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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 2

Wallace's Commentary on the Book of RevelationWallace on Revelation

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These are the only documents of Christ. They were directed to churches facing a crisis, in the period of that crisis, which fact, together with the contents of the letters, show the period of history to which the Book Of Revelation belongs. The assignment of events to the wrong period of history is anachronistic; and the theory that switches the events of Revelation to the future is the greatest anachronism of all time.

The messages of Christ to the seven churches contain unmistakable indications that Revelation is the symbolic history of the struggle and triumph of the early church in conflict with the Jewish and pagan persecuting powers, written in signs and symbols which were fulfilled in the experiences of the churches of that era.

Verses 1-2

The letter to the church at Ephesus--2:1-7.

1. “He that holdeth the seven stars . . . who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks”--2:1.

The text says, these things saith he, not John, not the Holy Spirit, not God, but Christ Himself, the Head of the church, to whom was given all authority, and who, as Paul wrote to the same Ephesian church, was made “the head over all things to the church.”

2. “I know thy works”--2:2.

The works here mentioned were not described as either good or bad, but simply works, and it rather refers to the divine omniscience of Christ than to the character of the works mentioned; that nothing escapes his eye or his attention-- he knows the works of every church of his own, of which he is the head.

3. “Thy labor and thy patience”--2:2.

These words set forth the active and the passive sides to the relationship between the church and its divine head. The use of the word works would indicate that which is outward; but labor is a deeper word, it is underlying, a working at the price of toil. And patience denotes the inward grace of faithful continuance and endurance. Hence, the active and the passive elements in the life a church.

4. “Thou canst not bear them that are evil: and thou has tried them”--2:2.

This is a retrospective reference to a crisis in the Ephesian church, to an experience of the congregation somewhere in the past. The evil men were detected, convicted and expelled.

5. “Which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars"--2:2.

The teaching of these pretenders was found to be false when tried, as John had exhorted the members of the church to do in respect to the claims of strolling teachers. It is good advice to follow even today. The imposters were tried by what Paul and John, the inspired apostles, had taught the Ephesian church in their own labors among them. It connects with Paul’s own charge to the Ephesian elders in Act_20:29 , warning them against the “wolves that would enter in” among them. What Paul said there that would occur, Jesus said here that it had occurred. It is also retrospective of the reason why Paul left Timothy in Ephesus, as mentioned in 1Ti_1:3 : “As I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine.”

Here is the evidence of the necessary inference that the other apostles were living at the time John composed Revelation, as has been previously mentioned, for on no other supposition could such a claim by these imposters have even appeared plausible. Doubtless the men who made this claim, like most promoters of religious cults, appeared as wise and venerable persons in outward mien and manner; and they carried weight and influence enough to set up such a claim, and to make it so effective as to precipitate a crisis of such proportions that required the action of a trial for their conviction and expulsion. It was not a mere passing incident, but of sufficient importance that it rated the mention in this message of Christ to this church. This reference has a signal place in the cumulative contents of book bearing out the claim of its early date.

Verse 3

6. “Hast borne, hast patience, hast labored . . . hast not fainted”--2:3.

Here is the sphere of tolerance, what to bear and what not to bear. Infirmities and weaknesses can be shared with tolerance, but never to the point of condoning false doctrine, or of upholding false teachers. Of that class Paul said, in Gal_2:5 : “To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.”

In verse 6, they were commended for hating something; some graces had decayed, as in verses 5 and 6, but the hatred of evil had remained, and was extolled.

Verses 4-5

7. “Remember . . . and repent, and do the first works” - -2:5.

This divine injunction goaded the memory in reference to the things of the past; it commanded the will with respect to the present determination; and it exhorted obedience in the restitution of the first works-- not in quantity, but in quality. It meant to do the first works in the spirit of first love.

Verse 6

8. “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate”--2:6.

The claim that this designation of a sect or a party derived its name from Nicolas, of Act_6:5 , rests on assertion. There is no historical or factual evidence of it. It is more consistent with the code language of Revelation to regard the term Nicolaitanes as a symbolic expression, along with the use of the word Balaam. The two words actually are similar in meaning, one meant a “victor of the people” and the other a “devourer of the people.” These meanings of the two words significantly unite the two symbols as signs of the religious seductions of the Libertine party in the Ephesian church.

Verse 7

9. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches”--2:7.

Let him hear: As the eye is the organ of light to lighten the body ( Mat_5:1-48 ), the ear is the organ of spiritual discernment.

What the Spirit saith: The Spirit is here identified with Christ, since the phrase these things saith he represents Christ as the speaker.

To the churches: What Jesus Christ said to each of the seven churches, he said in substance to all of the churches, and to every church of his own thereafter and now.

10. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life"--2:7.

To him that overcometh: This condition attached to the promise that followed was a specific reference to the impending persecutions, thus adding evidence that the book belongs to the period of their own experiences; they were expected to be the overcomers of these persecutions and the conquerers of the persecutors.

To eat of the tree of life: The expression give to eat, had reference to distribution and reward, and it meant that the promise was as sure as the One who gave it was true. The phrase to eat meant to participate in the life that is the fruit of the tree of life. The tree of life is an allusion to the tree that disappeared in Eden, but did not perish; it is now in the paradise of God, instead of the paradise of man where it once was enjoyed by the first man and his mate; it consists, in this symbolic presentation, in the reward given to the overcomers of the persecutions, which comes only from above--from God.

The warnings to the Ephesian church surround the two elements--the false apostles and the Nicolaitanes. The first formed a parallel with the warning of Christ in Mat_24:1-51 concerning the false prophets that should arise to disturb the disciples after the establishment of the church and before and during the siege of Jerusalem; and the latter was parallel to the warnings of Paul against the parties of Judaism that would develop within the churches.

Verse 8

The letter to the church at Smyrna--2:8-11.

1. “These things saith the first and the last, which was dead and is alive”--2:8.

This sublime language repeats the eternity of the One who addresses this church, whom death could not vanquish, and it was intended for the encouragement of the Smyrna members to follow him even unto death, or martyrdom, with no fear of the consequences.

Verse 9

2. “The blasphemy of the Jews”--2:9.

This phraseology is not addressed to the true Jews, but to the pseudo-Jews, and had regard to the Jewish persecutions, which the calumnious and bitter opposition of the fanatical Jews waged against their own kinsmen who had accepted Christ. Again, it finds parallel in the Jewish persecutions foretold by the Lord in Mat_24:1-51 .

Verse 10

3. “Ye shall have tribulation ten days”--2:10.

This cannot mean a literal ten days, but rather to the ten persecutors, the number of which is historically factual. As there were five fallen imperial rulers before Nero--from Nero to Diocletian there were ten persecuting emperors. This era of persecution reached its crescendo in Diocletian’s reign of terror, in which he vowed to obliterate the name Christian from the Roman empire.

The indications are too plain for doubt that this ten days tribulation had immediate reference to the era or epoch of the ten persecuting emperors. Their succession is symbolized in Rev_17:8-11 , which describe the ebbing and the flowing of the tide of persecution, in the expressions was, is not and yet is. In the verses 10 and 11 the succession of these emperors is so plainly indicated that the mention of them by name could not have been plainer to the members of the churches to whom this code language was addressed. The history of these apocalyptic facts is verified in Gibbon’s History Of The Fall And Decline Of The Roman Empire.

4. “Be thou faithful unto death”--2:10.

The death of this admonition predicted the martyrdom of some of their number. It does not refer to ordinary death as related to the usual span of life, not merely until one dies; it was a warning to them with specific reference to martyrdom. It was an exhortation to be faithful even unto martyrdom, a consequence of loyalty to Christ in the persecutions, and apocalyptic forecast fulfilled in the experiences of these churches in their own time, the trials of the immediate conflict, not prophecies of remote centuries.

Verse 11

5. “He that overcometh shall not be hurt with the second death”--2:11.

This passage finds its apocalyptic fulfillment within the vision itself, in chapter 20:6, in the description of the culmination of all of the imagery of these scenes with the victory of the saints in the conflicts that come to end. The first law of the higher mathematics is that “things equal to the same thing are equal to each other.” This law applied to the comparison between these two passages, chapter 2:11 and chapter 20:6, yields the following conclusion: 1. Overcoming the persecutions equaled exemption from the second death; 2. Part in the first resurrection equaled exemption from the second death; 3. These two things being equal to the same thing were equal to each other. Therefore, the result of overcoming the persecutions was pictured as the first resurrection of the apocalypse, and was prerequisite to the living and the reigning with Christ in the triumphant state of victory that is described.

Verse 12

The letter to the church at Pergamos.--2:12-17.

1. “He which hath the sharp sword with two edges"-- 2:12.

The sword is an instrument of war, hence Christ threatened to wage war against the church in Pergamos, because of the evils within it, with the weapon designated “the sword of my mouth.” A sword of the mouth would necessarily be the spoken word, and it meant the employment of the two-edged sword of his word ( Heb_4:12 ), as a dual condemnation of the outside espionage of Satan’s seat in Pergamos, and the inside sabotage of Balaam’s doctrine within the church itself--the combined infiltration of pagan secular practices on one hand, and the Nicolaitane spiritual contaminations of erroneous doctrines on the other hand.

Verse 13

2. “Where Satan’s seat is”--2:13.

The stronghold of Satan consisted in the pagan and Jewish oppositions, which were combined in Pergamos into deadly threats against the church. The Pergamos church had been weakened by the heathen surroundings of Mysia, known for its famous temples, dedicated to Zeus, Minerva, Apollo, Venus, Bacchus, and Aesculapius. The figure, Satan’s seat, denotes the wickedness of these idolatrous temples and the nuptials to these gods. The name Pergamos meant the “place of nuptials.” It was a fitting figure of Satan’s seat.

3. “In those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr”--2:13.

There is a traditional claim that Antipas was once a bishop of the Pergamos church, but history does not identify him. In this book of symbols and code, the same reason for not mentioning other persons by name, such as Nero, the emperor, would also argue against the reality of these names. It is more consistent with the character of the book for Antipas to be a symbolic designation and representative for martyrdom. The word Antipas is derived from antipater: “anti,” against; and "pater," father, or paternal--and its meaning was, against the gods: hence, symbolic of faithfulness to Christ to the extent of “against all” gods of paganism. It therefore stood for all who would become victims of martyrdom in the persecutions to follow.

Verses 14-17

4. “Thou hast them that hold the doctrine of Balaam . . . also the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes”--2:14-17.

The mongrel prophet of the Old Testament contrived the evil scheme to destroy the purity of the Israelites by a twofold seduction: first, seducing Israel into the worship of Baal; and second, tempting the men of Israel into lewdness by fornication. This doctrine of Balaam in the Pergamos church referred to apostate teaching. And the association of the Nicolaitanes with Balaam, in the teaching of immorality with the outward profession of Christianity, is a strong indication that the Nicolaitanes were identical with those who held the doctrine of Balaam, and it was a dual symbol of one party in the Pergamos church. Actually, then Balaam and the Nicolaitanes stood for the same things.

It is significant to mention here that the term Nicolaitane is the Greek equivalent of the name Balaam in the Hebrew, and they both meant “the destroyer of the people.” There is no factual authority for the view that the Nicolaitanes were the degenerate followers of a depraved and anonymous Nicolas, who is supposed to have demoralized and corrupted the Pergamos church. It is rather the symbolic association between Balaamism and Nicolaitanism. It seems too significant not to be true.

Verses 18-19

The letter to the church at Thyatira.--2:18-29.

1. “These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire"--2:18.

The reader is requested to turn back to the notes on chapter one for the incisiveness of this description.

Verse 20

2. “Thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess”--2:20.

The name Jezebel is the symbol of the powerful heathen influences and applied to the same defections designated by the doctrine of Balaam and the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes. The expression that woman Jezebel was a gradation of the same evil Jewish parties in the Pergamos and the Thyatira churches. She was representative of a pseudo-prophetess in the person of a female Judaizer, a sort of the Lady Macbeth, of the Shakespearean play; a representation of an added source of opposition and seduction to the already existing Balaams and Nicolaitanes.

Verses 21-23

3. “I will cast her into a bed . . . and I will kill her children” --2:21-23.

The Lord had given this leader of degenerates in the Thyatira church “a place to repent,” that is, a respite, or period of probation, as he had done for the antediluvians in the days of Noah--but instead of accepting this suspension of sentence and repenting, they proceeded in their degeneracy from bad to worse, and the Lord said: “I will cast her into a bed,” that is, of pain, instead of the sensuality which represented spiritual fornication in the corruptions of doctrine and practice. This symbolic Jezebel would be cast into a bed of retribution for her sins, referring to the judgment that would be brought upon the followers of these apostate teachers in the churches. And the Lord added: “I will kill her children”--that is, by exterminating the seeds of wickedness and false doctrine, thus preventing its offspring.

Verse 24

4. “The rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine”--2:24.

This word of approval was directed to those in Pergamos who had not accepted the philosophy and practices of the libertine degenerates, who had not corrupted their minds with the depths of their degenerates and depraved philosophy--he would not lay upon them further duties than they were faithfully performing, nor burden them with the condemnations of the evil things in which they had not participated.

It seems evident that the depths of the degenerate philosophies of paganism which endangered these churches, and apparently taking root in them, were symbolized in the condemnations of the Balaams, the Nicolaitanes and the Jezebels within their midst.

Verse 25

5. “But that which ye have already hold fast till I come” --2:25.

The mention of the “rest” in Pergamos referred to those of their number who were holding to the truth against the Jezebel pagan philosophies and Nicolaitane doctrines, and they were exhorted to hold fast to these truths until the rendering of the judgment against the evil elements in the church, and the execution of the judgments pronounced, in the events that were to follow. The statement “till I come” has no reference to the second advent of Christ. Jesus did not deceive the church at Thyatira into believing that his Second Advent and the Judgment Day would occur during their life time. The admonition referred to his coming in the events of judgment against the Jezebel paramours there. Again, it is solid proof that the things mentioned had fulfillment in the period of their own lives, the time to which the apocalypse belonged.

Verses 26-27

6. “To him that overcometh . . . will I give power over the nations, and he shall rule them with a rod of iron”-- 2:26-27.

This is not a future millennium text. It is plainly the imagery of the irresistible force of the gospel. It compares with Jer_1:10 ; Isa_11:9 ; Psa_2:9 ; Psa_110:2 , and 1Co_6:2 . The figure of the rod is used to denote the chastening of the truth, and for the power and authority of Jesus Christ transferred in a figure to his followers who proclaim it. It is used to denote the power of the gospel published in the new dispensation, as previewed in the prophetic psalms-- Psa_2:9 ; Psa_110:2 . It is used for censure and discipline in 1Co_4:21 . In Rev_2:26 it refers to the impact of the gospel on the pagan world through the victory of the church emerging from persecution.

Bibliographical Information
Wallace, Foy E. "Commentary on Revelation 2". "Wallace's Commentary on the Book of Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/foy/revelation-2.html. 1966.
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