EPHESUS: APOSTOLIC CHURCH (2:1-7).
COMMENDATION (2:2-3, 6). There are nine points of commendation: I know your deeds, (2) your hard work and (3) your perseverance. (4) I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, (5) that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. (6) You have persevered and (7) have endured hardships for my name, and (8) have not grown weary. (9) You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
NICOLAITANS. The Greek word nikolaitwn (Nicolaitans) is derived from Nike meaning “victory” and laos meaning “people.” Nicolaitans suggest a group of people who seek to elevate themselves into a special class of priesthood over other Christians; as such they are “conquerors of people” and violate the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 1:29). This practice led to the spiritual “Dark Ages” of the medieval period. Others hold that Nicolaitans are followers of Nicolaus, a heretic. They are thought to have been a sect of Gnostics who practiced and taught impure and immoral doctrines, such as the community of wives, that committing adultery and fornication was not sinful, and that eating meats offered to idols was lawful. Their doctrines and lives were equally corrupt. Adam Clarke says, “Augustine, Irenaeus, Clemens, Alexandrinus, and Tertullian, have spoken largely concerning them.”
CONDEMNATION (2:4). There is one point of condemnation: “You have forsaken your first love.” Their doctrine was uncorrupted but their passion for the Lord was growing dim. No longer was “Christ all in all.” They are cold!
COUNSEL (2:5). Christ’s advice to this church: “Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.” It is not possible for any to recover their first love, but by taking these steps: (1) Remember; (2) Repent; and (3) Do the first works.
Looking back is an established principle. God instituted within the OT and NT economies annual feasts (Passover, etc.) and ordinances (baptism and communion) to assist the saints in “remembering” the heights of original salvation and for the recovery of the accompanying initial spiritual passion (cf. Jeremiah 2:1-3). Here the word “repent” indicates a return to doing the first works out of love instead of routine.
CAUTION (2:5). “If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” From the flourishing state of the church after this until A.D. 449, there is reason to believe they did repent. After a chaotic and violent Third General Council at Ephesus in A.D. 449, the church faded away. The seat of the Church changed. What the East has lost, the West has gained. Their lampstand was removed as the prophecy warned.
SMYRNA: THE PERSECUTED CHURCH (2:8-2:11).
COMMENDATION (2:9). There are three points of commendation: (1) I know your afflictions and (2) your poverty—yet you are rich! (3) I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
SYNAGOGUE OF SATAN. The large assembly of Jews at Smyrna rejected Christ and opposed the Christians. In doing so, they blasphemed God and served Satan. Their opposition and unbelief showed they belonged to their father the Devil (John 8:44). Satan appears to have used the Jews of Smyrna as instruments of persecution but he is the real agent.
COUNSEL (2:10). Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.
SUFFER PERSECUTION FOR TEN DAYS. The reality of faith may be subjected to a test by God to show whether it is genuine. God incited Satan’s attack on Job to prove the genuineness of Job’s faith (Job 1:6-12). God even tested His own Son with Satan:
At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert for forty days, being tempted by Satan (Mark 1:12-13).
In the midst of suffering and testing, the Christian is to rejoice (Luke 6:23; Romans 5:3-4; James 2:1-4; 1 Peter 1:6-9) since suffering works perseverance and precedes glory!
Ten persecutions are named by church historians and two persecutions of ten years each. It might refer to one of the latter which should bear very heavily on that church. In any case, there appears to be at least ten edicts of persecution by ten Roman rulers that tested and tried the faith of the Christians, which ended with the Edict of Toleration of Emperor Constantine in A.D. 324.
- A.D. 54 Nero
- A.D. 81 Domitian
- A.D. 98 Trojan
- A.D. 117 Antoninus
- A.D. 195 Severus
- A.D. 235 Maximum
- A.D. 249 Decius
- A.D. 254 Valerian
- A.D. 270 Auerelian
- A.D. 284 Diocletian
The Diocletian persecution continued ten years and three months. An earlier date for the writing of this book is required if the ten days (literally taken) end the Domitian’s persecution, which was stopped by the edict of Emperor Nerva. “Day” is not used as a metaphor for a period of time when a number is attached to it in the rest of Scripture. Hence, one cannot be certain about the fulfillment of the “ten days.”
At age eighty-six, Bishop Polycarp, the convert and pupil of John, was burned at the stake at Smyrna on February 23, A.D. 155.
CROWN OF LIFE is not a royal crown but the garland crown of victory over death. Only those who persevere to the end in faith will receive eternal life.
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).
PERGAMUM: THE INDULGED CHURCH (2:12-17).
COMMENDATION (2:13). There are three points of commendation: (1) I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. (2) Yet you remain true to my name. (3) You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.
SATAN’S THRONE & WHERE SATAN LIVES. Pergamum had become a center of the Babylonian mystery religion after the fall of the city of Babylon; therefore, it is identified with Satan. Askelpios was worshiped there under the image of the serpent. Satan attempted to destroy this church with a huge pagan revival led by the idolatrous temples of Pergamum.
ANTIPAS was Christ’s faithful martyr. There is an extant book called The Acts of Antipas, which makes him the bishop of Pergamum and states that he was put to death by being enclosed in a burning brass bull.
CONDEMNATION (2:14-15). There are four points of condemnation: Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: (1) You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin (2) by eating food sacrificed to idols and (3) by committing sexual immorality. (4) Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
TEACHING OF BALAAM. Numbers 24:1-25:18 reports that Balak the king of Moab sent for Balaam to come and curse Israel. Finding that God restrained him, and Balaam turned his tongue from cursing them to pronounce blessings on them. At last, the prophet instructed Balak how to lay a “stumbling block” before Israel, to cause them to fall, by sending the Moabite women to seduce them to defile their separateness, and so to feast with them in their idols’ temples, and eat of their meat first offered unto their idols. The ensuing result was that God’s wrath was poured out on His chosen people. An unequal yoke with a pagan frequently leads to compromise and destruction of the believer’s faith. Hence, the Scripture warns:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14).
COUNSEL (2:16). Repent therefore!
CAUTION (2:16). Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
FIGHT AGAINST THEM denotes those in the church who refuse to repent of teaching and practicing immorality and idolatry.
WITH THE SWORD OF MY MOUTH indicates that Christ will use sound doctrine like a sword to devour and to destroy them or His fierce anger will bring about their physical death (cf. Numbers 25:1-5).
THYATIRA: THE PAGAN CHURCH (2:18-29).
COMMENDATION (2:19, 24). There are seven points of commendation: (1) I know your deeds, (2) your love and (3) faith, (4) your service and (5) perseverance, and (6) that you are now doing more than you did at first. (7) Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you).
SATAN’S SO-CALLED DEEP SECRETS. Gnostics, (“full of knowledge”) called their doctrine “the depths of God,” but Christ literally called it “the depths of Satan” These seducers taught deep things, great mysteries revealed to them; as there are the deep things of God (1 Corinthians 2:10). But Christ insists their teaching comes from Satan. The trade guilds were closely connected with religion at Thyatira. A modern equivalent is the Masonic Lodge.
CONDEMNATION (2:20-21). There are four points of condemnation for the church of Tyatira: Nevertheless, I have this against you: (1) You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. (2) By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and (3) the eating of food sacrificed to idols. (4) I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. THAT WOMAN JEZEBEL is a symbolical name for some prominent woman in the church in Thyatira, like the infamous wife of Ahab who was guilty of idolatry and witchcraft (1 Kings 16:31; 2 Kings 9:22) and who sought to drive out the worship of God from Israel.
The three oldest manuscripts read “and she teaches and seduces,” or “deceives.” Thyatira was just the reverse of Ephesus. There, much zeal for orthodoxy, but little love; here, activity of faith and love, but insufficient zeal for godly discipline and doctrine, a patience of error even where there was not a participation in it. Christ expects His Church to be sound in doctrine and practice.
Don’t miss God’s amazing grace—even a “Jezebel” receives time and opportunity to repent! Grace is offered but she is unwilling. Clearly, God does not invade one’s free will. There are numerous insights into soteriology (salvation) in these seven letters.
COUNSEL (2:25). Only hold on to what you have until I come.
HOLD ON TO WHAT YOU HAVE denotes sound doctrine and practice until Christ comes to execute the judgments that He has threatened.
CAUTION (2:22-23). “So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”
SO I WILL CAST HER ON A BED OF SUFFERING is the opposite of the kind of bed of pleasure that she has sinned in. Having not repented, she will be cast into great pains and torments of the Tribulation Period and Christ will strike her children (followers that commit adultery with her) dead. Christ makes no mistakes. They will reap what they sowed! There appears to be no chance of salvation in the Tribulation for these people unless they are converted and are among the martyred Tribulation saints. In either case, Christ’s longsuffering ends—they have crossed over the line of grace into the Lamb’s wrath!
SARDIS: THE DEAD CHURCH (3:1-6).
COMMENDATION (3:4). There is one point of commendation: Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.
NOT SOILED THEIR CLOTHES denote their purity, holiness, righteousness in their walk (life and practice).
DRESSED IN WHITE looks forward to their glorified state (cf. Revelation 3:18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13; 15:6; 19:8, 14).
His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow (Matthew 28:3).
CONDEMNATION (3:1). There is one point of condemnation: I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
YOU ARE DEAD. That is, spiritually. Sardis was famed among the churches for spiritual vitality; yet the Heart-searcher pronounces her dead.
COUNSEL (3:2-3). Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.
WAKE UP! Self-deception is a terrible thing. The heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9-10). These people face a rude awakening at the Judgment if they do not wake up and repent.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23).
CAUTION (3:3). But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
I WILL COME LIKE THIEF indicates that His coming will be sudden and unexpected for the spiritually dead. There are two phases to the second coming of Christ: (1) The Rapture and (2) The Return to Earth. Jesus announces His second coming to earth in Revelation 16:15:
Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.
As the thief gives no notice of his approach, Christ comes in special judgments on unbelieving and unrepentant churches. His special judgments are anticipatory earnests of His great last coming.
Christians are not to be ignorant or taken by surprise by Christ’s coming to catch up the Church. First Thessalonians is written to believers; it asserts that those in Christ should not be surprised as a thief surprises unaware persons.
PHILADELPHIA: THE LOVED CHURCH (3:3-13).
COMMENDATION (3:8-10). There are four points of commendation: (1) I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. (2) I know that you have little strength, (3) yet you have kept my word and (4) have not denied my name.
COVENANT (3:9-10). This church receives two special promises from Christ. (1) I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. (2) Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.
ACKNOWLEDGE THAT I HAVE LOVED YOU. Paul proves from the OT Scriptures that not all Israel is Israel—not all Jews are Jews. Only a remnant entered the Church (Romans 11:1-24). Christ will use His beloved Church that is raptured to make all Israel envious unto salvation (Romans 10:19; 11:11).
KEEP YOU FROM THE HOUR OF TRIAL. That is the time of great tribulation of Daniel’s Seventy Seven that occurs before Christ’s second coming to earth. Preterists understand “from the hour of trial” to mean the persecution under Emperor Trajan, which was greater and more extensive than the preceding ones under Nero and Domitian.
COUNSEL (3:11). I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
YOUR CROWN is the garland crown (stefanon) given as a reward. Here the type of crown is not identified. Only the churches that received no condemnation, Smyrna and Philadelphia, are promised crowns.
Two thousand years after Christ dictated these seven letters, only Smyrna and Philadelphia, which received unqualified praise, are still thriving cities with churches.
LAODICEA: THE LUKEWARM CHURCH (3:14-3:22).
CONDEMNATION (3:15-17). There are five points of condemnation: (1) I know your deeds, (2) that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! (3) So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (4) You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” (5) But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
LAODICEA means rights or judgments of the people. This name reminds one of the conditions of Israel at the end of Judges.
In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25).
Such is the “truth is relative” philosophy of Christendom at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Nothing leads to lukewarmness like everyone making his or her own judgments.
LUKEWARM—NEITHER HOT NOR COLD. Ephesus’ love had grown cold; Philadelphia and Smyrna were hot; and Laodicea was lukewarm, proud, self-satisfied, and ignorant of her true state. The Laodicean church embraced today’s “prosperity gospel”—”name it and claim it.” Wealth and health produced an inward cancer that ruined this church. Lukewarm signifies too comfortable to notice anything wrong; being hot or cold gets one attention. Therefore, Christ would rather have the church hot or cold.
ABOUT TO SPIT YOU OUT OF MY MOUTH most likely denotes that this church is unsaved and will enter into the Tribulation. Clearly, this church sickens Jesus and they shall be rejected like nauseous drink or food.
COUNSEL (3:18). I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see.
GOLD PURIFIED IN THE FIRE signifies true, living faith, which is purified and tested in the furnace of affliction.
These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:7).
SALVE FOR YOUR EYES. This church is utterly blinded to its true spiritual condition. Spiritual blindness caused them to focus on worldly wealth, numbers, deeds, which do not make a church rich. Jesus Christ looks on the inward heart of people. Their relationship with Christ is lukewarm at best and probably does not even exist as indicated by His caution.
CAUTION (3:19-20). Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
I STAND AT THE DOOR of sinners’ hearts, as well as I am ready to come to judge the world.
IF ANYONE HEARS MY VOICE AND OPENS THE DOOR, I WILL COME IN is an invitation to individuals in the church to come to salvation. It is similar to John 14:23:
Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
Salvation is a two-sided transaction: First God calls and then man hears. Man of His own free will must open the door to Christ; He will not force His way into our life. Christ’s voice is heard through the preaching of the Gospel and His Spirit inwardly applying the message to man’s spirit (Romans 10:13-18). EAT WITH HIM signifies a friendly relationship in the ancient world; for example, it was said of Jesus:
The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners”.’ But wisdom is proved right by her actions” (Matthew 11:19).
In chapter one, John saw Christ in His glory as the Judge of His church. The next two chapters contain the letters that Christ dictated to John to the seven churches in Asia Minor. Beginning with chapter four, John is taken to the Throne of God in heaven. The following chart illustrates the Throne of God and those surrounding it.