Church of Smyrna
This week on the Speak Life Church Podcast, I’ll rant about an educated skeptic. We’re talking about the book of Revelation, chapter 2: The Church of Smyrna. And, I have a handful of questions I ask you during this episode, which is a little longer than usual, but I want to hear from you.
1 John 5:14 says, “and this is the confidence that we have in Him that if we ask anything according to His Will, He hears us.”
[Rev. Kenn praying]
Heavenly Father, Lord God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, Lover of my soul, thank you for the promise of Your Word that tells me that when I call on You, You will answer me and show me great and mighty Things. This wonderful promise inspires me to learn to pray more effectively and to experience all that You have for me in prayer. I thank you, Lord God, for the confidence that I have in You – that if I ask anything according to Your Will, You will hear me. And because I know You hear me, I know I will receive whatever petitions I ask of You. Your Word reveals Your Will to me, therefore I will pray according to Your Word. Your Word is filled with so many precious prayer promises. Thank you, Father, for each one. As I meditate on these promises and learn to pray Your Word and Your Will, I know Your Word will never return until You void. You will always accomplish Your purposes. Help me, Father, to be in Your Will. Help me to study Your Word. Help me not to be so selfish and so self-focussed that I forget that there are others who stand in need of help. Help me to pour out Your Love to other people. Give me the joy that surpasses all understanding, the happiness that only comes from You by helping other people. Help me, Lord God, to feel Your Presence today. Somebody listening right now has had a rough time. They need a word. They need a touch. They need Your Presence, Lord God, in their life. They don’t know that You are right there. Help them to feel Your Presence. Help them to see You — like the air that we can’t see, but we know is there because we’re still here. We’re still breathing. The Holy Spirit helps us. Help us to understand those things that are so misunderstood, to trust what we cannot see. Help us to trust the Holy Spirit to lead God in every area of our lives. Father, I thank You for teaching me what’s important — opened my eyes and my ears to see Your Work, to see Your Creation, the miracles that are happening all around me. Give me an appreciative heart, a heart of gratitude, a heart of love, a heart that still can be receptive in a hard time. This is Your servant’s prayer. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
Before we get into Revelation this week, I want to talk about the educated skeptic — you know, that person that’s just so smart, they don’t believe what you and I believe, or maybe somebody listening is considering, “maybe this stuff is okay for you, but I don’t really get it yet.” Perhaps you’ve met that person already, the guy who is too smart to be a Christian: “Oh, sure! Christianity is fine if it gives you comfort.” But, you know better. You know that there’s really nothing to it — sort of like there’s nothing to Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. Those are just stories we tell people until they’re old enough and smart enough to know better. A lot of times, the educated skeptic is a college student home from their first year of college. They’ve been exposed to a lot of new ideas and levels of learning they’ve never experienced before. A good example of this is from a story from the guy who created the Life Without a Net website that caters to skeptics and atheists. His name is Bill Hamby.
Hamby says he was raised in an evangelical home and he recalls his college days. He said the first thing that happened was he took a course in evolutionary biology. “I took a course concurrent with geology. I began to see that the world was not 6,000-years-old. I had been trusting a very old book, the Bible, when I ought to be trusting new science. Then, I took some classes in ethics. I began to see that you can establish a system of ethics without relying on authoritarianism.” That’s a word for you. He goes on to say, “You don’t need a guy with a stick holding it over your head. I do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.” That, in a nutshell, is how a lot of educated people become skeptics.
Someone once complained about the argumentative, know-it-all friend: “I’m not bothered by what he knows. What bothers me is what he knows that ain’t so.” That’s often the case with the educated skeptic. He or she might be very well-educated with a bunch of degrees on the wall, but educated in some matters doesn’t mean educated in everything, and an educated skeptic might be smart in some matters without realizing they aren’t smart in the terms of Christianity. It’s not that what they know about biology, geology, or any number of other topics – it’s what they know about Christianity just ain’t so. They often have a bias against Christianity. In other words, they didn’t become a skeptic by examining the evidence and coming to a conclusion. No, often they’ve been led in that direction by things they’ve read, people they’ve talked to, and things they’ve heard. They often take pride in their level of education, and can become totally unaware of their prejudices or the prejudices of those they read. They don’t see the walls they have erected, or the gymnastics they have employed to reach this conclusion about Christianity. You know, when you’re dealing with an educated skeptic, it’s probably not wise to try to convince them that they’re wrong about things that ultimately have no bearing on the truth of Christianity. You might be very smart when it comes to such matters. I say, engage them on those things they know ain’t so. Let’s take this guy, Bill Hamby, for example, who wrote this blog post. One of the first teachings of Christianity that he called into question was the claim that the Earth is 6,000-years-old. His study of biology and geology seemed to provide evidence that the Earth and the Universe are much older, so he figured that there must be something wrong with the Bible. The problem is, nowhere does the Bible teach that the Earth is 6,000-years-old. There may be some Christians who believe that though, but nowhere are you going to find it in the Book.
So, here’s one strategy for dealing with the educated skeptic. Make sure you clarify what Christianity teaches versus what they think it teaches. The 6,000-year-old-Earth idea originated with the Bishop James Ussher back in the 1500’s and 1600’s. He was a prelate of the Church of Ireland. Ussher postulated that God created the Earth at nightfall preceding Sunday, October 23rd, 4004B.C. Yeah, I know. For real. Ussher was a well-educated man, not some guy making guesses. He arrived at this date by looking at the historical events in the Old Testament that we can reliable date by going through the various genealogies in both the Old and New Testaments.
This process required great depth of learning in history, including knowledge about the ancient Persians, Greeks, and Romans, as well as expertise in the Bible — biblical language, astronomy, ancient calendars, and chronology. Ussher’s methodology worked to a point, that is to give just a couple of examples: He accurately placed the death of Alexander the Great in 323B.C., and the murder of Julius Caesar in 44B.C. But the problem for Bishop Ussher was that he didn’t have access to all of the archaeological research and scholarship that we have available to us now. Remember, this was the 1500’s.
For example, few biblical scholars today believe that genealogies in the Bible mention every single person in that line of descendants. For various reasons, including cultural and symbolical, the writers of these genealogies skipped some generations, in order to, for example, emphasize certain persons in a lineage. In other cases, if you add up the generations listed, you’ll find that they are all multiples of the number seven, which was considered the number of perfection. I’m not saying that these genealogies were made up, metaphorical, or otherwise not true. I’m just saying that the writer had a purpose other than the literal, straight-line listing of every person in a given genealogical line, and it is work of hermeneutics to discover this. (Hermeneutics is the art and science of interpreting scripture.) I’m not arguing here for an old Earth or a young Earth.
The important points are is that the Bible doesn’t teach that the world is 6,000-years-old, and that many Bible-believing Christians come down on different sides of this issue. Help your educated skeptics understand this is not a nonnegotiable point of Christian doctrine, and therefore not a compelling reason to reject the Christian faith.
The second reason Bill Hamby has for becoming a skeptic: He says, “I began to see that you can establish a system of ethics without relying on authoritarianism. I do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.” There are several problems with this statement. Let’s start with the first one — Hamby misunderstood the source of our understanding of good and evil. He sees God as really commanding a thing because He wills it to be so. So, in effect, in Bill Hamby’s view, God says, “Do it, or else I’ll smash you. Either now, or in the afterlife, or both.” And, this makes God arbitrary and authoritarian.
You’ll often hear skeptics throw out other things like Plato’s dialogue. Socrates asks his young questioner — I think his name was Euthyphro — whether an act is good because God wills it, or if God wills it because it is good. If an act is “good” merely because God wills it, then He is arbitrary. Morality has no root beyond God’s Will and the power to enforce it. So, as one atheist website puts it: “If God can define good and evil however it likes, then of course, there is no problem with God always being good. Good is whatever God does, by definition. But, now we simply have the ultimate case of ‘might makes right.’ There’s no real difference between a speed limit of 55mph and ‘thou shalt not kill,’ except, presumably, God enforces its rules better. You could say, ‘no, an act is not simply good because God wills it,’ thus dodging the arbitrary-ness problem, but if God wills it, it is because it is good. Now, you’ve hit the second horn of the dilemma: If God wills it because it is good, then there are some standards outside or before God that defines ‘good’ — something that God Himself must conform to. This means that God is not Sovereign, but rather subject to something outside Himself.” A famous mathematician and atheist, Bertrand Russell, makes an argument similar to that one. He said, “The dilemma can be stated this way: Either God is not good, or He is not sovereign.
Either option conforms to classic Christian teaching, and here’s the way out. You arrive at this dilemma only by asking the wrong question. The correct answer to Euthyphro’s dilemma is ‘none of the above.’ Morality is neither something arbitrarily commanded by God, nor something outside of God to which He is, too, subject.” Real morality is rooted in God very nature. He didn’t make up this thing or get it from somewhere else. Good is what comports with God’s nature. Evil is what goes against it. God cannot sin — not because He has superior will power, but because it would violate His nature, and He would then cease to be God. When I was taking philosophy class, this stuff made my head go ‘round in a circle. And, I watched other students who were trying to just suck up to the teacher, and I saw people lose their faith in seminary. I really did.
I watched folks try to pick a side, and wanting to sound important and smart, and quite a few who couldn’t explain themselves just decided that maybe this stuff was made up. The educated person — not just a college student; it could be anybody. There’s quite a few pastors I challenge today — well, it’s not up to me actually. It’s God, Himself that will challenge them. They’re highly educated.
They have doctorate degrees, but they act as if God doesn’t exist when nobody’s watching. What I’m trying to say is education doesn’t help your faith sometimes. We go back to the statement this guy Hamby made: “I do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Right. Right as compared to what? Wrong as compared to what? If there is no objective standard to measure against, what does it mean to say right or wrong? Let’s look at it this way: In tennis, the umpire can say the ball hits on the wrong side of the line because A. there is a line painted on the court and B. the objective rules of tennis say that the ball must land on one side of the line to be in, and anything else is out.
Morality is the same way except the line is God’s Law written in our hearts, and the rules are what conforms to God’s intrinsic nature. Being created in God’s image, we instinctively all know that. So, when this guy talks about right and wrong, we all have a general understanding of what these terms mean. The problem for this guy and other skeptics though, is that they have no basis for saying no.
Here’s the big thing: Without God, we have no way to judge if something is good or evil.
Just by chance, if I’ve touched a nerve with you, and you want to get more into apologetics, which is the study of defending your faith, then let me know. Then I can pray on it and get deeper into it so that I can actually come correct and say the right things, and we can have some good dialogue so that you’ll be able to defend the faith better, which might not be a bad idea. Let me know where you are on this whole thing, and I’m hoping I didn’t just take you right off the charts with this little division or derision I took here, but something was pushing so I thought I would just go with it, talking about the educated skeptic because sometimes, we can be too smart for our own damn good.
And I think, I really think the reason this was tugging on me is probably coming from a conversation I had with someone not too long ago, and this thing didn’t get resolved, so it was sticking in my head. Matthew 18:3 says, “Verily, I say unto you, except ye be converted and become as little children you shall not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child the same is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Why would a grown person want to be like a child? I am reminded of when my son was small, and I had to bend over to pick him up, and he’d just kind of put his arms up in the air and move his hands to get my attention. That meant, “Daddy, pick me up!” He trusted me to pick him up without saying anything. It was a nonverbal thing between us, and I automatically knew that I was going to pick him up, no matter what the deal was. You want to have that same kind of faith.
You want to be able to look up into Heaven with your arms outstretched and have your Daddy, your Heavenly Father pick you up. That doesn’t require a PhD. It doesn’t require you to jump through any hoops, just the acknowledgement that God is your Heavenly Father, the Creator of all things, the Master and Lover of your soul, and when you trust Him, He will always be there. He shall be.
If you grab your Bibles and go to the New Testament book of Revelation, chapter two, we will hit verses eight through eleven this week. We’re talking about the Church of Smyrna — not Smyrna, Georgia, but the Church of Smyrna. Amen? “Until the angel of the church of Smyrna write, the first and the last who was dead and has come to life, say this: I know your tribulation and your poverty, but you are rich, and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan, do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison so that you will be tested and you will have tribulation for ten days. 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: He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.” The church in Smyrna was a much persecuted church in a wealthy city that had little time for Christians. The city itself, founded about three centuries before Christ was a well-planned accomplishment of Alexander the Great. The commercial center of Asia Minor, it was on the direct trade route from India and Persia to Rome. The large variety of coins found by archaeologists in the city clearly indicate that it was a wealthy city. The Jewish segment of the population seems to have been the most irreligious and neglectful of spiritual things. Few specific details are known of the history of the Smyrna Church, other than what is given in Scripture and text. It can be safely deduced, though, that it was a most faithful church in the face of persecution. From this account, the known characteristics of the condition in the Church of Smyrna indicate that the Judgment Seat of Christ will reveal this church to be one of the most outstanding local bodies of believers in all of church history. It was the persecuted church. The commendation of this church: “I know your afflictions and your poverty, yet you are rich.” Condemnation: Not one thing. The Counsel: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Be faithful even to the point of death.” And the challenge to this church: “He that overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.” The Smyrna Period of church history is probably the greatest time of persecution the Church of Christ has ever known. Satan unleashed a violent attack on the church in an effort to obliterate it, for it became evident to him that the Apostolic church, because of its faithful preaching of the Gospel, had become a serious threat to his worldwide Godless empire. That he was unsuccessful in this attempt is easily seen in a study of church history. For God overruled and Satan learned a valuable lesson: The more he persecuted the church during this period, the more the church overcame the one condemning characteristic of the Apostolic Age — that of having lost his first love. Not one word of condemnation was hurled by Christ at this church. So, from this, Satan learned a great secret: Persecution will not stamp out the Church of God. Consequently, the age ended with the easing of persecution when Satan used which turned out to be his most effective weapon to weaken the Church: Indulgence. Or endorsement. You know, one of the things we do as students of The Bible is look at the types of these churches that are talked about in the Book of Revelation. See their characteristics, and see if the churches you are in now, or that you were a part of, have some of those characteristics. So, what I just said was, when the church didn’t have a lot of money or material wealth, but were rich in character and personality, they were getting abused by the Devil, attacked by the Devil, they were persecuted, but folks hung in there. The Devil understood that if he attacks the Church directly, we will dig in. But, if we let folks get puffed up in themselves, full of themselves, if he actually endorses the Church, if he actually encourages some of our foolishness, then we self-destruct. Those are some of the lessons in the Church of Smyrna.
The Synagogue of Satan piece pops right at your face, right? Let’s talk about that for a minute. Satan has his own religious faith. He also has his church. It’s called Synagogues of Satan. Any church that preaches a gospel other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is a Synagogue of Satan, regardless of what it’s called. Many so-called “Christian churches” today are just like the Jews at Smyrna. They are not Christians at all, and are condemned by the Savior Himself because they preach a message other than the one laid down in the Word of God. In reality, they are the Synagogue of Satan, not the Church of Jesus the Christ. That’s heavy, right? I know. I know. But, you see, the two basic heresies that come from the Synagogue of Satan in the name of Christianity were apparent before the end of the second century. In fact, they existed at the time Christ gave His Message to the Churches of Ephesus and Smyrna. These heresies are a false doctrine of Christ in mixing of law and grace. The latter was the work of the Judaizers condemned by the Savior in verse ten.
Practically every false religious system and cult coming out of Christianity can be traced to one of these two heresies. Either people are confused about the personal deity of our blessed Lord, suggesting though He was a good man, He was not a virgin-born Son of God who lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, rose bodily from the grave, ascended physically into Heaven, and promised to return physically to this Earth someday. Or the add-to-salvation by grace through faith saying than in addition to believe on Jesus, we should also see the Sabbath, observe certain rites and ceremonies, eat or not eat certain types of food, etc. The church of the first three centuries in large measure successfully withstood these two insidious teachings that are still deceiving many people today in one cult or another. I almost want to do a mic-drop, but I just got this microphone, so I’m not dropping it. And, here’s the challenge that Christ gave us — to those of us who have spiritual ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches, and it is a challenge to over come. As you already know, this is dependent upon one’s personal faith in Jesus Christ. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. We have already seen, in the vision of Christ and the Churches in Revelation 1:18 that Christ holds in His Hand the keys of Hell and death. God’s Children have Christ’s personal promise that they will never be hurt by the second death described in Revelation 20. There will come a time when Hades, the present abode for the unbelieving dead, will cast the dead into the Lake of Fire. The Lake of Fire is the second death (Revelation 20:14). You have to understand what the Bible means by “death.” It is the Bible’s term for the complete ruin of a person’s life so they can never fulfill God’s Plan for their life which is eternal. Death occurs when a person is forever separated from God instead of united with Him as is His intention. The second death is that state where people have died in unbelief and are resurrected and cast alive into an eternal state of separation from God in a place called the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:15). The second death need never cause a Child of God to fear. We’re not going there, so, no sweat! But, if you’re not in Christ, then I might worry. Heavy, right? This is the short part of Smyrna, but man, it’s full of stuff! I know. Next week, we’re going to do the Church of Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17).
I just want to say thank you, again, for listening, for being a part of this church, being a part of my prayer circle. I’ve been praying mightily for quite a few of you because you’ve called me, you’ve sent me emails, you’ve let me know how you’re feeling. I just want to give a quick shoutout to Sarah who will be doing some work with us, helping print some of these notes, so that you can back it on up, and get the details of the stuff I’ve mumbled through and said, get some clarity from her. She’s going to put this to text, and you’ll be able to find these show notes on speaklifechurch.net once I get that all rockin’ and rollin’. And, no pressure. It’s going to happen. The church is on the move. We’re doing some good stuff. I’m rockin’ a new microphone right now from Heil, the company. They make some pretty good stuff. It’s a gain-hungry thing, so I’m hoping you don’t hear too much of a hiss in the background. Let me tell you how I got this thing. My microphone, the old one, the rubber just fell off it, and the thing was dangling. It was kind of embarrassing, but it was a twelve-year-old microphone and a setup I’ve just been moving around. I called on a friend, a believer, and asked him if he knew anyone who wanted to donate a microphone to a brother. This was the one I wanted. I’m not going to mess around. I’m going to ask for this one right here. I sent him a little link from Amazon, and he got back to me in about fifteen minutes. I was expecting him to tell me, “Man, you got some cajones to be askin’ like that!” But, he said, “Continue to do good work. It should be there in about ten days. I just ordered it.” Man! You could’ve knocked me over with a feather. Look at God! Thank you for being a part of that same spiritual power. Your prayers, those who donate, those who work for this virtual church. We were doing this virtual church before corona, and I do believe we may be doing some Zoom stuff in the future. If you would be interested in doing that, let me know. It won’t be every Sunday because I couldn’t handle it, but once a month, how ‘bout we get together and do a Zoom meeting? Let me know what you think about that too. So, I’m going to give you a couple of questions and calls to action, and I’d love to hear from you. My email is email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Let me know what you think about any of those questions I asked you today. I think one of them was, basically: How you doin’? Simple. I would like to hear from you. The second was: Would you like us to talk about apologetics? Would you like us to get deeper into the subject of this week, The Church of Smyrna? I think I asked you about my new microphone: Is it okay? Can you hear me okay? Is there too much hissing or background noise? Do you hear anything extra that I should be working on? And, I’m just looking for conversation, to touch bases with you. You matter. Yeah, you. You and me, in this thing together. Don’t think you’re by yourself. I want to hear from you this week.
Heavenly Father, God of Israel, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Father of us all, Father, please forgive me and us for everyone we’ve done against You. Please, hear my prayer. Allow me to approach Your Throne of Grace. I plead the blood of Your Son over my life, over my words. Cover me so that I may approach Your Throne. Have mercy on us as we look to the future and seek to do right in Your Eyes. Help us to seek You first in all that we do. Help us lean not on our own understanding. Help us to walk upright before You. Help us to do Your Will. Help us to do what You asked — to love our neighbors as ourselves. Help us to honor our parents. Help us to turn away from evil. Help us to focus on what is good and acceptable. Help us to love our spouses. Help us to be better stewards of all the things you’ve given us, starting with our very lives. Help us to listen more and talk less. Hear my prayer, oh, Lord. I recognize and acknowledge what I am to You. I acknowledge what You have done for me, and that is everything. I acknowledge what You have provided for me, what You have blessed me with, delivered me from. I stand before You only because You allow it. I bless You, Lord God, for where You have taken me and kept me from. Thank You for leading and guiding me thus far. Thank You for feeding me, clothing me, being a roof over my head, and keeping the Death Angel away from my door. If I had ten thousand tongues, Lord, I couldn’t say “thank You” enough. This is Your servant’s praise and prayer. Amen.
I want to thank you for being a part of my life and this ministry. Thank you for your support financially. Thank you for your support spiritually and your prayer. Thank you for your encouragement online. Thank you for all the things you, personally, have done for Speak Life Church.
Now, may the Grace of God, and the Sweet Communion of the Holy Spirit rest, rule, and abide with you both now and forevermore. Just in case I don’t see you on this side of the river, I will see you at the Feet of Jesus. Until I hear from you, or until next week, God bless you.