, they had a problem with. They destroyed families and also they accused them of atheism. Wait a minute, you did away with all the gods but Yahweh, and then the Jews kick you out, and say they don’t believe in Yahweh. And then we hear you talk about this Jesus guy, who you say is alive but we killed Him. Your problem is that you are atheists…you don’t believe in any God. So, they were accused of atheism. They were accused, of course, of political rebellion, and especially this would have been in Smyrna, because they refused any kind of emperor worship. As one statement made about the Christians goes, “They will pray for Caesar but they will not pray to him”. They will pray for Caesar. Paul told them to pray for the emperor, right? But they won’t pray to him. And they were known as pyromaniacs. And that comes from…in the Roman mind, they believed the earth was going to be destroyed by fire. And Nero convinced them a generation before this that who started the fire in Rome? The Christians. They are always trying to burn things down. They are pyromaniacs. The Stoics believed the world was going to be destroyed by fire and they didn’t call them pyromaniacs. But that is a whole other story.
So, let’s go back to Revelation.
Revelation 2:10 Revelation 2:10Fear none of those things which you shall suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that you may be tried; and you shall have tribulation ten days: be you faithful to death, and I will give you a crown of life.
American King James Version× Once again he says; “ do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.” He talks about how the devil, Satan, himself is involved in this and they and are going to go through all this tribulation. “ Be faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life .” What is amazing here is that not all of them are promised to be saved. There are many times in the Bible when God saves people from persecution. He said, “You may have to be faithful until they kill you.” That is quite a tall order, isn’t it? You are going to come get us, right? You are going to come save us, right? Not always.
Verse 11 ; “ He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says unto the churches; He that overcomes shall not be hurt of the second death .” So these people who follow the First and the Last, the One who died and was resurrected, the real Emperor, the real King, they are going to be persecuted and he says He promises to give them eternal life.
Now this brings us to sort of a sidebar here – a side subject. You and I live in a world – and probably most of you have been thinking about this – where we could experience serious persecution for what we believe. We are facing an increasingly secular humanist society. And the philosophy of secular humanism believes that any religion that tries to enforce a supernatural concept on others is detrimental to society. They don’t care if you believe it. You just have to keep your mouth shut and leave everyone else alone. But the idea that you could somehow spread this, or share this with others, or stop the state from teaching secular humanism makes you, eventually, an enemy of the state. Now I am not saying that the army is going to show up at your house tomorrow and run you off to some camp. That is not what I am saying. I am saying that we could be faced with severe persecution from neighbors, from some group that decides to take us on, from some local magistrates, or some local judge that decides he is not going to let you have a Bible study in your house. I am not making that up, because that happens all the time already. Happens all the time already. So you may be suffering persecution. And when that happens, the first thing you say is “God, why did you let me down?” Persecution is not fun. I have never known anybody who has ever gotten on their knees, and said “God, I need some persecution. Just give it to me!” We don’t want it. We don’t like it. And yet it could come. In fact, we know before the end time a great persecution is coming on the people of God. So, how do we handle persecution? I just want to go through a couple of examples from the apostle Paul and how he handled a couple of cases of persecution.
The first one is in Acts 9. We are just going to go through a couple passages in Acts and stick with the apostle Paul. You can find all kinds of examples with Paul, with Peter, and with others. Paul is so fascinating, because he didn’t handle every time he was persecuted the same way. He analyzed the situation. He analyzed the situation and how he was supposed to react. In Acts 9, the first 19 verses talk about his conversion – how God converted him. And then we get to verse 20. Remember, here was a man who was persecuting Christians. He was a man who was feared and disliked by Christians everywhere. People were probably praying for God to deliver them from this man. Then suddenly he changes.
Acts 9:20-25 Acts 9:20-25 20 And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.
21 But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came here for that intent, that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?
22 But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelled at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
23 And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him:
24 But their laying await was known of Saul. And they watched the gates day and night to kill him.
25 Then the disciples took him by night, and let him down by the wall in a basket.
American King James Version× : “ And immediately he preached Christ in the synagogues – that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed and said; is it not the man who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priest? But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews that dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ. Now after many days were passed the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul, and they watched the gates day and night to kill him. Then the disciples took him by night, let him down from the wall in a large basket.”
So we have a lesson here, from Saul, who became Paul. The first lesson is about dealing with persecution. If you can get away, get away! God doesn’t expect us to go seek it. There are times when the best things to say is; “This will serve no purpose. God, what do you want me to do?” And sometimes He is going to say, “Just run away. Just get out of the situation. Go away.” Sometimes our persecution will serve a purpose. Sometimes there is no purpose at all. So, when you face persecution, don’t feel that you are always required to face it. Just like if someone is violently trying to get you to state your beliefs on certain things, there is a time to state it and there is a time not to state it. Sometimes stating it is going to bring you persecution. But sometimes, it is meaningless. Now, you never hide it. You never lie about it. But notice what Paul did. In this case Paul said, “Well, this will serve no purpose. I will just get out of here. I have more work to do – that God wants me to do – someplace else.”
So, let’s look at a second case. This is in Acts 16. That’s the one we don’t think about. It is ok sometimes to walk away, because it serves no purpose. God does not want us to suffer persecution at that point. Now, we have to be asking God what He wants us to do. These people in Smyrna were asking all the time, as they were living in destitution because of their persecution.
Now, let’s look at Acts 16:12 Acts 16:12And from there to Philippi, which is the chief city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony: and we were in that city abiding certain days.
American King James Version× “ And from there to Philippi…. ” It is talking about where Paul was going. He goes to Philippi “ …which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, and a colony, and we stayed there for some days .” What is interesting here is, that it says, “ We were staying there.” When you look through the book of Acts, Luke wasn’t there, and he says Paul and Silas were staying there. But when he is with them, you will see that he says, “We stayed there,” because he was with them sometimes. So, he puts himself in the story whenever he was there and you can tell it because he used that pronoun.
Let’s go to verses 16-19 “ Now it happened that we went to prayer and a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortunetelling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried, saying these men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaimed to us the way of salvation. And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her, and he came out that very hour . And when her masters saw that the hope for profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas, and dragged them to the marketplace to the authorities.” Here we see a place where Paul did not back down from persecution. He stood up, did what God wanted him to do, and immediately the persecution came upon him. And this is violent persecution. This isn’t losing a job, or your friend not wanting anything to do with you anymore. These are people out to kill. It is a mob. So they’re dragging him and Silas into the street.
Verse 20 “ and they brought them to the magistrates and said these men, being Jews, do exceedingly trouble our city. And they teach customs, which are not lawful for us to receive, neither to observe, being Romans. And the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore their clothes, and commanded to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailor to keep them securely.” Now, if I was Paul, at this point I would be pretty depressed. I mean, he is having a bad day, right? And when you got into a Roman prison, I don’t care where it was in the empire, your chances of getting out were rather slim. These were not prisons like today. People then would have committed a crime to get into prisons like we have today. These were horrible places – no heat or air conditioning, made out of stone, damp, diseases all over the place, just gruel for food, little water, no real bathroom facilities – just a horrible place to be. Your clothes just rot off of you. But I want you to notice Paul’s reaction in verse 25; “ But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying, and singing praises unto God; and the prisoners were listening to them .” This means they must be praying out loud, right? They’re praying to God and they are singing songs to God. They are praising God. And it is so strange that all over the prison, everybody stops and everybody is up against the bars listening to what these men are doing. And then there is an earthquake and it shakes everything so much that all of the doors fly open on all the cells. And the jailer runs out and sees all the open doors. Now, logically, if the doors are open everybody has left. In the Roman system if you lost a prisoner, you suffered the fate of the prisoner. Well, this wasn’t going to be good. He immediately pulls out his sword and he is about to kill himself – better to die now, because it would be a whole lot easier. And Paul yells out, “Don’t do that! We are all still here. Just don’t do it. We are all still here. We didn’t leave.” So the jailer goes and gets his family and they all convert. They all say what you believe, what you do is so different that I want to be like you. Now, remember, Paul is being persecuted. His example while being persecuted is so great that people say, “I want to know your God. I want to be like your God.” This is a pagan saying, “I want to give up my gods and I want to be an atheist, too, because your god is God.” And he converts. So, it goes on and they have this great earthquake.
Verse 35-36 ; “ And when it was day, that magistrates sent the officers saying, ‘Let those men go.’ And the keeper of the prison reported these words to Paul, saying, ‘The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart and go in peace . ’ ” The judges said, “You better let this go. This is not normal, okay? This behavior is not normal so we had better just let Paul and these Jews go.” I mean these are superstitious people. These are pagans. This is supernatural. This isn’t a natural event.
Verse 37-39 ; “ But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us openly, uncondemned, being Romans, and have cast us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed, but let them come themselves and get us out. And the officers told these words to the magistrate. And they were afraid, when they heard that they were Romans. And they came and pleaded with them ,” Now these were the same people that condemned them the day before. “ …they pleaded with them and brought them out, and asked them to depart from the city. So they went. ” I love that. So they went! OK! We will go now.
Now what is interesting about this example is, Paul’s and Silas’s example while being persecuted is very important. One, it is used to actually bring people to God to be converted. And secondly, it actually brings the very people who are persecuting them down in subjection to this higher power. They don’t know what it was. They just know that, when there is an earthquake and all of the cells are busted open, and these two guys say, “Don’t worry. This is our God doing this,” we are not going to mess with them. This is important. If your concept of dealing with persecution is, “Well, when the sheriff comes to get me because I am Sabbath keeper then (click click) I will be waiting for him….” Could you imagine Paul doing that? Would Paul do that? His example during the persecution was to be used by God. He understood that. He didn’t know who it would affect. He didn’t know what would happen. And so he was the good guy during his own persecution. This persecution stuff isn’t easy, by the way. This is hard stuff. Smyrna is almost the forgotten church. I mean, of all the sermons you have ever heard of the churches of Revelation 2 and 3 – the seven churches – how much time do we spend on Smyrna? Not much. And yet, for decades these people did the right works in relationship to their tribulation and their poverty. And that is what Christ praises them for. Paul shows, use persecution as a way to reflect God to the people that are persecuted. That’s not normal. That’s Godly. It is not the way you and I usually want to react to persecution. We want to do the exact opposite. We want to fight back. He didn’t. He just didn’t. In fact, in all the cases you will never see him violently fight back. Although I like what he does here, when he says “Oh no no, they condemned me without a trial. And I am a Roman. Make them publically come and apologize to me.” And they did. Now, you see what I mean? He is standing up. He’s standing up for his rights, but he didn’t go grab a spear and hunt down the magistrate, either. He is standing up, but he is doing so with a faith, and a courage, and a dignity that is so amazing that, not only does God use it to convert people, but it is used to bring an entire group of leaders of a town down into submission to this God of Paul.
The third situation is found in Acts 21. Ah, those people of Smyrna. I wish we had more records of what they went through – the imprisonment, how they handled it, the suffering. But their works were right. Acts 21:18 Acts 21:18And the day following Paul went in with us to James; and all the elders were present.
American King James Version×….This isn’t what I want…let me see where I wanted to go here, because I don’t want to read all of this. Let me just jump over this and we will go to a different place. What happened here is, that Paul decides to go to Jerusalem. He hadn’t been in Jerusalem for a long time. He was persecuted by the pagans. He was persecuted by the Romans. He was persecuted by the Jews. So he wanted to go back to Jerusalem and go to the temple. He told the Jews there, “I am still a Jew. I may be a Christian. I believe in Jesus as the Christ. But I am still a Jew.” But he goes to the temple, and he actually performs a ceremony. He takes a vow and at the end of the vow, he has to go into Jerusalem, and there he has to go through a purification ceremony. So let’s pick this up in verse 26.
Acts 21:26-29 Acts 21:26-29 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.
27 And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him,
28 Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teaches all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and has polluted this holy place.
29 (For they had seen before with him in the city Trophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)
American King James Version× ; “ Then Paul took the men, and the next day having been purified with them entered into the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them . Now when the seven days were ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd, and laid hands on him .” Now he, once again, is violently being persecuted, “Crying out, men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, and the law, and this place; and furthermore he has also brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath defiled this holy place. For they had previously seen him.”
Verse 29 says, “ with a Greek .” Now, they have actually found the tablets. At this time, the Jewish temple in Jerusalem had a wall around it and there were little signs around it. They found some of these signs that basically say – I am just loosely translating here – that, “If any Gentile goes beyond this point” – I think it was in Hebrew, Greek and Latin. Mr. McNeely knows. Do you remember? I do think it was Hebrew, Greek and Latin – and it says that, “Any Gentile that goes past that point forfeits his life!” There was, connected to the Jewish temple mount, a Roman garrison to stop riots. But they wouldn’t stop them from killing a Gentile. By the time the soldiers came out they would be dead. So, they seized Paul and they are going to kill him. They dragged him out of the temple.
Verse 30 ; “ And they dragged him out of the temple and they shut the doors. And they were seeking to kill him .” Now what happens at the fortress that was connected there, the Romans start giving off the alarm – another riot at the temple. And the Roman soldiers come out and they grab him, and they save him, and they take him inside. They get him inside and he is protected. Paul’s defense here is very interesting, because what he says – if you read chapter 22 – is, he tells them, “I am a Roman citizen and I have certain legal rights.” And they gave him his legal rights. It is not wrong to use the legal system, if you are in the right, to protect yourself from persecution. There are probably some of you here, at some point or another, who have used the legal system because you were persecuted as a Sabbath keeper and lost your job, or they weren’t going to let your kids out to go to the Feast of Tabernacles. We have had to use the legal system to defend ourselves against that kind of persecution. So, Paul said there are times to do that. There are times to say, “Wait a minute! I have a right, here – a legal right by the law of the land – and the law of the land won’t let that happen.” Right now, you and I still have a lot of legal rights. More so than many, many countries in this world. We have the legal right to defend ourselves against certain persecutions. I don’t know how long we will have that, but we have it now. And it is not wrong to use it. See, here we see Paul in this third story using the legal system to protect himself during a time of persecution.
The fourth story – the last story - is in Acts 23. Paul is now brought before the Sanhedrin. And I love what he does here.
Acts 23:6 Acts 23:6But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.
American King James Version× ; “ Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, ‘Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. Concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead, I am being judged .”
Now, what they were judging him on, or accusing him of, was that Jesus could be resurrected from the dead. But the Pharisees believed in a resurrection of the dead. The Sadducees did not. So he says, “I am a Pharisee and I believe in the resurrection of the dead,” and all the Pharisees said, “How dare you persecute our brother!” And they got into a big argument and Paul ends up not getting torn apart, here, because they are fighting each other. And Paul is just standing there. He goes on. They actually bring him before the Roman governor. And when he goes before the Roman governor, they hire a professional orator to come in to present their case. This would be like getting the legal dream team. This is like OJ Simpson’s legal people came in. And they are going to bring Paul down. So Paul says, “I don’t need any council. I will just talk for myself.” So, he talks for himself and he wins…sort of. You have to read the whole story. But, once again, Paul knows when to be wise as serpent and harmless as a dove. There is a point here. God wasn’t finished with him yet. He still had work to do and, therefore he avoided the persecution by just using a little wisdom. “Okay, you are going to attack me because I believe Jesus was resurrected. Well, all the Pharisees believe in resurrection and, guess what? I am a Pharisee.” He was. In fact, there were a lot of Pharisees in the church. You can read about it. And he is protected. Which gives us a fourth point, here, and that is, there is a time to stand up and say, “Repent!” Paul did that. Paul stood up sometimes and just blasted away at those in rebellion against God. And what happened to him? Well, one time they stoned him and left him for dead. People tried to kill him. Just read what happened to the man. They beat him up. They beat him with whips. What he went through was horrendous, time after time after time.
So, I am showing you ways that he dealt with persecution that turned out pretty good. There are also times that he dealt with persecution and it didn’t turn out so good. In fact, he reached that one last time where he had to stand for God when there was no way out. And they killed him.
What is amazing is that he continued to preach God’s way for decades and sometimes it was because he used the legal system. Sometimes he used wisdom. A couple of times he ran away. And then there reached a point where he wasn’t to run anymore. And he said, “This is it, folks. I stand my ground here.”
These people stood their ground. That is why God says, I know their works. The church in Smyrna is a real example for us. As I said before, the church in Smyrna is, in many ways, the forgotten church – the persecuted church – people who were forced to live in a wealthy city, forced to live in poverty in a city of remarkable freedoms. You could buy and sell. The sexual immorality in most of these cities was amazing, sexual freedom, monetary freedom. They had the ultimate free capitalistic society. You could buy and sell anything, including people or anything within the Roman Empire. It was absolutely free market. As long as you paid your taxes, nobody cared. It was a place of wealth. It was a place where people went to the theater. You know, I like going to the theater. People in Smyrna didn’t get to go to theaters. I like going to concerts. I like going to museums. People in Smyrna didn’t get to go to those places. And it wasn’t because they were less Christian, because Christ says they are rich.
Persecution on biblical Christians is going to rise. It may be a reality that you and I face at some point. When we do, first of all, remember Paul’s applications of how he dealt with persecution. Don’t just run into every persecution. God may say, “No, you don’t have to…oh! too late. You don’t have to get beaten up today. You will get beaten up some other day.” Don’t run into persecution. Pray, stay close to God, and look at Paul’s examples. But also know that there are times when we are not given a choice. We may have to make a stand. And what may happen to us is a loss of a job, a loss of a mate, a loss of friends, a loss of opportunities, a loss of money, maybe physical pain, even the loss of life. And when doing this, also remember that we had people that went before us. Remember the church at Smyrna. The people that lived so many years ago, simply known as the persecuted church.
Well, I think in two weeks…Mr. Myers isn’t here. He got called out on an anointing. But we will have another Beyond Today Bible study in two weeks. Am I right? Two weeks. Here. Same time. Same station. Thanks for coming out.