Today Google & Apple announced that they were using “contact tracing” to alert half the world of any contact with the COVID-19 virus. In the Tribulation the AntiChrist using technology to track ALL believers and martyr them. Never was this ever possible in history until now… Revelation class #5: LESSONS FROM WHEN CHRISTIANS WERE HUNTED NEARLY TO EXTINCTION.
Lessons From When Christians Were Hunted Nearly To Extinction
Welcome to our fifth class going through, in 20 classes, the entire book of the Revelation of Jesus Christ. We have come in the seven churches to the second church. If you want to open in your Bibles, we’re going to be in Revelation chapter 2, starting in verse 8. The title of this lesson is, you can see on the slide, is Lessons From When Christians Were Hunted Nearly To Extinction.
In the history of the church, Smyrna reminds us of the three centuries when Christianity got the closest it’s ever been in history to being wiped out. To going extinct. We’ll talk about that. As we do, I want to remind you that:
- this 20 lesson course studies all 404 verses, and
- that the book of Revelation contains 800 illusions or connections to the rest of the Bible.
- So, you can’t really understand Revelation without seeing those connections. That’s what we’re going to be extensively connecting today.
- There is no new doctrine contained in Revelation. Always remember that. Rather, it’s a clarification and a connection of everything else that the Bible says.
- This is the only book of the Bible that Jesus himself came down to supervise. All the other books of the new Testament His spirit inspired the writers to write. Jesus came down personally and helped John write these words. It gives it the ultimate priority for us.
So, as we study it could I just take a moment from today?
Look on the screen there from April 10th. This is from Bloomberg news, online, secular, probably the most trusted business source in America and pretty much in the Western world. Look at that headline: Apple, Google bring COVID-19 contact tracing to half the world. You see that? 3 billion people. I don’t have time to read the article to you, but today Google and Apple said that they were using a special program they wrote for contact tracing. Now, what that means is they are going to anonymously use the contacts in your telephone, to anonymously connect to the health departments of all the nations in the world where 3 billion people live and connect whoever has become infected with the COVID virus to your contact list, and they will send you a text to tell you that one of your friends is infected.
Wow. What we’re looking at in Smyrna, is not when COVID-19 was the problem, the virus then was Christianity.
What’s interesting is the book of Revelation, that we’re studying in this course, talks about the end. During this tribulation period, there’s going to be a global ruler who can track down not 3 billion people, but every person and can capture and execute everyone that has not the COVID-19 virus, but as we see in Smyrna, the Christ virus.
There is no more timely book in the world to study, than the ancient prophecy that Jesus Christ sent to us in His church. Chapter 2, We’re going to read starting in verse 8 down through the end of verse 11 of the second church. We’re going to read about Smyrna starting in verse 8 “and to the angel of the church in Smyrna, write these things, says the First and the Last” I always stop and remind you, and you should maybe even start marking these in your Bible, that every one of these introductions of Christ goes back to what He said in chapter 1.
In chapter 1, verse 11, He calls Himself the First and the Last. So, He reintroduces Himself to the people of Smyrna as “the First and the Last, who was dead and came to life”. Wow. “I know your works, tribulation and poverty, but you are rich; and I know the blasphemy of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things, which you’re about to suffer“. Let me repeat. That’s the central message of this letter, do not fear. That’s the most repeated negative prohibition in all the Bible. Fear not. Jesus says fear not, “don’t fear any of those things, which you are about to suffer”. That’s the anticipation. That’s what’s going on with COVID. More people are afraid not of what’s happening to them, but what might happen to them. Jesus said, I have the power to keep you trusting me and not fearing what is about to happen. Wow. “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.” Verse 11, “he who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Now I didn’t emphasize this last hour, but do you notice what it says? To the churches. Plural. Every one of these letters was written to a specific church. Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea. But every one of them as a message to all of us. To all believers in the churches. All believers in all time. From the beginning of the church and the days of Christ and His apostles, all the way through the end of the church age on this world and to us today. No more timely message. Let’s ask the Lord to open our hearts to His word.
Father, I thank you that global news is sinking with the book of the Revelation. Not that we believe that today is the end of the world, but that we believe with all of our heart, that you are orchestrating, and you are causing to come to pass, watching over your word to perform it. And what you want us to know is that we should live without fear. That we should be the most fear less people. The most Spirit filled, emboldened, joyful people alive on earth today. And in any way, we’re not, I pray this time in your word, this time listening to your voice will convict us to fear not but to live for what will last forever and to live for what can never be taken away from us. We pray in the precious name of Jesus. Amen.
Well real quickly, let me with that slide in front of you, remind you that the church of Jesus Christ has a purpose on the earth and the purpose most repeated is that we fear not. That’s what we’re told most often to not do. This whole letter to Smyrna, the entire letter is framed by that command of Jesus Christ. Just looking at that Bloomberg quote, I wonder how long it’s going to be before they can contact trace all 7 billion, not just 3, all 7. Wow.
Revelation 2, starting in verse 8, reveals many things to us.
- First of all, there’s the same pattern I showed you where Jesus picks a geographic location. Then he shows His titles. Do you remember all of these letters have the same pattern, but all of them end after the seven parts with the same ending. “He, that has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the”, and notice that word “churches”. Remember I told you last time, that these seven churches: number one were literal geographic locations 2000 years ago.
- Number two, they represent all different types of people that will always be alive in Christ church.
- Ephesian, losing their first love, distracted people.
- Smyrna people, suffering.
- Pergamite people getting comfortable around sin,
- Thyatiran’s infected with sins.
- Sardians people that act like they’re not even believers.
- Philadelphians people that Jesus said I have nothing to correct in your lives, you guys are living the Christian life the way I designed it to be. Wow. I’d pause right there and say, if you have a mental checklist you ought to say I want to get to know why those people in Philadelphia, when they were scanned by Jesus Christ; He said, you guys, you’re doing what I asked you to do. We’re going to get that church soon.
- Then the Laodiceans, the worst of all, but it is a message to all the churches.
So, think about this. Number one: to them 2000 years ago. Secondly, to us today, but specifically not to a group. Jesus isn’t saying, group of people. He’s saying individually, I want you to come to the place where you learn to fear not. How? Is it just okay… I’m not going to fear. No. The opposite of fearing is trusting. You see faith is holding onto something, trusting. Fear is letting go and not trusting.
Revelation 2:8-11. I remind you that Revelation not only has seven churches and seven letters but also you can divide the whole book of Revelation to seven successive events. Right now, we’re in the church on earth. Then when we get to chapter 4, we’ll see the churches and heaven. Then starting in chapter 6, we start picking up with the tribulation.
Actually, the word tribulation is a Greek word, which is called, let me just anglicize it for you. Thlipsis, That’s the Greek word. That’s not written in Greek. That’s in English for you to see and our letters, but thlipsis is what you do when you wad up paper. You take a piece of paper and you squash it from every place and compress it down until it’s been thlipsised. That means pressure exerted and crushing it from every angle. Now, if you’ve ever wadded a piece of paper and thrown it into a trashcan, you have just embodied what God says is going to happen to the whole world. From every side, they’re going to be squished. From the contact tracing side, the antichrist, the beast is going to use to track every person and control them financially. Then the false prophet and all of that. The events of the global religion are going to be crushing. Plus, all those plagues.
Then we go to the end, the way God punctuates tribulation is Jesus returns. The second coming of Christ launching His kingdom. Then with the rebellion. The millennium ends in 6 and a great white throne starts in 7, but they’ll go from the second coming to the earthly rule of Christ to the ending of human history, the great white throne, the Lake of fire, and then the eternal state dwelling with God.
Always remember that God writes Revelation like a continuous history, not like little pieces to pull out and say, I wonder what that means, but to see each piece in context of what God is doing in the entire book. Those clearly described events are God’s plan for us to know what’s coming.
Why? Why does God want us to know what’s coming? So, we don’t fear. Remember when Jesus described the end of the world, how He described it. I was thinking about that this morning when I read that two significant things happen overnight. The first one is that they’re still studying the Sawtooth fault that’s in Utah. A rare, huge, in excess of six on the Richter scale, it was about a 6.5 magnitude quake hit Utah in the United States. You say why we have quakes all the time? Yeah. But there’s never been one there. That fault they didn’t record any quake time. That fault was amazing, but it’s never been active. So that’s one interesting thing.
Another one is Iceland. They say Iceland is waking up. The little peninsula Reykjavik is in the Southwest corner of Iceland. That little Island has had 8,000 earthquakes in the last two days. 8,000. They said a volcano’s forming there. The last time the volcano was forming there, that volcano erupted continuously for 300 years. They said this was going to change all transatlantic air flights. Well, of course there are any flying right now, right? We’re in the home shelter time.
What I’m saying is, don’t fear the more you see what the Bible calls birth pangs. Jesus said that all the normal things that are always going on in the world:
- Famines, did you see the locusts that are hitting Africa right now? Locusts. There was a cloud last month that scared everybody that was over on the Horn of Africa. Like Ethiopia. Now the cloud has doubled in size and it’s going to… not the desert regions… but to the farming regions of Africa. Wow.
- Are we in a plague right now? We’re calling it a pandemic.
- We’re not paying attention to it, but wars are still going on right now in Syria and lots of other places.
So basically, all the problems that are always on earth and always have been since the fall of man into sin; and during the time of Christ and since, are going to ramp up.
Birth pangs are closer together and more intense. Those are the two factors in the birth of a child. The pains become closer and stronger. So, what the Lord says is, when you see all the normal stuff, floods, famines, plagues, wars, earthquakes becoming stronger and closer, don’t fear. Do actually what Jesus says: lift up your heads, your redemption draws nigh.
Did you know? I read the paper every day. Actually, it’s not paper, it’s an electronic screen on the computer, but I read it every day just to be reminded to lift my head up and to look for my Redeemer to come. That’s what the book of Revelation was written for. To a group of people going through the near extinction of Christianity.
Now, in this next slide, you see where they were living. The people these letters were written to, were living in what we could call the epicenter of the Roman Empire. They were not living in the territories. They were not living in the Heartland like in America’s rural areas that are not as hit with the current epidemic or pandemic. These people were living in New York City. If you know anything, right now New York city has more flu cases, of course, than any country in the world. I know that, in a few weeks that will change, and this epidemic pandemic will become, ancient history. You’ll watch this video in a month and it’s like; Oh, that’s old news.
But this isn’t old news. The letter we’re studying in this class was written to a group of people that were living literally in the heart of the Roman Empire.
- In the most Roman part of the Roman Empire. More Roman than Rome.
- They had more buildings and
- they had more temples and
- they had more troops, Roman Legionnaires, than any other part of the world.
Look at the map. We already saw Ephesus in the last class. Just up from Ephesus. Smyrna had to learn, look at the next slide, how to be living for God in a dangerous world. Now you say what’s the connection to us.
- Are you living in a dangerous world?
- Are there floods and famines and plagues and wars and earthquakes and right now pandemics? Yep.
- Behind that, who’s the god of this world? By the way, who wants to kill and steal and destroy.
- Who is the god of war? If we want to call him that.
- Who is the murderer?
- Who is the liar?
- Who is the enemy of God?
- Who is the one that wants to destroy humanity?
You see the real danger is not the floods and famines and plagues and wars and locus and earthquakes and volcanoes coming. What we’re really not supposed to fear is the author of fear.
God is not the author of fear. It says in 2 Timothy 1:7 “for God has not given us a spirit of fear, but a power and a love and sound mind”. God wants us trusting. Satan wants us to fear. And this entire letter to the people of Smyrna is all about how to keep from fearing as we live in a dangerous world.
Now remember, back up and look at these seven churches.
- Ephesus as you see in your slide, there had a crowded heart. The first danger all of us face is, getting distracted from the Lord by everything around us.
- Smyrna was facing horrific fiery trials, the Lord said don’t fear those.
- Pergamos was overexposed to sin.
- Thyatira was infected by sin.
- Sardis was so exposed and so infected they appeared to act unsaved.
Now, again, I read in the news today that something curious is happening. 1200 people in 10 days in New York city have died. Either sitting on subways or on sidewalks. Now, they said that’s normal in a city of millions and millions and millions, but it’s 10 times more than normal. You see all over New York City people that are too poor to be tested, too poor to get an Uber ride to the hospital, too poor to even be known are dying all alone, all over the place.
You know what, I wish I should have put a slide on for you to see. Someone took their drone and took a picture of the Island where New York City has dug this trench. They’re bringing forklifts of plywood caskets and stacking them there because they have a rule, if no one claims the body in so many days they just buried them. Did you know if you had gone to the city of Sardis on Jesus Christ tour, from His perspective it looked a little bit like New York City. There were people dead all over the place. They were not into church, but they were dead. They were not acting like Christians. They were not responding like Christians. They had no hunger for the word of God. They had no respiration, which is prayer. They had no desire to trust God. They just acted like lost people. It’s amazing how Jesus saw the church in Sardis.
- Then the church in Philadelphia, I told you a clean bill of health, kind of like I’m someone that can live right around the plague and not even get it.
- Then finally the worst church, the one that Jesus said made Him sick. The spiritually blind and distracted of Laodicea.
Let’s take a drone view. This slide shows you the modern city of Izmir, now in Turkey today. If you look on an atlas or online, you’ll see one of the largest cities in Turkey is called is Izmir, that’s the modern spelling for the city of Smyrna. So, this city is still around and right there on the slide, the yellow oval you see there on that slide, in the little dark space in the middle of it; that’s the actual first century area we’re going to talk about with the events that the Smyrna inhabitants of the church were not to fear. How does God want us to respond to our fear? About our pain and struggles and persecution and suffering?
Well, the first lesson the Lord wants to remind us of is: that life is supposed to be camping and heaven is supposed to be our home.
Now, do you remember what both Paul and Peter said about the Christian life? Peter, as he was close to being crucified upside down… you remember that’s how Peter died, crucified, upside down… Peter said that I am ready for my tent to be taken down, folded up. It’s very interesting. He actually used a Greek word from the Roman legions when they were out on the road. They would break camp, take their tents, roll them up, put them onto the cart and they would go to the next camp site. Peter said, I’m getting ready to roll up my tent. My body is a tent, I just live in it but I’m not the tent. See, most people nowadays think this is all there is. Their body is the center of their life. God says no, when you’re a Christian you realize you actually just live in that body and that body is only a tent and it’s temporary. It’s going to be taken down.
Now, Paul uses this word, plus he uses another one. Paul said I’m ready not only to break camp, but I’m ready to sail away. He uses the word for when the Roman Legionnaires would sail across the Mediterranean. The purpose of the boat was to get them there. That wasn’t where they were going to live. They were just on the way. Paul and Peter both said, life is temporary. Life is like camping, heaven is home.
The early church faced three major waves of persecution. Smyrna was at the cutting edge.
- The first came when Nero needed someone to blame for failing as a leader. He chose the movement called The Way, those who followed Christ. This wave was mostly limited to Rome. So, wave one was local. The first persecutions were local.
- The second wave was provincial. Now look at this. Local, that’s when Paul and Peter were martyred. Provincial, this is now the time of Smyrna. So, what we’re seeing is the second wave of the persecution.
- Then as we’ll see, in a few moments, there was empire wide persecution.
So, the church faced three waves of persecution. The first one came while the apostles Paul and Peter were still alive, they were swept up in it. Mostly centered around Rome. Mostly involved Nero. Subsided until near the end of the first century. Then it became provincial and that’s where Smyrna got involved.
A second more widespread persecution came when Domitian became the Emperor of Rome. It was during that time, that John was exiled to Patmos and began to write under Christ’s guidance the book of Revelation.
As you look at the next slide, you see the near extinction of Christianity. This is what I would like to just take a moment, to help you understand. I think most people don’t realize how the end of days, the tribulation… what we’re starting to see is as we talk about contact tracing and this global electronic surveillance thing that we see building around us… how that played into the lives of these early believers as they were getting an ancient version of it.
Basically, Roman emperors were soldiers. Most of them conquered and extended the empire. Sadly, most of the Roman Empire’s emperors either died of drinking too much, living too wildly, or they were killed in battle. So basically, almost every Roman emperor died in office from either, his body wearing out from the good life or being killed in battle or assassinated. Except for this one, this is the only Roman emperor who retired.
- He was a soldier, but more than that, he was an engineer and
- Diocletian came to the empire and decided he was going to fix everything.
- He fixed the sewers,
- he fixed the baths,
- he fixed the roads,
- he fixed the army system,
- he fixed the city of Rome’s problems and
Then he learned that there was a problem that kept creeping up in the Roman empire. Diocletian is from late third to early fourth. So, in other words, he’s from the two hundreds to the early three hundreds, AD. So late third century to early fourth century. We can say from about 296-306 or something along that line, AD.
This emperor decided that he was going to fix a reoccurring problem in the empire. He had heard about Nero’s problems with these people that were followers of The Way. That’s what they called Christianity The Way. Jesus said I am the what? The way, the truth, the life. So, these who followed The Way had been a nuisance in Rome. Then they became a provincial problem. But Diocletian said it’s time to get rid of them empire wide.
His plan being an engineer, like he was; number one, he had a three-part plan.
- He said, I’m going to destroy their places of worship.
- I’m going to destroy their leaders. So, the church buildings, the homes they met in. The pastors.
- Then he said their Holy books.
He didn’t know about churches and pastors and Bibles. He just was smart enough to know that if you got rid of every place they met and everybody that led them and everything that they all studied together, that you could wipe it out.
So, he began a ten-year systematic destruction of every place the church met. Why do you think they went to the catacombs and other places like that? It’s because they systematically lost their places to meet. Then he found and either imprisoned or executed every pastor of every church.
Guess what? There’s not a complete copy of the scriptures that predates Diocletian. There are tons of copies that are far predating him, individual pieces. See what the church did, as Diocletian was systematically getting them, they started tearing their Bibles up and they would say; here you take Genesis, here you take Romans, here you take Matthew, and they tore the scriptures into pieces. That’s why today there are thousands, thousands, and thousands into over 25,000 individual fragments. That collectively we have every word of God, but no complete copy because he destroyed them all. He killed. He demolished.
This event, this near extinction is a foreboding picture of what’s to come, when Christianity is no longer acceptable in our world. Diocletian came closer to exterminating Christianity than any other emperor. There are at least 30 of them that tried. This was just beginning this middle one, when John was writing this.
I love history. So, there on that slide are the persecuting emperors.
- Domition who exiled John
- Marcus Aurelius
- Septimius Severus, you know, like gladiator guy
- and Diocletian was the worst
Now what are some lessons that we can learn from suffering Smyrna? When John falls to his face, look at Revelation 1:17. When John fell down on his face before Jesus, do you remember when Jesus put His hand on him. When he said, look at verse 17 of chapter 1, “and when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead.” remember he was horrified seeing Jesus so angry “and He laid His right hand on me.” Huh? If we were studying the gospels, do you know what Jesus constantly did? He touched people. He reached out to sinners and lepers and people in need and poor people. He hasn’t changed. That’s a reminder. Jesus reached out and He touched him. “He laid His right hand on me and said, do not be afraid.”
Jesus was prepping through this epistle, the book of the Revelation. He was prepping the church for what was to come. Do not be afraid. Why should we not be afraid? Because we’re not going to suffer? Because we’re going to avoid all this? No.
“Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last. I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of death.” Don’t fear because of who I am.
Lesson number one. We share in Christ’s sufferings. That’s what Jesus says in verse 8. Look at verse 8,” these things says the First and Last, who is dead and came to life”. Chapter 2, verse 8, Jesus said when you’re suffering all that’s going to come, you’re not doing anything that I haven’t gone through. In fact, I’ve gone through more than you will ever go through and so don’t be afraid. We share in Christ’s sufferings. The first lesson we can learn from Smyrna is, we’re called to share in Christ sufferings.
By the way, Smyrna. Do you know what Smyrna means? You all know this word. When Jesus was born, the wise men brought Him gold, frankincense, and what? Say it out loud. Myrrh. That’s what the Greek word Smyrna is, it’s Myrrh.
Did you know that myrrh smells of death? It was used as embalming. It’s so interesting that the myrrh epistle that has to death and all the sorrows of death is the one that Jesus wrote about suffering to come and not being afraid. There’s such amazing, symmetry that the Lord built in.
Jesus was writing to a town named Smyrna, the Greek word for myrrh.
- That towns major industry was myrrh. They would take a machete and they would hack at the bark of these trees. When that wounded tree healed itself, it exuded little droplets that were picked off the tree. That became the resin, that was refined into myrrh. People would gather the sap and refine it.
- Myrrh always has to do with suffering in the scripture.
- When Jesus hung on the cross, they even offered Him wine mixed with myrrh to dull the pain.
- At His burial, He was wrapped in myrrh.
- Jesus’ life has characterized the most potent picture of suffering that anybody could imagine.
So, Jesus writes to the people of Smyrna and says, don’t be afraid.
Why? Because God offers to give us supernatural joy through our fears and pain and suffering.
For just a moment look at chapter 5 of Matthew. Remember I told you, there’s nothing new in Revelation. There’s no brand new, first time ever, mentioned things in here. All of it is just reminders. Chapter 5, and you can see the reference right there in the slide, starting in verse 10, listen to what Jesus said.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you…”
And He describes forms of persecution. We can all relate to “when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice…” Now, look at this, this is supernatural. “And be exceedingly glad.”
Really. So, when people are harming me and threatening me and scaring me and persecuting me, I’m supposed to just be happy? See, that’s humanly impossible. What Jesus said is I offer to you, see the slide, supernatural joy through your fears, your pains, your suffering, your persecution.
Now for just a minute, you see on the slide there, I want to tell you about my friend Boaz. I’ll never forget when I met him. I was in college. A lot of you watching this are in college or in a Bible Institute or something. I was on a summer missions trip and we were delivering 1800 Bibles to Romania. We drove from Germany to Romani. We saw the Lord get us across several communist country borders.
We parked outside where we were supposed to, this factory. Our leaders said just parked there and the man that comes up and gets in the front seat without saying a word is the one you’re supposed to follow. I thought, boy, this sounds dangerous.
So, we parked across the street from the factory in our van with 1800 Bibles. All of a sudden, this man walked straight out the gate, walked around to the passenger side, got in the front seat and said that way. For the next two weeks, every day, we picked him up from work and he said that way. He took us from house to barn, to house, to village across the country of Romania delivering those 1800 Bibles. He only spoke a couple of words of English. “That way” was about the extent of his English.
When we got to the first place hours and hours of driving later, we looked at our sheet, we were supposed to deliver 20 Bibles. I picked up 20 Bibles out of our car. I brought them like this, and this man Boaz put his hands out to receive the Bibles. This part of his hand, I could see as the Bibles went in his hand, do you see what I’m wiggling my fingers. I looked at his fingernails. I’d never seen fingernails like that. His fingernails were between these two colors, dark brown, the fingernails were thick. They were thick enough to be like Cedar shakes for shingles. They were thick, like a quarter inch thick. And I thought, huh and all night long as he stuck his hands up, I started to see those fingernails.
Well, we worked together for a whole week and I’ve never seen a man like that. He worked all day, rode all night, would fall asleep between places when he was directing us where to go with his little brown fingernails. He radiated what I now believe is supernatural joy.
I found out later when the ministry of that summer was over. I asked our leader in Germany. I said, what was the thing with the guy with the brown fingernails? Does he paint them that way? And the man said, Oh, you met Boaz. He said he’s been captured almost every year that he helps deliver the Bibles. The Romanian police tie his hands down on a bench. They crouch over like this and while there telling them what’s coming, the police chief takes his Jack knife and a little piece of Pinewood. He cuts off little sharp splinters, jams them under each of his fingernails that are on his hands that are tied down to the bench. While that man is talking to him, he turns on his cigarette lighter and comes around and lights all of those splinters that are underneath his fingernails. They burn up underneath and totally disfigure and horrific pain. They torment him.
We came back the next year, by the way, Boaz came a year later and hopped in the car, but he wasn’t quite the same. I found out that they went from finger torture to, that year after our group, they tied him down to the same bench and took a rubber hose, they beat his feet. Taking turns, the police, by the hour so that it so damaged the nerves in his feet he could not stand upright and couldn’t go to work for six months. Yet 12 months later, he jumped into our car. The Lord said, no matter what dangers are coming your way, I offer you supernatural joy. That’s what Jesus promised. That’s true. I saw it in his life.
Well, lesson two: persecution’s inevitable. 2 Timothy 3:12 says this, “all who live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” The slide you see there is the heights of this empire wide persecution.
- They would take them, they would hunt them down, the Christians.
- They would feed them to the wild beasts.
- Some of them crucified,
- some of them burnt at the stake.
Let me tell you about one. The next slide. One of the sufferings. Revelation chapter 2, verse 10. Let me illustrate, what happened in Smyrna from history, okay? It says, “do not fear any of these things be faithful until death, and I’ll give you the crown of life.”
On the slide, what you see are the archways going into the forum area. Do you remember way back, a few slides back? I showed you a big yellow circle around the heart of Izmir, which I said was first century Smyrna. This is what was in that circle. What you can see on that slide are the archways which all the citizens of Smyrna had to line up and walk through that archway, with the city clerk, the Roman Legionnaires standing, and a little table. This is all they did. On the table the emperor said, and this was in this middle level of persecution, the emperor said,
- I want you to have every citizen of Rome that lives in Smyrna to walk through those archways,
- come up and there’s a bowl with incense,
- reach in with two fingers and get a little bit of incense between your fingers
- sprinkling over a flame of a lamp that was burning next to the clerk.
- If they would say, Caesar is Lord. Actually, two words in Latin Kyrios Deus. That Kyrios Cesar is God. Say two words as you sprinkle your incense, and you were safe for one year.
Well, they lined up the town. People started standing in that line and it was announced to them that if they didn’t do that, they would take them into the forum and they would be burned at the stake alive. Executed, murdered, horrifically tortured.
When people began to think. Lines about a mile long, nobody’s here except the clerk and that soldier, no one will ever know, Caesar is Lord and they got off for another year, until Polycarp.
The 86 year old pastor of the church at Smyrna got into the line and he looked down at the incense, and looked at the flame, and he looked at the clerk, and he looked at the soldier, and he said; 80 and 6 years have I lived, and I have followed Christ all my days how could I deny Him now. They marched him into the forum and that day burned him alive.
You see Jesus wasn’t joking when He said you’re going to face death, they did. Remember, those who suffer persecution are the ones that are godly in Christ Jesus.
That was the earliest controversy in the church. What do you do with the lapsers, they called them, the people that did the incense because they didn’t want to die? The church had a great controversy over whether they should let them stay in the church because they weren’t faithful.
Here’s the lesson in Jesus’ letter to Smyrna: He doesn’t promise they’ll escape.
People think, wow; the rapture, I’m not going to go through all this, I’m going to be in heaven. Yeah, but remember the birth pangs I told you about here, it’s going to get bad before the Lord takes us out.
- The Lord never promised we’ll escape.
- He doesn’t promise to blind the eyes of those hunting them.
- He doesn’t promise their careers will be safe.
- Their homes will be safe.
- He never says their friends and family will be safe.
- He says, be faithful until death.
When we served for each summer, smuggling Bibles into the former Soviet Union, Soviet blocked communist countries in Eastern Europe, I learned something. If you’re a Christian and love the Lord and followed the Lord, the government would not allow your children to go to college. Did you know that under communism, Christians children could not go to college. They were to be day labors, ditch, diggers, whatever, but they could not get educated. In other words, if you became a Christian it didn’t just harm you, your family would suffer.
You know what in America today, People will sacrifice anything for their kids to get ahead. They are not willing to suffer and so their children become less and less reflective of Christ because they skipped church for their:
- activities and
- their sports and t
- heir academics and
- their art pursuits.
They gradually get comfortable around sin, infected with sin, and acting like they’re not even believers. Throughout history God has used persecution to advance the gospel.
I’m going to close with this. How can you apply the scriptures to suffering. Well, I propose this. Here’s the third lesson: God’s attributes shape persecution for His purposes. What do I mean by that? Well, there are 20 plus prime attributes of God.
You can see them on the slide, independence, unchangeableness, eternity, omnipresence, omniscience. You’ve heard of all these, now watch, how do we apply the attributes of God to the horrific things that are going to be in our lives?
Let’s just take four, the ones that are bold there. Let’s apply the attributes of God to get my fears into perspective. So, I make a little box. In fact, I’ll draw this as I do this because I know your slide is little. Before we go, I want you to think about applying the truth of the word of God to whatever you face in your life today.
So, we’ll put a box here, and this is you and me. This is us, and these are all our fears. And God says, I want you to see that nothing can get into that box. Don’t fear it’s going to get into that box without remembering four things. Four attributes of God. Here they are.
When we get a financial hit; when we get an accident, car accident, work accident; unexpected loss, someone we know that it’s in our life; or maybe we get a health problem like cancer, how do we trust God?
We remember number one, God is always good. Now that’s one of His attributes. God is always good. In other words, my life is protected by the fact that God will never harm me. Wow. He is not trying to harm us.
Number two. God knows everything. God knows. Now, what is that one? His omniscience. In other words, God is too good to let anything into my life that I fear that will harm me. He’s not going to harm me. He might refine me. He might have me go through fires of persecution or even die, but it’s not to harm me. It’s for my good. You know what that means? God knew about it before it ever happened. You know, a lot of people think that when a disaster strikes, they got to pray real quick because the Lord was not watching over them.
Then, God knows everything from eternity past. He is good. Look at the next slide. God is present. Now He’s not present out there. He’s in the box with us. He lives in us. So God, He is present with us when all of our problems come. He knew they were coming. He’s too good to let anything happen to us.
Look at this last one. He is so powerful. We call that as omnipotence. God is so powerful He could stop it from happening. Have you ever thought about that?
Look at what we have.
- We have a box we live in, made by God. That’s so powerful.
- He is so good nothing gets in there except what’s good for us.
- He knows about it, so nothing escapes His attention.
- He lives in there with us and He’s so powerful.
- He could prevent it from happening to us. When He doesn’t it’s for this reason, God wants us to learn to trust Him.
- He’s either good or bad.
- He’s either wise or dumb.
- He’s either all powerful or weak.
- He’s either everywhere, present or absent.
He’s allowing these problems we fear to come into our life because our responses declare whether or not we trust him.
Trusting God means that we believe nothing accidentally touches us. That’s His attributes, because
- God is good. He always loves us.
- God is omniscient, He always knows before it happens, what’s happening.
- He’s omnipotent and He could prevent it from happening.
- He’s omnipresent because He’s always with us.
So the lesson from the Christians who were hunted nearly to extinction is one word. Are you going to TRUST God? Fear not, God’s not the author of fear.
- Trust the God who’s with you.
- Who knows.
- Who’s good.
- Who’s so powerful. He could stop anything. If He doesn’t, trust Him.
Let’s bow for word of prayer.
Father, thank you for letting us read your letter to the Smyrnan inhabitants that suffered so much. Thank you for letting us see the current situation in our world, to remind us that soon there’s going to be a virus that’s not COVID. It’s going to be Christianity and we’re going to suffer. Until you come or call us, I pray we would trust that you are the God revealed in your word and that we would follow you all of our days. In the precious name of Jesus we pray, and all God’s people said, Amen.