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The Letter To The Church In Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7 ).
‘To the angel at the church in Ephesus write, These things says he who holds the seven stars in his right hand, he who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.’
Each message is written ‘to the angel’ of the church. While it has been suggested that this could mean the leader of the church that is unlikely as we have no grounds for thinking that at this stage churches had an overall bishop. Larger churches, including the church at Rome, had a plurality of bishops. (Even the Roman Catholic historian, Duchesne, speaks of ‘the ghost of poly-episcopacy in the Roman church’. Any so-called line of bishops for the earliest centuries is quite frankly unreliable).
Nor does the use of the term ‘angel’ in a book filled with supernatural angels tie in with this usage. We can therefore say with confidence that genuine angels are in mind, the angels responsible for those particular churches (as there were angels who took responsibility for countries - Daniel 10:13; Daniel 12:1). But the churches are guaranteed that theirs at least are good angels for they are in His right hand (in contrast with some of the angels who affect the course of nations). Note, however, that the content of the message is directly directed to the churches themselves (Revelation 1:11).
The fact that the letters are addressed to the angels gives the messages a sense of timelessness. John has been transferred to ‘the Lord’s day’ and he is to write to churches who are from that viewpoint in the past. Thus the messages are addressed to their angels for transmission into the past. This emphasises the surreal nature of John’s encounter.
It should be noted that while Scripture constantly reminds us of these heavenly beings who support the people of God, nevertheless they are always kept in the background. They are there as a quiet assurance, not to be magnified. In no way are they to be venerated for they are our fellow-servants (Revelation 19:10; Revelation 22:9). They are ‘ministering spirits sent to serve the heirs of salvation’ (Hebrews 1:14).
This church, which on the whole is doing fairly well, is reminded of the closeness of the presence of Christ. He walks among them and holds their angel in His right hand, i.e. has full control over, and provides full protection for, their angel. The mention of His ‘walking among them’ looks back to Genesis 3:8 where God walked in the Garden of Eden, for the promise to overcomers is the restoration of ‘Paradise’ (Revelation 1:7). It can also be compared with Deuteronomy 23:14 where it is said ‘the Lord your God walks in the midst of the camp to deliver you, therefore your camp shall be holy so that he see no unclean thing in you and turn away from you’. So His walking among them reminds them that, while He is there to strengthen and encourage them, He also expects them to walk in holiness, for He is also very much aware of all that goes on.
Messages To The Seven Churches (Revelation 2:1 to Revelation 3:22 ).
The Son of Man now gives John messages to the seven churches. Each of them follows a general pattern. Firstly an introduction based on John’s vision (‘the things you saw’), secondly the state of the church and various warnings (‘the things which are’), and finally future events and the promises to the overcomers (‘the things which shall be hereafter’). Among other things they follow the pattern of Israel’s history as a warning of the danger of following the path they took (see introduction).
‘I know your works and your labour and your patient endurance, and that you cannot bear evil men, and you tried those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them false, and you have patience and have endured for my name’s sake and have not grown weary.’
In many ways this appears an exemplary church, good-living, hardworking, resilient, enduring, unaccepting of wrongdoing, but they lack one thing. They have become bogged down. They are so busy that they are losing sight of Christ.
We can contrast what is said here with the epistle to the Ephesians. There the emphasis was all on the grace of God and the centrality of Christ, here the emphasis is on works, labour and endurance. These latter are commended, but the church is reminded that the former is more important still.
The reference to apostles need not indicate that there was a wider level of apostleship. (In the New Testament apostleship is strictly limited to the twelve, Paul and Barnabas and James the Lord’s brother). Rather it indicates that there were those who tried to claim such status for themselves, calling themselves apostles. The church rightly rejected them.
‘But I have this against you that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you are fallen, and do the works that you did at first, or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand from its place, unless you have a change of mind and heart (repent).’
The ‘works’ that they ‘did at first’ clearly involve love for Christ. Jesus constantly spoke of doing the works of the Father, one of which was that they should trust in the One Whom He had sent (John 6:29). This should they do, and not leave the others undone. How crucial it is that we keep our eyes fixed on Christ and not on the church.
These words are simple but they touch the heart. The love that they once had has now cooled down. Let them therefore consider the vision of the glorious Son of Man standing among His people and be enflamed with love for Him again. Otherwise their church will simply cease to exist. They will be removed from the universal church of Christ. It is clear from this that the ‘first work’ for any church is to centre its eyes on the living Christ Himself. Without that their existence is essentially meaningless.
Possibly in mind here is the fact that Adam lost his first love when he sinned in Eden. Thus he lost access to the tree of life and to the Paradise of God (the Garden of Eden is ‘Paradise’ in LXX, a Greek version of the Bible). The reward for restoring that first love will indeed be to enter the new Paradise (Revelation 2:7)
Israel also lost its first love. As the words of God in Jeremiah say, ‘I remember concerning you the kindness of your youth, the love of your espousals, how you went after me in the wilderness in a land that was not sown’ (Jeremiah 1:2). But though God walked among them (Deuteronomy 23:14) they too lost their first love and eventually strayed far from God. How history repeats itself. God walked with Adam and yet he lost his first love, God walked in the midst of Israel, yet they lost their first love, and now it is happening to the churches.
‘But this you do have, you hate the works of the Nicolaitans which I also hate.’
We know little about the Nicolaitans but they were clearly influential then in leading astray the churches, and were probably followers of a Nicolaus (variously identified). They apparently taught that it was good to eat things sacrificed to idols and to behave immorally, engaging in self-expression and full release (see Revelation 2:14-15). This meant both a compromise with the Roman religion, with its sacrifices to Roma and its love feasts, and with other religions, thus denying the exclusivity of Christ. This then meant involvement in idolatry and licentiousness.
To openly eat things sacrificed to idols would be seen as acknowledging the gods who were being ‘worshipped’, and licentious behaviour, introducing overt sexual expression outside marriage (often with ‘sacred prostitutes’), was a common feature in many religions of the day. Misused sex and idolatry, two constant enemies of the church, these things Christ hates. But there was none of this in the Ephesian church. They had maintained their purity.
‘To him who overcomes, to him will I give to eat the fruit of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’
Every Christian is to be an overcomer, overcoming sins, patiently enduring temptation and tribulation, serving Christ, loving Him, being faithful to Him. As Paul says, ‘we are more than overcomers through Him that loved us’ (Romans 8:37). They hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:27-28). Without these a person is not a Christian.
This arises from our oneness in Christ. In John 16:33 Jesus declared that His people need not fear tribulation as He has ‘overcome the world’. He has rejected its power and conquered it and therefore has final control over it. Thus it is powerless to hurt them more than He allows. He also declared that He had overcome Satan (Luke 11:22). Once we are united with Him we therefore also become ‘overcomers’ in Him. As John tells us in 1 John 5:4, ‘whatever is begotten of God overcomes the world, and this is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith’. For they ‘are of God -- and have overcome them (false teachers with the spirit of antichrist)’ (1 John 4:4). Those who are in Him overcome the world and overcome Satan through Him.
These are the ones who have ‘heard His voice’. It is noteworthy that overcoming is a theme of the whole of Revelation (e.g. Revelation 11:7; Revelation 12:11; Revelation 13:7; Revelation 21:7), something which directly connects these churches with the events that occur later on. And to those who are overcomers He ‘will give to eat of the tree of life’ (compare Revelation 22:14). To eat of the tree of life was to live for ever (Genesis 3:22). Thus the promise is that, whatever experiences they have to go through, they will enjoy eternal life and have their share in God’s glorious Heaven, the Paradise of God (2 Corinthians 12:4).
(It is often argued that many Christians cannot be described as ‘overcomers’ because of worldly lives, or because they even backslide and appear for a time to reject Him. But then they can hardly be described as ‘righteous’ either. Yet if they really are His they are ‘righteous in Him’ and are therefore overcomers in Him. It is not for us finally to determine who are Christians and who are not but there are plenty of warnings in the New Testament that such people should beware lest at the last their ‘faith’ (or lack of it) proves in vain. But in the end all is of grace. And if such are truly His, they are ever ‘righteous’ in Him and are therefore ‘overcomers’ in Him, and will reveal it in their lives. No one stresses more than John does that salvation is of faith, but no one is more severe in his requirement that it be revealed in their lives - 1 John 2:1-5; 1 John 2:9-11; 1 John 2:19).
The Letter To The Church In Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11 ).
‘And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ‘These things says the first and the last, who died and came to life.’
This description is taken from Revelation 1:18. The church is to face intense persecution so they are reminded that their Lord is ‘the first and the last’, the beginning and the end, from everlasting to everlasting, the One Who was before all things, the One Who will be into eternity. Thus temporary things are unimportant for those who are His. And yet He Who is the First and the Last died. ‘Tis mystery all, the immortal dies’. How incomprehensible it is. But it was necessary so that He could conquer death Thus He Who is the First and the Last is now the crucified and risen Saviour, the conqueror of death, so that in the end they have nothing to fear, because He is the Eternal Saviour Who has defeated death (2 Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 2:14-15).
‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (although you are rich) and the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews, and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.’
Smyrna is a suffering church. They are at present facing tribulation, and will yet face greater tribulation, as depicted later. They are poor in this world’s goods, but rich in what really matters, the things of God (compare James 2:5).
Their present problems stem from actions initiated by Jews, certain of whom regularly persecuted the early church and stirred up the people and the authorities against them. (They would later be the main cause of the martyrdom of Polycarp in this very place (156 AD)). And these Jews claim to do it in the name of God, which can only be regarded as blasphemy, for they are attacking the people of God. Thus they show themselves really to be serving Satan in what they are doing, assisting him as he seeks to make war on God’s people (Revelation 12:17). Their synagogue has become the tool of Satan.
‘Satan’ means ‘the adversary’ and they are here acting as adversaries against the people of God. Compare how Jesus told the Pharisees that they were of their father the Devil (John 8:44) when they professed to serve God but demonstrated by their actions whom they really served.
In the light of the fact that the other letters refer specifically to events in Old Testament history in ascending chronological order, and the fact that overcomers will avoid ‘the second death’, which relates to the accounts of the first deaths in Genesis 4:8; Genesis 4:23, we may well apply this situation to Cain’s building of ‘a city’ (a tent encampment). First there was a city and then there was the great city, Babel, with its Ziggurat or Temple. Thus the synagogue of the Jews, seen as outside the sphere of the Christian church, parallels Cain’s encampment, outside the sphere of ‘the presence of the Lord’ (Genesis 4:16). Both ‘say they are’ and are not. Those who were once ‘in’ are now ‘out’.
‘Do not be afraid of the things which you are about to suffer. Behold the Devil is about to cast some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful unto death and I will give you the crown of life.’
It is noteworthy that Smyrna, the insignificant church, is one of only two not criticised for failure (Philadelphia is the other). Their patient endurance is acknowledged, and as they continue faithful in the persecution to come they will, through death, receive the crown of life. As Jesus died, and is alive again (Revelation 2:8), so too will they be. And they will be given the victor’s crown, the crown of life, given to those who love Him (James 1:12).
‘The Devil’ (diabolos - ‘one who brings charges with hostile intent’) probably refers to his activity through the Roman authorities, as will be apparent later (chapter 13), combined with the Jews mentioned earlier as members of the Synagogue of Satan, as tools of the Devil. They falsely accuse Christians and are acting as agents for the Devil by ‘accusing the brethren (Revelation 12:10).
There is to be a short but intense persecution, instigated by these Jews, which will result in imprisonment and martyrdom for many. ‘Ten days’ means a shortish period with ten signifying ‘a number of’ (compare how Jacob could say ‘you have changed my wages ten times’ (Genesis 31:7)). Persecution was often spasmodic, with some incident suddenly raising the tempo, which then continued a short while and finally died down.
Possibly intended by the phrase ‘ten days’ is the idea that God will not allow the persecution to go on longer than He permits. Its time is of a duration fixed by God. More information about such persecution will be given later in Revelation. This again confirms that these churches are to face what is described there. In Daniel 1:12 Daniel and his friends are tested for ten days to see if their diet was satisfactory compared with what the Babylonians offered. This may have sprung to mind here with the thought that the ten day test would make these Christians more pure than ever. Compare also how Jeremiah waited before God for ten days when ascertaining what would be the fate of God’s people after Gedaliah had killed the representative of the king of Babylon (Jeremiah 42:7). So ‘ten days’ is seen as a period of waiting and testing.
‘He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt of the Second Death.’
The second death was a concept of Judaism, the death of the soul. No doubt their Jewish persecutors taunted them with the fact that after their martyrdoms their souls also would be destroyed. Jesus promises them that, on the contrary, the second death cannot touch them (compare Revelation 20:6; Revelation 20:14; Revelation 21:8). Rather will they receive the crown of eternal life.
The Letter To The Church in Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17 ).
‘And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write, These things says he who has the sharp two-edged sword.’
Taken from Revelation 1:16 this description suggests that the church in Pergamum is being reminded that it will be especially sifted, and if necessary exposed, by the word of God and judgment, because of the heresy in its midst. It may also be contrasting the glorious Son of Man with the throne of Satan (v. 13), the One having the word of truth the other the words of lies.
‘You hold fast my name, and did not deny my faith (your faith in me), even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you where Satan dwells.’
‘You hold fast my name’ - compare Revelation 11:18 and contrast Revelation 13:17. Pergamum has already suffered some persecution in times when fervency for the Emperor and for Rome has raised the passions of the people against Christians. But they had not wavered.
‘Did not deny my faith.’ The aorist tense suggests that this refers to some particular period of persecution which they would all remember, when the church emerged triumphant
‘The faith of me’ contains an objective genitive and means ‘your faith in me’. Antipas is unknown to us but was clearly well known then. The importance of the mention of the name is that it reminds them that God knows us each by name. God will hold fast the names of those who hold fast the name of Jesus. Indeed Antipas mirrors Jesus as a faithful witness (compare Revelation 1:5). So the members of the church at Pergamum have already proved their readiness to suffer for Christ’s sake.
Notice the continual reference to Satan. He is working through Jews, he is working through Romans, he is working through officialdom. Pergamum appears to be especially the target of Satan.
‘But I have a little against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit immorality. In the same way you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.’
The reference is to Numbers 25:3 onwards, compare 2 Peter 2:15; Jude 1:10-13. It is clear that these ideas were fairly widespread (compare Revelation 2:6). Balaam was a soothsayer and worker of magic, called in to bring down the power of the gods to destroy Israel. Yet under the influence of God he blessed them instead. His name (bala ‘am) probably means ‘he who swallows down the nation’. (Compare Nicolaus, ‘he who conquers the people’). And in spite of blessing the people of Israel he did them harm nevertheless.
Eating things sacrificed to Roma and the Emperor would have great significance as being looked on as a compromise with Emperor worship, giving it a kind of approval. (Later it would be demanded as proof of loyalty to Rome). It refers to any participation of Christians in marginal religions and beliefs which could give a false impression to outsiders.
Immorality, or involvement with sex for its own sake, has always been men’s downfall. In contrast with the sex which seals the marriage bond, it is totally contrary to the teaching of Christ. Peter speaks very vividly of these people, ‘revelling in their love-feasts --- having eyes full of adultery, and who cannot cease from sin, enticing unsteadfast souls’ (2 Peter 2:13-14).
The Nicolaitans held the same views, but were clearly not alone in them. Compromise with idolatry and sexual excesses were thus seen by Jesus as two of the greatest dangers to His people. (The word (oliga), literally translated ‘a few things’ in versions, often means ‘a little’ (e.g. Zechariah 1:15 LXX) and probably means that here). These things were the product of Babylon the Great.
‘Repent therefore, or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth.’
Notice that it is the whole church that is told to repent (‘you’). They are failing in their responsibility. They are clearly not taking a stand against these flagrant evildoers, for they should have cast them out. So they must change their attitude of heart and mind immediately, and do what is required. However finally the judgment will be against those involved (‘them’). The two-edged sword, the word of God, will expose them, discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12), and they will be smitten and have judgment brought on them.
‘He who has an ear to hear, let him hear, what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows but the one who receives it.’
The hidden manna refers to the manna that was hidden in a pot which was laid up before the Ark of Testimony (Exodus 16:33), the manna that according to Jewish belief was hidden in Heaven and would be revealed at the end time and given to those who were faithful to God. We find the Ark of the Covenant, containing the hidden manna, later in Heaven (Revelation 11:19).
It is thus a promise of benefiting from eternal life, paralleling the Tree of Life and avoidance of the Second Death. And as Jesus makes clear elsewhere, this hidden manna is Himself, for He is the bread of life (John 6:35) and as such He will guarantee their resurrection at the last day (John 6:32-33; John 6:35; John 6:39). The eating of the hidden manna contrasts with the eating of idolatrous food. Those who reject the latter will enjoy the former.
‘And I will give him a white stone and on the stone a new name written which no one knows but he who receives it.’ Stones with names written on them are described in Exodus 28:9; Exodus 28:21. They are alternately stones of onyx, and stones of all colours, bearing the names of the twelve patriarchs, and thus of the tribes who were associated with them. The tribes thus received their blessing by their connection with the patriarchs to whom the promises were made. They formed part of the High Priest’s breastplate (Exodus 28:15) and were also on his shoulders (Exodus 28:12). In one case there was one stone for six tribes, in the other one stone per tribe.
But here there is a new stone, and this one is pure white signifying the true righteousness of those who bear the new name, it is the stone of the righteous. And there is one for each person. The stone testifies to God on their behalf and they receive their blessing by their connection with Christ, whose secret name is on the stone. They are individually represented before the Lord, for each is precious in His sight.
And as a kingdom of priests they are able to represent themselves as Christ’s before the Lord, wearing their white stones as tokens of Whose they are. However, the names on the older stones were borne on the High Priest’s shoulders and breastplate before the Lord, and it is possible we are to see here that our great High Priest (Revelation 1:13) will figuratively bear on His shoulders and breastplate a stone for every believer, inscribed with His own new name.
For mention elsewhere of this new name we turn to God’s declaration in Isaiah 62:2. ‘The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory, and you will be called by a new name which the mouth of the Lord will name’. So this giving of a new name to the people of God was long promised. This name is a new name of Jesus, and is connected with the name of God and of the new Jerusalem (Revelation 3:12; Revelation 19:12).
When God determined to deliver His people in the days of Moses He revealed His new name to Moses (Exodus 6:3 with Exodus 3:14). It is true that the name Yahweh was already known to them, but now He was revealing Himself as the ‘I am’, the ‘One Who is there to act’ on behalf of His people, giving the old name a new significance, ready for the new deliverance by which His essence would be revealed. In the same way Christ will receive a new name, which will presumably be a variation of the old, but will reveal His essence and will be for the final deliverance of His people. The name is therefore undoubtedly connected with the name which is above every name which He has already received, the name Yahweh (in Hebrew) and ‘Lord’ (in Greek) (Philippians 2:9-11), which is the name in which all Christians are baptised (Matthew 28:19), a name which did reveal His essence.
But Christ’s new name, His own eternal name, will even more fully reveal His essence, and it is the significance of this which is to be finally revealed to His own, for ‘He has a name written which no one knows but He Himself’ (Revelation 19:12). It may be that this name is KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:16). God says in Isaiah 52:6 ‘therefore my people will know my name; therefore in that day they will know that I am He who speaks, here I am’. Here ‘knowing the name’ means more than just intellectual knowledge, it means knowing the name fully in experience, and we notice that the name is connected with the ‘I am’. In the same way only those who are granted to know Christ fully in experience will ‘know the name’. ‘Now I know in part, but then I will know even as I am known’ (1 Corinthians 13:12). Until that day only Christ Himself truly knows the name.
So the reception and ‘knowing’ of the new name on the white stone will signify that they belong to Christ and have come truly to know Him in all the fullness of His being, something that can only happen in eternity. Having received His righteousness, and having been made righteous in Him, and being destined to enjoy in the future the full experience of the wonders of God’s gracious benefits in Christ in the last day, they are worthy recipients of the white stone of righteousness which has His name written on it. This is in contrast with those who later in Revelation (Revelation 13:17) bear the name of the Beast, the mark of Rome.
The knowledge of a name was considered by the ancients to confer mysterious spiritual powers, but we do not need to bring this idea in here. The true knowledge of the name of Christ does indeed confer spiritual power. However, it is not through magical means, but through the grace of the One Who bears the name.
The fact that they will eat of the hidden manna in the heavenly Temple, and bear the white stone carrying the new name of Christ, sets them apart from those who worship in the Temple of Satan, bear the mark of the beast, and eat the defiled sacrificial foods.
The Letter To The Church In Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29 ).
‘And to the angel of the church in Thyatira, write, These things says the Son of God, who has his eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet are like burnished brass.’
The fact that these descriptions of the Son of Man are used in relation to Thyatira confirms that they contain the ideas of discerning judgment, powerful eyes that burn into the heart, and powerful feet that tread down evil. (See for eyes Psalms 11:4-6; Proverbs 15:3; Proverbs 20:8; Isaiah 1:16; Jeremiah 5:3; Jeremiah 16:17; Jeremiah 32:19; Zechariah 12:4 and for feet Isaiah 14:25; Isaiah 41:25; Isaiah 63:1-6). Here the true identity of the Son of Man is openly declared, He is ‘the Son of God’. This is mentioned to put extra stress on the warnings.
‘I know your works and your love and faith and ministry and patient endurance, and that your last works are more than the first.’
This is as high a commendation as any church receives. The pure among them have not lost their first love (their last works are more than the first (contrast Revelation 2:5)), their faith is true, their ministry vibrant and they faithfully endure, and they are continuing to grow.
It should be remembered here as elsewhere that ‘the church in Thyatira’ would not be composed of just one assembly but of a number of assemblies and house churches of varying sizes throughout the town connected through one set of bishops and deacons who would supervise the whole. Thus some groups may have kept themselves pure and maintained their zeal, while others have tolerated the heresy. Their failure lies in the fact that the leadership have not been more decisive.
‘But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess; and she teaches and seduces my servants to commit sexual immorality, and to eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent but she is not willing to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I am throwing her into a bed, and those who commit sexual immorality with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am he who searches the reins and hearts, and I will give to each of you in accordance with your works.’
In this church is a woman who has set herself up as a prophetess, but she is really like the evil Jezebel who was considered the epitome of evil (1 Kings 16:31; 1 Kings 18:4; 1Ki 18:13 ; 1 Kings 19:1; 1 Kings 21:7-15; 1 Kings 21:25), who painted her face to try to seduce Jehu (2 Kings 9:30). It was Jezebel who encouraged the worship of Baal with its accompanying sexual rites, and had been infamous for it ever since.
Here we have the same sins, sexual immorality and idolatry, which were clearly prevalent in a number of churches, but here exacerbated by the fact that they are encouraged by someone who claims to speak ecstatically in the name of God. And here the sexual immorality is mentioned first. It is clear that it was a major problem in the church, and that ‘Jezebel’ and her followers indulged in it to the limit.
Yet God has graciously given her time to repent. This suggests that she has been warned in some way about her behaviour, but she has hardened her heart. It is possible that she had been publicly admonished by the church, although their failure lay in the fact that they failed to take the necessary step of casting her out. So He will now provide her with another kind of bed, a bed of great tribulation and probably even death, possibly a mortal sickbed. ‘I will throw her into a bed’. Vividly in mind here is that the first Jezebel was thrown from a window to her doom (2 Kings 9:33), thus it presumably signifies death. ‘Bed’ is, of course, ironic. She spends her time in bed, so she will be cast into one.
And similar ‘great tribulation’ will be meted out on those who indulge in immorality with her if they also fail to repent. Here the ‘great tribulation’ is God’s direct punishment, and it will be inflicted to the full. This is in contrast with the churches’ experience later in the book (Revelation 7:14). They will also experience ‘great tribulation’, but their suffering will be undeserved. Great tribulation is not only endured by Christians. Others too will suffer.
Alternately the ‘great tribulation’ here may have in mind pestilence, especially sexually transmitted disease, which will strike them, but the deliberate use of ‘great tribulation’ demands a connection with Revelation 7:14. However disease is undoubtedly one of the tribulations to come.
In the Old Testament the faithful often had to go through the judgments meted out on the wicked, although watched over by God in the process. So while the faithful would endure great tribulation knowing it to be their means of entry into Heaven, these heretics would experience it with little hope. The description of some as her ‘children’ probably refers to those who hold fast her teachings and propagate them, as against her lovers who only indulge in them. The former will suffer an even more intense fate, for they will be ‘killed with death’.
Once more we have an advancement in Old Testament history. The effects of Babel, with its introduction of idol worship and accompanying uncleanness, and Balaam, who was considered by the Jews to have introduced Israel to idolatry and sexual extravagance, have resulted in Jezebel who drove Israel even deeper into the same.
‘And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches the reins and hearts, and I will give to each of you in accordance with your works. But to you I say, to the rest of you in Thyatira, as many as do not hold this teaching, who do not know the deep things of Satan as they say, I throw on you no other burden. However, that which you have, hold fast until I come.’
For searching the reins and the hearts, searching out what controls men and how they feel and think, see Psalms 7:9; Psalms 26:2; Jeremiah 20:12 where it is the work of God and compare Romans 8:27. Thus the Son of Man is the One Who tests men’s motives and thoughts to their very depths, for in the end the final test of any man is the way he lives. In Revelation, as in Jesus’ teaching (John 6:29), works include the work of faith, but that faith must reveal itself in action. As James said, ‘faith without works is itself a dead faith’ (James 2:17).
The great tribulation that these heretics would face will be witnessed by the churches for ‘all the churches will know ---’. This again confirms that the churches are present throughout Revelation. In Heaven there is only one ‘church’, but they are never even described as that (but compare Hebrews 12:23).
The Son of God reserves His specific condemnation for those who commit the evil and hold the evil teaching. On the remainder He wishes to place no further burden than they already have, and He has already commended them. This ‘burden’ may have Acts 15:28-29 in mind for its phraseology is echoed in this passage. ‘For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these necessary things, that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from sexual immorality’. Thus Jesus is confirming that Christians are released from Old Testament ordinances including circumcision.
‘Who do not know the deep things of Satan as they say.’ This is probably just a reference to the fact that the origin of this teaching is really Satanic although the teachers claim to ‘know the deep things of God’ (this is most likely. John applies ‘Satanic’ to the Jewish synagogue and to the Roman authorities, and there it was metaphorical also), but it may even suggest that those condemned actually claim to ‘a knowledge of the deep things of Satan’ and boast about the fact (contrast here the real ‘deep things of God’ (1 Corinthians 2:10).)
However Satan’s throne was in Pergamum (Revelation 2:13), and that almost certainly refers to the Temple of Roma and the Emperor there. So these ‘deep things of Satan’ may have been connected with the this cult which included open partaking of offerings made to Roma (Rome) and the Emperor, and sexually immoral activities in their love-feasts, with ‘Jezebel’ justifying connection with it by false prophesy and even falser teaching. We must beware of syncretists who seek to combine Christianity with lesser religions. The fourth century would see such syncretism under Constantine the Great which would lead to many errors in the church.
Emperor worship was not yet fully established but it was certainly prevalent, especially in the East away from Rome, where the frailties of the Emperors were less well known. We shall see later that the writer speaks harshly of the worship sought, and at times demanded, by Rome, for itself and its Emperors (e.g. chapter 13 on). So ‘Jezebel’ and her ilk may well have been tied up with this worship and its consequences, somehow incorporating it into their professed worship of Christ.
‘However what you do have, hold fast until I come.’
While many in the church are doing well, they must be careful to maintain their vigilance so that they maintain their position before God, in order to be ready for when He comes. Jesus is clearly concerned lest they be overrun by this menace.
It is perhaps significant that the church of Thyatira appears to have reached a very low ebb in the second century AD, so much so that some denied its very existence. Tertullian (late second century AD) tells us that some sects rejected Revelation because they denied the existence of a church at Thyatira, and Epiphanius (fourth century AD) knew of some who said the same. But it is unlikely that the first century wave of evangelism failed to establish some sort of church there, for churches were formed everywhere in that area. It may well, however, be that the effects of Jezebel destroyed the church so that by the second century it no longer existed.
‘And he who overcomes, and he who keeps my works to the end, to him will I give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron (or iron sceptre), as the vessels of the potter are broken to shivers, as I have also received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star.’
The ones who stand firm will enjoy with Christ His authority over the nations, something far better than aligning themselves with the Emperor of Rome. This promise is taken from Psalms 2:8-9 where the rule of the Messiah over the nations is linked with their being broken with a rod of iron, (or iron sceptre), and dashed in pieces like a potter’s vessel. Thus it is a ruling in judgment that is in mind. ‘Ruling with a rod of iron’ means acting in judgment.
As Christ has received an iron sceptre from His Father, so will He share it with His people. They too will share in the judging of the world (1 Corinthians 6:2). Indeed they too will judge even angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). Notice that here overcoming is described in terms of ‘keeping my works to the end’. There is a constant emphasis to this church on the need to endure.
‘And I will give him The Morning Star.’ This idea comes from Numbers 24:17. ‘There shall come forth a star out of Jacob, and a rod (or sceptre) shall arise out of Israel’. (The word, usually translated ‘sceptre’ here, most often means ‘rod’). So the coming of Messiah as a star is there connected with His arising as a rod which will bring judgment on their enemies, which is like the description here in Revelation 2:0. That this reference in Numbers specifically applies is confirmed in Revelation 22:16 where Jesus says, ‘I am the root and offspring of David, the bright, the morning star’, connecting the morning star with the Davidic king. Notice that the giving of the morning star in Revelation follows, or parallels, the exercising of the iron rod. The idea of the morning star cannot therefore refer to a parousia before Christ’s final coming. Indeed the reason for the use of the adjective ‘morning’ is stated. It is because of the special brightness of that star (Revelation 22:16).
So the brilliant star which is the Messiah will be given to the overcomers, who will thus share in His glory and His final judgment. The idea of the ‘morning’ star may have partly come from Job 38:7 where we learn ‘the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God (bene elohim - angels) shouted for joy’. Thus morning stars are connected with heavenly beings. But here the writer sees Jesus as not a morning star, but The Morning Star. He is the supreme heavenly Being.
‘He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
From now on this phrase comes after the promise to overcomers, (whereas previously it has introduced it), as though it is a final warning.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Revelation 2". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany