Resources for the members of the United Church of God

The Message to Smyrna: Endure Persecution

You are here

The Message to Smyrna

Endure Persecution

Login or Create an Account

With a UCG.org account you will be able to save items to read and study later!

Sign In | Sign Up

×

Jesus Christ's message to Smyrna in Revelation 2 is the second of these timeless admonitions for members of His Church. (The message to Ephesus was covered in the December issue.) The setting for this message is the first-century city of Smyrna, "A rich and prosperous city of Ionia, forty miles N of Ephesus, at the mouth of the small river Meles. Anciently, it was one of the finest cities of Asia and was called 'the lovely—the crown of Ionia—the ornament of Asia.' It is now the chief city of SW Turkey, with a population of more than 1 1/2 million" (New Unger's Bible Dictionary, electronic database, article "Smyrna").

Another source adds, "Smyrna's superb natural harbor made the city an important commercial center. In spite of keen competition from the neighboring cities of Ephesus and Pergamum, Smyrna called itself 'the first city of Asia.' As early as 195 B.C., Smyrna was given the honor of building a temple to the Emperor Tiberius because of its years of faithfulness to Rome. Thus, the city became a center for the cult of emperor worship—a fanatical 'religion' that later, under such emperors as Nero (ruled A.D. 54-68) and Domitian (ruled A.D. 81-96), brought on severe persecution for the early church" (Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary, electronic database, article "Smyrna").

The very cause that propelled the city to the favor of Rome's leaders—emperor worship—likely provided the impetus for the persecution of God's people. Though the apostles taught respect and obedience to human government and authorities (Romans 13:1-7 Romans 13:1-7 [1] Let every soul be subject to the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. [2] Whoever therefore resists the power, resists the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. [3] For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Will you then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and you shall have praise of the same: [4] For he is the minister of God to you for good. But if you do that which is evil, be afraid; for he bears not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath on him that does evil. [5] Why you must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. [6] For for this cause pay you tribute also: for they are God's ministers, attending continually on this very thing. [7] Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
American King James Version×
; 1 Peter 2:11-17 1 Peter 2:11-17 [11] Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; [12] Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. [13] Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; [14] Or to governors, as to them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. [15] For so is the will of God, that with well doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: [16] As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. [17] Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
American King James Version×
), like Paul, the brethren at Smyrna may have been accused of trying to turn their local city upside down with their Christian beliefs (Acts 17:6 Acts 17:6And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brothers to the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come here also;
American King James Version×
). In this environment, Christ told the congregation at Smyrna: "I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Revelation 2:9-10 Revelation 2:9-10 [9] I know your works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but you are rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. [10] Fear 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×
).

Determination to remain faithful to God in the face of trials and persecution was important for the members at Smyrna and it is an important lesson for God's people today. Remember, Christ warns us, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (verse 11). Given the gravity of this warning, it is important to understand some of the biblical concepts that can help us deal with our own modern difficulties. Let's begin by reviewing some New Testament history and instruction on this topic.

Source of Spiritual Persecution

When we face trials and problems in our lives we often see human conditions. Yet the Bible reveals a hidden source of spiritual persecution—an invisible being called Satan, our adversary (1 Peter 5:8 1 Peter 5:8Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour:
American King James Version×
). Paul wrote, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand" (Ephesians 6:12-13 Ephesians 6:12-13 [12] For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. [13] Why take to you the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
American King James Version×
).

Earlier, in the parable of the sower, Jesus had taught that some seed of God's Word fell on good ground and produced fruit, while other seed fell on poor ground and didn't produce anything (Matthew 13:3-9 Matthew 13:3-9 [3] And he spoke many things to them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; [4] And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: [5] Some fell on stony places, where they had not much earth: and immediately they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: [6] And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. [7] And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: [8] But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundred times, some sixty times, some thirty times. [9] Who has ears to hear, let him hear.
American King James Version×
, 18-23).

When Jesus spoke of "the wicked one" snatching away the word of the Kingdom, He was referring to Satan who works to take away humanity's spiritual understanding. Jesus also noted that some people didn't continue in the truth very long they stumbled at tribulation or persecution. Others successfully overcame Satan's deception and pressure to forego the truth. They held fast to Christ's teaching in spite of persecution. Notice the inspiring example of one such individual.

Stephen's Example

Shortly after the founding of the New Testament Church in Acts 2, the apostles ordained seven deacons, one of whom was Stephen (Acts 6:1-6 Acts 6:1-6 [1] And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. [2] Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples to them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. [3] Why, brothers, look you out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. [4] But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. [5] And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: [6] Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
American King James Version×
). This man, "full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people" (verse 8). Apparently, Satan was greatly upset because "the word of God spread" (verse 7). At this point, it seems Satan influenced another synagogue (congregation) to begin a deadly persecution against Stephen. The devil undoubtedly hoped to destroy Stephen's faith and stifle the growth of the Church of God.

Another congregation called "the Synagogue of the Freedmen" raised false accusations against Stephen (verses 9-14). Almost seven decades later, Jesus told the Christians at Smyrna, "I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan" (Revelation 2:9 Revelation 2:9I know your works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but you are rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
American King James Version×
). Ironically and sadly, people who claim to be godly or Christian can also be instruments of persecution in the devil's hands. The congregation at Smyrna at the end of the first century was facing the same kind of persecution Stephen had faced. Their persecution was coming from people who falsely claimed to be Jews (what the first Christians were called, Romans 2:28-29 Romans 2:28-29 [28] For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: [29] But he is a Jew, which 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.
American King James Version×
). Now back to the story of Stephen.

In the face of severe accusations that could take his life, Stephen did not capitulate. Instead of giving in or looking for a compromise to save his life, Stephen appeared to grow stronger in his resolve to obey God and be a faithful witness. In the midst of this trial, the biblical account says, "And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel" (verse 15). Stephen was receiving help from God.

Stephen then preceded to go through some of Israel's history culminating in a powerful statement condemning their resistance to God's laws (Acts 7:51-53 Acts 7:51-53 [51] You stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you. [52] Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom you have been now the betrayers and murderers: [53] Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.
American King James Version×
).

Though the council became very angry, Stephen, "being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and...said, 'Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!'" (verses 55-56). Just as Stephen had said, this group of people then treated him as their forefathers had treated God's prophets in the Old Testament. God gave him the strength to endure this most severe trial as He gave Smyrna the strength to endure tribulation "ten days," representing a time of great trouble the congregation would soon experience.

The same comfort and help God gave believers then is available today to all who are faithful to God's instructions. As the apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:13 1 Corinthians 10:13There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.
American King James Version×
: "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it." God promises to help. He will either remove our trials or give us the strength to bear them.

Trials Accompany Conversion

Just as Jesus had predicted in the parable of the sower, persecution often arises when people begin to turn to God. The same thing occurred in the apostle Paul's life. Paul had an active role in the persecution of Stephen and the early Church (Acts 7:58 Acts 7:58And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul.
American King James Version×
; 8:1, 3).

While Paul was traveling to Damascus to continue his persecution against the Christians, God miraculously appeared to him. Paul was blinded and didn't eat or drink for three days. After Ananias laid his hands on Paul, he regained his sight and was baptized to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:1-18 Acts 9:1-18 [1] And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, [2] And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. [3] And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: [4] And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying to him, Saul, Saul, why persecute you me? [5] And he said, Who are you, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom you persecute: it is hard for you to kick against the pricks. [6] And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what will you have me to do? And the Lord said to him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told you what you must do. [7] And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. [8] And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. [9] And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. [10] And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. [11] And the Lord said to him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prays, [12] And has seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. [13] Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem: [14] And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on your name. [15] But the Lord said to him, Go your way: for he is a chosen vessel to me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: [16] For I will show him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake. [17] And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared to you in the way as you came, has sent me, that you might receive your sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. [18] And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight immediately, and arose, and was baptized.
American King James Version×
). With baptism, conditions quickly changed.

When Paul ceased being the persecutor, he soon became the persecuted. Paul immediately began to preach "that this Jesus is the Christ. Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him" (verses 22-23).

The reality is that the people of God have always faced trials and persecutions. It comes with being a Christian. As Paul explained, "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12 2 Timothy 3:12Yes, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
American King James Version×
). Interestingly, in the long run everyone, whether Christian or not, will be tested. Revelation 3:10 Revelation 3:10Because you have kept the word of my patience, I also will keep you from the hour of temptation, which shall come on all the world, to try them that dwell on the earth.
American King James Version×
says there will be an "hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth." Though temporarily unpleasant, trials help us establish and solidify our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7 1 Peter 1:6-7 [6] Wherein you greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, you are in heaviness through manifold temptations: [7] That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perishes, though it be tried with fire, might be found to praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
American King James Version×
). gGod is with us, every step of the way, through all trials (Romans 8:35-39 Romans 8:35-39 [35] Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? [36] As it is written, For your sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. [37] No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. [38] For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, [39] Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
American King James Version×
; 2 Corinthians 1:4 2 Corinthians 1:4Who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted of God.
American King James Version×
). Next let's consider some common difficulties God's people face today.

Family Influence

When we share the same spiritual values, our physical families can lend powerful support to our efforts to live as Christians. When there are competing and differing values, however, there can be pressure to compromise God's truth. Jesus addressed this unpleasant concept saying, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.' He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me" (Matthew 10:34-38 Matthew 10:34-38 [34] Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. [35] For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. [36] And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. [37] He that loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. [38] And he that takes not his cross, and follows after me, is not worthy of me.
American King James Version×
, see also Micah 7:5-7 Micah 7:5-7 [5] Trust you not in a friend, put you not confidence in a guide: keep the doors of your mouth from her that lies in your bosom. [6] For the son dishonors the father, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law; a man's enemies are the men of his own house. [7] Therefore I will look to the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me.
American King James Version×
).

When we turn to God, He expects us to give Him our highest priority and conduct our lives accordingly. Instead of lashing back at those who persecute us, Jesus said, "But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44 Matthew 5:44But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which spitefully use you, and persecute you;
American King James Version×
).

If our physical families do not share our spiritual convictions, we can take comfort that God provides another spiritual family to offer support and encouragement (Matthew 12:47-50 Matthew 12:47-50 [47] Then one said to him, Behold, your mother and your brothers stand without, desiring to speak with you. [48] But he answered and said to him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brothers? [49] And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brothers! [50] For whoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.
American King James Version×
).

Monetary Gain

In the parable of the sower, Jesus said "the deceitfulness of riches" caused some to be unfruitful (Matthew 13:22 Matthew 13:22He also that received seed among the thorns is he that hears the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.
American King James Version×
). The lure of wealth or a big salary can be a temptation to forego pleasing God. Paul warns us: "But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness" (1 Timothy 6:9-11 1 Timothy 6:9-11 [9] But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. [10] For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. [11] But you, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.
American King James Version×
).

This instruction about money often comes into effect with our employment. Most of society is unaware of God's seventh-day Sabbath. Many employers expect their employees to work on this day even though God says otherwise (Exodus 20:9-11 Exodus 20:9-11 [9] Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: [10] But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates: [11] For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: why the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
American King James Version×
). Sometimes God's people can be enticed with higher salaries and more income if they will only work on the Sabbath. In the face of such temptation, we need to remember Christ's instruction: "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth...but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal" (Matthew 6:19-20 Matthew 6:19-20 [19] Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust does corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: [20] But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust does corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
American King James Version×
).

The World

Still another potential temptation for Christians is the world around us. Because the world has a different set of values contrary to God's, James wrote, "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4 James 4:4You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
American King James Version×
). While the world can appear to be attractive, the end result of focusing on it instead of God is tragic. Paul wrote, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?... What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty'" (2 Corinthians 6:14-18 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 [14] Be you not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion has light with darkness? [15] And what concord has Christ with Belial? or what part has he that believes with an infidel? [16] And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? for you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. [17] Why come out from among them, and be you separate, said the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you. [18] And will be a Father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters, said the Lord Almighty.
American King James Version×
, NIV).

At the end of this present evil age, when Jesus Christ returns to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, John, in vision, heard a similar warning for God's people. "And I heard another voice from heaven saying, 'Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues'" (Revelation 18:4 Revelation 18:4And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that you be not partakers of her sins, and that you receive not of her plagues.
American King James Version×
). God's people have no other choice we must resist the world and its ungodly influences.

Christ's Encouragement to Us

Before Jesus' crucifixion, He shared some observations about the tests His followers would face. In John 15:18-20 John 15:18-20 [18] If the world hate you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. [19] If you were of the world, the world would love his own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. [20] Remember the word that I said to you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
American King James Version×
, He said, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you." He concluded His remarks, saying, "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33 John 16:33These things I have spoken to you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
American King James Version×
).

In His message to the church at Smyrna, Jesus was giving the same encouragement. He admonished them and us today to make sure we endure persecution and trials. If we persevere, Jesus promises us "the crown of life" and that we will "not be hurt by the second death" (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×
, 11). UN

You might also be interested in...