Proposition: What did Jesus say to the church at Smyrna?

Text:  Revelation 2:8-11


The church at Smyrna was a good church.  A man named Polycarp was a bishop there.  He was burned at the stake in Smyrna.  He was 86 years old when he was killed.  His martyrdom happened about 160 A.D.


When he heard about this, the redoubtable Polycarp was not in the least upset, and was happy to stay in the city, but eventually he was persuaded to leave. He went to friends in the nearby country, where as usual he spent the whole time, day and night, in prayer for all people and for the churches throughout the world. Three days before he was arrested, while he was praying, he had a vision of the pillow under his head in flames. He said prophetically to those who were with him, ” I will be burnt alive.”


Those who were looking for him were coming near, so he left for another house. They immediately followed him, and when they could not find him, they seized two young men from his own household and tortured them into confession. The sheriff, called Herod, was impatient to bring Polycarp to the stadium, so that he might fulfill his special role, to share the sufferings of Christ, while those who betrayed him would be punished like Judas.


The police and horsemen came with the young man at suppertime on the Friday with their usual weapons, as if coming out against a robber. That evening, they found him lying down in the upper room of a cottage. He could have escaped but he refused saying, “God’s will be done.” When he heard that they had come, he went down and spoke with them. They were amazed at his age and steadfastness, and some of them said. “Why did we go to so much trouble to capture a man like this?” Immediately he called for food and drink for them, and asked for an hour to pray uninterrupted. They agreed, and he stood and prayed, so full of the grace of God, that he could not stop for two hours. The men were astounded and many of them regretted coming to arrest such a godly and venerable an old man.


When he finished praying… they put him on a donkey, and took him into the city….


As Polycarp was being taken into the arena, a voice came to him from heaven: “Be strong, Polycarp and play the man!” No one saw who had spoken, but our brothers who were there heard the voice. When the crowd heard that Polycarp had been captured, there was an uproar. The Proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On hearing that he was, he tried to persuade him to apostatize, saying, “Have respect for your old age, swear by the fortune of Caesar. Repent, and say, ‘Down with the Atheists!’” Polycarp looked grimly at the wicked heathen multitude in the stadium, and gesturing towards them, he said, “Down with the Atheists!” “Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.” “86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”


“I have wild animals here,” the Proconsul said. “I will throw you to them if you do not repent.” “Call them,” Polycarp replied. “It is unthinkable for me to repent from what is good to turn to what is evil. I will be glad though to be changed from evil to righteousness.” “If you despise the animals, I will have you burned.” “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. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”


It was all done in the time it takes to tell. The crowd collected wood and bundles of sticks from the shops and public baths. The Jews , as usual, were keen to help. When the pile was ready, Polycarp took off his outer clothes, undid his belt, and tried to take off his sandals – something he was not used to, as the faithful always raced to do it for him, each wanting to be the one to touch his skin – this is how good his life was. But when they went to fix him with nails, he said, “Leave me as I am, for he that gives me strength to endure the fire, will enable me not to struggle, without the help of your nails.”


So they simply bound him with his hands behind him like a distinguished ram chosen from a great flock for sacrifice. Ready to be an acceptable burnt-offering to God, he looked up to heaven, and said, “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of you, the God of angels, powers and every creature, and of all the righteous who live before you, I give you thanks that you count me worthy to be numbered among your martyrs, sharing the cup of Christ and the resurrection to eternal life, both of soul and body, through the immortality of the Holy Spirit. May I be received this day as an acceptable sacrifice, as you, the true God, have predestined, revealed to me, and now fulfilled. I praise you for all these things, I bless you and glorify you, along with the everlasting Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. To you, with him, through the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and forever. Amen.”


Then the fire was lit, and the flame blazed furiously. We who were privileged to witness it saw a great miracle, and this is why we have been preserved, to tell the story. The fire shaped itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, and formed a circle around the body of the martyr. Inside it, he looked not like flesh that is burnt, but like bread that is baked, or gold and silver glowing in a furnace. And we smelt a sweet scent, like frankincense or some such precious spices.


Eventually, when those wicked men saw that his body could not be consumed by the fire, they commanded an executioner to pierce him with a dagger. When he did this [a dove flew out and] [*this may well be a later interpolation or transcription error] such a great quantity of blood flowed that the fire was extinguished. The crowd were amazed at the difference between the unbelievers and the elect – of whom the great Polycarp was surely one, having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church in Smyrna. For every word he spoke either has been or shall be accomplished.


When the Enemy saw the wonder of his martyrdom, his blameless life and now his crowning with immortality, he did his utmost to stop us keeping any memorial of him or taking possession of his holy body. He inspired Nicetes, the father of Herod, along with the Jews to ask the governor not to hand over his body for burial. “They might turn from worshipping the crucified one,” he said, “only to start worshipping this one.” They did not realize that it is impossible for us to abandon Christ who suffered for the salvation of the world, or to worship any other….


The centurion then, seeing the disturbance caused by the Jews, took the body and publicly burnt it. Later, we collected up his bones, more precious than jewels and better purified than gold, and put them in an appropriate place where, the Lord willing, we shall celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom each year with joy and rejoicing, both to remember those who have run their race and to prepare those yet to walk in their steps.

  1. Jesus is the first and the last.  He was dead and is alive forevermore
    1. Jesus is God.
      1. Revelation 1:5-18
      2. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last.  No one can make that claim, but God.
      3. Isaiah 44:6, Jesus is the first and the last and so is Jehovah God.  They are coexistent.  They are both God.
      4. John 10:30
      5. From the beginning we see that God is one, but three.
      6. The Hebrew word for God in Genesis is Elohim.  It is a plural word.
      7. Genesis 1:26, who is God talking to when he says, “Let US make man in OUR image”?  He is talking to, Jesus before he became a man, and the Holy Spirit.
    2. Jesus existed long before he was born.
      1. John 8:58-59
      2. Micah 5:2
      3. Colossians 1:17
    3. Jesus is God in the flesh
      1. He was dead.  He was crucified on a cross.
      2. He didn’t stay dead.  He is alive forevermore.  Because of his resurrection we have the hope of resurrection.
  2. Jesus knew about their suffering.  (What did he know?)
    1. They were poor.
      1. They didn’t have enough money.  Smyrna was a rich port city, there were wealthy people in the city, but the Christians there were not rich.  I don’t know why, but most likely they would not compromise their convictions and so they were persecuted.
      2. It is not a sin to be rich, but if you are going to live for Jesus Christ you may not be as rich as others.  If you own a business you aren’t going to sell things they destroy other people.  You won’t sell tobacco products or alcohol.  You won’t sell lottery tickets.
      3. North Carolina is feeling the effects of standing for what is right.  The governor, Pat McCrory, and the legislature passed a bill that if you were born a woman you are to use the women’s bathroom.  If you were born a man you are to use the men’s bathroom.  This is in all government operations in North Carolina.  Private businesses are allowed to do what they want.  There will be no transgender bathrooms in government buildings.  Some businesses have put pressure on North Carolina.  PayPal was going to build a facility in North Carolina that would employ 400 people and contribute about $20 million to their economy.  A few days after they bill was passed they said they were not going to build because “the law perpetuates discrimination.” (Schuppe, Jon
      4. Other companies are reevaluating their plans to expand in North Carolina.  It is going to cost North Carolina to do what is right.
      5. Bruce Springsteen canceled his concert in North Carolina costing the Coliseum $100,000. (Berman, Mark
      6. You are going to be honest and not cheat people out of their money.
      7. Matthew 6:33, you are going to seek the kingdom first.  That means you are going to be in the church on the Lord’s Day.  We don’t keep the Sabbath.  We aren’t breaking the law if we work on Sunday, but we are going to make the kingdom number one in our life.
      8. A Christian gives back to God 10% of his earnings.  That takes money you could do other things with.
    2. They were also rich.
      1. There are many blessings to serving Jesus Christ.
      2. The church at Smyrna was rich in blessings money can’t buy.
      3. I am not rich by United States standards, but I am a rich man.
      4. I have good wife that is worth more than rubies.  I have five intelligent good healthy children.  I have a mother and father that are Christians and they love one another.  I have a mother-in-law and a father-in-law that are Christians and love one another.  My children have grandparents that love them and they love their grandparents.  God has blessed me with more that I need.  I live in the great state of Nebraska where people still know which bathroom they belong in.
      5. My life is not solely from my own doings, but from the blessings that follow from living for Jesus Christ.  My mother-in-law comes from a divorced home.  My father-in-law’s father was an alcoholic.  One preacher said to my mother-in-law your marriage probably won’t last because you come from a divorced home.  Their marriage has lasted 43 years.
      6. Revelation 2:11, They are overcomers.
  3. Fear not (What are we not to fear?)
    1. Those that say they are Jews and are not.
      1. Revelation 2:9
      2. The Jews in Smyrna were on the side of the Roman persecutors.  They were glad to gather wood to burn Polycarp.  They wanted his body cremated.  They didn’t want the Christians to be able to bury the bishop they loved.
      3. Romans 2:17-29
      4. If a Jew by birth rejects Jesus Christ Paul says, he is not a Jew.  He is not a part of God’s people.  He is no different than a Gentile.  Many people think that God has a most favored nation status with Israel.  This is not true.  The Jews who reject Jesus Christ are the synagogue of Satan.  They have been persecutors of Christians from the beginning.
    2. Death
      1. Polycarp said, “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. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”
      2. Be faithful until death like Polycarp.


The people in Smyrna were overcomers.  They knew of fires that could burn for an hour, but they also knew of the fire that can burn for eternity.  They were not going to be hurt by the second death.

Revelation 2:11

Revelation 21:8

Revelation 20:14

Satan’s goal is to make you suffer in hell forever.  The goal of Jesus Christ is to give you the crown of life.  If you are in sin repent and confess your sin.  Jesus is faithful to forgive us of our sin if we confess our sin. 

If you have not been baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of your sins don’t delay.  The fires of hell are real.  If you die without Jesus Christ you will be in the lake of fire forever.