The first four churches of the Asia provence.
1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; The first of the churches that John is writing to (via messenger) is Ephesus, the same congregation that Paul wrote to whose letter bears the city’s name. John identifies the source of the message and the speaker as Jesus, the one who holds the stars and walks in the midst of the seven lamp stands in chapter 1.
2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
A. I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience,...Edit
Jesus thus says that He is aware of the actions and work and the patience of this congregation. The patience goes back to 1:9 and the waiting for the coming of Christ.
B. and how thou canst not bear them which are evil:...Edit
Ephesus does not put up with those who are evil, but this has a more specific meaning than just any person who does not obey God. Jesus is specifically referring to those who would turn the Gentile Christians to the Law of Moses through circumcision and the like. These people were a thorn in Paul’s side his entire ministry (2 Corinthians 12:7). More on this as John continues.
C. and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:...Edit
This is another internal indicator of the time period. Paul writes of those who pretended to be apostles in (2 Corinthians 11). Yet it would be difficult for men to pretend to be apostles when only John is left alive.
There is also of course the idea of apostolic succession, which is another type of claim to apostleship. If this heresy began as early as the first century, then men who would lead Christians away from the church to form their own denominations for personal gain, would claim to be apostles by virtue of their connection to the original apostles to strengthen their reputations. The Ephesians tested these false apostles and discovered them to be liars. All who would pretend to be apostles (or their “successors”) ought to be so tried.
3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
The church at Ephesus has endured through the tribulation that John wrote of and Jesus prophesied and have waited patiently for Jesus to return as promised and relieve them. They have continued to work as faithful servants (Matthew 25:14-30) and have not waned in that service at all.
4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
Not everything that Ephesus did was good and Jesus here will correct them. They have left their first love, the love that they had as a young congregation. In the book of Acts and in Paul’s letter to Ephesus we read of the Ephesians love of the truth and their support of the preaching of the gospel. During this time of tribulation, it was difficult for them to focus on evangelism and easy to narrow their vision to just survival.
5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
Jesus admonishes the church at Ephesus then to turn away from their sin, to repent and go back to doing that first work, go back to evangelizing the world. The work of the church must continue regardless of other considerations. If they did not, when Christ returned He would remove their lamp stand from the Temple.
6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.
There is no concrete evidence that defines who the Nicolaitanes were. Having said that, we can understand several things about them to correctly interpret this passage.
A. Nicolas - Acts 6Edit
We read of a man named Nicolas in Acts 6 who was appointed as a precursor to the deacons. He was a proselyte of Antioch. That he was a proselyte means that he was not a Jew by birth, but one by the process of proselytizing. In Acts 6 there was a complaint between the Greecians (proselytes) and the Jews by birth. Jews, bigots that they were, looked down on these proselytes as second class Jews. This, then, carried over into the church, especially before Cornelius when there were nothing but former Jews in the church.
B. Wolves from Among the LeadersEdit
Nicolas, was both familiar with the process of non-Jews becoming Jews as well as having been part of the first group selected by the apostles for a specific work. At Ephesus (years later), Paul warns the elders there that men would arise from within the church, wolves in sheeps clothing that would seek to devour Christians, converting them away from the truth. If Nicolas let his knowledge and zeal for Judaism (it took a lot of fervor for a non-Jew to become a Jew all things considered) and his appointment by the apostles first hand go to his head, then he could have been one of the first “denominational” leaders, drawing off Christians into some form of Judaizing sect. Given his mention in Revelation along with the false apostles, it is not a stretch to believe that he was one of these.
C. The Foremost HeresyEdit
The Nicolaitanes, Baalam, and Jezebel are all connected to heresy within the church during the time that John wrote this book. In fact they represent a common and the most heinous heresy the church faced at that time. Having established the time period as during the tribulation before the destruction of Jerusalem, the number one heresy then of that time is the Judaizing heresy that said that Gentiles must first conform to the Law of Moses before they could become Christians.
Whatever else this sect (old word for denomination) may have become historically after Jerusalem fell, it is evident to me that it represents the Judaizers here.
7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
A. He that hath an ear, let him hear...Edit
Just as stated in regard to 1:3, this phrase is an admonition to pay attention, to understand what is being heard, and especially to study what this message means in light of the revealed word.
B. what the Spirit saith unto the churches;...Edit
They needed to heed the letter brought to them by the messenger from John, which would read the letter out loud (Colossians 4:16) and likely answer questions.
C. To him that overcometh...Edit
What were they to overcome? This is a word that will be used time and again through chapters 2 and 3 and once in chapter 21. What the Christians were to overcome will become more clear the more this term is encountered.
D. will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God...Edit
Those who overcome whatever they are to overcome will be given to eat of the tree of life. This is a reference back to Genesis 2-3 where it was said that if man ate of it, he would live forever. Those who overcame would thus live forever, in this case have eternal life. The tree of life is spoken of again in Revelation 22 where this reference to the paradise of God is described. The implication is that those who overcome would be in this paradise and have access to the tree of life. More on this in chapter 22.
8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;
The second messenger that John sends out is to Smyrna. Again he identifies Christ as the speaker by referring to the description from chapter 1.
9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
A. I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich)...Edit
Jesus knew of their efforts, the tribulation they suffered (again Matt. 24, Rev. 1:8), and their physical poverty (though they are spiritually rich).
B. and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.Edit
This is an important verse to keep in mind for later chapters. Here there are those who claim to be Jews, but are not. Instead they are referred to as the “synagogue of Satan”. These false Jews are blasphemers.
- 1. Blasphemy is simply slander or impious speech. The blasphemy of these false Jews is their slander of the Christians at Smyrna (and elsewhere). All through Acts we read of the Jews aggression against the church.
- 2. At the time of the writing of this letter, Judaism has ended spiritually. There is a new Israel, the church of Christ. Those who were Jews by virtue of their physical ancestry are not God’s people any more.
- 3. Jesus himself associated the Jews of His day with Satan (John 8:44). The synagogue was not a place of worship but a place of learning. It was where the scribes, Pharisees, and lawyers (of the Mosaical Law) hung out to argue over the Law of Moses and traditions. Jesus then is accusing these false Jews of being students of Satan. They will be associated with Satan again in John’s book.
10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
A. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days:...Edit
The Christians were not to fear those who could only hurt the body. They were going to suffer during this time of tribulation. The devil (the Jews) would cast some Christians into prison for example, trying them for heresy. We see this happen all the way back as far as Acts 5. The number ten is a number for completeness. It was a number used often in the building of the tabernacle (Exodus 26-27), there were the first ten commandments that represented the whole Law of Moses, Daniel and his friends asked to abstain from the kings fare for ten days as a trial and they were found to be ten times better than all the other captives, and many, many other examples could be given.
Later in the book John writes that the martyrs cried how long before Christ would revenge their deaths. They are answered that they must wait until the fullness of time, or the completion of things before that would happen. The ten days of tribulation is therefore the complete time needed for events to transpire according to God’s will. Ultimately this is an admonition for the church at Smyrna to endure the tribulation, God works on His time table and they must remain faithful and patient.
B. be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life...Edit
Those who were faithful unto death would receive a crown of life. Often this is used to speak of those who are faithful their entire lives would receive a final reward of eternal life. While that is true, this phrase is more intense than that. In this time of tribulation, Jesus is encouraging them to be faithful even to the point of martyrdom because physical death was nothing due to Christ who had defeated death. Those who died for the cause of Christ would be rewarded with the final reward of eternal life.
11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
Jesus gives a repetition of the admonition to pay attention to the messenger He sent from John, to study the message, and to understand it. Then He associates overcoming with not being hurt by the second death, tying not being hurt by the second death to eating of the tree of life. It is easy to see at this point why so many believe that this has to do with literal concepts, but this is not the case. John continues to use the term which will ultimately define it. The second death is introduced here, but not defined. That concept, too, will find definition as John refers to it more.
12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;
John writes to Pergamos (Pergamum) and again identifies Jesus as the speaker by reference to chapter 1.
13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.
A. I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is:..Edit
Jesus here again assures the congregation that He is aware of their works (good or bad). He also understands the nature of the place where the congregation exists, which He calls “Satan’s seat”. As Satan has already been associated with the Jews in this text, it is logical to infer that Pergamos had a large concentration of Jews living there and a synagogue. This is further corroborated by what Jesus says next.
B. and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth...Edit
The word Antipas means “against the fathers”. He, in like manner to Baalam, Jezebel in this text is representative of a type of people. Unlike those others, Antipas was a faithful martyr. Being against the fathers, slain where the Jews were (where Satan dwelleth), we see in Antipas a representation of all those who were martyred through Jewish persecution by rejecting the Jewish fathers of tradition who led the nation of Judah away from God.
Like the martyrs at the hands of the Jews, the Christians at Pergamos held strong to the cause of Christ and did not deny their faith, even when so many of them were dying for that cause.
14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
In Numbers 22-24, Balaam was a Medianite soothsayer (Joshua 13:22) who the Moabite king, Balak, asked to curse Israel as they crossed the wilderness. The story of Balaam is familiar to us, but in it those who read John’s letter would understand that Balaam represented those who would cast a stumbling block before God’s people. From Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 it is understood that eating meat offered to idols is not really sinful. This, too, then is symbolic of a stumbling block for weaker Christians. This stumbling block was Judaism itself.
In 2 Peter 2, Balaam is associated with false teachers, specifically those who would bring the Christians back under the sway of Judaism. According to 2 Peter 2:16, these people are like Balaam, not even as intelligent or wise as a dumb ass (KJV).
15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.
In this verse, then, the concept of the Nicolaitanes is further defined. The word “So” here means “in this manner” or “thus”. By having among them the Judaizers, (those who “held to the doctrine of Balaam”) they had those who held to the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes. They are the same doctrine. It was the Judaizing stumbling block that said that Gentiles must first obey the Law of Moses, that old, flawed, done away with Law, before they could become Christians. God hated that and spoke of it often throughout the NT. Romans, Galatians, Hebrews, and almost every letter Paul wrote.
16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
The church at Pergamos was to turn from harboring these false teachers or face Christ soon on the wrong side of the war.
17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.
Overcoming here is associated with eating the hidden manna. Manna was a blessing sent down to sustain Israel during their forty years of wandering (Exodus 16). This manna represents God sustaining the church during the forty years between the cross and the end of Judaism, which allusion Paul also made in 1 Corinthians 10.
B. and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it...Edit
Overcoming is also associated with receiving this white stone with the new name written on it. White is always a symbol of purity. The stone is the chief cornerstone, Christ. On this stone is written a new name (Isaiah 62:2), founded in Christ, the name of Christian. That only those who received it would know the name represents the limited understanding of those who rejected the Christian faith. Overcoming is therefore representative of overcoming of the tribulation to receive the full and final establishment of the church over and in spite of her main enemy, the Jewish state.
18 And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass;
John now is told to write to Thyatira. Again the speaker is identified as Jesus, who is the Son of God, the Son of Man, and has the properties listed in chapter 1.
19 I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.
Thyatira is commended for their works, love, service, faith, and patience. Works, though, are listed twice and Jesus says that they have matured and increased their work just as the faithful servants of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25.
20 Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.
A. That Woman JezebelEdit
Jezebel is a female version of Balaam here. Again, eating things sacrificed to idols is not inherently sinful, but it was considered a stumbling block for the weak. The main stumbling block for the Christians in this time period was the demand to return to and observe the Mosaical Law in circumcision and the like. To commit fornication is a symbol of being unfaithful to God, of falling from grace and turning to the old, broken law of the Jews.
B. Suffering the Prophetess to Teach and SeduceEdit
Like Pergamos, Thyatira tolerated the false doctrine of Judaizers (Jezebel). However, the word here in the Greek is more than just about toleration. It's about permission. It is akin to the idea of "Women's Sufferage", which was about acknowledging the right women had to vote, to have a say in the political arena of our nation. In Thyatira, the Judaizers were not just being allowed in the doors without reprimand, they were being given a voice "to seduce my servants".
C. To Commit Fornication, and to Eat Things Sacrificed Unto IdolsEdit
This is not a literal reference to having sex and eating meat offered to idols. Remember that Gentile Christians were sometimes weak and struggled with eating meat offered to idols (Romans 14; 1 Cor. 8, 10). It was a violation of conscience. Here these things are used as a metaphor for practicing a false (or defunct) religion to which they did not adhere. It is a slap in the face to the Jews, the Judaizers, because it is once again associating them with the nations around them that they so wanted to be like. John is writing saying that if you give in to the Judaizers, you will be like the Jews who gave in so many times to become like the nations around them, committing spiritual fornication and worshipping according to false religions as they did.
21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.
The Judaizers were given time and admonition to repent. Again almost all of the letters from Paul, the book of Hebrews, and so on were warnings about and to those people. Now the time is up. They did not take the opportunity.
22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
Jesus is saying here something akin to “you’ve made your bed, now sleep in it”. Those who listen to the Judaizers would suffer the same fate with them, a great tribulation which in fact all of the Jews faced.
23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
A. And I will kill her children with death;...Edit
Jezebel’s children are those converted by the Judiazing doctrines. They will be destroyed along with all those whom Christ was coming to judge against.
B. and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts:...Edit
Jesus here identifies himself as the one who searches hearts, the innermost thoughts (reins) of men. When this prophecy against the Judaizers and those who heed them comes true, then all the churches of Christ will understand Jesus’ capacity as the searcher of the heart (Romans 8:27).
C. and I will give unto every one of you according to your works...Edit
When Christ comes to bring judgment against the persecutors of the church, the Jews, He will reward everyone according to their works, good or evil. This is exactly like the parable of the talents. It also shows that works are intimately involved in God’s judgments and those who teach that works have no part in such things are fools incapable of reading the plain teaching of scripture.
24 But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.
A. But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine,Edit
There were a number of Christians who did not hold to the doctrines of “Jezebel” and Jesus speaks now to them.
B. and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak;...Edit
- 1. It is interesting to note here that Satan is literally a single person, yet Satan is referred to here in the plural (they). Again it must be concluded that Satan is a metaphor, and as previously shown, is symbolic of the Jews.
- 2. Therefore Jesus is saying here that those who did not hold to the doctrines of Jezebel were also those who did not experience the extent of the effect of the teachings of the Judaizers.
C. I will put upon you none other burden...Edit
Jesus will not add anything new to deal with.
25 But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.
All that they were required to do was to hold fast, stand firm, till Jesus came. They were in the trenches so to speak and Christ is saying “hold on just a little longer” and He would come and rescue them from their persecution at the hands of the Jews.
26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
A. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end,...Edit
Overcoming here is equated with obedience “unto the end”. What end must be asked for there are many ends spoken of throughout scripture. Given the entirety of the context from scripture that we have covered, this must be a reference to the end of the Jewish age. They were encouraged to hold on just a little longer until this end.
B. to him will I give power over the nations:...Edit
Those who overcame would be given authority over the nations. In what way could Christians be said to have power/authority over nations that no longer existed after the kosmos ended? No, this phrase here again indicates that John does not speak of the end of the kosmos, but a different end, after which the church would have great influence over all peoples by the preaching of the gospel, the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham.
27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.
A. And he shall rule them with a rod of iron;...Edit
- 1. Jesus is still the speaker here. He does not speak of Himself in the third person. The “he” that will rule is “him” that overcomes from the previous verse, that is faithful Christians. “Them” is the nations which would be ruled by the Christians after the events of Revelation are fulfilled.
- 2. The rod of iron is an emblem of correction and defense like unto Moses or Aaron’s rods or the rods of shepherds. This rod of iron by which the Christians would rule the nations, that is, the gospel.
B. as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers:...Edit
Read Isaiah 30:14; Psalm 2. The shattering of these nations is not a literal destruction so much as it is a breaking of their power over the church. The tables would turn and the church would then go forth and subdue the nations of the world, even those who would oppress them.
C. even as I received of my Father...Edit
Jesus confirms the promise of this as coming directly from the top. It was as the Father had given to Jesus to preach while alive (the Olivet discourse for example). Read Matthew 24:9; Matthew 24:14; Matthew 25:32; Matthew 28:19; Acts 17:26; etc.
28 And I will give him the morning star.
The morning star is a reference to sonship (Job 38:7) and is ultimately a reference to Christ (Revelation 22:16). The giving of the morning star to those who overcome is the giving of the inheritance promised to the children of God under the New Testament, the full establishment of the church/kingdom founded on Pentecost in Acts 2.
29 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
This admonition is not an end, but a convenient break to start a new chapter, but the material will continue with three more congregations.
In Truth and Love.