Letters to the Seven Churches 2:1-3:22
A marvelous thing about this book is the impression that conditions of every age
are illustrated by the conditions of these seven churches.
Revelation 2:1-7 -- Ephesus: Loyal but Lacking
Ephesus was a great and wealthy city of Ionia.
The population of Ephesus was diverse.
Living in Ephesus were the wealthy and the learned, the poor and the illiterate.
It was a wealthy, cultured, corrupt city.
Ephesus was a natural starting place on the continent for a circular message from the Isle of Patmos.
John, the writer of Revelation, had been the chief leader of Christians
around Ephesus for a quarter of a century.
The history of the founding and early operation of his church is recorded in Acts 18-20.
The church had been in existence for about forty five years when this message was sent.
The Lord introduces Himself to the Ephesian church as the one who holds in His right hand the seven stars,
and the one who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.
Because of His position in the midst of them, there is no question as to his knowledge of the church.
He knows what is going on and He is caring for it.
He is holding in His right hand its destiny as it is wrapped up in the pastor.
He observes its every virtue and flaw and sends this message to reveal them.
Commendation, 2:2-3, 6
When there is anything to be commended in the church, the Lord mentions it first.
There are many things for which the church at Ephesus can be commended.
The Lord commends them for their loyalty in practice.
"I know thy works, and thy toil, and thy patience."
"Works" has reference to actual service which is being rendered by the church.
This was an active and aggressive congregation.
"Toil" lies deeper than works.
The word translated toil has reference to the effort that produces work at the cost of pain.
In the word is the echo of men who beat upon their breasts with cries of anguish
as they pushed toward a desired end.
This was a working church.
"Patience" reveals the attitude of persistence in the toil that produces work.
In the New Testament, it is not the passive word of current usage.
There is no folding of the hands in waiting in this word.
It literally means "to remain under."
It means staying when the burden is heavy.
It means holding one's own in the face of every difficulty.
The three words together give a strong impression of their loyalty in practice.
They are even more meaningful coming from the lips of the transcendent Christ.
They are also commended for their loyalty in doctrine.
"Thou canst not bear evil men" indicates that the Gnostic teachers
had gained little ground at Ephesus.
The Gnostic teachers claimed to be genuine apostles and missionaries, the church had tested them,
and found them to be false, and rejected them.
The Ephesians had endured much because of their loyalty to the name of Christ.
They did not grow weary in the midst of difficulties caused by persecution and of false doctrine.
To the unstable Galatians, Paul said, "Stop getting tired of doing good." (Galatians 6:9)
These Ephesians exercise great strength and did not need such a warning.
The work of the Nicolaitans was met in Ephesus by a righteous wrath against all iniquity.
The Ephesians hated the doctrine of the Nicolaitans.
That attitude was the attitude of the living Christ.
Christ also exercised a constant displeasure against evil of every kind.
The exact identity of the Nicolaitans have not been made.
From their relationship to those who held the doctrines of Balaam (2:14-15)
there evil appears to have been the promotion of some form of antinomianism.
Whatever their false teaching was, it was hated by Christ and Christians at Ephesus.
When you hear this commendation, you might be thinking how could anything be wrong in such a church as this.
It carried on its services in the face of difficulties.
It rejected false teachers.
It hated sin.
It did not grow weary in the Lord's work.
This is what one would expect from a church which had been blessed by the services of such great leaders.
This church had leaders such as:
Paul, Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila, Timothy, and John, the beloved disciple.
But the Lord looks at this church with a piercing eye of flame and discovers a great flaw.
"This I have against thee -- thou hast left thy first love."
This brief statement goes right to the point.
The honeymoon is over!
The church had lost their fervor and love which they had in the beginning of their Christian life.
They were conducting an active program of an aggressive church,
but they had lost the right motive for worship.
When love for Christ as a motive for worship is gone, service means little.
Counsel, 2: 5, 7a
The counsel which Christ gives to the church at Ephesus could be stated in three words
-- remember, repent, return.
Remember your early joy and zest in your love for Christ and His work.
Remember the fervor and enthusiasm of that love.
Repent of the condition of service without love, which you have allowed to creep into your life.
Such a condition is deadly to effective work in the Lord's kingdom.
Return to that original state of service out of a heart of love.
Christ warns that if they do not return to that first state, they are forfeiting their right to exist as a church.
He warns them that He will remove the candlestick from its place.
The candlestick is the church. (1:20)
the church has no right to exist if it is not going to carry out the purpose for which Christ has for it.
This is a strong warning to any church!
The first part of verse seven serves as a transition from a warning to a promise.
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."
Those with spiritual perception are warned to listen.
This is not just the message of a man.
The eternal God is issuing His warning against the deadly peril of spiritual apathy.
"To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life which is in the garden of God."
The concept of overcoming is one of the outstanding ideas of the Book of Revelation.
It means to be victorious over the circumstances in which one finds himself.
Its context in this book appears to mean living a life of service to God out of a heart of love.
To one who is living such a life the Lord promises fruit from the garden of God.
In symbol He is saying, "I will give spiritual food and sustenance to one who is loyal to me."
God never fails his people in their time of need.
Just when we need Him -- He always provides.
God is able to provide all our needs, but He expects victorious living on our part.
All of these letters are adapted from Worthy Is the Lamb by Ray Summers
Revelation 2:8-11 -- Smyrna: Suffering Saints
Smyrna had been a prosperous city.
It had passed into a security at one time, but was rebuilt by Alexander the Great and Antigonus.
It became a noted and wealthy city almost at once and maintained that condition
many years past the New Testament period.
We have no history of its beginnings.
It could have begun when Paul in Ephesus divided his disciples in order that
all Asia could come to know the gospel.
History tells of the persecution which occurred there and of the ministry and martyrdom of Polycarp.
His martyrdom was in the second century, but he may have been the pastor
at Smyrna when this letter was written.
Only good is spoken of concerning this church.
The Lord identifies Himself as "the first and the last, who was dead and lived again."
He is telling them that He has been through what they are suffering.
He is well-qualified to comfort them and give them assurance from firsthand knowledge.
Commendation And Comfort, 2:9-10a
Christ combines a pattern of commendation and comfort.
The commendation is partly one from the silence.
He has no complaint to bring against them.
He knows their "tribulation."
This is the word previously discussed which pictures outside pressure which threatens to ruin.
He knows their "poverty."
This is a reflection of the confiscation of property used by Domitian as a means of persecution.
The Christians at Smyrna had lost all their material possessions.
So Christ, who sees and knows all, says: "But you are rich."
True wealth is the enrichment of character, not possession of wealth.
This is truly a rich church.
He knows "the blasphemy of them that say they are Jews."
This is probably a reference to the Jews who had escaped persecution and confiscation
of their property by compromise.
Theirs was a legal religion and, by offering of prayers for the emperor,
they escaped the fate of the Christians.
Now they mocked and spoked evil of the Christians, who had lost all out of loyalty to Christ.
Christ says that these are not really Jews.
They are of the synagogue of Satan -- they are the devil's people.
Promise, 2:10a, 11b
The Lord's promise is twofold:
"Be faithful even if it means death and I will give thee the crown of life...
He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death."
He will give to them the crown of life -- a reward for winning the race.
They shall not be hurt by the "second death," which symbolizes eternal punishment.
The unbeliever dies and has another "death" awaiting him.
The believer dies and has eternal life.
Here, as always, is a promise is to the overcoming life.
As in the other letters, the warning is against the peril of spiritual apathy,
"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."
Adapted from Worthy Is a Lamb by Ray Summers
Revelation 2:12-17 -- Pergamum: Hell's Headquarters
Pergamum was an illustrative city of Mysia, given over almost entirely to wealth and fashion.
The city was the headquarters for emperor worship.
It was the chief city of the Provence.
The concilia which was in charge of the matters of state religion and incense offering before the image of the emperor.
The city had always been loyal to Rome, so it was only natural that they would be unrelenting in their persecution of the Christians.
The Lord identifies himself as the one who has the sharp two-edged sword.
This may have a twofold symbolism.
It may picture His ability to protect them even in the midst of persecution and were martyrs are falling.
It may also symbolize the power of discerning judgment.
Christ commends the church for fidelity under extreme difficulty.
They dwell where Satan's throne is.
In 29 B.C., there had been directed an altar in Pergamum for the worship of Augustus.
The city had been retained as the center of state religion, and so it is spoken of as the place where Satan's throne was located
The reference to the death of Antipas is probably a reference to a well-known martyrdom at the altar for incense worship.
The test for Christians was to acknowledge the Lord Caesar and they could escape persecution.
But to hold to the name of Christ meant persecution, and the Lord commends them.
Complaint, 2: 14-15<
Not all the church membership was so loyal as the group commended.
Heresy had come in.
There were some in the group who held the teachings of Balaam.
This was something that would not be tolerated by the Lord, and He warns the true church people
against their tolerance.
Warning, 2:16, 17a
The church is warned to repent of this attitude of leniency and for tolerating the sin that was present.
If they do not take action to eliminate the evil, the Lord is determined that He will personally
make war against them with the sword of His mouth.
He that hath an ear: let him hear
The promise to the overcoming life is twofold.
I will give the hidden manna.
This spiritual sustenance is something that the world cannot understand.
I will give him a white stone, and upon the stone a new name written.
Pergamum was engaged in the mining of white stone and the use of it as a commercial product.
The use of a piece of this stone with a name on it was varied.
The white stone was given to a man who had been tried in justly acquitted.
He carried it as a sign that he was free of the charge of the crime which had been placed against them.
Another possibility of the symbolism was that the white stone was given to a man who was freed
from slavery and was made a citizen of the province.
He carried a stone as an indication of his citizenship.
The white stone was also given to the winner of a race or contest as an indication
that he had overcome opposition.
The white stone was also given to a warrior returning from the battle with victory over the enemy.
The application of either or all of these usages is evident.
The promise may have had reverence to one of these.
It may have been something else understood by the Christians at Pergamum.
It was a sacred promise of them calculated to increase their efforts and loyalty.
Revelation 2:18-29 -- Thyatira: Wait for the Star
Although this was a small city, it was an important trading point.
It connected with Pergamum.
It was one of the chief Roman highways running through it, and it was visited by many people.
The same heresy that was at Pergamum was also here, but it appears to be worse here.
The city was flooded with many pagan people, and so heresy found a fruitful soil.
Christ identifies himself to the church as the Son of God, who hath his eyes like a flame of fire,
and his feet like unto burnished brass.
He is the infallible (as God's Son), omniscient (piercing eyes like flames), and strong (feet as brass refined in service).
Therefore, the church must hear Him.
He has perfect understanding of the conditions in the church and is qualified to speak judgment.
He acknowledges their virtues as means of commending them.
He knows their works, their services rendered to God; their love which is the basis of their works
and which was absent at Ephesus; their faith, fidelity to their religion, their ministry,
which pictures love in action, ministry to those in need; their patience,
ability to hold their own, peace under pressure.
In addition to this, He commends them for progress made in their work
thy last works are more than the first.
Apparently, this is a good church.
They're carrying on with the regular work of the Lord faithfully and with patience and manifest love.
They are growing in grace as they make progress.
If the letter closed there, the church would be considered ideal.
But the letter does not close there.
Evils are present and they must be condemned.
Complaint and Judgment, 2:20-23
The complaint is that the church is harboring one guilty of heresy and spreading
the heresy thou sufferest the woman Jezebel.
The church, true church, is not guilty of the heresy, but they condone it on the part of others.
It appears that the best suggestion of this is that there was a corrupt woman in the church
teaching and claiming some special mystic revelation from God.
Verse 24 appears to suggest this.
She is misleading Christians and seducing them to fornication, either actual fornication
growing out of the gnostic teachings or spiritual fornication of breaking one's vow with God.
She will not be permitted to continue in her evil.
She is going to meet destruction, and her followers with her, in the various sin in which she is engaged. (2:22-23)
This is coming as a proof that God still has charge of affairs and still judges men according to their works. (2:23)
Promise, 2: 20-29
The Lord promises to those who overcome that He will not put upon them any more spiritual obligations
than they already have, no additional duties to special gnostic revelations. (2: 24)
They are to be loyal and what He has already given. (2: 25)
He promises that those who overcome will receive authority over the nations.
They will find themselves completely vindicated as Christians before men who are now persecuting them.
The picture of their ruling with rods of iron is symbolical of a certain day of their vindication and triumph with Christ.
He further promises to give the overcoming one the morning star symbolic of His guidance
and leadership in the dark hour of troubles and trials.
He may often walk in darkness and in many perplexities, but the morning star will be given to guide him.
He must refuse to follow the false leadership of gnosticism and wait for the star.
Revelation 3:1-6 -- Sardis: Dead or Alive?
For many years Sardis was the outstanding Greek city Of Asia Minor.
It had little influence in the Roman period, but lived in the pride of its past history.
One Biblical scholar calls it a typical example of broken-down aristocracy.
The city was arrogant and self-sufficient and in need of warning from God.
Identification, 3: 1a
The sender is identified as he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars.
He has fullness of power and wisdom.
He also has the destiny of the church in His hands.
They will do well to heed His warning
There is a marked change in the way the Lord speaks to this church.
Before He has commended and then complained.
At Sardis there is so little commendable and so much to complain about that he reverses the order.
I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead.
In these few words he voices a tremendous complaint.
In this church there was plenty of outward activity but no inner spirituality.
Probably the organization was perfected and running smoothly.
An outsider looking on with probably see the ideal church as far as outward manifestations went.
But there was no life, no real life, in the church.
It is as someone has said that there are few things better organized than graveyards,
but there is little life there!
This is the way it was at Sardis.
They had a reputation that they lived, but the One with perfect knowledge said they were dead.
Admonition, 3: 2
The church is admonished to get busy and establish the things that remain,
which were ready to die.
Their word left in the church at Sardis a few things that were alive, but they were on the verge of death
and they needed to be rescued by prompt action.
The forms were all right, but they needed to be filled with power and devotion.
A Christian cannot prosper on ritual alone.
They were good starters, but poor finishers.
Warning, 3: 3
The church is warned of disaster unless it remembers the real content of religion as it had
first received it and unless it returns to those first principles and practices them.
If it fails to do this, He will come upon it in judgment and destruction.
This warning to watch had a definite meaning for Sardis.
The city was built upon a hill, surrounded on three sides by high cliffs.
So it was easily defended against an enemy.
But carelessness had caused it to fall twice as Ramsey reminds us i
n his Letters to the Seven Churches.
The Lord is warning the church to remember your history.
If you do not watch, the same fate will come to you.
Commendation, 3: 4a
There are a few in Sardis who are worthy of commendation.
They did not defile their garments.
They did not take part in the pagan worship and worldliness of that day.
They had always been true to God.
Promise, 3: 4b, 5
To this faithful group the promises made that they shall walk with the Lord in white.
They are worthy of fellowship with Him because of their purity and loyalty.
The one who overcomes will be arrayed in white garments.
Those who have overcome will be given white robes symbolical of their purity.
The overcoming one will not have his name blotted from the book of life but confessed by Christ
before God and the angels.
His name is in the Lamb's book of life and he is secure.
Revelation 3:7-13 -- Philadelphia: Church with an Open Door
This city was founded as a center for the spreading of the Greek language, culture, and manner.
From its beginning it was a missionary city for the promotion of loyalty to Hellenism throughout the land.
In this letter we find a promise of opportunity for missionary enterprise of a another nature.
The Lord identifies himself as being in character, holy and true; in official position,
as the one who hath the key of David; and in administration, as the one
who openeth and none shall shut, and that shutteth and none openeth.
His character of holiness and truth is His right to kingship.
Because He is king, He exercises His kingly office and administers the affairs of His kingdom.
Only good is spoken about this church.
There is no condemnation to give.
The Lord knows her work and is setting before an open door which none can shut.
Promise, 3: 9-10, 12
Because of their loyalty under weakness and difficulty, the Lord promises complete vindication for them.
He will make the persecuting Jews who are doing Satan's work to realize that these despised
Christians are the ones whom He really loves. (verse 9)
Because they have been faithful, He promises His sustaining grace in the tribulation
that is about to engulf the world; it will not overcome them. (verse 10)
In verse 11 a warning is inserted here before the last part of the promise.
It is a warning to hold fast what they have His name, His word, His patience, His promise to return,
His opportunity for service lest someone by causing them to give up these things
robbed them of their reward.
The last part of the promise is voiced in verse 12.
Several things are promised.
I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God.
I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God,
and mine own new name.
There is to be perfect security for the overcoming one.
The name of God is branded upon him.
The name of the city of God is there as a mark of his place of habitation.
The name of the triumphant Christ is upon him.
There is no more glorious promise given to any of the seven churches than this one given to Philadelphia.
Revelation 3:14-22 -- Laodicea: Church with a Closed Door
This was a city characterized by exceeding riches.
It needed no help from the Roman treasury when it was partially destroyed by an earthquake about A.D. 60.
It was the main commercial city of the region.
Three Roman roads that their making it a city of great prominence.
Such a city easily fell prey to lethargy and self-satisfied complacency.
The spirit of the town had made itself felt in the church.
Christ identifies himself to this church as the Amen, the faithful and true witness,
the beginning of the creation of God.
All this gives evidence of His essential glory.
Here it indicates the stability of Jesus who writes to this weak church.
He is the faithful and true witness be calls of his stability.
He is the truth about God, and in life and deed He bore true witness concerning God.
Complaint and Counsel, 3:15-18
The complaint of Christ has to do with the spiritual lethargy of the church.
It was neither cold complete and utter indifference; nor was it hot characterized
by fervent heat or zeal.
This was distasteful to the Lord.
He would spew it out of His mouth.
It is easier to deal with a frozen church than one that is tepid.
A church with no enthusiasm, no urgency, no compassion, was repugnant to Him.
Counsel and complaint are woven together in verses 17 and 18.
The commercial background of the city is reflected here.
There were three chief businesses in the city.
The Lord uses all three to illustrate the attitude of the church.
First, this was a banking center for the region.
Great riches were gathered into this city.
They were proud, arrogant, and self-sufficient because of their riches.
They said, We have gold; we need nothing anyone can give.
That was their feeling and witness.
The faithful and true witness says, You do not realize that you are wretched, and miserable and poor.
They had material wealth, but they were spiritually poverty-stricken.
They had no enrichment of character and were too lukewarm to miss it.
The Lord counsels them to come and receive from Him the true spiritual riches and they would indeed be rich.
A person could have all the money in the world and still be a pauper.
Or, he could have none of the world's goods and still be rich.
It depends on what one counts as riches.
Second, the second ranking business in Laodicea was the black wool markets.
They produced a black glossy wool which was made into fine garments and were in demand everywhere.
Christ says: In spite of this you are naked, you'd need to come and obtain from me a robe,
a covering that will really hide your exposed condition before God.
Their robes of haughty self-sufficiency did not cover them up before God as well as they did before men.
What they called clothing left them naked before God.
Thirdly, they had a business that was preparing ointment used as a balm for the eyes.
There was a medical center there.
Travelers from the desert would come and receive this balm has a welcome relief.
Jesus said: You are blind and do not know it. Come to me and I will give you spiritual eye salve
that you may really see.
He possesses all that the church so sorely lacks.
He is ready to bestow it if they desire it true wealth, true raiment, true vision.
He will not force it upon them if they do not want it.
He will not force these true riches upon them but because He loves them,
He will reprove and chasten them.
He does love them which can be seen in His complaint which is voiced in tones of pity and compassion.
It is His way to chasten those who He loves as we see in Hebrews 12:5ff.
Everyone who is a child of God is punished when he rebels and sins.
Therefore, He warns them to turn from their lethargy, to be zealous, to be filled with zeal
rather than a lukewarm condition.
The church of Laodicea had everything in it except Christ.
He was on the outside seeking entrance.
If anyone would respond to His knocking, He was ready to come in and start fellowship with the church.
He could begin with even one individual whose heart was responsive and desired Him.
To the one who overcomes the spirit of lethargy and becomes zealous for God, H
e promises glory and fellowship.
They will sit down together even as He and the Father, once he has overcome the obstacles in his way.
There is no greater incentive for overcoming that could ever be offered.
The glorified Christ, standing in the mist of His churches, seeing with piercing eyes of flame,
brings His condemnation, complaint, warning, and promise.
The message delivered first to the churches of Asia Minor is universal.
Its truth applies wherever similar conditions are found today.
And it is difficult to find churches where at least some of these conditions are not found.
The warning against spiritual apathy still stands, He that hath an ear, let him hear
what the Spirit saith to the churches.
All the Letters to the Churches were adapted from Ray Summer's "Worthy Is The Lamb."