About Jesus     Steve Sweetman

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ch. 2:1-7    ch. 2:8-11


      ch. 2:12-17    ch. 2:18-29

 

Introduction To The Seven Churches

 

Before I comment on the next two chapters I need to point out a few things about the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3. 

 

First of all, within Evangelical circles the most common understanding of these seven letters is that they are directed to seven specific churches in John's day.  Besides that, many Prophetic Futurists believe that these seven churches represent seven stages in church history since the Day of Pentecost right up to the last day of this age.  Although I understand how this secondary interpretation is derived, I've never fully adopted it, mainly because the text does not specifically state this interpretation, and also because these letters sound more Old Testament Jewish in nature than New Testament Christian in nature.

 

There is another less taught view of these seven letters that I am beginning to support.  This view teaches that these seven letters, although addressed to seven assemblies in cities in John's day, are directed to Jewish communities at the end of the age.  They say this because of the total Jewish Old Testament style they are written in.  Those holding to this view suggest that if you study these assemblies carefully they parallel one of seven periods in Old Testament Jewish history. . 

 

In my following commentary I will attempt to point out some main points to each view.  Beyond these two views, there are some real lessons to be learned, whether you are a Jew or a Christian.  There's much we can learn from what Jesus says in these letters, both as individual Christians and the church.             

 

These letters are directed to angels as most English texts state.  The word "angel" is translated from the Greek word "aggelos" which simply means a "messenger".  So, if we should understand angel as a heavenly being, we must understand those to whom these letters were written had angels over them or associated with them.  If we are to understand the word to be messenger, as some do, then we're talking about a human, possibly a pastor, as some believe who hold to the view that Jesus is speaking to churches.  Those who believe He is speaking to Jewish communities say that the angels are spokesmen for the priests, since priest had a person speaking on his behalf in Old Testament times.  

 

The Greek word "ekklesia" is translated as "church" in most English translations.  I see church as being a poor word in this case, especially in light of the fact that the modern church resembles the first or second generation church in very little ways.  Ekklesia simply means an assembly or community of people set apart for a specific purpose, and in this case, the ekklesia is the community of the people of God. 

 

As I've pointed out, the most common view among Prophetic Futurists concerning these seven letters is that they were written to seven specific churches that existed when John penned this book.  Beyond this, many, not all, Prophetic Futurists, believe that these seven churches represent seven different eras in church history.  One reason for this thinking is because of the word "church" in our English Bibles.  Because "ekklesia" is translated ass "church" we think the church is what is being talked about here.  The problem is that "ekklesia" doesn't have to be translated as "church".  It could be translated as "assembly", or, as I prefer, "community".  Understanding "ekklesia" as assembly or community puts a whole different slant on one's interpretation of these letters.  You may not think in terms of the New Testament church.   

 

Three problems that I see in thinking that these seven churches represent seven eras of church history are as follows.  One problem is that the text does not say this.  This is pure interpretation, as I've said.  The second problem as I see it is that for the most part, those holding to this view only speak of the western church in their interpretation, as if the eastern church has never existed.  That's not the case.  The third problem as I see it is that all that is said in these letters is purely Jewish Old Testament in nature and because of that is hard to apply to the church.    

 

The other less known view that I've pointed out is that the assemblies, or, the community of God's people spoken of in these letters are Jewish communities that exist at the end of this age.  This could easily be understood if you don't translate "ekklesia" as church, but as assembly or community of God's people.   

 

The bottom line for me at the present time is that I prefer not to translate "ekklesia" as church in Revelation 2 and 3.  As a matter of fact, I prefer to translate "ekklesia" as "community of God's people" throughout the New Testament, even when it is in reference to church.  I say this because our modern idea of church is not what the New Testament teaches.        

 

Another thing to note concerns the people of God in Thyatira.  Some early Christian writers of the second century say that at the time John wrote Revelation there was no church at Thyatira.  If this is so, then those holding to the view that these seven letters are directed to seven specific churches might be mistaken.   

 

 

The view that these seven letters are written to and about the church is well written about.  The view that these letters are written to and about the Jewish community is less written about.  For this reason, I suggest you read E. W. Bullinger's book entitled "The Apocalypse".  It was published in 1909.  He is a scholar when it comes to theology, history, and the original languages of the Bible.  

 

What I will attempt to do in my commentary is to briefly state some main points of each view as we as suggest lessons to be learned for both the individual Christian and the church today.

 

 

The Church In Ephesus (ch. 2:1-7)

 

To begin, those who believe this letter is written to a church that represents a particular church era in history say it represents the Apostolic Church from Acts 2 to about 100 A D.  They call it the "Apostolic Church".  Those who believe this letter was written to a Jewish assembly at the end of this age parallel this assembly to Israel prior to their Egyptian exile.  They call this "Israel Espoused" because we see Israel being married to their God during this period.   

 

Note in verse 1 the words; "to the angel of the church at …"  You will note that each subsequent letter begins this way.  Our English Bibles give us the impression that Jesus was talking to certain angels who were over these seven churches.  The question should be asked; "Does the word 'angel' mean angel as we know it"?  It's important to note that both the Greek and Hebrew word translated as angel in the Bible simply means a messenger.  Therefore, it is possible that these angels were human messengers, were human leaders sent and appointed by God to the people of God.  At the moment I'm not really sure if these messengers are men or angels.  I've traditionally understood them to be angels but I now have doubts about that. 

 

Ephesus was a thriving sea port metropolis.  The goddess Diana or Artemis was the goddess these people worshiped.  There was a huge temple built for her which was one of the wonders of the world at that time. It was said that Diana fell from the sky and thus was also known as the “moon god”.  She was the god that protected animals and the various statues made of her often had a deer besides her symbolizing this. She was also known as the “mother god’ symbolizing fertility. Statues of her ranged from being young with a short tunic or dress to more mature wearing no top to cover her multiple breasts, symbolizing her nurturing aspect.   The constant reminder and worship of Diana might have been part of the reason why Ephesus was known as a city that was far from moral. 

 

The community of believers at Ephesus was established by Paul as seen in Acts 20, and the Christians there came to love him, yet when the book of Revelation was distributed to these seven communities Paul was long gone.  The next generation of believers was now the ones this prophecy was directed to, that is, assuming you believe these letters were written to churches and not Jewish assemblies. Christian tradition states that the Apostle John was the leader of the church at Ephesus.  This is interesting in light of the fact that Jesus has some very stern warnings about this church.  Just why or how this church good lose its first love, as we will see, and, just why and how it could tolerate sin, when John was its leader is hard to know.       

 

A disciple of John name Papias, who wrote five books that we don't have, says that there were actually two Johns.  One John who wrote the gospel, that is, John the apostle, and, another called John the elder.  He says that John the elder wrote the book of Revelation.  We don't have a record of him saying this.  However, we do have a couple of second century writers who quote him as saying this.  If this is true, this might well solve the problem that I pointed out in the last paragraph of the Ephesus believers falling so bad with John the apostle as one of their leaders.   

 

Jesus introduces Himself as “the One who holds the seven stars in His hands and walks among the seven lampstands”.  Whether the stars are real angels or some other kind of messenger, Jesus holds them.  He protects, cares for, and has authority over them.

 

Jesus also walks among the lampstands.  Jesus walks among these seven churches, or, community of God's people.  My thinking is that if He walked among these particular communities, I'm sure He walked among other communities of believers as well.   

 

Jesus says that He knows certain things about these community of believers at Ephesus which He speaks well of.  He says that He knows their deeds, hard work and perseverance. Jesus acknowledges that these Christians are a very hard working group of people that don’t give up.

 

Also, Jesus acknowledges the fact that this church does “not tolerate wicked men”.  He also knows that they “have tested those who claim to be apostles and are not, and have found them to be false”.  This is a church not only that has much good works but an emphases on truth and right teaching, and why not, having one of its leaders being John. 

 

This is the only church of the seven churches in Revelation, chapters 2 and 3 that mention apostles.  This is one reason why many believe it to represent the first century church. 

 

Note that Jesus Himself calls false teachers wicked men.  We should do the same.

 

In verse 3 we see that this church had endured much hardship and had not given up or “grown weary”, such a very good quality to have.

 

You’d think that Jesus would be very happy with this church but He isn’t totally happy.  After building these people up and acknowledging some of their good points, He then says in verse 4, “yet, I hold this against you”.  This must have been a little bit of a shock to these guys.  After hearing the good words they might have been feeling pretty good about themselves. Now Jesus says that He holds something against them.

 

The NIV uses the word “yet”.  Some use the word “nevertheless”.  Either word pretty well balances all of the good things that Jesus just said about these people with the bad things He is about to say.  

 

What Jesus had against them was the fact “they forsook their first love”.  These people didn’t lose their first love, they left it, that means they walked away, whether knowingly or unknowingly they left their affectionate relationship they once had with Jesus.  They probably left it on an individual bases and a collective basis as well.  Remember, Jesus is talking to the whole church here.  He's saying that the church as a whole has lost its collective love and affection that they once had.  The fact of the matter is that a whole church cannot lose its first love without the individuals losing their first love first.

 

Yes, doctrinally speaking they were doing well.  They were working hard, but their love for Jesus was lost.  This is often the case. The Christian life for both the individual and the church becomes routine as we go about the business of church.  This is one of our main problems today.  We’re about the business of church and we’ve lost the love and affection that we had at the beginning, much like husbands and wives cool down in their relationship after a few years of marriage.

 

In verse 5 Jesus says, “Remember the height from which you have fallen”.  This fall evidently wasn’t just a little drop.  It sounds like a major fall from a high cliff.  Jesus wants them to think about what He is saying by using the word “remember”.  These people needed to be made aware that they’ve fallen out of love to a major degree.

 

By the time these words would have been spoken to this church it would have been the second generation of Christians.  Many, if not most, of the first Christians would have died off by now.  One of the hardest things for the church to do it seems is to maintain its fervor for Jesus from one generation to the next.  

 

So what was Jesus’ advice to these people, or should I use the word command?  He first told them to “remember”. They were to “remember” how it used to be.  Once remembering, Jesus told them to "repent”, that is change your ways.  Then He says to “do the things you did at first”.

 

There’s three things Jesus says here  - remember, repent, and do the things you once did, but how could they do that?  This is Jesus’ advice concerning renewing the spark that has been lost.  Once you remember how it used to be and turn back towards that direction and then start doing the things you once did, then the spark returns.  

 

The same can be said of husbands and wives.  As time goes on, things cool down, and the spark in their hearts is lost.   Jesus would tell this couple to remember how things used to be and turn your attention to returning to those days, and do some of the things you once did.  The doing of these things will create an affectionate spark in the heart once again.  It is important to know that everything is new only once.  There is some excitement that comes with newness.  I’m not speaking of a return to great excitement.  I’m speaking of an affectionate spark in the heart of men and women in their marriage relationship.   The same is also true for the believer.   

 

By doing the things you did when you first became a Christian, the spark can return as well.  Maybe it was reading your Bible.  Maybe it was witnessing.  Maybe it was praying.  There are all sorts of things we once did.  Start doing them again and see the spark return. This is Jesus’ advice to apathy.

 

The last part of verse 5 sounds devastating to me.  Jesus says that if the Ephesian church do not repent, He will come and take away their lampstand.  This means that Jesus will depart from them, and He will no longer have them as one of His churches.  Yes, they may continue to exist organizationally, but as a false church.  He will take away their lampstand.  Jesus will take away His Holy Spirit from their midst.  If the Christian tradition is correct that John was the leader of this church, he must have been devastated by these words.  To think that Jesus would forsake the church that he cared for must have been hard for him to take. Of course, this would only be true if the John who wrote Revelation is the same John who wrote the gospel account.

 

Many churches today exist in name only.  They are self propitiating.  They can exist on their own effort, but Jesus has long since left them.  This was what Jesus was warning this church about.

 

The very crux and intent of the New Testament is for God to live among His people through His Spirit.  These people were losing God’s intent for them.  If they were going to continue on this path, then God Himself would remove Himself from this church.

 

Verse 5 is a devastating thought so Jesus had to pick these people up a bit and so He told them that they had one thing in their favour and that was they hated the practice of the Nicolaitans as He did too.

 

The Nicolaitans were a heretical group with their false apostles and teachers.  They were quite immoral and engaged in sexual orgies.  This group of people adopted the Greco/Roman thinking that separate soul from body.  They believed the soul was holy and the body was so evil that it was beyond repair.  Therefore, since the body could not be fixed, they gave into its sinfulness as seen in sexual sins. Adopting a worldly philosophy like this has hindered the church throughout the ages, right up to this very day.       

 

Note that Jesus hates the practice of these people.  He doesn’t say that He hates the people.  So we see that Jesus does hate the sin but not the sinner. This does not suggest that the sinner will be saved in the long run.  Another thing to note is that Jesus “does hate”. He still has the capacity to hate.  Such hatred is clearly a righteous hatred.

 

In verse 7 we read, “He that has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”.  We see a couple of things here.  One thing we see is that the Holy Spirit is speaking.  But I thought that Jesus was speaking?  It is the Spirit of Christ speaking. 

 

Another thing to note is that “he that has an ear let him hear”.  Who might “he” be referring to?  Is it only “he” who is a part of this Ephesian church?  I don’t think so.  Jesus didn’t say, “He that has an ear from Ephesus , let him hear what I say to the Ephesian church. He basically says “anyone who hears these words that I say to any of these churches, let him hear”.  If this is true, then these words apply to other first century churches and to us as well.

 

Jesus closes by saying that “he that overcomes” will be able to eat from the “tree of life in the paradise of God”.  This suggests that there is an overcoming process.  We just don’t slide through the Christian life.  It’s not all over as soon as we get saved.  We’ve got things to overcome.

 

We see this tree of life in the Garden of Eden and we also see it in the New Jerusalem at the end of the book of Revelation.  That which was not permitted for Adam will be permitted for those who overcome.  John, in his first letter, (1 John 5:4) tells us who one who overcomes is.  He is one who is truly born of God.  Therefore, I believe I can safely say that if you see one giving himself to the world, he is not a real Christian.  He is not one who has been born of God, as in, being born again as John also says in John 3:1 - 6.   

 

Besides the fact that the wording in this passage is very Jewish, those holding to the view that this letter is written to Jewish communities at the end of this age point to the fact that Jesus', or, Yahweh's, intention for the Jews was to walk among them.  That was the very purpose of the tabernacle of Moses and later the temple.  

 

The emphases on works and not grace here is another thing to note.  Jews in Old Testament times were all about works.  It is an interesting project to compare Paul's letter to the Ephesians with this letter.  The content of each letter almost seems to be written to two different groups.  Either those in Ephesus fell pretty low spiritually or else this letter might not have been directed towards those in Ephesus in John's day.  It's hard for me to imagine that this church, especially with John in leadership, would fall so badly. 

 

The very mention of lampstands is a reference to the lampstand in the tabernacle, or, later on in the temple. 

 

The idea that idolatry is mentioned here is something to consider when it comes to the Jewish nature of this letter.  Idolatry has been a constant problem with the Jews throughout history.  This was not so much the case in the church when John penned Revelation. 

 

For more specific and technical understanding of this view I refer you again to E. W. Bullinger's book entitled "The Apocalypse". 

 

There are number of things that both individual Christians and the church can learn from this letter.  I've already talked about losing our first love, so I will leave that one.  Another point to be made here is how Jesus hates false doctrine and false teaching, both of which are becoming more evident in our modern church.  If Jesus hates it, so should we.  Sad to say, the predominant thinking of much of modern Christianity has little regard for good doctrine. 

 

Jesus commends these people for their good works.  Evangelicals emphasize good works, especially in light of Ephesians 2:8 - 10 which states that we are not saved by works but by grace.  There is no doubt about that.  That being said, the same passage states that we as Christians are called to do good works.  Evangelicals must never forget this fact.    

 

This section ends with the admonition to overcome.   Much of Christianity today is suffering for the sake of Christ.  The western world Christian has not experienced as much suffering as other Christians in the past, but, because the west is forsaking its Judeo/Christian past, we can expect severe persecution in the days ahead.  It's already beginning to happen.  This admonition to overcome speaks to us today.  We can't overlook it.

 

 

 

To The Church At Smyrna (ch. 2:8-11)

 

Those who believe that the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2 and 3 represent seven different church ages in church history call this church the Persecuted church.  It existed from about 100 A D to about 312 A D.  They call this age the Persecuted church because during this time period the whole church had been persecuted more than any other whole church in history.  It's not that parts of the church haven't experienced such persecution in other eras of history because parts have.  We're talking about the whole church here.  Every part of the church experienced persecution and poverty during this time period.   It has been said that there might have been at least five million Christians killed during this time period.

 

Those who believe these letters are written to Jewish communities at the end of this age parallel this Jewish assembley to Israel's wandering in the desert because what is stated seems to portray Israel's wandering in the wilderness.

 

For my comment on the word "angel" and the word "church" in this section I refer you back to my introduction to Revelation 2 and 3. 

 

Like Ephesus, Smyrna was a bustling commercial city.  It was in existence for a thousand years prior to this point but for four hundred years it lay in ruins until it was restored. 

 

Jesus addresses this assembly by saying He is the First and Last,
one who was dead but now lives.  Like the city of Smyrna itself, Jesus had come back to life.

 

The acknowledgements that Jesus made to these people 
are that He knows their affliction and their poverty.  Their poverty most likely resulted from their affliction, meaning, the persecution they received for their faith in Jesus.

 

“Yet you are rich”, Jesus says.  It is clear that the richness that Jesus is referring to here is rich in the Spirit, rich in faith.  Even though these people were materially poor, Jesus saw them as rich.  This tells you something about Jesus’ view of richness.  This should also tell you about the false teaching of the Prosperity Gospel that is being taught these days.  It's simply false doctrine.      

 

Verrse 9 is both interesting and controversial.  The verse speaks of
these people being slandered by those who claim to be Jews but aren't.
Those who believe that this passage is directed towards the church of Jesus
say the Jews spoken of here are the Jews who persecuted the church in the beginning days of its existence.  After Jerusalem was burned to the ground in 70 A D by the Romans Jews fled to all parts of the known world and there was a large community of Jews in Smyrna .  They might well have slandered the Christians.               

 

Those who believe Jesus is speaking to a New Testament church here in chapter 2 will remind us what Jesus said about the Jews while on earth.  He said that the father of the Jews was really the devil and not God.  See John 8:44.  The point to be made here is that the synagogue was really the synagogue of satan as stated by Jesus here in Revelation 2.  

 

Concerning the Jews in Smyrna , they burned the body of Polycarp after he was killed for his faith in this city in the mid second century.  Polycarp was a student of John and was a very important Christian apologist.  He was burned to death.         

 

Those holding to the view that these seven letters are written to Jewish communities at the end of this age point out that it makes no sense, especially in John's day that Christians would want to portray themselves as Jews.  If this letter is written to Jews during the tribulation, then the Jews of the synagogue of satan are of the same apostate Jewish stream that Jesus said belonged to satan in John 8.   

 

Jesus tells these people not to fear what they will soon experience in the way of persecution.  They will be put into prison and some may even die.  Yet all this will be “a test”.  If they pass the test, even though they die, they will receive a “crown of life”.  Jesus will reward them in Heaven. 

 

The NIV says that these people will suffer persecution for 10 days.  Some scholars say that these words can also be interpreted “within 10 days”, meaning, “Within 10 days” persecution will begin.  Whether these people experience persecution for ten days, or it will come in 10 days, Jesus wants them to remain faithful, and even more than that.   The Greek verb tense suggest that they actually become more faithful in these times of tribulation, not merely keeping the faith they have. 

 

Some try to make something out of these ten days. The 10 days are either ten literal days or a short time.  Some Greek scholars say that this is actually a first century Greek idiom, meaning a short time.  Some suggest that during this particular church age that there was ten distinct periods of tribulation.  Others suggest that the ten are ten years just prior to 312 A D which was the worst era of persecution in this time period.  Still others feel that these ten days represent ten distinct and historic times within this time period when persecution of Christians were at its worst.          

 

Since I am taking numbers in the book of  Revelation to be literal, I tend to believe these ten days are ten literal days, and, if you believe this letter is written to a Jewish community during the tribulation, you would tend to believe they are ten literal days as well. 

 

This passage reminds me of Matthew 10:22 where Jesus tells his Jewish followers that they will be hated by all men for His name sake, but they must endure unto the very end.           

 

Jesus tells these people to be faithful to the point of death.  If they are faithful they will receive a crown of life.  Whether you believe these words were directed to Christians in the first century or Jewish believers in the tribulation, both will receive a crown of life.  Christians were imprisoned and killed in the first century.  The same is true for believers during the tribulation period.  The crown of life speaks of the resurrected life we have in Jesus and all that goes along with it. 

 

Once again the admonition is given to those who hear what is said.  He that has an ear to hear let him hear.  We all have ears.  We need to first hear the Word of the Lord and then we need to take it to heart in order to understand it.          

 

Note that Jesus says that the devil will put these people in prison.  The text states that this is a test.  Jesus then says to remain faithful.  God allows the devil to imprison these people in order to test their faith.  Whether Christians or Jews, tests are always meant to be a test of our trust in Jesus.    

 

For those who overcome the tribulation, they will not experience the second death.  The second death is the Lake of Fire, which I believe is eternal judgment where people are always in the process of dying, and even wanting to die, but can’t.

 

We should note that Jesus had nothing bad to say about these poeple.  They were faithful to Him despite all of the persecution it went through and all the poverty it had to endure.  This tells us something about persecution.  It tells us that persecution is part of being Christian.  It is a tool in the hand of the Lord to strengthen His people.  The simple fact is that if Christians are living godly lives in an ungodly world, they will suffer persecution to one extent or another.  

 

The western church hasn't suffered such persecution much because of its Christian influence, but, as this influence disappears, which it is now doing, we can expect persecution.  It's beginning to happen at this very moment.  This also tells us something about poverty.  Poverty doesn't mean one is out of the will of God.  It often means just the opposite.  The Prosperity Gospel that is popular in today's church is a false and damaging doctrine.   Poverty pushes people into Jesus, or at least it should.   If poverty is a sign that one is out of God's will then the Apostle Paul was never in God's will, and I don't believe that to be true.   

 

Those who believe that this letter was written to Jewish communities living at the end of this age point out in verse 8 that Jesus tells these people that He died and rose from the dead.  This is the admonition that Jesus would have to tell these people at the end of this age.  The one that they have claimed not to be their Messiah for so long is their Messiah.  This is the very message that the 144,000 Jewish evangelists of Revelation 7 will preach.

 

For those who hold to the thinking that this letter also represents the Jews wandering in the wilderness point out the poverty and slanders mentioned in verse 9.  The Jews in the wilderness were poor and looked down upon as they headed for Canaan.

 

Lessons for us to learn from this church are many.  As I've said earlier, poverty does not mean you are out of God's will.  Poverty doesn't mean you are not blessed by God.  If this were so much of the first generation church would be out of God's will and that would include the Apostle Paul, who clearly was not out of God's will.

 

Overcoming persecution is a theme in most all of these seven letters.  There is much for Christians to overcome in ordinary daily life but as we approach the end of this age all Christians everywhere will suffer for the sake of Christ.  Even those in the western world who have not suffered so will suffer.  We must overcome.

 

         

 

To The Church At Pergamum (ch. 2:12-17)

 

For those who see these churches as various periods of time throughout church history, this church is often called "the Indulged Church" that existed between 312 to 606 A D.  During this time, beginning with the Roman Emperor Constantine, the church adopted all sorts of pagan ways in an attempt to make pagans feel at ease in church.  The church did this because Constantine made Christianity the state religion.  All in the empire had to become Christian.  

 

Those who hold to the view that these letters are addressed to Jewish communities at the end of this age parallel this Jewish assembly to the last part of Israel's wandering in the wilderness.          

 

Pergamum was the capital city for the Roman province of Asia.  There were at least 3 very large temples built in the city dedicated to Caesar and the Roman Empire, as if the Roman Empire was something to be worshipped.  There were other temples in the city as well, one particular dedicated to the god Zeus. It was the only temple of its kind in the empire.  People here also worshipped Asklepois, the god of healing.  

 

Jesus introduces Himself as the “one who has the sharp double-edged sword”.  If you remember in the description of Jesus in chapter 1, He had such a sword coming out of His mouth.  It represents His Word, and the power of His Word.

 

Jesus says in verse 13, “I know where you live – where satan has his throne”.  The symbol for the god Asklepois was a snake, just like satan’s symbol.  There was lots of ungodly worship here.  Satan seemed to live here in a special way.

 

The Greek word for the English word "throne" simply means "a seat", usually associated with the seat, or chair, of the head of the house.  This suggests that satan was in fact the head of this city.   It is understood by many, if not most Bible teachers, that the reference to "satan's throne" is in reference to the temple dedicated to Zeus.  Of course, this is only if you believe this letter was addressed to a church and not a Jewish community during the tribulation.  

 

Jesus speaks of a man named Antipas, who was killed for his faith in Jesus.  Jesus acknowledged that the church did not give up on its faith even when Antipas was killed.   Many might forsake their faith if a friend gets killed for his faith.  The name Antipas means “against all”.  No one really knows who this man was.

 

If this letter was specifically directed to the church in Pergamaum then Antipas would have been executed at the temple of Zeus.  By the temple there was a hollowed out brass bull.  Those being executed for treason against Rome, as Antipas would have been for not worshipping Caesar, would have been placed in this hollowed out brass bull with his head in the head of the bull.  A fire would be lit under the bull and Antipas would have been roasted to death.  The screams from the torture would have echoed through pipes in the bull's head, making it sound like the bull was crying.  The point was this.  Antipas, and others, would have been living sacrifices to Zeus. 

 

It is interesting to note that during the last half of the 19th century much of the temple of Zeus was excavated and moved to Nuremburg, Germany.  There, a museum was built with that which was moved, dedicated to Zeus.  The interesting part to this is that Hitler gave his speeches in front of this museum, where the bull would have been placed back in Pergamum.  Hitler was speaking from the very throne, or seat, of satan in more ways than one.             

 

Those who believe this letter is written to a Jewish community prior to the return of Christ will tell you that Antipas will be a real man in history.  The Bible does prophesy about specific men prior to them being alive.  King Cyrus of Persia is one such man.             

 

Verse 14 says, “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you…”  Jesus says that within the church there are people like Balaam in the Old Testament. Balaam tried to walk both sides of the fence, that is, try to follow God and the Gentile king Balak. That’s impossible and in the long run Balaam led Israel to worship idols and commit sexual immorality.  Balaam led Israel into combining idolatry with sexual immorality.  In other words, we're talking about the paganization of God's people.

 

In the Roman Empire , and especially in the European provinces, sexual immorality was not only permitted but condoned as an act of worship.  Christians who came out of this culture found it hard to leave some of these things behind.             

 

During the tribulation, the anti-Christ will do exactly as Balaam did.  He will unite the religions of the world, fuse it with sensuality and sexuality, as was the case back the both the Greek and Roman culture.  This could well be an allusion to the anti-Christ's religion.  We will talk more about this in later chapters.    

 

Jesus also told these people that some followed the Nicolatian cult, as we saw the Ephesus church successfully fight against.  This cult believed that the soul was sacred while the body was sinful and corrupt, with no way to be saved or helped.  Therefore, the cult gave themselves to the sins of the flesh because there was no way to overcome these sins.  These people also gave themselves to a highly structured authoritarian structure that Jesus did not appear to approve of.     

 

In verse 16 Jesus tells these people to “repent” or else He’d soon come and “fight against them with the sword of His mouth”.  These are strong words.  Jesus Himself in one sense of the word would become the enemy of these people.  Jesus would fight these people.  Jesus would fight against His apostate people, whether they be the church or Israel.  I’m not clear what this would look like, but it does not sound very pleasant.      

 

Note in verse 16 that Jesus says that He would come to those people this letter is addressed to.  Then He says that He would "fight against them".  The word "them" must be in reference to those holding to the false doctrine.  Again, we see that Jesus detests false doctrine.  Right teaching is important to Him.        

 

Note that Jesus would fight those who hold to this false doctrine of with the sword of His mouth.  Balaam was actually killed by the sword as seen in Numbers 31

 

Verse 17 gives the admonition to those who can hear as He does in the other letters. Again, if you have ears, you must listen, take note, and understand what Jesus is saying.

 

For those who can overcome these things, Jesus says that He will give them hidden manna and a white stone with a new name written on it.  Both of these signify better things to come in the next life.

 

There are a number of possibilities of what the white stones might be.  In Roman courts, those who were acquitted were given a white stone, and those who were condemned were given a black stone.  Jesus has acquitted us.  White stones were also often used as an invitation card to a special event. 

 

Manna is in reference to the manna that Israelis ate while escaping from Egypt in the desert.  This is a clear reference to God's provision for His people when His people obey Him.

 

As I will say in all of these letters, those holding to the view that these letters are directed to Jewish communities point out the Jewish nature of this letter to back their thinking. 

 

Balaam is seen in Israel 's wilderness wanderings.  That is one reason why some believe this letter refers to that part of Israel's history. 

 

Israel began to be tempted by other religions while wandering in the wilderness.  Once in Canaan this temptation became fully realized, but that being said, the temptation began in the wilderness and they did fall to some degree, as seen in this letter.

 

Although there is no specific reference in the first five books of the Old Testament that satan was behind Israel's problems, as we see in this letter, he certainly was.  Satan opposes all that God does and he certainly opposed God's attempt to get Israel out of Egypt and into the promised land of Canaan.                   

 

Note that those who overcome will receive a new name on this stone.  We see in Isaiah 65:15 that the remnant of Israel who find salvation receive a new name as well.  Again, this might suggest that this letter is written to Jews during the period that Revelation speaks about.    

 

Besides what I've already mention, we can learn much from this letter.  As in most of these seven letters, the fight against false teaching and false doctrine among Christians and the church is always something to stand against.  It seems to me that in today's church, more than in recent times, we have false teaching inflicting the church.  The most predominant one I see today is the push to unite Christianity with all other world religions.  We see this in the movement known as Chrislam that attempts to unite Christianity with Islam.  This is like mixing oil with water.  It can't work.  These two religions are so far removed from each other at the core that it makes such union impossible.  The only way to unite these two religions is to change the core values and teachings of both religions, and by doing that, you no longer have the pure religion you started with, but this is what the anti-Christ will do as he comes onto the world scene.   Then, half way through the seven year tribulation he will turn his religion around.  It will no longer be a united religion, but a religion that worships him and satan.                      

 

To The Church In Thyatira (ch. 2:18-29)

 

For those who believe this church represents a church age, this church would correspond to what would be called the "Pagan Church" of the dark ages, from 606 A D to the end of this age.  Simply put, this is the Catholic Church which is a product of the paganization that took place after 312 A D.   I would also include the eastern churches which came about as a split from the Roman church.       

 

For those who believe these letters are written to and about Jewish assemblies at the end of this age parallel this to the time of Israel 's Kings in the Old

 

Thyatira was the least important and smallest of the seven cities that are addressed in these letters.  One important thing in Thyatira was the importance of trade unions, which was important if you were in business.  Each one of these trade unions had a god in charge, and union meetings had the worship of this god involved.  Meet offered to idols were eaten in these meetings.  Sexual immorality was part of the meetings, because sexual immorality was part of all god worship. Lydia , in the book of Acts was from Thyatria.

 

Jesus addresses Himself to these people as the one with the “eyes of fire and the feet of bronze”.  Jesus sees through everything that is going on in this church and his feet that have been tried in the fire will move swiftly in judgment. Eyes of fire suggest judgment of ungodliness.  The feet of brass suggest strength and the refined by fire process that bronze needs to go through to be strong.  Jesus went through this process and thus has the authority to judge.  

 

Jesus acknowledges the good He sees in these people.  In verse 19 He says, “I know your deeds, love and faith, and your perseverance”.  Like with these He addressed in the other letters, persecution was ramped.  Many of the believers endured with great love and faith.  Jesus even says that their works are more than they were at the first.  These people were growing in good works despite all that was happening to them.

 

Concerning the growth in good works it is interesting that Jesus points this out.  He must think it is important for us to grow in doing good works, yet way to often our good works become stagnant and don’t increase.  Evangelicals stress that we aren't saved by good works as seen in Ephesians 2:8 to 10, but sometimes they forget that this passage also states that we are called to good works.  Good works must imamate from faith, not from legalism.   

 

Some scholars suggest that this Jezebel seen in verse 20 is a reminder of the Jezebel of the Old Testament.  She was the King Ahab's  wife who led the nation away into idolatry; Baal worship to be specific.  This Jezebel is doing the same.  See 1 Kings 16:30 and following, 1 Kings 19:2,and, 1 Kings 21:25. 

 

If this letter is directed to the chruch at Thyatira then what most likely happened was that Jezebel encouraged the men to go to the union meetings where the god worship took place, along with ceremonial feasts, with the eating of meat.  Also sexual immorality took place at these meetings and Jezebel encouraged this.  Men would most likely justify this by saying it was part of their business, and if they didn’t attend the meetings, they would suffer financially.      

 

We might note here that what Jesus is talking about is the spirit of Jezebel and not Jezebel herself since she lived in Old Testament times.    

 

Those who hold to the thinking that this letter is directed to Jews in the tribulation will point out to you that Jesus mentions Jezebel, a lady well known to Jews in their history.  They will also point out the emphasis on works, something Israelis would also be familiar with.   

 

What Jesus dislikes about these people is that they “tolerate” this woman and her teaching.  This tells you something about the word “tolerate” that is so often used in society and the church today, and how Jesus feels about the concept of toleration.  Jesus does not tolerate any kind of sin or false teaching and neither should we.  In the name of tolerance, love, and unity, we tolerate way too much, or so I believe.  I believe this is what Jesus is getting at here.     

 

I need to note one thing about the eating of food offered to idols. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11 speaks to this issue.  He says that he has no problem eating food offered to idols, especially if he doesn’t know it has been offered to an idol, so for that reason, he doesn’t ask any questions about the food he eats.  Paul would eat food offered to idols, but he would not eat it in the context of idol worship.

 

So my thinking is that Jesus, when speaking of food offered to idols, must be thinking in the same context as Paul.  This woman was most likely mixing Christian thinking with idol worship and allowing idol worship into Christian gatherings.  Jesus does not like such a mixture.  He didn’t then, and He doesn’t now.

 

All that being said, for those who believe Jesus is speaking to Jewish communities at the end of this age, eating of food is not appropriate.  You might ask why this would be the case in New Testament times.  Those who believe that these letters are written to Jewish communities at the end of this age will tell you that the church has already been raptured.  The age of grace is over, Jews are the center of attention, and God will hold them to their promise to obey the Law of Moses, which includes the dietary laws that they promised to keep.                 

 

The point to be made here is that Jesus will hold the Jews to their promise to keep the Law of Moses.  The reason for the time of Jacob's trouble that is seen in Revelation is due to the fact that Israel broke their covenant with God concerning the Law of Moses and thus Jesus is bringing them back to the point of disobedience.  This is the reason for the emphasis on works.     

 

Jesus says that Jezebel is “misleading His servants”.  It is one thing for a person to participate in sin, but it is another thing for him to mislead another person in the same sin.  I think this is a very strong warning to those false teachers today who are misleading God's people, whether Christians or Jews. 

 

In verses 21 and 22 Jesus tells these people that He has given her time to repent but she “is unwilling”.  Jesus gave this sinful woman time to repent. That’s important.  He did not throw her out right away.  As a result of her not repenting He will “cast her on a bed of suffering”.  The bed is in reference to the bed of immorality.  Jezebel will suffer for her actions.  Jesus always gives us time to repent. 

 

Jesus doesn’t stop there.  For those who follow her He will cause them “to suffer intensely”.   This is Jesus speaking here.  This should end any discussion concerning Jesus not being just, or not being angry at any of us for the sin we commit.  

 

Jesus then says that He “will strike her children dead”.  I’m assuming this is literal children.  Some might suggest that it is her spiritual children.  If it were her physical children, you might wonder if they’ve followed her teaching, if not, why would Jesus kill them.  This does show you the degree to which Jesus will go in judgment and it seems this judgment is not for the future but for the present day in which this woman lived. That's assuming you believe this letter was specifically directed to a community of Christ in this city.  

 

In verse 23 Jesus gives the results of His actions of judgment.  He says that all of God's people will then know that it is He that searches the hearts and minds and will repay evil with His judgment.  The Greek literally says, “heart and kidney”.  In Greek culture the heart was the place of intellect, while the kidney was the place of emotion. The NIV uses “heart and mind” because it is an idiom that best fits our cultural idiom.  This is a scary and awesome thought.  Jesus does not judge according to our outward works alone.  He judges on the basis of what we think in our minds and how we feel in our hearts.  Both heart and mind must be given to Jesus. 

 

We learn here that an outward sign of God's judgment tells those who see the judgment that He is Lord over all.  Judgment plays a very important part in the plan of God for both the individual and for His people, whether Christian or Jew.  

 

It is Jesus that will repay evil done in this world.  We don't have to worry about that.  We should not be making any attempts to do God's work in this respect, but, throughout history we have certainly tried.  Whether we like that idea or not, Scripture clearly teaches that God’s wrath will be poured out on the wicked.

 

In verses 24 and 25 Jesus tells those who have not followed Jezebel in her evil teaching that He would not put any other burden on these people, except to encourage them to keep up the good works they are doing. There does come a time when God won't place more on us than what we can bear.  This is what we see here.

 

Jesus calls Jezebel’s teaching “satan’s so-called deep secrets”.  Satan has no deep secrets.  He has no truth that should be taught.  He’s been a liar and always will be.  This does tell us that satan is behind all false teaching that inflicts God's people.

 

Jesus closes this letter by saying that to him that overcomes and does His will to the very end, He will give authority over nations.  We must overcome and we must continue in God’s will to the end.  Too many don’t make it to the end.  But for those who do, Jesus will give them authority over nations, whatever that means. 

 

At the end of this age there will be lots for people to overcome in the era of the anti-Christ.  The big thing to overcome is their fear of death and the love of their lives.  Many of God's people will be executed during the tribulation, but some day they will rule with Jesus.  That some day will be during the thousand year rule of Jesus on earth as seen later on in Revelation.  

 

For those who believe these letters are written to Jewish communities at the end of this age make comment on the fact that the immoral people's children will be put to death as seen in verse 23.  Zechariah 13:8 tells us that two thirds of Israelis will be killed in judgment at the end of this age.  Verse 23 might well be in reference to that. 

 

Again, this letter is full of Old Testament illusions and language that is quite unfamiliar with the New Testament church. It is hard to imagine that Jesus is talking about New Testament Christians who are saved by grace and not by works.  

 

Verse 27 states that Jesus will rule with a rod of iron.  This is in reference to the thousand year rule of Christ on earth.  The very fact that Jesus will have to rule with a rod of iron tells me that there are some who survive the tribulation who are not believers.  They live on into the thousand years and do have the opportunity to not obey Jesus.  I won't expand on this thought because I've done that elsewhere.  The point I make here is that the thousand year rule of Christ looks more like this present age than the new earth we see at the end of Revelation.  Yes, there will be peace on earth but it is relative peace, not perfect peace.  If you read the last chapter of the book of Zechariah, you'll note that there is the possibility of nations not responding to the rule of Christ in a positive way.             

 

I should comment on the word "rule" here.  It is translated from the Greek word "poimano" which means to tend or care for as a shepherd cares for his sheep.  This word is used in the New Testament to denote pastors or shepherds of God's people.  In our western world we tend to view a ruler as a king, president, or a prime minister.  Jesus is all of those and more, but, as King He cares for people as a father would care for his children.  His caring is balanced between loving support and discipline.  The rod spoken of here is used for both discipline and direction, not discipline only.       

 

There is much to be learned here.  One thing is that God hates and despises false teaching, false teachers, and those who lead His people astray.  His judgment is severe.  I don't believe our modern day church really understands this.  In many parts of the church today, and that includes the Evangelical church, this is seldom taught. 

 

Holding fast to our faith as seen in verse 25 is something else that isn't thought much of today.  It's my thinking that Christians today don't think in terms of holding fast because we are overly preoccupied with the joys of this present life.  I would suggest that in the process of enjoying this present age more than we should, our faith is weakening.  We are not holding fast to our faith.  Instead we are letting our faith slip.      

 

For those believers who live in and live through the tribulation there will be great need to hold fast.  It will not be easy for them.      

 

 

 

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