CHAPTERS 2 & 3: The Letters to the Seven Churches

Jesus himself dictated to John exactly what he was to write to each church. The letters all followed the same pattern--- Each letter began with Jesus identifying himself as the Risen Lord, yet that identification was unique to each particular church. He then indicated His omnipotence by saying "I know your works...." and describing the works of each church. Jesus then praised them, (if they were deserving of praise), chastised them if they needed chastising, exhorted them to do what they must, and warned them exactly what would happen if they did not do what they should. He closed each letter with a promise of the reward each would receive if they overcame, and the rewards were also unique to each individual church.

In every one of these letters the reward promised is for only those who overcome, and stand firm to the end. This was all followed by a final warning that every person, both then and now, should take heed of what had been said.... "He that hath an ear, let him hear."

Many who had heard and received the gospel in these early churches had already fallen by the wayside. Two of these churches were very good, Smyrna and Philadelphia. They were composed primarily of the humbler classes, and both were facing persecution. Two others, Sardis and Laodicia, were very bad churches. They were mostly made up of the ruling classes, who had adopted Christianity but still held onto their pagan practices, trying to incorporate those practices into their new-found religion. Halley notes that the two churches who were good are still thriving cities to this day, while the two that were bad are barren wastelands today.

The three remaining churches had some good qualities and some bad. It is very clear that the promised rewards were only for those who overcame, repented, and stood firm to the end--- a strong message both then and now that God will not accept a weak, compromising and wishy-washy religion. By sending this entire letter to all the churches, each church could measure itself by the others, and we can still use these guidelines to measure our churches today.

2:1-7: EPHESUS

Ephesus was a great and powerful church, having much influence in a community famous for their temple of Diana. Forty years prior to this writing, the apostle Paul had done his most successful work (about 54-57 A.D.), converting a great multitude to Christ, making this church one of the largest and most powerful in the world. At the time of this revelation, they stood firm against false teachers in the church, but were losing their zeal, or love for the gospel.

  • JESUS: "He that hold the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks." (1: 13, 16) Jesus reminded them that He is always among them, thus they should never lose their zeal. He holds the stars in His right hand, i.e., they are in His care and under His protection. He is the reason for the church's very existence, and it continues to exist only because of His care and protection.
  • PRAISE: "I know your works, your labor and your patience, and how you do not tolerate those who are evil. You have tested those claiming to be apostles, and found them to be liars. You have patiently and persistantly labored for My name's sake without fainting. Also, you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, even as I do." It is important to note that in each of these letters, Jesus first sought out their good qualities, and praised them for those good things, before rebuking them in a loving manner. Like a loving parent. He wants to build and strengthen the good, not just search out and punish faults. The Nicolaitans, although only mentioned in this book, are commonly supposed to be a Gnostic sect, who practiced all manner of vile perversions.
  • CHARGES: "You have left your first love." They were still doing the right things, but without the passion they had felt at first. Their works were more in the nature of a routine or ritual, rather than a labor of love. Jesus always taught that what was in the heart was of far more importance than mere actions, however good those actions may appear. (see Matt. 23:28)
  • EXHORTATIONS: "Remember where you fell from, and repent. Do the first works," They were told to remember the wonderful joy of their salvation, and the love of the Lord that had been in their hearts at first, and to do as they had done when they had that love and joy in their hearts. Jesus said in Matt. 22:37 that the greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind; He won't settle for just routine and ritualistic service.
  • WARNING: "Or I will come to you quickly, and will remove your candlestick from it's place unless you repent." Jesus warns them that He can remove them from their position of influence in the community, or even remove them altogether. (In fact, Halley notes that the Ephesian church is no longer in existence.)
  • PROMISE: "To him who overcomes, I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God." Eternal life, free from all pain, suffering, and sorrow, in the midst of God's paradise, where He originally placed man.

2:8-11: SMYRNA

Smyrna was a city with strong ties to Rome, and had worshipped Rome as a spiritual power since 195 B.C. The city was famous for science, medicine, and architecture, and for being the birthplace of Homer. The church here was small and un-influential, a poor, suffering church facing much persecution in a community that worshipped emperors and was mostly hostile to Jews. Their beloved bishop, Polycarp, who was one of John's students, was martyred under Antonius Pius in 196 A.D., being burned at the stake.

  • JESUS: "The first and last, which was dead, and is alive." (1: 17,18) Jesus was represented to this church as a promise of hope--- He had faced the same kind of persecution they were facing, and was Himself martyred as many of them would be, yet He is alive. He was their encouragement not to despair.
  • PRAISE: "I know your works,and tribulation and poverty, (but you are rich in spiritual things). I know the blasphemy of those who claim to be Jews, but are really of Satan's church." Jesus acknowleged their spiritual wealth, and praised the works they did in spite of their poverty and the persecution they faced. He also recognized the phoniness of some persons within the church itself, and acknowleged them to be followers of Satan. Just as Jesus Christ himself is real, so is Satan a real and powerful force in the world, not merely a myth or a fable, as some religions teach.
  • CHARGES: There were no charges against this church.
  • EXHORTATIONS: "Fear none of the things you will suffer. Realize that the devil is going to cast some of you into prison; you will have tribulation ten days." The only instruction this church was given was to fear not. A reassurance that the persecutions they were facing would not last forever. , but would only be for a limited period of time. In much of the prophecy of the Bible, one day = one year. In that case, this church was told they would suffer tribulations for ten years--- which is exactly how long they suffered persecution under Diocletian. This is also an acknowlegement of Satan's efforts against the church; all such persecution of the church originates with Satan. However, although Satan does have power on this earth, his time is greatly limited, which is why he has always tried so hard to destroy God's church.
  • WARNINGS: As there were no charges against this church, there was also no warning given to them. They did not need to repent or change their ways.
  • PROMISES: "Be faithful unto death, and I will give you a crown of life." A crown signifies victory. (see Matt. 9:24-25). Again, a reassurance that even if they die in the trials and tribulations they are facing, they will emerge victorious, and will still live, even as Jesus himself lives. "He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death." was an assurance as well as encouragement to keep on doing just as they were. The second death is the final and total separation from God after the final judgment, when the unsaved will be cast away from God's presence and into everlating torment. (see Matt. 13:49-50; also Rev.14:11)

References used in this study:

  • NIV Study Bible; Zondervan Press
  • The Revelation of John, volume 2; Wm. Barclay
  • Halley's Bible Handbook; H.H. Halley
  • Clarke's Commentary On The Bible; abridged by Ralph Earle

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