Overview… E ach letter follows a standard format: (1) the charge to write to the angel (elder) of the ecclesia; (2) identification of Christ in terms of his appearance in Revelation 1; (3) the ecclesia’s positive qualities; (4) words of exhortation; (5) a closing with an exhortation to hear and a promise to the “victorious.” The closing to each message broadens the scope to all ecclesia's. All seven messages are to all ecclesia's in every age. Each of the ecclesia’s letters begins with a vision or characterisation of Christ similar to the vision of 1:9–20. The selection of each reference to the vision of Christ matches the special needs of each of the seven ecclesias. Each message was intended to deal with the specific internal conditions of each individual ecclesia. The ecclesia’s were commended for their good traits and condemned for their failings Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary (2001)
“Like unto the Son of Man…” T HE S EVEN E CCLESIA ' S OF A SIA Ephesus (2:1)See 1:12, 16. Smyrna (2:8)See 1:17–18. Pergamum (2:12)See 1:16. Thyatira (2:18)See 1:14–15. Sardis (3:1)See 1:16. Philadelphia (3:7)See 1:18. Laodicea (3:14)See 1:5.
The Letters Summary Ephesus: The “hard” ecclesia – Lacking love Smyrna: The persecuted ecclesia – Poor but rich Pergamos: The fighting ecclesia – “Antipas” fighting errorists Thyatira: The endangered ecclesia – Jezebel gaining the ascendance Sardis: The “dead” ecclesia – large in number and repute, but works not complete. Philadelphia: The beloved ecclesia – Small in numbers, but vigorous in activity Laodicea: The lukewarm ecclesia – Self-righteous, know nothing !
Unto the angel of the ecclesia of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted. Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the ecclesias; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. Ephesus – Rev. 2:1-7
EPHESUS: the foremost city of Asia Minor. Ephesus had a fine harbour, which served as an export centre. The city had a theater that seated 25,000 people. The ecclesia at Ephesus was founded by Aquila, Priscilla, and Paul Cp. Acts 18:18–19. By the time of John’s Revelation, the ecclesia had persevered through the trouble of false teachers but had lost its first love. 2:1 VISION OF CHRIST: HOLDS AND WALKS The vision of Christ holding and walking Cp. 2:1 reinforces his intimate knowledge of their hearts and actions. The picture of Christ with a letter to each ecclesia relates to his intimate knowledge of the problems each ecclesia faces Cf. 1:12, 16; 2:4. 2:2–3 PRAISE The Lord praised the Ephesian believers for their deeds, perseverance, and endurance. Toil and patience characterised their overall lifestyle. They were doctrinally sound and had exposed false teachers Cf. Matt. 7:15; Acts 20:29. They had persevered and endured many trials and hardships.
2:4–5 PROBLEM The Lord told these believers that they had left their first love and exhorted them to repent. See Matt. 24:12 for Jesus’ warning that the “love of many will grow cold.” The idea of “love … as you did at first” (2:4) it would appear is left general to let the readers specify what their own first love for God was Cf. Jer. 2:2; John 13:35; 2 John 1:5. The remedy is to “look,” “turn,” and “work” Cp 2:5. Doctrinal purity and endurance did not guarantee vital inner love for God. 2:6–7 EXHORTATION The Nicolaitans are mentioned in two of the seven letters, to Ephesus and Pergamos. The Ephesians' letter does not explain what “the deeds of the Nicolaitans” were, only that they were hated by the ecclesia Cp. Rev. 2:6. More information is included in the letter to Pergamos. The Nicolaitan teaching is likened to the Old Testament character Balaam, “who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication” Cp. 2:14. Balaam is mentioned by Peter and Jude as an example of apostasy. Jude spoke of Balaam’s “error” being followed by the false brethren of his day Cp. Jude 11, and Peter of “the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness” Cp. 2 Peter 2:15 when he was warning against the lure of riches and power
Smyrna – Rev. 2:8-11 And unto the angel of the ecclesia in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the ecclesiaes; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
2:8–11 Smyrna SMYRNA: is located about thirty-five miles north of Ephesus. It was an important port city and trade center that also boasted of schools of science and medicine. Smyrna was also a center for the imperial cult of emperor worship. Temples at Smyrna were dedicated to the emperor Tiberius, Zeus, and Cybele. The gospel probably reached Smyrna at an early date, presumably from Ephesus Cp. Acts 19:10. The ecclesia at Smyrna suffered from poverty and persecution by the Jews. 2:8 VISION OF CHRIST The vision of Christ’s experience of suffering Cp. 2:8 matches the suffering and death that would be faced by the ecclesia in Smyrna Cp. 2:10; cf. the picture of Christ in 1:17–18. 2:9 PRAISE The ecclesia at Smyrna experienced great affliction and poverty. Christ’s words, “I know” Cp. 2:9, reveal the heart of the believers comfort. It is far from trite to say that God knows about the needs of his people. The spiritual riches of the believers in Smyrna contrasted with their material poverty. “I know the blasphemy” in this context, the term is used to describe those who claim to be what they were not. The so-called Jews claimed to be sincere and reverent toward the word of God, they claimed to have the truth, but they did not!
PRAISE cont. The “Synagogue of Satan” refers to ‘a gathering.’ The blasphemers in Smyrna, claiming to be Christians lived a lie and appears went out of the ecclesia of their own accord Cp. 1 John 2:19, accusing their brethren falsely of being in the wrong. Having separated themselves they became a congregation of the Satan – adversary. They were opposed to those who kept the truth, but their claim was blasphemy. 2:10–11 EXHORTATION The “Ten Days” Cp.2:10 refers to a brief period of suffering. Emperor Trajan (110-120AD) created a period of intense persecution and tried to stamp out the growing Christian communities. Trial always serves as testing Cp.2:10 for the saints cf. 3:10. Faithfulness results in receiving the Crown (Gk: Stephanos – Victory) of life, but only after death. Christ himself was the guarantee of such a reward, he had been put to death and had obtained the crown of life. To obtain that crown requires personal discipline Cp. 1 Cor. 9:25 and the crown promised is fadeless Cp. 1 Pet. 5:4 – But it can be stolen ! Cp. Rev. 3:11
Pergamos – Rev. 2:12-17 And to the angel of the ecclesia in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the ecclesias; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knows saving he that receiveth it.
2:12–17 Pergamum PERGAMUM was located about fifty miles north of Smyrna and about fifteen miles from the sea. Pergamum had a fine library and was the place where parchment was first used. The city was chiefly noted as the religious center of the province of Asia. It was the center of four of the great pagan cults honoring Zeus, Athena, Dionysus, and Asclerius. Each of these gods had a beautiful temple. The pagan temples and idolatry undoubtedly led John to refer to the city as the place “where that great throne of Satan is located” Cp. 2:13. 2:12 VISION OF CHRIST The Lord is pictured as having a two-edged sword Cf. 1:16. This sword is seen in terrible use later Cp. 19:15, 21; cf. also Isa. 49:2; Heb. 4:12. The sword is related to the Lord’s impending visit to the ecclesia Cp. 2:16. 2:13 PRAISE The Lord praised the believers in Pergamum for having kept the faith. Antipas Cp. 2:13 is described as being a “faithful witness,” an attribute he shared with the Lord Cp. 1:5. Satan’s work and throne are seen throughout Revelation 2 Cp. 2:9, 10, 13, 24; and also 3:9 and are connected to the Old Testament characters of Balaam Cp. 2:14 and Jezebel Cp. 2:20. Satan’s work to destroy the ecclesia will extend into his terrible deeds recorded in Revelation 4–20
2:14–16 PROBLEM The Lord pointed out to them that they had allowed immoral teachings to come into their lives. The teachings was not doctrine but a manner of behavior as described by the last part of Cp. 2:14. Their problem had two aspects: (1) They were eating food before idols in the temples; and (2) they were engaged in sexual immorality as pagan worship. For Balaam leading the Israelites into immoral activity, see Num. 25:1–5 in connection with Num 31:16. They were involved in worship of false gods, which involved immoral practices. Revelation Cp. 2:15 links these sins to the teachings of the Nicolaitans and sheds more light on the teachings of this group. The centre of their problem was that they were conforming to the ungodly activities of the surrounding society. 2:17 EXHORTATION The “victorious” person is promised three things. The “manna that has been hidden” refers to the bread of life Cf. John 6:31–35. It is also seen in John 6 where Jesus indicated that he was the bread of life. The “hidden” refer to the manna that was placed in the Ark for a memorial Cp. Exod. 16:32–34; cf. Heb. 9:4. A “white stone” was used for voting and signified acquittal or acceptance. According to the rabbis, precious stones fell from heaven with manna. Christ received a “new name” after his resurrection Cf. Phil. 2:8–11, and we will also. The essential contrast in this verse is between God’s “hidden manna” and the unclean food and immorality offered by the false teachers.
Thyatira – Rev. 2:18-28 And unto the angel of the ecclesia in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass; I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first. Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the ecclesias shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come. And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star.
2:18–28 Thyatira THYATIRA was an important manufacturing center located approximately forty miles southeast of Pergamum. Thyatira was especially noted for its trade guilds, which were more organized than in any other ancient city. Dye manufacturing was an important industry in Thyatira. Garment weaving, pottery making, and brass working were also trades known to have existed in Thyatira. In its early days, Thyatira had a temple dedicated to Tyrimnos, an ancient sun god. The gospel may have been brought to the city by Lydia of Thyatira who was converted under Paul’s ministry in Philippi Cp. Acts 16:14. The city is commended in Revelation for its deeds, love, faith, service, and perseverance, but it is rebuked for tolerating the false prophetess “Jezebel” Cp. 2:20. 2:18 VISION OF CHRIST The eyes and feet of the Lord are stressed Cf. 1:14–15; 2:23; Dan. 10:6. The image of eyes like “flames of fire” indicates Christ’s ability to search the minds and hearts of believers. Eyes in this state suggest anger; anger induced by what the Spirit saw in the Thyatira ecclesia. 2:19 PRAISE This ecclesia is praised for its works, love, faith, and perseverance. They had continued growing and were doing more for God than they had done during the first days of their service.
2:20–25 PROBLEM Although this ecclesia was given high praise, it also had a problem with immorality. It tolerated immoral teachings. The reference to “Jezebel” Cp. 2:20 indicates sins of fornication and eating idol food, sins parallel to those practiced by the Israelites in their worship of Baal Cp. 1 Kings 16:29–33; 2 Kings 9:30–37. Again, the ecclesia was falling prey to pressure to accommodate the pagan custom of idolatry. “Cast her into a bed” Cp. 2:22 is a punishment for sin Cf. 1 Cor. 11:27–30. The scene of the sin will become the scene of the punishment. “Depths of Satan” Cp. 2:24 The supposed deep things taught by the adversaries, which were subversive of the truth. These ‘depths of Satan’ comprise the science so-called of Cp. 1 Tim. 6:20. “Until I come” Cp. 2:25 refers to Christ’s second coming. 2:26–29 EXHORTATION The Lord’s exhortation to this ecclesia relates to rule (Gk – poimaino. To tend as a shepherd) “Unto the end” This is not the end of life, but the accomplishment of the objective set before one Cp. Heb. 3:6. In 2:26–27 is quoted Psalm 2:9 indicating that “all who are victorious” will be associated with Christ in his kingdom reign Cp. 5:10; 12:5; 19:15; 2 Tim. 2:12; 1 Cor. 6:3. The “morning star” Cp. 2:28 refers to Christ himself Cf. 22:16. Again, “hearing,” and “listening,” and “understanding” mark the end of this and all the letters to the ecclesias. This is also how Jesus ended his Sermon on the Mount Note. Matt. 5–7.