Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, April 16th, 2024
the Third Week after Easter
We are taking food to Ukrainians still living near the front lines. You can help by getting your church involved.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
Revelation 2

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors


This chapter contains the first four of the seven letters to the churches which received these special communications from the Lord Jesus Christ through the apostle John as intermediary, these being: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum and Thyatira. But what do the letters mean? Are they to be understood as prophetic revelations regarding the seven successive ages of church history? Many scholars, of course, who take such view of them rather confidently interpret these seven ages of the church thus:

The Church Addressed / Typifies:

Ephesus —- The apostolic period

Smyrna —- The period of persecution

Pergamum —- The times of union with the state of Rome

Thyatira —- The Dark Ages

Sardis —- The Reformation

Philadelphia —- The evangelization movement

Laodicea —- The final period before the Second Advent

G. Campbell Morgan made the above applications.(F1)

A deep respect is felt for the sincere students of the Holy Scriptures who accept this and similar views of these seven churches; but there are a number of considerations which forbid our agreement with them:

(1) The applications simply do not fit. Sardis, for example, could not possibly represent the church of Jesus Christ during the age of Reformation, because this, as regards the true church was a time of its greatest zeal and purity.

(2) The conditions typical of each of these seven congregations, from the very beginning of the Christian era, and until the present time, are to be found simultaneously existing in all the ages of the church. Right now, there are "brotherly love" churches (Philadelphia), "lukewarm" churches (Laodicea), and even "wicked" churches (Sardis), etc.; and we find full agreement with Criswell who wrote:

(3) All seven co-exist together: some that are aflame with missions (Philadelphia), some that are paying the price with their lives (Smyrna), some that are cooling off in their devotion (Ephesus), and some that are taking it easy in Zion (Laodicea).(F2)

(4) These letters appear here in their normal geographical sequence, each in turn being next on the list for anyone attempting to visit all seven. They have nothing to do with any chronological succession of churches or conditions to the end of time.(F3)

(5) Furthermore, all seven of these churches existed simultaneously in a relatively small area at the time John wrote. This is a powerful suggestion that the various conditions pointed out would continue to exist simultaneously throughout history, which they do, as a matter of fact.

(6) Added to all this is the absolute lack of any solid agreement as to when one age terminated and another age began. For these, and for other reasons that will appear in the comments on these letters, they shall be regarded here as applicable in their entirety to all generations. In fact, the material addressed to each church was, at the time John wrote, applicable to all. As Hinds pointed out:

It is unnecessary to conclude that these very short letters were sent separately to the respective churches. Each congregation received all of them, with the rest of the book.(F4)

The repeated admonition "Hear what the Spirit saith to the churches" makes what is written to any one of these applicable to all the "churches."

Despite our disagreement with what for many is the normal understanding of these letters, it must be admitted that, "There is a remarkable coincidence between these seven letters and the sequence of periods suggested."(F5)

Verse 1

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, he that walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks:


This is actually the second inspired letter to Ephesus, the canonical book of Ephesians having, in all probability, been directed to this same congregation. See the introduction in my Commentary on Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. Regarding the city itself:

It was the major city of the great Roman province of Asia which embraced a large area of what is now Asia Minor. Its history reached into the remote past, tradition claiming that it was originally founded by the Amazons. Blaiklock stated that the "city was at least ten centuries old when Paul entered it."(F6) Alexander the Great captured it in 334 B.C.; but one of his generals, Lysimachus, inherited it; but by the times of the apostles, it was a thoroughly Roman city, but with a Culture deeply colored by the pagan associations with the city’s past. Artemis, the principal deity (the Biblical Diana), actually went back to the old Asiatic goddess of nature; but by Paul’s time her worship had taken on a different character. Symbolized by a monstrous object of worship (reportedly having fallen from heaven, and possibly a meteorite) that resembled roughly a human female figure with grotesque multiple breasts, her temple, four times the size of the Athenian Parthenon, had become in the days of the apostles perhaps the most important building in Asia. It was a combination of the Bank of England, a city of refuge, a manufacturing and commercial center, and the heart of the whole pagan area. The original temple burned the night Alexander the Great was born; and later, he offered to give his wealth to rebuilding it, if they would inscribe his name on the portal. The Ephesian priests declined with the comment that it was not appropriate for one God’s name to be inscribed on the temple of another God! The character of that temple as a city of refuge resulted in the entire sanctuary area, a quarter of a mile in all directions, becoming one of the vilest collections of thieves, murderers, and lawless persons ever known on earth.(F7)

By the times of the apostles, the harbor had begun to silt up, and Ephesus was rivaled by other cities. It was, in a sense, a decaying metropolis; and some have supposed that the general character of the city may have contributed to the waning ardor of the Ephesian congregation.

Despite this, it was far and away the most important city of the entire area when John wrote, and it was appropriate enough that the first of these letters should have been addressed to the congregation in Ephesus.

Ephesus with its great temple continued until 262 A.D., when it was sacked and destroyed by the Goths. The Edict of Theodosius closed all the pagan temples about 389 A.D.

Today, a Turkish village, Ayassoluk, the modern representative of ancient Ephesus, stands about a mile northeast of the ancient city.(F8) In view of the wretched history of this city in the post-apostolic period, one must conclude that God did indeed remove her candlestick out of its place.

The angel of the church … See introduction for discussion of this. It cannot be that a literal angel is meant, because that would involve supposing that God sent a message through a mortal to a supernatural being. It cannot mean the local bishop, pastor, or other officer of the church; because it would not be in harmony with the justice of God to believe that such a human officer would have been condemned, or complimented, for what other humans were doing. The angel here is fully accountable for the condition of the church, and this demands the thought of some kind of personification, or by extension, every Christian. After all, every Christian is kept firmly in the Saviour’s right hand.

The seven stars in his right hand … All of these letters reflect the magnificent description of the Christ given in the foregoing chapter, the particular details chosen for the reference to Christ in each case being usually understood as especially appropriate to the time and circumstance in each city. Christ’s holding the stars in his hand, as here, suggests the utmost concern of the Lord for every single one of the Christians, the waning love of the Ephesians for each other (as some think) being a tacit denial of the great truth thus symbolized.

Walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks … This indicates the active, constant, and persistent energy in which Christ is concerned with the welfare of every church and every Christian.

Verse 2

I know thy works, and thy toil and patience, and that thou canst not bear evil men, and didst try them that call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false;

I know … This clause appears throughout the letters, reminding all people that, "All things are naked and open before the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews 4:13).

Works … toil … patience … Like the other letters, except in cases where no commendation was possible, this one begins with the Lord’s approving recognition of their good points. No list of their works is given, but presumably there were many. Scholars point out that "toil" refers to arduous, sweat-producing labor. They were indeed working at their religion. "Patience" here is the great New Testament word [@hupomone], meaning: "The gallantry which accepts suffering, hardship and loss and turns them into grace and glory."(F9)

And didst try them that call themselves apostles … Many commentators have pointed out that, "To the apostle John, apostle always means one of the Twelve";(F10) and so we understand it here. There were men pretending to be apostles in the highest sense of that word. Those who reject this view suggest that this was such a bold claim that none would have dared to make it; but they forget that some even pretended to be Christ! We find full agreement with Carpenter who considered this verse "additional evidence of an early date of the Apocalypse."(F11) Supporting the same interpretation, Plummer said:

In 68 A.D., when contemporaries of the apostles were abundant, the claim to be an apostle might with some show of reason be made; but in 95 A.D. such a claim would be ridiculous.(F12)

Practically all interpreters are aware of this, but having already chosen a late first century date, they are compelled to insist that "apostles" is here used in some secondary sense. Plummer commented on that thus:

Trench admits this (the implication of an early date), and hence tells us that "apostles" must not be pressed, as though it implied a claim to have been sent by the Lord Jesus; but this is exactly what "apostle" does imply.(F13)

Didst try them … and find them false … That Christ himself commended the diligence and faithfulness of the Ephesian church in disproving the claims of false apostles indicates that the false claims were reasonably and plausibly advocated, and that the refutation of them was not always easy.

Verse 3

and thou hast patience and didst bear for my name’s sake, and hast not grown weary.

Thou hast patience … Here again is the word which means not merely a passive submission to what must be endured, but the dynamic ability of endurance and faithfulness without discouragement by any or all difficulties.

For my name’s sake … The New Testament emphasis upon the name of the Lord is extensive. Salvation is in no other name (Acts 4:12); all Christian activities are to be done in his name (Colossians 3:17); we are justified in his name (1 Corinthians 6:11); we are baptized in his name (Acts 2:38; Acts 19:5); we are called by his name (James 2:7); our sins are forgiven for his name’s sake (1 John 2:12); we should believe on his name (1 John 5:13), etc. Here, the patient endurance of the Ephesian church was commended by the Lord himself because their faithfulness had regard to the holy name of the Son of God.

Verse 4

But I have this against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love.

What a shocker is such a statement as this. The charge is not that they were in danger of leaving their first love, but that they had already done so! A lot of ink has been wasted on the explanation of "what" exactly was their first love. The first love of every true church is our Lord himself; and what is indicated here is the departure (in heart) of the Ephesian church from their Lord who had redeemed them. Oh yes, they were still busy with all kinds of tremendous works; but, significantly, these were not designated as "the work of faith." They were running their religion from a center of affection, not in the Lord, but in themselves. Of course, they were still advocating and defending all of the great doctrines of the faith, but the love of the Saviour was missing.

Some very interesting postulations have been presented regarding the situation here, such as the following:

Their intolerance of imposture and their hatred of heresy had bred an inquisitorial spirit which left no room for love. They had set out to be defenders of the faith … only to discover that in the battle they had lost the one quality that really matters.(F14)

While true enough, in a sense, such an interpretation seems to imply that it was their very loyalty to the faith that resulted in their lapse. Their hatred of heresy "bred" their defection; and that cannot be true. Whatever caused their failure, it was not intolerance of imposture, nor hatred of heresy. "Only the pure Word produces a pure faith, and … pure love."(F15) To suppose that brotherly love could exist without a hatred of heresy and intolerance of imposition is to suppose that apples can grow where there is no tree. "Love itself is misconceived when it is supposed that it can be great and strong without faithfulness to the Word."(F16)

Some of the interpreters of this passage seem to be of the opinion that love of the brothers is here contrasted with sound doctrine, and that, of course, the latter is more important; but such teaching is not in the passage. As a matter of fact, it is an addition to the word of God to affirm that, "A slackened sense of the obligation to mutual love formed the cardinal sin at Ephesus."(F17) That such a lessening of mutual love had indeed occurred is doubtless true, but it was not the cardinal sin; that was "their leaving their first love, who is Christ." A failure in the Christian’s heart of his love for Christ results quickly in all of the other failures.

We should not pass this verse without noting the allegations often based upon it to the effect that this slackening of love and zeal must indicate that at least a generation had elapsed following the days of Paul before such a defection could have occurred. Almost all of those who prefer a 95 A.D. date for this book rely heavily upon such an assumption. However, as Plummer said, "This verse is certainly no obstacle to the theory that the Apocalypse was written about A.D. 68."(F18) The notion that many years must have elapsed prior to the failure of the Ephesians does not take account of many facts given in Scripture. The Galatians defected from the gospel within two or three years (at the most) after they were converted. The frequent apostasies of Israel in the Old Testament often occurred at once after periods of loyalty. Only a few days elapsed while Moses was on Mount Sinai, but that was plenty of time for Aaron to make the golden calf. Not only do the theories of many years preceding the lapse ignore such Scriptures, but they are grounded in an ignorance of human nature. The same city that welcomed Jesus Christ on Sunday with palms and hosannas shouted him to the cross on Thursday! No "thirty or forty years" was necessary to produce that!

Verse 5

Remember therefore whence thou art fallen, and repent and do the first works; or else I come to thee, and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent.

Remember … How often has the Lord admonished his human children to remember! "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth" (Ecclesiastes 12:1); "This do ye in remembrance of me" (1 Corinthians 11:25); "Remember how he spake unto you" (Luke 24:6); "Remember his holy covenant" (Luke 1:72); "Remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things" (Luke 16:25), etc. There are actually three "R’s" in this passage: Remember … Repent … Reform.

Repent and do the first works … This is one of the most important clauses in the whole passage; it is the key to understanding what had happened. What were those first works which the Ephesians had stopped doing? They were the commandments of the Lord. Oh, to be sure, they were carrying on an extensive program of works, but such things were not the work of faith. The interpretation that fills many of the commentaries with the view that the Ephesians had all the works they needed misses this point altogether. It was not a question of their having discharged their full obligation regarding works, but a case of their having failed in this very category. They were not, at the time of John’s writing, doing the "work of faith"; they were doing their own thing religiously. Such things, no doubt, were indeed good works, else Christ would not have commended them; but the first obligation of every Christian and every church on earth is to do the works Christ commanded. This failure, of course, was due to their having left their first love; and the shameful condition of this congregation is the Biblical exhibit of much that is going on right now in the so-called Christian world of the present time.

Did the Ephesian church heed the admonition here given? It would appear that, for some little time, at least, they did so. Bruce noted, "That the church at Ephesus paid heed to this warning is a fair inference from the testimony of Ignatius, who commends it for its faith and love."(F19)

Or else I come to thee, and will remove thy candlestick … This reference to the "coming" of Christ is not to the Second Advent, but to a visitation of providential judgment upon the Ephesians unless they repented. As McGuiggan put it: "This coming depends upon whether or not they repent; if they repent, he will not come and remove their candlestick."(F20) Beasley-Murray observed that:

Such statements in no wise conflict with the truth of the final appearing, a fact which theologians have not always remembered when speaking of the "coming" of Christ, as though the recognition of these lesser appearings in any way invalidated the truth of the great appearing.(F21)

The final coming of Christ in the Second Advent will occur, irrespective of any group’s repenting or not.

Remove thy candlestick … This does not refer to any total destruction of a church or of a city, but to the removal of the impenitent from any effective status as a lampstand of the truth in Jesus Christ. Many a church has continued to enjoy life on earth long after their utility as an effective instrument of spreading the gospel of Christ has perished. Such churches have indeed had their "candlestick" removed.

It is wise, here at the outset of Revelation, to observe that, "The coming of Christ, as here and elsewhere in the book, does not represent an imminent coming of Christ to end the world.(F22) As Caird expressed it, "The conditional threats to Ephesus, Pergamum and Sardis are evidence that an imminent Parousia was not one of the events which John believed was bound to happen soon."(F23)

Verse 6

But this thou hast, that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

The works of the Nicolaitans … This is not a reference merely to the evil deeds of the group mentioned, but to the promulgation of their evil doctrine, as appears a little later. Who were they? Irenaeus said that, "They are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles."(F24) They taught that it was a matter of indifference to commit adultery or eat things sacrificed to idols. "It was an exaggeration of the doctrine of Christian liberty which attempted an ethical compromise with heathenism."(F25) The reference to the Nicolaitans and to the doctrine of Balaam in the same passage (Revelation 2:14-15), a moment later, together with the phrase "in like manner" seems to indicate that the teachings were essentially the same. Despite the assertion of Irenaeus cited above, some students refuse to allow the identification of that sect with Nicolas, one of the Seven (Acts 6:5), Lenski complaining that, "It is a moral law not to make a noble Christian man a Judas without full evidence that he turned out to be a Judas."(F26) Of course, no one can disagree with that; but Moffatt declares that, "There is no reason to doubt the original connection of the party with him (Nicolaus)."(F27) Still it must be confessed that very little is known of this sect except what is revealed here.

Verse 7

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. To him that overcometh, to him will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.

He that hath an ear, let him hear … So! People do not receive spiritual information regarding their salvation from any inner impulses, dreams, impressions, or inner strivings of the soul, but by listening to the words given by the Holy Spirit. "This shows that God’s revelations are spoken to man, not put into his heart through some mysterious spiritual power."(F28) Also notable in this paragraph and in this verse is the fact that, "God dictated these seven letters to John in the literal sense of the word. Therefore, the ancient prophets received verbatim messages: Thus saith the Lord."(F29) Our Lord himself often used this expression, as in Matthew 11:15; Matthew 13:9; Matthew 13:43, etc.

What the Spirit saith to the churches … This is of great value in the interpretation of these passages, since it is clear here that the messages written by John were not: (1) to a supernatural being such as an angel; (2) to any human authority in the church; nor (3) to any single one of the congregations, but "to the churches." All that is written to any one of them applies to all. Even beyond this, all that is written is to the churches of all time.

To him that overcometh … The verb in this phrase can be translated conquereth,(F30) or conquers. It occurs only twice in the Gospels (Luke 11:22; John 16:33) and only once in the writings of Paul (Romans 12:21). However, it is found in all seven of these letters to the churches, and John also used it repeatedly in 2 John (2 John 2:13,14, and 2 John 5:4,5).(F31) Hendriksen was mightily impressed with the implications of this term and named his book on Revelation after it.(F32) John seemed to have some kind of preference for the word. It may be properly applied to a battle or a trial; but the word is used here independently of reference to any particular contest. "It means a victory over all kinds of evil that would harm the church or prevent the salvation of the contender."(F33)

I will give to eat of the tree of life … These words regarding the "tree of life" are found in Genesis 2:9 and in Revelation 22:2; Revelation 22:4; Revelation 22:19, thus binding the beginning and the end of the Bible together, all of which, first to last, is concerned with the recovery of that which was lost in the Fall. As to just what the tree of life actually is, it is difficult to think of it as any kind of literal fruit. It undoubtedly has reference to Christ himself, as indicated by the following:

The Hebrew word in Genesis 2:9 was rendered by the Septuagint (LXX) translators with a Greek word which means, not tree, but wood; and the New Testament writers used that same word (wood) for all four passages where it occurs in Revelation, and in Acts 5:30; Acts 10:39; Acts 13:29; Galatians 3:13, and in 1 Peter 2:24 regarding the cross upon which Jesus died.(F34)

Such blessed promises as this and all the others given in these passages seem to have been designed with a connection between them and the false superstitions of the people to whom they were addressed, in the sense of the good and the true being offered instead of the false. In this case, "Excavated coins of Ephesus show a date-palm, sacred to Artemis, and symbol of her life and beneficent activity."(F35) It is not unlikely, therefore, that the tree of life is a holy symbol of the Son of God himself.

Which is in the Paradise of God … The Greek word here rendered Paradise is Oriental, being first used by the historian Xenophon, denoting the parks of Persian kings and nobles.(F36) The thought of a garden is in it. Jesus used the word in his promise to the thief (Luke 23:43), and Paul was caught up into it (2 Corinthians 12:4), apparently identifying it as "the third heaven." Vine states that 2 Corinthians 12:3 does not introduce a different vision.(F37) Paradise is most certainly an extraterrestrial location, because the tree of life is positively not found anywhere on earth. Heaven is perhaps as good a synonym for it as we have. However, such conclusions should not be applied to the use of "Paradise" in Luke 23:43, where a slightly different sense is evident. The usage of it there would appear to be equivalent in meaning to "Abraham’s bosom" (Luke 16:22). See further comment on this in my Commentary on Matthew, p. 501.

Verse 8

And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These things saith the first and the last, who was dead, and lived again:


An ancient cradle of Ionian civilization, Smyrna existed for a millennium before Christ, being utterly devastated and destroyed by Alyattes of Lydia in 600 B.C.,(F38) lying in ruins until it was rebuilt by Lysimachus, one of the generals who inherited the empire of Alexander the Great, in 301-281 B.C. By the times of the apostles, it was again a flourishing Greek city, competing with Ephesus for first place in the province. "It was a handsome city, called the most beautiful of all cities under the sun, the great buildings on the nearby summit being called the crown of Smyrna."(F39) Smyrna lay next to Ephesus in the sequence that a traveler visiting all seven of these churches would naturally follow.

Smyrna still exists under the modern title of Izmir, Turkey, second in importance only to Ankara, and having a population of 286,000 in 1955.(F40) Strangely enough, Ephesus, threatened with the loss of its "candlestick" has virtually disappeared; but Smyrna, against which the Lord uttered no condemnation, is a great city even now.

To the angel of the church … See under preceding verse, and also under Revelation 1:20.

The first and the last, who was dead and lived again … Some have seen this identification of our Lord as peculiarly appropriate for a city which, itself, had lain dead for all the middle centuries of the first millennium B.C., but was then once more a favored city.

In Smyrna … This city was one of the oldest and most faithful of the allies of Rome, having erected a temple as early as 195 B.C. to the goddess Roma.(F41) There were also temples to Cybele and Zeus, and in one of them an inscription honoring Nero as "the Saviour of the whole human race."(F42) In 26 A.D., they also erected a temple to the roman emperor Tiberius, and were clearly a center of that cult of emperor-worship which resulted in so much sorrow for the church.(F43) In fact, "the earliest shrine of the provincial cult of Rome was established there in 29 B.C.(F44) Regarding the establishment of the church in Smyrna, we do not have any direct information; but, "It was probably established by the apostle Paul on his third missionary journey."(F45) Regarding Paul’s work in Ephesus, which was not far from Smyrna, Luke recorded this: "And this continued for the space of two years; so that all that dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19:10). This most certainly must have included the citizens of Smyrna. The emperor cult was so strong in Smyrna that even many of the Jews were carried away with it. When Polycarp was martyred there in 155 A.D., the Jews cried out:

This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, the overthrower of our gods who has been teaching many not to sacrifice, or to worship the gods … The multitude gathered wood and sticks, the Jews especially eagerly assisting in it.(F46)

It was indeed a hostile environment in which the church of Smyrna lived. How tragically the once chosen people of Israel appeared in such a situation as that. They once had said, "We have no king but Caesar"; and at Smyrna they proclaimed themselves worshippers of the emperor. In the light of this chapter, there cannot be any doubt that the state itself made emperor worship a test of loyalty, condemning Christians to death who would not submit to it.

Verse 9

I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty (but thou art rich), and the blasphemy of them that say they are Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

This verse is a commentary on the situation at Smyrna at the time John wrote. Despite the claims of many commentators to the effect that no provincial persecution against the church by the state of Rome existed until the times of Domitian, hence supporting a late date for Revelation, there has recently come to light a great corpus of facts which point squarely to the times of Nero for just such an outbreak. The impact of the Neronean terror was mentioned both by Clement and by Tacitus, the fact of "thousands being put to death" in all probability being no exaggeration but possibly an understatement. Nero’s being honored at Smyrna as "the Saviour of the whole human race" is evidence enough that any contradiction of this by Christians would have been proscribed and have resulted speedily in their death. As for the allegedly great persecution in the times of Domitian, "Recent studies have been strongly in the direction of showing that the evidence for a widespread persecution under Domitian is late and probably exaggerated"(F47) Sir William Ramsay’s extravagant elaboration of the Domitian persecution is followed by many writers; but, as Robinson said, "However, (it is) largely drawn from his own imagination, playing on evidence in Revelation already interpreted as Domitianic material."(F48)

And are a synagogue of Satan … This, along with "them that say they are Jews, and they are not" shows that John has preempted the glorious titles of the once chosen people for the Christians. Christians are the real Jews, the true sons of Israel, as in Romans 2:28. The Jews’ meeting place is here designated "a synagogue of Satan." Although James used "synagogue" as designating a place of Christian worship, this was probably quite early, or possibly a name used only in Jerusalem. From the first, Christians preferred the word "church," which in time came to stand for the place of assembly also.

Verse 10

Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer: behold, the devil is about to 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 the crown of life.

The devil is about to cast some of you into prison … As Hinds pointed out, "These words show that evil-workers are in the service of the devil,"(F49) since it was actually men, human beings, who cast the saints into prison. Furthermore, this must not be understood as any form of mild punishment. Those seized by the government and awaiting trial and execution were held in prison, which in that ancient culture was only an anteroom to death. "The struggle anticipated here is desperate; martyrdom is no remote contingency."(F50)

And ye shall have tribulation ten days … This passage sheds light upon some of the problems of interpretation; but, of course, there is no agreement upon exactly what is meant. The most reasonable supposition that this writer has encountered is that of Foy E. Wallace and Gaebelein:

This cannot mean a literal ten days, but rather the ten persecutions, the number of which is historically factual.(F51)

The number ten is of special interest, for history informs us that there were just ten persecutions of Christians by the Roman emperors.(F52)

Faithful unto death … This does not mean merely "until you die," but faithfulness, "even if fidelity involves death."(F53)

The crown of life … This and all similar promises given to these seven churches simply mean eternal life with God in heaven. Eating of the tree of life, receiving the white stone, or the morning star, etc., all mean the same thing. Why were different expressions used? Perhaps the view is correct that sees "The imagery here has direct reference and application to geographical, historical, and social features familiar to the seven congregations to which these cryptic letters were sent."(F54) Was it not appropriate that the citizens of Smyrna who were so proud of their crown (the tall buildings mentioned above), should have been reminded of the greater crown of life? Despite this, Beckwith, however, says that, "It is necessary to look for a local origin of the metaphor."(F55) The crown of life was an expression, which, with variations, occurs repeatedly in the New Testament: "the incorruptible crown" (1 Corinthians 9:25), "the crown of life" (James 1:12), "a crown of glory" (1 Peter 5:4), and "a crown of righteousness" (2 Timothy 4:8). All of these expressions refer to the same reward.

Verse 11

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.

On the first sentence in this verse, see comment on the identical words in Revelation 2:7, also concerning "overcometh."

Shall not be hurt of the second death … The second death is a reference to the lake of fire in which Satan and his followers are destined at last to be overwhelmed. As Roberson pointed out, many expressions in these earlier chapters of Revelation find their full explanation in the later chapters. Among those he cited were:(F56)

Tree of life —- Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:2; Revelation 22:14

The new name —- Revelation 2:17; Revelation 14:1.

Authority over the nations —- Revelation 2:26; Revelation 20:4 f.

The morning star —- Revelation 2:28; Revelation 22:16.

The white garments —- Revelation 3:5; Revelation 7:9; Revelation 7:14.

Sitting on Christ’s throne —- Revelation 3:21; Revelation 20:4.

Second death —- Revelation 2:11; Revelation 20:14.

Christ did not mention here "the first death"; but it is the death of the body to which all must submit. The second death is that of the soul, the absolute exclusion from God who is the source of life.

Christ did not utter any words of criticism or condemnation of this suffering church, offering only his love and encouragement. Those scholars who feel that they must go to the times of Domitian in order to find a time of martyrdoms in the church should remember that Stephen, James (John’s own brother), and James the brother of the Lord had all suffered martyrdom already, and even much earlier than the earliest date affixed to this book. To this very day there are churches in which people are paying for their fidelity with their lives, notably in China and in other iron-curtain countries. What a mistake it is to confine this to a description of the church in the apostolic period. Furthermore, as Lenski said, "In 64 A.D., there were many martyrs when Nero accused the Christians of burning Rome."(F57) Moreover, it is only a favorite bias of some scholars who affirm that the persecutions then were limited to Rome and did not occur simultaneously in the provinces. It was noted in the introduction to 1 Peter, that Christianity was already a proscribed, illegal religion even in the Roman provinces when 1 Peter was written. Nero invited the governors of the various provinces to join with him in the martyrdom of Christians.

Verse 12

And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These things saith he that hath the sharp two-edged sword:


Angel of the church … See references above on this.

The name Pergamum means citadel,(F58) but the word parchment, meaning paper of Pergamum, also derives from it.(F59) When political jealousy interrupted the supply of papyrus from Egypt, Pergamum invented the method of making paper from the skins of animals; and a great library was built there, which was later moved to Alexandria and consolidated with the library there. The founding of the city lay beyond the mists of long pre-Christian history, but coins were minted there as late as 452 B.C., and possibly much earlier. The principal importance of the place dates from the times of Lysimachus (355 to 281 B.C.), after whom Pergamum continued as a kingdom until Attalus III, upon whose death (133 B.C.) the kingdom was bequeathed to Rome. By Christian times, Pergamum had become the chief center of the Roman emperor-worship, no less than three temples being erected there to Roman emperors,(F60) but with many other temples also, to Zeus, Athena, Dionysus, and Asklepios (the serpent-god of healing). Of these, the temple of Zeus (Soter Theos), the "saviour god," had a huge altar 40 feet high carved like a great throne into the face of the mountain dominating the city, perhaps suggesting the words, "where Satan’s throne is" (Revelation 2:13). A school of medicine was there, connected with the worship of Asklepios; and the city was also the principal seat of Roman authority in the area. All of these gave the city something of the character of a great imperial cathedral metropolis. It was the Roman sword which constituted the ultimate authority in the times and place of Pergamum, and thus it was most appropriate for John to speak of Christ to them as, "He that hath the sharp two-edged sword," an authority infinitely greater than that of Rome. The sword, of course, is the word of the Son of God.

The climate of Pergamum, religiously, was especially threatening to Christians. "Pergamum had mingled and synthesized the deities of three races, and of three successive periods of their history."(F61) With these, they had also combined the worship of the Caesars, temples to both Augustus and Tiberius having already been constructed there when Revelation was written. In this atmosphere, there were some Christians, no doubt, who favored the incorporation of Christianity into the religious life of the community without a collision with the pagan world. As Billy Graham stated it, "The message to the church at Pergamum speaks of the danger of theological compromise … Their sin was tolerating theological error in their midst."(F62)

Verse 13

I know where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s throne is; and thou holdest fast my name, and didst not deny my faith, even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwelleth.

I know where thou dwellest … Repeatedly, this affirmation of the omniscience of the Master emphasizes the truth that all things are open and naked to the eyes of the Lord.

Where Satan’s throne is … See under preceding verse.

Holdest fast my name … See under Revelation 2:3.

And didst not deny my faith … The usage of "faith" in this verse is significant, standing, as it so frequently does in the New Testament, for the Christian religion.

Even in the days of Antipas … who was killed … Nothing is known of this Christian martyr except what is written here. The inference is that he died for his faith and that the event was known widely in the church.

Where Satan dwelleth … In all probability, like the expression above, "where Satan’s throne is," this is a reference to the pagan emperor-cult which was centered in Pergamum. "It was a power which was then testing the church and had effected the death of Antipas."(F63)

Caird gives an extensive analysis of the arguments that might have been advanced by the compromise party in Pergamum, to the effect that "All that the emperors really wanted was a gesture of political loyalty,"(F64) that actually the pagan "gods" were really "nothing," and that gestures of honor given them were without meaning, etc.; but Blaiklock explains the adamant refusal of Christians to participate in such things thus:

Allow the pinch of incense before the emperor and the landslide would begin. The guild-feasts would follow, a problem for Christians in Thyatira. Then would come the immoralities of Corinth’s worship of Aphrodite, and the breakdown of Christian morality, the sanctities of Christian marriage, the whole challenging distinctiveness of the Christian faith, the whole purpose of its being.(F65)

Verses 14-15

But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there some that hold the teachings of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also some that hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans in like manner.

The teaching of Balaam … "Evidently this error of Balaam was the chief principle of the sect of the Nicolaitans."(F66) "The teaching of Balaam is merely John’s opprobrious name for the teaching of the Nicolaitans"(F67) The nature of their teaching is clear enough. They advocated participation in pagan worship, eating things sacrificed to idols, and committing fornication, essential ingredients of all pagan worship. Significantly it is the "works," the behavior of the Nicolaitans, that is condemned in the Ephesian church; but at Pergamum, the practice of immorality has become an established teaching by some who openly advocated it, perhaps on the basis that some kind of compromise with paganism was inevitable. Balaam, repeatedly mentioned by New Testament writers, is usually held up as an example of evil. His error is set forth in Numbers 25 :lff; 31:16. Regarding the Nicolaitans, some have supposedly found a connection between his name and that of Balaam; but Beckwith noted that:

The purely symbolical interpretation of the name based upon a supposed identity of the Greek word [@Nikolaos] with the Hebrew word [Balaam] is not supported by certain etymology and is too artificial.(F68)

See further comment on Nicolaitans under Revelation 2:6.

Verse 16

Repent therefore; or else I come to thee quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth.

The admonition here is that, "The church as a whole must repent of its too tolerant attitude to the errorists."(F69) As Graham noted, "They had taken no corrective action and had applied no discipline."(F70) Such a "broadminded" indifferent attitude toward gross sins would have to be repented of.

I will come unto thee quickly … "The one thing clear is that, when John speaks of an imminent coming of Christ, he is not necessarily thinking of the Parousia (the Second Advent)."(F71) What is meant is that a divine judgment against them will be speedily enforced. This may be understood in either of two ways, or both: (1) Their effectiveness as a true church would soon disappear unless they repented. (2) A supernatural, divine visitation against them would be executed, as upon Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10). Moffatt understood it to be the latter, "some physical malady or mortal sickness."(F72) If Moffatt is correct in this, as would seem to be indicated by the more specific reference to Jezebel (Revelation 2:20-23, below), then the very fact of such judgments, associated with the earliest years of the church, being threatened here would indicate an early date for Revelation.

Make war against them with the sword of my mouth … This is a symbolical reference to the word of God as the principal weapon employed in the destruction of error.

Verse 17

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. To him that overcometh, to him will I give of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and upon the stone a new name written, which no one knoweth but he that receiveth it.

On the first sentence, see under Revelation 2:7, and also regarding "him that overcometh."

I will give of the hidden manna … The great feasts in the idol-temples were nothing to be compared to the feast of one who eats of "the bread of life" (John 6:35). John remembered the words of Jesus who in that passage identified himself as the true manna that came down from God out of heaven. It is here called "hidden" because it was a secret unknown to the pagan world of the community to which Revelation was written. Finding some reference to the Hebrew myth about a literal pot of manna in this is ridiculous. As Bruce said, "This is another expression meaning eternal life."(F73) Many of the other expressions similarly used, such as the white stone, also have exactly that same meaning.

White stone … It is not necessary to find the meaning of this in ancient superstitions. Small pebbles (not necessarily white) were used as tickets to public functions, especially feasts; and what is meant is simply that the ones who overcome shall receive, "a ticket of admission to the heavenly banquet, a very permanent ticket to an eternal feast."(F74) The reference to the new name known only to the recipient … "The idea is conveyed that outside the Christian experience no one can really know what God is, or what he gives. The redeemed and victorious alone understand what it means to belong to God."(F75) Regarding the stone’s being white, Cox said that it was, "not the black stone of their condemnation, but a white stone to their exoneration, admitting them to the secret places of the Most High."(F76)

Verse 18

And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet are like unto burnished brass:


Some twenty miles east of Pergamum on the road to Sardis was Thyatira, a name which means "castle of Thya,"(F77) and which is probably retained in the modern Ak-Hissar (white castle), a Turkish town on a fertile plain, being the center of the cotton industry, and a relatively important town of 30,156 (1955).(F78) In New Testament times, the dye industry was important, Lydia having been from Thyatira (Acts 16:14). It was also the home of many influential trade guilds, having their own deities, temples, and guild halls, where feasts, tending to obscenity, and all kinds of immoralities were practices. Politically, Thyatira was a kind of buffer state between Pergamum on the west and Seleucus (Syria) on the east, evidently changing hands a number of times between the two states in pre-Christian history.(F79) "Apollo the sun god, was the principal deity,"(F80) probably leading to the reference to the Son of God and the morning star in this message, as a contrast.

Verse 19

I know thy works, and thy love and faith and ministry and patience, and that thy last works are more than the first.

Such a glowing tribute as this leads one to wonder what could be wrong with a church like that. But despite their faith, love and works, increased and expanded, a cancer was gnawing away at the vitals of the congregation, and that problem would lead to the burden of the message.

Verse 20

But I have this against thee, that thou sufferest the woman Jezebel, who calleth herself a prophetess; and she teacheth and seduceth my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.

The woman Jezebel … This verse is one of the most interesting in the New Testament, because here there well could have been an example of female leadership having been accepted in a church of Christ. The very fact of this character’s having been allowed to teach, with the sufferance of the whole church, and of her also claiming the gift of prophecy strongly suggest it. Moreover, the prominence which Lydia doubtless had in bringing the gospel to the place could have created a favorable atmosphere for the development of just such an aberration. However that may be, there is a clear case here of a dissolute woman having usurped the principal authority of a church. The word Jezebel "is not a figurative term for a party or a movement; it designates an actual person (Revelation 2:2 f), her followers being distinguished from her."(F81) Whatever her actual name might have been, the Lord called her "Jezebel," after the "wicked queen of that name who tried to establish an idolatrous cult in the place of the worship of Yahweh and was herself accused of whoredom and witchcraft (2 Kings 9:22)."(F82) Some have sought to identify her with the Chaldean Sibyl, a pagan religious establishment that stood outside the walls of Thyatira; but, as Lenski said, "The woman of this letter cannot be such a sibyl; she is a pretending prophetess who operates right in the Christian Church as one of its members."(F83)

To commit fornication … eat things sacrificed to idols … This identification of the sins of Jezebel identifies her and her followers with the followers of Balaam and with the Nicolaitans, there being no difference whatever in the sins cited. It is quite evident, therefore, that in the three churches of Ephesus, Pergamum, and Thyatira, the problem was the same, that being the type of wickedness described here; and that the principal thrust of the messages regards the progression of this evil from: (1) the conduct of a few at Ephesus; to (2) the justification of it by a body of teaching at Pergamum; to (3) the leadership of the church, in the person of Jezebel, having been thoroughly corrupted by it.

Verse 21

And I gave her time that she should repent; and she willeth not to repent of her fornication.

I gave her time … The longsuffering of the Lord is in this. The Saviour is not seeking some grounds for casting out his children, but overlooks their transgressions for a season, waiting for their repentance. For the willfully impenitent, however, there remains a judicial hardening and the execution of judgment. As Beasley-Murray said, "There is also the implication that Jezebel had been previously warned."(F84) Another necessary deduction from this was cited by Carpenter, thus: "True repentance is a repentance whereby we forsake sin."(F85) The immorality at Thyatira was flagrant, and more flagrant still was their persistence in it.

Fornication … There is no need to spiritualize this as "spiritual adultery." The obscenities and debaucheries openly observed in the pagan culture were fleshly, sensual, carnal and reprobate.

Verse 22

Behold, I cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of her works.

I cast her into a bed … into great tribulation … This appears to be an immediate and summary judgment against the type of wicked error rampaging in Thyatira. It is hard not to see in this exactly the same kind of judgment referred to in Revelation 2:16; that is, a divine visitation similar to that which befell Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10). There even seems to be a distinction between "them that commit adultery with her," as in this verse, contrasted with "her children" in Revelation 2:23, suffering being the punishment here, and death there.

Except she repent … Even yet, the gates of mercy had not closed, but this was the final warning.

Verse 23

And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he that searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto each one of you according to your works.

And all the churches shall know … The appropriate nature of the threatened visitation should be noted. The bed of suffering was an appropriate reward for the bed of fornication; and their judgment was to be as notorious as their scandal had been.

I will kill her children with death … Regarding the diverse punishment of the fornicators in Revelation 2:22 (suffering), as compared with death for "her children" here, Beasley-Murray thought that, "The former were sufficiently influenced by Jezebel to compromise their Christian loyalty, but the latter wholly embraced her doctrine."(F86) If such a terrible judgment was indeed executed upon them, the example of it would have had tremendous force in nerving the church to stand against paganism.

Verse 24

But to you I say, to the rest that are in Thyatira, as many as have not this teaching, who know not the deep things of Satan, as they are wont to say; I cast upon you none other burden.

The rest … "For the first time in these epistles, we meet with those who are spoken of as the rest, who are carefully distinguished from the great body of professing believers. The world had penetrated the church."(F87)

Who know not the deep things of Satan … There seems to be some doubt about what, exactly, is meant here. The problem was stated thus by Plummer:

Did they call their doctrine "deep things," which the Lord here enlarges to "deep things of Satan," in order to declare its true nature? Or did they themselves call their knowledge "the deep things of Satan," which they fathomed in order to prove their mastery over them?(F88)

Plummer thought it was the former, but Lenski believed it was the latter. It could have been either. If the former, the Lord here exposed their "deep things" as really being of the devil; and, if the latter, the deviates were reasoning as some do even today, who say that in order to triumph over evil one must practice evil. "To probe the depths of Satan, one must go down into these depths … the folly and fallacy of such reasoning are obvious."(F89)

I cast upon you no other burden … "The very language of Acts 15:28 is echoed in this";(F90) and it seems possible, at least, that there is here "an allusion to the Jerusalem concordat of the early church which is recommended tacitly as a safe, wise rule of conduct."(F91) Lenski, however, rejected this view, thinking that the reference is to the fact that "heretical opposition is always felt as a weight or burden that necessitates more strength to hold fast what we have."(F92) It does not seem to this writer that the two viewpoints are necessarily opposed to each other.

Verse 25

Nevertheless that which ye have, hold fast until I come.

The coming here is not the Second Advent. "It was necessary to hold fast to the Christian profession until Christ came in visitation through the trials soon to confront the churches."(F93)

Verse 26

And he that overcometh, and he that keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give authority over the nations:

He that overcometh … See other comments, above, on this expression. Note that here we have a definition of "overcoming," which means "keeping the works of Christ unto the end." What end is this? Every end, whether the end of difficulties, the end of life, or the end of the ages.

Authority over the nations … There is an echo here of our Lord’s great parable in Luke 20:13-17, wherein the faithful servants were promised rulership over "five cities" and over "ten cities." The manner of the Christian’s authority over nations does not appear in this promise, but it is evident subsequently in the prophecy (Revelation 20:4).

Verse 27

and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to shivers; as I also have received of my Father:

As the last clause of this verse indicates, the authority Christians are to exercise is "as" the authority that the Father has given Christ. They will "reign with him," not in the literal sense of enjoying temporal authority in human governments, but in the spiritual sense of sharing the holy blessings of his kingdom and of winning others through the gospel of Christ. The twelve apostles, at this very time, are reigning with Christ (Matthew 19:28); and it is inconceivable that anything other than this is implied here. The bizarre notion that some eschatological revolution connected with a literal return of Christ to the earth will suddenly give the reins of human government into the hands of Christians is foreign to the New Testament. "This is not a future millennium text. It is plainly the imagery of the irresistible force of the gospel."(F94) "The rod of iron" and the shattering of the "potter’s vessels" are merely expressions of that great power.

Verse 28

and I will give him the morning star.

This, like all similar promises in connection with these seven letters, is the promise of eternal life. "This does not mean, to invest the overcomer with its glory, nor to give him possession of Christ himself, but to make the dawn of salvation or of life eternal shine on him after his dark affliction."(F95)

Commenting on the thought in these verses, Caird said, "We are compelled to look for the fulfillment of this promise (having authority over the nations) in the present order."(F96) The ruling with a rod of iron and shattering the potter’s vessels refer to the smashing of paganism. "Pagan resistance will indeed be smashed, but God will use no other iron bar than the death of his Son and the martyrdom of his saints."(F97) And we do not hesitate to add: the preaching of the gospel!

Verse 29

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.

Again, reference is made to Revelation 2:7 where this is commented upon. Lenski pointed out that here and in the following three letters this admonition is placed at the end instead of at the beginning, thus dividing the seven into two groups of three and four; but, "We are unable to say just why they are so divided."(F98)

"Moral compromise is the central danger in Christ’s message to the church at Thyatira,"(F99) some think; but there is more to it than that, although admittedly that is bad enough. There was an abdication of the eldership in that church; a vile woman had taken it over, and they had done nothing about it. Furthermore, there was the general toleration of the philosophy and teaching which formed the rationalistic support and encouragement of the immorality. Aside from Sardis, the church next written, Thyatira was the worst of the seven addressed in this series.

Regarding what we have interpreted as the promise of a miraculous judgment against the situation in Thyatira, if such an interpretation is correct, there must have been special and unique qualities of the infection there which required it. The divine economy regarding miracles requires this understanding. Therefore, we shall attempt to show that the situation there did indeed justify such a heavenly interference with it.

The proud and domineering Jezebel, daughter of Ethbaal, king of Tyre, was the wife of Ahab, king of Israel; and she made Baalism the official religion of the northern kingdom, hastening its decline and fall by the idolatry which she introduced. "She was responsible in large measure for the collapse of the nation because of the evils which she introduced (1 Kings 16:29-33)."(F100) If she who is called Jezebel in this letter to Thyatira had been permitted to continue without divine interference, the total collapse of Christianity under the encroachments of paganism might have followed; but there was divine intervention. Furthermore, it would appear that the church got the message; and that at no subsequent time is there any record of the eldership of a church of our Lord abandoning their authority to a woman.

The legitimate deduction from what is revealed in this message to Thyatira is that the eldership of a church should use the full authority of their position to countermand and eliminate every emergence of false teaching in their congregations. There could have been no excuse whatever for their dereliction in the instance of Jezebel’s wanton disregard of the teaching of Christ and her openly advocating the cause of paganism in the congregation.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Revelation 2". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/revelation-2.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile