The Epistles to the Seven Churches (Revelation 2:1 to Revelation 3:22)
Since 'seven' is the perfect number, the 'seven churches' represent all the Churches of the province of Asia. At the same time, the special circumstances of each Church are faithfully pictured in each epistle. Ramsay points out that St. John alludes, as well, to the special circumstances of each city. He suggests that the Churches are mentioned in the order in which a messenger carrying letters would travel. The letters, however, were not to be sent separately to the Churches. The book was to be taken as a whole. St. John adopted the familiar form of an 'apocalypse' through which to deliver his message, and added to that the equally familiar form of 'letters.' In every epistle Christ is described under an aspect, mostly drawn from Revelation 1:12., suited to the special needs of the Church addressed. Each Church is then assured that Christ knows it, whether for praise or blame, but always with love, and receives the exhortation suited to it, followed by a special promise with a special token.
The main purpose of the epistles is to give courage to the Church to pass victoriously through its trials. For this reason it is told of Christ's presence and help, and bid to look forward to the glory that Christ will soon give to those who overcome. The chief trials of the Church consist in persecution from heathen and Jews, and in corrupt teaching within. The false teaching is of the character denounced in 2 Pet. and Jude. It seems to have desired that Christians should be permitted to take part in the clubs and organisations of the heathen society around them, and in their festivals, permeated though they were with idolatrous observances.
1-7. To the Church in Ephesus Christ speaks as He who is present with the Churches (Revelation 2:1). The Church is praised for its work for Christ, its endurance of suffering, and its faithfulness to the truth (Revelation 2:2-3), yet it is blamed, not because of its deeds, but because the love which used to animate them has cooled (Revelation 2:4). Even for this fault repentance is necessary; a Church without love must perish (Revelation 2:5). To those members of the Church who pass victoriously through their trials, eternal life with God is promised (Revelation 2:7).
1. Ephesus] the metropolis and great commercial centre of the province of Asia, famous for a temple to Diana. After St. Paul's work in Asia was ended, Timothy was stationed there for a time (cp. 1 Timothy 1:3), with general authority, till 2 Timothy 4:9. Soon afterwards it became the home of St. John. After Roman times, the harbour of Ephesus, 3 m. from the sea, silted up, and the place decayed. Except for a small Turkish village, only ruins remain.
2. Apostles] i.e. traveling envoys representative of Christ, in a sense not limited to the twelve: see on Romans 16:7. The title was claimed by some to whom it was not due. Hast.. liars] RV 'didst find them false': cp. 2 Corinthians 11:3, 2 Corinthians 11:13.
4, First] i.e. at the beginning of their Christian course.
5. First works] i.e. such as those inspired by their early love. I will come.. quickly] RV 'I come to thee.' Remove thy candlestick] If the flame of Christian love dies down, the candlestick will be put away as useless, i.e. the organised Church will come to an end: cp. John 15:6. The Church in Ephesus flourished for centuries, so we may presume that it did repent.
6. Nicolaitanes] Mentioned again in the letter to Pergamum, in connexion with Balaam (Revelation 2:14.), and probably referred to in the letter to Thyatira (Revelation 2:20.). It has been supposed, from the mention of Balaam, that they were Antinomians, i.e. men who held that Christians were not bound by the moral law, and that sin was no sin for those who had faith: cp. 1 Corinthians 6:13.; 1 Corinthians 8:9.; 1 Corinthians 10:28; Galatians 5:13; 2 Peter 2:1, 2 Peter 2:14. Judges 1:4, Judges 1:11. It has also been suggested that they may have claimed the authority of the deacon Nicolas (cp. Acts 6:5); but perhaps St. John used the term 'Nicolaitan 'as a Greek word representing the Hebrew 'Balaam.' Ramsay thinks that the 'Nicolaitans' were some who attempted to effect a compromise with the established usages of Grseco-Roman society, permeated with luxury and tainted with idolatry though these were, and that they also wished to comply with the State's demand, and show their loyalty by burning incense before the emperor's statue, St, John saw, as St, Paul did in 1 Cor., that the Church must conquer the imperial idolatry, or be itself destroyed (Ramsay, 'Letters to the Seven Churches,' pp. 299f.). By 115 a.d. Ignatius wrote to the Ephesians, 'in your midst no heresy has its dwelling.'
7. He that hath, etc] cp. Christ's words, Matthew 11:15, etc. The Spirit] John was under the influence of the Spirit: cp. Matthew 1:10. Overcometh] i.e. continuously. The Christian life is a continual fight against sin and tribulation, and this book's purpose is to give heart to overcome.
To eat of, etc.] i.e. he shall have eternal life: cp. Revelation 22:2; Genesis 2:9. Paradise] a Persian word for 'garden,' used in LXX for the garden of Eden. The later Jews employed the word to denote various ideas of heavenly blessedness: cp. Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4. Here it is equivalent to the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21 f.
8-11. To the Church in Smyrna Christ speaks as the Eternal, who tasted death, and whose death ended in life (Revelation 2:8). There is no blame for this Church. It is praised for its endurance of tribulation and poverty, and for its spiritual condition (Revelation 2:9). More persecution is to be expected, which may be borne without fear. After death for Christ, nothing but life will follow (Revelation 2:10.).
8. Smyrna] about 50 m. N. of Ephesus, was a wealthy port and the most splendid city in the province of Asia. In 26 a.d. a temple was founded there in honour of Tiberius. Polycarp, its bishop, was martyred 155 a.d., when he had served Christ 86 years. Smyrna was the last stronghold of Christianity in Asia Minor, and even now is called by the Turks 'Infidel Smyrna' (HDB.). Is alive] RV 'lived again,'
9. Works, and] RV omits. Rich] i.e. spiritually: cp. Matthew 6:19; James 2:5. Blasphemy] RM 'calumny,' i.e. which thou sufferest.
Say they are Jews] i.e. they are Jews in name only: cp. Revelation 3:9; Romans 2:29. The Apostle uses the name as an honourable one, equivalent to 'those who are not Gentiles, but are the people of God.' By their enmity to God's will and word, these men, Jews by race, had forfeited their position of privilege, and had become as bad as Gentiles. It is implied that it is the Christian Church in Smyrna which has succeeded to the privilege: cp. Romans 2:28. Jews joined in the martyrdom of Polycarp. Synagogue] i.e. congregation: cp. Numbers 20:4; Numbers 31:16. Of Satan] i.e. they called themselves God's, but were serving Satan.
10. Devil] Persecution is prompted by the devil: cp. Revelation 12:17; Revelation 13:4; 1 Peter 5:8. Prison] i.e, as a prelude to execution. Tried] cp. James 1:3, James 1:12; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 4:12. Ten days] not lit.; the persecution would be short and sharp. Faithful] Ramsay suggests that here, as in each letter, St, John refers to the local history of the city, Smyrna was honoured for its faithfulness to Rome, Cicero calling it 'the most faithful of our allies,' It was also proud of its 'Crown,' which was 'the garland of splendid buildings encircling the rounded hill Pagos.' A crown] RV 'the crown,' i.e. eternal life will crown your victorious death.
11. Second death] a Jewish phrase for the final condemnation of sinners: cp. Revelation 20:6, Revelation 20:14; Revelation 21:8; Matthew 10:28.
12-17. To the Church in Pergamum Christ speaks as He who destroys the wicked (Revelation 2:12). The Church is praised for faithfulness during a time when Christians might be called upon to deny Christ and worship the emperor. One of the Church, at least, had confessed Christ at the cost of his life (Revelation 2:13). Yet even this Church was corrupted by immoral teaching (Revelation 2:14.), and must repent, for a corrupt Church will suffer Christ's judgment (Revelation 2:16). Those who live victoriouly are promised heavenly food, and knowledge of Christ in their secret souls (Revelation 2:17).
12. Pergamos] RV 'Pergamum,' about 50 m. N. of Smyrna. Under the Roman empire it was resorted to by invalids, who attended for healing at the temple of Æsculapius. Until the 2nd cent. a.d. it was regarded as the capital of the province of Asia. Under Augustus a temple was built at Pergamum, probably 29 b.c., and dedicated to Rome and Augustus, and Pergamum became the centre of the imperial worship and 'Satan's throne.' 'It has continued to be a place of some consequence, preserving the ancient name Bergama, down to the present day' (HDB.).
Sword] As the centre of the worship of the emperor, Pergamum must have been the seat of authority, and the sword was the symbol of the highest order of authority. The message is that in the city in which the Roman proconsul has the power of life and death, Christ has power and authority greater than his (Ramsay).
13. Satan] i.e. the official authority opposing the Church. Seat] RV 'throne,' in the temple at Pergamum. Name] Christians had to conform to the State religion or suffer death. Even in those, etc.] RV 'even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one.'
14. Cp. Numbers 25:1.; Numbers 31:16; Acts 15:28; 1 Corinthians 8:9-10; Judges 1:11.
14, 15. Them] RV 'some.' Doctrine] RV 'teaching.'
15. Nicolaitanes] RV 'Nicolaitans in like manner,' i.e. the Nicolaitans held the teaching of Balaam: see on Revelation 2:6. Which thing I hate] RV omits.
16. Repent] RV 'Repent therefore,' i.e. by casting out the Nicolaitans.
17. To eat] RV omits. Hidden manna] cp. Exodus 16:33; Hebrews 9:4; Jewish tradition held that the ark and its contents, including the pot of manna, were hidden by Jeremiah, and that they would be restored when the Messiah came. This tradition is used here to symbolise the bread of life: cp. John 6:31.
White stone] Ramsay explains this as a 'tessera,' i.e. a little cube of stone, ivory, or other substance, with words or symbols engraved on one or more faces. Here the 'stone' is simply to bear the name, and the stress of the passage is on the name. It is a stone, imperishable, because that which is to last is put on imperishable material; and it is white, as the fortunate colour.
New name] A new name implied entrance on a new life: cp. the new name given in baptism. So by this 'new name' is meant that the victorious Christian will enter upon a new and higher stage of existence. But the name is also the secret name of God (cp. Revelation 3:12), and it was anciently supposed that the knowledge of the name of God gave power over spirits. So the Christian, triumphant over persecution, will enter into life, and have new knowledge of God and new power.
18-29. To the Church in Thyatira Christ speaks in His majesty as Son of God (Revelation 2:18). The Church is praised for its increase in love and faith and the service of others, and its patience under trials (Revelation 2:19). Yet it harbours corrupt teaching (Revelation 2:20), and those who follow such teaching without repentance must suffer under Christ's chastening hand. Every member of the Church must be judged by what he himself does (Revelation 2:21.). But he who wins the victory over the temptations of the enemies of Christ, will share in Christ's glorious reign in light (Revelation 2:24).
18. Thyatira] a busy commercial city in the northern part of Lydia, between Pergamum and Sardis. Fine] RV 'burnished.'
19. Charity] RV 'love.' Service] RV 'ministry,' i.e. towards men: cp. Mark 10:43.
And thy works; and, etc.] RV 'and that thy last works are more than the first,' i.e. the Church was even more faithful and earnest than at the time when it was founded: see on Revelation 2:4.
20. Notwithstanding', etc.] RV 'But I have this against thee, that.'
Jezebel] probably so called because she led astray Christians, as the wife of Ahab had led astray Israel. She seems to have been a prophetess, who taught that it was possible to be a Christian while remaining in ordinary pagan society and belonging to the social clubs which were characteristic of pagan life. These were idolatrous and luxurious, celebrating in a corporate manner the pagan religion and joining in common banquets carried out with revelry. This 'Jezebel' sanctioned. The minority of the Church who were against this teaching, yet tolerated 'Jezebel' ('sufferest'): see on Revelation 2:6. (See HDB.) To teach, etc.] RV 'and she teacheth and seduceth.'
22. Bed] i.e. the couch of the feasts, now changed into a couch of tribulation. Adultery] i.e. unfaithfulness to God.
23. Death] RM 'pestilence.' Reins, etc.] i.e. the inner thoughts and desires: cp. Psalms 7:9; Jeremiah 17:10.
24. And unto the rest] RV 'to the rest.'
Doctrine] RV 'teaching.' Depths] RV 'deep things.' Speak] RV 'say'; i.e. these misguided Christians called their philosophical arguments 'deep things of God' (cp. 1 Corinthians 2:10), but they were really 'deep things of Satan': cp. Revelation 2:9. None other burden] probably a reference to the letter from Jerusalem: cp. Acts 15:28. The directions of that letter would guide them in the difficulties as to their relations with pagan society.
25. That which ye have] i.e. the faithfulness, etc: cp. Revelation 2:19. Hold fast] because the Deliverer is near.
26. Power] RV 'authority': cp. Psalms 2:8. Christ's disciples will share in His kingdom: cp. Revelation 20:4, Revelation 20:6; Revelation 22:5;
27. Rule, etc.] quotation from Psalms 2:9. A figurative description of the victory of the Messiah in which His people would share. At this time 'Rome was the only Power on earth that exercised authority over the nations, and ruled them with a rod of iron, and smashed them like potsherds' (Ramsay). But the Christian, victorious through death, will be stronger than Rome and conquer Rome. Received] cp. John 10:18.
28. Morning star] i.e. the glory of Christ, who brings in the perfect day: cp. Revelation 1:16, Revelation 1:20; Revelation 22:16; Numbers 24:17; 2 Peter 1:19.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Revelation 2". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany