Saturday, May 21, 2016

Revelation 2:8-11, "Dear Church," p. 2

Revelation 2:8-11 – Dear Church, p.2

And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation.

Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’

The Bible, God’s revelation of Himself to man, is a collection of 66 books written by 40 different authors over the course of  1500 years - with ONE basic theme – Redemption.  From first to last, God’s plan of salvation frames every precept and principle in the Bible.  
  • Each book reveals some aspect of the character  of God.  
  • Each chapter dissects human personality and delves human need.  

We learn WHO Jesus IS and WHY it is important He came through the Bible; We see WHAT He accomplished through His death and resurrection, and how WE are impacted by those things.  

God’s love for us is the motivation behind ALL the things he reveals to us in His Word.  Which is why God EVEN tells us about our enemy - Satan.

WHO is “Satan” and why do we need to know about him?
Though there are numerous passages that describe Satan, there remains woeful ignorance in the church concerning him.  Pollster, George Barna, conducted a survey several years ago in which he asked ‘who’ Satan was.  Of those surveyed, 48% said they believe Satan to be a symbol of evilNOT a real person.  48%!

Whatever ELSE you may do… PLEASE - PLEASE don’t base your theological views on opinion-polls!!
What does the Bible teach regarding Satan???

  • Both the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel tell us that Satan was ONCE an Angel of God, created in beauty and perfection – the leader of worship in heaven.  Over time, he grew jealous of the glory of God and sought that glory for himself.  In pride he exalted himself, and led a rebellion in heaven against God.  

  • The Book of Revelation describes that fall from heaven and tells us that 1/3 of the Angels joined him.  These angels, rejected by God and cast from heaven, are now called demons, and Satan is  their chief.  Though powerful, his fall from heaven demonstrates - he is NOT all-powerful.  With no room in heaven for him, Earth became the temporary seat of his dominion.
We first find him in the book of Genesis, disguised as a serpent, tempting Adam and Eve to rebel against God… and throughout the Bible, he is engaged in battle against God and God’s people.  

  • In Matthew 4, he is described as ‘the tempter,’ appealing to the desires of the flesh, leading men to rebel against God.  

  • 1 Timothy 4 tells us that he labors to infiltrate the church, attempting to contaminate God’s truth, to fabricate a false gospel, and to corrupt the church through false doctrine.
  • John 13 shows us how Judas, moved by Satan, betrayed Jesus – revealing Satan’s power to deceive even our Lord’s personal friends.  

  • In Acts 5, we find the devil corrupting the worship of the church, successfully tempting Ananias and Sapphira to lie to God and seek honor for themselves.  

  • 1 Peter 5 describes him as “a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.”
  • Jesus called Satan ‘a liar and the father of lies’ in John chapter 8
  • Paul tells us that he can even fabricate miracles in order to deceive people
  • According to Jesus in Matthew 13, Satan is to blame for all the hypocrites in Church.

In dealing with unbelievers, Satan attempts:
  • to blind their minds so that they will not believe the Gospel (2 Corinthians 4:4)

  • to snatch away the seed of the Word of God before it can take root in the hearts of men (Matthew 13:19)

  • To lull the unbeliever into a false sense of security (Luke 11:21)

  • to lay snares for them, trapping them in sin (2 Timothy 2:25-26)

  • to masquerade as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:13-14) so that he may deceive those who have not embraced the truth (Revelation 12:9)

  • and to mix just enough error with truth so that he can convince people to be “religious” without being born-again (Matthew 13)
But don’t think his work is solely among unbelievers.  He has strategies for destroying churches too… they are:
  • to neutralize our witness by causing controversy, discord, and division in the church
  • to snuff us out through external persecution
  • to smother our witness by appealing to our desire for popularity and material wealth
  • to undermine the truth by disseminating false doctrine
Interestingly, all those methods - are found in this handful of verses penned to the believers at Smyrna.

Now, you may be wondering, “What does all that have to do with US???” I’m so glad you asked!!

Our Lord’s message to Smyrna is of particular relevance to US because many of the tools Satan uses to attack THEM, he continues to use against us.  It is important that we identify his tactics.  For certainly, Satan is threatened by God’s church, whether it be the church of AD 100 or 2016.  He would love nothing better than to see Stonebridge Church rendered ineffective.  

There are three things we should notice here:

1.  First, as we study our Lord’s message to Smyrna, we notice the Trend.  Vv. 8 and 9 say, “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.  “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”  

Any work for the Lord that honors Him and accomplishes His Will, will find itself a target of Satan’s schemes.  A brief study of the Book of Acts proves that every time the church made significant strides in its witness, work, or worship, Satan did his best to corrupt or destroy it.  

He employed two sources of pressure to hinder those in Smyrna:
First, there were outward forces working to hinder them.  He uses persecution as a tool to defeat the church.  The word translated “tribulation” in verse 9, means “pressure.”  Satan applies PRESSURE to hinder God’s work.  Later on in Revelation, John details how Satan has been seeking to destroy the church ever since it was brought into existence.  From the birth of Christ till today, he has busied himself with the destruction of the church.  And the church at Smyrna had become known throughout the region as a particular target of Satan’s hostility.  Church Historians tell how...
  • Smyrna’s pastor was made a human candle - literally - burned at the stake for his loyalty to Jesus Christ.
  • A 92 year old Christian in the church was ALSO tortured to death for his faith in the Lord.
  • Even a 15 year old boy was also singled out and tortured.
  • A female slave that had been saved through the efforts of this church was thrown alive into a pit of lions because she refused to renounce her faith in Jesus.

This church had become a target of Satan’s hostilities, bringing physical and psychological torture to their fellowship in an effort to stop their witness.

Understand --> Not EVERY problem we experience in life is caused by Satan…
  • sometimes we have problems because we do stupid things.  
  • Other times we have problems because we live in a fallen, imperfect world in which sin is doing what sin does - bringing death and destruction to the world.  
  • BUT anyone who doesn’t believe Satan is applying pressure to the Church today is just plain ignorant!

He also attacked them economically.  Many of those early Christians lost everything they had, their livelihood and all their possessions - their families and friends - because of their commitment to the gospel.  

When external pressure failed to silence the witness of this church,

Satan applied Internal Pressure.  According to v. 9, false teachers had attempted to infiltrate their fellowship.  They presented a “New Gospel” that involved keeping various Jewish laws in addition to their faith in Christ, for salvation.  They promoted a gospel of works, suggesting that FAITH ALONE was inadequate – that GRACE was insufficient.  

And Satan was behind that.
Mark it down folks – anybody who adds to or takes away from Salvation by grace alone through Faith alone is being manipulated by the Father of Lies.  That’s why Paul said THIS to the Galatians, “I marvel that you are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ unto ANOTHER gospel.  Which is NOT another, but there be some that trouble you and would pervert the gospel of Christ.  But though WE or an angel from heaven preach any other Gospel unto you than that which we have preached... LET HIM BE ACCURSED!
One of Satan’s schemes is to infiltrate and contaminate the teachings of the Church.

We live in an age where “tolerance” is championed as “the supreme virtue.”  Christians who unswervingly hold to Biblical doctrine are labeled “intolerant.”  But God’s truth runs counter to this pluralistic message where all roads are said to lead to heaven and all Gods are just different names for the ONE TRUE GOD.  Back-slidden Church people who say “Doctrine divides… and should be avoided to prevent disagreement,” are unwittingly advancing the agenda of the enemy.

2.  But after the Trend, Jesus mentions the Trial at Smyrna in verse 10, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation (or ‘external PRESSURE’ - distress).  Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”  

Imagine how you would have felt after receiving that message.  As if things hadn’t been bad enough, they were about to get much worse!!
I hate pain, don't you??  It is perfectly natural to resist it.  We learn to resist pain when we are young.  As a kid, one of the worst parts of receiving discipline wasn’t the discipline itself – but the long wait that often led up to it.  We heard, “Just wait until your father gets home…” and all day long we were filled with dread.

We don’t like pain.  So imagine how they church at Smyrna felt when they learned that things were going to get a lot worse before they got better.  I imagine that brought great anxiety.
But notice that Jesus said “for ten days you will have tribulation.”  Don’t get hung up on the word “tribulation.”  Focus on the words “10 days.”

As a Christian living in a fallen world, you ARE going to experience hard times.  You are going to be misunderstood, belittled for your faith, you will suffer loss, pain, and even death.  The faithful saints at Smyrna may have been tempted to give up had they stopped reading at the word “tribulation.”  

But the fact that it would only endure for a short time showed them the importance of holding on – of keeping the faith – because soon all the difficulty will pass and their faith would keep them THROUGH IT!

Which reminds me of the old Christian gentleman who was asked by his pastor what his favorite words were in the Bible.  His answer?? “And it came to pass.”  

This pressure, our heartaches and sufferings, won’t last forever.
Paul understood this too.  He told the Corinthians, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh… For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Christian, I hate to be the bearer of bad news… but things are probably going to get a lot worse before they get better.  But don’t let THAT be your focus.  Remind yourself that difficult times are temporary, and that remaining faithful to the Lord will be worth all the hardships we will face.  Don’t allow temporary trials to rob you of the eternal blessings found in Christ.  
3.  But his message doesn’t end there.  After showing us the Trend and the Trial, our Lord speaks of the Triumph at Smyrna, when He says, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.
Satan has a lot to offer people.  He dangles pleasure, prestige, power, and possessions in front of them.  You can take the bait and enjoy those things for a season.  But their enjoyment is temporary.  In the end, those things cannot produce anything lasting.  One day, it will all be gone.  

But the Lord offers something TO US that time and tribulation cannot destroy.  

Sure, on the outset, it hardly seems worth the trade.  

The man who is deceived by Satan scoffs at the idea of forfeiting worldly pleasure for eternal reward.  But what we gain by remaining faithful, nothing, NOT EVEN DEATH can take away.  As Paul said, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him.
Those struggling believers at Smyrna had seen the trend and were experiencing the trial – but God had not abandoned them – SOON they would experience TRIUMPH if they remained faithful.  

Though Satan is a terrible foe, Jesus reminds us
⇒  “Greater is He that is in YOU than he that is in the world!

So… what’s the takeaway???

Maybe you are experiencing times of trial right now. Everything around you says, “Give up!”

Don’t you listen to the enemy!  Ask the Lord to help you – to keep you faithful, to give you His strength, and to motivate you with the prospects of future triumph.  Remind yourself that trials are temporary – and give yourself to those things that last.  Remember the importance of faithfulness – and that God will never leave you or forsake you.  

Do you need encouragement today?  Are you going through difficult times? Why not take your burdens to the Lord – because you see, just as He was aware of what the Smyrna church was suffering, He is aware of you and your needs.  If you need God’s strength and help, why not bring your needs to Him right now??