Having been commissioned by Christ to write “the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this” (Rev. 1:19+), John now records “the things which are”—Jesus’ assessment of the condition of the Seven Churches of Asia at the time John wrote. This subject will occupy Revelation 2+ and 3+ until John is called up to heaven at the beginning of Revelation 4+ in order to witness and record “the things which will take place after this.”The evaluation, exhortation, and promises which Jesus gives to each of the seven churches provide important insights into the conditions of the early church. The seven letters to the churches also challenge us today to examine our own lives to see which attributes of the seven churches, whether good and bad, are evident in our own lives?
See the discussion concerning the identity of the angel at Revelation 1:20.
See Seven Churches of Asia.At the time of John’s writing, Ephesus was an important seaport city of the Roman province of Asia. Today, the site is stranded several miles from the sea on the edge of a swampy alluvial plain and the former harbor is marked by a reed-bed.1 Ephesus was famous for its Temple of Artemis (Diana in Latin), 425-feet long by 220-feet wide with each of its 120 columns donated by a king, one of the seven wonders of the world (Acts 19).2
The presence of the temple of Artemis (Diana) added to the commercial importance of Ephesus, for two reasons. First, the temple was regarded as sacrosanct throughout the Mediterranean world and thus became the primary banking institution of Asia Minor. Second, pilgrims swelled the population and contributed substantially to Ephesian business, especially during the festivals of Artemis (March/April). So prominent was the city that during the early Christian period the population of Ephesus probably exceeded a quarter million.4
The important place which Artemis held in the city, both religiously and commercially, can be seen by the riot which ensued in reaction to Paul’s ministry (Acts 19:24-41). One of the months of the calendar was named after Artemis and a yearly celebration was held in her honor.5 The ancient temple of the great goddess identified with Artemis stood less than a mile outside the walls of the city.6 Ephesus also participated in the imperial cult where temples were built to Claudius, Hadrian, and Severus.7 Magic was a thriving art at Ephesus. Scripture records the value of books burned by those who practiced magic as “fifty thousand pieces of silver” (Acts 19:19).8Ephesus also had a reputation as a seat of learning. Paul is recorded as having taught at one such established school, the School of Tyrannus (Acts 19:9). Ephesus was the scene for Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho.9Ephesus was probably listed as the first city of the seven to receive the letter from John due to its proximity to Patmos (see Seven Churches of Asia map) and its key location on major overland routes:
Ephesus lay at the intersection of two ancient major overland routes: the coastal road that ran north through Smyrna and Pergamum to Troas (near ancient Troy); and the western route to Colossae, Hierapolis, Laodicea, and regions of Phrygia and beyond. Ephesus can also be viewed as the starting-point of a type of postal route . . . running north to Pergamum and southwest through Sardis to Laodicea.10
Although Paul ministered extensively at Ephesus: “The first arrival of the gospel in Ephesus is unrecorded. According to Acts 2:9 Jews resident in Asia were present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. And we are told of ‘disciples’ in Ephesus before Paul’s arrival, though they are represented as imperfectly instructed [Acts 19:1ff; Acts 18:24ff].”11Paul first visited Ephesus on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:19-28) and on his third missionary journey taught there for a period of almost three years (Acts 20:31). Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian church from there.12 It was at Ephesus that Apollos, a disciple of John the Baptist, was instructed by Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:24-26). When returning from his third missionary journey to Jerusalem, Paul passed by Ephesus, but stopped in Miletus. From there, he sent for and met with the elders of the church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17). The church at Ephesus had plural eldership well in advance of John’s writing this letter (which adds to the difficulties attending the identification of the angel of the church—see commentary on Revelation 1:20). Paul asked Timothy to remain in Ephesus in his absence (1Ti. 1:3) and wrote his epistle to the Ephesian church in A.D. 60-62 (after his third missionary journey, A.D. 53-57) which was delivered by Tychicus (Eph. 6:21).Tradition holds that the John left Jerusalem prior to its destruction and in about A.D. 66 relocated to Ephesus which was his main place of ministry during the closing years of his life. If Mary were still alive, she would have undoubtedly traveled with him (John 19:27).
About 5 km (3 mi) from Ephesus was constructed the Basilica of St. John. John is supposed to be buried there. But Meinardus asks which John, since according to Eusebius (HE iii.3) Papias, the famed second-century bishop of Hierapolis, “asserts there were also two tombs in Ephesus, and that both are called John’s even to this day.” This church erected to the memory of John is not to be confused with the Church of the Virgin Mary in which the Council of Ephesus was held in A.D. 431, when Nestorius was condemned in the Theotokos issue. . . . The stones and pillars [of the Temple of Artemis] were used in the construction of both the great Basilica of St. Sophia at Constantinople and the early Church of St. John at Ephesus. . . . Although Ephesus lies in ruins today, the railway station nearby is called Ayasoluk, a corruption of Gk hagios Theologos, “the holy theologian,” a well-known reference in Eastern Christendom to the beloved Evangelist.13
The titles which Jesus assumes in each letter are primarily derived from Revelation 1:12-18+ and are tailored to the message which attends each letter. Here, The Ephesian church has lost its first love (Rev. 2:4+). Jesus reminds them that it is He Who is the protector of the stars—they are held in His right hand, secure and in a position of favor (John 10:27-30). He has not left them, but they have left Him (Deu. 31:6, 8; Jos. 1:5; Mat. 28:20; Heb. 13:5). See commentary on Revelation 1:16.
walks in the midst
Perfect tense, οἶδα [oida], “I have known.” His knowledge of their past works results in the commendations and exhortations which presently follow.14 Christ is omniscient. See commentary on Revelation 1:14.
The Ephesian church had worked hard and born a consistent load of service.The Christian life, though full of joy, is also attended by much labor and hardship (2Cor. 11:27). Continual labor requires continual patience. Believers are to persevere and not grow weary (Isa. 40:31; Gal. 6:9; 2Th. 3:13; Heb. 12:3). Those who die in the Tribulation are said to obtain rest from their labors and their works follow them (Rev. 14:13+).
The Ephesian church did not bear those who were evil. This must refer to the Scriptural application of church discipline to protect the gathering from those who were not truly of them (Mat. 18:17; 1Cor. 5:5; 1Ti. 6:3-5):
The sphere in which the Angel of Ephesus had the chief opportunity of manifesting this holy intolerance of evil-doers was, no doubt, that of Church-discipline, separating off from fellowship with the faithful those who named the name of Christ, yet would not depart from iniquity (2Ti. 2:19).15
A letter written by Ignatius (A.D. 98-117) mentions this commendable characteristic of the Ephesian church:
But I have learned that certain people . . . have passed your way with evil doctrine, but you did not allow them to sow it among you. You covered up your ears in order to avoid receiving the things being sown by them—Ignatius, The Letter of Ignatius to the Ephesians16
The Ephesian church was diligent in evaluating those who ministered in their midst.All things are to be tested by the measure of God’s Word (Isa. 8:20) and the fruit which is produced (Mat. 7:16). This is especially true of those things which are claimed to be of the Spirit of God, but are not (1Th. 5:2; 1Ti. 4:1; 1Jn. 4:1; Rev. 2:20+). The most serious threats to the Christian assembly come from within (Acts 20:29-31; 1Ti. 1:3-4).Peter warned of false teachers who would pattern themselves after the false prophets of the OT:
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber. (2Pe. 2:1)
When the church accepts these false teachers, and fails to confront their error, then “the way of truth will be blasphemed.” A key attribute of such teachers is their deception—appearing to be what they are not. They are all the more effective in their convincing zeal since they themselves are deceived (2Ti. 3:13).It is a lamentable fact in our time that the Church seems unwilling to test its own. Application of the guidelines set forth by the NT writers is seen as judgmental or quenching the Spirit. Yet it was the Spirit Himself who inspired the writers who urge us through the pages of Scripture to proactively guard doctrine! The NT makes plain how essential this testing is to the health of the assemblies. Shouldn’t we expect that Satan will concentrate his greatest efforts at the very ‘ground zero’ of God’s work upon the earth—within the local Christian assembly? We cannot say that we have not been warned: “test the spirits, whether they are of God” (1Jn. 4:1)!
These were not apostles in the sense of having seen the risen Christ (Acts 1:21-22; 1Cor. 9:1) since John alone survived at the time of writing.17Paul had previously warned the Ephesian church about the need to watch for false teachers:
For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. (Acts 20:29-31)
Paul mentioned such false apostles when writing to the church at Corinth and was not hesitant to cut off their “ministry”:
But what I do, I will also continue to do, that I may cut off the opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be regarded just as we are in the things of which they boast. For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works. (2Cor. 11:12-15)
A key attribute of those who are not what they appear to be is their self proclamation. In the church of Thyatira, it was Jezebel who called herself a prophetess (Rev. 2:20+). Paul says that they transform themselves, patterning their deceit after Satan who transforms himself into an angel of light. This transformation would be entirely effective if the church did not have the Word of God and gifts of spiritual discernment to expose such imposters (1Cor. 12:10). Spiritual discernment is necessary because the natural mind is ineffective in the spiritual realm where the seduction takes place (Mat. 24:24; Mark 13:22; 2Th. 2:9-11; 1Ti. 4:1). The power of seduction by demonic spirits may be assessed by noting how easily deceiving spirits convince the kings of the earth to participate in the height of folly: going to war against God (Rev. 16:13-14+)!
The Ephesians had in common their perseverance (ὑπομονὴν [hypomonēn]) with John’s patience (Rev. 1:9+), the trait of faithfully waiting while “abiding under” or bearing a heavy load. Patience and perseverance are qualities which attend selflessness, for they seek things other than self (Rom. 2:7). Perseverance is produced by tribulation (Rom. 5:3). What God has revealed afore time helps us remain patient under conditions we might not otherwise tolerate because we have hope (Rom. 15:4).
The Ephesian church had dutifully labored to produce fruit (Tit. 3:8, 14). These labors were evidence of the reality of their faith (Jas. 2:17-26). The Ephesian church had a clean bill of health from an external perspective.
My name’s sake
Jesus predicted that the Ephesians and all believers would be reviled, hated, and persecuted for His name’s sake (Mat. 5:11; 10:22). It is extremely important that we take care that our persecution is for His name’s sake rather than for our name’s sake. How often do we abuse His name to defend insensitivity or rudeness on our part? When the world hates or persecutes us, is it truly because of His name? Are there times when we deserve the treatment which we have justly earned, but rationalize it by incorrectly attributing it to our position in Christ?Anything done for His name’s sake must be done with His character. Since we are called by His name (Acts 15:17; Jas. 2:7), when our actions contravene the Word of God, we profane His name (Lev. 19:12; 20:3; 22:2, 32; Pr. 30:9; Isa. 48:11; 52:5; Jer. 34:16; Eze. 20:9, 14, 22, 30; 36:21-23; 39:7).
Despite the good works and patience, there is something lacking in the Ephesian church. How sobering it is to hear the Lord say “nevertheless” after a word of commendation!
“Left” is ἀφῆκες [aphēkes] meaning “to send away. . . . to bid going away or depart. . . . of a husband divorcing his wife,”18 to “give up, abandon . . . Rev. 2:4+.”19 “Note, the word is ‘leave,’ not ‘lose.’ To love lies in the power of the will, otherwise it would not be commanded. . . . This is the beginning of that decline which ends in Laodicea.”20The Ephesian church had fallen prey to the same fate as Israel before them (Jer. 2:1-9):
Moreover the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD: “I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal, when you went after Me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holiness to the LORD, the firstfruits of His increase. All that devour him will offend; disaster will come upon them,” says the LORD.’ ”
God reminds Israel of “the love of her betrothal,” when they sought after Him in the wilderness. Although the nation lacked many things in the wilderness, they had a zeal and hunger for the Lord. This is analogous to the zeal and hunger we had for God when He first calls us from the “wilderness” of the world. At that time, nothing else was as important as our relationship with Him!
Hear the word of the LORD, O house of Jacob and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the LORD: “What injustice have your fathers found in Me, that they have gone far from Me, have followed idols, and have become idolaters? Neither did they say, ‘Where is the LORD, Who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, Who led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and pits, through a land of drought and the shadow of death, through a land that no one crossed and where no one dwelt?’ ”
God relates the next stage in Israel’s flagging relationship with Him. They have “gone far from” Him and have begun to follow idols. They have forgotten the wonders He did when they were rescued from a desperate situation and now other things have begun to eclipse the importance of intimacy with God. God specifically mentions Israel’s having “followed idols”—the nation is turning its attention elsewhere.
“I brought you into a bountiful country, to eat its fruit and its goodness. But when you entered, you defiled My land and made My heritage an abomination. The priests did not say, ‘Where is the LORD?’ And those who handle the law did not know Me; the rulers also transgressed against Me; the prophets prophesied by Baal, and walked after things that do not profit. Therefore I will yet bring charges against you,” says the LORD, “And against your children’s children I will bring charges.”
The nation has now drifted so far apart from God that “those who handle the law did not know Me.” This is a very serious state of affairs! The very people who should know God and accurately represent Him, no longer “know Me.” How similar this sounds to the sobering words of Jesus:
Many will say to Me in that Day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Mat. 7:22-23) [emphasis added]
If Jesus never knew them then they could not have truly known Him. Yet they are actively ministering in His name—attributing their activities to His character! The disturbing reality is that it is possible to think one is actively “serving God,” but without a true relationship with Him. Even in the case where we begin following after Him, time and circumstances often turn our hearts aside. When Solomon grew old, “his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David” (1K. 11:4).Our priority must ever be relationship over service (works). This is the essential message of the incident involving Mary and her sister Martha related by Luke. Martha’s priority was serving whereas “Mary . . . sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word” (Luke 10:39). Martha was so focused on serving that she missed a golden opportunity to listen to her Lord. Jesus summarized the actions of the two sisters: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42).Time spent sitting at the Master’s feet will never be taken away from us. Although some fret that such time reduces our ability to serve, the result is actually the opposite. Our devotion, motivation, and understanding of God are deepened causing an increase in the fruit of God’s ministry through us. Our ministry and service must be grounded in and out of our love for Him (Heb. 6:10-12). We are “priests to His God,” our primary focus is God-ward, only then man-ward. Instead of waning, our love for Him is to be continually increasing (Php. 1:9).The Ephesian church had lost its focus. They had taken their eyes off of Jesus and were now focusing on their works done for His name. This is the essence of idolatry.The condition of the Ephesian church at the time of John appears considerably different to that when Paul wrote his epistle. “See the Ephesians’ first love, Eph. 1:15. This epistle was written under Domitian, when thirty years had elapsed since Paul had written his Epistle to them.”21 This is evidence for a late date for the writing of the book of Revelation.
Remembering is the first in a three-step process. All three steps (remember, repent, and do the first works) are in the imperative tense: remember! . . . repent! . . . do! The Ephesians were commanded to go back in their minds to an earlier time when their motivation and fellowship with Christ had been different.An important function of festivals, signs, and altars is to help men remember the earlier works of God and the dedications they made (Gen. 9:15-16; Num. 15:39-40; Deu. 16:13; Jos. 22:10, 27-28).
Properly speaking, metanoein is “to know after” as pronoein is “to know before”; metanoia is “afterknowledge” . . . The next step that metanoia signifies is the change of mind that results from this afterknowledge. Thus Tertullian wrote: “In the Greek language the word for repentance is not derived from the admission of a fault but from a change of mind.” . . . Last of all metanoia signifies a resulting change of conduct. . . . Only in Scripture and in the works of those who were dependent on Scripture does metanoia predominantly refer to a change of mind, to taking a wiser view of the past, to “the soul’s perception of the wicked things it has done.”22
Repentance includes a recognition of wrong-doing together with a decision to move in a different direction: “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19).
Their current estate is said to be lower than before. As they drifted apart from God in their relationship, their spiritual state also declined. have fallen is in the perfect tense—the fall had already taken place, but Jesus is concerned with their present spiritual condition.
do the first works
The Ephesian church was not lacking in works, but the motivation for the works had changed and was now adversely affecting the results. “Not the quantity, but the quality, of . . . works was now other and worse than once it had been.”23 How often has this been the case in Christian history when works of mercy, intended to exhibit the character of Christ and to point people to the solution of their ultimate need, suffer a gradual reduction in their zeal and focus on Christ. The result is that the Christian organization becomes just one more social institution doing “good works,” but failing to engage the culture with the priority of salvation.The solution is found in retracing our steps back to where we went astray and calling upon the Lord as we did at the first. After straying in Egypt, Abraham returned to “the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place of the altar which he had made there at first. And there Abraham called on the name of the Lord” (Gen. 13:3-4).
But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven. Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. (Heb. 10:32-35) [emphasis added]
Instantly, let us say, this is not a call to “Christian service” or “renewed activity.” Ephesus had toil, patience, intolerance toward evil, patience in suffering,—everything. But the “first works” are the goings forth of affection to Christ, freely, devotedly, as in our first love.24
I will come
Κινήσω [Kinēsō] (from which we get the word kinetic) can also mean to “shake,” “move,” “provoke,” “stir.” This may be indicating not only that the lampstand will be removed, but that it will be disturbed in such a way as to disperse its membership elsewhere to form new churches (Mat. 10:23; Acts 8:4). “The seat of the Church has been changed, but the Church itself survives.”26 Even if a church remained physically present at Ephesus, if its membership failed to return to their first love, then the essential Christian testimony of the church would be curtailed. “Without genuine Christians remaining, it is impossible for a church to produce light.”27Those with illumination bear greater responsibility for bearing fruit. When we fail to bear fruit, God raises up others in our stead (Mat. 21:43; Mark 12:9; Luke 20:16). This would be the destiny of the Ephesian church if it did not repent.
Gibbon (Decline and Fall, c. lxiv.), . . . writes like one who almost believed that the threatenings and promises of God did fulfill themselves in history: In the loss of Ephesus the Christians deplored the fall of the first Angel, the extinction of the first candlestick, of the Revelations; the desolation is complete; and the temple of Diana or the church of Mary will equally elude the search of the curious traveller. The circus and three stately theatres of Laodicea are now peopled with wolves and foxes; Sardis is reduced to a miserable village; the God of Mahomet, without a rival or a son, is invoked in the mosques of Thyatira and Pergamus, and the populousness of Smyrna is supported by the foreign trade of the Franks and Armenians. Philadelphia alone has been saved by prophecy, or courage. . . . Among the Greek colonies and Churches of Asia, Philadelphia is still erect—a column in a scene of ruins,—a pleasing example that the paths of honour and safety may sometimes be the same.28
The lampstand at Ephesus was indeed removed. “I have before me a picture of the Ephesus of today—a ruined archway, a Moslem dwelling, and a forbidding castle, ’midst desolate hills. No lampstand for Christ where once Paul labored three years, night and day with tears!”29
hate the deeds
The Ephesian church had left their first love, but had not left their former hatred for evil. Their hatred for evil was the diametric opposite of the tolerance of the church in Pergamum toward the teachings and deeds of the Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:14-15+).30God hates the deeds and the doctrine (Rev. 2:13+). God hates evil ways (Pr. 8:13), abominable activities (Jer. 44:4), a false oath (Zec. 8:17), and insincere offering (Jer. 44:4; Amos 5:21). Believers are to have no fellowship with such unfruitful works and are to expose them (Eph. 5:11; 2Jn. 1:9).
you hate . . . I also hate
Both verbs are in the present tense—both the Ephesian church and Jesus are in ongoing opposition to the works of the Nicolaitans.
He who has an ear
“Every man ‘hath an ear’ naturally, but he alone will be able to hear spiritually to whom God has given ‘the hearing ear’; whose ‘ear God hath wakened’ and ‘opened.’ ”31
let him hear
Each letter closes with this imperative command which is very similar to Jesus’ invitations in the synoptic gospels (Mat. 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9, 23; Luke 8:8; 14:15).32 It is Christ’s desire that “those who hear the words of this prophecy” (Rev. 1:3+) not only hear the subject matter, but understand its significance. This phrase recognizes the reality that those whose hearts are not open to Christ may hear (or read) the words, but will not understand the message: “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1Cor. 2:14). See Hiding or Revealing?.If we desire that God would reveal more to us, we must first respond in obedience to that which has already been revealed. If we fail to respond to what He has already revealed, then we stand to lose what we already understand (Mark 4:24-25; Luke 8:18). Thus is the dilemma of the lukewarm Christian who believes he sees and hears, but has become blind and deaf (Rev. 2:16-17+).
[The seven letters] are also accompanied with a seven times repeated entreaty and command to hear what is said in them. And yet there is not another portion of Scripture, of equal extent and conspicuity, to which so little attention has been paid.33
what the Spirit says
Christ had been speaking but now it is the Spirit who speaks - a declaration of Christ’s deity and a testimony to the inspiration of Scripture. When Jesus promised to send another helper (παρακλητον [paraklēton]), the Spirit of Truth, He said, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.” [emphasis added] (John 14:18). It is the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit, Who initiates prophecy (1Pe. 1:11). He is the source of all spiritual revelation and illumination (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13).
to the churches
Each letter is given for the benefit of all seven churches. The book of Revelation is given to: (1) John; (2) each individual church; (3) all seven churches; (4) all churches of all time; (5) all believers in every age (Rev. 2:7+, 11+, 17+, 29+; 3:6+, 13+, 22+; 13:9+). See Seven Churches of Asia.
The appearance of this phrase is an indication of John’s apostolic authorship. “It is characteristic of John, occurring once in the Gospel, six times in the First Epistle, sixteen times in the book of Revelation, and elsewhere only Luke 11:22; Rom. 3:4; 12:21.”34 See Authorship. See Who is the Overcomer?
The tree of life originally stood in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:9). By partaking of its fruit, man had eternal life. But through the Fall, man lost access to the tree (Gen. 3:22-24).The tree of life is a common motif for righteousness and wisdom in Scripture (Ps. 1:3; Pr. 3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4) for it is by righteousness and wisdom that life is lived to the full. For this reason, the Jews referred to the Word of God as the “tree of life”. “[Torah scrolls are] written on parchment, sewn together, rolled onto wooden rollers called eytz chayeem (tree of life), and read regularly in the synagogue.”35During the present age, while man is barred from the tree of life, God has provided another tree of life: the cross of Jesus Christ. Those who place their trust in His atoning work upon the cross have eternal life (John 3:14-16).36 Even though every man has been bitten by the Serpent (Gen. 3:15), by merely looking upon this tree in faith, he will be healed (Num. 21:9).In the eternal state, believers will once again obtain full access to the tree of life (Rev. 22:2+, 14+). The promise made to the overcomer is an essential element of salvation. In the eternal state, man will still be dependent upon God for access to the tree of life (Rev. 22:2+) because independence from God is sin.
Significantly, the church which had lost its first love was given the promise of access to a tree which was in the midst of the garden wherein God and Adam used to have sweet fellowship (Gen. 3:8). This is the very essence of the first love which the Ephesians had left.Paradise “Παράδεισος [Paradeisos] was originally a Persian word, denoting an enclosed garden, especially a royal park.”37 “Among the Persians a grand enclosure or preserve, hunting ground, park, shady and well watered, in which wild animals, were kept for the hunt; it was enclosed by walls and furnished with towers for the hunters.”38 Although Paradise was initially associated with the Garden of God (Gen. 2:8; 13:10; Isa. 51:3; Eze. 28:13; 31:5), the meaning of the term has changed with time: “We may thus trace παράδεισος [paradeisos] passing through a series of meanings, each one higher than the last; from any garden of delight, which is its first meaning, it comes to be predominantly applied to the Garden of Eden; then to the resting-place of separate souls in joy and felicity; and lastly, to the very heaven itself.”39 “What was originally a garden of delight has taken on the connotation of the new heavens and the new earth.”40Prior to the cross, paradise was a compartment within Hades (Luke 16:22-23). At His crucifixion, Jesus told the repentant thief, “today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). The location of paradise after the victory of Jesus on the cross moved to heaven, for Paul was “caught up into Paradise” [emphasis added] where he heard inexpressible words (2Cor. 12:4). Essentially, the term describes the abode of righteous men upon death:
It is a term describing the abode of the righteous ones, no matter where that above may be at any point in time.... from Adam until the Ascension of Jesus, Paradise was in Abraham’s Bosom. From the Ascension of Jesus until the end of the Millennium, Paradise is in Heaven. Then, after the Millennium and for all eternity, Paradise will be in the New Jerusalem on the new earth.41
Knowing as we do that at a period only a little later than this, Polycarp was bishop there, a very interesting question presents itself to us, namely, whether he might not have been bishop now; whether he may not be the Angel of whom this epistle is addrest [sic]. There is much to make this probable. . . . It is true indeed that we have thus to assume an episcopate of his, which lasted for more than seventy years; for the “good confession” of Polycarp did not take place till the year 168, while the Apocalypse was probably written in 96. . . . As early as AD 108 Ignatius . . . found Polycarp the bishop . . . of the Church of Smyrna . . . We have only to extend his episcopate twelve years a parte ante, and he will have been Angel of Smyrna when this Epistle was addrest [sic] to that Church. Is there any great unlikelihood in this? His reply to the Roman Governor who tempted him to save his life by denying his Lord, is well known . . . that he could not thus renounce a Lord whom for eighty and six years he had served . . . [These eighty-six years] represent no doubt the years since his conversion. Counting back eighty-six years from the year 168, being that of his martyrdom, we have AD 82 as the year when he was first in Christ. This will give us fourteen years as the period which will have elapsed from his conversion to that when this present Epistle was written, during which time he may very well have attained the post of chiefest honour and toil and peril in the Church of Smyrna. Tertullian indeed distinctly tells us that he was consecrated bishop of Smyrna by St. John . . . and Irenaeus, who affirms that he had himself in his youth often talked with Polycarp, declares the same42
the church of Smyrna
Like Ephesus at the time of John, Smyrna was a coastal city which commanded the trade of the Levant.44 It was noted as a center of learning, especially in science and medicine and claimed to be the birthplace of Homer.45 Polycarp presided here as bishop.46 Smyrna is represented today by Izmir, the third city of Turkey and the largest in Asia Minor until overtaken by the recent growth of Ankara.47
Many writers of that time referred to it as the loveliest city of Asia. Smyrna had a magnificent natural situation and setting at the end of a long, protected inlet of the Mediterranean which gave it a natural harbor well sheltered from the elements. The harbor was compact and easily defended in time of war by simply drawing a chain across its entrance. The city itself began at the harbor and covered the undulating ground between the harbor and the Pagos, a hill covered by temples and public buildings. These noble buildings encircled this hill, and the locals proudly called these the crown of Smyrna (see Rev. 2:10+).48
The meaning of the name Smyrna, myrrh or bitter, “Smyrna means ‘bitter,’ certainly an appropriate description for the lot of Christians who lived there.”49 is associated with death:
In the New Testament the word σμύπˊα [smypa] occurs only twice (Mat. 2:11 and John 19:39) and a derivative form once (Mark 15:23). Commentators note the enormous quantity of myrrh and aloes brought by Nicodemus for the burial of Jesus. Use of these spices evidently accorded with normal Jewish practice (cf. John 11:44), except that their quantity in this case represented a costly act of devotion to Jesus, resembling that of Mary (John 12:2-11), Jesus there applied the lesson of her gift to his forthcoming burial (John 12:7; cf. Mark 14:8; Mat. 26:12).50
So much has been idly written upon names, not a little most idly on the names of these seven Churches, and the mystical meanings which they contain, that one shrinks from any seeming fellowship in such foolish and unprofitable fancies; and yet it is difficult not to remember here that σμύρνα [smyrna], the name of this suffering Church which should give out its sweetness in persecution and in death, is a subform of μύῤῥα [myrhra] . . . [which] . . . served for embalming the dead (John 19:39) . . ., went up as incense before the Lord (Ex. 30:23), was one of the perfumes of the bridegroom (Ps. 45:8), and of the bride (Sos. 3:6)51
Significantly, this is the church of tribulation and martyrdom. Ignatius, in his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans recognized the ongoing zeal of the church at Smyrna: “I observed that you are established in an unshakable faith, having been nailed, as it were, to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ in both body and spirit and firmly established in love by the blood of Christ.”52This is one of only two churches (Philadelphia being the other) for which Christ gives no word of criticism.
the First and the Last
Jesus emphasizes His eternality, especially in relation to eternal life because this is the church which is to suffer martyrdom and to which He holds out the promise of the “crown of life” (Rev. 2:10+). See commentary on Revelation 1:11 and Revelation 1:17.
who was dead, and came to life
Literally, “became dead.”53 Jesus reiterates His victory over death. It was of paramount importance that the saints at Smyrna understand their possession of eternal life for they would be asked to “be faithful until death” (Rev. 2:10+). Although the devil could destroy the body, he could do no more (Mat. 10:28; Luke 12:4). See commentary on Revelation 1:18.
See commentary on Revelation 2:2.
The connection between tribulation and poverty is found in the likelihood that their goods were plundered due to persecution for their faith (Heb. 10:34). How contrary is the condition of the church at Smyrna from that of the church in Laodicea which was lacking persecution and abounding in goods (Rev. 3:17+). Yet, the Smyrnaean church received no word of condemnation while the Laodicean church received no word of commendation!
“Greek has two words for poor: penia means having nothing superfluous, ptocheia means abject poverty, destitution. [This verse] uses the latter.”54
you are rich
The church at Smyrna could not be accurately judged by external measures. As Trench observes: “there are both poor rich-men and rich poor-men in his sight.”55 The riches of the church at Smyrna were laid up in heaven (Mat. 6:20; 19:21; Luke 12:21; Jas. 2:5). “There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing; And one who makes himself poor, yet has great riches” (Pr. 13:7).Material goods have no ultimate value, but will all be destroyed. Knowledge of this reality should bring a shift in priorities towards spiritual things which are truly lasting (2Pe. 3:10-11). The church at Laodicea had great material prosperity, but Christ said they were “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17+).
This church of martyrdom faced its most intense opposition from those who at one time were closest to God. “Three sources of antagonism to Christians emerge in these seven messages, Jewish (here), pagan (Rev. 2:13+), and heretical (Rev. 2:24+).”56That these “Jews” are the natural seed of Abraham can be seen by the description of their assembly place as a synagogue57 and by the analogy of Scripture (Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6; Php. 3:2-3). These were the unbelieving Jews of Smyrna, who had physical circumcision, but lacked the circumcision of the heart:
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (Rom. 2:28-29)
Such Jews relied upon their physical decent from Abraham, but denied him as father by their actions. John the Baptist warned the Pharisees and Sadducees, “and do not think to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Mat. 3:9).
They answered and said to Him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But now you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father.” Then they said to Him, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father—God.” (John 8:39-41)
Paul noted that only a subset of the Jews were “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). This believing remnant within Israel were the true Jews:58
But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. (Rom. 9:6-8)
He warned the Philippian church to beware of the “mutilation” (a euphemism for the physically circumcised unbelieving Jews, Gal. 5:12):
Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: (Php. 3:2-4)
The unbelieving Jews were the major threat to the early church (Acts 13:50; 14:2, 5, 19; 17:5). This threat was compounded because Christians initially enjoyed protection from Rome by being considered a sect within Judaism. Since Judaism enjoyed protection as a recognized religion by Rome, so long as Christianity was seen as a sect within Judaism, persecution was minimal. But the fundamental rift between Judaism and Christianity eventually brought persecution, not only by the Jews, but also from Rome.
The local synagogue in Smyrna opposed the Christian assembly, as did the synagogue in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:9+).59The gathering of Christians at Smyrna is “church” ἐκκλησίαις [ekklēsiais], whereas the gathering of these blasphemers is “synagogue” συναγωγὴ [synagōgē]. The difference in words is significant making it unlikely that Jesus is describing some other group of Christians who hold faulty doctrine concerning their Jewishness. Some interpreters take this verse as describing Christian groups who hold to Replacement Theology. While we are opposed to Replacement Theology, such an interpretation appears to us to be a subversion of this text to serve the ends of the interpreter rather than accurate exegesis.60 Jesus tells the Philadelphian church that members of the synagogue of Satan “say they are Jews and are not” (Rev. 3:9+). They undoubtedly were Jews in the national sense—physical offspring of Abraham—but lacked faith in Messiah Jesus.Persecution by the Synagogue was something that Jesus had promised (Mat. 23:34; Mark 13:9; Luke 21:12; John 16:12) and Paul had experienced (Acts 9:20-23; 13:45-50; 14:2; 17:5-10; 18:6, 28; 19:9; 22:22). “[This] shocking statement affirmed that those Jews who hated and rejected Jesus Christ were just as much Satan’s followers as pagan idol worshipers (cf. John 8:44).”61 Persecution by the unbelieving Jews was heightened by the belief that they alone had the true understanding of God:
The measure of their former nearness to God was the measure of their present distance from Him. In the height to which they were lifted up was involved the depth to which, if they did not continue at that height, they must inevitably fall; and this, true for them, is true also for all62
This persecution by Judaism was especially troubling because it meant the loss of the protection Christianity initially enjoyed while considered a sect within Judaism:
The letters in Revelation suggest that Jewish Christians were tempted to escape persecution by seeking some form of identification with Jewish synagogues, which were exempted from emperor worship, and that Gentile Christians were tempted to compromise with trade guild cults and even the emperor cult in order to escape persecution. Such a situation is more likely to have been present toward the end of the first century rather than earlier.63
According to Roman law, religions were considered illegal outside their country of origin, . . . The only exception to this law was Judaism, the practice of which was allowed throughout the Empire. Christians were probably considered a sect of Judaism until 70 A.D., though they likely would not have been completely disassociated from Judaism in the minds of pagans in the years following 70 A.D. After that date, Judaism made formal attempts to dissociate itself from Christianity.64
Judaism had a special privilege that the Romans allowed only them, freedom from worshiping the Roman gods and participating in the Greco-Roman cults. Christianity was considered part of Judaism at least through the Jewish War (A.D. 66-70) and also benefited from this privilege. However, Judaism tried more and more to separate itself from Christianity and get the Roman Empire to recognize that Christianity was not exempt. . . . the Romans imposed on Jews [the Judean tax] that allowed the Jews freedom from participation in the imperial cult. Christians refused to pay this tax; thus the Jews denounced Christians as not being true Judeans and as being troublemakers.65
The intensity of the hatred of the Smyrnaean Jews for Christians was illustrated in the burning of Polycarp some years later: “[The martyrdom of Polycarp] was in the year 165, but the attitude of the Asian Jew towards Christianity had been determined at least seventy years before.”66 “The most striking instance [of persecution by Jews] actually relates to Smyrna: the Jews gathered fuel on the Sabbath for the burning of Polycarp (Mart. Pion. 4; Cadoux, pp. 378-79).”67 “These things happened with such swiftness, quicker than words can tell, the crowd swiftly collecting wood and kindling from the workshops and baths, the Jews being especially eager to assist in this, as is their custom.”68Although it seems best to understand the text as describing unbelieving Jews (true physical offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), some have noted the trend among cults (e.g., Jehovah’s Witnesses, British Israel) of claiming to be “Jews,” “One common element among cults is to claim to be the ‘real’ Jews by declaring themselves to be the 144,000 Jews or the ten lost Tribes of Israel.”69If the Jews had recognized their Messiah, what is here described as a synagogue of Satan could have been described as the “church of the living God.”
you are about to suffer
The Smyrnaeans were about to enter a time of testing. God often warns his servants prior to a time of trial (Eze. 2:3-7; Mat. 10:16-31; Luke 9:23-24; John 16:1-4; Acts 9:16). This gives the saints His perspective and great hope knowing that He recognizes what they are going through and yet it remains within His sovereign will and purpose to leave them there (Luke 22:31-32; Rom. 8:28).
The devil is called διάβολος [diabolos], a compound of δια [dia] (“against”) and βαλλω [ballō] (“to throw”). He is the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10+) who “throws against” them his accusations (Job 1:6; Zec. 3:1-2).Oppression often comes by way of people, but Scripture identifies the motivating powers behind the scene (Eph. 6:12). The early church understood this fact:
There is nothing more remarkable in the records which have come down to us of the early persecutions, and in this point they singularly illustrate the Scripture before us, than the sense which the confessors and martyrs, and those who afterwards narrate their sufferings and their triumphs, entertain and utter, that these great fights of affliction through which they were called to pass, were the immediate work of the devil, and no mere result of the offended passions, prejudices, or interests of men. The enemies of flesh and blood, as mere tools and instruments, are nearly lost sight of by them in a constant reference to satan as the invisible but real author of all.70
When members of the church at Smyrna found themselves in prison, they were to understand that it was spiritual powers which had placed them there. This would make it easier to bear the Tribulation and especially to pray for those who persecuted them (Mat. 5:44).
that you may be tested
The knowledge that their tribulation was within the plan and design of God would provide immeasurable comfort.God makes use of evil for His own purposes: He allowed a lying spirit to go forth (1K. 22:22; 2Chr. 18:21); He allows Satan to test His saints (Job 1:12; 2:6; Luke 22:31; 2Cor. 12:7; Rev. 20:8+); and wayward believers to be chastened by evil (1Cor. 5:5; 1Ti. 1:20). God even uses demons in judgment (Rev. 9:15+; 16:14+). God allowed Satan to test Jesus in order to illustrate His sinless impeccability (Mat. 4:1).
God sifting and winnowing the man to separate his chaff from his wheat, the devil sifting and winnowing him in the hope that nothing else but chaff will be found in him (Luke 22:31).71
Scripture is full of God’s testing of men. He already knows what is in a man, but does the man? Usually not. Testing makes it self-evident (Gen. 22:1; Ex. 15:25; 16:4; 20:20; Deu. 8:2, 16; 13:3; Jdg. 2:22; 3:1, 4; 2Chr. 32:31; Job 23:10; Ps. 11:4-5; 105:19; Isa. 48:10; Jer. 12:3; 20:12; Luke 4:1; 22:31; Jas. 1:12; Rev. 2:10+).
The briefness of this period may be intended as a motivation for endurance (Isa. 26:20; Ps. 30:5; Mat. 24:22; 2Cor. 4:17; 1Pe. 1:6)72. Hemer suggests the phrase betrays the language of the arena where the Smyrnaean saints might meet their supreme test.73Some have seen the days as allusions to ten historical periods of persecution:
[To] those who interpret here [an] allusion to the ten persecutions which the Church is often said to have passed through, during the three hundred years of its conflict with heathen Rome . . . it has been objected that this enumeration of exactly ten persecutions is altogether arbitrary; that, if we include in our list only those which had some right to be called general, as extending over the whole Roman empire, the persecutions would not be so many; if all those which reached any one city or province, they would be many more.74
It seems best to take this time period as representing ten literal days: “The ten days are literal and refer to an unknown persecution within a definite period of time during the generation to which this message was addressed,”75 “In the book of Revelation, time zones, be they days, months, or years, are always quite literal, and it is best to take these ten days as being the same.”76 For a survey of different views regarding the meaning of the ten days see [Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 168-170].
How sobering to receive a personal message from Jesus requesting we remain faithful to the point of death! He Who knows all things is asking these at Smyrna to prepare for the ultimate witness!The phrase speaks of intensity rather than chronology. “It needs hardly be observed that this ‘unto death’ is an intensive, not an extensive, term. Christ does not mean, ‘to thy life’s end,’ contemplating life under the aspect of time; but ‘to the sharpest and worst which the enemy can inflict upon thee, even to death itself.’ ”77At a later date, Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, proved faithful “until death”:
We learn from that precious document, the Epistle of the Church of Smyrna recording the martyrdom of Polycarp, that Jews [those of the synagogue of Satan] joined with heathens in crying out in the amphitheatre that the Christian bishop should be cast to the lions; and when there was a difficulty about this, that he should be burned alive; which being granted, the Jews, as was their wont . . . were forwardest in bringing logs for the pile; they, too, doing all that lay in their power to hinder the remains of the martyr from being delivered to his followers for burial.78
The death of His saints throughout history stands as the ultimate witness to the belief in eternal life provided to those who have believed upon His name (Rev. 12:11+).
They were to understand that death would be merely a transition for them. An exit from this world and an entry into His presence where all suffering is behind. “The thought then is that the time of interim suffering is likely to terminate in actual death, not the mere threat of it, but that death for the Christian is the prelude to life.”79The crown of life represents eternal life, and as here, is found in association with steadfast continuance in the faith (Jas. 1:12):
But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who “will render to each one according to his deeds”: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath. (Rom. 2:5-8). [emphasis added]
See commentary on Revelation 2:7.
Although members of the church would experience martyrdom (the first death), they would be assured of avoiding the dreaded second death—the Lake of Fire. See Births, Deaths, and Resurrections. It is by way of the second birth, being “born again,” that a person moves from the category of the second resurrection to the first resurrection. Over those, “the second death has no power” (Rev. 20:6+). The promise to the overcomer is given to all those who come to faith in Jesus Christ—they need not fear the second death, being cast into the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:14+). No believer ever finds his way to the second death. “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8+).
See the discussion concerning the identity of the angel at Revelation 1:20.
Pergamos, now Bergamo, the ancient metropolis of Mysia, and the residence of the Attalian kings, is situated on the river Ciacus, about sixty miles north of Smyrna, in long. 27 degrees East lat. 39 degrees 11 minutes North. It still retains some measure of its ancient importance; containing a population of about 15,000 souls, and having nine or ten mosques, two churches, and one synagogue.82
Pergamos served as the capital of Alexander’s successor, Lysimachus and was bequeathed to Rome by Attalus III. At one time “it had a vast library of 200,000 volumes, which was moved by Antony to Egypt and presented to Cleopatra.”83
Pergamum was a university city, famous for its library of 200,000 parchment scrolls, second only in size to the library of Alexandria in Egypt. Indeed, parchment was invented in Pergamum, for when its king decided to establish a library and enticed Alexandria’s librarian to head up his library, the Egyptian king banned the export of papyrus to Pergamum. This forced Pergamum’s scholars to find an alternate writing material, and they invented parchment. Parchment lasts much better than papyrus, so this invention played a big part in preserving the Bible for us.84
It used to be common to credit Eumenes II, king of Pergamum shortly after 200 B.C., with the invention of parchment. Eumenes was building up his library to rival the great library of King Ptolemy in Alexandria. The king of Egypt moved to cut off the supply of papyrus to Pergamum, and in response Eumenes was forced to develop “parchment.” This story is true if taken in the sense that Eumenes was the first to make use of parchment or leather; for long before the second century, animal skins for writing were unquestionably in use. In Egypt, for example, mention is made of leather documents as far back as 2500 B.C. . . . So Eumenes was by no means the first to use animal skins for writing, although he may have developed and perfected a better process for treating the skins. Whatever the case, Pergaumum and parchment are indisputably connected, the word “parchment” being derived from the Greek term pergamene.85
The fame of Pergamum rested chiefly on its religious preeminence. A tetrad of local deities, Zeus Soter, Athena Nicephoros, Dionysius, Kathegemon, Asklepios Soter, presided over the city; the temple of Athena almost crowned the acropolis, and beneath it, on the slope of the hill and visible from the agora, stood a great al fresco altar of the Pergamene Zeus. Still more celebrated was the Pergamene cult of Asklepios, to whose temple there was attached a school of medicine which attracted sufferers from all quarters. . . . What Artemis was to Ephesus, such was Asklepios to Pergamum.86
Asklepios was the deity of medicine: “Aesculapius (whence our word ‘scalpel’) being worshiped, commonly under the sign of a coiled snake on a pole (note Numbers 21:8-9).”87
The significance in Christ’s title can be seen in the doctrinal errors of the Balaamites (Rev. 2:14+) and Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:15+) which are being promoted by some in the church at Pergamum. These doctrinal errors are judged by the teachings found in the Word of God. “It is the first negative introduction of Christ because the Pergamum church faced imminent judgment.”88 See commentary on Revelation 1:16.
See commentary on Revelation 2:2.
In Pergamum., two saviors competed with the One True Savior. Asklepios, associated with the serpent, was said to be savior because of his healing power.89 Zeus was also considered a savior. Some believe this reference to Satan’s throne goes beyond a general recognition of the pagan religious practices which flourished at Pergamum and denotes the throne-like altar of Zeus Soter, so dominant as to typify Satanic heathendom.90 The obsessive serpent-motif of its sculptures and the title ‘Sotre’ [savior], like a blasphemous parody of its Christian use would alike give point to this identification.91 “The most splendid monument of Pergamum was the ‘altar of Zeus,’ 12 m (40 ft) high, that once crowned its acropolis and was later reconstructed in East Berlin. . . . This lofty pagan shrine could have been the ‘Satan’s throne.’ ”92It is also possible the phrase Satan’s throne may principally be in recognition of the place of Pergamum in relation to emperor worship:
Most commentators see the principal or only background in the position of Pergamum as the centre of emperor worship. This was the present threat to the church, and the reminder that Christ has the ‘sharp two-edged ῤομφαία [romphaia]’ is then set against the proconsul’s ius gladii. It was on this ground that the Christian faced the actual threat of Roman execution. . . . It is well known that Domitian required to be addressed as dominus et deus [“Lord and God”].93
Inscriptions proclaim the dignity of the city as the first in Asia to erect a temple to Augustus; and as it was the first, so it continued to be the chief Asian set of the emperor-cult.94
The major threat to Christians in Pergamum came from its role as a center of emperor worship in Asia, a function that went with it being the capital city. Caesar worship required each citizen, once a year, to offer a pinch of incense to Caesar on his altar and profess him as Lord. The citizen was then given a certificate valid for one year which allowed him to worship whatever god or gods he preferred with impunity.95
Alexander Hislop, in his famous book Two Babylons, gave much documentation to show that Pergamos had inherited the religious mantle of ancient Babylon when Babylon fell in the days of Belshazzar. The priests, who had kept the secrets of the ancient mystery religious centered at Babylon ever since the days of Nimrod, were forced to migrate at that time, transferring what amounted to the headquarters of Satan’s religious system away from Babylon north and west to Pergamos.96
A faithful saint, unknown to history, but not missed in the records of Christ. Precious is the death of His saints (Ps. 116:15)! His name means either like the Father97 or against all.98 Nothing reliable is known of him, although “according to tradition he was burned to death in a bronze bull. Little else is know of him, but his testimony must have been dramatic and the knowledge of his sacrifice widespread.”99 It is likely that Antipas died for refusing to worship the emperor. “Antipas, the city’s Christian martyr, was the victim of Rome, because only the imperial cultus had the power of capital punishment.”100 He had been faithful until death and had earned the crown of life (Rev. 2:10+).
What a mix of zeal and error at this church! Antipas had stood firm in faith to the point of death, yet others within the same fellowship were promoting unscriptural teaching.A number of commentators understand the conjunction which begins Revelation 2:15 as an indication of an emphatic comparison made between Balaam and the Nicolaitans.101 It is thought that the doctrine of the Nicolaitans may have promoted licentiousness, in common with that of Balaam. Both are treated in our discussion of the Nicolaitans.
The teaching of Balaam was encouragement of corruption by intermarriage resulting in fornication and idolatry. No doubt in the city of Pergamum intermarriage with the pagan world was a real problem. Because civil and religious life were so intertwined, for believers to accept social engagements probably meant some involvement with paganism.102
Σκάνδαλον [Skandalon] can be used to describe a trap, more specifically the trigger of the trap upon which the bait is laid.103 In the case of Balaam, the bait which brought about the downfall of Israel was the desire of the men for sexual relations with the women of Moab. And so we come upon the tragic pattern of temptation, brought about both by Satan and our flesh. That which God has ordained for His purposes is twisted in unnatural ways to become the means of our downfall. Sexual relations, designed as the means of procreation within the confines of marriage (1Cor. 7:2; Heb. 13:4), becomes the lure leading to fornication and adultery.This warping aspect of ungodly desire is in view when Paul writes to the believer’s in Rome telling them to “reckon yourselves dead indeed to sin” (Rom. 6:10), for they had “died with Christ” (Rom. 6:8). The believer is to be dead to sin: dead things do not respond to stimulus. It is by stimulus of our ungodly desires that Satan and our flesh achieve their most damaging results. Satan is a master at providing what we desire, be it status, wealth, or a host of other wants so long as he is successful at getting us to compromise and participate in an ungodly activity.Jesus did not succumb to the tempter because there was nothing within the desire of Jesus that was outside of the will of the Father (John 14:30). Therefore, Satan lacked a “handle” by which he could manipulate the Son of God (Mat. 4:3). Jesus warns us not to be the instrument by which bait is placed (Mat. 18:7). Even our Christian liberty can become a stumbling block for others (1Cor. 8:9).
Εἰδωλόθυτα [Eidōlothyta] “refers to sacrificial meat, part of which was burned on the altar, part was eaten at a solemn meal in the temple, and part was sold in the market for home use.”104 This message was mainly to Gentile converts at Pergamum since Judaism prohibited this practice (Num. 25:2; Ps. 106:28; Dan. 1:8). The church at Pergamum was integrated into the culture, rather than being set apart.
[Christians] were expected to pay their “dues” to trade guilds by attending annual dinners held in honor of the guilds’ patron deities. Homage to the emperor as divine was included along with worship of such local deities.105
The dietary restrictions imposed upon Gentiles by the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:20, 15:29) were out of concern for retaining Gentile fellowship with Jewish believers. Paul allows such meat sacrificed to idols to be eaten (1Cor. 8:7; 10:18-33), but only when it does not cause offense to brothers. Here the issue was one of compromising the witness of the church within the pagan culture and partaking of pagan practices which were associated with such banquets. These dinners included the eating of meat sacrificed to idols as well as licentious behavior. See Worldly Churches.
to commit sexual immorality
Πορνεῦσαι [Porneusai]: “To give one’s self to unlawful sexual intercourse.”106 This may have referred either to physical relations connected with the pagan feasts or be a description of the idolatry practiced by the church at Pergamum which participated in pagan ritual.
thus you also have
The phrase thus . . . also have indicates “a similarity between the teaching of Balaam and the Nicolaitans.”107The problem for the church at Pergamum was not that Nicolaitans existed in the city, but that they were within the church. We are to separate from those who call themselves believers, but deny Christ by their actions (1Cor. 5:11).
I will come to you quickly
A futuristic use of the present tense, ἔρχομαι [erchomai], I am coming. If the saints at Pergamum do not repent, His arrival is imminent! He is already on His way! Here it seems best to understand quickly as denoting a spiritual coming in judgment upon the Nicolaitans. No mention of such a sect extends beyond the early church. “This ‘coming,’ like that of Revelation 2:5+, is not our Lord’s second advent, but His entering personally and that quickly, upon their affairs judicially.”108
If Trench is correct in correlating the Nicolaitans with the doctrine of Balaam, then this may be an allusion to Num. 31:8 (cf. Jos. 13:22; Num. 22:31).109 The church at Pergamum had not been upholding sound biblical teaching. The teaching of the Nicolaitans did not measure up to the “Sword of the Spirit,” the Word of God (Eph. 6:17) and would be defeated. See commentary on Revelation 1:16.
See commentary on Revelation 2:7.
The manna is set in direct contrast to the things sacrificed to idols. The church was eating earthly pagan food, but the overcomer is promised heavenly food from above.When Israel was in the wilderness, God supernaturally provided manna for their food. Manna was something like white coriander seed and tasted like wafers made of honey (Ex. 16:31; Num. 11:7). The manna was provided for a period of forty years (Ex. 16:35) until Israel crossed the Jordan (Jos. 5:12). Manna provided life in a barren wilderness and is even called “angel’s food” (Ps. 78:23-25).In an intentional comparison between Himself and the feeding of Israel in the wilderness, Jesus fed the multitude (John 6:1-14). Afterwards, Jesus taught the significance of the event, which was not found in the miracle itself, but in what it signified:
“Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:31-35)
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” (John 6:48-51)
The overcomer has faith in Christ and is a partaker of His flesh given on our behalf. Thus he has eternal life:
“As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:57-58)
This manna is said to be hidden. “There can, I think, be no doubt that allusion is here to the manna which at God’s express command Moses caused to be laid up before the Lord in the Sanctuary (Ex. 16:32-34; cf. Heb. 9:4). This manna, as being thus laid up in the Holy Place, obtained the name of ‘hidden.’ ”110
The allusion is ultimately traceable to Ex. 16:32-34, where the Lord commanded a sample of manna to be preserved as a memorial for future generations. Tradition was quick to explain its subsequent disappearance. It was taken to have been originally kept in the ark of the covenant (cf. Heb. 9:4), and on the destruction of Solomon’s temple Jeremiah, according to 2 Macc. 2:4-7, was warned to take the tabernacle, the ark and its contents to Sinai and there hide them underground. There they would remain until the coming of the Messiah, when Jeremiah would reappear and deposit them in the new Messianic temple in Jerusalem. A variant in 2 Baruch 6:7-10, ascribing their concealment to an angel, is almost contemporary with the Revelation. neither of these passages mentions manna, but its inclusion in this tradition is inferred from Heb. 9:4 and explicit in the Rabbinic sources (so Yoma 52b).111
Christ Himself may be considered hidden manna, being no longer visible since His ascension:
Life eternal commences on this side of the grave, and not first on the other; and here in the wilderness Christ is the bread from heaven, the bread of God, the true manna, of which those that eat shall never die (John 6:31-33, 48-51). Nay, more than this; since his Ascension he is in some sort a “hidden manna” for them now.112
The fact that the manna is described as “hidden,” points to the mystery of eternal life, a mystery that is only perceived through faith. The hidden (or secret) manna seems to be the bread of life which is a secret from all who have not experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ.113
Eating the manna may also be an allusion to participation in the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9+).114 Bullinger sees a literal fulfillment in the nourishment of Israel in the future wilderness (Rev. 12:14+).115From the perspective of the saints at Pergamum, the hidden manna was a reminder of God’s provision in spite of deprivation. “The person leaving the state church might be deprived of his job and welfare. But in spite of what he may be deprived of, God will provide his sustenance.”116
In understanding the white stone, we meet with a tendency of many interpreters to derive an understanding of scriptural imagery from pagan cultural practices.117 See Searching for Meaning in all the Wrong Places.A number of alternative interpretations have been offered for the meaning of the white stone.
- Token of Innocence - A white pebble was placed in a ballot box by a Greek judge pronouncing a sentence of acquittal (a black pebble indicating condemnation). Stone is ψῆφον [psēphon]: “The word means (lit.) pebble, but has a secondary meaning of ‘vote,’ for the same word is used in Acts 26:10.”118 “There are many opinions on what the white stone represents, but when we note that Acts 26:10 uses the same Greek word for ‘vote,’ then we can advance a strong case that the white stone may well represent a vote of innocence. It then depicts the believer’s new character and symbolically denotes the purity which flows from the cleansing from sin that takes place at conversion.”119 “This white stone is absolution from the guilt of sin, alluding to the ancient custom of giving a white stone to those acquitted on trial and a black stone to those condemned.”120
- Token of Privilege - A tessera (also called ψῆφος [psēphos]) was given at Olympic games to the victor with subsequent attendant social privileges. Allusion has been seen to yet another kind of tessera, one supposedly given to a gladiator at his discharge from the arena, exempting him from the obligation to risk his life again there. Many such tokens survive. They take the form of elongated rectangular tablets of bone bearing the name of a man, the letters ‘SP’, and the day and year, often incised in sequence on the four faces.121
- Token of Initiation - A token of initiation into the cult of Asklepios. “Roman examples were sometimes dated on the first of January, a day said to have been a festival of Asklepios. None of the known specimens is from Pergamum, but the importance of the Asklepios cult there . . . lends a strong circumstantial appeal to the theory.”122
- Good Omen - Reflecting the practice of a person who placed a white or black pebble for each happy or unhappy day into an urn. At his death, the colors were totaled to rate the happiness of his life.
- High Priest’s Headdress - “One explanation links the white stone with the platelet of gold that graced the high priest’s headdress (Ex. 28:36-37). The words inscribed on it were ‘Holiness to the Lord.’ According to this interpretation the overcomer will wear a headdress with a precious stone, on which shall be engraved the new name which belongs to the new Lord of the new kingdom, a name equivalent in value to that of Jehovah under the Old Testament, which no one but the high priest knew how to utter.”123
- High Priest’s Breastplate - “Another explanation from Jewish customs is that the imagery of the white stone originated with the twelve stones in the high priest’s breastplate. The names of each of the twelve tribes in Israel were inscribed on the stones. One difficulty with this view is that the stones in the breastplate were not white (Ex. 28:17-21). Another problem is that while the priest’s breastplate had twelve stones, Revelation 2:17+ mentions only one stone.”124
- Urim and Thummim - Trench supposes the white stone may be a diamond, the same stone which is the Urim and Thummim.125 “The stone is white or ‘bright,’ the Greek term λευκό [leuko] can refer either to the color white (traditional here) or to an object that is bright or shining, either from itself or from an outside source of illumination.”126 “The word Urim means ‘light,’ answering to the color white. None but the high priest knew the name written upon it, probably the incommunicable name of God, ‘Jehovah.’ The high priest consulted it in some divinely appointed way to get direction from God when needful. The ‘new name’ is Christ’s (compare Rev. 3:12+, ‘I will write upon him My new name’): some new revelation of Himself which shall hereafter be imparted to His people, and which they alone are capable of receiving. The connection with the ‘hidden manna’ will thus be clear, as none save the high priest had access to the ‘manna hidden’ in the sanctuary.”127 “A third explanation for the white stone is based on the Urim and Thummim in the high priest’s breastplate. The Urim and Thummim may have been stones, with names meaning ‘lights’ and ‘perfections,’ related to the revelation of God’s will (Ex. 28:30; Num. 27:21; Deu. 33:8; 1S. 28:6). This suggestion seems possible for several reasons. (a) The promised stone in Revelation 2:17+ could be white in the sense that it will have a whitish glisten. If Urim means lights, then it too could have had a whitish appearance. (b) Any engraving on the Urim was known only to the priest. This corresponds with the name written on the promised stone known only by the person who receives it. (c) Since the hidden manna Christ promised in the same verse is analogous to the Old Testament manna, the white stone could also be analogous to an Old Testament stone. It appears then that if Christ intended His audience to see an analogy between His white stone and the Urim, His reward would be experiencing God’s will fully.”128 “The white stone presumably is a sparkling diamond, perhaps answering to the Urim (‘lights’) also worn in Aaron’s breastplate (Leviticus 8:8). . . . [This was ] were worn by the high priest when he would enter into the holy place into the presence of the Lord. He alone could then have access to the ark of the covenant wherein reposed the hidden manna.”129
- Stone Tablets of the Law - “A fourth explanation in Jewish custom for the white stone connects it with the stones on which God inscribed His moral will (i.e., the Ten Commandments). Rosscup, who suggests this view, points out that this connection ‘could be directly relevant . . . to sins at Pergamum committed against God’s moral standard (Rev. 2:14-23+). As the overcomer received and honored the Word disclosing God’s Person and will, Christ assures [him] that he is to receive the ultimate disclosure of God’s Person and will. His symbol for this is the “white stone.” ’ This view is also possible for several reasons. (a) It is consistent in seeing both the manna and the stone as imageries from the same era in Israel’s history. (b) It fits with other rewards in Revelation 2+ which also reach back to the Old Testament (e.g., the tree of life [Rev. 2:7+], from Genesis 2 and 3; the crown of life, not the second death [Rev. 2:10-11+], going back also to Genesis 2 and 3; the rod of authority and the morning star [Rev. 2:26-28+], from Psalm 2 and Numbers 24). (c) The idea of what ‘God had written’ (Rev. 2:17+) is also emphasized with regard to the stones of the Law (Ex. 32:15-16). (d) The Lord made His name prominent and repeated it in writing on the stones of the Law, as in Exodus 20. (e) This view also suits the context of Revelation 2+. Standing against the sin-darkening environment, the overcomer honors the value of God’s moral law associated with His will (Rev. 2:14-15+; cf. Rev. 2:20-23+). So Christ will honor him with the ultimate enjoyment that relates to knowing and doing God’s will.”130
We believe it is inappropriate to base the interpretation of symbols within the book of Revelation upon pagan, non-Jewish cultural practices. The Bible is an inspired Jewish book (Rom. 3:2; 9:4), so we should not expect to find our answers in practices or beliefs which are considered blasphemous by God. When we apply the Golden Rule of Interpretation, we compare Scripture with Scripture to gain an understanding of the text. If this premise is true, and we believe it is, then it rules out all but the last four views as being contenders for understanding the white stone.Of the last four views, we believe the last two views are most likely connected with this passage.The white stone does not stand alone in our text for on the stone there will be a new name written. Observe several characteristics concerning this passage: (1) the gift given is a stone; (2) the stone is white; (3) the stone is written upon; (4) the writing conveys a name. We believe these factors connect the stone with the Stone Tablets of the Law given to Moses and upon which was recorded God’s moral law, the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17; 24:12; 34:2, 29). Throughout Scripture, names convey the character of the one bearing the name. It is no coincidence that when God met with Moses for the second time to write the tablets of the law, He proclaimed His character (Ex. 34:6-7). The record of the law written on stone is a reflection of God’s character.As for the white aspect of the stone, we note the command given to Joshua when the law was renewed prior to crossing the Jordan:
And it shall be, on the day when you cross over the Jordan to the land which the LORD your God is giving you, that you shall set up for yourselves large stones, and whitewash them with lime. You shall write on them all the words of this law, when you have crossed over, that you may enter the land which the LORD your God is giving you, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey,’ just as the LORD God of your fathers promised you. Therefore it shall be, when you have crossed over the Jordan, that on Mount Ebal you shall set up these stones, which I command you today, and you shall whitewash them with lime. And there you shall build an altar to the LORD your God, an altar of stones; you shall not use an iron tool on them. You shall build with whole stones the altar of the LORD your God, and offer burnt offerings on it to the LORD your God. You shall offer peace offerings, and shall eat there, and rejoice before the LORD your God. And you shall write very plainly on the stones all the words of this law. (Deu. 27:2-8) [emphasis added]
This command was later fulfilled by Joshua (Jos. 8:32). The written law upon the tablets of stone was a picture of how one day God would write the law upon tablets of flesh:
You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (2Cor. 2:2)
The white stone may be a memorial to the law in that it records a new name which expresses the character of God to which the believer is being conformed (Rom. 8:29; 1Cor. 15:49; 2Cor. 3:18; Php. 3:21; Col. 3:10).There is a textual variant at Revelation 15:6+ which mentions a white stone, but is generally thought to be a transcriptional error. See commentary on Revelation 15:6.
new name written
There are two possibilities concerning this new name. Either it is a new name given to the overcomer or it is the new name of God given to the overcomer in the church at Philadelphia (Rev. 3:12+).
This may indicate one or more of three main ideas. First, the name might be a new name Christ will give to each believer. It will be appropriately different for each overcomer and no one except the one who receives it will know the name. Second, the name might be the same for all believers. It will be known to all victors (all believers) just as the things of God are known (in different degree) to all believers (1Jn. 2:20, 27; 1Cor. 2:15-16). This view also fits with the Lord’s promises in Isaiah that He will give to His people—all of them in common—a “new name” (Isa. 62:2; cf. 56:5; 65:15). Third, the name might be that of God the Father or of Christ Himself, a common heritage for all overcomers. In favor of this view is the parallel passage in Revelation 3:12+, which says the name Christ will give is God’s own name. (Further support is in Revelation 14:1+ and 22:4+, which refer to God’s name on the foreheads of the 144,000 and all believers in the New Jerusalem.) This name could be a name of God that He deems appropriate for His own as an expression of the fact that they belong to Him (cf. Isa. 56:5; 62:2; 65:15). Also, as already noted, the white stone may allude to the stones of the Law on which God wrote His name (Ex. 20).131
The name is new: “Gr. kainos, new in quality, use, application, or character, as opposed to being new in time; see Mat. 9:17 where contrasting terms occur together, kainos being second, applied to wineskins which were not brand new (as was the wine), but simply not having been used before, unused. See the use of kainos at John 13:34.”132Isaiah described how God would give a name to those who follow after Him—even to those who were not Jews:
Even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants-everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant—even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices Will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations. The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, yet I will gather to him Others besides those who are gathered to him. (Isa. 56:5-8)
Whether the name is that of God or a new name given the believer, it describes the new character and inheritance of the believer (2Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:24) who has been adopted into the family of God. “The new name is the name of adoption: adopted persons took the name of the family into which they were adopted.”133
no one knows except him
The name is secret—known only to the one who receives the stone. Full disclosure of the things of God is reserved for those who share intimacy with Him, who know Him and are known by Him. This pattern is seen in the great revelation given to those who had an especially close relationship with God such as Moses, Daniel, and John (Ps. 25:14; Mat. 11:27). God spoke to Moses “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11). Daniel was “greatly beloved” of God (Dan. 9:23; 10:11, 19). John was the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 20:2; 21:7, 20).The name is unknown, as is Jesus’ new name (Rev. 3:12+; Rev. 19:12+). This recalls the mysterious, but unrevealed name attending the Angel of the Lord and Son of God throughout Scripture. The name is hinted at, but never revealed: when Jacob wrestled with the Angel and was named Israel (Gen. 32:29); when the Angel announced the birth of Samson to his parents (Jdg. 13:6, 18); in the question concerning the Son of God (Pr. 30:4); and in God’s new name to be written on the overcomer (Rev. 3:12+).Him may refer to the category of all overcomers—that the new name of God is only known to believers. If it refers to the individual, then it would seem to imply that a different name is revealed to each overcomer.134 If the latter, then the name may be that given to the individual overcomer, or perhaps a different name revealing one of the many facets of God’s character is given to each.
The one who knows the name is the one who receives the stone. “It refers not to the name, but to the stone (containing the name).”135
See the discussion concerning the identity of the angel at Revelation 1:20.
Thyatira is very rarely mentioned in ancient literature, and its site is covered by the modern town of Akhisar, which betrays few outward signs of its past and whose presence has prevented excavation. . . . Thyatira is first know to us as a Seleucid colony, whose foundation is ascribed to Seleucus Nicator at the time of his war with Lysimachus. . . . The increasing abundance of later inscriptions suggests that Thyatira, still of limited importance at the time of the Revelation, reached a peak of prosperity in the second and third centuries. The words of Rev. 2:19+ were addressed to a growing church in a growing city.138
The most outstanding feature in Thyatiran life was probably the institution of trade-guilds. . . . At Thyatira there were guilds of bakers, potters, workers in brass, tanners, leather-cutters, workers in wool and flax, clothiers, dyers; the workers in wool and the dyers were probably the most numerous, for the manufacture and dyeing of woollen goods was a Lydian speciality, in which Thyatira excelled.139
Not surprisingly, religion played no major role in Thyatira’s way of life, for it was not a major center of Caesar worship or Greek worship; its local god was Tyrimnus, a horse mounted god, armed with a battle-ax and a club. The only notable thing about Thyatira religiously was that it was home to the oracle Sambethe, an oracle presided over by a female fortune teller.140
This church may have been established from Paul’s ministry to Lydia (Acts 16:14). “At the riverside at Philippa Lydia, a seller of purple of Thyatira became the first recorded Christian convert in Macedonia (Acts 16:14).”141
Thyatira was famous for a purple or crimson dye manufactured from the madder root, which was a cheap rival for the expensive Phoenician murex dye made from a particular marine shellfish. Acts 16:14 attests to this specialty, for the Philippian convert, Lydia, was a seller of purple fabrics who hailed from Thyatira (she was 300 miles from her home city).142
Frequent allusions to Psalm 2 in the letter to Thyatira underscore both the judgment of Jezebel and her children (Rev. 2:22-23+) and the promises made to the overcomer who is given “power over the nations” (Rev. 2:26+). (See Rev. 2:18+ cf. Ps. 2:9; Rev. 2:26+ cf. Ps. 2:8; Rev. 2:27+ cf. Ps. 2:9.143) This is the first instance in the letters to the seven churches where the self-identification of Christ is in the form of a title rather than a descriptive attribute.144
The church at Thyatira had been allowing Jezebel to promote her unscriptural teaching in their midst (Rev. 2:20+), but not the slightest detail had escaped the eyes of the Master. As discussed in Revelation 1:14, the eyes like a flame of fire indicate His omniscience and omnipresence. He is well aware of what is happening within the church at Thyatira, especially those things he opposes (Rev. 2:20+).
Fine brass is translated from a word of unknown derivation (only occurring here and in Revelation 1:15+) which probably denotes bright shining metal or perhaps its purity or hardness. See commentary on Revelation 1:15.The imagery of both eyes and feet is that of impending judgment upon Jezebel and her children (Rev. 2:22-23+). The judgment will serve as a witness of His omniscience: “All the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts” (Rev. 2:23+).
See commentary on Revelation 2:2.
The ministry (“service,” διακονίαν [diakonian]) of the saints at Thyatira evidenced the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Their faith was real and made evident by their works (Tit. 3:8, 14; Jas. 2:22). The grammar implies that love, service, faith, and patience may be an elaboration of their works and that their love and faith are evidenced by their service and patience. 145
the last are more than the first
The works done at Thyatira did not stand on their own for good works are necessary, but not sufficient in Christian service. The world is full of organizations which focus on beneficent works to fellow man. This cannot be the measure of acceptability to God because many of these organizations embrace beliefs and practices which are directly opposed to God’s Word (e.g., Shriners, Masons). Therefore, works alone say nothing about an organization’s relationship with God. It is the sharing of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that makes service Christian.
In contrast to the church in Ephesus which could not bear false apostles and hated the Nicolaitans, the church at Thyatira tolerated a false prophetess, Jezebel.We ourselves do not need to actively teach or promote error to come under Christ’s corrective judgment. All we need do is tolerate those in our midst who do so. The failure to confront those teaching error in our midst is a fundamental error of the modern church and reflects a generation of church-goers more likely to quote Matthew 7:1 than John 3:16.
calls herself a prophetess
Scripture recognizes numerous women who fulfilled the role of prophetess: Miriam, sister of Aaron (Ex. 15:20); Deborah (Jdg. 4:4); Huldah (2K. 22:14); Noadiah (Ne. 6:14);148 Isaiah’s wife (Isa. 8:3);149 Anna (Luke 2:36); the daughters of Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:9).150 But nowhere does it record a true prophetess that is self-proclaimed.Jezebel may have been a prophetess of sorts, but her prophetic powers were not from God. “Employing her intellectual faculties in the service of Satan, and not of God; but claiming inspiration, and probably possessing it, wielding spiritual powers, only they were such as reached her from beneath, not such as descended on her from above.”151 The Thyatiran church was making the serious mistake of attributing her spiritual powers to God. Unlike the Ephesian church (Rev. 2:2+), they had failed to “test the spirits” (1Jn. 4:1).Perhaps the most telltale aspect of those who are not truly hearing from God is their incessant self-proclamation.152 This is often evidence of pride and an inability to produce the genuine gift of the Spirit which they claim. God’s Word indicates a different pattern for those who would serve Him in humility: “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips” (Pr. 27:2), “For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2Cor. 10:18).This problem was not unique to the church at Thyatira, for Ezekiel’s day experienced it:
Likewise, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people, who prophesy out of their own heart; prophesy against them, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Woe to the women who sew magic charms on their sleeves and make veils for the heads of people of every height to hunt souls! Will you hunt the souls of My people, and keep yourselves alive? And will you profane Me among My people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, killing people who should not die, and keeping people alive who should not live, by your lying to My people who listen to lies?” ’Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I am against your magic charms by which you hunt souls there like birds. I will tear them from your arms, and let the souls go, the souls you hunt like birds. I will also tear off your veils and deliver My people out of your hand, and they shall no longer be as prey in your hand. Then you shall know that I am the LORD. Because with lies you have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and you have strengthened the hands of the wicked, so that he does not turn from his wicked way to save his life. Therefore you shall no longer envision futility nor practice divination; for I will deliver My people out of your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” ’ (Eze. 13:17-23) [emphasis added]
How similar this sounds to the modern church which has no shortage of self-proclaimed “prophetesses” who frequent various conferences, peddling their ministries as being inspired by the Holy Spirit while teaching concepts which contradict God’s Word.
“In her own eyes, Jezebel’s alleged special revelations from God qualified her as an authoritative teacher in the church. Some others agreed and she became a recognized leader.”153 Scripture indicates that although women can have great wisdom (Pr. 31:26) and work alongside men instructing other believers (Acts 18:26), in the assembly they are not to occupy teaching roles over men (1Cor. 14:34; 1Ti. 2:12). The reason for this prohibition is not cultural, but reflects God’s created order (1Ti. 2:13) and recognizes differences between men and women (1Ti. 2:14). The teaching role of women is primarily to be instructing other women (Tit. 2:3-4) and children (2Ti. 1:5, 3:15).
The sin, apparently involving the majority of the Thyatira church’s members, was twofold. First, they violated the biblical teaching that women are not to be teachers or preachers in the church (1Ti. 2:12). That led them to tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. They compounded their error of permitting her to teach by allowing her to teach error.154
In our own day, this Scriptural restriction on the teaching role of women has been twisted by the feminist agenda which distorts the Scriptures using techniques not unlike that of “Christian homosexuals” who deny the plain meaning of the text. As a result, the Christian church is reaping the whirlwind with self-proclaimed prophetesses as well as female “bishops” and pastors usurping roles which God has ordained strictly for men. If a woman believes “God is calling her to be a pastor,” she should think again! God does not contravene His own word.
is πλανᾳ̃ [plana] meaning “To cause to stray, to lead astray, lead aside from the right way.”155 Most often, it denotes deception, which by its very nature leads astray. Our ability to be led correlates with the strength we give to our desires. Jezebel’s seduction was much like that of the Balaamites in the church at Pergamum (Rev. 2:14+). See the discussion of stumbling block at Revelation 2:14.
Jezebel led the church at Thyatira into the same error as the Balaamites in the church at Pergamum:
Satan seems to have used commerce to undercut the church in Thyatira, for unless one was a member of a trade guild, one had little hope of commercial prosperity; indeed, one’s commercial existence was in jeopardy. Two characteristics of these guilds were incompatible with Christianity: first, they held banquets, often in a temple, and these banquets would begin and end with a formal sacrifice to the gods, so the meat eaten at these affairs was meat offered to idols (Acts 15:29). Second, these functions were, as would be expected, occasions of drunken revelry and slack morality.156
Pagan worship was associated with trade guilds in that each guild had its guarding god. Guilds for wool workers, linen workers, manufacturers of outer garments, dyers, leather workers, tanners, potters, bakers, slave dealers, and bronze smiths were known. Membership in a guild was compulsory if one wanted to hold a position. . . . Guild members were expected to attend the guild festivals and to eat food, part of which had been offered to the tutelary deity and which was acknowledged as being on the table as a gift from god. At the end of the feast grossly immoral activities would commence.157
I gave her time
Herein is the evidence of God’s grace which is so often turned against Him. Those who complain that a perfect and loving God would not allow such evil in the world need to stop and consider that if He were to step into history at the very next instant to remove all evil, they themselves would be guaranteed a place in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:15+)! Peter explains that the delay of God in judging evil is motivated by His longsuffering and that none should perish. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2Pe. 3:9).
God gave Jezebel time to recognize her error and to change her conduct accordingly, to repent: It is always God’s desire that men and women would repent and avoid judgment (Eze. 18:30-32; 33:11-15). Concerning the word repent, see commentary on Revelation 2:5.
she did not repent
Jezebel had been given time to recognize her wickedness and repent, but she would not. Here is introduced the pattern of the enemies of God throughout this book. Even in the face of clear evidence of God’s disapproval, those who have set their hearts against Him refuse to repent (Rev. 9:20-21+; 16:9-11+).We often assume lack of repentance indicates a lack of understanding or the knowledge of evil. Yet Scripture indicates repentance has less to do with the head and more to do with the heart which is hardened toward God (Ex. 7:13, 23; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:34; Rom 2:5).
I will cast
Although κλίνην [klinēn] may refer to a bed occupied by a sick person (Mat. 9:2; Mark 7:30; Luke 5:18; Acts 5:15), it may also refer to a couch used for other purposes (Mark 4:21; Luke 8:16; 17:34). Here, the reference to eating things sacrificed to idols would seem to imply a dining couch. The root from which it is derived, κλινω [klinō], has the meaning “to cause to lean, make to slope or slant”158 from which we get our word incline. This bed may refer to a couch on which Jezebel and those who followed her teaching would recline during the pagan feasts.159 “Ramsay . . . strongly maintained here a reference to the dining-couch of the guild-feasts. It seems likely enough that there are allusions which escape us here through our ignorance of the inner life of the guilds, but the primary meaning is probably ‘sick-bed’.”160Her bed of whoredom will be changed into a bed of anguish.161
The adultery here referred to may have been literal—in connection with the licentious aspects of the guild feasts—or spiritual.Τοὺς μοιχεύοντας [Tous moicheuontas], “those who commit adultery,” “A Hebrew idiom, the word is used of those who at a woman’s solicitation are drawn away to idolatry, i.e. to the eating of things sacrificed to idols”162 (Eze. 16:37-41). The activity of Jezebel is a type representing the Harlot of Revelation 17+: “With whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication” (Rev. 17:2+).
This exact phrase appears both in Matthew’s gospel and later in this book (Mat. 24:21; Rev. 2:22+; 7:14+). Although in the context of the letter to Thyatira, it seems best to understand the phrase in its non-technical sense as denoting a personal time of great trouble for the unrepentant prophetess,163 there are also reasons to take the phrase in its technical sense:
Since the encouragement to the faithful in Rev. 2:25-26+ refers to His second advent, the case for a technical eschatological meaning . . . is still stronger. In consideration that the main body of the Apocalypse (Revelation 4+-19+) includes a detailed description of this future period, it is exegetically sound to conclude that the threat to the followers of Jezebel is that of being thrust into this period of unparalleled misery.164
Even if the Tribulation relates specifically to the woman Jezebel in the church at Thyatira, it does not preclude understanding the passage as a type denoting the fate of the apostate church. The apostate church of the last days, which does not participate in the Rapture, remains on earth to enter the Great Tribulation.165 See Jacob’s Trouble and the Great Tribulation.
She was already given time and did not repent (Rev. 2:21+). Now God gives one last chance before bringing judgment. Such is the mercy and grace of God. “The very time during which ungodly men are heaping up for themselves greater wrath against the day of wrath, was a time lent them for repentance (Rom. 2:4; 2Pe. 3:9), if only they would have understood the object and the meaning of it.”166
A futuristic use of the present tense: “I am killing”. An indication of imminency of the judgment. “Kill with death is a Hebraism for slay with most sure and awful death; so ‘dying thou shalt die’ (Gen. 2:17).”167Jezebel’s children are probably those who follow her spiritual teaching. “The children of Jezebel possibly included actual illegitimate children of her promiscuity, but the term more definitely refers to her converts. As Timothy was a ‘son’ of Paul (1 Timothy 1:2) ‘in the faith,’ so Jezebel had won many to her hedonistic brand of pseudo-Christianity.”168 God will cut them off as were Ahab and Jezebel’s children by Jehu (2K. 10:6-7).
Middle voice, γνώσονται [gnōsontai]: “the churches themselves shall know.”The judgment of God often serves two purposes: to chasten or eliminate the one being judged; and to serve as warning to others who might otherwise follow a similar path (Deu. 17:13; 19:20; 21:21). The one who led the children of Israel to worship other gods was to be stoned so “All Israel shall hear and fear, and not again do such wickedness as this among you” (Deu. 13:11). When judgment fell upon Ananias and Sapphira, “great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things” (Acts 5:11).
minds and hearts
Νεφροὺς καὶ καρδίας [Nephrous kai kardias], kidneys and hearts, but translated minds and hearts.169 Here is the explanation of Christ’s selection of title in the letter to Thyatira: “the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame” (Rev. 2:18+). Nothing escapes his gaze. See commentary on Revelation 1:14.God alone searches the minds and hearts, for we ourselves cannot. The condition of our fallen mind and deceitful heart make it an impossible task. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer. 17:9-10).Christ knows the heart of men. “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man” (John 2:23-25).
according to your works
The fellowship in Thyatira, consisting both of believers and unbelievers, would be judged according to their works. The threat of being judged according to our works should send a shiver up the spine of all who are acquainted with their own depravity as a member of Adam’s race. Yet multitudes are unaware of how far short their works fall when measured against the requirements of a perfect and Holy God. Rather than recognizing their desperate need of the righteousness of Christ, they continue forward trusting in their own righteousness (Luke 10:29; 18:9; John 9:41; Rom. 10:3) unaware that before God it “is as filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6).Eventually, God will grant them what they desire—the opportunity to stand before Him and be judged according to their works:
And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. (Rev. 20:12+)
At the resurrection of the unsaved dead, the dead are judged according to their works as recorded in “the books.” These books will reveal their lack of perfection. Then, another book, the “Book of Life” will be consulted to verify that they have not availed themselves of the blood of Christ to obtain the righteousness provided by God (Rom. 3:5, 21-26; 10:3; 2Cor. 5:21; Php. 3:9; Jas. 1:20). Lacking both perfection and a relationship with the Perfect One, they will find their destiny in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:15+).Believers too will be judged for their works. But the judgment they face is infinitely different than that of the nonbeliever for it is a judgment for rewards. Even if the believer is devoid of works, he himself escapes the wrath of Almighty God (1Cor. 3:13-15), for his righteousness is provided by God Himself (Jer. 23:6).170Biblical faith is to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit and the works thereof which are an indication of true faith:
It is indeed one of the gravest mischiefs which Rome has bequeathed to us, that in a reaction and protest, itself absolutely necessary, against the false emphasis which she puts on works, unduly thrusting them in to share with Christ’s merits in our justification, we often fear to place upon them the true; being as they are, to speak with St. Bernard, the “via regni” [way of royalty], however little the “causa regnandi” [cause of royalty].171
to you . . . and to the rest
You is plural (ὑμῖν [hymin]). The question then becomes if you refers to the members of the Thyatiran church (and not just the angel), then who are the rest? The MT and NU do not have the conjunction “and” (καὶ [kai]), and read to you, the rest. The TR kai could possibly be translated by “even,” that is to you . . . even the rest. In either case, it appears that you and the rest denote the same group of individuals: the members of the church at Thyatira beside the angel. Christ’s words which have been primarily addressed to the angel (Rev. 2:18+, see commentary on Revelation 1:20), are now explicitly broadened to the entire fellowship.
Two explanations of ‘the deep things of Satan’ are widely held: (1) that the phrase is an ironical retort to the claims of Jezebel’s followers to esoteric knowledge of ‘the deep things of God’; (2) that the opposition actually boasted of a knowledge of ‘the deep things of Satan’, saying that the spiritual man should experience all evil to demonstrate his superiority over it.172
He ventures into Satan’s strongholds to demonstrate the powerlessness of the enemy over him, or else to learn the real nature of sin in this firsthand way.173
Some may have felt that they could attend trade guild festivities honoring patron gods or acknowledge Caesar as god if called to, since close association with idolatry would enable a Christian to “know the deep things of Satan” (Rev. 2:24+) and his inner council. Such knowledge purportedly would allow Christians to know the satanic opponents’ deceptive methods so well that they could all the better defeat Satan in the future.174
A trademark of all mystery religious and secret societies is the teaching that true knowledge lies below the surface, only attainable by the initiate. By mysterious activities, they purport to know “the deep things of God” (1Cor. 2:10). These “deep mysteries” stand in stark contrast to the simple gospel of Jesus Christ which is hidden from those who purport to be wise, but revealed to babes (Ps. 8:2; Mat. 11:25; Luke 10:21; 2Cor. 11:3).
The Magians from Babylon continually spoke of their “deep things,” their “inner knowledge,” just as the Theosophists, Christian Scientists, Spiritualists, and “Unity” devotees do today (simply ancient Gnosticism revived!). The Lord sees through all the enemy’s delusions and “mysteries”; they are not “deep” to Him. . . . It is no sign of spirituality to be familiar with Satanic psychic or demonic “depths.”175
They taught, as we know, that it was a small thing for a man to despise pleasure and to show himself superior to it, while at the same time he fled from it. The true, the glorious victory was, to remain superior to it even while tasting it to the full; to give the body to all the lusts of the flesh, and yet with all this to maintain the spirit in a region of its own, uninjured by them; and thus, as it were, to fight against pleasure with the arms of pleasure itself; to mock and defy Satan even in his own kingdom and domain.176
The fatal error of such cultish systems is overconfidence in the ability of man and a woeful underestimate of the appetite of the flesh and the schemes of the devil. Weaving webs of sophistry, the resulting philosophy often exchanges truth for error:
The veneration of the serpent was but the logical development of a theory, the germ of which is common to many of the Gnostic sects. Proceeding on the assumption that the creator of the world is to be regarded as an evil power, a thing in hostility to the supreme God, it follows as a natural consequence that the fall of man through disobedience to the command of his maker must be regarded, not as a transgression against the will of the supreme God, but as an emancipation from the authority of an evil being. The serpent, therefore, who tempted mankind to sin, is no longer their destroyer but their benefactor. He is the symbol of intellect, by whose means the first human pair were raised to the knowledge of the existence of higher beings than their creator. This conception, consistently carried out, would have resulted in a direct inversion of the whole teaching of Scripture; in calling evil good and good evil; in converting Satan into God and God into Satan.177
Scripture makes plain we are not called to focus on the darkness, but to focus on the light (Php. 4:8). Paul warned the Colossians against such worldly philosophy which stands opposed to the simplicity which is in Christ:
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Col. 2:8-10) [emphasis added]
The pattern of those who purport to plumb the depths of Satan is one of bondage, not liberty. “Promising liberty to others, being themselves servants of corruption.”178
An aorist imperative, κρατήσατε [kratēsate], “you all hold fast!”179 Similar instructions are given to the Philadelphian church (Rev. 3:11+).The church at Thyatira was to actively hold onto the good things they had until the coming of Christ (Rev. 2:19+). They must be held fast in the face of active opposition by the flesh, the devil, and enemies of the church. This is the theme throughout Scripture for those who seek after God.
I have chosen the way of truth; Your judgments I have laid before me. I cling to Your testimonies; O LORD, do not put me to shame! I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart. Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end. Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart. Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it. (Ps. 119:30-35) [emphasis added]
The Christian life is like a greased pole that we are either actively climbing up or passively sliding down. There is no opportunity to remain stationary.
until I come
The imminent coming of Jesus is an important theme throughout this book (Rev. 1:7+. 22:7+, 20+). That this coming is not a spiritual coming can be seen by the context. The promises of the next few verses are for “he who overcomes until the end” (Rev. 2:26+) and include being given authority at the commencement of the millennial reign (Rev. 20:4+). See Imminency. See Theme.
keeps my works
Jesus spoke of the need for endurance, especially as lawlessness would abound and the love of many grew cold (Mat. 24:12-13). There are many distractions which can undermine fruitful and consistent development in the Christian life. In the parable of the four soils, Jesus explained that the devil is partly to blame, but that some lacking any root will fall away due to temptation. Still others have their potential works choked by the cares, riches, and pleasures of life. But those who have a noble and good heart hear the word and bear fruit with patience (Luke 8:11-15).Keeping His works requires abiding (μενω [menō]) in His word (John 8:31-32). To abide is to “live, dwell, lodge . . . [and is used] of someone who does not leave the realm or sphere in which he finds himself”180. Thus, we are to be immersed and live in His Word. Otherwise we will not be His disciples and whatever we keep won’t be His works.
until the end
For the believer, the end arrives when either we step through the doorway from this life into the presence of God (2Cor. 5:8) or we remain alive until the coming of the Lord (John 14:3; 1Th. 4:15).
This power can only be given to the overcomer by One who has such power (Gen. 49:10; Ps. 2; Eze. 21:27).181power is εξουσίαν [exousian]: “The power exercised by rulers or others in high position by virtue of their office.”182 This authority is not innately the overcomer’s, but is granted to him by virtue of his identity with Christ, for it is Christ who is destined to “rule all nations with a rod of iron” (Rev. 12:5+; 19:15+). The overcomer will “reign with Him a thousand years” (Rev. 20:6+).
This promise is closely related to that given to the Laodicean overcomer: “I will grant to sit with Me on My throne as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” See commentary on Revelation 3:21. See commentary on Revelation 1:6. See commentary on Revelation 20:6.This power will be given, He shall rule. It is yet future, at the time of the millennial reign of Christ on earth (Mat. 25:21-23; Luke 19:17-19; Rev. 20:4-6+). Of particular interest concerning the timing of this power being granted to the overcomer is the parable Jesus told “because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately.” In this parable, the nobleman who goes to a far country to receive a kingdom is Jesus returning to the right hand of the Father. The kingdom is received just prior to His Second Coming (Luke 19:15), after the little horn is defeated and “the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom” (Dan. 7:22-27). The servants who remain faithful in His absence, like the overcomers at Thyatira, are given authority over cities (Luke 19:11-19). At the end of the Millennial Kingdom when Christ has put down the last of His foes (Rev. 20:9-10+), He will then deliver the kingdom to God the Father (1Cor. 15:24-28). The reign of the overcomer extends beyond the Millennial Kingdom into the eternal state (Rev. 22:5+).
Unlike other scepters, this scepter is of iron indicating His divine prerogative to rule and the impossibility of disobedience. This is a “breaking scepter” (Rev. 12:5+; 19:15+). “The Lord is at Your right hand; He shall execute kings in the day of His wrath. He shall judge among the nations, He shall fill the places with dead bodies, He shall execute the heads of many countries” (Ps. 110:5-6).
dashed to pieces
See Trouble Ahead.The allusion here is to Psalm 2. The dashing will take place when Jesus’ rule is extended to the ends of the earth—at His return to establish the Millennial Kingdom (Rev. 20:4-6+).183
Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel. (Ps 2:8-9)
The Hebrew word for “Thou shalt break,” and that for “Thou shalt rule,” only differ in their vowels; their consonants are identical; at the same time the parallelism of the latter half of the verse, “Thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel,” leaves no doubt that “Thou shalt break” was the intention of the Psalmist.184
Christ shall rule them with a sceptre of iron to make them capable of being ruled with a scepter of gold; severity first, that grace may come after.185
like potter’s vessels
“The allusion . . . is apt in view of the known existence of a guild of potters in Thyatira.”186 The clay of the potter was originally intended to be formed and fashioned according to the purpose of the potter (Isa. 29:16; 64:8; Jer. 18:1-11). Since the clay refuses to serve its intended purpose, it is the right of the potter to dash it to pieces (Isa. 41:25; 45:9; Dan. 2:35, 43-44).
received from My Father
God cares as much or more about the means as the ends. Many Christians would do well to remember this when seeking the miraculous from questionable sources. The Son would only receive the kingdom from the Father, not from Satan (Luke 4:5-8).There is a divine chain of authority: Father to Son to believer. The Son has authority because He is under authority and likewise the believer. This authority is forfeited when the chain is broken. The centurion, in explaining his authority said that he, like Jesus, was also under authority (Luke 22:29). All things have been given to Jesus by the Father (Mat. 11:27). Jesus can bestow a kingdom because His Father bestowed one upon Him (Luke 22:29).
Christ Himself is said to be the morning star (Rev. 22:16+).187 What is the purpose of the morning star, but to serve as an indicator of the approaching dawn? Those who see the morning star are encouraged by the fact that the long night is almost over and soon the sun will shine in its brilliance dispelling all traces of darkness.The current period, between the ascension of Christ and His Second Coming, is the “night.”
Isaiah 24 sets forth the Day of the Lord and the awful destruction and judgment which attend it. (See Trouble Ahead.) In the middle of the passage, Isaiah mentions the “dawn.” “Therefore glorify the LORD in the dawning light, the name of the LORD God of Israel in the coastlands of the sea” (Isa. 24:15).Yet, the destruction which attends the Day of the Lord is itself an indicator that the long night is nearly over and that the sun will soon rise:
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” says the LORD of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch. But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves.” (Mal. 4:1-2)
Psalm 46 indicates a time of great upheaval upon the earth, at which God intervenes to rescue Jerusalem “at the break of dawn” (see Zec. 12). His intervention is followed by a time of universal peace (Isa. 2:4; 9:5, 7; 14:7; Hos. 2:18; Zec. 9:10):
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth melted. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. Come, behold the works of the LORD, Who has made desolations in the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah (Ps. 46:1-11) [emphasis added]
When the Millennial Kingdom arrives, it will be a glorious day upon the earth during which the sun shall shine:
Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the LORD will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isa. 60:1-3)
The “morning star” comes before “the day” dawns; the “sun” shines during “the day”; Jesus is both. As the morning star, He is seen by few: as the sun, He is seen by all. Those who watch not merely for the sun, but for the morning star, properly heed the cautions and injunctions relating to the posture of watching.189
We have in the “Morning Star” an implied reference to the first stage of the Advent, the thief-like coming for the saints, and to obtain it indicates that we are worthy of the better resurrection, or (if living) of the translation. The mention of this in such a connection is also exceedingly significant of the exaltation of the saints to coheirship with the Christ when the morning breaks.190
Christ has just mentioned a scepter and now mentions a star, both elements of the prophecy of Balaam (Num. 24:17). In Balaam’s prophecy, the star is seen first followed by the scepter. This accords with the view that the morning star will rise prior to the reign of Messiah on the earth.
Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man. (Luke 21:32-36)
The morning star given to the overcomer in Thyatira may be the promise of a visitation prior to the dawn—participation in the Rapture of the church by all true believers and thus avoiding the last part of the night, the Great Tribulation, immediately before the dawn of the Millennial Kingdom. “Perhaps it also refers again to His second coming—this time in its very first aspect, when He comes to catch up into His presence those who believe on Him (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).”191 See Rapture.At the very least it denotes the blessing of the continual expectancy of His coming:
Into the heart of the faithful believer comes that wondrous expectancy of His coming , which John elsewhere describes as having our “hope set on him” (1 John 3:3). This is the experience of the believer who awakes out of sleep (Romans 13:11), who by the grace of God hears His voice when He says, “Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from among the dead (ones), and Christ shall shine upon thee” (Ephesians 5:13). . . . so these spiritually awakened or aroused find Christ’s coming arising as the day-star in their hearts (2 Peter 1:19).192
See commentary on Revelation 2:7.
1Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 35.
4G. L. Borchert, “Ephesus,” in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979, 1915), 115.
5“In the Ephesian calendar the month of the spring equinox was named after Artemis . . . and during that month the city celebrated a yearly festival in honour of the goddess.”—Henry Barclay Swete, The Apocalypse of St. John (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1998, 1906), lvii.
8“Acts 19:19 hints that the church in Ephesus was very large indeed, for 50,000 pieces of silver represents 50,000 days’ wages, which, at a daily wage of $100, was equivalent to $5,000,000. Now, if each person burned an average of $250 worth of books on magic, that value would represent 20,000 people; and even if every second person in the church was involved in magic this would require a church of, very conservatively, 40,000 members. (Do four-member Christian families on average own $1,000 worth of Christian books?) This, too, is simply an estimate of the size of the Ephesian church before three years of Paul’s ministry was completed (Acts 20:31—church history claims an Ephesian church of 100,000 members in John Chrysostom’s day).”—Monty S. Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John (Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries, 1987).
12J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 56.
14“[The perfect tense] describes an event that, completed in the past . . . has results existing in the present time (i.e., in relation to the time of the speaker). ... the perfect tense is used for ‘indicating not the past action as such but the present state of affairs resulting from the past action.’ ”—Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics - Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House and Galaxie Software, 1999, 2002), 572.
15Richard Chenevix Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1861), 72.
17“A wider group of authoritative apostles existed [then those which had seen the Lord]. James the Just, Barnabas, Paul, Silas, Andronicus, and Junias were also apostles (Acts 14:14; Rom. 16:7; 1Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:18; 1Th. 2:6).”—Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 137.
19Frederick William Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000).
21A. R. Fausset, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 1877), Rev. 2:4.
25“The present tense may be used to describe a future event, . . . it typically adds the connotations of immediacy and certainty.”—Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics - Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament, 535.
28Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia, 187-188.
35Israel My Glory, May/June 2001, 23.
36“It is suggested that the phrase ‘tree of life’ may have carried the connotation of the cross of Christ to the original readers of Rev. 2:7+.”—Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting, 55.
42Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia, 97-98.
46“[Polycarp] may have been a young man in the church which first received the present letter. He evidently came much under its influence.”—Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting, 65.
48Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John, Rev. 2:8.
51Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia, 111-112.
54Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John, Rev. 2:9.
58For more on the believing remnant, see 1K. 19:18; 2K. 19:4, 30; 21:14; 25:22; Isa. 1:9; 6:13; 7:3; 10:20-22; 28:5; 37:4, 31-32; 46:3; 59:21; 65:8; Jer. 5:10, 18; 23:3; 50:20; Eze. 5:3; 6:8-10; 9:8; 9:11; 11:13; Joel 2:32; Zec. 11:10; Mic. 2:12; 7:18; Zec. 13:8-9; Rom. 9:6, 27; Rom. 11:5, 17, 25.
59 “Has Christ a Church, then Satan has his ‘synagogue’ (Rev. 2:9+).”—Arthur Walkington Pink, The Antichrist (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1999, 1923), s.v. “The Antichrist will be the Son of Satan.” See Master Imitator.
60“This method of identifying Jews is hard-pressed to produce any exegetical support either within the Apocalypse or in the rest of the NT. Besides this, if they had called themselves Jews in this mystical sense, why would they be named as the principle source of calumny against the church? . . . It is inexplicable why a person who was not a physical descendant of Abraham would claim to be so and then turn to persecuting fellow-Christians without recanting this claim. The context demands that the offenders be of the physical descent of Abraham.”—Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 165.
61John MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1999), 71.
63Gregory K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), 13.
73“We have thus at least the attestation of this form of expression at Smyrna. . . . there is reason to think that John’s words may have recalled to the Christian the language of the arena. An appearance at some great festival there might well await those who were ‘faithful unto death’.”—Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting, 69.
78Ibid., s.v. “Martyrdom of Polycarp.”
84Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John, Rev. 2:12.
88MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 83.
89“Asklepios . . . was also designated ‘Soter’, and was closely identified with the serpent. Though he had celebrated shrines elsewhere he was preeminently the Pergameus deus [God of Pergamus].”—Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting, 85.
90“The designation of Pergamum as the place where ‘Satan’s throne’ is (Rev. 2:13+) probably refers to Pergamum’s being the official Asian center for the imperial cult.”—R. North, “Pergamum,” in Geoffrey W. Bromiley, ed., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979, 1915), 3:768.
95Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John, Rev. 2:13.
97“Probably short for Ἀντίπατρος [Antipatros], ‘like the Father.’ ”—Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature.
101“What is the point of the emphatic comparison (ου῝τως . . . καὶ σύ . . . ὁμοίως [houtōs . . . kai sy . . . homoiōs]) between Balaam and the Nicolaitans?”—Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting, 88.
107Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John, Rev. 2:15.
113Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John, Rev. 2:17.
114“Eating the ‘hidden manna’ is but another way of picturing what can also be represented as the joyous boon of feasting at the Messianic banquet (cf. Rev. 19:9+).”—James E. Rosscup, “The Overcomer of the Apocalypse,” in Grace Theological Journal, vol. 3 no. 1 (Grace Seminary, Spring 1982), 279.
117Interpreters frequently look to pagan sources when they mistakenly believe Scripture offers no clues: “The ‘white stone’ (Rev. 2:17+) has no precedent in the Old Testament.”—Merrill C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1957), 190.
118Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John, Rev. 2:17.
120Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996, c1991), Rev. 2:17.
134“Clearly the new name is the recipient’s own name, a new one, reflecting his status as belonging to Christ. This is verified in its being a secret name given to the man himself.”—Thomas, Revelation 1-7, 202.
135Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia, Rev. 2:17.
138Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting, 106-107.
140Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John, Rev. 2:18.
142Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John, Rev. 2:18.
147“The textual question may be summarily treated. Two uncial manuscripts (A and 046 == Q, of the 10th century) and many cursives and versions insert σοῦ [sou] [your] after τὴν γυναῖκα [tēn gynaika] [the woman/wife]. The decisive weight of textual authority however appears against this (א, C, etc.), and the addition is readily explained by dittography.”—Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting, 117.
148Noadiah opposed Nehemiah in his work of reconstruction.
149“Isaiah’s wife was called a prophetess because the son to whom she gave birth was prophetic of the Assyrian conquest.”—John MacArthur, ed., The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Word Publishing, 1997), Isa. 8:3.
150Although the daughters are not called prophetesses, they are said to prophesy.
154MacArthur, Revelation 1-11 : The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, 100.
156Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John, Rev. 2:20.
158Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, and Henry Stuart Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon. With a revised supplement, 1996., With a revised supplement, 1996 (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1996).
159The word may refer to dining or a dining couch: “Dining Eze. 23:41; Mark 4:21; 7:30; Luke 8:16; 17:34; dining couch Mark 7:4.”—Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 436.
163A technical phrase has the same or similar meaning regardless of context. The meaning of a non-technical phrase varies with context.
169“The only things left in the body cavity by the Egyptian embalmers.”—Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, s.v. “nephras.”
170If the life of a professing believer is truly devoid of all good works, then Scripture indicates the profession is suspect (Jas. 2:14-26).
179Here is an example of a verb in an aorist tense which implies continuous action.
180Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, s.v. “meno.”
181Rabbinic interpretation associated the title Shiloh with the Messiah: a midrash takes “Shiloh” to refer to “King Messiah” (Genesis R. 98.13), the Babylonian Talmud lists “Shi’loh” as one of the names of the Messiah (Sanhedrin 98b), and Medieval Jewish biblical expositor Rashi makes the following comment: “Shiloh - i.e. King Messiah whose is the Kingdom.” Note that Eze. 21:25-27 was given to Zedekiah, the last king of the Davidic dynasty. Shiloh means “to he whose it is” or “to he who it belongs” or “he whose right it is” or “to whom kingship belongs” (Midrash Rabbah 98).
182Ibid., s.v. “exousian.”
183“It would appear that this section is eschatological in nature and looks 1) to the Millennium when all nations and peoples will acknowledge Christ as king and 2) to Jerusalem as His royal capital (cf. Eze. 28:25, 26; Joel 3:9-17; Mic. 5:4-15).”—MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, Ps. 149:6-9.
188Those who take this passage as describing the New Jerusalem have difficulty explaining this verse: “Whereas you have been forsaken and hated, so that no one went through you, I will make you an eternal excellence, a joy of many generations” (Isa. 60:15). When was the New Jerusalem forsaken and hated? See also Isa. 62.