Jesus' Stamp of Approval

Bible Book: Revelation  2 : 08-11
Subject: Approval, Jesus'; Church
Series: Revelation

Have you ever wondered what kind of church Jesus would give His stamp of approval? I don’t mean a church that has more good qualities than bad, I mean a church that receives an absolutely positive appraisal from the Lord. The church at Smyrna was such a church.

The letter of the church at Smyrna is the second of the Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor. There are seven letters and the number seven in the Bible represents that which is complete, mature, or even that which may be perfect. There were many more churches than these seven to which letters were addressed. There were churches in Jerusalem and Judea, Antioch of Syria, Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth, Rome, and more throughout the Roman Empire.

The number seven in this type of literature denotes complete, representing here all churches of all ages. There is a message in each of these letters that will find application in local churches of any age and any place. The Lord intended the believers in Smyrna to benefit from this letter but it was not supposed to stop there. The entire Revelation would be read, then copied, and then the original would be sent to the next church where it would be read, copied, and forwarded. Each letter would be read to each of the seven churches and then it would be sent on to other churches until it was known throughout the Christian world.

The Lord promises, "Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near" [1:3, NASB]. It would be easy to read those words with mild interest and then forget them, especially when we consider the nature of apocalyptic literature. We may soon become so engrossed with imagery and mystery that we forget the promised blessing. When we realize that there are seven beatitudes in Revelation we are immediately reminded of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. Those believers who are faithful to Jesus Christ are promised specific blessings here and now. Now we come to the last book in the Bible and we find seven beatitudes, all of which should claim our attention.

The first of the seven beatitudes recorded in Revelation is in 1:3. These beatitudes should receive special attention. Let us look briefly at them.

1) Blessed are those who read, hear, and keep this prophecy.

2) Blessed are those who die in the Lord, (14:13).

3) Blessed are those who are watching in anticipation of the Lord’s return (16:15).

4) Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb 19:9).

5) Blessed are those who participate in the first resurrection (20:6).

6) Blessed are those who keep the words of this prophecy, (22:7).

7) Blessed are those who wash their robe and gain access to the Tree of Life (22:14).

The letter to the church at Smyrna pulls back the curtain to reveal a church whose people knew and appreciated the blessings of the Lord, even in the most trying of times and in the most trying of circumstances. But why do we go back to the third verse of the first chapter before beginning a message on the letter to the church at Smyrna? There is a reason for that. I have observed that many Christians like to admire certain special, visible Christians whom they seem to view as super saints, people they admire, people who remind them of the blessings that come to those special people who manifest a faith that sets them apart from ordinary Christians. This really became obvious in seventies and eighties when many American Christians sat in front of the television watching certain televangelists, admiring them, sending them their prayer requests - along with their tithes and offerings, telling their neighbors about all the wonderful things these great people were doing. They were healing the sick, prophesying, receiving a "word of knowledge", and one even claimed to have raised the dead in his services. I may have put some to sleep, but I don’t recall anyone ever dying in a service.

The letter Smyrna is especially refreshing in that it reveals that a church can be everything the Head of the Church wants it to be. That church was a blessed church and those believers were blessed indeed. Occasionally, someone will say, "Have a blessed day!" In a church like Smyrna every day was a blessed day. But you and I do not have to sit back and admire those saints from a distance. Every believer and every church can experience the blessings of our Savior every day. I have often said that in Christ you can have your cake and eat it too. You can enjoy the full blessings of the Lord here and how without diminishing in any way the blessings the Lord has promised us "in the sweet by and by."

Now, for a little background. Smyrna was a major city on the West coast of Asia Minor. It is the modern city of Izmir, Turkey. Smyrna had a good harbor, it was at the end of a major Roman highway, and it was surrounded by rich farmland. The second of the seven churches addressed in Revelation (2:8-11) was one of two churches of which the Lord offered no complaint, only a commendation (Philadelphia was the other one).

The city of Smyrna yielded to the authority of Rome very early (about 195 B.C.) and maintained its loyalty to Roman. They never wavered in their loyalty and the Romans often rewarded Smyrna for its patriotism. Their relationship with Rome was a source of pride to them. Consistent with this loyalty, the city became a headquarters for the imperial cult of emperor worship in that part of the Roman Empire.

Christians were persecuted by Jews and Romans; by Roman because they refused to worship the emperor, by the Jews for a different reason. The Jews convinced the emperor that Judaism was a monotheistic religion and they could not worship Caesar. When the Christians sought the same exemption the Jews convinced the Romans that Christianity was a heretical group that had splintered off Judaism. Thus the Jews were declared a legal religion and Christianity was declared an illegal religion.

Now, let us look at the Scripture.

"To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: "The First and the Last, the One who was dead and came to life, says: I know your tribulation and poverty, yet you are rich. I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the Devil is about to throw some of you into prison to test you, and you will have tribulation for 10 days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches. The victor will never be harmed by the second death" [Rev 2:8-11, HCSB].

Bear in mind as we look at this letter that the city of Smyrna was extremely loyal to Rome, and that the members of this church were extremely loyal to their Lord. It is also significant that one of the greatest of all the early church fathers, Polycarp, would serve as Bishop at Smyrna.


"And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:" [NASB].

This letter is addressed to the angel of the church at Smyrna. Millions of Americans have enjoyed the television program, TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL. Angels are real, but the angels on that show do not always accurately portray biblical angels. One can detect the influence of New Age (postmodern) interest in angels in the programs - but they are clean and that is saying a lot today. Many others watch programs about miracles, in which everything from people, to dogs and cats are called angels. The word here in the Greek is angelos, which means messenger. Angels are messengers, but in these letters in Revelation it seems that the messenger intended is the pastor of the church.

In the letter writing style of the day, the author introduced himself at the beginning of the letter. There was a very practical reason for that. He wrote on a scroll and since the letter did not come in an envelop with a return address, this let the reader know the identity of the writer without having to go to the trouble of unrolling the scroll to see the signature.

The divine Author introduces Himself as "the first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life."

This is significant. In the first chapter we see that Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last (letters of the Greek alphabet). He is the beginning and the consummation of our salvation, the beginning and the consummation of the ages. He is also the one who was crucified and raised from the dead. The Resurrection was the crowning message of the New Testament, and without it there would be no church, and there would be no salvation.


1) Jesus had perfect knowledge of their works.

Jesus commended the church at Ephesus for their work, their intense toil. They labored to the point of exhaustion. He also commended the church at Ephesus for its orthodoxy, but then He delivered His shocking condemnation of that church with the words, "But I have something against you because you have lost your first love." Only those who nurture and cultivate a cold, lifeless orthodoxy seem to appreciate it. No doubt, to the members of the church at Ephesus their orthodoxy, their program, their ministries were a source of pride.

I have known church members who would split their own church to get their own way in some small issue. I have known people who would attack another member viciously over the style of music, the sound system, or the color of the carpet. I have known church members who created divisions over missions.

I have known people who would part company with you over the Revelation! I was surprised when a former pastor showed up in one of our services (years ago). I was new at the church and I preached a series of messages from the Letters to the Seven Churches in Asia. This man had been pastor there five and one-half months, but one of the deacons idolized the man. Another deacon said to me, "We had to call him as pastor to get rid of him!" In other words, all they ever heard from this deacon was how much they needed Brother Hall (not his real name). Brother Hall has his name DR. BILLY HALL printed on red reflector tape which he had stuck on various things in the office! During his five and one-half months he carried on an area wide crusade, adding to the Sunday School roles anyone who showed up for a special promotion. I would go out to visit member only to have them tell me they were not members of our church, they were active in another local church. The former pastor gave me more Amens than I had ever heard in any one service in my life. Then he went home with his deacon friend and "cut me to pieces", according to the deacon’s confused wife.

I well remember pastors who would dismiss or condemn other pastors who did not agree with their interpretation of Revelation. I believe in a pre-tribulation rapture of the church, but if I have a friend who holds a post-tribulation position I cannot justify an ungodly attitude toward him. Nor would I seek to hurt his ministry. There is never a justification for violating the Golden Rule. If Jesus is revealing His nature and character to us through this Revelation, why would we cultivate traits that are antithetical to Christ?

When I was a young pastor I spent a lot of time talking with people I respected about Revelation. You know one lesson I learned? I may not know exactly when Jesus is going to return, but I do know how He wants me to live in the mean time! I believe the saints at Smyrna would have agreed with that. Surely, Jesus could have commended the church at Smyrna for all the good things he commended at Ephesus. But there was a major difference. These people still loved the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and they loved others as they loved themselves.

2) He had perfect knowledge of their poverty.

Poverty and piety do not always go hand in hand. One does not have to be impoverished to be faithful to the Lord. A very wealthy person may well be poor in spirit, whereas a very poor person may be filled with envy or jealousy. In Smyrna, where there was an intense loyalty to Rome, the citizens would probably have been militantly opposed to Christians. This would mean that converts would be fired from jobs, ostracized by society, and possibly thrown out of their homes. In some cities there were trade guilds and labor unions that could demonstrate their loyalty to Rome by refusing jobs to Christians.

3) He had perfect knowledge of their tribulation.

Persecution was especially severe in a city that sought in every way to prove their loyalty to Rome. Polycarp was a famous Christian martyr who was burned at the stake in Smyrna about A.D. 156. We would be hard pressed to find a greater example of an early martyr than the early church father Polycarp who was burned at the stake when he refused to deny his Lord. According to one tradition, a business man tried to explain to Polycarp why he had compromised in some business matters. The man said, "I have to live, don’t I?" To which, Polycarp asked, "Do you? Does anyone have a right to live if it means disobeying his Lord?"

When Polycarp refused to deny his Christ they chained him to a stake and lighted the wood. As the flames began to reach up his body he cried out, "O Lord, I thank you that you have found me worthy of this hour. Eighty and six years have I served you and you have never done me wrong. How can I deny my Christ Who love me so?"

Christians living in Muslim countries today often face intense and severe persecution. New converts in some places are killed and their children sold into slavery. If the more radical Muslims have can accomplish their asserted goal of bringing down the west and establishing Islamic governments throughout the world, Christians will face tribulations most of us cannot imagine.

On March 22, 2004, Israel fired a missile that killed the father of a Hamas leader, the Palestinian terrorist organization is named. We were told that two hundred thousand Palestinians hit the streets in a religious frenzy, threatening to attack Israel and America. They hate us with a passion that defies the belief of almost every American. If they gain the upper hand in any country they become a serious threat. If you doubt that, look at France, Germany, and Russia right now. There are five to six million Muslims in France, which may well explain why France adopted the attitude they did toward our war against Iraq. We must remember that France’s response is to try to deal with Islam in their country by throwing secularism at them. You had better believe that France will not be a secular, or godless society if the Muslims take over. It will be an Islamic government! [As I proof this sermon, young Muslim terrorists are throwing fire bombs all over the Paris area - of course the American media calls them "youths", not Muslim terrorists.]

Christians have suffered intense persecution in Communist countries, as they did in Nazi Germany. In fact, more Christians have been martyred during the past one hundred years than in the previous nineteen hundred years, according to some reports. Who knows what the future holds if Jesus delays His return?

The church at Smyrna were subjected to tribulations Americans can hardly imagine. The tribulation did not make them deny their Christ. In fact, tribulation manifested their faith. I once heard the late Dr. H. Leo Eddleman, a former president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, say that Jesus is seen in Revelation as One seated at the right hand of the Father until his church is in trouble. Then, it is as though Jesus stands as one leaning over the banister of heaven to give His children His attention. You will never be subjected to any tribulation without the Head of the Church knowing about it. He has perfect knowledge of the tribulation to which believers are subjected. He knew the trials to which His saints in Smyrna were forced to endure.

4) He had perfect knowledge of the slander to which they were subjected.

Slander sets the stage for persecution. We have witnessed how effective slander can be in America. Early in his first term as president of the United States, President George W. Bush was recognized as a man of faith. Even those who claimed to be objective or neutral often stated that they believed his faith was genuine. But as politicians began to focus on the next presidential election, we began to hear slanderous charges against this man of faith. Ted Kennedy never misses an opportunity to call him a liar. He has been accused of almost everything I can think of, unless it is being unfaithful to his wife. I have never heard President Bush accused of that. During his second term, the attacks have intensified.

Dr. Robert Witty, the first president and current Chancellor of Luther Rice Seminary was pastor of a Methodist church when he was a young man. When was accused of some moral failure he sued the man behind the slander - and won! He resigned and later became pastor of a strong Baptist church in Florida. He was one of the founders of Luther Rice Seminary. Others who have been slandered have not overcome it so well.

We can only imagine the slander to which the members of the church at Smyrna were subjected. Remember that the citizens of the city were anxious to destroy anyone who refused to worship the emperor. They wanted to prove their loyalty to Rome and one way to do that was to slander members of the church.


1) He is qualified to make the judgment.

I have heard many people boast of various aspects of their church life: they have the greatest youth program they have seen, the greatest senior adult program in town, the greatest choir around, the greatest programs in the state. Sadly, some of those who appraise their church so highly show little appreciation for smaller churches, smaller denominations, rural churches or churches in small towns.

Let’s not stop there. I have passed judgments on churches from time to time without having perfect knowledge of the situation, and some of you may have done the same thing. I can remember a time or two when a church was looking for a pastor and I made the statement that I would never recommend a friend to that church. I would probably say the same thing today if the circumstances were the same.

I have also heard people pass judgment on a church I served and knew that their judgment was faulty. I served one church for a number of years before people in the town stopped making judgmental remarks about the church when I introduced myself as the pastor. I really got tired of hearing statements like, "I sure hope you are not like one pastor they had!" I went to preach at a local radio station and the manager said confidentially, obviously looking for confirmation, "I hear the women will not leave a pastor alone at that church." I assured him that he had heard wrong. He then told me a former pastor told him that. I said, "I still don’t believe it!" I could have told him that most of the women in our church were older than my mother!

When Jesus offers His appraisal of a church you can be sure that He is qualified to make the judgment. You and I may not be, but Jesus is. What an amazing appraisal this was. There was no complaint at all with the church at Smyrna.

2) He has the authority to judge.

Jesus is the head of the church. The church is the body of Christ. Who else would have the authority to judge His church? Furthermore, Jesus appraises individuals here and now, and the day is coming when He will sit in judgment over all who have rejected Him.

3) A lot of unqualified judges are judging His church without His authority.

When I listen to the attacks on Mel Gibson’s movie, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST, I am well aware of the fact that many of those who are condemning the movie are enemies of the cross. They hate Jesus, without considering the fact that they are going to stand before Him and be judged by Him. Many of the critics of the movie are convinced that the it will revive anti-Semitism. They fear, they tell us, that the church will once again persecute Jews. Very few of them will acknowledge the support Israel receives from evangelical Christianity. Nor do they deal with the persecution of Christians by Jews in the first century. Don’t you love it when someone who consistently favors Islamic nations over Israel accuses you of being anti-Semitic?!!! The simple fact is, if a Christian is anti-Semitic, he is guilty of sin. He is not reflecting the character or the love of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is fully qualified to judge His church, and He has full authority to make an appraisal of it. Jesus had no complaint against the church at Smyrna. What do you think he would say about our church? That is a serious question and we should really give it our careful consideration. 


What is His word of encouragement? Fear not. The HCSB has, "Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer." They needed the encouragement because they were about face greater tribulation than they had faced up to this point.

We may not be as far from persecution in America as you think. David Limbaugh’s recent book, PERSECUTION: HOW LIBERALS ARE WAGING WAR AGAINST CHRISTIANITY, chronicles case after case in which Christians have been persecuted in America. Some have suggested that one reason the elite in the news media and the entertainment media are so opposed to THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST is that they thought they had successfully pushed Christianity into the background and relegated it to the realm of the insignificant. Mel Gibson brought Christianity back into the public arena. That might also explain why so many people hate President Bush so vehemently. If you do not agree with his policy take a look at another candidate, but there is no justification for any Christian to hate our president.


1) Satan is going to attack you.

They had been under attack by Satan and his attacks would increase in frequency and intensity. This is the kind of church Satan loves to attack. Why would he bother with a church that is already serving his purpose in the world? What kind of church would Satan leave alone? Possibly one Jesus has visited to take away its lamp stand (as he threatened to do at Ephesus). How shocking it would be to think that Satan would not bother with our church. I can assure you that if our church received the same appraisal as the church at Smyrna Satan would be attacking us.

Now, I have seen a few times when Satan has waged war within a church. Guess how he went about it? He used some carnal church members. In a church in a city like Smyrna the greatest threat came from without. In many churches, the greatest threat comes from within.

Let me warn you that Satan must really be excited about what radical Islamic people are doing today to try to destroy the church. They have plenty of accomplices in the media in America, as well as public schools, colleges and universities, and more and more in business and politics.

2) Tribulation will be intense but it will end (10 days).

To some, the ten days refers ten periods of persecution (from Nero to Diocletian). Others point out that the number ten is the number for human completion. You have ten fingers and ten toes - at least, I assume you do. Possibly, the ten days distinguishes the persecution Christians may face in this world with the coming Great Tribulation. Christians at Smyrna would face tribulation for a significant period of time, but there would be relief at some time. That relief might come to them the way it came to Paul or Peter. Peter was crucified (upside down according to tradition) and Paul was beheaded. Or, it might come with a change in government, or with a spiritual awakening.

There is one thing for sure. The Lord will ultimately deliver us from all tribulation, including both the tribulation to which many Christians may be subjected and the Great Tribulation which is coming, but from which we will be delivered. Christians will not go through the Great Tribulation, but any of us may be forced to face tribulation in this world. When that time comes we are urged, "Don’t be afraid." Jesus promises to be with us.


"Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." We are urged to be faithful. The members of the church at Smyrna were faithful. We have the Lord’s word on it. He has perfect knowledge of each church. How would He judge you today? Jesus promises the crown of life to those who are faithful. The crown of life is the reward promised to those who are faithful until death. James writes: "Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him" (James 1:12).

The Holman Bible Dictionary offers the following information on the use of the word crown in the Bible:

"While most references to "crown" in the Old Testament point to the actual headdress, in the New Testament it usually has a figurative significance. Paul envisioned "a crown of righteousness" for himself and others (2 Tim. 4:8), and James anticipated "the crown of life" (Jas. 1:12). While the winning runner of that day received a garland of myrtle leaves, Paul looked forward to a crown that would not decay (1 Cor. 9:25).

"In the Book of Revelation crowns are both realistic and figurative. The twenty-four elders seated around God's throne were wearing "crowns of gold" (4:4), and as they worshiped, they "cast their crowns before the throne" (4:10). Later, a seven-headed dragon appeared wearing a crown on each head (12:3), but opposing all the evil forces was the "Son of man" wearing "a golden crown" (14:14). In each case the crown symbolized power, either good or evil" [HBD].

There are a number of crowns in the New Testament. There is the regal crown, the crown of victory awarded a winning athlete, and there is the crown of service. Believers receive the greatest crown of all, the crown of life.


"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death" (2:11).

We are admonished to hear and obey the Spirit. There follows the promise, "He who overcomes will not be hurt in the second death." The second death is eternal separation from God. The second death is eternity in the lake of fire. That is hell. That may not be very popular today, but it is going to be a lot more disturbing in eternity!


You will either spend eternity in heaven or hell. It will be one or the other. There simply is no other place. Where will you spend eternity? Let me state it as simply as it can be stated:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:16-18).