A Commentary on Revelation Chapter 2
Letters to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and Thyatira
INTRODUCTION TO THE LETTER TO EPHESUS
The temple of Diana was located here. It was one of the seven wonders of the world. Paul spent three years here. Timothy labored here. Aquila, Priscilla, Apollos, Gius, Aristarchus, are all of Ephesus. It was a rich magnificent, commercial city with large harbors. There is not now a single house upon the sight of this ancient city. Near is a small Turkish village of Ayasaluk.
They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. Acts l8:19
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples. Acts l9:1
When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. [Traditionally bishops] Be shepherds of the church of God, [Many manuscripts of the Lord] which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship. Acts 20:18-38.
In Acts 19:29 a theater is mentioned. This theater was capable of holding 25,000 to 30,000 and was the largest ever built by the Greeks. It was 685 feet long and 200 feet wide. All these churches are non existent but the word of God liveth and abideth forever.
EXPOSITION ON THE LETTER TO EPHESUS
1 “To the angel [Or messenger; also in verses 8, 12 and 18] of the church in Ephesus write:
The bishop of this church is told that Jesus has an omniscient eye to determine the state of his church. Jesus says He holds the seven stars in his right hand. thus showing that they are dependent on him. He said in John 15:5 “For without me ye can do nothing.” Jesus is walking in the midst of his churches this denoted the constant supervision, inspection and surveillance.
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Heb 4: 13
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. I Sam. 16:7
2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance.
Jesus said he knew their works. They had not been idle, listless but active alert and energetic in his service. Labor refers to toiling in faithful service especially in opposing error.
Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. I Cor 15:58
We Cannot tolerate wicked men and those who claim to be apostles.
I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. Acts 20:29,30
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. II Cor. 11:13-14
They had thoroughly examined their claims and found their pretensions unfounded and false. They are praised for their intolerance.
3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Persevering–enduring hardships–not becoming weary.
4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember when you first fell in love?
Observers said, “He will get over it!” That is exactly what occurred with God’s children in this church. They got over it! That is, they ceased loving Christ first! God, save us from getting over it! Many today have shifted their love for Christ to love for doctrine. This is legalism–right thing but wrong motive.
We often sing this song :
When my love to Christ grow weak,
When for deeper faith I seek,
Then in thought I go to Thee,
Garden of Gethsemane!
This church had left their real love and devotion to Christ. Can a husband see his wife grow cold and not be grieved? They had become defenders of the faith, arming themselves with the heroic virtues of truth and courage, only to discover that in the battle they had lost the one quality without which all others are worthless.
5 Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
This group of cold hearted professors were in a state of spiritual declension. They had fallen from a highth of excellence. Now they needed to reflect upon their fall and come to repentance. I will come to you and remove your lampstand. Not in person but in judgment. If their is any doubt that the lampstand has been removed just visit Ephesus. The city now lies in ruins.
6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Deeds of the Nicolaitanes: little is known about this sect.
7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
Tree of life. Man is separated from it lest he eat of it and live forever in sin. After he overcomes he may eat it and live forever in the paradise of God. It is mentioned three times in Genesis and three times in Revelation.
INTRODUCTION TO THE LETTER TO SMYRNA
Here Polycarp was burned at the stake in 168 A.D. when he was 86 years old. He was converted in A.D. 82. Ignatos tells us that he was Bishop at Smyrna in 108 A.D. Turtullian tells us that he was ordained by John. Polycarp was urged to say “Caesar is Lord” but refused . He was brought to the stadium and the proconsul urged him saying “swear and I will set you at liberty, reproach Christ. Polycarp answered 86 years I have served him and he never did me any injury, how then can I blaspheme my Lord and Saviour.” This church which was located 40 miles North West of Ephesus has been called the persecuted Church.
EXPOSITION ON THE LETTER TO SMYRNA
8 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.
These are the words of him who is the First and the Last. The first and the last.
Listen to me, O Jacob, Israel, whom I have called: I am he; I am the first and I am the last. Isa 48:12
This is what the Lord says–Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come–yes, let him foretell what will come. Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one. Isa 44:6-8
Jesus identifies himself as the God of the Old Testament. Jesus Christ is OMNIPOTENT–All powerful. OMNIFIC–All creating. OMNIPRESENT–Present everywhere at once. OMNISCIENT–Possessing infinite knowledge.
Jesus tells this church that he has been through it all. Who died and came to life again; “I was dead and am now alive.” He wants them to know that he understands what they are experiencing. He informs them that he is a discerner of values. Jesus values his church according to what they are as well as what they do.
9 I know your afflictions and your poverty–yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
I know! What a Saviour! He knows their works, tribulations, poverty, etc.
The eyes of the Lord are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good. Prov. 15:3
But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man. John 2:24,25
Jesus knows our works. It is crystal clear from the Scriptures that we are not saved by works but rather by grace.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Eph 2:8-10
James 2:21 tells us that Abraham was justified by works when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar. Remember Abraham was called at the age of 75. His son was born when he was l00 and was offered when he was about 17 years old. Romans chapter 4 tells us that Abraham was justified by faith when he was l00 years old–thus the Bible says that Abraham was called at age 75 Justified by faith at age l00 and Justified by works at age 117.
Jesus also knew their tribulation. This means he knew of the pressure, affliction, anguish, burden and trouble they were going through. Persecution and tribulations are virtually the same, persecutions have special reference to the disagreeable treatment of the body while tribulations on the effect of the mind by way of worry and concern. Persecutions and tribulations are generally linked together. Jesus also knew of their poverty.
Yet you are rich! They were rich in faith, hope; and works.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Mt. 6:19-21
sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. 2 Cor 6:10.
Jesus pleaded their poverty. You will not need to plead your poverty.
I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not. Jesus knows the Blasphemy of them who say they are Jews. The word Blasphemy means vilification against God; any evil speaking or railing against our maker. But are a synagogue of Satan. The Devil is the real agent. These Jews were his instruments. Compare the book of Acts and the synagogues that Paul entered with the message of Christ and the reception he received.
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.
Cast into prison, tried…tribulation ten days…faithful unto death. I will list the ten primitive persecutions beginning with Nero to Diocletian.
1. Under Nero, A.D. 67
2. Under Domitian, A.D. 81
3. Under Trajan, A.D. 108
4. Under Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, A.D. 162
5. Under Severus, A.D. 192
6. Under Maximus, A.D. 235
7. Under Decius A.D. 249
8. Under Valerian, A.D. 257
9. Under Aurelian, A.D. 274
10. Under Diocletian, A.D. 303
During the reign of Diocletian an edict was issued to exterminate Christianity from the earth. The fatal day was fixed for Feb. 23rd. A.D. 303. No distinction was made of age or sex; the name of Christian was so obnoxious to the pagans that all indiscriminately fell sacrifice to their opinions. Houses were set on fire with whole Christian families inside. Stones were fastened about their necks; and being tied together, they were driven into the sea. This persecution lasted for ten years. Racks, scourges, swords, daggers, crosses, poison, and famine were only part of the tortures against the Christians. Is it any wonder that Jesus exhorted his followers to be faithful unto death?
11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.
There are two births and two deaths in the Bible. We can avoid the second death by a second birth.
In reply Jesus declared, I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again, How can a man be born when he is old? Nicodemus asked Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born! Jesus answered, I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. John 3:3-5
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Rev. 20:14.
INTRODUCTION TO THE LETTER TO PERGAMUM
The following message is being sent to the Bishop of the church at Pergamos. It was a large city and capitol of a province of Asia Minor. It had a large library of 200,000 volumes; also a famed temple of Ascuapius, the God of healing who was worshipped under the emblem of a serpent which believers in Christ believed to be the very symbol of Satan. This is still a medical symbol today. Satan is symbolized as a serpent 2 Cor. 11:3. The city is now called Bergama.
EXPOSITION ON THE LETTER TO PERGAMUM
12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. The sharp sword with two edges. Jesus identifies himself to this church as the one with a two edged sword.
The word of Christ is as penetrating as a sword with two edges.
Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. He will rule them with an iron scepter. He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. Rev 19:l5
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Heb. 4:12
The sword of God’s word is seen in awakening the conscience; alarming the fears; laying bare the secret feelings of the heart, and causing the sinner to tremble with the apprehension of the coming judgment. It reaches the very center of the feelings motives etc. It awakens sinners. The word enters like a sword, destroying the hope of a sinner, cutting him down under conviction; prostrating him as if a sword had pierced his heart. It slays the old man of sin. They may have a library of 200,000 volumes but only the word of Christ can save them.
Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Eph. 6:17
Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. James 1:21
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. I Pet. 1:22
He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. James 1:18
Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. John 6:68
Jesus answered, It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. Matt. 4:4
“Know thy works” (KJV). Under the omniscient eye of Jesus he inspects this church and finds that their works are acceptable.
We must never confuse works with salvation. Eph. 2:8,9. See my comments on works in verse 9.
13 I know where you live–where Satan has his throne. 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.
Where Satan’s seat is. It was a pantheon of heathen deities and pagan rites, the great altar of Zeus, Minerva, Apollo, Venus, Bacchus, and Aesculapius were here. The word Pergamos meant “the place of Nuptials.” No doubt it refers to the worship of Asculapius this “saviour” whose symbol was a serpent (Schaff Hertzog Ency Vol. I P. 316) “The notion that he originally was a god of light or underworld…the son of Apollo…serpent emblem on his staff…the god of medicine (Americans Ency Vol. l pg.. 197, Vol. 17 p.72, Vol. 18 p. 572.) His priests performed charms and incantations, crowds resorted to his temple where lying miracles were alleged to be performed in his honor a living serpent was kept and fed in the temple. Serpent worship was the marked character. (Pulpit Commentary P. 73,101)
Tradition says that Antipas was the first Christian to be martyr slain by the Romans. That he was shut up inside a brazen bull to end his life by starvation. He ended his life in thanksgiving and prayer.
14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.
Balaam first seduced Israel to the worship of Baal and then tempted them into lewdness and fornication. The Greek term Nicolaitane is equivalent to Balaam in Hebrew. Both means “destroyer of people” Commentaries generally agree that they held to a community of wives, regarded adultery and fornication as matters of indifference and permitted the eating of things sacrificed to Idols.
While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the Lord’s anger burned against them. Numbers 25:1-3
Have you allowed all the women to live? he asked them. They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the Lord in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. Numbers 31:15.,16
15 Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
Doctrine of the Nicolaitanes: see comments on verse 6. The church suffers when it permits wicked men in its bosom.
16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
Repent. If they would not repent then he would direct heavy judgment against them.
17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.
Hidden manna and a white stone. The grace of Christ and all its glorious fruits will be their food.
I am the bread of life. John 6:48
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. ohn 6:51
White stone was a symbol of acquittal and a black stone of guilt. A white stone was put into a vessel by a jury to vote acquittal for a person on trial. Jesus, would therefore vote on acquittal for them if they overcome. Could any lover give anything more enticing to his beloved? The hidden manna, so precious when we find it, and then the new pet name that no one knows but you; for it is too delicate and precious for others to use and it is written upon a costly and rare white stone. No lover like “Jesus, the Lover of my soul.”
INTRODUCTION TO THE LETTER TO THYATIRA
This church was located in a city known for its trade guilds. Thytaria was famous for its purple dye and cloth. A very famous Christian known to us–Lydia–lived here. The tutelary god of the city was Tyrimnos. The first of the seven churches was seen as weakening its love yet it was faithful to judge false teachers, while the church at Thyatira was growing in love, and tolerant of false teachers. Both extremes must be avoided. There must be proper balance to our teaching. Unloving orthodoxy and loving compromise are both hateful to God. There is a tremendous lesson to be learned here. We can be zealous and orthodox like Ephesus and at the same time lose our love for Christ. Or like Thyatira grieve the Lord because of our tolerance.
EXPOSITION ON THE LETTER TO THYATIRA
18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
Thyatira–Center of communication–a trading city. Here we find the trade guilds, wool workers, linen workers, makers of outer garments dyers, etc. cf. Lydia of
One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. Acts 16:14
These trade guilds were associated with the worship of tutelary Gods. Each guild had its guardian gods, the scenario would be somewhat as follows: 1. Membership to guild implies that you worship its god. 2. You would be expected to attend its festivals and eat what was offered to the tutelary god. 3. When the feast ends–and the fun begins–(grossly immoral) if you walk out you would be ridiculed and persecuted. 4. What must a Christian do? (a) If he quits the union, he loses his position and standing in society–he might even go hungry. (b) If he remains and attends the feasts–eating and drinking things offered to Idols and committing fornication, he denies the Lord, Jezebel had the answer–she apparently argued–in order to conquer Satan you must know him. Hence, by all means attend the guild feasts and commit fornication–and still remain a Christian, yea, rather become a better Christian. This church has become known as the compromising church. Present population of Thyatira is l5,000 to 20,000.
These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. Before the glance of his eye, nothing can be concealed. His majesty and glory is here indicated.
19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.
I know thy works–services the church had rendered:
We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Th. 1:3
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Romans 12:1
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Gal. 5:6
Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. Jas 1:4
And that you are now doing more than you did at first. Those works that had most recently been performed were more numerous and more commendable than those which had been rendered formerly. Religion in the soul is designed to be progressive. Is your last works better than your former?
20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.
I have a few things against thee. JEZEBEL. Daughter of Ethbaal, king of Tyre. A woman of vast influence which was uniformly exerted for evil. She used all her powers to establish the worship of Idols. She was highly gifted, persuasive, artful and resolute in accomplishing her purposes. She was ambitious in extending and perpetrating her power, and unscrupulous in the means employed. The kind of woman therefore designated would be one who was a through advocate of evil; unscrupulous and whose influence lead people into abominable practices of idolatry.
21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.
I gave her space to repent.. But she showed no disposition to abandon her course.
22 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 cast her into a bed. Not a bed of ease but a bed of pain, diseases of body and tortures of soul.
23 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.
Notice Jesus uses “I” eleven times from verse 20 to 28. I will give unto every one of you according to your works. As we sow so shall we reap. I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. I search reigns and hearts. Jesus searches the innermost mind and the secrets of the soul. There are 851 occurrences of the word heart in the Old Testament and one third denote personality as a whole–the inner life–character. It always includes the ideas of integrity, singleness of purpose and absence of low aims.
24 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):
I will put upon you none other burden. Thank God! They had about all they could handle.
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. I Cor 10:13.
25 Only hold on to what you have until I come.
Hold fast till I come. This is a sermon in a nutshell. Jesus wants us to be on guard. To stand firm in the faith.
Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong. I Cor. 16:13
26 To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations–
Overcometh. The hymn writer R. Kelso Carter wrote:
Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
Bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord,
Overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword,
Standing on the promises of God.
27 ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery just as I have received authority from my Father.
To rule with a sepulcher of iron, is not to rule with a harsh and tyrannical sway, but with power that is firm and invincible. This does not mean that the church will rule the world by temporal power, but that it will yield a sway that is a great spiritual power and influence over all nations and with the sword of the spirit, will break down the tyrannical power of nations, and will break to shivers Idols by their righteous living, and by the power of the gospel will destroy the very strongholds of Satan.
She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne. Rev 12:5
I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshipped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. Rev 20:4
28 I will also give him the morning star.
To have Christ is more than the universe itself. The light of the gospel in the hearts of men.
29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Dear reader it behooves us to listen to the word of God.