Chapter 2

Introduction

Now begins the messages to the seven churches, although they are actually intended and applicable to all churches throughout history. These seven important messages have several things in common in terms of structure and purpose, as discussed in The Messages to the Seven Churches.

Commentary

Message #1 – Ephesus

1“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: 2‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. 4‘But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5‘Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. 6‘Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’

v1 The One who holds the seven stars … who walks among the seven golden lampstands – This identifies Christ by using the references from Rev 1:13,16. The reference emphasizes his authority over the churches, as seen in verse 5.

v2-3 I know your deeds… – And Christ has some very positive remarks about their deeds. They are commended for their toil, patience, unwillingness to tolerate evil, discernment of sound doctrine, and perseverance for the sake of Christ. In verse 6, they are further commended for hating a specific heresy that God also hates. By all objective measures, this is a very strong church.

v4 But I have this against you, that you have left your first love – There is just one negative comment concerning their attitude, specifically the loss of love. And yet, God sees this as a very serious — potentially fatal — problem, as indicated by the warning in verse 5.

v5 do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent – They are commanded to restore the attitude of love that they had at first. If not, they will not be counted as part of Christ’s church!

v6 Nicolaitans – A group that taught some form of heresy, but it’s not certain what it was. There are a couple common ideas:

  1. They taught a form of Gnosticism (a heresy prevalent in the early church which says that one must go beyond scripture and attain some mystical or esoteric level of understanding).
  2. They taught that salvation was attained sufficiently with just an intellectual belief, and thus to be saved, sin was not an issue. (James would answer: “The devils also believe and tremble”).

v7 the tree of life which is in the paradise of God – A promise of eternal life with God for those who endure and share in Christ’s victory. We see this in the final paradise (Rev 22:2).

Lesson of Ephesus to churches: Never neglect love. Love for God and for people are the two greatest commandments (Matt 22:36-40). It’s what gives value, purpose and success to everything else (1 Cor 13:1-3), it is the distinctive characteristic of the sons of God (Matt 5:43-48, John 13:34-35) and it even covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet 4:8). Without love, we cannot be God’s representatives.

Message #2 – Smyrna

8“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: 9‘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 a synagogue of Satan. 10‘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 until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11‘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.’

v8 The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life – Christ, referring back to Rev 1:17-18.  This emphasizes His eternal victory over death, seen in the last part of verse 10.

v9 I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) – This church is struggling through difficult times, apparently including both poverty and persecution. And yet, we see the little phrase: “but you are rich”. This is clearly a commendation from Christ that this church is persevering faithfully and that they have great treasures laid up in heaven. This church receives no rebuke or criticism at all (the only other such church is Philadelphia).

v9 the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan – This provides more information about the sort of persecution they faced. It came from people who were Jews by descent, but they were not of the true Jewish faith, as evidenced by their deeds.

v10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer – A prophecy of even more persecution to come, although not to be feared.

v10 you will have tribulation for ten days – whether this refers to a specific tribulation that will last a literal ten days, or if it means persecution for a short time, is unclear. Potentially, it alludes to the ten-day testing of Daniel (Dan 1:12,15). If so, then this ten days may convey that this tribulation is a test that will be rewarded by remaining faithful, as it did for Daniel and his friends (Dan 1:20).

v10 Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life – A sobering command calling for great faith and endurance on the part of the saints. This happens to be a prominent theme in Revelation (Rev 1:9, Rev 3:10, Rev 12:11, Rev 13:10, Rev 14:12).

Side note: It’s possible that the prophecy of verse 10 is referring to Polycarp (69 – 155 AD). He was a disciple of John’s and an important person in church history, as he had much to do with compiling the books that make up the New Testament. Polycarp became the pastor of this church at Smyrna. He ended up being burned alive for his faith, and yet he remained faithful to the end. The accounts of his death say that certain Jews were active in bringing about his martyrdom, which may explain the “synagogue of Satan” reference in verse 9.

v11 He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death – A promise to escape the eternal judgment that must come upon the unbelieving world (Rev 20:12-14).

Lesson of Smyrna to churches: A hard lesson: Be prepared to face intense persecution without losing faith. This is done by keeping one’s eyes on the eternal blessings which far surpass any temporal suffering.

Message #3 – Pergamum

12“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this: 13‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14‘But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. 15‘So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16‘Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. 17‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’

v12 The One who has the sharp two-edged sword – Christ, referring back to chapter Rev 1:16.  This emphasizes the power of his word, as seen in verse 16.

v13 where Satan’s throne is – Back in the time of the Greek empire (prior to the Roman empire), Pergamum was one of the centers of idolatrous worship. There one finds the huge altar of Zeus, and temples devoted to Athena, Dionysus, as well as the Egyptian gods. It became even more of a religious center during the Roman empire, as the Roman religion absorbed the Greek. This would be a hostile environment for Christianity.

v13 you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you – This church is commended for faithfulness in the face of the deadly persecution they faced here. Not much is known about Antipas other than what we read here, but he will be well-known in coming kingdom of God.

v14 But … you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam – But there is a rebuke: This church has been corrupted by some false doctrines. The first mentioned is the teachings of Balaam. In Numbers 22-24, the prophet Balaam was hired by Balak (king of Moab) to curse Israel, but God wouldn’t let him, and in fact he had to bless Israel instead. However, Num 31:16 indicates that Balaam advised Balak that Moabite women could be used to lure Israel into immorality – thus provoking God’s anger against Israel. In other words, even though Balaam couldn’t curse Israel, he taught how Israel could be lured into bringing a curse upon themselves. A similar thing was apparently happening in this church.

v15 you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans – A second rebuke, and again for a form of false doctrine (see notes on verse 6 above regarding the Nicolaitans). In verse 16, Christ calls for repentance, or else they will face judgment at Christ’s own command.

v17 To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it – This difficult verse introduces some interesting terms:

hidden manna — Perhaps a reference to manna kept in the (hidden) ark of the covenant (Heb 9:4). Of course, the meaning is symbolic. The ark of the covenant is itself a symbol for the presence of God (Ex 25:22, Josh 3:13, Judg 20:27, 2 Sam 5:3), and the manna is a symbol for the true bread from heaven, which is Jesus Christ (John 6:31-58). The “hidden manna” then would symbolize intimate communion with God through Christ.

white stone — In ancient times, a white stone with certain engravings was given to someone who had earned the king’s favor, such as a victorious athlete. This stone would serve as a pass-key allowing that person to approach the king. This idea of favor and access to the king fits well with the proposed meaning of “hidden manna”. Also, this favor being granted to a victorious athlete is an excellent metaphor considering that this white stone is given to him who overcomes (i.e. emerges victoriously).

new name — The translation here is somewhat ambiguous, but this verse is not saying that the recipient of the stone will also receive a new name. Rather, it’s saying that a new name will be written on the stone that he receives (the Young’s Literal Translation is more clear about this: “…I will give to him to eat from the hidden manna, and will give to him a white stone, and upon the stone a new name written, that no one knew except him who is receiving it“. This new name is a new name of Christ, and this new name is referenced in Rev 3:12 and in Rev 19:12. Again, the idea is that those in the kingdom will know Christ in a new and more intimate way.

Lesson of Pergamum to churches: Adhere to sound doctrine. Corrupted doctrine leads to compromised obedience.

Message #4 – Thyatira

18“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this: 19‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. 20‘But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. 21‘I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. 22‘Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. 23‘And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. 24‘But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you. 25‘Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. 26‘He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS; 27AND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received authority from My Father; 28and I will give him the morning star. 29‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

v18 who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze – Christ, referring back to chapter Rev 1:14-15.  The eyes of fire emphasize His omniscience as seen in verse 23, and the feet of bronze emphasize His authority to judge, as seen in verse 27.

v19 your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first – A strong commendation. This church is serving faithfully and growing spiritually.

v20 you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess… – A rebuke. This church has a woman who God likens to the Old Testament Jezebel who led Israel into idolatry (e.g. 1 Kings 16:31). The word tolerate suggests that the church is aware of her sin. According to Matt 18, they should lovingly seek to restore her, but if she refuses they should eventually put her out of the church. Evidently, this church (perhaps intending to be “loving” and “patient”) had let things go for too long (see note on verse 21), and as a result her sin was infecting the church.

v20 and eat things sacrificed to idols – One might think that this is permissible (1 Cor 8:1-6), but this is only for mature believers who (1) know that idols are nothing and (2) are not causing others to stumble by eating these things. In this case, this “prophetess” is either falsely teaching that the food offered to idols has some spiritual significance, or she is violating the conscience of others in the church with this food.

v21 I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality – A reference to the church taking too long to enact proper discipline.

v22 I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation – Some form of retribution is coming, whether temporal or eternal is unclear. It will come against this woman as well as those who partake in her sin.

v23 and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds – This gives meaning the introduction in verse 18. The eyes like flames convey the ability to search the mind and heart.

v24 deep things of Satan – Suggesting that this “prophetess” taught some sort of Gnosticism, presented as “deep things of God”, but God sees them as “deep things of Satan”.

v26 He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS – A repeat of the promise to reign with Christ, which we see when Christ returns in Rev 20:4,6, Rev 22:5 and Dan 7:27.

v27 AND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received authority from My Father – The wrath with which Christ’s reign on earth begins conveys the meaning of feet of burnished bronze in verse 18.

v28 and I will give him the morning star – Jesus refers to himself as the bright morning star in Rev 22:16. This looks forward to knowing Christ in his fullness — not just through scripture and not just through faith, but in person.

Lesson of Thyatira to churches: Similar to the message from Pergamum: Keep the church pure. Do not neglect or delay the instructions for dealing with sin and false doctrine within the church.

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