Messages to the Seven Churches. Part One.
1. Ephesus - Putting Christ's Work Before His Person. v1-7.
1. "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, 'These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:"
The first message is to the oversight (angel, messenger) of the church in Ephesus. Each message to the different churches presents a different picture of Christ; a picture especially relevant to the situation in each church. To the church at Ephesus, Christ describes himself as the One who holds the seven stars (the oversight of all the churches) in His right hand, the one who has authority over them and who is amongst them as the centre and pivot of His Church. Christ Himself builds His Church (Matt. 16: 18); He is its Head, (Eph. 1:22; Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18) upholding it by His own power and authority. Hence it is the person of Christ that should have the undivided love and affection of His church.
2. "I know your works, your labour, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;"
The Lord Jesus Christ knows all things. (John 2:25). No work done for Him, however small or great, escapes his notice. As the One with all knowledge, He is well qualified to reward or to punish justly. Christ acknowledges that the believers at Ephesus were diligent in all their activities and excessive in their toil for Him. He has taken note of the fact that despite the unrelenting efforts of false teachers to corrupt the church, they had patiently endured this opposition and remained faithful to the truth. Those who falsely claimed to be apostles had been scrutinised by the church (1 John 4:1) who found them to be impostors.
3. "and you have persevered and have patience, and have laboured for My name's sake and have not become weary."
Despite the continual opposition of false teachers they had not abandoned the truth. They had gone on patiently working for the Christ's sake without growing weary or giving in, even when they met with discouragement.
4. "Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love."
Although there was much good about these Christians, there was also something lacking. Just as Jesus told the rich young ruler who came to Him seeking eternal life, so now He tells the church at Ephesus: "one thing you lack." Christ has only one charge to make against them, but it is a very serious one. They had lost the fervent love that they once had for Him. Although they upheld the doctrine of Christ, withstood error and did good works, they had allowed the work of Christ to become the centre of their affection rather than Christ Himself. The burning love they had when they first came to know the Lord had diminished.
5. "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place--unless you repent."
All was not lost. There was a way for them to recover their ebbing love. Firstly, they were to recall their first state, the heights they had fallen from. "The ardour, zeal, of warmth of love which once characterised them." (Barnes). With those days in mind they were to repent, have a change of mind and heart and to do the works they had done when they first came to know the Lord (1 Thes. 1: 3). All our work for Christ should be motivated by ardent love for Him. If the church did not respond to Christ's warning then He promises to speedily remove the church, that is, it would cease to exist. It is challenging to note that Christ would rather have no local church witness at all than a perfectly run organisation in which believers no longer retain their fervent love for him.
6. "But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate."
The believers at Ephesus had one thing in common with the Lord Jesus Christ - they hated the deeds of a sect called the Nicolaitans. Most scholars consider that this term is a reference to a sect founded by Nicholas a proselyte of Antioch, (possibly one of the seven deacons of Jerusalem, but not certainly) who became an apostate from the truth. The sect was characterised by antinomianism (a teaching which asserts that by God's grace a Christian is freed from all moral laws and standards). It was characterised by sensuality and Christians who were seduced by its teaching took part in the idolatrous feasts of pagans, and in unchastity. "Hence," elsewhere in Revelation, "they are denoted by the names of Balaam and Jezebel, two leading agents of moral contamination under the Old Testament dispensation." (Vincent).
7. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God."
Those who have heard the word of Christ and understand it should allow the Holy Spirit to take it into their hearts. To those who overcome and stand firm till the end, Christ promises that He will receive them into heaven where they shall enjoy eternal life.
2. Smyrna - Spiritual Richness through Suffering. v8 - 11.
8. "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, 'These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life:"
To the church at Smyrna Christ reveals Himself the one who always was and ever will be, who gave His life and took it up again (John 10:18) that having triumphed over death He might live forevermore.
9. "I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan."
Once again we see that Christ knew every minute detail of the circumstances faced by those at Smyrna. He understood the pressure they were under and the persecution they were suffering. They were at this time suffering extreme poverty. Tatford suggests that this was a result of the plundering of their possession by those persecuting them. Although not rich in worldly goods, the Lord assures them that, more importantly, they were spiritually rich, since they were laying up treasure in heaven (Matt. 6: 19-21).
The blasphemy Christ refers to, although it was made against God was directed at the believers in Smyrna. It was a reproach made by those who were of Jewish birth but were not spiritually God's people. (Rom. 2:29). Although they professed to know God, they were in fact children of the Devil (John 8:44), collectively a synagogue (assembly) of Satan. Vincent alleges, "It is an historical fact that the hatred of the Jews for Christians was especially displayed toward the church at Smyrna."
10. "Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life."
The Lord did not promise to deliver the Christians from persecution, indeed he foretold of more to come. Yet he tells them not to fear any of these things. Satan was about to raise his hand against them and have them thrown into prison. This of course could only be allowed with God's permission and as in the case of Job (Job 1:12), it was only allowed so that their faith may be tried and found genuine to the glory and praise of God. (1 Peter 1:7)
Christ promises that this particular persecution would only last a certain time. It is likely that the reference to ten days is literal. Even if it were not, they had an assurance from the Lord that it would not last long. Christ encourages them to remain faithful even if it meant their death. Clearly some were to die, possibly under torture. Christ may exhort His followers to be faithful to death, for He Himself has conquered death and lives forever. To those who stand firm in His faith, He will give a "Crown of Life" that is, they will enter into eternal life.
11. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death."
The promise for those who overcome is that even if they may die an agonising physical death they need not fear the second death for it will not hurt them (Rev. 20:6; Rev. 21:8).
3. Pergamos - The Spiritually Permissive Church. v12 - 17.
12. "And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, 'These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword:"
To the oversight responsible for the church at Pergamos, Christ is the one who has the sharp doubled edged sword.
13. "I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells."
The Lord knew that they were situated in a city where Satan was enthroned. Pergamos was renowned for its many pagan temples; amongst them Zeus, the chief Greek God and Roma the goddess of Rome. Most significantly, It was the home of the temple dedicated to Augustus Caesar and was therefore the centre of Emperor worship. The believers were standing firm in the faith and remaining loyal to the Name of Christ even though they had witnessed the martyrdom of Antipas, a faithful witness.
14. "But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality."
The Lord had several things against this church, but all stemmed from the same root - they were permissive. They did not do anything about those who had crept in and corrupted the church. They tolerated those who taught and practised the teaching of Balaam (Num. 25: 1 - 9) idol worship and sexual immorality.
15. "Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate."
Unlike the Ephesians who hated the teachings of the Nicolaitanes, the church at Pergamos condoned it by doing nothing about it.
16. "Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth."
Christ calls on His people to repent, to change their mind and attitude and take positive steps against the idolaters. Otherwise He would come to wage war against them without further warning, with the Word from His mouth, the sharp doubled edge sword. The verse suggests that the Lord would use the church, who harboured them, as His battlefield and that they would not escape unscathed unless they repented.
17. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it."
Let everyone who hears, listen to what the Spirit has to say. To those who obtain the victory in this church the Lord says that He will give to them the true spiritual food (John 6: 31 - 33). Also a "white stone", that is a smooth pebble. Such pebbles were used as counters to cast a vote in a verdict, black for guilty and white for not guilty. White speaks of the righteousness and purity of those who are washed in the blood of the Lamb. Being given a white stone is a token of being accepted and justified by Christ (Rom. 3:24). On this stone the Lord would write a new name that only He and the person receiving it were to know, a personal name. Names were often given in Old Testament to depict some spiritual characteristic. God gave new names in this way to Abram, Sarai and Jacob. The new personal name that the Lord gives us will be in accordance with some spiritual characteristic that He sees in us.
4. Thyatira - The Spiritually Divided Church. v18 - 29.
18. "And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, 'These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass:"
This is the first time in these letters that the Lord introduces Himself as the "Son of God." Previously He has presented Himself by one or more of His attributes. As in the earlier vision John had of Christ, He reveals Himself here as the One having eyes as flaming fire (expressing Divine anger at sin and the all knowledge of Christ- nothing can be concealed from Him. Heb. 4:13). His feet being like white hot bronze speak of strength and power to execute judgement.
19. "I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first."
Christ knew all that they had done, of their love for Him and one another, their ministry, their faith in Him and loyalty to His teachings and their enduring patience. Their commendable works had not waned from the time they had received Christ but had increased right up to the present time.
20. "Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols."
Although they may have seemed more commendable than the other churches they were still grievously lacking. They permitted a woman called "Jezebel" to operate her "ministry" in the church. Whether "Jezebel" was her real name, a name assumed by her, or attributed to her by Christ, it is a fitting reference to her sharing the character of her Old Testament counterpart. This woman styled herself a prophetess and many were taken in by her. Her aim was to beguile believers (causing them to accept what is false, especially by trickery or misrepresentation) and take them into bondage again by indulging in sexual immorality, licentious living and idolatry (Matt. 7:15; 1 Pet. 5:8). The most serious aspect of this apostasy was that in following this woman and her teachings, believers had turned away from Christ.
21. "And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent."
The Lord is merciful and long-suffering even to such a woman as this. He gave her time to repent of her adultery but she had failed to do so (Num. 14:18).
22. "Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds."
As a punishment the Lord would put her on a sickbed of intense affliction and would put those who been lured by her teachings to "pressing distress and severe affliction" (A.N.T.) if they did not turn again to Christ and from their sins with her.
23. "I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works."
Many commentators suppose that "I will kill her children" is a reference to those who had wholly embraced and become part of her heresy being struck dead by Christ. It is also possible, however, that her own children were literally meant, children born of adultery (See 2 Sam. 12:14). By Christ's acting in judgement against these people all the churches would know that He is omniscient, searching the mind and inner most being and will reward everyone of His people according to their deeds.
24, 25. "Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. "But hold fast what you have till I come."
To those in Thyatira who had not embraced her teaching nor delved with her into the deep or hidden things of Satan, as they call them, Christ would put no other burden than that which they are experiencing at the present time in contending for the truth.
26, 27. "And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations-- 'He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter's vessels'-- as I also have received from My Father;"
He who has been given all power and authority by His Father will delegate to those who overcome and obey His commands to the end, authority over the nations (1 Cor. 6: 2 - 3). They shall tend them like a shepherd with His staff (rule), for they shall be broken like clay pots, rendered powerless and ineffective by Christ (Rev. 19:15).
28. "and I will give him the morning star."
The morning star, Venus, appears in the sky as the darkness passes away and heralds the new day. The phrase "Morning Star" is only mentioned two other places in Scripture (2 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 22:16) and indirectly in Isaiah 14:12 where it refers to Lucifer as son of the morning. In Revelation 22:16 the Lord Jesus Christ calls Himself the "morning star". Thus He will give Himself to those who overcome.
29. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
Let those who hear, listen, or take heed, to what the Spirit says to the churches. From this exhortation at the end of each message, it is clear that they were not intended only to be heeded by the church members they were originally addressed to, but to churches and individuals throughout all ages until the Lord comes. Far from describing different ages of church history, these messages apply wherever and whenever similar conditions prevail. It is easy to observe that the conditions that were rife in the churches of the first century remain burning issues in churches throughout the world today and most probably always have been.
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