Chapter 1 dealt was a synopsis of what Jesus told John to write regarding “the things you have seen.” Chapters 2 and 3 deal with the “things which are”, which are addressing the seven churches of Asia Minor. They were the present issue at the time of John’s vision and writing. The purpose of these letters, (and the entire book for that matter,) was three-fold:
1) correction of sin,
2) encouragement in the face of persecution and death, and
3) to remind them that Jesus was indeed returning; to remain focused on the big picture.
To the Church at Ephesus…
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lamp-stands.
“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lamp-stand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
As we saw in chapter 1, the “angels” of the churches are seven literal angels assigned individually to one of the churches. As I noted, my personal belief is that these are the seven archangels listed by name in several antiquated works, most notably the book of 1 Enoch, quoted by several of the Apostles, of which I believe to be inspired. In verse 2:1, here we again have Jesus telling John to write a message to the angel appointed as guardian of this Church and have it signified to reveal it as being from Christ, the One who has authority over the angels (stars) and the Churches (lamp-stands).
In 2:2, Jesus commends the believers at Ephesus for their faithfulness and love for the truth of the Word of God. He commends them for proving the spirits of teachers, as to whether they be of God or false, by holding them accountable to the Word, and for aggressively dealing with issues when they found error and false teaching in the church. Jesus expects pastors and leaders to deal with problems in the church and not to overlook them, play church politics, nor pretend the problems aren’t there. Why? Because they are to be concerned about correct doctrine and instruction and guarding the sheep. Church leaders are responsible for keeping order in the church. Christians are to hold the leaders accountable and prove them as well. If they are false, expose them openly.
Verse 2:3- Ephesus also carried the burden of the Gospel patiently and endured the hardships that come from presenting it to the world. They had not allowed liars and troublemakers to have influence in the church. Their pastors and leaders did the hard thing, and dealt with deceivers, gossips, and slanderers. They didn’t proof text the scripture for a supportive verse to justify having a weak backbone, and for playing self preserving church politics. Unlike what is common today, these guys didn’t quote passages out of context, as to affirm that it wasn’t their responsibility to address and confront things influencing evil in the church. FYI: It is! Rather, Ephesus didn’t allow devils to have influence over the body of Christ, and for this, we have Jesus saying, “Well done!!”
2:4- We have Christ’s judgment presented upon the failures of Ephesus. By the context of this church’s description in the Scriptures, it is obvious that “leaving their first love” was not referring to not loving God, but rather not loving the lost, due to giving up on them because of their behaviors. The Ephesians had developed an attitude depicting, “What is the point of even trying to reach people. Every time we do, we get burned!” Didn’t Jesus warn this would be normal? Did this not occur even in His life? Is the servant greater than his Master? No. But Ephesus had withdrawn from the Great Commission for self-preservation. They were retreating from persecution and “snakebites.” Ephesus had lost the burning desire to win the lost and to reach outwardly instead of inwardly. They became efficient at maintaining what they had, but no longer adding to it. It felt like a lost cause for them to reach out. But feelings are never truth. For us all, it’s going to feel like a lost cause at times, but it’s never a lost cause, and we will lose a lot more people than we will win to Him. But it is Jesus who leaves the 99 to save the 1. The 1 is worth it to Him. He died for all.
Have you ever noticed how that the sinners on the outside of church (the lost) are a lot friendlier than the sinners (religious, deceived church people) that go to church? Neither are Christians, but one is honest and teachable, and the other is a devil who thinks he or she is right with God. A pastor friend of mine said, “I don’t know that I’ve ever led one of those in the second group to Christ.” Me either. You see, Jesus doesn’t expect much from those who don’t call themselves a child of God, or a Christian. But He expects anyone who does take His name to behave like it, and to carry their own cross of self denial. The scripture says that “God will not hold anyone blameless who takes His name upon them in vain.” There’s a lot of acting going on!
2:5– Jesus said, “remember from where you have fallen, repent, and do the work you did at first or else I will come to you and remove your lamp-stand from its place, unless you repent. We cannot be a Christian and lack a burning desire to win the lost to Christ. Jesus commands them to get back to seeking the lost and to deny their own comfort and self preservation, or else they would be cut off from His salvation. This flies in the face of modern theology, but deal with it. That is what He said. Without the fire in the lamp-stand, it becomes useless, and nothing more than furniture. A lamp-stand without a flame is a church, or person without His Spirit.
2:6- Jesus commends, again, their resistance of false teaching. He mentions the Nicolaitans, who were possibly tied to the Balaamites of this day. In the cities, in this time, there were Pagan temples and Pagan deities that the people worshiped and worshiped in. But the Emperors were tied to these deities and were worshiped themselves as gods. It was just common belief that the Emperor of Rome was a deity himself. They had feasts, celebrations, and Pagan rituals that they attended. You can read of these things in Acts 19, such as the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. These churches were put in the position to make a choice as to whether they were going to take part in these Pagan traditions, or remain loyal to Christ, and be persecuted. The Nicolaitans were a sect that arose in the church, and in essence, said that, “God will overlook this and won’t hold you guilty if you partake in these things to spare yourselves trouble, because He knows you don’t really mean it, and are just avoiding social conflict.” So they were teaching false doctrine that served self-interest instead of being steadfast witnesses for God. They taught the people to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to acknowledge other gods before men, for their own self-interest in avoiding persecution. Does this sound familiar today?
Someone in recent years, who refused to compromise God’s standard to save herself persecution, was the clerk from Morehead, KY, Kim Davis. I honor her. She refused to sign a marriage license for what God detests. She was persecuted and ridiculed worldwide for refusing to have her name on a marriage license for a homosexual couple. God does not necessarily detest these individuals, but He does detest their actions, and the lifestyle they exemplify. But Mrs. Davis stood faithful and will surely be rewarded by Christ for her faithfulness. The majority who claim to follow Jesus have never even read the Bible! Liars.
Many Ephesians often had jobs as blacksmiths. Ephesus had a culture heavily saturated in idolatry, in the worshiping of images and man-made idols. Idols were expensive. The Ephesian church was put in a position where they either had to compromise in producing and selling such artifacts, or do without financially. They would either make the idol to make money, and to feed their families, or they would refuse, because the word of God said not to. But the Nicolaitans were this group teaching compromise of God’s word and saying, “God knows your heart and wouldn’t want your family to be hungry to uphold his moral standard to the world. God doesn’t expect you to do without to serve Him!” It reminds me of the garden scene where the serpent was saying to Eve, “Has God really said that?”
God never said that we weren’t expected to suffer persecution. But what He did say is that if we didn’t forsake all we have for Him, we cannot be His disciple. But the Nicolaitans were saying it was okay to be involved in this stuff, and even sacrifice to the Emperor, because “God knows we really don’t mean it.” In reality, the reason they didn’t want to take a stand is because they didn’t want to lose their job, their money, and social status, and because they didn’t want to be persecuted and ostracized for taking a stand, like Kim Davis or the Christian bakeries in recent years. Some in Ephesus didn’t want to be imprisoned or punished by the Roman Authority because they refused to not recognize Caesar as lord. But Jesus commends Ephesus because they wouldn’t tolerate that. He in essence said, “Ephesus, you have been faithful in doctrine, and in dealing with church issues, but you have hardened your hearts because of what you see and what you are enduring, and you need to turn yourselves around, repent, and go back to reaching the lost for Me, no matter what you face. Or else, I will cut you off from my salvation.” Man!!! Jesus’ words fly in the face of Augustine’s heresy, later taking root in the movement we know as the Reformation with Martin Luther and John Calvin. Apparently Jesus looks at works of obedience to His New Covenant law (the red letter), and judges salvation based on them. Hmmm? There’s a first century apostolic teaching!!
When people first come to Christ and are changed, their first instinct is to tell everyone they meet about Jesus, and they don’t care what people think. But then persecution and difficulties start to arise in our lives, and we become more and more reserved, and less and less of a witness. This is the sin of the Church of Ephesus: Losing that born again love for sinners.
2:7– “He that is able to hear the voice of God, let him understand what the Spirit is communicating.” The tree of life is symbolic of eternal life. To him that overcomes the world, by denying himself the pleasures of the world system, and is submitted in obedience to the word of God, is promised eternal life to live in the presence of Almighty God: Eternal life and Eternal fellowship.
To the Church in Smyrna
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
“‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’
2:8- Smyrna is just north of Ephesus. Jesus commends them but also doesn’t give them good news. He repeats that He is the First and the Last, and was dead and is now alive. He is reminding them that He is Yahweh, and that they are indeed being persecuted unto death, and that it is going to get worse for them. But because taking their lives is all that man has the power to do to them, Jesus reminds them in this imagery, that the same was done to Him and that He now has defeated Death and Hell, and He has the final say over their eternity. Jesus is saying, “Be faithful and I will raise you up, just as I arose, and you will reign with Me for eternity.”
2:9- Smyrna chose not to participate in paganistic activities, and they paid an economical price, because they would not bow to the system of the Beast. Jesus tells them that He knows their persecution and poverty in the worldly context, but assures them that they are rich in his Kingdom. They were faithful and accruing treasures in eternity that thieves can’t steal and moths can’t corrupt. In those days Christianity was viewed by the Roman Authority as being under the canopy of Judaism. All of the first part of the church were Jews. The first Christians were all Jews and the gospel was spread to the Gentiles through the missionary journeys of Paul and the Apostles. The message was to the Jew first, and then the Gentile. Hence his reference to those who were saying, “They were of Judah and were not.” These persecutors were of the same type that opposed Jesus… Jews who really opposed Christianity, while claiming to be a part outwardly, and went to the Roman Authority declaring that these believers had nothing to do with Judaism. These types were under the protection of Judaism because the Roman Authority worked in relation with the high priest and with those who were in authority. These were slanderers, who were not Jews inwardly, because they rejected the Son of God. They were loyal to their man-made rules, rather than the gospel shown to them in power by God, and they persecuted Christians for following Christ. The Judaism we know today is not even comparable to the Judaism presented by Moses in his day. Today they have made it an outward show, void of faithfulness in heart, and in denial of the Word of Yahweh.
2:10- Jesus tells them not to fear what they are about to suffer. He then makes a notably, peculiar statement and says, “because the “devil” is about to throw some of you in prison.” It wasn’t physically the devil himself, but men who were imprisoning believers. So what is Jesus doing using this imagery? He is redirecting their thinking to recognize who it is that is working in these people, so as not to become bitter or offended towards the human beings. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood….” Jesus is helping them to identify the true source of evil so they don’t become soured towards humanity and lose heart for lost people like Ephesus had done. Lost human beings are just agents for Satan, just like Christians are for Christ. Everyone is serving one or the other. If we expect sinners not to hate the messenger for delivering the message of Christ, then how can we be bitter at the lost for doing the will of their father, the devil? The moral of the story is that: Bitter People Win No One to Christ.
Jesus told them that they would be cast into prison and suffer tribulation for “10 days.” What would have immediately jumped into these first century believer’s minds, knowing their Old Testament, would have been Daniel chapter 1, where Daniel and his friends would be put into a position to have to compromise by eating food designated under the king of Babylon. In antiquity, kings were viewed as gods in idolatrous nations. The people bowed in worship to them and their images. In the context of Daniel 1, these boys refused the king’s meat and ask for beans instead, and said that they would be just as well and healthy as anyone else. And they did so for “10 days.” So we continue to see the symbolic nature of the wording in Revelation, alluding to Old Testament images to guide the reader’s understanding of the intent of the message through biblical accounts they well knew.
So Jesus is speaking to them an antiquated comparison to glean from of what they are soon facing. Why did they not want to sit at the king’s table and eat the king’s meat? Because to do so meant that you were affirming that this king was your lord or a god. These things are foreign to us and to our day, but were normal in their day. The people bowed themselves to the images set up throughout their communities of their emperors, as if they were gods. Refusing to bow meant persecution, and likely even death.
Notice what is more often promoted in our day that Jesus did not ever say:
“Hey guys, you will have tribulation 10 days but I’m going to get you out of it, it’s going to be great, I’m going to show up just like I did in the lion’s den for Daniel, and just like I was in the fiery furnace with the three Hebrew boys, and it’s going to be awesome because being a Christian is so super easy!! Just declare you blessings and I will make your pockets full, and give you comfort and excess just to spite the devil.”
LOL!! Sadly though, in spite of this facetious and hilarious mock-up, this is what the majority in America have been taught to believe. But, this is not Truth. Jesus actually says, “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the Crown of Life!!” But what is the converse of that? What if you are not faithful unto death? Then you will not get a crown of life, meaning you will not be saved! One may ponder the thought, “Jesus, that is harsh!” But anyone that was beaten nearly to death, with flesh ripped from His body, to the point of exposing His bones, and then nailed to a cross, and crucified to death for us, has the right to demand whatever He wants of His followers. The thing about modeling and exemplifying what you preach is that no one seeking excuses has a leg to stand on when you ask it of them. He gave all, and He expects ours.
2:11- Overcomers, or those who are faithful unto death, will not be damned to Tartarus, but reign with Christ. There is no greater reward in heaven than the martyr’s crown.
To the Church in Pergamum
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of Him who has the sharp two-edged sword.
“‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’
Pergamos was a little further to the north on the coast. Here in 2:12, we see the two-edged sword. In context, the sword is the Word of God. The two edges represent the dual judgment of God: blessing and cursing; Goodness and severity. Because that the Word of God demands a response, how we respond will bring one or the other. There is no middle ground or neutrality.
2:13- Jesus says, “I know your works, and where you dwell, and even where Satan’s seat is.” “Satan’s seat” likely references a particular hill that was in Pergamos that was seated with various deities, and worship that went to them, because idolatry is of Satan, and his ultimate goal is to steal worship from the One True God.
Pergamos’ church apparently held true the name of Jesus and His gospel, even in the days of this faithful martyr, Antipas, who was killed by idol worshipers of Satan for his testimony of Christ. He refused to compromise the commands of Jesus to save himself. He received a martyr’s crown for his faith, the highest honor bestowed on a believer in the Kingdom of God.
2:14- But here Jesus criticizes them for allowing those who adhered to “the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the people of Israel, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.” Pergamos had allowed these false teachers to cause a stumbling block in their Church. They were tolerant of false teachers and were not dealing with issues in the churches. Jesus uses imagery here from the book of Numbers (ch. 22), regarding Balaam, to signify their sin.
In these Pagan rituals and feasts there was always food sacrificed to these false deities, or gods, and there was a lot of sexually immoral acts, including orgies, pedophilia, rape, incest, etc. In Numbers 22, Balaam was a Mesopotamian soothsayer, or witch. A fortune-teller, we might say today. He was not an Israelite, but yet he could hear God’s voice. (Let that sink in!) He heard a lot of voices of deities. But he did not serve Yahweh.
But in Pergamos, they were tolerating those who operated in the doctrines that Balaam had promoted 3000 years before. Balaam was hired by the king of Moab, Balak, to curse the Israelites as they had come out of Egypt. But God didn’t allow him to do it, and got in his way, and prevented it. But later you would read where Balaam made it to where the Moabite women seduced the Israelites to come and engage in sexual immorality, because he knew if they did that, he would steal the hearts of the Israelites, just like what happened later in history with Solomon. And when they started intermingling with the Moabites, just like God had said not to, they began worshiping other gods. God has commanded His people to come out from among the world and be separated, and to live by, and adhere to His moral standards. We see this intermingling in the modern church today, diluting this command or that command as being “Mosaic Law”, or any other semantical argument one can find to do what he or she really wants to do anyway. This Old Testament imagery being used here was exactly what the culture of Pergamos was facing: Compromising to the cultural pressures rather than obediently demonstrating the standards of Yahweh.
2:15- Pergamos was allowing teachers of compromise within their churches. And Jesus said for them to deal with it or else He would speak cursing upon their churches and abandon them to their own desires. Despite what modern doctrines teach regarding salvation, Jesus will not accept anyone who puts Him second to anything else. And no, “Grace” doesn’t cover or excuse rebellion.
2:16- “REPENT!!” Change what you are doing, or else!” Red letter stuff right there, folks! We cannot partake in the things God hates and still be blessed and still be saved, unless we first confess it, repent, and turn away from repeating it. The church is the standard of God, and anyone who is to be saved will uphold His standard in their living.
2:17- Pergamos was a church that bent and twisted God’s word in order to reach people. They were tolerant of everything. (Sound familiar today?) Like Ephesus, they had the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which was very similar to Balaam’s doctrine. Isn’t it peculiar that God calls what individuals in churches try to influence others with, as “doctrines?” It has nothing to do with whether it takes place in a pulpit or not. Evil works and influences are to be snuffed out of the church by confrontation to anything working against the order of the Word of God. Doctrine is just a fancy word for teaching. Anyone can propagate false theology. We saw Ephesus didn’t tolerate these types, but rather were too rigid and hard-hearted towards the sinner outside the church., whereas Pergamos was open to, and tolerant of everything as their means to reach people. It’s akin to the movement today where so-called “churches” are allowing atheists, open homosexuals, and various other unregenerate spirits to serve as greeters and ushers in the assembly. Did God allow Moabites to serve in the Temple? Ughhhhh NO!
Hidden manna? Why this reference? Because He was reminding them that if they refused to eat the meat sacrificed to idols in this life, that they may do without in this life, but for their faithfulness they will receive an abundance of heavenly meat, the Bread of Life, in the world to come. It is better to be hungry and to do without in this life, than to do without eternity with Christ.
White stones: in that day were like RSVP cards today. It gave you special access to an event and a seat at the event’s table. Jesus was speaking of receiving His request for your presence at His table, for the marriage supper of the Lamb, in the physical Kingdom, at His return.
To the Church at Thyatira
“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
“‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Thyatira was southwest of Pergamos. 2:18, again, depicts imagery from the Book of Daniel, ascribing Jesus as the Son of man, but also with imagery of ancient features representing Yahweh, and Jesus is bridging the two showing that He is the God who has always been and always will be.
2:19- He commends them here because they haven’t lost their motivation for increasing the Kingdom and reaching the lost.
2:20- Here, again, we see another allusion to the attributes of a past figure named Jezebel, wife of king Ahab, from the Old Testament. She was from the Northern Kingdom of Israel, of which Ahab was king, and they were very paganistic. Jezebel’s father was a Phoenician king. Jezebel brought idolatry into the northern kingdom and totally wrecked the northern kingdom, causing them to become idol worshipers. They never recovered. So what is being portrayed here in this chapter is that same spirit of idolatry was being tolerated at the church of Thyatira.
Jesus is again here addressing the compromise of tolerating idolatry within the church. Thyatira too, was guilty of permitting false teachers to mislead the people into idolatry, eating things sacrificed to idols gods, and partaking in the sexual immorality of the Pagan culture and worship. “If it feels good, it is good”, which is just like America.
2:21- God will give us a space to repent, and if we don’t, he will turn us over to our own desires, and then judge us for it. Scripture says there is a point where God will cease to convict a man and turn him over. If not so, Satan, himself could repent. But Satan is damned. We see this same language in Romans 1, which is referring to the same ruling kingdom being addressed here.
2:22- This is Hebraic language for sickness and illness being placed upon those who were operating in the spirit in which Jezebel had done. Jesus declares that He will cause great affliction to come up on those who “commit fornication with her.” In other words, inflict those who follow these false teachings. Those in Thyatira who partook in assisting her in misleading God’s people were punished. This included church leadership that were too cowardly to deal with “her” (false doctrine), and her cohorts.
2:23- “And I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am He who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. This is Jesus Christ speaking BTW…… So much for the whole hyper grace, “not saved by faith and good works” doctrine, huh? False doctrine is adding to and detracting from what the text actually says in its context. Calvinism, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, Armenianism, Methodism, Dispensationalism, and on and on…
2:24- Jesus is declaring here to the righteous in this church that they will not receive the judgement of cursing that He has placed on those who have committed these acts, or aligned themselves with those who have. God is just, and relationship is on an individual basis. But leadership brings judgment upon the assembly for their deeds, whether by sinful actions, or tolerance of sinful actions amongst the church. But those walking purely will not be harmed spiritually.
2:25- Jesus says to the righteous in the church who are walking purely, “Continue in what is approved.” Remember what James said? “Be ye doers of the Word, not hearers only, or you deceive yourselves.”
2:26-27 These verses are referencing Psalm 2:8-9, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Jesus is declaring His promise that overcomers will have a place with Him in ruling over His Kingdom.
2:28- Jesus is the Bright and Morning Star. He is declaring the promise of salvation to the overcomers, and that they will spend eternity with Him in His Kingdom.
2:29- Compromise is the summation of the root major issue of the Churches. Though the culture in the first century was different, the form was different, societies and scenery have changed, cultural temptations have changed, yet the root issue is still the same. God’s expectations to repent have not changed, and God himself has not changed, for scripture says, “I am the God, Yahweh, I change not.”
The message is, “Repent or else!!!”
And the final, repetitive admonishment and warning that we have seen at the end of every letter to every Church: “He that is still being spoken to by God, let him listen, and DO what the Holy Spirit is demanding without compromising.”