Revelation 2 – Jesus’ Letters to the Churches
The letters to the seven churches share a similar structure. They each feature:
· An address to a particular congregation
· An introduction of Jesus
· A statement regarding the condition of the church
· A verdict from Jesus regarding the condition of the church
· A command from Jesus to the church
· A general exhortation to all Christians
· A promise of reward
We can see the state of each of these seven churches – and the state of our own walk with Jesus – by looking at what Jesus has to say to each church in each section.
A. Jesus’ letter to the church at Ephesus.
1. (1a) The character of the city of Ephesus.
“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write,”
a. To the angel: As discussed under Revelation 1:20, this angel may be the pastor of the church at Ephesus, or an angel looking in on the workings of the church at Ephesus. In some way, this angel represents this church; but the letter isn’t written just to the representative, but to the whole church.
i. “I consider what is spoken to this angel as spoken to the whole Church; and that it is not his particular state that is described, but the states of the people in general under his care.” (Clarke)
b. Ephesus: This was a famous city in the ancient world, with an equally famous church. Paul ministered in Ephesus for three years (Acts 19:1, Acts 10, Acts 20:31). Aquilla and Priscilla, with Apollos served there (Acts 18:24-28). Paul’s close associate Timothy (1 Timothy 1:3) worked in Ephesus. According to strong and consistent historic tradition, the Apostle John also ministered there.
i. “Surely it was a place of great privilege, of great preaching.” (Robertson)
c. Ephesus: This great city was also world-famous as a religious, cultural, and economic center of the region. Ephesus had the notable temple of Diana, a fertility goddess worshipped with immoral sex. This tremendous temple to Diana in Ephesus was regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was supported by 127 pillars, each pillar 60 feet tall, and it was adorned with great sculptures.
i. “The Temple of Artemis was also a major treasury and bank of the ancient world, where merchants, kings, and even cities made deposits, and where their money could be kept safe under the protection of deity.” (Longenecker in his commentary on Acts)
ii. “Ephesus was a stronghold of Satan. Here many evil things both superstitious and satanic were practised. Books containing formula for sorcery and other ungodly and forbidden arts were plentiful in that city.” (Gaebelein in his commentary on Acts)
2. (1b) Jesus describes Himself to the church at Ephesus.
These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:
a. He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: These images were taken from John’s vision of Jesus in Revelation 1. They emphasize the authority of Jesus in the Church (He holds the seven stars) and His immediate presence in the Church (He walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands). This introduction stresses that Jesus is central to the church, and should be recognized as central to the church.
b. Holds: This is the ancient Greek word kratein, and is an emphatic and complete word. Jesus has these churches, and holds them securely. The churches belong to Jesus, not to the leaders of the churches or to the people of the churches. He holds them.
3. (2-3) What Jesus knows about the Christians of Ephesus.
I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.
a. I know your works: Jesus looked at His church, and He knew its condiction. It was no mystery to Him. There may be sin or corruption hidden in a congregation, but it isn’t hidden to Jesus. He would say the same thing to us today, both as individuals and as a congregation: I know your works.
i. “There are also working Christians who do not approach to laboring; yet a lifetime of such work as theirs would not exhaust a butterfly. Now, when a man works for Christ he should work with all his might.” (Spurgeon)
b. Your works, your labor, your patience: Jesus knew what this church did right. They worked hard for the Lord and they had godly endurance. Patience is the great ancient Greek word hupomone, which means “steadfast endurance.” In this sense, the church in Ephesus was rock-solid.
c. You cannot bear those who are evil: The Ephesian church pursued doctrinal purity. Paul warned the Ephesians in Acts 20:29-31: For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. From this commendation of Jesus, we know that the Ephesians took Paul’s warning seriously.
i. The church today, like the Ephesian church then, must vigorously test those who claim to be messengers from God – especially those who say they are apostles, because deceivers will speak well of themselves. The greater the evil, the more deceptive its cloak.
ii. “This was grand of them: it showed a backbone of truth. I wish some of the churches of this age had a little of this holy decision about them; for nowadays, if a man be clever; he may preach the vilest lie that was ever vomited from the mouth of hell, and it will go down with some.” (Spurgeon)
d. You have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary: Also, the Ephesian church continued doing these things without becoming weary. They showed a godly perseverance that we should imitate. By all outward appearances, this was a solid church that worked hard, had great outreach, and protected the integrity of the gospel.
4. (4) What Jesus has against the church at Ephesus.
Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
a. Nevertheless I have this against you: Jesus used a sobering word – nevertheless, which means “despite all that.” Jesus took into full account all the good in the Ephesian church, yet despite all that, He had something against them.
i. Nevertheless means that all the good in the Ephesian church did not cancel out the bad Jesus is about to describe.
b. You have left your first love: Despite all the good in the Ephesian church, there is something seriously wrong. They have left – not lost – their first love. They once had a love that they don’t have anymore. This can be described as “a definite and sad departure.” (Robertson)
i. The distinction between leaving and losing is important. Something can be lost quite by accident, but leaving is a deliberate act, though it may not happen suddenly. As well, when we lose something we don’t know where to find it; but when we leave something, we know where to find it
ii. Though they had left their first love, everything looked great on the outside. If you would have attended a service of the church at Ephesus, you might have thought, “This is a happening church. They are doing so much, and they really guard the truth.” At the same time, you might have had a vague, uneasy feeling – yet it would probably be hard to pin down. It wasn’t hard for Jesus to see the problem, even though everything probably looked wonderful on the outside.
iii. The problem was serious. Without love, all is vain. No wonder Jesus said, “Nevertheless I have this against you.” “A church has no reason for being a church when she has no love within her heart, or when that love grows cold. Lose love, lose all.” (Spurgeon)
c. Left your first love: What love did they leave? As Christians, we are told to love God and to love one another. Did they leave their love for God? Did they leave their love for one another? Probably both are in mind, because the two loves go together. You can’t say you love God and not love His family, and you can’t really love His family without loving Him first.
i. The Ephesian church was a working church. Sometimes a focus on working for Jesus will eclipse a love relationship with Him. We can put what we do for Jesus before who we are in Him. We can leave Jesus in the temple, just as the parents of Jesus did (Luke 2:45-46).
ii. The Ephesian church was a doctrinally pure church. Sometimes a focus on doctrinal purity will make a congregation cold, suspicious, and intolerant of diversity. “When love dies orthodox doctrine becomes a corpse, a powerless formalism. Adhesion to the truth sours into bigotry when the sweetness and light of love to Jesus depart.” (Spurgeon)
d. First love: There is a definite, sure difference in their relationship with Jesus. Things aren’t as they used to be. It isn’t that we expect that we should have the exact same excitement we had when everything was brand new in the Christian life, but the newness should transition into a depth that makes the first love even stronger.
i. A couple that has been married for a long time doesn’t always have the same thrill of excitement they had when they first dated. That is to be expected, and is fine – if that excitement has matured into a depth of love that makes it even better than the first love.
ii. There is nothing wrong with that initial excitement, or wanting it to remain or be restored. “When we were in our first love, what would we do for Christ; now how little will we do. Some of the actions which we performed when we were young Christians, but just converted, when we look back upon them, seem to have been wild and like idle tales.” (Spurgeon)
5. (5-6) What Jesus wants the church at Ephesus to do.
Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place; unless you repent. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
a. Remember therefore from where you have fallen: The first step in restoration for the Ephesian church is for them to remember. They need to remember from where you have fallen. This means remembering where they used to be in their love for the Lord and for one another.
i. When the Prodigal Son was in the pigpen, the first step in restoration was remembering what life was like back in his father’s home (Luke 16:17-19). This is always the first step in getting back to where we should be with the Lord.
b. Repent: This is not a command to feel sorry, or really to feel anything. It means to change your direction, to go a different way. It is an “urgent appeal for instant change of attitude and conduct, before it is too late.” (Robertson)
c. Do the first works: This means that they must go back to the basics, to the very first things they did when you first fell in love with Jesus. These are the things that we never grow beyond.
i. What are the first works?
· Remember how you used to spend time in His Word?
· Remember how you used to pray?
· Remember the joy in getting together with other Christians?
· Remember how excited you were about telling others about Jesus?
ii. We might say that Satan does a masterful job in creating a sense of general dissatisfaction with these first works. Christians will run after almost every new, strange method or program for growth and stability. Our shortened attention spans make us easily bored with the truest excitement. Sometimes we will do almost anything except the first works.
d. Or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place: Jesus gave them a stern warning. Unless they repent, He will remove their light and His presence. When their lampstand was removed, they could continue as an organization, but no longer as a true church of Jesus Christ. It would be the church of Ichabod, where the glory had departed (1 Samuel 4:21).
i. Apparently, at least in the short term, the Ephesians heeded this warning. In the early second century (not too long after John wrote), Ignatius praised the love and the doctrinal purity of the Ephesians. “You, who are of the most holy Church of the Ephesians, which is so famous and celebrated throughout the world . . . you, being full of the Holy Spirit, do nothing according to the flesh, but all things according to the Spirit. You are complete in Christ Jesus.” (Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter 8. From the Ante Nicean Fathers Volume 1, page 52)
ii. From what Ignatius wrote, it seems that the Ephesians returned to their first love without compromising doctrinal purity. That isn’t always an easy balance to keep, but the Ephesians apparently kept it, at least for a time.
e. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate: Jesus – probably so the Ephesians would not be overly discouraged – gave this church another compliment. They were complimented because they hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans – but who were the Nicolaitans and what were their deeds? The doctrine of the Nicolaitans is also condemned in Revelation 2:15, and in that passage it is related to immorality and idolatry.
i. Irenaeus (writing in the late second century) described what he knew of the Nicolaitans: “The Nicolaitanes are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles. They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The character of these men is plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat things sacrifice to idols.” (Against Heresies, book 1, chapter 26. From the Ante Nicean Fathers Volume 1, page 352)
ii. Hippolytus, a student of Irenaeus (writing in the early third century) associated the Nicolaitans with the Gnostics: “There are, however, among the Gnostics diversities of opinion . . . But Nicolaus has been a cause of the wide-spread combination of these wicked men. [He] departed from correct doctrine, and was in the habit of inculcating indifferency of both life and food.” (Refutation of all Heresies, book 7, chapter 24; ANF volume 5, page 115)
iii. Others have emphasized the root meanings of the words that make up the name Nicolaitans. Nikao-laos means literally “to conquer the people.” Based on this, some point to presumptuous claims of apostolic authority and to the heart that sets up hierarchies and separates the “clergy” from the “laity.” Perhaps the Nicolaitans fulfilled all these aspects, being both an idolatrous immorality and a presumptuous, hierarchical, “hidden mysteries” system typical of Gnosticism.
iv. The Nicolaitans, like all deceivers that come from the body of Christ, claimed “not that they were destroying Christianity, but that they were presenting an improved and modernized version of it.” (Barclay)
f. Which I also hate: These are powerful words, in that they came from our Savior who is so rich in love. Whoever exactly the Nicolaitans were, and whatever exactly they did and taught, we learn something from Jesus’ opinion of them. We learn that the God of love hates sin, and wants His people to also hate sin.
6. (7a) A general exhortation to all whom will hear.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
a. He who has an ear: This qualifies everyone – or at least everyone who will listen. This letter was not only written to the church at Ephesus in the Apostle John’s day. It is written to us, and to all Christians throughout the centuries.
b. Let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches: Each one of these seven letters apply to all churches. We must hear what the Spirit says to the churches – not just to one church. These letters – each of them – were meant to speak to you, if you will only have an ear to hear what the Spirit says.
i. “There were not seven books written, but one book in which these seven epistles were, out of which each church, or the church in it several periods, might learn what concerned it.” (Poole)
ii. “The churches of the land are sprinkled all over with bald-headed old sinners whose hair has been worn off by the constant friction of countless sermons that have been aimed at them and glanced off and hit the man in the pew behind.” (H.W. Beecher)
7. (7b) The promise of a reward.
“To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”
a. To him who overcomes: Jesus made this promise to him who overcomes – but what does this overcomer overcome? We usually think of overcoming in dramatic terms of overcoming sin and in spiritual warfare, but here Jesus seems to speak of overcoming of their coldness of heart and lack of love marked by leaving their first love.
b. I will give to eat from the tree of life: The promise for these overcomers was a return to Eden, a restoration, and eternal life. This was meant first in the eternal sense of making it to heaven, which was no small promise to a church threatened with the removal of Jesus’ presence. It is also meant in the sense of seeing the effects of the curse rolled back in our own lives though walking in Jesus’ redeeming love.
c. In the midst of the Paradise of God: Originally, the word Paradise meant “a garden of delight.” Eventually, it came to mean “the place where God lives.” Where God is, that is Paradise!
B. Jesus’ letter to the church at Smyrna.
1. (8a) The character of the city of Smyrna.
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write,”
a. Smyrna: This was a large, beautiful, and proud city. It was a center of learning and culture, and was proud of its standing as a city. “Smyrna was an outstandingly beautiful city. It claimed to be the ‘Glory of Asia.’ ” (Barclay)
b. Smyrna: This was a rich city. “Smyrna was a great trade city . . . Smyrna stood at the end of the road which served the valley of the river Hermus, and all the trade of that valley flowed into its markets and found an outlet through its harbor. It had a specially rich trade in wines. Smyrna, like Ephesus, was a city of wealth and commercial greatness.” (Barclay)
c. We also know from history that it was a city deeply committed to idolatry and the worship of the Roman Emperor. On one famous street in Smyrna, called the “Golden Street,” stood magnificent temples to Cybele, Apollo, Asklepios, Aphrodite, and a great temple to Zeus – but the worship of those pagan gods was dying out. The real focus was on the worship of the Roman Emperor.
i. In 196 b.c. Smyrna built the first temple to Dea Roma – the goddess of Rome, the spiritual symbol of the Roman Empire. Once the “spirit” of Rome was worshipped, it wasn’t much of a step to worship the dead Emperors of Rome. Then it was only another small step to worship the living Emperors, and then to demand such worship as a evidence of political allegiance and civic pride.
ii. In a.d. 23 Smyrna won the privilege (over 11 other cities) to build the first temple to worship the Emperor Tiberius Caesar. Smyrna was a leading city in the Roman cult of Emperor worship.
iii. The Roman Emperor Domitian (a.d. 81-96) was the first to demand worship under the title “Lord” from the people of the Roman Empire as a test of political loyalty. According to ancient church history, it was under the reign of Domitian that John was banished to the Island of Patmos where he received this vision.
iv. “Emperor worship had begin as spontaneous demonstration of gratitude to Rome; but toward the end of the first century, in the days of Domitian, the final step was taken and Caesar worship became compulsory. Once a year the Roman citizen must burn a pinch of incense on the altar to the godhead of Caesar; and having done so, he was given a certificate to guarantee that he had performed his religious duty.” (Barclay)
v. “All that the Christians had to do was to burn that pinch of incense, say, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ receive their certificate, and go away and worship as they pleased. But that is precisely what the Christians would not do. They would give no man the name of Lord; that name they would keep for Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone. They would not even formally conform.” (Barclay)
2. (8b) Jesus describes Himself to the church at Smyrna.
These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life:
a. The First and the Last: Jesus chose this title from His initial appearance to John (Revelation 1:11, 1:17) to speak of His eternal character. The First and the Last are titles that belong only to the Lord, Yahweh, according to Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, and 48:12.
b. Who was dead, and came to life: Jesus chose this title from His initial appearance to John (Revelation 1:18) to remind the Christians in Smyrna that they served the risen Lord, victorious over death. Death could not hold Jesus, and it cannot hold His people.
i. The association with death – and the victory of resurrection – is throughout this letter. The name Smyrna comes from the word myrrh, a sweet-smelling perfume used in embalming dead bodies.
3. (9) What Jesus knows about the Christians in Smyrna.
“I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.”
a. I know your works: Jesus knew the works of the church in Ephesus also (Revelation 2:2). In Smyrna, Jesus also knew their works, tribulation, and poverty. He knows these hardships both in the sense that He saw what happened to them, and in the sense that He knew their hardships by His personal experience.
i. Poverty: According to history, Smyrna was a prosperous city. Yet the Christians there were poor. “The word used for ‘poverty’ is the word for abject poverty. They were not just poor.” (Walvoord)
ii. The Christians of Smyrna knew poverty because they were robbed and fired from jobs in persecution for the gospel. Early Christians joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven (Hebrews 10:34). This kind of economic persecution was one important reason why Christians were poor in Smyrna. Even today, this is a common form of persecution against Christians.
b. I know the blasphemy: Jesus knew the abuse these Christians endured at the hands of “religious” men, those who say they are Jews and are not.
i. Historically, we are told there was a large and hostile community of Jews in Smyrna, but this tells us that a true Jew is one who trusts God and believes in Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:3). Others may be Jews ethnically – which still has its place before God – but they are not Jews spiritually before God.
c. I know . . . I know: In midst of this kind of affliction, it is easy to think God has forgotten – but Jesus knows.
4. (9) What Jesus thinks about the church in Smyrna.
But you are rich.
a. Rich: Every outward circumstance said that the Christians in Smyrna were poor, even destitute,but Jesus saw through the circumstances to see that they were really rich. “Sweet smelling Smyrna, the poorest but purest of the seven.” (Trapp)
b. Rich: This is what Jesus thought of them, and if Jesus considered them rich, then they were rich. Our estimation of ourselves is far less important than God’s estimation of us.
i. In contrast, the Christians at Laodicea thought they were rich, but they were really poor (Revelation 3:17). Laodicea was a poor rich church. Smyrna was a rich poor church. Better to be a rich poor church than a poor rich church.
c. And poverty (but you are rich): The contrast between material poverty and spiritual riches of the Christians in Smyrna reminds us that there is nothing inherently spiritual in being rich. Nevertheless, there is also nothing inherently spiritual in poverty.
i. Material riches are an obstacle to the Kingdom of God, an obstacle that some do not overcome (Mark 10:23-25). There is nothing wrong with having money; the trouble is that money so easily “has” us.
ii. Often, material riches are acquired and maintained at the expense of true spiritual riches. A story is told of the glory days of the Renaissance Papacy, when a man walked with the Pope and marveled at the splendors and riches of the Vatican. The Pope told him, “We no longer have to say what Peter told the lame man: ‘Silver and gold have I none.’ ” His companion replied, “But neither can you say, ‘rise up and walk.’ “
d. The church at Smyrna was also rich in leadership. One of the pastors of that church was named Polycarp. He was one of the Apostle John’s disciples and served at Smyrna until a.d. 155 when he died heroically as a martyr.
5. (10) What Jesus wants the Christians in Smyrna to do.
“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw 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 life.”
a. Do not fear: Literally, this is better translated “stop being afraid.” The Christians in Smyrna suffered under persecution, and they were afraid. Sometimes we think that Christians who endure persecution are almost super-human, and we sometimes don’t appreciate the depths of fear they struggle with. There were things which they were about to suffer, and Jesus wanted them ready to stand against those things.
b. The devil is about to throw some of you into prison: Here, Jesus described the nature of the persecution that would come against the Christians in Smyrna. Apparently, they would be imprisoned, and for a specific period of time (you will have tribulation ten days).
i. According to Jesus, the persecution about to come against the Christians of Smyrna was from the devil. At the same time it was measured and limited by God. Surely, the devil wanted to imprison them for a longer time, but God limited the tribulation to ten days.
ii. Being thrown into prison was severe persecution. In that day, prison was never used to rehabilitate someone, and rarely used to punish someone. Normally, you were thrown into prison as you awaited trial and execution.
iii. “For a man to become a Christian anywhere was to become an outlaw. In Smyrna above all places, for a man to enter the Christian Church was literally to take his life in his hands. In Smyrna the church was a place for heroes.” (Barclay)
iv. “This ‘tribulation’ does not mean the common trials to which all flesh is heir. Some dear souls think they are bearing their cross every time they have a headache. The tribulation mentioned here is trouble they would not have had if they had not been Christians.” (Havner)
c. You will have tribulation ten days: Commentators on the Book of Revelation have long debated the meaning of these ten days.
i. Some think that Jesus really meant ten years of persecution. “As the days in this book are what is commonly called prophetic days, each answering to a year, the ten years of tribulation may denote ten years of persecution; and this was precisely the duration of the persecution under Diocletian, during which all the Asiatic Churches were grievously afflicted.” (Clarke)
ii. Others think that Jesus really meant persecution over the reign of ten Roman Emperors. “The first under Nero, a.d. 54; the second under Domitian, a.d. 81; the third under Trajan, a.d. 98; the fourth under Adrian [Hadrian], a.d. 117; the fifth under Septimus Severus, a.d. 193; the sixth under Maximin, a.d. 235; the seventh under Decius, a.d. 249; the eighth under Valerian, a.d. 254; the ninth under Aurelian, a.d. 270; the tenth under Diocletian, a.d. 284.” (White, cited in Walvoord)
iii. Still others take strange and confusing approaches: “Others observe, that in ten days are two hundred and forty hours, which make up the number of years from 85, when the second persecution began, (under which John at this time was) to 325, when all the persecutions ceased.” (Poole)
iv. Others say that ten days is simply an expression of speech: “The expression ten days is not to be taken literally; it is the normal Greek expression for a short time.” (Barclay)
v. However, there is no compelling reason to believe it means anything other than ten days of severe persecution, with an emphasis on the idea that it is a limited time.
d. That you may be tested: If this attack came from the devil, then why couldn’t these Christians in Smyrna just rebuke Satan, and stop the attack? Because God had a purpose in their suffering, and so He allowed it. God uses suffering to purify (1 Peter 1:6-7), to make us like Jesus (Romans 8:17), and to makes us truly witnesses of Him. In all ages, the blood of the martyrs has been seed for the church.
i. “The saints at Smyrna had not been given a pep-talk on ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’ They had no testimony on ‘How Faith Made Me Mayor of Smyrna.’ They were not promised deliverance from tribulation, poverty and reviling. In fact, the worst was yet to come.” (Havner)
ii. Most specifically in this case, God allowed this attack so that they may be tested, in the sense of being proven. Through their suffering, God displayed the true riches of the church in Smyrna to everyone, including themselves – even though He knew they were rich already.
iii. The Christians in Smyrna would be tested, but they passed the test. This church, compared to the other six, has no evil spoken against it. Only this church among the seven survives today, and it has survived through centuries of Roman and Muslim persecution.
iv. That you may be tested: God is also interested in testing us. We may not have the same opportunity to suffer for Jesus that the Christians in Smyrna had, but we can have their same heart. We may never be in a place to die a martyr’s death, but we can all live a martyr’s life. Sadly, many Christians avoid persecution of any kind by conforming so much to the world that they are no longer distinctively Christians. This wasn’t the case with the Christians in Smyrna. They were tested and they passed the test.
e. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life: What Jesus said to this church is important, but what He didn’t say is also important. Jesus didn’t have a single word of rebuke or correction for the Christians in Smyrna. All He had was the promise of a crown – and the encouragement to be faithful until death, which is literally “become faithful until death.” (Walvoord)
i. There are two different words for crown in the ancient Greek language. One described the kind of crown a king would wear, a crown of royalty. The other kind of crown – the stephanos, used here – is given as a trophy to a winning athlete. Jesus looks at the Christians of Smyrna, and says to them: “You are My winners. You deserve a trophy.”
ii. The stephanos was also the crown worn at marriages and special celebrations. The picture is of Jesus and His bride, each wearing their crowns.
iii. The promise of a crown was especially meaningful for the Christians of Smyrna.
· The city of Smyrna had a “crown” of beautiful buildings at the top of Mt. Pagos
· In Smyrna, worshippers of pagan gods wore crowns
· In that culture, good citizens and winning athletes received crowns
iv. Jesus promised a special crown – the crown of life. A champion athlete received a crown of leaves, which would soon get brown and die. Jesus’ champions receive the crown of life.
v. “A crown without cares, corivals, envy, end. Kings’ crowns are so weighty with cares, that oft they make their heads ache. Not so with this crown; the joys whereof are without measure or mixture.” (Trapp)
6. (11a) A general exhortation to all whom will hear.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
a. He who has an ear: Though the Spirit has something to say to us through every one of the churches, this letter to the Christians in Smyrna may apply least of all to modern, western Christians. To this point, we simply don’t face the kind of persecution the Christians in Smyrna experienced. Polycarp was a remarkable example of both the persecution and the courage of early Christians.
i. The year after Polycarp returned from Rome, a great persecution came upon the Christians of Smyrna. His congregation urged him to leave the city until the threat blew over. So, believing that God wanted him to be around a few more years, Polycarp left the city and hid out on a farm belonging to some Christian friends. One day on the farm, as he prayed in his room, Polycarp had a vision of his pillow engulfed in flames. He knew what God said to him, and calmly told his companions, “I see that I must be burnt at the stake.”
ii. Meanwhile, the chief of police issued a warrant for his arrest. They seized one of Polycarp’s servants and tortured him until he told them where his master was. Towards evening, the police chief and a band of soldiers came to the old farmhouse. When the soldiers found him, they were embarrassed to see that they had come to arrest such an old, frail man. They reluctantly put him on a donkey and walked him back to the city of Smyrna.
iii. On the way to the city, the police chief and other government officials tried to persuade Polycarp to offer a pinch of incense before a statue of Caesar and simply say “Caesar is Lord.” That’s all he had to do, and he would be off the hook. They pleaded with him to do it, and escape the dreadful penalties. At first Polycarp was silent, but then he calmly gave them his firm answer: no. The police chief was now angry. Annoyed with the old man, he pushed him out of his carriage and onto the hard ground. Polycarp, bruised but resolute, got up and walked the rest of the way to the arena.
iv. The horrid games at the arena had already begun in earnest and a large, bloodthirsty mob gathered to see Christians tortured and killed. One Christian named Quintis boldly proclaimed himself a follower of Jesus and said he was willing to be martyred, but when he saw the vicious animals in the arena, he lost courage and agreed to burn the pinch of incense to Caesar as Lord. Another young man named Germanicus didn’t back down. He marched out and faced the lions and died an agonizing death for his Lord Jesus. Ten other Christians gave their lives that day, but the mob was unsatisfied. They cried out, “Away with the atheists who do not worship our gods!” To them, Christians were atheists because they did not recognize the traditional gods of Rome and Greece. Finally, the crowd started chanting “Bring out Polycarp.”
v. When Polycarp brought his tired body into the arena, he and the other Christians heard a voice from heaven. It said, “Be strong, Polycarp, play the man.” As he stood before the proconsul, they tried one more time to get him to renounce Jesus. The proconsul told Polycarp to agree with the crowd and shout out “Away with the atheists!” Polycarp looked sternly at the bloodthirsty mob, waved his hand towards them and said, “Away with those atheists!” The proconsul persisted. “Take the oath and revile Christ and I’ll set you free!” Polycarp answered, “For eighty-six years I’ve served Jesus; how dare I now revile my King?” The proconsul finally gave up, and announced to the crowd the crime of the accused: “Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian.”
vi. The crowd shouted, “Let the lions loose!” but the animals had already been put away. The crowd then demanded that Polycarp be burnt. The old man remembered the dream about the burning pillow, and took courage in God. He said to his executioners, “It is well. I fear not the fire that burns for a season and after a while is quenched. Why do you delay? Come, do your will.”
vii. They arranged a great pile of wood and set up a pole in the middle. As they tied Polycarp to the pole, he prayed: “I thank You that You have graciously thought me worthy of this day and of this hour, that I may receive a portion in the number of the martyrs, in the cup of Your Christ.” After he prayed and gave thanks to God, they set the wood ablaze. A great wall of flame shot up to the sky, but it never touched Polycarp. God set a hedge of protection between him and the fire. Seeing that he would not burn, the executioner, in a furious rage, stabbed the old man with a long spear. Immediately, streams of blood gushed from his body and seemed to extinguish the fire. When this happened, witnesses said they saw a dove fly up from the smoke into heaven. At the very same moment, a church leader in Rome named Iraenus, said he heard God say to him, “Polycarp is dead.” God called his servant home.
b. Nevertheless, the day of martyrs is definitely not past. All over the world, Christians face persecution, especially in Asia, Eastern Europe, and in the Muslim world. Some people estimate that more Christians have suffered and died for their faith in the 20th Century than in all previous centuries combined.
i. A May 1994 news item illustrates this: The gruesome martyrdom of a pastor in central India led to several hundred conversions to Christianity. A former Hindu who had changed his name to Paul James was murdered by a crowd of extremists as he spoke in a field prior to a Feb. 20 church service in the Phulabani district.
“Jesus, forgive them,” eyewitnesses said James called out as his assailants cut off his hands and legs, and severed his torso. The attackers also decapitated James, an outspoken believer who had planted 27 churches. The murder has drawn heavy media attention in the area, which is charged with Hindu-Muslim tensions. Some, but not all, of James’ assailants reportedly have been caught.
The attackers’ hatred and violence have left many Indians wanting to emulate the love shown by the victim, said K. Anand Paul, head of Gospel to the Unreached Millions. “The gospel is spreading because of persecution,” said Paul, who has been beaten seven times and kidnapped once by fanatical religious groups. “We are risking our lives to do this. People need to pray for us.” (National and International Religion Report, May 2, 1994)
7. (11b) The promise of a reward.
He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.
a. He who overcomes: This was a promise for overcomers. This promise is for those who overcome the threat of persecution, and the presence of persecution.
i. We might say that we overcome by our close association with Jesus, who is the ultimate overcomer. As Jesus said, In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33).
b. Shall not be hurt by the second death: Those who overcome in Jesus will never be hurt by the second death. The second death is hell, the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14 and 21:8). Though Satan threatened and attacked their life, Jesus promises His overcomers that death is conquered for them.
i. “The second death was a Jewish rabbinic expression for the total extinction of the utterly wicked.” (Barclay)
ii. “All men died, but all are not killed with death . . . Oh, it is a woeful thing to be killed with death.” (Trapp)
C. Jesus’ letter to the church at Pergamos.
1. (12a) The character of the city of Pergamos.
And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write,
a. Pergamos: This was the political capital of the Roman Province of Asia the Less. When John wrote, Pergamos had been the capital city of the region for more than three hundred years. The city was a noted center for culture and education, having one of the great libraries of the ancient world, with more than 200,000 volumes.
b. Pergamos: This was also an extremely religious city. It had temples to the Greek and Roman gods Dionysus, Athena, Demeter, and Zeus. It also had three temples dedicated to the worship of the Roman Emperor.
i. Some 50 years before Smyrna won the honor of building the first temple to Tiberius, the city of Pergamos won the right to build the first temple to worship Caesar Augustus in the province of Asia.
c. Pergamos: This city was especially known as a center for the worship of the deity known as Asclepios. Represented by a serpent, Asclepios was the god of healing and knowledge. There was a medical school at his temple in Pergamos. Because of the famous temple to the Roman god of healing, sick and diseased people from all over the Roman Empire flocked to Pergamos for relief.
i. “Sufferers were allowed to spend the night in the darkness of the temple. In the temple there were tame snakes. In the night the sufferer might be touched by one of these tame and harmless snakes as it glided over the ground on which he lay. The touch of the snake was held to be the touch of the god himself, and the touch was held to bring health and healing.” (Barclay)
2. (12b) Jesus describes Himself to the church at Pergamos.
These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword:
a. He who has the sharp two-edged sword: In Revelation 1:16, John observed of Jesus out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword. Now, Jesus “showed” this two-edged sword to the Christians in Pergamos.
i. The description of the sword in Revelation 1:18 helps us to associate it with the mouth of Jesus. Jesus will confront this church with His word, and they will feel the sharp edges.
b. Sharp two-edged sword: This reminds us of the passage in Hebrews 4:12: For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Jesus would use this sharp two-edged sword to make some separation among the Christians in Pergamos.
3. (13) What Jesus knows about the church at Pergamos.
“I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
a. I know your works: Jesus said this to each church. It is true of each one of us. He knows our works, even if there isn’t much to know.
b. And where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is: In many ways, Pergamos was a stronghold of Satanic power.
i. There are many different opinions as to why Pergamos was such a stronghold of Satanic power. Some believe it is because Pergamos was a center of pagan religion, especially of “Asclepios Soter” or “Asclepios Savior.” Some believe it was because Pergamos had a huge throne-like altar dedicated to the Roman god Zeus. Some believe it was because Pergamos was a center for the ancient Babylonian priesthood, but this is tough to prove conclusively. Others believe it was because Pergamos was the political center of the worship-demanding Roman government.
c. And you hold fast to My name: Despite the fact they lived in such a difficult city, the Christians of Pergamos held fast to their faith in Jesus (hold fast to My name . . . did not deny My faith).
i. Did not deny My faith: Jesus praised the Christians of Pergamos because they did not deny His faith. It is always important to make sure that the faith we hold on to is the faith that belongs to Jesus.
d. Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you: One specific man among the Christians of Pergamos received a precious title (faithful martyr). This same title was held by Jesus also (Revelation 1:5). Antipas was a man who followed Jesus, who was like Jesus.
i. Antipas is one of the great almost-anonymous heroes of the Bible. History tells us nothing about him except for here. “It is much no ecclesiastical history makes mention of this martyr Antipas, which argues him to have been a person but of obscure note in the world; but Christ seeth and taketh notice of those little ones who belong to him, though the world overlooks them.” (Poole)
ii. Antipas lived where Satan’s throne was. Yet he stood against the attacks and the evil around him. He fulfilled the meaning of his name, because Antipas means “Against All.”
iii. Martyr is the ancient Greek word martus. “Martus is a most interesting and suggestive word. In classical Greek martus never means a martyr in our sense of the term. It always means a witness. A martus was one who said: ‘This is true, and I know it.’ It is not until New Testament times that martus ever means martyr.” (Barclay)
4. (14-15) What Jesus has against the Christians in Pergamos.
But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
a. I have a few things against you: The Christians in Pergamos were rightly praised for holding fast to the name of Jesus and keeping his faith. At the same time, their difficult environment did not excuse the few things Jesus had against them.
b. You have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam: Balaam was a prototype of all corrupt teachers. According to Numbers 22-24 and 31, Balaam combined the sins of immorality and idolatry to please Balak, the king of Moab, because he could not curse Israel directly.
i. When Balaam counseled Balak, he taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel. The stumbling block was connected with idolatry (to eat things sacrificed to idols) and sexual immorality. If the church in Pergamos had those who did hold the doctrine of Balaam, it showed they had tendencies towards both idolatry and immorality.
ii. Sexual immorality marked the whole culture of the ancient Roman Empire. It was simply taken for granted, and the person who lived by Biblical standards of purity was considered strange. To paraphrase the Roman statesman Cicero, cited in Barclay: “If there is anyone who thinks that young men should not be allowed the love of many women, he is extremely severe. I am not able to deny the principle he stands on. But he contradicts, not only with the freedom our age allows, but also with the customs and allowances of our ancestors. When indeed was this not done? When did anyone find fault with it? When was such permission denied? When was it that what is now allowed was not allowed?” To keep from sexual immorality in that culture, you really had to swim against the current.
c. You also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans: In Revelation 2:6, Jesus praised the Ephesian Christians because they hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans. But the Nicolaitans also had their doctrine, and some among the Christians of Pergamos held the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.
i. What is the doctrine of the Nicolaitans? The title Nico-laitans has the idea of a proud authority and a hierarchical separatism. The name Nikao-laos literally means “to conquer the people.” According to ancient commentators, the Nicolaitans also approved of immorality.
d. You have those there . . . you also have those: The rebuke was not only against those who hold the doctrines of Balaam and those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. The rebuke was also against those who allowed them to continue (you have there those . . . you have those).
i. The Christians of Pergamos were like the Christians of Corinth as Paul wrote to them in 1 Corinthians 5:1-9. They were too tolerant and accepting of false doctrines and immoral living, and Jesus had to rebuke them. Satan couldn’t accomplish much by persecution, because many did hold fast, like Antipas. So Satan tried to accomplish his goals by using deception. The strategy was first violence, then alliance.
ii. A difficult environment never justifies compromise. It is easy for a church in such difficulty to justify this compromise in the name of “we need all the help we can get” – but no church needs that kind of help.
5. (16) What Jesus wants the church at Pergamos to do.
Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth.
a. Repent: The simple word repent stands out. Five of the seven churches are commanded to repent. Repent is a command that applies to Christians, not only to those who first come to Jesus.
b. Or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth: Unless they do repent, the Christians of Pergamos would face the Jesus who has the two-edged sword. Judgment will begin at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17).
i. The sword of My mouth: When Jesus came against the Christians of Pergamos, He will confront them with His Word.
6. (17a) A general exhortation to all whom will hear.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
a. He who has an ear: The danger of false teaching and immoral conduct still faces the church today. So does the danger of allowing false teaching and immorality, as was the problem with the Christians in Pergamos.
7. (17b) The promise of a reward.
To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.
a. To him who overcomes: The one who overcomes this spirit of accommodation to false teaching and living will receive hidden manna. This is God’s perfect provision, the true bread from heaven (John 6:41).
b. And I will give him a white stone: In the ancient world, the use of a white stone had many associations. A white stone could be a ticket to a banquet, a sign of friendship, evidence of having been counted, or as a sign of acquittal in a court of law. Jesus may have any one of these meanings in mind, but at the very least we know that it has the assurance of blessing.
i. Adam Clarke wrote: “Others suppose there is an allusion here to conquerors in the public games, who were not only conducted with great pomp into the city to which they belonged, but had a white stone given to them, with their name inscribed on it; which badge entitled them, during their whole life, to be maintained at the pubic expense . . . These were called tesserae among the Romans, and of these there were several kinds.” Clarke then gives examples of the different kinds: “Tesserae conviviales, which answered exactly to our cards of invitation, or tickets of admission to a public feast or banquet; when the person invited produced his tessera he was admitted . . . But the most remarkable of these instruments were the Tesserae hospitales, which were given as badges of friendship and alliance, and on which some device was engraved, as a testimony that a contract of friendship had been made between the parties.”
c. And on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it: What is the meaning of this new, secret name promised to him who overcomes? Is it God’s name, or is it the believer’s name? This is probably the believer’s new name, and the name itself is probably more important than the stone itself.
i. One idea behind this new, secret name is that it shows what an intimate relationship we have with God. When a couple is close, they often have “pet names” for each other. This is probably the same idea.
ii. Another idea associated with the new name is simply the assurance it gives of our heavenly destination. Your name is there, waiting for you. It is as if your “reservation” in heaven is made.
D. Jesus’ letter to the church at Thyatira.
1. (18a) The character of the city of Thyatira.
And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write,
a. Thyatira: This was the smallest and least important of the seven cities Jesus addresses in Revelation 2 and 3. In history, we have no record that the Christians of Thyatira suffered any significant political or religious persecution.
i. “The elder Pliny dismissed Thyatira with the almost contemptuous phrase ‘Thyatira and other unimportant cities.’ ” (Barclay)
b. Thyatira: Still, this city was a center of business and trade. It had many active trade guilds, each having their own patron deity from the Greek and Roman pantheon of gods.
i. Acts 16:14-15 mentions Lydia of Thyatira, who was a seller of purple cloth from the city of Thyatira. “Thyatira was famous for the manufacture of a purple dye, and numerous references are found in secular literature of the period to the trade guilds which manufactured cloth.” (Walvoord)
ii. “From the inscriptions which have been found in the neighborhood it is clear that Thyatira possessed more trade guilds than any other town of its size in Asia.” (Barclay)
2. (18b) Jesus describes Himself to the church at Thyatira.
These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass:
a. These things says the Son of God: Jesus first described Himself with a title that emphasized His deity. In Jewish thought, to be the son of a thing meant you had the nature of that thing. The sons of the sorceress (Isaiah 57:3) had the nature of the sorceress. The sons of thunder (Mark 3:17) had a nature like thunder. So the Son of God has the divine nature, the nature of God.
b. Who has eyes like a flame of fire: Jesus chose this description of Himself from the presentation in Revelation 1:14 to emphasize the idea that His eyes looked with penetrating judgment.
c. His feet like fine brass: Jesus chose this description of Himself from Revelation 1:15 to emphasize His purity because brass is pure and highly refined in the fire. It also emphasized His steadfastness, because brass was the strongest known metal in the ancient world, and feet like fine brass would be strong and unmovable.
3. (19) What Jesus knows about the Christians in Thyatira.
I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.
a. I know your works: Thyatira was the least significant city among the seven cities Jesus addressed, yet they were not hidden to Jesus. Like each one of the churches, Jesus said to the church at Thyatira “I know your works.”
b. Love, service, faith, and your patience: In many ways, the church at Thyatira was a model church. They had four great essential qualities. They had love, both for the Lord and for one another. They knew service, and had faith and patience worth mentioning.
c. As for your works, the last are more than the first: This was another compliment to the church at Thyatira. Not only did they have these works, but they had them in increasing measure – they were growing in love, service, faith, and patience.
4. (20-21) What Jesus has against the church at Thyatira.
Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent.
a. Nevertheless: Despite all the good Jesus saw in the church at Thyatira, there were significant problems. The problems were big enough for Jesus to say nevertheless, which meant “Despite all the good, I have a few things against you.”
b. Because you allow that woman Jezebel: The center of the corruption at the church at Thyatira was a woman Jesus called Jezebel. This may not have been her literal name, but a title that clearly represented a self-styled prophetess within the church, after the pattern of Jezebel in the Old Testament (1 Kings 16-21 and 2 Kings 9:30-37).
i. The name Jezebel had a powerful association. If we call someone a Judas or a Hitler it means something strong. It was also a strong thing to call this woman Jezebel. “She was one of the most evil characters of the Old Testament, who attempted to combine the worship of Israel with the worship of the idol Baal . . . Jezebel herself had a most unenviable record of evil.” (Walvoord)
ii. Some ancient Greek manuscripts state the phrase that woman Jezebel as your woman Jezebel or your wife Jezebel. Based on this, some (like Dean Alford) think that Jezebel was the pastor’s wife, or that Jesus meant Jezebel was the pastor’s “woman” in a symbolic sense.
c. Who calls herself a prophetess: This “Jezebel” at the church of Thyatira wasn’t really a prophetess, she only claimed to be one. Yet, it seems the Christians there received her as a prophetess, and that is why Jesus gave them this warning.
i. Jesus said this would happen in Matthew 24:11: Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. Those words were first spoken with a view to the end times, but there have always been those who call themselves prophets in the church, but are not.
d. To teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols: Here, Jesus described the specific sin of this woman “Jezebel.” Mainly, she was an immoral and ungodly influence on others, and led others into sin. Jezebel led others into immorality and idolatry.
i. Because of the strong trade guilds in Thyatira, the sexual immorality and the eating of things sacrificed to idols was probably connected with the mandatory social occasions of the guilds. Perhaps a Christian was invited to the monthly meeting of the goldsmith’s guild, and the meeting was held at the temple of Apollo. “Jezebel” would allow or encourage the man to go – perhaps even using a “prophetic” word – and when the man went, he fell into immorality and idolatry.
ii. The draw to the guilds and their meetings was powerful. “No merchant or trader could hope to prosper or make money unless he was a member of his trade guild.” (Barclay) Nonetheless, Christians were expected to stand in the face of this kind of pressure. One ancient Christian named Tertullian wrote about Christians who made their living in trades connected to pagan idolatry. A painter might find work in pagan temples or a sculptor might be hired to make a statue of a pagan god. They would justify this by saying, “This is my living, and I must live.” Tertullian replied, Vivere ergo habes? “Must you live?”
iii. My servants: This shows how terrible Jezebel’s sin was. She corrupted the servants of Jesus, and they belong to Him. Jesus said, But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea (Mark 9:42).
e. Later in this letter, Jesus would also reveal a link to the work of Jezebel and false doctrine: this doctrine . . . the depths of Satan, as they say (Revelation 2:24). It seems that this Jezebel led others in the church at Thyatira to discover depths of Satan.
i. In the days of the New Testament, many non-Christian religions (such as the Ophites and various Gnostic groups) said they knew the “deep things of Satan.” The ancient Christian writer Tertullian said if you asked a Gnostic about their cosmic mysteries, they furrowed their brow and said, “It is deep.” It may be deep – but deep into a dangerous pit.
ii. How could Christians ever fall for the depths of Satan? Perhaps the deceptive reasoning went this way: “To effectively confront Satan, you must enter his strongholds, and learn his depths in order to conquer him.” People use similar reasoning in misguided spiritual warfare today.
f. And I gave her time to repent . . . and she did not repent: Jesus’ greatest accusation was that this “Jezebel” did not repent. She apparently rejected the work of the Holy Spirit in her heart, calling her to repentance.
i. In these words we see both the mercy and judgment of our Lord. Time to repent shows mercy. God gives us time to repent, we should deal with others the same way. And she did not repent speaks to the judgment of God. God gives time to repent, but it is not an unlimited time. There is a time when God says, My Spirit shall not strive with man forever (Genesis 6:3). This means that when God gives us time to repent, we must take advantage of that time.
ii. ” ‘In space comes grace’ proves not always a true proverb.” (Trapp)
g. Because you allow: This shows the sin of the church of Thyatira. On the outside, they were a model church, showing works, love, service, faith, and patience. Yet there was significant corruption inside the church. The sin of the church was that they allowed this corruption.
i. It wasn’t necessarily a large group following Jezebel. A little leaven affects a whole lump of dough, and a few in immorality and idolatry will corrupt the whole church – especially if they influence others the way this Jezebel did.
5. (22-25) What Jesus wants the church at Thyatira to do.
Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works. Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come.
a. I will cast her into a sickbed: Before Jesus told the Christians in Thyatira what they must do, He first told them what He would do. Jesus would chastise this Jezebel, and cast her into a sickbed, along with those who commit adultery with her.
i. The reference to adultery is important. It speaks of both sexual adultery and spiritual adultery. When these Christians honored other gods, they were unfaithful to the Lord who saved them.
ii. For this reason, the figure of a sickbed is fitting. They were guilty of adultery, both sexual and spiritual. It is as if Jesus said, “You love an unclean bed. Here, I will give you one, and cast you into a sickbed.”
iii. What was the sickbed? It could simply be an image of affliction, or it could be literal sickness that Jesus allowed in the lives of Jezebel and her followers as chastisement. We know from passages of Scripture such as 1 Corinthians 11:30 that God can use sickness as a way to chastise His people when they are in sin.
iv. The ancient Greek word used here for bed “is also the word for a banqueting couch; and if that meaning is taken, the meaning is: ‘I will strike her down as she sits at her forbidden feasts.’ ” (Barclay)
b. Unless they repent of their deeds: Jesus revealed the purpose for this chastening. First, it was to draw them to repent of their deeds. They wouldn’t listen to Jesus before, so He had to speak louder through the sickbed. Second, it was to give an example of holiness to other churches: and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts.
i. Minds and hearts is literally “hearts and kidneys.” In the mind of the ancient Jews, the heart was the place of intellect, and the kidneys were the place of emotion. Jesus said, “I know your every thought and your every feeling.”
c. I will kill her children with death: “All men die, but all are not killed with death . . . Oh, it is a woeful thing to be killed with death.” (Trapp)
d. Hold fast what you have till I come: There were many faithful, uncompromising Christians in Thyatira. To them, Jesus simply said, “hold fast.” They must not stop doing what is good. They must not become distracted or discouraged from what Jesus wants them to be and to do.
i. Jesus also told them how long to hold fast: till I come. We are to hang in there and stand strong for Jesus until He comes. It is only then that the battle will be over.
6. (26-28) The promise of a reward.
And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations; “He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels”; as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.
a. He who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end: Even when there is the immoral and idolatrous influence of a Jezebel, Christians can overcome and keep Jesus’ works until the end. We must not become overly discouraged at immorality and idolatry around us, even among Christians. God’s work will still go on through His overcomers.
b. To him I will give power over the nations: Jesus promised that His people will reign with Him. Here, there is a special promise to those who overcome the threat of immorality and idolatry. To them, Jesus offered a share in His own kingdom.
i. He shall rule them with a rod of iron: This quotation from Psalm 2 speaks of the authority of the Messiah when He rules over the earth. In that day, righteousness will be enforced, and those who rebel against Jesus will be dashed to pieces like a clay pot hit with an iron bar. Jesus includes this here to give hope to the faithful Christians of Thyatira, who felt overwhelmed by the immorality and idolatry all around them. Jesus reminds them, “You’re on My winning team.”
ii. “The word for ‘rule’ (Gr. poimanei) means literally ‘to shepherd.’ Their rule will not be simply that of executing judgment, but also that of administering mercy and direction.” (Walvoord)
c. I will give him the morning star: Jesus offered them a reward greater than the kingdom. He offered them the reward of Himself, because He is the Morning Star (Revelation 22:16).
7. (29) A general exhortation to all whom will hear.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
a. He who has an ear: This is a letter that applies to everyone. It applies to those who are like Jezebel, who lead others into sin. It applies to those who follow the teaching of a Jezebel, and follow others into sin. It applies to those who permit a Jezebel to work her wickedness. Finally, it applies to the faithful who must hold fast.
©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission