“The Church That Was Tested” (Revelation 2:8-11 sermon)

Some of you know that in 2012 I went through an illness that put me out of the ministry for two years. I lost my job, my income, we had to sell our home, and many of our possessions. I also lost my ministry — and all of that tested me: would I still believe, when I was losing all the “stuff” that I was?

A couple of years later, after I had been through the “fire” of that trial, and I was on my feet again, and doing some interim preaching at a church that was between pastors, I could stand on the front porch of the little condo we were living in, in Norman Oklahoma, and look out, thinking of all we had been through — and the words of Psalm 119 came out of my mouth: “It was good for me that I was afflicted …”. I could see how so much good that came out of that trial. And ONE of the things that was good, was that through that experience, my faith was tested. I got to see that my faith in the Lord wasn’t just based on my “job,” and the benefits I received from it, but that when it was all taken away, I really did still believe in Him, and walked with Him, and my hope was in Him. So that day I could say: “It was good for me that I was afflicted.” It was good look back and see that by God’s grace I was able to pass that test!

And I know I’m not the only one who goes through trials. We ALL do. And we all need to realize that at least part of what is happening when we go through these trials is that we are being tested. In today’s letter in Revelation, Jesus says those words, “I know,” again; this time to the church at Smyrna. And what He knew about them was that they were getting ready to go through some things which would really test them. 

Trials test us. They show what we REALLY believe. You can SAY you believe something — but your trials will reveal what you REALLY believe. 

— That was true for the church at Smyrna

— That was true for me in 2012 and in my life since then

— And it’s true for YOU in your own personal trials too.

What you do, and how you respond, and what you come out with from your trials, will reveal what you REALLY believe. Let’s see what Jesus had to say to Smyrna, and to us, as He writes to “The Church That Was Tested.”

I. The Manner of Testing

The Lord shows the church at Smyrna in this letter several ways they had been tested, and were going to be tested:

A. :9 “I know your tribulation”

TWICE He mentions this. He says again in :10 “and you will have tribulation.” So He’s really emphasizing to them: you are going to have tribulation. The Greek Bible word for “tribulation” is “thlipsis,” which has the root meaning of being “compressed, pressured, restricted.” It’s used in Matthew 13 of affliction that comes in a general way in life, and then later in Matthew 24 and other places, of the persecution that will come to Jesus’ disciples as His followers.  

The Lord told His disciples from the very beginning that they would have persecution if they followed Him. II Timothy 3:12 says “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Jesus’ disciples, should expect persecution, although many of us here in our country are unfamiliar with it. 

A few years ago, Nik Ripken, a former Southern Baptist missionary, was interviewing some pastors and lay leaders in Russia who had endured decades of persecution in the old Soviet Union. They shared stories of how God brought them through hardship, oppression, and martyrdom, and at one point, Ripken said he just couldn’t contain himself. He said: “Why haven’t you written these stories down? Where are the books that chronicle your faith and persecution? These stories are worthy of a movie; these are Bible stories come to life!” He said they just responded with confused silence.

But, finally, he said, one brother stood up, took him by the arm, and drew him to a window at the end of the large room. Looking out at the horizon, the man said to him, “Sir, when your sons were growing up, how many mornings did you take them to the window of your house and say, ‘Look, boys, the sun is coming up in the East this morning!’” Ripken said, “Well, I never once did that … my sons would have thought I’d lost my mind – the sun always comes up in the East!”

Then the Russian brother said: “That is why we talk little of our persecution and suffering. That is why we have not written our stories down, and why we have not made a movie. Our persecution is always with us. It simply comes as we walk with Jesus. It is like the sun coming up in the East.”

To those of us who have grown up in the United States, like Ripken, what those Russians endured sound unusual, because most of us haven’t experienced them. We’ve grown up here in America, with religious freedom, and no persecution for our faith. It’s been this way our whole lives. But we need to realize that THIS IS THE EXCEPTION. It has not been this way all through history. Christians being persecuted for their faith in this world is as commonplace as “the sun coming up in the east.”

And we can’t take this for granted; it could be coming here as well. You can see the writing on the wall:

— Right now in Europe and Canada, pastors are being arrested simply for teaching what the Bible says about homosexuality. It’s a “hate crime.” That could definitely be coming our way, couldn’t it?  

— It’s becoming very common nowadays for people to reject some of the basic things the Bible teaches about man, sin, and salvation. The gospel is that all of us are sinners who can’t save ourselves, but that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sin, which is the only back to God. But many today say that people are basically good, not sinners; that Jesus was a good teacher, but not the only way to God; and that to teach that He is the only way to heaven is “bigoted” and “narrow-minded.” Soon proclaiming THAT may be a hate crime too!

— Back in the colonial days in the 1700s, Jonathan Edwards wrote that  the new form of persecution is humor: “to despise and laugh at all religion and hearken to a spirit of indifference about it.” Most of us have probably already encountered that — and will experience more in the days ahead.

The question is: how will we respond to the various kinds of tribulations that we experience? Will we cave in to the “pressure,” to compromise what we believe and practice? Or will we hold fast to what we know God’s word says? The tribulations we experience, will test the reality of our faith.

B. Poverty

“And your poverty (but you are rich)”

Many of the early Christians were not allowed to work, or had their businesses shut down, or boycotted, because of their faith in Jesus. And as a result, many of them were poor. Poverty was common in the early church. You remember in II Corinthians the Apostle Paul was taking up a collection from the churches in Greece for the church in Jerusalem, because they were so poor. 

Again, most of us here don’t face this kind of trial — YET! But again: it may be coming — and for some, it already has. There is a Christian couple in Oregon who owned a bakery, and they did not want to make a cake for a lesbian wedding because of their scriptural convictions — and they were fined $135,000 for it! There were organized protests outside their store that discouraged people from doing business with them, and many local wedding planners would no longer recommend them, so they ended up filing for bankruptcy. This is exactly the kind of thing that happened to Christians in the 1st Century, causing them to be “poor” as Jesus says here, and it may increasingly take place here too, as evil spreads in our land. 

Again, the test is, how will we respond, when our faith in Jesus COSTS us something? It’s one thing to follow Jesus, and tithe, and give, and put up scriptures on the wall of your business or work cubicle when it is accepted, and most people are Christians, and when you get a tax deduction for your contribution — but what happens when all that gets taken away? What happens when it’s not popular any more to profess faith in Jesus? What happens when it COSTS us, instead of PAYS, to follow Jesus, will reveal the truth about your faith and mine. 

The Christians at Smyrna kept their faith in Jesus, even though it cost them, and they were “poor.” They were passing the test. They were following Christ even though it cost them. One of the keys to this section is the comment Jesus makes here: “But you are rich.” They were poor in this world, but they were rich in the Lord; and they would be rich in heaven. 

The OPPOSITE was true, by the way, of the church at Laodicea: 3:17 says: “Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor …”. 

The church at Laodicea thought they were rich, but they were poor.

Similarly, the church at Smyrna thought they were poor, but they were rich.

The lesson here is: spiritual reality is often the opposite of material appearances. Jesus said the one who humbly serves Him in this world will be great in heaven. The one who is willing to be poor in this world for His sake will have riches in heaven.  

It’s like the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus that Jesus told in Luke 16. On earth, that rich man had everything, and Lazarus had nothing, only dogs to lick his sores. But one moment after death, Lazarus was in Abraham’s bosom, while the rich man was in torment in the flames of hell. “Spiritual reality is often the opposite of material appearances.”

OUR challenge is to really believe what God’s word says. Not to put too much stock in the things of this world. We never want to “try” to be poor, but we should realize that If it costs us financially to be faithful to God, so be it. Worldly riches won’t last. They won’t matter in eternity. Believe that whatever you have to sacrifice for the Lord will be WORTH IT in the end. If you’re faced with a choice of being faithful to God and His word, or suffering some financial consequences — and I’m sure some of you today are facing some decisions like that even now — be willing to endure it. Remember: you’re most likely being tested. Show in the midst of this test that your heart is in heaven, and that the Lord and His word are more important to you than any amount of money or material possessions. 

C. Religious Opposition

“And the blasphemy by those who say that they are Jews, and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”

This is another test that God’s people have to face: religious opposition. In the case of Smyrna, it was a supposed “synagogue” of Jews, who were involved in what He calls “blasphemy.” The word “blasphemy” means to slander or speak against — especially against God and His truth. Jesus said here that there was a group that was being used by the devil to oppose the gospel. They were supposedly a “good religious group”: He said that they “say that they are Jews, and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” Supposedly they were serving God, but they were really serving Satan, and opposing the true gospel of Jesus.

So religious opposition was another test the church at Smyrna faced. And we face similar opposition today, too. Some of the most difficult and most vigorous opposition we face, comes not from the secular world, but from religious groups who believe they are serving God, but who are in fact being used by the devil to hinder God’s true work. 

Many of us are familiar with Jesus’ parable of “The Wheat and the Tares,” how the Lord plants His “wheat,” but the enemy plants “tares” that look much like them. We often apply that to individual believers — but it can also be applied to religious groups and churches. One of Satan’s favorite tactics is to plant his imitation religious groups in the midst of what God is doing. Satan has spawned thousands of false religions and churches, to confuse people and to hinder God’s genuine work.

— We see it in “churches” like the Mormons. I know a Mormon who said, “how can you say we are not Christian? Jesus Christ is in our name: “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints!” But if you examine their doctrine, you will see that the “God” they teach is not the God of the Bible; He was once a man like us who grew to become God of His own planet. The “Jesus” they teach is not the Jesus of the Bible: he is the brother of Satan! Folks, the Jesus of the Bible is NOT the brother of Satan! This is a false church that Satan has planted to divide and destroy and distract from the true gospel.

— Last September, nine churches in Austin, Texas declared themselves at “RFC’s” — “Reproductive Freedom Churches” who support the abortion of unborn children on demand. It’s one thing when the secular world supports such things; it’s even worse when so-called “churches” confuse the issue, so that people can say: “Well, see, some churches support it!” These “churches” are not doing God’s work, but the devil’s.

Unfortunately I could go on and on with current examples. And there is going to be more and more of this in the days ahead. Again, the question is: how will we respond when we are tested with these false doctrines? For one, DO YOU EVEN KNOW WHAT GENUINE BIBLICAL DOCTRINE IS? Too many Christians DON’T — and end up falling prey to some of these false teachings. Statistics indicate that backslidden Southern Baptists are the #1 converts of Mormon missionaries!  Many of us are failing the test. What about you? Do you know what the Bible teaches on key issues? And if you do, are you willling to hold to Biblical teaching in the face of opposition — even the RELIGIOUS opposition that exists, and will almost certainly increase in the days ahead? 

All these things — persecution, poverty, religious opposition — are TESTS. Jesus said in :10, “So that you will be tested.” When we experience these things, or trials of ANY kind — they always TEST our faith: will we still believe what God’s word says; will we be faithful to serve the Lord as we go through them? They are TESTS of our faith. 

II.  The Limits of the Testing

“You will have tribulation for TEN DAYS.” 

Now, there is a lot of discussion among Bible interpreters as to what this expression “ten days” here means. Some believe it means 10 literal days. Others believe a “day” stands for a year, as it often does in prophecy. Others think it symbolizes 10 different eras of persecution. But the point we can really take away from here is: whatever length of time it stands for, “10 days” means it is only a limited time. Jesus says you will have some tribulation only for a limited time — “ten days” He called it — and then it will be OVER!

This can be a helpful thing to remember when you come into times of tribulation and testing: this is NOT going to last forever. Sometimes I know it just seems like a trials we are in will never end, so it’s easy to despair. But Jesus says, don’t feel like that. Don’t think this will never end. It WILL end. Have hope. There is “light at the end of the tunnel.” 

Maybe there have been times recently in your life when you have felt so overwhelmed, and like this situation you are in will never be over. If so, this may be Jesus’ word for you today: “you will have tribulation for ten days.” Now, I don’t know how long His “ten days” is for you and your particular situation — maybe it’s ten days; maybe it’s ten years; I don’t know. But however long it is going to be, He knows — and He knows that it is TEMPORARY! It will not last forever. Have hope. There is “light at the end of the tunnel.” Don’t give up.

One of Cheryl’s and my favorite movies is the old Humphrey Bogart/Katherine Hepburn “The African Queen.” In it, the two are taking a small boat down a river in Africa in World War I, trying to escape from the Germans. At one point, they get caught in a sea of reeds and mud and their boat can’t manuever. So they have to get out and literally pull the boat themselves with ropes. They pull and pull, until they are finally exhausted and collapse to lay down and just die there — and as they give up, the camera slowly pulls back, and shows the big picture: they had given up just a few feet before they got out of those reeds! They just couldn’t see it! (I won’t tell you the rest; you should go home and watch it!) But the point there is a great one: DON’T give up! You may be just about to get out of this trial you’re in. Jesus says it will NOT last forever; it’s only “ten days.” There IS an end to it. Keep on going, and do not give up!

III. The Commission In The Testing: Be Faithful

How does Jesus want us to respond in the midst of the trials that we have to face? We see at the end of :10. He says: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” What does Jesus want from us in our trials? He wants us to be faithful. 

What does that mean, to be “faithful”?

— It means to hold to the faith; to keep believing to the end. The church at Smyrna was being persecuted, they were faced with blasphemous teaching by the “synagogue of Satan,” they were being put into prison for their faith. Typically in such situations, if they went back on their faith in Jesus, they would be let out. But Jesus says to them: Be faithful. Hold on to your faith. Don’t go back on it. 

— It also means to consistently DO what you have been commissioned to do. In Matthew 24:45 Jesus, speaking of the end times, said: “Who then is the faithful and sensible slave whom his master put in charge of his household slaves, to give them their food at the proper time?” In that verse, the “faithful” slave is the one who kept doing what his master told him to do, until he came back. THAT is what Jesus is looking for in us, through our trials: be FAITHFUL. KEEP ON DOING what He’s told you to do, until He comes. 

So to be “faithful” in trials means to hold to what the Bible says; and do what God’s called you to do, even when you’re tested and pressured and persecuted for it. Be faithful, no matter what, until He either comes again, or calls you home. And don’t let anybody, or any circumstances, discourage you keeping your faith in Him and being faithful in your service.

In Mark Twain’s book, Life on the Mississippi, he writes about how he was an apprentice riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River. He said one of the tactics pilots used to train their “cubs” was to “play a friendly swindle” on them, as he called it. He said Mr. Bixby (his pilot) once did this to him:

“One matchless summer’s day I was bowling down the bend above island 66, brimful of self-conceit and carrying my nose as high as a giraffe’s, when Mr. Bixby said, ‘I am going below a while. I suppose you know the next crossing?’ This was almost an affront. It was abut the plainest and simplest crossing in the whole river.

‘Know how to run it?? Why I can run it with my eyes shut.’

‘How much water is there in it?’

‘Well, that is an odd question. I couldn’t (hit) bottom there with a church steeple.’

‘You think so, do you?’

The very tone of the question shook my confidence. That was what Mr. Bixby was expecting. He left, without saying anything more (and went into hiding where he could observe the proceedings). (Then) another messenger was sent to whisper among the officers. Presently the captain stepped out on the hurricane deck; next the chief mate appeared; then a clerk. Every moment or two a straggler was added to my audience; and before I got to the head of the island, I had fifteen or twenty people assembled down there under my nose. I began to wonder what the trouble was. As I started across, the captain glanced aloft at me and said, with a sham uneasiness in his voice: ‘Where is Mr. Bixby?’

‘Gone below, sir.’

But that did the business for me. My imagination began to construct dangers out of nothing, and they multiplied faster than I could keep the run of them. All at once I imagined I saw (shallow) water ahead! … All my confidence in that crossing vanished. I seized the bell-rope; dropped it, ashamed; seized it again; dropped it once more; clutched it tremblingly once again, and pulled it so feebly that I could scarcely hear the stroke myself.  …

I heard the door close gently. I looked around, and there stood Mr. Bixby, smiling a bland, sweet smile. The the audience on the hurricane deck sent up a thundergust of humiliating laughter. I saw it all now, and and felt (lower) than the (lowest) man in human history.  I … said, ‘It was a fine trick to play on an orphan, wasn’t it? I supposed I’ll never hear the last of (it)?”

Mr. Bixby said: “I want you to learn something by that experience. Didn’t you KNOW (how deep) that crossing (was)?”

‘Yes, sir, I did.’

‘Very well, then. You shouldn’t have allowed me or anybody else to shake your confidence lin that knowledge. Try to remember that.’” (pp. 112-113)

Mr. Bixby wanted his “cub” trainee Mark Twain to learn to hold to the truth he knew, and not let anyone or any circumstances shake him from it.

That’s just what the Lord is telling the church at Smyrna here — and OUR church — and what he is telling you and me personally too. You KNOW the truth. You know what is right. You KNOW what the Bible says: about Jesus, and sin, and salvation, and how to live, and what you should be doing. YES we live in a culture, like Smyrna did, that is going to test you, and ridicule you, and pressure you in all kinds of ways. And just like they did to Mark Twain that day, there may sometimes be crowds of people gathering around you, to pressure you, hoping to watch you collapse in your faith. But don’t you let anyone or anything, shake your confidence in what you KNOW God said in His word is right!  Be FAITHFUL. Hold to His truth, and keep on doing what He told you, to the end.  


Why did Jesus say to this church: “I am the First and the Last, who was dead and has come to life”?  We saw before that “the first and the last” means that He is GOD. He was before anything else came into being. And He always will be. When all the other so-called “gods” and religions and philosophies have all come and gone, Jesus will still be on the throne. And He’s the One “who was dead and has come to life.” He paid for our sins, to give us eternal life. 

The church at Smyrna needed to remember that: yes, they were facing some tests; yes they might even lose their lives, but if they belong to Him who died and rose again, they’ll never really die, but Jesus will give them eternal life.

So God is saying to them and to us: BE FAITHFUL TO HIM. He was on the throne before all your trials began, and He will be on the throne when all your trials are over. And when all is said and done, all that will ultimately matter about your trials, is how faithful you were to HIM through them! 

— In eternity, it won’t matter how much money you came through your trials with.
— It won’t matter how “popular” you were, or how good or bad you looked going through them.

— Honestly, it’s won’t even matter if you come out of your trials dead or alive. It won’t. 

All that will matter, is that you were faithful to Jesus through the trials you went through. That’s all that will matter.

So Jesus says to you, and to me, and to our church, just like He did to the church at Smyrna: “Be faithful.” “Be faithful to 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.”


— Are you going through some tribulation, poverty, religious challenges right now? See these things for the tests they are. What are these things revealing about your faith? Are you standing firm? Are they revealing some weaknesses in your life that you need to ask the Lord to help you with right now? Talk to Him about it ..

— Maybe you’re one of those people who’ve felt like the trial you are in is never going to end. But Jesus’ word to YOU today is: “It’s just 10 days.” It’s not going to go on forever. Ask Him to hold your hand and help you not to give up just before He gives you an answer/opening!

— And then, whatever trial you are in, are you doing the most important thing: are you being FAITHFUL to the Lord, His word, and His work? When all has been said and done in this world, will He be able to look at you and say you were faithful? That’s all that’s going to matter. 

— Or can you say that you even belong to Him? If you don’t know for sure, TODAY ask Jesus to be the Lord & Savior of your life!

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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1 Response to “The Church That Was Tested” (Revelation 2:8-11 sermon)

  1. Hello servant of God am pst Wilfred happy to greet you in Jesus name, very much interested and touched to share with you my dream, am independent pastor with two churches pushed to share and work together through support of prayers teachings encouragement as Paul encouraged Timothy. Please bring that gospel Kenya which we are missing welcome 🙏

    Pst Wilfred

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