The Church that Abandoned Its First Love
All the letters to the churches begin with a salutation to the angel of the church and a description of Jesus. One can readily see Jesus" authority over the churches because He holds the seven stars, or angels, in His right hand. His walking in the midst of the lampstands shows His constant love and concern for the churches. Ephesus was a great city with its main deity being Artemis, or Diana. Paul first visited the city on his second missionary journey. He could not stay long because he was on his way from Corinth to Jerusalem and wanted to be there for the Passover, but he promised to return if it was God"s will (Acts 18:19; Acts 18:24-28). Paul did return on his third missionary journey (Acts 19:1-12; Acts 19:21-41). This stay must have lasted three years and was brought to an end by the uproar caused by Demetrius the silversmith after the sale of shrines dropped off. Paul left town after the mob was quieted, but he did call for the elders from Ephesus to come to Miletus, as he was on his way home, and bade them a moving farewell (Acts 20:1; Acts 20:17-38). Of course, Paul also wrote a letter to this church and left Timothy in that city on another occasion to correct problems (Revelation 2:1; 1 Timothy 1:3 ff).
Clearly, the Lord knows the situation in each of his churches and is interested in them (Psalms 139:7-12; Psalms 139:23-24, Hebrews 4:13). The word labor suggests strenuous and exhausting work. The Christians in Ephesus were active in God"s service. This church had purity of doctrine, as can be seen in their not bearing "those who are evil" and finding false apostles liars (1 John 4:1; Acts 20:29-30). Of the word "patience", Thayer says, "steadfastness, constancy, endurance...in the New Testament the characteristic of a man who is unswerved from his deliberate purpose and his loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings." The name of the Lord, for which Ephesus patiently labored, is very important to Christians because of the salvation and justification in it (Revelation 2:2-3; Acts 4:12; 1 Corinthians 6:11).
Like the husband or wife continuing faithfully in the marriage bond solely out of a sense of duty, the church at Ephesus had grown cold in and left her first love. Like Israel of old (Judges 2:7-13), it appears second generation Christians had lost the ardor for the Lord and his service that had once characterized them (Acts 19:19-20; Acts 20:36-38; Ephesians 1:15). It is possible to faithfully attend all worship services and perform all the tasks the Lord has commanded His people to perform and yet lack the love that makes those acts acceptable (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). The works the Lord has named that the Ephesian brethren had been involved in were in defense of the gospel. They also needed an offense, so the Lord encouraged them to "remember...repent, and do" (Revelation 2:4-5; 2 John 1:6; 2 John 1:8; 1 John 5:3; 1 John 2:4). If they did not get busy and do those works, the Lord said He would no longer recognize them as the true church.
As he had in verse 2, the Lord praised them for hating sinful deeds. God, and His people, hate evil deeds, not those who perform those deeds (Psalms 45:7; Hebrews 1:9). The Lord wrote to the church but made it plain that it was up to the individual to hear. Notice God"s truth is not put into the heart by some mysterious power, instead they had to hear it. The word "overcomes" describes one conquering as in a battle or over a trial (Revelation 2:6-7).
To the Persecuted Church
Smyrna was located 40 miles to the north of Ephesus. It was a town originally founded by Alexander the Great. It was the home of the olympic games and there was a large library there which was later transferred to Alexandria. As early as 23 B. C. this city built a temple to Tiberius, the emperor, and led the way in Asia for emperor worship under Domitian. There was a large population of Jews in this city. To a church threatened with persecution and death, it must have been reassuring to know Jesus is eternal and has overcome the grave (Revelation 2:8).
How easy it is for those in suffering to feel all alone and as if no one cares. Jesus knows each person"s past, present and future suffering and has promised to help bear those problems (Hebrews 2:17-18; Hebrews 4:15-16; 1 Corinthians 10:13). Jesus also knew of their poverty, in fact, he had experienced similar conditions (Matthew 8:20). Christians are not to concentrate their efforts on obtaining material wealth (Matthew 6:19-20). The church at Smyrna was physically poor, but spiritually rich. Jesus also knew about the blasphemy, or the speaking against, that was coming out from those who said they were Jews. There was a synagogue there but the Lord said it was Satan"s and not his. God"s true Israel in the Christian age is composed of those who are circumcised in heart (Revelation 2:9; Romans 2:28-29; Philippians 3:3).
Though severer trials were yet to come and they would last a complete period, the church could be assured the time would one day be over (2 Timothy 3:12; Philippians 1:29). The church"s real enemy is Satan, called the devil, which means accuser or slanderer and would coincide with the thoughts being presented (compare John 8:44; 1 Peter 5:8; Luke 22:31). He would try them, or tempt them to sin, in the fullest possible way. Prison could describe exile, arrest or death. Christians are not to fear any of these things, for if they remained true to the faith, even if it cost them their lives, eternal life would be their crowning reward (Luke 12:4-5; James 1:12; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; 1 Peter 5:4; 1 Corinthians 9:25). Remember, this is the home of the olympics, so having eternal life described as a victory crown would be quite meaningful. The brethren were urged to heed the words of this letter and if they did they would be immune from the second death (Revelation 2:10-11; Revelation 20:14; Romans 6:23). That immunity is promised to those who overcome.
To the Compromising Church
Pergamos was the capital of the province of Asia. It was built on a large conical hill overlooking a broad fertile valley 30 miles north of Smyrna and 15 miles inland from the sea. The sharp two-edged sword out of Christ"s mouth would seem to be His word, with which He defends and comforts the faithful while fighting against the faithless (Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17). Jesus knows what Christians do as well as what they go through because he knows where they live. Hailey says, "As early as 29 B. C. a temple dedicated to Roma and Augustus was erected in the city as the first and, for a time, the only temple of the imperial cult in all Asia." There was an altar to Zeus there which was 90 feet square and 40 feet high. There was also an altar to Athena and they worshiped Asklepios the god of healing and medicine. This god was symbolized by a serpent on a staff and there was both a temple and school of medicine in the city devoted to him. Despite all of this, the Christians there held fast to the deity and Lordship of Jesus, or his authority. Antipas was an example of a faithful witness who had died for his testimony (Revelation 2:12-13; 1 John 2:22; Jude 1:3).
While most of the church at Pergamos was faithful, they tolerated the doctrine of Balaam. This must have reference to Numbers 23:1-30; Numbers 24:1-25 where Barak, king of Moab, tried to get Balaam to curse God"s people. When God would not allow such a curse, Balaam advised the king to use the women of Moab to entice Israel into idolatry through harlotry (Numbers 31:16; Numbers 25:1-9). The word "stumbling block" comes from the word skandalon which is the part of a trap the bait is placed upon. The doctrine of the Nicolaitans must have been that one could be a Christian and still participate in the pagan feasts going on in the city. Such a doctrine would entice people away from service to God (1 Corinthians 10:21; 2 John 1:7-11). Tolerating error in the name of love seems to have been the problem of this church (Revelation 2:14-15; 1 Corinthians 5:1-7).
God first wanted repentance from an indifferent church. Of course, the goal of their disciplinary actions would be to restore the erring, or their repentance. If the church does not take care of such matters, the Lord will because such is an effort to seduce his bride (Numbers 31:8; 2 Corinthians 11:2-3; Ephesians 5:23-27). Seeking to bring a curse upon the Lord"s bride will cause one to be slain by his sword. There is the usual admonition to heed the words of this letter followed by a promise to those who overcome. Hidden manna seems to be a description of food at the Lord"s banquet table. This could even describe receiving Christ in his fullness in heaven (John 6:33-35). McCord says, "As a white stone was a sign in a Greek trial of acquittal and innocence so Jesus was illustrating the complete justification of sinners in heaven according to the divine plan of the ages." The name on it was known only to Christians who received the stone. It may well actually be a descriptive name for those Christians in their new relationship with the Lord in heaven (Revelation 2:16-17).
To the Corrupted Church
Forty miles southeast of Pergamum was the city of Thyatira. The city was famous for its purple dye, which Lydia sold (Acts 16:11-15). It was the home of numerous trade guilds, the ancient forerunner of modern day unions. Each guild had its own god and worshiped it. One was expected to be a guild member, to keep his job, and attend its functions, which would include feasts in honor of the god that would end with grossly immoral acts. This was the smallest of the towns whose churches were written to, but its church received the longest letter. The chief deity of the city was Apollo, the Greek sun god, which may account for Jesus identifying himself as the Son of God. Also, this designation calls to one"s minds the fact that He was God incarnate and resurrected from the dead (John 1:14; Romans 1:4). Jesus" eyes burn through all of the outward show and excuses for one"s actions and see to the real heart of his reasons for acting (Hebrews 4:13). A discussion of brass can be found in 1:15 (Revelation 2:18).
Jesus was aware of their works, which were greater at the time of this writing than they had been at the beginning of the church. They had grown in works. One of their works was love, which would be needed for brethren, enemies and the lost (John 13:34-35; Matthew 5:43-48; John 3:16). Next, they were involved in the work of service or ministering as their Lord had been (John 13:1-17). Faith is a belief in God and a diligent seeking to please him (Hebrews 11:6). Patience describes endurance and may refer to persecution, though this would be the only reference to it in this letter (Revelation 2:19).
Jezebel is likely not the woman"s actual name but symbolically tells us what kind of woman she was. 1 Kings 16:30-33; 1 Kings 18:4; 1 Kings 18:19 tells us Jezebel cut off true prophets through persecution and put in their place 400 false prophets. She divorced morality from religion (2 Kings 9:22). The church allowed, or did not restrain, their Jezebel. She claimed to be a spokesman for God and led the church away from truth and into error through deception. It is possible she said the pagan feasts and immoral practices of the trade guilds could be participated in by Christians without violating God"s will. Of course, Christians cannot tolerate sin (Revelation 2:20; Ephesians 5:8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22; 1 Corinthians 5:1-6).
Somehow Jezebel had been warned and given time to turn from her sin, but she had not changed. She had been leading God"s people to a bed of adultery, so God was going to put her on a bed of pain and suffering and affliction. Her children would be those who took on her doctrines and attitudes. The expression "the minds and hearts" is used to describe the deepest seat of the emotion, actually the bowels. Jesus wanted all the churches to know he was watching and observing even their deepest feelings and they would be rewarded according to how they had sown (Revelation 2:20-23).
The Lord was proud of those who had remained faithful in this matter and would place no other burden on them than being faithful. Some had been talking 697about knowing the "depths of Satan." It may be that Jezebel and her followers said one had to experience all the evils of Satan in order to combat him. Those who overcame, are faithful to keep the Lord"s works until the end, were promised power over the nations (Revelation 2:24-26).
When the potter gets through making pottery at the end of the day, he goes back and examines his works. Those that are flawed are taken out and smashed with a rod of iron. Christians have this power, it seems, because they are part of Christ"s body and He will judge and punish the wicked of all nations. The morning star comes out not long before daylight and is a very bright star. It is a symbol of hope. Though the night had been dark and long and treacherous, this star heralds the coming of a new day. Revelation 22:16 tells us Jesus is the bright and morning star. Thus, we can say those who overcome will be in heaven with Jesus. The Lord urged His readers to listen to what He said so they could be rewarded (Revelation 2:27-29; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
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Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on Revelation 2". "Gary Hampton Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany