REVELATION CHAPTER 2

Letters to the Seven Churches

Jesus calls the church the salt and the light of the world in Matthew 5. As salt, we are to be a preserving influence in the world and the community in which we live. As light, we have been called to deliver men, both Jews and Gentiles, from the power of darkness and to bring them into the kingdom of light. The apostle Paul calls the local church the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim 3). The local church should be the place where all people can go to find the truth about Jesus the Messiah and how men can be delivered from the power of Satan to the glory of God.

The book of Revelation is directed to the church! Contrary to what many believe, the church will still be on the earth during the majority, if not all of Daniel’s 70th week, and will be called to endure the Great Tribulation. John’s letters to the seven churches are tools to help the church both as it exists today and as it will exist at the time of the Tribulation.

First, John’s letters, which describe characteristics of seven different churches in John’s time, are a guide to help all churches as we learn from their individual strengths and weaknesses. These seven churches to which John writes are actually examples of the seven different types of churches found during all periods of church history, past, present and future. As such, every church in the world will fall into one or more of the seven church categories set forth in John’s letters.

Second, there is also a prophetic nature to these letters. Jesus strategically selected these seven churches in Asia Minor knowing they would give prophetic insight into preparing the end time Church.   These letters instruct us how to partner with Jesus in extreme conditions that will exist in the churches during the 70th week of Daniel. In other words, the qualities of these seven churches will be repeated at the end of the age, representing a parallel or DOUBLE FULFILLMENT of prophecy; the past foretells the future. In this regard, these warnings have “near” application to the seven churches, and “far” application to the churches in the end times. Ultimately these letters to the seven churches were written as a warning to prepare the church for the eschatological events seen in Revelation 6-19. This is when there will be the most believers in history will be living in the most difficult time of persecution in the history of the world, the time period of the Great Tribulation.

The seven churches can be grouped into three basic spiritual conditions; faithful, compromising, and dead. The faithful churches will receive God’s supernatural protection. The compromising churches will face the full brunt of the Antichrist’s persecution during “the hour of testing.” The spiritually dead churches are told that if they do not repent, they will be forced to endure God’s judgment in the Day of the Lord.  Each letter is introduced by a brief description of Jesus as He was portrayed in the first chapter. The specific character of Jesus is adapted to the situation of the local church. Each letter ends with a promise, identifying 22 eternal rewards, for those who conquer and overcome.

Ephesus – The Loveless Compromising Church

[1] To the angel (Every church has the supernatural protection of an angel) of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand (Jesus holds the local church and its leaders firmly in His protective hand in order to keep them from being snatched away. Jesus has sovereign oversight of our conduct and He cares deeply about the local church.) and walks among the seven golden lampstands: (The seven golden lampstands are the seven churches. The Lord Jesus is in the midst of His people, observing and appraising them. The Lord first praises three strengths of the Church of Ephesus:) [2] I know your deeds (the course of your life, every detail), your hard work and your perseverance (This church fought hard against False Teachers, and did not give in. See Acts 20:29-30). I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men (False Prophets), that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false (False Apostles).  [3] You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. (There will be an abundance of False Prophets and False Teachers in the End Times. See Mt 24:3-5, 11, 23-25.)

[4] Yet I hold this against you: (The Lord describes the primary weakness of the Church of Ephesus:) You have forsaken your first love. (This Church left its first love - used to describe both their intimate love for the Lord and their unconditional love of people. They must not compromise on this.) [5] remember the height from which you have fallen! (This is no trivial matter and this church is in serious trouble. Lack of true love for Jesus and one another represents a significant spiritual problem. They are violating the Greatest Commandment: to love God and your neighbor.) Repent (change your direction.) and do the things you did at first. (The Lord is telling the Church to return to the love they felt for Jesus when they first came to know Him; back when we were reading the Bible daily to know the mind of God, praying just about anything & everything, and praising God all day long from a grateful & forgiven heart. That is first love.) If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (This church is in a dangerous place! Not that individuals are about to lose their salvation and be condemned to hell, rather, this church is on the verge of losing the ability to have spiritual impact and to be a shining light in their community.) [6] But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. (You don’t find Jesus saying He hates too often, but he hates this false teaching. Tradition tells us Nicholas, one of the first deacons, strayed from the truth and began to teach “free love and total liberty in Christ.” The Church in Pergamos was involved in this error as well. See Acts 6:5, 20:29)

[7] He (Jesus starts by speaking to individuals) who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Jesus changes from addressing individuals to the churches. There is both an individual and a corporate response the Lord desires to prepare us for End Times events. Though this is addressed to the church at Ephesus, these warnings are important to all the churches. This phrase is found in all seven letters and the call is to have ears to what the Spirit is saying. These characteristics, though peculiar to Ephesus, should not be restricted to Ephesus and may be applicable to any church. In other words, if the shoe fits, wear it!) To him who overcomes, (The concept of an overcomer is also in each of the seven letters. An overcomer is one who conquers, (Gk = nike) who remains true and faithful. In the context of the 70th week of Daniel, it is the one who will stay true to Jesus Christ and not embrace the lies of Antichrist. Stay true and don’t submit to him. Don’t take the mark of the Beast. True believers will not take the mark and will be found faithful. But there will be multitudes of professing believers who will take the mark. The warning is to be an overcomer and to not compromise.See 1 John 5:4,5) I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. (This is the first of 22 rewards that we will receive at the time of His Coming. See Rev 11:15-18. In some since all believers will these rewards, but overcomers will receive the fullest measure of these rewards. The overcoming Ephesians who struggle with their love are promised a return to Eden-like fellowship.)

Smyrna – The Physically Persecuted Faithful Church

[8] "To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, (the Lord Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. The Greek alphabet starts with ‘alpha’ and ends with ‘omega’ indicating Jesus has control over all things in human history, including the events associated with the end times) who died and came to life again. (referencing the resurrection) [9] I know your afflictions (Greek = thlipsis, referencing a great tribulation and constant pressure that leads to death) and your poverty (referencing both the literal poverty of the church of Smyrna and the poverty Christians will endure during the End Times. Christians who refuse to take the mark of the beast will not be able to buy or sell, and as a result will be materially poor and possibly impoverished) – yet you are rich! (the economic poverty of the church of Smyrna in no way mirrored their spiritual condition - spiritually, they were wealthy. So too will Christians who refuse to take the mark of the beast be blessed with spiritual riches) I know the slander of those who say they are Jews (here, Jews = Christians, referencing Jews who have accepted Jesus as the Messiah) and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (The city of Smyrna had incredibly strong allegiance to Rome – it had five major temples to heathen deities and was steeped in “Caesar worship.” The Christians in Smyrna were confronted with the dilemma of choosing Jesus or Caesar as their lord. At the time, those who refused to publicly confess in the heathen temples their loyalty to Rome by declaring Caesar Lord were subject to great persecution, including possible imprisonment and execution. Here, the Lord is drawing an analogy to the End Times, which will also be a time of persecution where men will be forced to choose between Jesus and the Antichrist) [10] Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil (Satan, empowering the Antichrist) will put some of you in prison to test you, (The Antichrist will severely persecute Christians during the End Times. Jesus describes this time of hardship in Matthew 10.) and you will suffer persecution for ten days. (a term which means a relatively short period of persecution.) Be faithful, even to the point of death, (if you are not ready to die for the Lord, you will not live triumphantly for the Lord) and I will give you the crown of life. (Greek = stephanos or a victory crown. If you stay true to the point of death, you will be receive your reward in heaven)

[11] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Again, although the letters are addressed to specific churches, all should listen, as the lesson is applicable to churches throughout history) He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death. (The second death refers to the death in the lake of fire, or Hell.  This is described in Rev. 20:14. Essentially, the Lord is saying that if you are born twice, or accept Jesus as your savior, you will only suffer one death, and not be burned in the Lake of Fire. Simply: Born once, die twice. Born twice, die once. The Lord explaining to the overcoming Smyrnians, who will face physical death and persecution, that they will be protected and will not experience the second death)

Pergamum – The Compromising Church

[12] "To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. (The Word of God releases the power of the Holy Spirit. See Hebrews 4:12.) [13] I know where you live--where Satan has his throne. (This church, like Smyrna, was located in an area where there were many heathen temples practicing Caesar worship. Think Antichrist worship. The Lord is saying – “I know it is hard for you.”) Yet you remain true to my name. (Again, the letter begins with praise for the strengths of the church) You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city - where Satan lives. (Tradition tells us that Antipas was the first martyr in Asia under Roman persecution. Antichrist will oppress the saints for 42 months. See Dan 7:25 & Rev 13:5)

[14] Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: (Pergamum’s weaknesses) You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, (Balaam was a greedy false prophet who ministered for money – think of a crooked televangalist. King Balak hired Balaam to curse Israel. When God prevented the curse, Balaam taught Balak the secret to Israel’s destruction – compromise with the Moabites. See Numbers 25) who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols (in Pergamum, a man would bring an animal for sacrifice at the temple. The priest could take any part of the animal to burn it on the altar as a sacrifice. The priest was allowed to give back to the offerer any part of the animal that was left over. The offerer would then take the meat and make a grand feast in the name of his heathen god. Some in the church compromised their values and permitted participation in this pagan ritual) and by committing sexual immorality. (As a part of this pagan feast, men would have sexual intercourse with the temple priestesses who were prostitutes. The counterpart to this sin we face today is compromising Godly marriages through sexual fantasy, pornography, sexual addictions, and adultery. Sexual sin will be widespread in the church in Daniel’s 70th week.) [15] Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. (The teachings of Balaam are the same as the teachings of the Nicolaitans. This church was tolerating the Nicolaitan teachings as a compromise with the culture around them) [16] Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you (without delay, once the specific prophesied events begin to occur, things will happen quickly, within the 7 years of Daniel’s 70th week) and will fight against them (those who are compromising) with the sword of my mouth. (A promise of physical death if repentance does not occur. Here, the Lord is describing the Last Days – people will compromise with the sinful culture around them and will commit great sin. For those who do not repent and choose the Antichrist over the Lord, Jesus will return and strike them down)

[17] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, (Gk = nike or conquers) I will give some of the hidden manna. (The three items in the ark of the covenant were Aaron’s rod, the table of the law, and some manna. Manna represented the sustenance God provided for His people in the midst of great difficulty. This may be teaching God will provide spiritual sustenance or even supernatural provision for the overcomers in Daniel’s 70th week.) I will also give him a white stone (A black stone represents a vote of rejection, a white stone acceptance) with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it. (Jesus has a private name for each of us, a secret name of intimacy the Lord has for those who are overcomers. The overcomers in Pergamum represent those who must face the deceptive practices of Satan himself, especially in the areas of sexual immorality.)

Thyatira – The Prostitute Compromising Church

[18] "To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire (piercing eyes that can look into our hearts) and whose feet are like burnished bronze. (feet that can trample sin and bring all enemies under His feet. See Psalm 110.) [19] I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first. (The church of Thyatira, unlike the church of Ephesus, has experienced spiritual growth, rather than regression)

[20] Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. (There was a woman in the church with the character of Jezebel, the most evil woman in the Bible) By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. (History teaches us that many trade unions had settled in the city of Thyatira. The trade unions had a large membership, as it was very difficult to make a living without belonging to such a union. However, the trade unions engaged in various sinful behaviors; trade union meetings began with an animal sacrifice to the heathen deity and were connected with drunkenness and worship of erotic idols, or sex parties. Believers who were members of these guilds were being pressured to participate. If they did not, they would be expelled from the union, and would be unable to earn wages. This woman Jezebel was teaching the people that it was acceptable for those in the church to indulge in sexual immorality and in idolatry in order to make a living. This story describes the effect the mark of the beast will have on the world during the End times. The mark of the beast will be required in order to buy, sell, or earn a living. False prophets will teach that, under these extreme circumstances, it is understandable to take the mark and that God will overlook this sin.) [21] I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. [22] So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her (spiritual adultery – being unfaithful to God) suffer intensely, (The Lord will cast her, unprotected, into the Great Tribulation.) unless they repent of her ways. (Jesus always gives us opportunity for repentance.) [23] I will strike her children dead. (The penalty reflects just how serious God takes the sins of spiritual idolatry and sexual immorality. In other words, her suffering would extend to her followers. Those who listen to apostasy, and their children, will die, first spiritually and later literally, when they take the mark of the beast. ) Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds. (God will not overlook this kind of spiritual prostitution. Those who engage in ongoing sexual idolatry and immorality run the risk of God’s discipline, which is sometimes required to get those whom He loves, back on the right track.)

[24] Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets: (addressing the faithful in the church) [25] Only hold on to what you have until I come. (A clear reference to the last days, this represents the “far” application of Rev 2 & 3. The Lord is telling the faithful to remain strong awaiting His return) [26] To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, (Jesus said that those who stand firm to the end will be saved. See Mt 24:13.) I will give authority over the nations – [27] ’He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery' –   just as I have received authority from my Father. (The overcoming Thyatirans are promised kingly rule and glory) [28] I will also give him the morning star. (A symbol indicating that our reward for faithfulness will be as beautiful as the sun rising at dawn. The Morning Star. See Malachi 4;2.) [29] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Go to Revelation Chapter 3