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Letters to the Churches:
Summary —The Letter to the Metropolitan Church of Ephesus. To the Angel of the Martyr Church of Smyrna. To the Angel of the Church at Pergamos, Persecuted by the Heathen. To the Angel of the Church at Thyatira, Defiled by Idolatry.
The second and third chapters differ from all the rest of Revelation in that they are letters dictated by the Lord to the Seven Churches which have been chosen to represent the entire church of God. The description of their varied conditions and the commendations, rebukes, promises and warnings given them, are a fitting introduction to a book which is designed to reveal the various phases of the church in history, its fortunes, its lapses, its tribulations, persecutions and final triumph. While these Seven Epistles differ in details they will be found to have the same general plan and to have the following features in common: 1. An order to write to the angel of the church. 2. A glorious title of Christ taken from the imagery or language of the visions of chapter 1. 3. A description of the condition of the church, whether good or bad, admonitions and exhortations. 4. A promise to those who persevere and triumph. 5. A closing injunction to “hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.” Four epistles are contained in chapter 2, and three in chapter 3. A close examination will show that there is a distinction. In the last four epistles the closing promise is placed after the injunction to “hear what the Spirit,” etc.; in the first three epistles the promise is before the injunction. The distinction makes two groups of epistles, one of three and the other of four, just as the seven seals, the seven trumpets and the seven bowls are divided into two groups each, of three and four.
The Church at Ephesus. 1–3. To the angel. See note on the Angels of the Churches at close of chapter 1. The church of Ephesus. The city of Ephesus was the capital of the Roman province of Asia, and the greatest city. As a great center it was sought by the Apostle Paul, who founded the church and labored there more than three years (see Acts, chapter 18), and afterwards addressed to it the Epistle to the Ephesians. At a later period he placed Timothy there and addressed two epistles to him. All early church tradition declares that John from about a.d. 70 made this city his home until his death. There is not now standing a single house upon the site of the ancient city, though the ruins are of the most imposing character. The Turkish village of Agasalouk, upon the Smyrna and Aidan R. R., is about two miles distant. These things saith he, etc. See 1:13, 16, 20. 2. I know thy works. The manner of life of the church. There was much to commend. Patience. Rather, endurance. Perseverance in the face of difficulties. Hast tried them which say they are apostles. False teachers, who made false claims. Every age of revolution throws up such false teachers. We often find traces of them in the epistles. 1 John 4:1 shows how to test them. The Ephesian church had put them to the test and rejected them. 3. Hast not fainted. Though called to bear afflictions for Christ they had not wearied.
4–7. Nevertheless. After these words of promise a stain on the garments of the church is pointed out. Thou hast left thy first love. They have not maintained the ardor and devotion of the love of their earlier history. Nothing but the fervent love of the Bride can satisfy the Bridegroom. This change shows that many years must have passed since the last communication of Paul to the Ephesian church. 5. Remember … from whence thou art fallen. Note what this exhortation includes: 1. They had been at a height of excellence. 2. They had fallen from that height; there had been a spiritual declension. 3. Repent. The comparison and its proof that they were retrograding should bring repentance. 4. Do the first works. There must be the first love, and the fruits of that love in a renewal of their first works. Unless this is done Christ will come. Not in person, but in providence and judgments. The church with a waning love will be repudiated. Will remove thy candlestick. “Thy” refers to the Angel of the church through whom the address is made. To remove the candlestick would be to suffer the church to cease to exist. How signally this has been fulfilled in the case of Ephesus is seen in the fact that not one vestige of the church remains, and of the city itself naught but mouldering ruins. What concerns us, however, is that this warning is addressed to every church which has lost its first love. Unless it repents, and does its first works, its candlestick will finally be removed from its place. 6. But this thou hast. There is another ground of commendation. They hate the deeds of the Nicolaitanes. Opinions are not agreed concerning this sect, but it is probable that the followers of a Nicolaus are meant who taught that Christian liberty meant license to commit sensual sins. 7. He that hath an ear. The call to solemn attention found at the close of each epistle. To him that overcometh. The Christian life is a battle and must also be a victory. The Greek word rendered “overcome,” is peculiar to John. It occurs once in his Gospel, six times in his epistles, and sixteen times in Revelation, but only “three” times in all the rest of the New Testament. To eat of the tree of life. The symbol of eternal life. The tree is seen in Eden (Gen. 2:9; 3:22), here, and in the New Jerusalem (Rev. 22:2). Paradise of God. Since the tree of life is found in both, Paradise and the New Jerusalem must mean the same. Paul uses the term as a synonym of the “Third Heaven,” or Heaven itself (2 Cor. 12:2–4).
The Church at Smyrna. 8–11. The church in Smyrna. The history of its planting is unknown, but it was probably founded by some of the evangelists under Paul's supervision. During the second century the church was prominent, and it has never ceased to exist. When I visited the city in 1889, I was told that there were more than 70,000 professing Christians in the place. The city, so old that its beginnings are unknown, is still the second in commercial importance of the Turkish empire. The first and the last. See 1:17. 9. Thy tribulation. Affliction. And thy poverty. Most of those first enlisted for Christ were poor. See 1 Cor. 1:26–29. But thou art rich. Rich in faith, hope and fruits. And I know the blasphemy. Reviling of the Jews against the Lord. Say they are Jews. Those who say that they are Jews were of the Jewish race, but were not of the true Israel. “He is not a (true) Jew who is one outwardly,” etc. (Rom. 2:28). John denies the right of these Jewish opposers to use the term “Jews” in the sense of God's chosen people. Their synagogue was the synagogue of Satan. Such strong language implies a complete separation of the church and synagogue, an event that occurred at the period of the destruction of Jerusalem. See Acts 21:20–26. 10. Fear none, etc. The church shall suffer, but it need not fear for the reasons about to be given. The devil shall cast. He may use the Jews as instruments but he is the real agent. Shall have tribulation ten days. Whether the “ten days” of persecution means a short time, or a definite period symbolized by “ten days” is uncertain. A day is often a symbol of a year. Ten persecutions are named by church historians and two persecutions of ten years each. It might refer to one of the latter which should bear very heavily on that church. The Diocletian persecution continued ten years and three months. Be thou faithful unto death. Unto martyrdom. The crown of life. Not a royal crown but the garland crown of victory over death. See 2 Tim. 4:8. 11. Shall not be hurt of the second death. Those who win the victory shall live forever. To die the second death is to be sent from the judgment throne into hell. See Rev. 20:14.
The Church at Pergamos. 12–17. Pergamos. The farthest north of the Seven Churches, a city once the capital of the kingdom of Pergamos, which was great and flourishing when John wrote. It still exists with about 14,000 population, of whom over 3,000 profess to be Christians. Which hath the sharp sword. See 1:16. 13. Where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is. In a center of heathen idolatry. Pergamos was a notorious center of idolatry. Thou holdest fast my name. Honor and trust in the name of Christ. Hast not denied my faith. Still continue firm in the profession of Christ though persecuted. Wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr. Some fanciful saint who had suffered martyrdom among them because he was a faithful witness of Christ. 14. But I have a few things against thee. Much as been to the credit of the church, but there is another side. Hold the doctrine of Balaam. Teachers like Balaam who seduce the true Israel into sin. Balaam showed Balak how to lead the children of Israel astray. See Num. 25:2, and 31:16. In the same way there were false teachers at Pergamos who taught that Christians might join the idol feasts and in heathen fornication. 15. So hast thou also them, etc. For Nicolaitanes. See note on verse 6 above. 16. Repent therefore. This may save the sinner, whether an alien, or a church member. To repent one must leave off his sins. I will make war against them. Those who teach and practice these pernicious doctrines. With the sword of my mouth. See 1:16. With all the power of the word of God. 17. I will give to eat of the hidden manna. The bread of life, the bread from heaven. The living bread is Jesus Christ, unseen in the earth and hence called hidden. Will give him a white stone. Among the Greeks a white stone was a symbol of acquittal, as a black stone was of guilt. The white stone implies justification, innocence and victory. A new name written. All conjectures concerning this new name are idle. It is only given to those who have finally overcome and cannot be known to us here, but implies their new relation to God and the Lamb in their triumphant state.
The Church in Thyatira. 18–23. In Thyatira. This is the first of the second group of four epistles. Thyatira has been mentioned in Acts, chapter 16 as the home of Lydia, who was converted at Philippi. It is likely that the church began when she and her household returned. The three churches before named were on or near the coast; the others were in the interior. Thyatira was southeast of Pergamos, and northeast of Smyrna. It is still a place of about 17,000 population, of whom nearly 3,000 profess to be Christians. Like unto a flame of fire. See 1:14, 15. 19. And the last to be more than the first. See Revision. Instead of retrograding their works grew more excellent. 20. Notwithstanding. Of the seven churches only two are blameless. Sufferest that woman Jezebel. Either a person or a party of which the wicked wife of Ahab was a type. As a woman in Revelation is a symbol of the church, true or false, I believe this symbol is used to designate a faction in the church at Thyatira of an idolatrous spirit. This faction had teachers who claimed the gift of prophecy. They taught the doctrine of Balaam named in verse 14. See note there. See also verse 24. 21. I gave her space (time) to repent. The long suffering and mercy shown in the delay of judgment are here pointed out. 22. Behold, I will cast her into a bed. Sickness and a bed are symbols of affliction and punishment. Them that commit adultery with her. This is the term applied to idolatrous Israel (Jer. 3:9; Ezek. 16:32). To practice the idolatrous rites of this faction would be spiritual adultery. 23. I will kill her children. Her children are the adherents; those who perpetuate the immoral practices. The threat implies that they shall come to certain destruction. And all the churches shall know, etc. By reason of the judgments inflicted. Some have strongly urged that by “Jezebel” is meant a Sybil, half heathen, half Christian, claiming prophetic powers, who is known to have lived in Thyatira.
24–29. But to you I say, to the rest that are in Thyatira (Revision). To all who have naught to do with Jezebel. As many as have not this doctrine. Jezebel then represents a false doctrine and a faction. Which know not the deep things of Satan. Have not learned the mysteries and wisdom of Satan taught by these false teachers. I will put upon you none other burden. None other than to avoid the sins of the false faction and teachers. Compare Acts 15:28, 29. 25. Hold fast. To the gospel as it has been taught to you. 26. Keepeth my works unto the end. Until death. I will give power over the nations. In the coming period when Christ shall rule all kingdoms the saints who have endured shall share his authority. 27. And he shall rule them with a rod of iron. A scepter of iron means a firm and enduring power. Rule. Shall rule as a shepherd is the meaning of the Greek word. The rule will not be a cruel, but a guardian rule. As the vessels of a potter. So the nations shall be broken in pieces and all become one under the rule of Christ. 28. I will give him the morning star. The Morning Star is one of the titles of Christ. See Rev. 22:16. This, then, means that Christ will give them a fellowship with himself; they shall share his dominion.
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