Wednesday, January 29, 2014


            Chapters 2 and 3 contain seven letters to seven churches in the area called “Asia.”  This is in the area now occupied by Turkey.  Each of the churches was in a separate city.  This was the common pattern in the first century.  The order of the churches which are addressed in these chapters is geographical:  they are addressed in clockwise order, beginning at Ephesus. 

            These letters flow out of the material in chapter 1 (see my previous article).  In chapter 1, John describes his encounter with the risen Christ.  During that encounter, Christ ordered John to write to the seven churches (verses 1:11, 19).  From those orders, we can infer that the entire book is addressed to the seven churches.  However, in chapters 2 and 3, the individual churches are given individual messages from Christ. 

            As I anticipate the various interpretative viewpoints of Revelation, I make some observations, as follow:

·         The entire book, as I have noted, is sent to all seven churches.  One of the key points of the Dispensationalists is that the “church” is not mentioned after chapter 3.  Their inference is that the church is not present during the Tribulation.  The fact that the entire book is addressed to the church seems to undermine that notion.

·         The Dispensationalists often argue that the seven letters and the seven churches represent seven phases of church history.  Two observations seem to undermine that notion.  The first observation is the fact that the entire book is “to” (and therefore “for”) all seven churches of the first century.  The second observation is that all seven churches are obviously first century churches with unique issues in that time. 

·         The evangelical Preterists (rather than liberal Preterists) argue that Revelation was a prophecy related to the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem.  Their argument depends on an early date for the writing of Revelation—before AD 70.  However, the state of the seven churches, which we observe through the individual letters, reflects considerable development over time.  In the mid-60’s none of these churches could be much more than 15 years old.  It is difficult to conceive of church “start-ups” being as moribund as some of the letters reflect. 


            The seven letters all follow, to some degree, a pattern.  This pattern is as follows:

·         A descriptor for Christ:  Most of these descriptors are also used in John’s description in 1:12-16.

·         A praise of the church:  Usually this praise begins with the words “I know your…”  The communication is that Jesus is quite aware of what is going on in the church, including those things that are praiseworthy.

·         A rebuke of the church:  The rebukes vary in severity.  In some cases the idea is that the entire church has failed.  In other cases the idea is that there are some things going on in the church that need to be rebuked.

·         A warning :  Those churches which are rebuked are warned to repent or suffer consequences.

·         A promise to the overcomer (or victor):  The implication is that, despite the terrible condition of some these churches, there are individuals who are victorious in their walk with Christ despite their environment.  These persons are given promises.

·         Departures from the pattern:  Although the features that I have listed are found in several of the letters, there are variations from the pattern. 


Abbreviations:  ESVSB = English Standard Version Study Bible; NIVSB = New International Version Study Bible




EPHESUS (2:1-7)


Out of
Promise to one who conquers
Holds 7 stars and walks among lamp-stands
Deeds, toil, patient endurance, cannot bear the evil, tested those claiming apostleship,
Bearing up for my name’s sake, have not grown weary
Abandoned the love you had at first
Repent or I will remove your lamp-stand
You hate the works of the Nico-laitans
Right to eat of the tree of life


            The letter begins by reminding the reader of the vision that John had of Jesus:  He was standing among the lampstands and holding the seven stars in His right hand (1:12, 16).  The interpretation of these images has already been given:  the seven lampstands are the seven churches and the stars are the “angels” of the churches.  I discussed what this latter expression might mean in the last article.  I believe the lampstands are the essence, or spiritual manifestation, of the churches.  This meaning was applied by some to the “angels.”  I think it is more likely that the angels are human leaders in the churches.  Whatever the case, Jesus is intimately involved with this church at Ephesus. 

            Ephesus was the leading city in Asia and was an important port (it has since been silted in).  It was a home to the cult of Artemis, who was worshiped in a huge temple.  This temple also was where the Roman emperor and the goddess Roma were worshiped.  (Ladd, 37).

The record in Acts 18-19 tells the story of the early days of the church at Ephesus.  However, if that church were to date its founding, I am not sure to what event it would refer.  Acts tells us that Priscilla and Aquila were at Ephesus at the beginning and for some time after that (Acts 18:19).  Right in the early days of their ministry, Paul also was in the city, teaching in the synagogue (Acts 18:19-21), but he does not seem to have stayed long (around AD 51 or 52).  Later, Apollos came and taught (Acts 18:24-26).  Paul then returned and began a lengthy ministry in Ephesus (Acts 19).  This latter time was part of Paul’s third missionary journey, which began around AD 52 or 53.  Thus, exactly who founded the church at Ephesus (Priscilla and Aquila or Paul), and exactly when it began is not certain.  However, the founders most likely were Priscilla and Aquila, and a date of about 52 seems to be a good approximation. 

            To reiterate a point that I made in the previous article, I contend that Ephesus would not be to the point of spiritual decline that is reflected in this letter by the mid- to late- 60’s.  That is what would be required of the evangelical Preterist view.  The time constraint for them is that Revelation is, in part, a prediction of the AD 70 destruction of Jerusalem.  Thus, it would have to be written before AD 70.  Since most evangelical Preterists believe the Beast is Nero, they are also constrained by his reign (AD 54-68) (see Suetonius/Graves).

            The praise that was given this church is considerable.  This would probably be called a “faithful” church.  It was church that was “evangelical” in its doctrine.  It was church that was “discerning” in its spirituality.  It was a church that was “active.”  It was a church that was “steadfast.”  Finally, it was a church that was “moral.”

            And yet, Jesus had something against it:  the church—which encompasses its members—had “abandoned the love [it] had at first.”  As ESVSB points out, this could mean the love for Jesus or the love for one another or both, since the two are linked.  Paul describes love (I Corinthians 13) as a gift from God that enables us to live Christ-like lives, able to live with people who are unlovely and who do hurtful things to us, etc.  If we examine the early church, for example in descriptions in Acts, we are struck by the intense love of these churches—for Jesus, for one another, and for their neighbors.  I think an important component of the message of the New Testament is that, when we meet Jesus and He transforms our lives, we begin to display love. 

            Jesus’ prescription for this church was to remember, to repent, and to do over again.  They were to remember how far they have fallen.  Such a charge—to a church that was so “perfect” in all of its activity and doctrine—would be a hard pill to swallow.  The fact that Jesus put such a premium on love reminds us that love is the central matter.  We should remember that Jesus did praise this church for doing and believing the right things.  But we must also observe that their loss of love called upon them to do everything all over. 

            Nor was Jesus kidding around.  If they did not repent, Jesus would “come” and remove their lampstand “from its place.”  The lampstands “are the seven churches.”  I shall belabor this for a moment, because we (at least I) have trouble dealing with symbols and visions.  First, what did John see?  He saw a lampstand.  What “was” that lampstand?  It “was” the church.  In this case, the “to be” verb carries the meaning “stands for.”  As an example, one might say, in describing the United State flag, “the stripes are the thirteen original colonies and the stars are the fifty states.”  We understand that “are” in this case means “stand for.”  Jesus said of the bread, “This is My body…”  Protestants understand that His meaning was “This represents My body.”  So, the lampstand was a visual representation within the context of John’s vision representing the church at Ephesus.  For Jesus to remove that lampstand would mean that the church no longer would exist.  That could mean one of two things.  It could mean that the church would literally die off so that no more members were meeting together.  It could mean that the church continued to meet, but it no longer was recognized by Jesus as a church.  In either case, Jesus was warning that failure to repent would be the end of that church. 

            Jesus added one more item in His synopsis of the condition of the church at Ephesus.  It hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans.  In various commentaries that I have seen, no one seems to know who the Nicolaitans were.  Jesus agreed with the church that the deeds of this group deserved hate.  I am reminded of the slogan, “hate the sin but love the sinner.”  I think that this is a reasonable understanding of a Christian’s stance toward various activities.  Yet, today, when some Christians try to express this idea with regard to homosexuality, they are often chastised for their “hate speech.”  Thus, to name an activity that one disapproves of is automatically deemed “hate speech.”  Jesus hated some activities.  We need to do the same.  Ladd (40) assumes that this reference to the Nicolaitans is an expansion of the reference in verse 2:2 to false apostles (and, by inference, teachers).  This is an assumption.  However, in that verse the reference is to individuals who called themselves apostles.  In the later verse, 2:6, the reference is to a group—we might call them a cult—that has tried to worm its way into the church, but the church has resisted.

            One of the constants in the seven letters is the command:  “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  It is found toward the end of each of the seven letters.  I would understand the admonition in two ways.  First, since it comes toward the end of each letter, it is an admonition to heed the letter itself.  The letter, then, is understood to come from Jesus but also the writing of the letter is under the supervision of the Spirit.  Second, it is an admonition to heed the Spirit in all His directives.  Those directives are in harmony with the directives that Jesus is giving in the letter. 

            Another constant in these letters is a promise to “the one who conquers.”  In each of the letters, the entire church is address as a single entity (the singular version of “you” is used).  There are a few exceptions where groups within the church are held up for rebuke.  For example, Jesus notes that in Pergamum there were some who held to the teaching of Balaam (2:14).  However, in each letter, Jesus makes a promise to the “one who conquers.”  I understand this to mean the following.  First, a church may have been characterized in a certain way.  For example, Ephesus had lost the love it had first.  Jesus warned that entire church that it must repent.  The church may or may not have repented.  If it did not, it would lose its status as a church.  However, no matter what the final outcome for the church may have been, Jesus also recognized that individuals may have conquered.  The King James Version uses “overcome.”  Though it would not be the usual translation of the word, it is helpful in this context.  The conqueror is the one who is able to overcome the negative environment he or she is living in.  The church may be a church without love, and yet this individual passionately and faithfully loves Jesus, his fellow Christian, and his non-Christian neighbor.  This faithful person may not be able to influence the main church body sufficiently to turn it around, or he or she may succeed in doing so.  No matter the case, Jesus promises a reward for that person.  Some of the rewards that are listed are what we usually believe are awarded to all who accept Christ.  For example, “not be hurt by the second death” (1:11) is a promise that would apply to all Christians.  One cannot establish that all of these promises apply to all Christians.  However, I think that they do.  This points to a principle that we tend to miss.  God’s vision for Christians is that they are “conquerors,” “overcomers,” and “victorious” (all meaning the same thing).  We have a tendency to divide the church into the Christians and the super-Christians, but that is not Biblical.  It is true that the New Testament deals with immature Christians (see I Corinthians 3 and Hebrews 5:11-14).  The expectation is that those persons were not to remain in their immaturity.  So, we need to recognize that God has made available to us the means to be conquerors.

            In the case of the letter to Ephesus, Jesus promised to the conqueror the right to eat from the Tree of Life.  This reminds us of the ancient tree in the Garden of Eden.  It was the Tree of Life.  After the Fall, the way to the Tree of Life was cut off (Genesis 3:24).  But through redemption, eternal life is restored to those who receive Christ (John 3:16).  In the beautiful picture of God’s paradise, the Tree of Life is seen on either side of the river of life (Revelation 22:1-2).  A whole orchard of life!  The promise is that the one who conquers will eat of that tree.  We may not be in the church like Ephesus that is characterized as devoid of love.  Nevertheless, we have plenty of obstacles in our environment that would rob us of our victory.  Each of us needs to hold steadfastly to our faith, our love, and our hope in our particular situation.

            As we review the letter to Ephesus, we can note several things.  First of all, the letter set the pattern that the rest of the letters followed, to a greater or lesser degree.  Second, Jesus addressed the church as a singular entity.  There were individuals within the church that may have been considered conquerors, but the history, leadership, and “center of gravity” of the membership combined to characterize this church in a particular way.  Jesus was concerned for the spiritual condition of the church as an entity and appealed to it to repent.  Churches may respond to such a message in various ways.  Sometimes a key individual can carry the day, either in a positive or negative way.  Sometimes a person who otherwise may not be a leader can make a difference.  Whatever the case, the church was given the opportunity to “get it done” or not.  Finally, though the church may not have responded to Jesus’ call to repentance, He promised not to ignore those individuals who were obedient and overcame their environment to be faithful and loving Christians.


SMYRNA (2:8-11)

Out of
Promise to one who conquers
First &
Last, died
And came
To life
Slandered by
False Jews
About to suffer
Be faithful to death
& receive crown of
Not be hurt by
Second death


            Smyrna is only mentioned in the New Testament in Revelation 1:11 and 2:8. It was a rival to Ephesus as an important city in Asia Minor and as a sea port.  It also, like Ephesus, was a center of worship of the emperor and the goddess Roma.  (Ladd, 42)  The description of Jesus combines two ideas about Jesus.  He is the One who was at the beginning and will be there at the end:  He is the first and the last.  He also was the One who experienced death, but came back to life.  The experience of Jesus was a “real world” application of His nature as the One who will always been around and always will be.  “Destroy this Temple (His body) and I will raise it up.” (John 2:19) You cannot destroy Him.  He is the First and the Last.

Jesus assured this church that He was aware of what it was going through, which He characterized as “tribulation.”  This is that word that is used a number of times in the New Testament:  thlipsis.  It is relentless pressure that can wear a person down.  Moreover, this church was in the midst of poverty.  Ladd (42) surmises that this poverty came about because of the persecution, which included confiscation of property (compare Hebrews 10:34).   Yet, Jesus said they were rich.  Over the years, I have known the little church on the wrong side of the railroad tracks.  You find one in most every town.  It is often a little white frame building.  On Sunday evenings, there is a little congregation listening to a preacher pouring out his soul.  The doors and windows are open in the summer because there is no air conditioner.  These folks are day laborers, hired men and women.  They scrape by and live from week to week.  They do all they can to keep the church finances up, but there is not much.  Across the tracks and up on main street is a great edifice of brick and stone with giant stained glass windows.  The cars in the paved parking lot on Sunday morning (there is no evening service) are one and two years old Mercedes and Lexuses and Cadillacs.  These are the doctors and lawyers and business owners.  The sermon is well-polished and fun to hear.  Jesus said to the church at Smyrna:  you are poor, yet you are rich.  To another church He will say the opposite.  The church at Smyrna was rich in faith and love and in their deep relationship to the Lord Jesus.  They were rich in the things of the Spirit.  They possessed things that money cannot buy.

An additional aspect of their suffering was that they were slandered.  The Greek word can also be translated “blasphemy,” when it is related to speaking vile things about God.  In this case, the people of the church were being blasphemed; most likely, people were telling lies about them.  Slander hurts.  Once a lie is told, it is very difficult to erase the harm it has caused.  One feels helpless because false accusations are often difficult to disprove.  One can feel defenseless because one’s enemy is not bound by any rules:  he or she can tell a lie and, seemingly, suffer no consequences.  It must have been a comfort to this church to know that Jesus knew what was going on.  Jesus knew the truth.  And, after all, that really is all that matters.  The source of this slander was from a particular group who claimed “they are Jews and are not.”  Most likely these people were Jews.  They were descendants of Abraham.  They were members of the local synagogue.  Yet, Jesus called this a “synagogue of Satan.”  These Jews, as their countrymen had done, rejected the message that Jesus was the saving Messiah for Jew and Gentile.  Once they had settled into that rejection, their hearts hardened and they became persecutors of the Christians.  So, Jesus and His followers were their enemies, and they were doing the work of Satan.

Not only have these Christians experienced persecution, but they could look for additional persecution.  Jesus encouraged them not to fear what was coming.  They would be put in jail and experience additional persecution for “ten days.”  This probably is symbolic language for “a fixed duration.” (NIVSB) That is, it was going to be bad, but it would not last forever.  The ultimate source of this persecution was the devil.  Throughout the book of Revelation, Satan is portrayed as the mastermind behind all sorts of evil.  In chapter 12, he is depicted as the archenemy of Christ.  By derivation, the followers of Christ are also the targets of Satan.  So, no matter who does the persecuting, Satan is behind it all.

This persecution would be a test.  Christian trials accomplish much within our hearts.  I don’t think trials are simply ways of sorting out the false from the real believer, though that will certainly happen.  But notice that this church had already undergone considerable suffering.  One would think that there were not too many pretend Christians left.  But trials are sort of like well-designed diets.  When one eats the right kind of food in moderate amounts, one begins to lose weight.  Over time, muscles begin to emerge from the fat.  The real muscle that is visible is much smaller than the mound that muscle flexion previously exhibited.  But the smaller muscle is the real thing.  So, when we are tested, the real of our own hearts begins to be revealed.  More than that, the real of life begins to be made known to us.  We begin to see what is pretense and illusion in our motives and pursuits.  Our trials strip away the fat of our lives and reveal the real spiritual muscle.

Jesus exhorted the church to be “faithful unto death.”  Probably not all of them were going to die, but they would all have to make up their minds that they might lose their lives for the faith.  The promise was that, if they would be faithful—even to the point of dying, they would receive the “crown of life.”  There are two “crowns” in the New Testament.  Both can be crowns of royalty, but generally the “diadem” connotes royalty.  The “stephanos” was originally a wreath made from palms that was given to the victor in an athletic contest.  So, the “crown of life” is the sign of a winner, the one who has run the course and arrived at the finish line.  The one who is faithful unto death will be crowned with a wreath of life itself—eternal life. 

To the conqueror the promise is not to be hurt by the “second death.”  This is a reference to a concept that would be introduced later in the book in 20:6 and 20:14.  In the context of chapter 14, four destinies are implied.  These are the first death, the second death, the first resurrection, and the second resurrection.  These are not formally defined in each case, but an understanding can be inferred.  The following table will be helpful:


Effect of
Effect of
Effect of
Effect of
In the
Book of Lifeà
Die (if not
In the
Raised to
No effect,
Not hurt by
(Rev. 2:11)
Not in the
Book of Lifeà
Not raised
Raised to
Face judgment
Thrown into the
Lake of Fire


So, a person who, in our usual jargon, is saved will not be thrown into the Lake of Fire.  This is a second death that takes place after the physical death of a person. 

            If one compares the letter to the church at Smyrna to the letter to the church at Ephesus, one notices some variation.  The church at Smyrna did not receive a rebuke nor did it receive a warning.  There is additional material (as there was in the first letter), in which Jesus prepares them for additional persecution.  In some respects this church is the most exemplary of all the churches.  It is faithful in the face of persecution, poverty, and slander. 

PERGAMUM (2:12-17)

Out of
Promise to one who conquers
Sharp two-
Edged sword
You dwell where
Satan’s throne is;
Yet hold fast My name; did not deny My name in days of
Antipas, faithful witness who was killed
People who hold
To teaching of
Idol food and
Immoral sex; and some who follow the Nicolaitans.
If do not repent,
I will fight them
With the sword of
My mouth
I will give some of
The hidden manna & a white stone
With a new name
Only he will know


            Jesus is described in this letter as the one who has the sharp, two-edged sword.  That sword was protruding from His mouth in 1:16.  That emphasized the power of the word from Jesus.  How is His word so powerful?  It is absolutely true.  A true word cuts through all the pretense, all the deception, all the sentimentality, and all other means by which people avoid the truth.  That truth exposes ourselves for who we are.  It exposes those false things that we put our hope in.  That truth proclaims Jesus as Lord and proclaims no other can usurp that rule.  It proclaims Jesus’ death on the cross as the means of redemption, and it proclaims that death has been overcome by His resurrection.  It proclaims that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father but by Him.  Thus, all other religions are false and deceptive.  It proclaims the condemnation of humankind:  that people loved darkness rather than life.  It declares that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God and that the wages of such sin is death.  It commands twelve legions of angels, and all the power of the universe is at its beck and call.  No wonder the symbol of the word of Christ is a sharp, two-edged sword.

            Pergamum is described as dwelling where “Satan’s throne is.”  This city was not as large and as successful commercially as Ephesus and Smyrna.  However, it was the capital of the Roman province of Asia.  It also was the very center of emperor worship.  In addition, it had several temples to various pagan gods.  The prominence of pagan worship, and especially the prominence of emperor worship, was probably the reason that Jesus characterized Pergamum as the place “where Satan’s throne is.”  (Ladd, 45-46)

            Despite the intense evil, the church in Pergamum remained faithful.  In the past, the evil had included persecution to the point of killing Antipas, one of the Christians.  The Lord commended the church for their courage and faithfulness in the face of such intense opposition.

            However, the Lord also rebuked the church because there were some who held certain doctrines.  Just as they “held” the name of Jesus, so they also “held” these teachings which were destructive to the church. One set of teachings comes under the name of Balaam, and the other comes under the name of the Nicolaitans.  The teaching of Balaam is summarized by the note that he taught Balak to put a stumbling block before Israel by tempting them to eat idol food and practice sexual immorality.  Balaam is a bit of mysterious person in Old Testament history.  He was a practitioner of divination who was widely known (see NIVSB at Numbers 22:5).  Yet, this pagan priest/prophet encountered the living God and spoke the word of the Lord (Numbers 22-24), a prophetic blessing on Israel.  Nevertheless, he also conspired with his Moabite sponsors, including King Balak, to seduce the Israelites into the pagan fertility cult, which included sacrifices to Baal and committing sexual acts with foreign women (Numbers 25, 31:16).  Notice that the doctrine of Balaam was a religious teaching.  The Judeo-Christian view of physical intimacy is that it is God’s good gift.  However, it is not to be used in a religious rite as it was among the pagans of the ancient world.  Possibly the teaching in Pergamum was some perversion of Christianity that included idolatry and sexual immorality.  The religious environment of the city would have encouraged these practices.  In addition, the unknown teaching of the Nicolaitans had captured the minds of some in the church.  This group is also mentioned in 2:6 in the letter to the church at Ephesus.  In that case, it was the deeds of the Nicolaitans that were condemned.  In Pergamum, the teaching of that group was rebuked by the Lord.  The teaching obviously would lead to the practice.  Ladd believes that the Nicolaitan teaching and the teaching of Balaam were synonymous (Ladd, 48), but the text seems to indicate that this group was separate from the “Balaam” group. 

            The remedy for these developments in the church was to repent.  The church as a whole is warned to repent.  However, the Lord threatens to make war against “them”—that group which was engaged in the sinful teaching and practice.  Notice the phrasing of the threat.  First, the Lord will “come.”  At the moment, the Lord is holding back, staying away, so to speak, to give the church time to renovate itself.  We often pray for the “presence” of the Lord.  I think perhaps we should be more thoughtful about that.  When the Lord comes, there is blessing but there is also holy fire that cleanses.  The threat from the Lord is that, when He comes, He will make war on the offending parties.  There can be no doubt as to who will win that war.  His weapon of warfare will be His sword, which is the descriptor of Christ in this letter (2:12).  That powerful instrument will proclaim truth in the midst of the lies of the false teachings. 

            The people in the church at Pergamum faced the persecution of a city so evil that Satan was enthroned there.  They also faced internal corruption brought on by false teachers of perverse doctrines.  Yet many had stayed true.  To those who endured and were victorious in all these trials the Lord promised two things.  First, He promised the “hidden manna.”  We remember that Jesus compared Himself to the manna that the Israelites ate in the desert.  That manna was a temporary means of life, but Jesus is the bread of eternal life (John 6:30-35).  So, the “hidden manna” is hidden from the world that can only taste material food.  The second promise was a white stone with a new name written on it.  According to ESVSB, a white stone was given to winning athletes as admission to a victory banquet.  So, the white stone will admit its holder to the great feast to come.  And its bearer will have a brand new name given to him or her by the Lord, as evidence of a brand new life, redeemed by the Lord.



Out of
Promise to one who conquers
Son of God,
Eyes like a flame of
Fire, feet like
Burnished bronze
Works, love and
Faith, service,
Patient endurance,
Latter works exceed the first
You tolerate Jezebel,
She is teaching my
Servants sexual
Immorality and
To eat idol food; she
refuses to repent
I will throw her on a sickbed;
Cause those who
Commit adultery
With her to suffer;
Will strike her children dead
To the rest of you who do not hold this teaching and deep things of Satan,
I will lay no other burden; only hold fast what you have
I will give authority over the nations, just as I have received from my Father


            Jesus is described as the “Son of God,” a term that is not used in chapter 1, except by implication in the phrase “His God and Father” (1:6).  The descriptions of His eyes and feet are directly from 1:14.  This is the only instance of the expression “Son of God” in Revelation. 

            This church was commended for its display of Christian character and activity.  Moreover, it had patiently endured—probably at least partly a reference to persecution and hardship.  Jesus praised her because she was displaying spiritual growth:  her “latter works exceed the first.”

            However, there was also trouble within the church.  In two of these seven churches (Pergamum and Thyatira), Jesus rebuked them because each had a particular group within its midst.  Notice that the entire church is responsible for the false teaching or wicked deeds of a group (most likely a minority—see the obverse in Sardis).  This is because no action was taken

by the church and its leadership to rid the church of the internal corruption.  The churches in America should take heed.  My observation is that there is very little discipline that goes on within churches.  The exception is that pastors get in trouble—especially when they commit sexual misconduct.

            The source of trouble in the church is “that woman Jezebel.”  This may be a label for a particular kind of false doctrine, but the full description seems to me to be of a particular person, a female, who is leading people astray.  She “calls herself a prophetess.”  Under this guise she is leading people into sin.  The nature of the sin is the same as that to which the doctrine of Balaam led in the case of Pergamum (2:14).  It may be that some perversion of Christian teaching was making the rounds and Jezebel was a spokesperson (calling herself a prophetess) for this false doctrine in Thyatira.  Ladd points out that trade guilds were prominent in Thyatira and that these guilds held feasts that were almost orgies and possibly included food sacrificed to idols.  Such activity would have been closely tied to many people’s job and would possibly have been a real challenge of conscience for Christians.  (Ladd, 49-52) Jezebel’s teachings also included the “deep things of Satan” (2:24).  These were possibly some sort of secrets or mysteries that were revealed only to the initiates.

            Jesus had given this woman time to repent, but she refused to repent of her immorality.  So, the conditional threat is past; now the Lord pronounces what He was about to do.  He was going to make her sick.  Then, if her followers did not repent, He would send tribulation upon them.  He also promises that He was going to “strike her children dead.”  Whether these were literal children or her followers is not known.  Ladd (52) believes “her children” refer to those followers who were fully committed to her teaching and practice beyond the commitment of those who “commit adultery with her.”  This may be true, but the expression, “commit adultery with her” seems pretty strong.  It may be that the “children” were those who had been initiated into the “deep things of Satan” (2:24).  When the churches saw what Jesus did in this situation, they would know that He “searches heart and mind [and gives] according to your works.”  The One who has eyes like a flame of fire would live up to the vision of Him.

            Jesus turned to the other members of the church, who had not followed Jezebel.  From the wording of 2:20 and 2:22, I infer that this was the majority.  This church was rebuked because a significant minority of its number had been seduced by this Jezebel.  But Jesus reserved punishment for the minority.  The majority would be spared if they held onto what they had.  What was that?  They had faith in Christ and had demonstrated a capacity for faithful Christian living and endurance in difficulty (2:19).  Jesus encouraged them to “keep on keeping on” until He comes. 

            The presence of this heresy—which led people into immorality and idolatry—in the midst of the church was a trial, no doubt, to the faithful Christians in the church.  Jesus encouraged those who were able to rise above their environment in victorious Christian living—as He did for those who did the same in other churches—by promising a blessing to the conqueror.  In this case, He promised that the conquerors would have rulership over the nations, sharing in His rulership.  The power of this authority is pictured as the power of an iron rod that can easily break earthen pots.  This same image is ascribed to Christ in Revelation 12:5 and 19:15.  The fulfillment of this promise of rulership is possibly presented in 20:4.  In addition, the conqueror was promised the morning star.  Again, this image is connected to Jesus in 22:16.  See also II Peter 1:19.  The morning star is that star that is so bright that it can survive the break of dawn.  Jesus is that bright morning star.  That breathtaking brightness, which illuminates our night and carries into our coming Day, was promised to those of this church who conquered.



            “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”  This is repeated in each of the letters to the seven churches.  The modern reader of these letters would do well also to hear the Spirit speak through these letters.  They give us insight into the condition of each of these churches, but they also prod us to look at the spiritual condition of our own local churches and, in some cases, of our denominations. 

            The letter to the church at Ephesus set a pattern which is followed, more or less, by the other letters.  Jesus gave a description of Himself, a praise to the church, a rebuke, a warning if the church did not repent, additional information, and a promise to the conqueror.  In those cases where there were problems found in the churches, Jesus warned the church to deal with it or consequences would follow.  In some cases the entire church was affected, and in other cases a significant minority was causing the problem.  Nevertheless, the church bore some responsibility to deal with the problem. 

            It is evident from these letters that Jesus takes the spiritual condition of a local church seriously.  We need to recognize from this the importance of the church.  It provides the spiritual environment for the individual believer and for that believer’s family, including children.  When a church is infected by heresy or immorality or destructive conditions, even if only a minority is directly affected, the entire church suffers.  Jesus, ultimately, is the life of the church.  When He removes the candlestick that represents the spiritual essence of that church, the church ceases to exist as a church.  That will have disastrous consequences for all involved.

            I shall analyze chapter 3 in the next article.


Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible.  Good News Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Ladd, G. Eldon.  A Commentary on the Revelation of John.  Grand Rapids:  William B.

            Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1972.

Suetonius.  The Twelve Caesars. Robert Graves, trans.  New York:  Viking Penguin Inc., 1957.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan Publ., 2002


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