(See the Book Comments for the Introductory chapters and Appendices)
The Message to Ephesus
( Revelation 2:1-7)
"Forsaken First Love"
Distinctive Features of the Seven Churches
Before actually beginning the exposition of the message to Ephesus, it would be helpful to consider a few of the distinctive and common features that can be observed in each of the messages to the churches of Asia Minor as we find them in Revelation 2:1-29; Revelation 3:1-22.
The Selection of These Particular Churches
Why seven and why these? These were letters to seven historical churches at the time of John's writing. The letters each dealt with actual conditions of church life in John's day. But as God's Word is written to the whole body of Christ for all history, they are also representative of all churches both in John's day and at any time in the history of the church. Just as the letters to the Corinthians concern not only the church at Corinth, but all churches past, present, and future, so do these letters. Reasons:
(1) The fact there are seven, but only seven listed. Though many other churches existed and many were larger and better known, only these seven were selected. Seven is the number of completion and it is suggested that these seven perfectly represent conditions that would be characteristic of various churches throughout history.
(2) Though each letter is written to a specific church, all the letters close with the words "let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (pl.)." Each message is pertinent to all the churches, not only of John's day, but of ours as well.
The Sufficiency of Christ
It should be noted that each message with its warning or counsel or comfort begins by calling attention to some aspect of the majesty and glory of Christ as to His person and work as it is revealed in the vision of chapter one. But, significantly, this is always in some way related to the needs, problems, and conditions within the local assembly. This serves to stress how Jesus Christ perfectly meets our need, and is the source of our strength. All the problems and needs of the church are met in Jesus Christ. He and He alone is the ANSWER to our needs and the SOLUTION to our problems. Please note:
(1) Christ is the Author of each message: it is a special word from Him.
(2) Christ is the Answer for our every problem: He is our need and solution.
(3) Christ is the Authority for our lives: we are all answerable to Him.
The Omniscience of Christ
Each letter begins with a statement of the Lord's omniscience like "I know your works or deeds" (cf. Revelation 2:2; Revelation 2:9; Revelation 2:13; Revelation 2:19; Revelation 3:1; Revelation 3:8; Revelation 3:15). How awesome this is and how careful this should make us. This should make us careful to walk by the Spirit for it is Christ Himself, whose searching eyes, like a flame of fire, tries our works. Yet, how comforting for there is no problem and no condition that we face that He does not know or care about.
Our Susceptibility to Local Conditions
In each letter to the churches, there is a unique relationship between the problems they faced and the particular nature and character of the environment in which they lived. It is these conditions that presented particular temptations, testings, and problems.
Chapters2,3contain seven messages that are extremely practical for us today both on a personal and a corporate level. For the most part, each letter contains six divisions:
A reference to the City or Assembly, the destination of the letter
A description of Christ, the Author and Answer
A Commendation or Approval
A Condemnation or the Ailment
A Counsel or Admonition
A Challenge and an Assurance
Now let's look at the church at Ephesus and the problem of forsaken first love in Revelation 2:1-7.
The City and the Assembly
( Revelation 2:1 a)
2a "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:"
Ephesus was located near the mouth of the Cayster River only three miles from the coast. It became the capitol of Asia Minor, was connected by highways with the interior of Asia and all her chief cities, and became a great commercial center. The emperor had made Ephesus a free city and it was given the title "Supreme Metropolis of Asia." It also contained one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the temple of Diana, and was a center of mystical cult worship. "The temple was425 feet long, 220 feet wide, and60 feet high, with great folding doors and127 marble pillars, some of them covered with gold. The worship of Diana was ‘religious immorality' at its worst." [Note: Warren W. Wiersbe, Wiersbe's Expository Outlines on the New Testament, Victor Books: electronic publishing.]
The church of Ephesus was established by Paul on his third missionary journey (read Acts 19:1-41; Acts 20:1-38), and it was from this church that Paul called the elders of Ephesus to meet him at Miletus when he was on his way to Jerusalem ( Acts 20:16 f). After that, Ephesus became the residence of the apostle John before and after his exile, but no church stands there today. Many believe this church may well represent the apostolic age in its moral and doctrinal purity.
The Author and the Answer
( Revelation 2:1 b)
"The One who holds the seven stars." This is a note of warning and comfort. It stresses Christ's authority, control, possession, and provision for the messengers of the local churches who have the responsibility to lead and teach God's Word. They are in the hand of the risen Savior to whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given ( Matthew 28:18). As the one who holds them, He will provide for, protect and enable them for their ministry. But this also stresses the messenger's need to be both submissive to and dependent upon his Lord for all that is needed for his ministry.
"The One who walks among the seven lampstands." "Who walks." In the vision of chapter one, He is evidently standing, but here we see not only Christ's constant presence in our midst, but His active ministry. In that ministry, He examines us for the quality of our production, He provides for our needs, and He is always available to us seeking to minister and to have fellowship. Our need is to be available to Him! This is also a note of warning and comfort.
The Commendation or Approval
( Revelation 2:2-3)
2 ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary.
The Lord's Knowledge
The opening words of Revelation 2:2, "I know," serve to stress Christ's omniscience, interest, and evaluation of the works, life, and activity of the church. Nothing escapes Him, nothing! Compare 1 Corinthians 3:12 f; 2 Corinthians 5:9-10; Psalm 139:1-12.
"Deeds" is the noun, erga, the plural of ergon, and refers to "a deed or action or task (this was an active church), to occupational or official activity or service (shows Christ was aware of their official ministries and service, i.e, elder, deacon, teacher, helps, etc.), and of achievements, accomplishments (Christ knew what they had done on His behalf). Compare 1 Corinthians 15:51.
"Toil" is kopos, and referred to a toil or labor to the point of weariness. It stresses the depth and degree of their labor for the Lord. Compare Colossians 1:29; Colossians 2:1.
"Perseverance" is hupomeno„, from hupo meaning "under" and meno„ meaning "to abide." It refers to the capacity or ability to endure, to remain under pressure or pain over the long haul. It looks at staying power. Compare James 1:2-4. This word stressed the extent of their labor whereas "toil," kopos, stressed the degree. Revelation 2:3 will expand on this.
Their Moral and Doctrinal Purity
"That you cannot endure evil men." "Endure" is the Greek bastazo„, "to bear, carry as a burden," and then, "to endure," "tolerate." Now compare Galatians 6:1-5. However, when men refuse to respond to the Word and personal rebuke, there comes a time when believers should no longer tolerate their actions and must take the necessary steps as outlined in the Word. Point: The Ephesian church had refused to allow apostasy and immorality to go on in the church. They exercised church discipline when men refused to respond to God's Word ( Matthew 18:15-18; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; 2 Corinthians 7:1; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; 1 Timothy 5:19-20; Titus 3:10-11).
Their Spiritual Discernment
"And have put to test…" peirazo„, "to make proof of, to test, try, prove." They remembered the word of the apostles regarding false teachers ( Acts 20:20-31; Jude 1:17-18). There are three major areas to test: (1) the message and doctrinal belief ( 1 John 4:1-2); (2) the manner of life ( 1 John 3:10; 1 John 4:8; Jude; Matthew 7:15 f); (3) the audience, to whom do they appeal? ( 1 John 4:5-6).
Revelation 2:3 summarizes their perseverance. They endured. They had not grown weary but things were not as they should be. Ephesus was orthodox in theology, practice, and service, yet something was missing which, if not corrected, would ruin their light-bearing capacity. This is followed, then, by condemnation. A key to their problem can be observed by comparing the deeds, labor and perseverance here with that of the church at Thessalonica ( 1 Thessalonians 1:3) where the same Greek words are used, only we should note the accompanying phrases--work of faith, labor of love, and endurance of hope. Faith, love and hope were the sources of the work, the labor, and the endurance. This stressed production from a vital spiritual life.
The Condemnation or Ailment
( Revelation 2:4)
4 ‘But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.'
"Forsaken first love." The word "left" is the Greek word aphie„ Micah, "to leave, forsake, depart." It stresses an act for which one is personally responsible. This is not LOST LOVE, but LEFT LOVE and suggest three particular problems: (a) they had moved away from their original position of devotion and fervor for the Savior by a gradual departure ( Hebrews 3:7 f); (b) they came to put service for the Lord ahead of love, devotion, and fellowship with Him (remember 1 Thessalonians 1:3 and compare Proverbs 4:23); (c) their labor gradually came to be merely mechanical, the thing they were responsible to do, but the Savior wants it to be the result of the abiding life, the result of an intimate walk with Him through the Spirit of God ( John 15:1-7; Galatians 5:1-5; Galatians 5:16-26; Ephesians 5:18).
But the Man in the midst of the churches saw what was missing: they had left (not "lost") their first love ( Jeremiah 2:2). The local church is espoused to Christ ( 2 Corinthians 11:2), but there is always the danger of that love growing cold. Like Martha, we can be so busy working for Christ that we have no time to love Him ( Luke 10:38-42). Christ is more concerned about what we do with Him than for Him. Labor is no substitute for love. To the public, the Ephesian church was successful; to Christ, it had fallen. [Note: Wiersbe.]
When the Lord first appointed the twelve disciples, it is significant that Mark tells us that Jesus appointed them for two main purposes marked off by two hina purpose clauses in the Greek text: (a) to be with Him and (b) to send them forth to preach and to cast out demons, and the order here is very significant. The first order of His appointment was their fellowship, being with the Lord Jesus, with their ministry in the world being the product of that fellowship as root to fruit or enablement to activity.
With this in mind, we come to the Lord's loving counsel and admonition.
The Counsel or Admonition
( Revelation 2:5 a, b)
5 ‘Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first;…'
The church as Ephesus from all outward appearances was a very spiritual church for it was certainly a church that was very active in the work of God. They toiled for the Lord, endured much, were doctrinally sound, and took a strong stand against the deeds of the Nicolaitans ( Revelation 2:2-3; Revelation 2:6). Nevertheless, something was wrong. They were guilty of a sin that is sometimes hard to detect. But the Lord, who knows our hearts as well as our outward deeds, counsels Ephesus to do three things that were desperately needed to reestablish their closeness and walk with the Savior, or they would lose their witness. There is a very important lesson in this message for God's people in any period of history, but the message here is particularly important for our performance oriented society. It is the warning that, if we are not ever so careful, we can lose our spiritual vitality, the abiding life principle where we live and serve out of our awareness of Him, and slip into mere orthodox routine. Someone has rightly said that a routine can become like a rut which can be nothing more that a grave with the ends knocked out.
The three things they needed:
(1) Remember. This is a call to reflect, to go back and recall the past. The Savior is saying, "remember the way it used to be in your relationship with Me." Undoubtedly, the process of looking back is also a call to recognize one's true condition. We can't very well confess sin if we don't clearly see it for what it is. Has our Christian life lost some of its excitement and joy? Are we finding our Christian work rather boring and dull, even to the point of drudgery? Have we lost the joy of the Lord, if Song of Solomon, it is because we have left the position of devotion and occupation with Christ.
"Are fallen" is the perfect tense in the Greek. It looks at a completed act with existing results, a state, and not a process. We are in a fallen condition (are out of fellowship) and working in the energy of the flesh whenever we move away or cease to operate out of condition of love and devotion that stems from personal fellowship or a walk of faith with the Lord Jesus.
(2) Repent. Repent is the Greek word, metanoeo„. This word means to change the mind or purpose, to change one's decision. It means to recognize one's previous decision, opinion, or condition as wrong, and to accept and move toward a new and right path in its place. The verb is in the aorist tense in the Greek which may look at a single, decisive act. Repentance includes confession of sin with a view to stopping the bad behavior so it can be replaced with what was right.
(3) Repeat. "Do the deeds you did at first." This is not a call to more Christian service or to renewed Christian activity. They had plenty of that. Then what does the Lord mean and how does this apply to us?
"First" is pro„tos which means "first in time, place, or rank." It clearly looks back to the beginning of a Christian's life, but could it not include those deeds which should be first in a believer's life and are the most important because of what they mean to us, to God, and our fellowship with Him?
Song of Solomon, what are the first deeds? John does not say, but in the light of the above mentioned passages they include the basic techniques and disciplines of fellowship and abiding in the Lord. It would include such things as honest confession of sin, prayer, Bible study, reading, meditation, memorization, fellowship with believers, being occupied with Christ and refocusing all of our life on Him, the faith rest life, reckoning on our position in Christ, etc. (cf. Mark 3:14; Mark 6:30-32; John 15:4-8; Psalm 119:1-176).
( Revelation 2:5 c)
5c ‘…or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent.'
Removal of their lampstand or witness is the alternative. Our Lord was and is saying, either do the above three or else you will lose your light-bearing capacity. Left love means lost light. The church of Ephesus does not stand today. Its light has been not just dimmed, but completely snuffed out.
A Second Commendation or Approval
( Revelation 2:6)
6 ‘Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.'
They hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans. Scholars differ on their understanding of this group. Some think they were the followers of Nicolas according to early church Fathers (cf. Acts 6:5). Since their heresy seems to be associated with the doctrine of Balaam in2:14-15, some believe this was an antinomian sect that advocated license in matters of Christian conduct, including free love. Others believe, based on the etymology of the word which can mean, "one who rules the laity" or "laity-conqueror," that it was an error that exalted the clergy over the laity. Regardless, the church at Ephesus took a strong stand against the heresy and is commended by the Lord for doing so. Note that what was merely a matter of deeds in Ephesus, became an accepted doctrine in Pergamum because it was tolerated. An important lesson. If we do not correct our practices by the Word, they will become traditions that become the doctrines of men who nullify the Word of God.
The Call or Appeal
( Revelation 2:7 a)
7a ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.…'
A final exhortation ( Revelation 2:7 a). "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." This is a loving call to hear what the Holy Spirit is teaching in these seven messages. Note the change from an appeal to the individual, "he who has an ear," to the plural, "what the Spirit says to the churches." This change broadens the appeal of each message to all the churches because the messages are representative and applicable to all of us. Here the Spirit of God who is the Spirit of truth and the author and teacher of Scripture is calling on us to evaluate our openness to respond to the things that need to be learned and applied in these messages.
The Certainty or Assurance
( Revelation 2:7 b)
7b ‘…To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.'
Each message of Revelation 2:1-29; Revelation 3:1-22 concludes with a promise to the overcomer, but there is a great deal of disagreement over the meaning of the overcomer promises. "Overcome" is the nikao„, "to conquer, prevail, triumph, overcome." But the question is how exactly are we to understand these promises to those who overcome? This is where the disagreement exists. There are four primary views of these passages:
(1) The loss of salvation view: The promises are written to believers to encourage them to overcome lest they lose their salvation. To fail to overcome is to lose salvation.
(2) The ultimate triumph of faith or the perseverance of the saints view: According to this view all genuine believers persevere and overcome the world by living godly and obedient lives. Overcoming equals faithfulness or obedience which proves the genuineness of salvation.
(3) The all believers view: According to this view, all believers become overcomers the moment they believe in Jesus Christ. The very act of believing overcomes the world: "Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" ( 1 John 5:5). Faith, not faithfulness is the primary focus in this position.
(4) The rewards view: According to this view, the overcomer passages are promises of rewards given to believers to encourage them to be faithful by overcoming the trials and temptations of life through faith in their new life in Christ.
For a discussion of the various views and some of the issues involved, see Appendix3 (in the e-Sword Book Comments for Revelation). For reasons discussed in Appendix3, the fourth view is the position that is presented in this study.
The promise regarding the tree of life: "To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God" ( Revelation 2:7 b).
"Paradise," paradeisos, is a Persian word meaning, "a pleasure park, or garden." The Septuagint uses it to translate the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2:8-10. To the oriental mind it meant the sum of blessedness. Christ, as the "last Adam," is the restorer of paradise lost as is seen clearly in Revelation 22:1-4; Revelation 22:14.
But what about "the tree of Life"? First, the tree of life is literal. It is not just a symbol for eternal life or for the person of Christ. In Revelation 21:1-27; Revelation 22:1-5, John is describing the eternal state which includes the new heaven and the new earth with the new Jerusalem, a literal place with some25 verses devoted to its description. It is not a symbol.
Second, it is probably not just one tree, but a collective term referring to a whole row of trees that exist between the river and the avenue described in Revelation 22:1-21. This is all a part of the beautiful park or paradise of God.
Third, having a right to the tree of life is not equivalent to salvation, nor is it necessary for the maintenance of life. Why? Because possession of eternal life and the maintenance of eternal life comes from possession of Jesus Christ who is our eternal life. All believers possess eternal life at the point of believing in Christ ( John 3:16). Furthermore, eternal life, as God's gift to those who believe, is never maintained by what we do. Compare 1 John 5:11-12; John 1:12; John 3:16; John 3:18; John 3:36; John 5:24; John 6:47; John 11:25-26; John 20:31; John 17:3.
Fourth, the tree of life, then, must offer some kind of superlative experience and blessing though the details are simply not explained to us. It is left with a certain vagueness, but in 2 Corinthians 12:4 we read that Paul, when he was caught up to Paradise, heard inexpressible words which a man is not permitted to speak. Hodges writes, "The vagueness surrounding the promise of the tree of life is an example of the deliberate inexplicitness of the rewards which are mentioned. Almost all of the other promises have something of the same undefined, but numinous, character." [Note: Zane C. Hodges, The Gospel Under Siege, Redencin Viva: Dallas, TX, 1982, p118.]
It is simply a special reward for those who overcome through a walk of faith that results in faithfulness; it is a special reward of special blessing that will somehow enrich the blessings of paradise. I am reminded of Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 15:58 which promise:
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.
(See the Book Comments for the Introductory chapters and Appendices)
The Message to Smyrna
( Revelation 2:8-11)
"The Church in Suffering"
The City and the Assembly
( Revelation 2:8 a)
8 "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:…"
Again we should note that it is the risen and ascended, but active Savior who addresses the church in these messages. He walks about in the midst of the church ( Revelation 2:1) and as the one whose penetrating eyes are like a flame of fire ( Revelation 1:14), He knows every detail and situation of His church, individually and corporately. He knows all about the society in which we live and how it affects us and our testimony for Him, but as the all-knowing Savior, He comes and lovingly speaks to us where we live and calls us to find our source of happiness and strength and life in Him.
The City of Smyrna
Smyrna lay just35 miles north of Ephesus on the west coast of Asia on the Aegean Sea. It was the loveliest of all the cities and was sometimes called "the Ornament of Asia," "the Crown of Asia," or sometimes "the Flower of Asia." It was beautifully situated. It stood at the end of a road that journeyed westward across the lands of Lydia (western Asia Minor) and Phrygia (a land in the center of Asia Minor, our modern Turkey) and traveled out to the east.
In relation to the sea, it stood at the end of a long arm of the sea which ended in a small land-locked harbor in the very heart of the city making it one of the safest harbors. It controlled the trade of the rich Hermus Valley and was a great, wealthy, and important city. The city itself began at the harbor and traversed the narrow foothills. Behind the city rose a hill covered with temples and noble buildings which encircled a hill named the Pagos, but the hill was also called the "the Crown of Smyrna" because of the way the buildings formed a crown around the hill.
Smyrna had been a Greek colony as far back as1000 B.C. Around600 B.C. it was invaded and destroyed by the Lydeans and for400 years there was no city there at all. Then around200 B.C. Lysimachus had it rebuilt as a planned and unified whole. It was built with streets that were broad, straight, sweeping, and beautifully paved. The city had experienced death and had literally been brought back to life. It is undoubtedly because of Smyrna's historical past, Christ refers to Himself as, "He who was dead and has come to life."
Smyrna was a free city, one that knew the meaning of loyalty and fidelity to Rome unlike most cities. Cicero called it, "one of our most faithful and our most ancient allies." It was the first city in the world to erect a temple to the goddess Roma and to the spirit of Rome. Her fidelity to Rome was famous in the ancient world. So again, Christ said to the church there, "be faithful unto death."
In all of this there existed what was called "municipal vanity" and it was known for its "municipal rivalry and pride." Everyone there wished to exalt Smyrna. Song of Solomon, it was not without reason that Christ spoke of Himself as "the first and the last." In comparison with His glory, all earthly distinctions are pure emptiness and strife for being first in something pales into insignificance in view of His eternal glories.
There was a population of Jews in the city who were not only numerous, but influential and who did everything they could to hurt the church in Smyrna. Song of Solomon, the Lord also addresses this issue in this letter as well ( Revelation 2:9-10).
Another interesting fact is that the city received its name from one of its principle products, a sweet perfume called myrrh. This was a gum resin taken from a shrub-like tree. Though it had a bitter taste, the resin of the tree was used in making perfume ( Psalm 45:8), was one of the ingredients used in the anointing oil of the priests ( Exodus 30:23), and in the embalming of the dead ( John 19:39). Smyrna is Ionic Greek for myrrh, a fragrant perfume used in burial. Many believe this church represents the martyrs of all time and the sweet smelling fragrance of their devotion until death (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:14-16).
Finally, Smyrna, unlike the city of Ephesus, stands today. Though many of these believers died a martyr's death, Satan could not stamp out their testimony. Suffering has a way of keeping us pure in our devotion to Christ and it was evidently so with this church.
The Christ, the Author and Answer
( Revelation 2:8 b)
8b "…The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:"
Again we see how the perfections of Christ's person and work answers to the needs, problems, and conditions in each church. Since many in this church died for their faith, Christ assures them of their resurrection and future rewards because He is the first and last, the eternal God who became Prayer of Manasseh, died and rose again ( 1 Peter 1:3; Acts 2:24).
Literally, the Greek says, "He came to be dead and began to live, or came to life again," an obvious reference to the cross and the resurrection. It describes what we might call an experience, an episode, a passing phase He went through for us, death. He passed into death, through death and out of death, and came to life in a triumphant event, the resurrection.
By way of application, the risen Christ is one who has experienced the worst that life could do to Him. No matter then what might happen to the Christians at Smyrna or to us, our Savior has gone through the worst life can bring. As such, He is one who feels for us in our suffering with special love and compassion and is ever present to come to our aid and comfort ( Hebrews 2:15-18; Hebrews 4:15).
The risen Christ has conquered the worst that life can do. He triumphed over pain, the cross, the devil, sin, and death. He defeated all the enemies and He offers victory and the conqueror's crown. This calls for our loyalty and commitment to Him, not simply for rewards, but because of what we have in Him and love Him.
The Church and Its Affairs
( Revelation 2:9-11)
9 ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan10 ‘Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life11 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.'
The Comfort and Approval ( Revelation 2:9)
He knows your tribulation ( Revelation 2:9). The word "tribulation" is thlipsis which means "pressure, a literal crushing beneath a weight." "The pressure of events is on the Church at Smyrna, and the force of circumstances is trying to crush the Christianity out of them." [Note: William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol. I, Westminster Press: Philadelphia, p95.]
He knows your poverty ( Revelation 2:9). The word "poverty" is pto„cheia, and describes absolute poverty or complete destitution. To grasp this word, we might compare it with another, penia. Penia refers to one who has the necessities, but nothing superfluous; pto„cheia describes the state of one who has nothing at all. [Note: Barclay, p95.] Christ offers no criticism of this church. The saints were faithful in spite of suffering at the hands of their Jewish persecutors and I am sure they thought they were poor, but in contrast to Laodicea, which thought it was rich and was poor, these saints were rich ( Revelation 3:17).
Our Lord, so faithful to know and observe our lives and needs, first assures them He knows and cares for their condition and the great suffering on His behalf, and then commends them for their spiritual wealth in the midst of their physical poverty and suffering, much of which was brought about by the religious Jews of Smyrna. Song of Solomon, while poor, they were rich. They were rich positionally in Christ ( Ephesians 1:3) which, of course, was by grace. They were also rich in that God had counted them worthy to suffer for Him ( 1 Peter 3:14-17; 1 Peter 1:6; 1 Peter 4:13-14). Finally, it appears they were rich in their spiritual lives because they were living close to God by faith.
He knows your persecutors ( Revelation 2:9 b). These were the religious Jews who claimed to be the seed of Abraham. They were, but only physically. Spiritually they were of Satan and under his power and control ( John 8:33-34). In Numbers 16:3, Israel was called the congregation of the Lord, but here Christ calls these unbelieving Jews, the congregation of Satan (cf. John 8:33 with8:44).
The Counsel and Admonition ( Revelation 2:10)
Concerning fear and suffering. "Do not fear" is literally "fear nothing." No matter how small or how severe, the One who has overcome death says, "fear nothing." They could cast their burden on the Lord. He cared and He had overcome ( Philippians 4:6-8; 1 Peter 5:7; Isaiah 41:10).
Concerning the future and testing. Some would face prison and severe testing, even death. It would be for ten days, a rather short period, or perhaps a reference to ten principle persecutions under the Roman emperors from Nero to Diocletian. But note the connection of this with Satan. This persecution is attributed to the Devil. It is a continuation of the serpent's battle with the Lord Jesus Christ and those who belong to Him ( Genesis 3:15; John 15:18-21). Human means and men are those we see persecuting the church of Jesus Christ, but invariably, behind the scenes is the old arch enemy, the prince of the power of the air. But never fear, the binder of believers in prison shall be bound, he is a defeated foe ( Revelation 20:1-3; Romans 16:20; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14-15).
Concerning faithfulness and rewards. Be faithful until death. This means, be faithful to the point of martyrdom. Continue to trust the Lord, be faithful to Him and the truth of His Word even in the face of death.
The promise: "I will give you the crown of life." The reward here is not eternal life. Eternal life is a gift through faith or personal belief in Jesus Christ ( John 1:11-12; John 3:16; 1 John 5:11-12). This is a special reward for endurance under persecution.
Note that victory in this present life is closely associated with occupation and orientation to the weightier things of eternity and the glories which shall follow ( 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Here is one of those things which should distinguish believers from unbelievers. Believers are to be sojourners who live with a view to eternity, while unbelievers are scripturally classified as earthdwellers ( 1 Peter 1:17; 1 Peter 2:11; Revelation 3:10; Isaiah 24:17).
The Challenge and Assurance ( Revelation 2:11)
The promise to the overcomer is that he shall not be hurt by the second death. The second death is eternal separation from God in the lake of fire ( Revelation 20:1; Revelation 20:14). Believers may face physical death, but because they have had a second birth ( John 3:3-7), no believer will ever face the second death ( Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5; John 5:24; John 11:25). Then, why this promise? Does this imply the possibility of the loss of eternal life? Regardless of what this passage means, it is an emphatic negation of the possibility. Some in Smyrna, as Polycarp, would die a martyr's death, so the Lord is reminding them of this fact.
To overcome means here to remain faithful to the Lord even if it meant death. Here our Lord was simply reminding them that though some would die for Him, the second death could never touch them. The use of this negative promise, "will not be hurt…" is a literary device known as litotes. This is a rhetorical device used to affirm the positive by a negation. Hodges has a good explanation of litotes.
If someone says to me, "His request presented me with no small problem," I know exactly what he means. The person who made the request of him had presented him a BIG problem!
In the phrase "no small problem" we have a very common figure of speech. Its technical name is "litotes" (pronounced, lie'-tuh-tease'). Litotes occurs when an affirmative idea is expressed by the negation of its opposite. In the sentence we started with, the affirmative idea is that the problem is very large. The phrase "no small problem" negates the opposite idea. [Note: Zane C. Hodges, Grace Evangelical News, electronic version.]
Concerning the positive or affirmative emphasis behind the use of litotes, Hodges continues and writes:
What is the positive idea which it understates? Fortunately, the context helps us. In Revelation 2:10 we read: "Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life." The Smyrnan Christians are challenged to face possible martyrdom with courage and fidelity to God. Their reward for doing so will be a superlative experience of life in the world to come. So to speak, they will be "crowned" with the enjoyment of life "more abundant" (see John 10:10).
In this light, Revelation 2:11 can be seen as truly an understatement. The overcomer (that Isaiah, the faithful Christian) will be more than amply repaid for whatever sacrifice he may make for Christ's sake. His experience will be truly wonderful--far, far beyond the reach--the touch--of the second death. That is to say, this conquering Christian is as far above the experience-level of eternal death as it is possible to be.
In a masterly understatement, the Lord Jesus says in effect: "The first death may ‘hurt' you briefly, the second not at all!" [Note: Hodges, Grace Evangelical News, electronic version.]
But perhaps there is something else here. The word "hurt" is the Greek adikeo„, "to injure, to hurt or do harm" (cf. Revelation 6:6; Revelation 7:2-3; Revelation 9:4; Revelation 9:10; Revelation 9:19; Revelation 11:5). It may also be used in a broader sense of "do wrong" (cf. Revelation 22:11). Song of Solomon, is there a way in which a believer can be said to be hurt or harmed by the second death? Unbelievers who persecute believers and who seek to get them to recant or renounce their faith in Christ are in some ways the personification of the second death and are not only acting out of their spiritual death against the believer, but are themselves, headed for the second death. Song of Solomon, when a believer fails to overcome the trial and recants because of the pain of the persecution, would he not then be hurt or harmed by the second death because he would then have lost his reward ( Revelation 2:11)?
Many believe that Smyrna represents the martyr period of the church, the church in extreme persecution under the Roman emperors. One classic illustration of this is in the true story of one of the great church fathers named, Polycarp. According to Ignatius, not long after the book of Revelation was written, he became the pastor of Smyrna and died a martyr's death for his faith. The following is from the Martyrdom of Polycarp, translated by J. B. Lightfoot.
But when the magistrate pressed him hard and said, ‘Swear the oath, and I will release thee; revile the Christ,' Polycarp said, ‘Fourscore and six years have I been His servant, and He hath done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?'
But on his persisting again and saying, ‘Swear by the genius of Caesar,' he answered, ‘If thou supposest vainly that I will swear by the genius of Caesar, as thou sayest, and feignest that thou art ignorant who I Amos, hear thou plainly, I am a Christian. But if thou wouldest learn the doctrine of Christianity, assign a day and give me a hearing.'
The proconsul said; ‘Prevail upon the people.' But Polycarp said; ‘As for thyself, I should have held thee worthy of discourse; for we have been taught to render, as is meet, to princes and authorities appointed by God such honor as does us no harm; but as for these, I do not hold them worthy, that I should defend myself before them.'
Whereupon the proconsul said; ‘I have wild beasts here and I will throw thee to them, except thou repent' But he said, ‘Call for them: for the repentance from better to worse is a change not permitted to us; but it is a noble thing to change from untowardness to righteousness.'
Then he said to him again, ‘I will cause thee to be consumed by fire, if thou despisest the wild beasts, unless thou repent.' But Polycarp said; ‘Thou threatenest that fire which burneth for a season and after a little while is quenched: for thou art ignorant of the fire of the future judgment and eternal punishment, which is reserved for the ungodly. But why delayest thou? Come, do what thou wilt.' [Note: Martyrdom of Polycarp, translated by J. B. Lightfoot, electronic format.]
The Faithfulness of Polycarp to the end seems to have characterized this church in Smyrna in its entire testimony and resulted in this church's continuous faithful witness for God after many others of the early churches had long lost their…
… The purifying fires of affliction caused the lamp of testimony to burn all the more brilliantly. The length of their trial, described here as being ten days, whether interpreted literally or not, is short in comparison with the eternal blessings which would be theirs when their days of trial were over. They could be comforted by the fact that the sufferings of this present time do not continue forever, and the blessings that are ours in Christ through His salvation and precious promises will go on through eternity. [Note: John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press: Chicago, 1966, pp64-65.]
(See the Book Comments for the Introductory chapters and Appendices)
The Message to Pergamum
( Revelation 2:12-17)
"A Church Married to the World"
The City and the Assembly
( Revelation 2:12 a)
12a "And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write:…"
Pergamum, a city of the Roman province of Asia, in the west of what is now Asiatic Turkey, occupied a commanding position near the seaward end of the broad valley of the Caicus. It was probably the site of a settlement from a very early date. Pergamum was one of the most prominent cities of Asia, located in the western part of Asia-Minor, about45 miles north of Smyrna and about20 miles from the Aegean Sea. The modern village of Bergama, Turkey, now covers part of the ancient site.
The first temple of the imperial cult was built in Pergamum (c29 B.C.) in honor of Rome and Augustus. The city thus boasted a religious primacy in the province, though Ephesus became its main commercial center. Pergamum is listed third of the ‘seven churches of Asia' ( Revelation 1:11) and forms the third letter, an order which suits its position in geographical sequence.
Pergamum was very wealthy, the center of emperor worship with many temples devoted to idolatry. This was the place ‘where Satan's throne is' ( Revelation 2:13). The phrase has been applied to the complex of pagan cults, of Zeus, Athena, Dionysus and Asclepius (Esculapius), established by the Attalid kings, that of Asclepius Soter (the ‘saviour,' ‘healer') being of special importance. These cults are illustrative of the religious history of Pergamum, but "Satan's throne" could be an allusion to emperor worship. This was where the worship of the divine emperor had been made the touchstone of civic loyalty under Domitian.
Here was the magnificent temple of Esculapius, a pagan god whose idol was in the form of a serpent. The inhabitants were known as the chief temple keepers of Asia. When the Babylonian cult of the Magians was driven out of Babylon, they found a haven in Pergamum.
It marked a crisis for the church in Asia. Antipas who is called, "My witness, My faithful one" ( Revelation 2:13), is probably cited as a representative (probably the first to be put to death by the Roman state) of those who were brought to judgment and executed there for their faith.
Pergamum was a university town with a large library of200,000 volumes given as a gift from Anthony to Cleopatra.
The title of the Magian high priest was "Chief Bridge Builder" meaning the one who spans the gap between mortals and Satan and his hosts. In Latin this title was written "Pontifex Maximus," the title now used by the Pope. This title goes all the way back to Babylon and the beginnings of the mother-child cult under Nimrod of Genesis 10:1-32 and his wife Sumerimus. Later, Julius Caesar was elected Pontifex Maximus and when he became Emperor, he became the supreme civil and religious ruler and head of Rome politically and religiously with all the power and functions of the Babylonian pontiff.
Today a small village called Bergama is located here with a Christian testimony which continued into modern times. This church may depict the history of the church from the time of Constantine until the rise of the papacy from the time of Constantine forward.
The Christ, the Author
( Revelation 2:12 b)
12b "…The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this:"
Again, as in each of the seven messages, the message is related to the picture of the glorified Savior in chapter one. This serves to stress His sufficiency and our need to live in the light of His person and work, past, present, and future.
"Sword" is rhomphaia, a long spear-like sword, but here it is seen with two edges to emphasize the double-edged, sharp, penetrating character of the Word of God or God's truth as it is found in the person and work of Christ and God's holy Word as it reveals Him.
The word "sword" is mentioned a total of nine times in Revelation. Rhomphaia is mentioned five times and makaira, the short Roman two edged sword, is mentioned four times. The rhomphaia was the long and heavy, broad sword used by the Thracians and other barbarous nations who often marched irresistibly over one country after another as God's instruments of judgment. First of all, then, it symbolizes the irresistible authority and devastating force of our Lord's judgment (cf. Revelation 19:15).
In Revelation 1:16 and Revelation 19:15 the rhomphaia is described as proceeding out of the mouth of Christ. The mouth, an instrument of speech, portrays this as the Word of Christ. In Revelation 19:13 Christ is called the Word of God and then, in Revelation 2:15, we have the statement about the sword that proceeds out of His mouth and by which He will slay the wicked.
Interestingly, John 5:24 f and John 12:48 teaches us that Christ's acts of judgment will be carried out on the basis of His Word. It seems clear the sword coming out of Christ's mouth is a reference to the Word and is a symbol of its truth, penetrating power and authority, severity, and the fact that Christ judges men on the basis of the Word.
The sword is the symbol of the Word of Christ which separates believers from condemnation and from conformity with the world ( Romans 12:2; Romans 8:1; 1 Peter 1:23; Hebrews 4:12). But this same sword, the Word of Christ, also guarantees judgment to the world on the basis of its absolute truth.
Here again we see the sufficiency of Christ in His capacity to meet our needs and deal with our failures. Pergamum was a church that was married to the world. They were in compromise with the world, but it is the Word of Christ which transforms us from the world.
Romans 12:1-2. I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God Isaiah, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
The Commendation and Approval
( Revelation 2:13)
13 ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith, even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
Again, as in each of the letters, we have the statement made about our Lord's knowledge of our affairs. This repetition is not without significance. Here the Lord assures them He knows of their steadfastness in the midst of Satan's headquarters or dominion. Satanic activity was rampant here spreading to all parts of the world because of the extreme amount of pagan idolatry and emperor worship carried on in this city.
"Where you dwell" is the Greek katoikeo„ from kata, "down," and oikeo„ "to dwell." It means, "to settle down, dwell permanently, be at home." Another word group used of believers is the paroikos group (paroikia, paroikeo„) "to be a stranger, sojourner in a place, or a visitor," ( 1 Peter 1:17; 1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:9; [cf. Luke 24:18; Acts 13:17; Acts 7:6; Acts 7:29; Ephesians 2:19]). Similarly, we might also compare parepide„mos, "stranger, resident in a strange place, alien" ( Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 1:1; 1 Peter 2:11).
First, there may be here a note of warning regarding their attitude toward this life and the world. This is especially true for the book of Revelation because of the use of what practically becomes a technical term for those who have settled down in the world as "earth dwellers" (cf. Revelation 3:10; Revelation 6:10; Revelation 8:13; Revelation 11:10; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 13:14; Revelation 17:8). Believers are to view themselves and live: (a) as sojourners, (b) as aliens, and (c) as ambassadors with their citizenship in heaven. We are never to be at home in the world in the same way that unbelievers are (cf. Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Peter 1:17; 1 Peter 2:11; 2 Corinthians 5:19-20 with Revelation 3:10). The story of Abraham and Lot provide us with a good illustration of this truth. Abraham dwelt in tents by faith ( Hebrews 11:8-10), but Lot lived by sight, he became wedded to the world and wanted to settle down there ( Genesis 13:9-13).
Second, there is also a note of exhortation here as well as comfort. It reminds us that God not only knows our pressures, our temptations, and the problems we face, but that He is always there to help us if we want it. He noted they had remained steadfast regardless of the Satanic depths and atrocities of their environment and was there for them to enable them to overcome if they would only continue to walk by faith in dependence on Him.
The principle of the Christian life is not escape, but endurance and conquest by faith. It may be much easier to live somewhere else in easier circumstances, but our duty is generally to stay and become a testimony for the Lord and overcome the world in which we live. We should always remember that the grass usually looks greener somewhere else, but until we are with the Lord or in the millennium, life will be full of trials of some sort and to some degree. The call is for strength with all power, according to His glorious might, for attaining of all steadfastness and patience, joyously giving thanks… (cf. Colossians 1:11-12 a).
The mention of the fact they had held fast to Christ's name, and the death of Antipas would suggest persecution and attack by Satan to destroy this church. Since this was unsuccessful, Satan turned to other methods as we will see in what follows.
"Where Satan's throne Isaiah," not simply seat. This statement stems from the fact of the extreme idolatry and demonic nature of the religious activity connected with the worship of the serpent god of Esculapius, the worship of the Emperor of Rome, and the persecution these Christians faced as a result.
The situation at Pergamum reminds us of the reality of the angelic conflict or the spiritual warfare of this present form of the world ( Ephesians 6:10). In the past, because of its godly heritage, America has been sheltered from some of the more obvious forms of demonic conflict that we have only read and heard about from missionaries. But Satan, though a defeated foe, is still alive and well and, as a roaring lion, is carrying on his havoc in the world which is now rampant in America. We are now facing Satan's activities as never before and many believe this is in part preparing the world for the Tribulation. Satanism, devil worship, ritual murders, sacrifices to Satan, and gross immorality are no longer unheard of, but are occurring in our cities all across America. The New Age movement with its mysticism, channeling, belief in mystical forces, etc. is rampant in book stores, in schools, in our government, on TV, in the movies, in politics; it is literally everywhere. For an excellent resource regarding our present world scene as it pertains to culture, current issues, cults, and the occult, see Probe Ministries web site at http://www.probe.org.
As mentioned above, the reference here in Revelation 2:13 is a reference to Satanic power manifested in the particular religious, political, and idolatrous character of Pergamum. It became the seat of emperor worship and, according to Hyslop who wrote The Two Babylons, it also became the new home of the mother-child cult of Babylon which was moved from Babylon after the death of Belshazzar. It was later moved to Rome.
One of the prominent features we find in Revelation is a prophetic picture of the revival of ancient Babylonianism ( Revelation 17:1-18; Revelation 18:1-24). This means that one of the things that will occur in preparation for the events of the coming Tribulation will be a rise, not only in Satanic activity, but of his activity in the various forms of ancient eastern mysticism and occult activity that was so much a part of this cult. We are seeing it today in the New Age Movement.
The Condemnation and Admonition
( Revelation 2:14-15)
14 ‘But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit acts of immorality15 ‘Thus you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
After approving what He could, the Lord proceeded to admonish. Like them, most believers have things in their lives that are good, but there is always room for improvement. There are things that are wrong! Do we have ears to hear?
The Doctrine of Balaam ( Revelation 2:14)
Balaamism, as we might call it, was a compromise in the realm of morals. For people in this city to eat things sacrificed to idols meant to engage in the feasting and orgies of the various idolatrous temples. It meant to commit fornication. The teaching or doctrine of Balaam was a perversion of the Christian doctrine of liberty (see 1 Corinthians 8:1-13; 1 Corinthians 9:1-27; 1 Corinthians 10:1-33; Romans 14:1-23; Romans 15:1-3; Galatians 5:13). Let's compare the following three ways we can look at the subject of Balaam.
The Way of Balaam ( 2 Peter 2:15)
The way of Balaam is really the way of covetousness and refers to one who hires himself out to do religious work merely for personal gain; it's the merchandising of one's spiritual gifts for personal gain out of covetousness.
The Error of Balaam ( Jude 1:11)
This refers to Balaam's error in thinking that he could get God to curse His covenant people and bypass His covenant promises because of their evil. Seeing their evil, Balaam supposed that a righteous God must curse Israel. But he was blind to God's faithfulness to His promises which was based on the higher morality of the cross and God's grace though the sacrifices that pointed to the cross.
The Doctrine of Balaam ( Revelation 2:14)
Since Balaam found out he could not curse Israel, he realized he would be able corrupt them by getting them to marry the beautiful women of Moab. So he taught or advised Balak to tempt Israel in marrying the daughters of Moab. This would defile their separation and cause them to abandon their pilgrim character. It was a teaching that promoted a breakdown in separation from the world. Note that Pergamum comes from two words, per, which has the idea of "completely, thoroughly," and gamos, "marriage." The church at Pergamum began to lose their pilgrim character and was becoming thoroughly married to the world (cf. James 4:4; 1 Peter 1:18; 1 Peter 2:11).
The Teaching of the Nicolaitans ( Revelation 2:15)
The reference to the Nicolaitans identifies the group who were teaching Balaamism. Note the words "thus…in the same way" of Revelation 2:15. As mentioned earlier, some think this refers to the followers of Nicolas (so say some of the church fathers), while others believe the word comes from nikao„, "to rule," plus laos meaning "people." Scholars are divided on the precise problem here, but it seems clear that they were subjugating the people to Satan's authority by teaching compromise with the world which always neutralizes the church by compromise. The church loses its pilgrim perspective and adopts the viewpoint, values, priorities, and pursuits of the world.
Christians often reject the overt acts of what they think of as worldliness defined by a list of prohibitions or obligations both negative and positive, while retaining the viewpoint or attitude of worldliness. But worldliness is found more in attitudes and values than in acts because what we do is really the product of our thinking or belief system. Millions of people go through all the motions of worship each week but maintain a heart that is completely out of touch with God and end up, in reality, worshiping themselves. We can meticulously avoid all overt acts of worldliness as we might define them, and still have a heart full of hypocrisy, criticism of others, jealousy, bitterness, envy, and preoccupation with the details of life rather than eternal treasures. There are many examples we might mention of worldliness, but one example that comes to mind is the Madison Avenue gimmickry which so often goes on in the name of evangelism or church growth. See Appendix4 (in the e-Sword Book Comments for Revelation), on the subtle snares of worldliness.
Whoever the Nicolaitans were, they were conquering the people by bringing them under Satan's authority through influential teachers who were tolerating or even promoting evil or license. In our study of the messages to the seven churches, we have gone, then, from "murder" to "mixture." Martyrdom tends to purify the church, but mixture, a breakdown in biblical separation into worldliness, putrefies the church.
The Counsel and Appeal
( Revelation 2:16)
16 ‘Repent therefore; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.
In Revelation 2:16, the Lord called this church to repentance with a sharp warning of judgment with the sword out of His mouth, suggesting that the judgment is based on the truth of His Word. Remember, the sword symbolically represents the two-fold ability of the Word of God to separate believers from the world while at the same time to condemn the world for its sin. It was the sword of salvation and deliverance as well as the sword of death.
Worldly thinking must be dealt with positively and quickly or it eats into our lives individually and corporately (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7-9). Like cancer, worldliness eats deeply into our viewpoint of life and what we expect from it. This impacts our values, and then our priorities and pursuits. And while we may begin to recognize much of its presence and seek to root it out, some of its remnants often remain below the surface, hidden like barnacles below the waterline on a ship.
The Lord counsels the church to repent. The verb "repent" is here an aorist imperative in the Greek text which carries with it an element of urgency. It calls for an immediate response, one designed to arrest the direction in which the church was going. "Repent" is metanoeo„, "to change the mind." Here is one of those generic terms that must be understood within the context in which it is found just as with the word salvation (cf. in Philippians 1:19 the Greek so„te„ria, "salvation, deliverance, preservation"). "In both the New and Old Testaments, repentance means ‘to change one's mind.' But the question must be asked, about what do you change your mind? Answering that question will focus the basic meaning on the particular change involved.… Biblical repentance also involves changing one's mind in a way that affects some change in the person. Repentance is not merely an intellectual assent to something; it also includes a resultant change, usually in actions." [Note: Charles C. Ryrie, So Great Salvation, Victor Books: Wheaton, IL, 1989, p92.] Repentance is used in Scripture in at least three ways:
(1) A repentance that is merely a change of mind about something in a context that does not deal with salvation ( Matthew 21:28-32). It is a real repentance, a change of mind, with a real result, but it has nothing to do with salvation.
(2) A repentance that is unto salvation. In a context dealing with salvation or eternal life, etc, it has to do with changing one's mind about one's condition in sin and need of the saving work of God in Christ. It is equivalent to faith or a part of faith like two sides of a coin (cf. Acts 2:38 with11:17; Acts 5:31 with Ephesians 1:7, and Acts 19:14). First, we acknowledge our sinfulness and inability to save ourselves, and then (the other side of the coin) we turn to Christ in faith as the only means of salvation.
(3) Then there is a repentance that deals with some spiritual issue in the Christian life in which repentance is a change of mind concerning the path we are following and is equivalent to confession of specific sins with a view to spiritual change, pursuing the path of godliness. This is the usage in these letters.
The Issue: Either we repent of our worldliness, acknowledge its presence and evil and commit to moving in a godly direction, or we face divine discipline and the loss of our light bearing capacity--our very purpose for existence as a church. It appears they did. A Christian church has continued into modern times in the modern city of Bergama.
The Solution: The Christian needs to live in the Word, the two-edged sword, which penetrates and transforms us by the renewing of the mind with the mind of Christ ( Romans 12:1-2; 1 Corinthians 2:16). This includes keeping our focus on eternal treasures ( Matthew 6:19 f; 1 Peter 1:12 f). The alternative is divine discipline on the basis of that same Word, which, if neglected, results in our discipline according to the warnings and principles of Scripture ( John 15:1 f; Hebrews 12:5 f).
This warning is immediately followed by a special exhortation and assurance.
The Challenge and Assurance
( Revelation 2:17)
17 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.'
"He who has an ear…" is again an appeal to the individual for spiritual change. Spiritual change in a church has to begin with the individual.
"To him who overcomes…" Here is God's challenge to believers to overcome by faith in the Savior's victory and provision. Specifically, overcoming in this context meant to refuse to eat of things sacrificed to idols and to remain sexually pure, to avoid fornication, and remain distinct and separate from the world. While initial faith that is genuine brings one into union with Christ, it is the continuation of an active faith from living in the Word, feeding on the things of Christ, that overcomes and leads us into the abundance and sufficiency of Christ's life with great reward both now and in the future.
The Hidden Manna
"The hidden manna" is literally, "of the manna, the hidden." It is a restrictive attributive which defines the distinctive identity of the manna. With this construction, there is some emphasis on the hidden character of the manna. In the Old Testament, the manna stood for God's faithfulness to provide and sustain His people through the wilderness wanderings in place of the leeks, melons, garlic, and onions of their old life in Egypt, an apt picture for the world system. As a memorial to God's faithfulness, a portion of the manna was placed and thus hidden in the Ark of the Covenant ( Exodus 16:32-34; Hebrews 9:4). Trench calls our attention to the fact that it was after this manna was laid up in the Ark that it obtained the name, "hidden." [Note: Trench, Epistles to the Seven Churches.]
Manna was also called, "food from heaven" ( Psalm 78:24). In John 6:48-51, the Lord spoke of Himself as the true bread from heaven that gives eternal life in contrast with the manna in the Old Testament. He said, "your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died" ( John 6:49). While the manna sustained their physical life for a time, it was only a picture of the one who would come and who would give life and life abundant ( John 10:10).
From the use of manna in Scripture and from the nature of the promises to the overcomer, I would suggest there is a two-fold meaning and application here:
(1) It has a present meaning or application. It refers to the sufficiency of the person and work of Jesus Christ as He is revealed in the Word which the world does not know or see since the natural man does not see or discern the things of Christ ( 1 Corinthians 2:14). Therefore, believers need to daily feed upon His life in the Word for daily sustenance and blessing (cf. Hebrews 3:7 f). This and this alone can make us fruitful believers, and provide true happiness and stability of life, something which the allurements of the world simply cannot give.
(2) It has a future meaning. The promise of manna looked forward to a greater capacity to enjoy all the manifold blessings and glories of the kingdom in the presence of Christ that would come to the overcomer who refused to eat of the things sacrificed to idols.
A White Stone
By repeating "I will give," there is an emphasis on the grace of the Savior and the second gift is highlighted as distinct from the first. Though rewards are promised for faithfulness, they are still a matter of the grace of God for it is by His grace and strength that we experience the capacity for faithfulness.
"A white stone." This is perhaps the most difficult to interpret of all the rewards mentioned in chapters2,3because of the various uses of white stones and because no other passage tells us anything about white stones.
Stones were used in the secret societies as amulets of protection and by judges who determined a verdict by placing a white and black stone in an urn. If the white one came out it meant acquittal of all charges. But, since there will be no need of protection in eternity and because I believe these are rewards to believers who already stand acquitted, justified in Christ, neither of these seem to fit with what John had in mind.
"Stone" is pse„phos and may be used to designate a precious stone, like a diamond. This idea is supported in this verse by the word leukos which may mean more than just white, and can be equivalent to "splendid, shining," or even, "glistening." Compare the following verses which support this interpretation ( Matthew 17:2; Revelation 3:4-5; Revelation 6:11; Revelation 7:9; Revelation 7:13; Revelation 19:14). Some seek to connect it in some way to the promise of the hidden manna, the Ark of the Covenant, and the priesthood. They see it as a diamond which corresponds to the Urim and Thummim worn by the high priest and would speak of special priestly prerogatives and access into the very presence of God. Others see an analogy to the stone awarded to victorious gladiators or warriors when they returned from battle. It would be much like a ‘well done' for service rendered.
There was also a custom in John's day in which special stones were given which entitled the bearer to special hospitality and friendship. As you can see, there were many customs and several possibilities for the meaning of the stone. Whatever, it clearly symbolized special blessing and privilege that will be given to those believers who overcomer the influx of the world on their lives.
A New Name
"A new name which no one knows…" Here the Lord promises us a special name. Why? It could show intimacy and God's personal love and concern for each one of us, but as a special reward for believers who overcome, it probably has a different significance.
It undoubtedly demonstrates something of the character of the overcomer or something of his new responsibilities or both. Abram's name was changed to Abraham to portray the fact that he was to become the father of a multitude. Jacob, which means supplanter, was changed to Israel, the one over whom God would henceforth rule. Unstable Simon became Peter the little rock. Similarly, the overcoming believer is promised a new name which may show something of what God has accomplished in his or her life through a walk of faith in faithfulness.
The custom of giving a new name to mark a new status was known in the heathen world as well. The name of the first of the Roman Emperors was Octavius; but when he became the first of the Emperors he was given the name Augustus. This very name marked his new status; he was now unique and superhuman and more than man. [Note: William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Vol1, The Westminster Press: Philadelphia, p122.]
The significance of a new name, then, would not be lost on readers living in John's day since only recently the title of the Roman emperor had been changed. Thus, the new name to be awarded faithful believers was an assurance that they would one day be elevated to a position superior even to that of Augustus. The gift of this new name marks the believer's entrance to a new and higher stage of responsibility symbolizing new and greater authority. Regardless of the meaning, for our day when we are often identified by an impersonal number, it highlights the fact we are not just impersonal Numbers, but those who are personally known and loved by God.
(See the Book Comments for the Introductory chapters and Appendices)
The Message to Thyatira
( Revelation 2:18-29)
"The Church in Compromise"
The City and Its Affairs
( Revelation 2:18 a)
18a "And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:…"
Thyatira was smaller than Pergamum and40 miles southeast, but it too was another city in the Roman province of Asia, in the west of what is now Asiatic Turkey. It passed under Roman rule in133 B.C. and was an important point in the Roman road system, for it lay on the road from Pergamum to Laodicea.
It was also an important center of manufacture; dyeing, garment-making, pottery and brass-working are among the trades known to have existed there. A large town (Akhisar) still stands on the same site.
The Thyatiran woman Lydia, the ‘seller of purple' whom Paul met at Philippi ( Acts 16:14), was probably the overseas agent of a Thyatiran manufacturer; she may have been arranging the sale of dyed woolen goods which were known simply by the name of the dye. This ‘purple' was obtained from the madder root, and was still produced in the district, under the name ‘Turkey red,' into the present century. [Note: The New Bible Dictionary, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.: Wheaton, Illinois, 1962, electronic media.]
Because of its industry, the city was known for its trade guilds, or organized groups and associations for potters, tanners, dyers and bronze workers. It was particularly known for its wool and dying industry as illustrated in the life of Lydia, a distributor of the purple garments for which this city was famous ( Acts 16:14). These guilds created a tremendous problem because it was extremely hard for a merchant to pursue his or her trade without belonging to one of these guilds. To belong to these guilds put a Christian in a compromising position because of the pressure from the guilds to participate in their pagan, idolatrous feasts. "Each guild had its own patron deity, feasts, and seasonal festivities that included sexual revelries." [Note: Alan Johnson, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol12, Frank E. Gaebelein, general editor, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1981, p443.]
Some of the symbols in the letter to the church ( Revelation 2:18-29) seem to allude to the circumstances of the city. The description of the Christ ( Revelation 2:18) is appropriate for a city renowned for its brass-working (chalkolibanos, translated ‘fine brass', may be a technical term for some local type of brassware). The terms of the promise (vv26-27) may reflect the long military history of the city. [Note: New Bible Dictionary.]
This church may portray the period of the church during the middle ages and the time of the papacy.
The Christ, The Author and Answer
( Revelation 2:18 b)
18b "…The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this:"
Again, we are pointed to the Lord Jesus as the issue and answer to every need and problem in life, no matter where we live and what our conditions. Walvoord writes:
In keeping with what follows, Christ is introduced as the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. This description of Christ is similar to that in Revelation 1:13-15, but here He is called the Son of God rather than the Son of Man. The situation required reaffirmation of His deity and His righteous indignation at their sins. The words "burnished bronze," which describe His feet, translate a rare Greek word chalkoliban, also used in Revelation 1:15. It seems to have been an alloy of a number of metals characterized by brilliance when polished. The reference to His eyes being "like blazing fire" and the brilliant reflections of His feet emphasize the indignation and righteous judgment of Christ. [Note: John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Scripture Press: Wheaton, IL, 1983, 1985, electronic media.]
Obviously, this description of our Lord stresses His authority in discipline and judgment as the Son of God, an expression found only here in the book, and the penetrating power of His knowledge along with the swiftness of His judgment. Thyatira was standing in idolatrous compromise and allowing a false authority to supplant the authority of Christ.
The Church and Its Affairs
( Revelation 2:19-23)
19 ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first20 ‘But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray, so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols21 ‘And I gave her time to repent; and she does not want to repent of her immorality22 ‘Behold, I will cast her upon a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds23 ‘And I will kill her children with pestilence; and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.
The Commendation or Approval ( Revelation 2:19)
As the One who has infinite knowledge of all the affairs of His people, this church is commended for its works and service, and for the fact this had even increased. But please note a contrast which has a special lesson for us. Ephesus had a godly zeal for sound doctrine and holiness ( Revelation 2:12), but she was lacking in devotion and love to Christ--cold orthodoxy.
Thyatira had a definite and even greater ministry of service and endurance, one that seemed to be motivated by faith and love (cf. Revelation 2:19), but Thyatira lacked on the side of zeal for sound doctrine, moral purity, holiness of life, and zeal against false teaching and practice. Obviously, the church needs to have both, it needs a balance or it must eventually lose its testimony and capacity for ministry.
The Condemnation or Ailment ( Revelation 2:20-23)
The church is strongly rebuked for tolerating a false prophetess with her teaching which promoted immorality and idolatry. She was evidently teaching that a believer's freedom in Christ allowed them to not only belong to the trade guilds, but to participate in the immoral and idolatrous feasts that very often included cultic prostitution.
Jezebel refers to a literal woman who falsely claimed prophetic powers and who had somehow taken a position of leadership, perhaps because of her unusual gifts. Her actual name was probably not Jezebel, but she was a virtual Jezebel in her actions ( 1 Kings 16:31-33; 2 Kings 9:30-37). As the Jezebel of the Old Testament enticed God's servants to abandon their loyalty to the Lord and to participate in her idolatrous practices, so this woman of Thyatira was enticing Christians to abandon their loyalty to Christ and a separated life. Her teaching was probably similar to that of the Nicolaitans.
In His grace, the Lord gave her time to repent, but she had no time nor interest in it. The fact she was called Jezebel suggests she not only was a false prophetess, but an unbeliever. The issue here then was a call to repent in the sense of changing her mind about her present evil course and condition and about her need of Christ so that she would turn to Him in faith.
Revelation 2:22 refers to her judgment for failure to repent. While this refers to a literal judgment God would bring upon this woman, it also forms a prophecy of the Lord's judgment on those churches which follow her adulterous ways.
"Bed of sickness" forms a sharp contrast between her luxurious and licentious couch of immorality and the pain of God's divine judgment that awaited her for her rebellion.
"And those who…into great tribulation" simply refers to the severe judgment God would bring on her followers. It should not be taken as a reference to the future unprecedented time spoken of in Matthew 24:21 and literally called, "the tribulation, the great one" in Revelation 7:14.
The adultery mentioned here includes both spiritual adultery (idolatry), and physical adultery (fornication in cultic prostitution). This is the only place adultery is indicated. The fact adultery constitutes a violation of the marriage vow could indicate that some of those who had been seduced by this Jezebel's teaching were believers, those who had been betrothed to Christ as His bride (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:2; James 4:4).
"Unless they repent of her deeds." Note the change from "they" to "her." This stresses that their deeds of immorality were really the product of her teaching, example, and error. It reminds us of what a great responsibility those in places of leadership have (cf. Luke 6:40; James 3:1), but also of how we need to be sure that the lives and teaching of our leaders truly line up with the Word of God.
Revelation 2:23 gives the effects. But we need to distinguish between two groups seen in the church at Thyatira. Compare "And I will kill her children" with Revelation 2:24 "But I say to you…" In Revelation 2:24 the Lord addresses the faithful remnant, those who would not tolerate her and who rejected both her doctrine and her practice. In Revelation 2:23, He speaks about those who followed her.
Some see these as unbelievers, mere professing Christians who were totally entangled in her doctrine and practice, but that they were unbelievers seems to me to be an unnecessary assumption as suggested by the use of the term "adultery" and in view of the problems at Corinth ( 1 Corinthians 10:1-33; 1 Corinthians 11:1-34). Certainly, some may have been only professing Christians, but others were likely to have been true believers, people who had put their faith in Christ, but who had been seduced by this woman's trickery, and who refused to listen to the truth on this matter so as to repent of their actions.
First, there were those who tolerated her ( Revelation 2:20). In other words, they rejected her teaching, refused to follow her, and refused to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols. But, contrary to the believers in Ephesus, they refused to deal with her through church discipline. What she was teaching was clearly license versus true Christian liberty. This teaching was contrary to Scripture, but they tolerated her presence rather than deal with the problem.
Second, there were those who were her children--her spiritual progeny. These are referred to in Revelation 2:20-23 (20b-23). Evidently, these were those who accepted her teaching and, like Ahab who was influenced by Jezebel of old, followed her example by participating in the activities of the labor guilds which meant involvement in eating things sacrificed to idols and fornication. Some of these could have been true believers who were judged and died the sin unto physical death ( 1 Corinthians 11:28-32; 1 John 5:16-17).
The Counsel and Admonition
( Revelation 2:24-25)
24 ‘But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them--I place no other burden on you25 ‘Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.
Revelation 2:24. This counsel is to those believers who will hear, repent and break off the compromise. "The deep things of Satan" in Revelation 2:24 most likely refers to the false doctrine being taught. They taught moral evil and that its experience was necessary to truly appreciate good. Note the words "as they call them." They were evidently teaching license as good and bragging about the debts of their sin.
No other burden, i.e, command is placed upon them--they were only to reject Jezebel, and avoid immorality and idolatry. They were then told to hold fast to what they had. This is no minor warning. The tendency of believers is to lose ground rather than hold fast and move ahead.
In Revelation 2:25 the words, "what you have, hold fast until I come," warns against the universal principle that things always tend to degenerate rather regenerate. It's much like the second law of thermodynamics which simply put says, life goes from order to disorder and not vice versa. Things naturally go downhill unless there is great effort against those forces that, like gravity, tend to pull us downward. So there is always the need to cling to the Lord and hold tightly through a close walk with Him in the Word, regardless of the many blessing we possess in Christ and where we are in our spiritual journey, babe in Christ or mature (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:1-13; Philippians 3:12-14).
The Challenges and Assurances
( Revelation 2:26-28)
26 ‘And he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; 27 and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; 28 and I will give him the morning star.
Revelation 2:26 speaks of the promises and assurances to the overcomer.
"The overcomer," as suggested previously, refers to those believers who overcome the specific challenges of these verses and are rewarded for their faithfulness. This is suggested by the exhortation to hold fast in Revelation 2:25 and by the words, "who keeps My deeds until the end," in Revelation 2:26.
"And he who keeps My deeds." "My deeds" undoubtedly refers to Christ's way of life and to obedience to NT principles and imperatives. To keep Christ's deeds means to experience Christ's life and character in contrast to Jezebel's works. Keeping His deeds is a result of overcoming through the walk of faith and daily fellowship or the abiding life. We must remember that Christ is not calling us to overcome in our own strength, which is really weakness, but to appropriate His strength and power through the knowledge of the Word and by faith. The issue is that of Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." But overcoming is also the basis for special rewards like positions of authority and responsibility the Lord promises believers in the millennial kingdom like authority over nations, etc. Undoubtedly, it is because we overcome in His strength and grace and never by our own strength that we find the elders, representatives of the body of Christ, casting their victors' stephonos) crowns, (emblems of rewards) before the throne (see Revelation 4:10-11).
Revelation 2:27. After mentioning authority over the nations, the Lord Jesus immediately speaks of return and promises He will return, rule, and reign to remind the overcomers that they will share in all of this with Him at second advent to earth. All believers will be in the reign of Christ and in the kingdom, but not all will share in that reign in the sense of Revelation 2:26.
"The Morning Star" is referred to in three passages:
(1) In Revelation 22:16 it is a reference to the Lord Himself.
(2) In 2 Peter 1:19 is seems to be a reference to the fuller understanding we will receive at the return of the Lord for the church when the Lord is personally present to enlighten us.
(3) In Revelation 2:28 (our passage) the context suggests that in some way it relates to the overcomers and their reward in ruling with the Savior. Perhaps it is the assurance of His presence and provision to be able to handle the authority given over the nations assigned. As a promise to the overcomer, the one who keeps the Lord's deeds to the end, it can hardly be a symbol of Christ's return since all believers will share in His return regardless of their spiritual state. Paul teaches us a similar truth in 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11. The apostle shows us that all believers, whether awake (spiritually alert and sober) or asleep (spiritually out of fellowship), will be delivered from the coming wrath of the Tribulation and taken up to be with the Lord if they are living on earth when He returns. It is significant that the words Paul uses for awake and asleep have a moral connotation and are different words entirely from those used in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17.
More than likely, the key to the meaning of the morning star is found in Revelation 22:16 which says, "I am the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star." Literally, the text says as in Revelation 2:28, "the star, the morning one." This means the brilliant or bright one, the brightest of all the stars. Note: this links Jesus with the throne of David and describes Christ as the star. Jesus is descended from the royal line of David and is the star, the King himself, who was prophesied in Numbers 24:14-19 as the star who would come out of Jacob and possess the scepter.
The Lord is promising the overcomer that he will share His royalty and splendor as the morning star. First, the Lord said that the overcomer would be given a dominion like His own (cf. Revelation 2:27 b, "as I have received authority from My Father"), and so here in Revelation 2:28, the overcomer will be given a rule and splendor like that of the Lord's. In this promise, the Lord promises a dominion and a splendor just like His own.
Revelation 2:29 again repeats the familiar call to hear, a call that goes beyond this one church to all the churches. Only here as in all the rest of the messages, the call to hear follows the promises to the overcomers whereas in the previous three letters, it precedes it. Again we see the personal and loving concern of the Spirit of God for His people and His desire that we all respond in faith and obedience.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Keathley, J. Hampton. "Commentary on Revelation 2". "J. Hampton Keathley's Commentary on Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany