"Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book."
Picture of Ephesus ruins from Wikipedia
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The Lord told John to record the things he had "seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this" (Revelation 1:19). "The things which are" were about seven churches present during the time that the Revelation was given to John. Many believe that "the things which are" also speak of the entire Church Age, leading up to the time of the Tribulation.
As determined in Revelation 1:1, the prophecies in this book show God's plan for the future of the world and man. While the main purpose is to "reveal" the person of Jesus Christ, God's judgment on a Christ rejecting world is a central theme in the book of Revelation. But before God pours out judgment on the world in later chapters, Christ judges the "house of God" first:
1 Peter 4:17-18 - For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now "If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?"
In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit "housed" in a Jewish temple. In the New Testament, the "house of God" became the body of believers, who "house" the Holy Spirit individually in their bodily temples:
1 Timothy 3:15 - ...but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.
1 Corinthians 3:16 - Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
The Greek word "ekklesia" translated as "church" literally means "called out ones." Indeed, God has called the Church body to separate from the world:
John 15:19 - If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
These "called out" believers began to assemble in local congregations, shortly after Jesus' resurrection. Here in Revelation 2-3, the Lord chose seven congregations with various issues, as examples for the Church body at large. We saw in Revelation 1 that the entire message given to John was for Christ's servants, or followers. Furthermore, each church was not to receive only their part of the letter addressed to them, but also the entire Revelation. The Lord based His judgment for each church on the corporate works of each congregation.
As we continue our study, it is important to remember the "golden rule" of interpretation:
First, we will look at the issues of the seven first century churches the Lord chose to single out. Next, we will discuss how the Lord's counsel for each church applies to the Church body at large. Last, we will touch on the view that each church describes a historical period within the Church Age. While there are certainly uncanny parallels that support these "Church Age types," this view should not overshadow the clear literal meaning directed toward the first century churches in Asia Minor, and the Church body at large.
It is important to understand that Jesus judged the corporate "works" of the seven churches for each congregation. Therefore, personal salvation is not in view in the corporate address. This is a vital note; otherwise, it would appear that the Lord is teaching a works based salvation in these passages, which is against the clear scriptural teaching of salvation by grace only (Ephesians 2:8-9). The messages to the churches close with a call to each church member and a promise to true believers.
A separate call and promise to the individual, in addition to the corporate evaluation, makes sense if the congregations consist of both true born-again believers and believers "in name only." Believers "in name only" are those who are members of the congregation and say they are Christians, but have never made a personal decision to accept Christ as their Savior.
For example, in the church of Pergamos, the congregation was guilty of compromise, so the Lord rebuked them corporately. On the other hand, it would seem out-of-place for Christ to offer a promise to "those who overcome," that is born-again believers, if all the members in the congregation were already saved.
It will become clear as we move into the study, that not all addressed by Christ in the congregations were members of the true body of Christ. That being the case, the spiritual condition of the church and the congregation at large generally has influence, to some extent, to the spiritual condition of each member.
I have broken the study of each church down into categories, as defined below:
Jesus addressed the message to the angel of each church. As discussed in Revelation 1:20, the "angel," or messenger, could be a supernatural angel, or a human shepherd over the flock. As indicated in the definition, the Lord commissioned the "angel" to share the message with the church that was given through John. In this section, we will take a look at the meaning of the name and some history about the city where the churches were at. As we will see, there are some interesting tie-ins between the history of the city, the name of each church, and the message of each letter.
In every message to each church, Jesus cites a different description of Himself that give us clues to the central theme of the letter. In most cases, these are the same descriptions given of the Lord in Revelation 1.
Jesus opens each message assessing the current condition of each church.
Most of the churches received commendation from the Lord for the works they did for Him.
While most of the churches received praise, most were also lacking in their works, or rebelling in what they tolerated or allowed. For those churches that received rebuke, the Lord preached repentance in His counsel. Otherwise, the Lord said He would personally intervene in the affairs of that church judicially. Rather than administering punishment immediately, the Lord in His longsuffering and mercy (Numbers 14:18), gave these churches a chance to repent first.
Repentance means to "turn back from." In the case of the churches, repentance meant to turn away from their corporate sin with a submissive heart, to the condition desired of the Lord. The intended response in the Lord's call for repentance was to spur self-judgment, to avoid chastisement from the Lord:
1 Corinthians 11:31-32 - For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.
For most of the churches, the Lord gave instruction for what needed correction, warning that He would personally intervene if repentance did not occur. For the few churches that receive no rebuke, He admonished them to stay on track.
The Lord gives the same call to every church:
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
Luke 8:4-10 - And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: "A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold." When He had said these things He cried, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear!" Then His disciples asked Him, saying, "What does this parable mean?" And He said, "To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that 'Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.'
Luke 8:11-15 - "Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away. Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience."
Luke 8:16-21 - "No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed, but sets it on a lampstand, that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light. Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him." Then His mother and brothers came to Him, and could not approach Him because of the crowd. And it was told Him by some, who said, "Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see You." But He answered and said to them, "My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it."
Those who hear the Spirit can understand the "mysteries of the kingdom of God." To "hear what the Spirit says" means to attune spiritually to the Word of God, and with a genuine heart, obey it. This is characteristic of the Spirit-led believer:
Romans 10:14, 17 - How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? ...So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
John 5:24-25 - "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.
James 1:22-23 - But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror.
Believers that are not being nourished by the Word of God are "dull of hearing":
Hebrews 5:11-14 - ...of whom we have much to say, and hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
If people tune God out long enough, He will make their heart dull so that they will never hear and understand:
Isaiah 6:9-10 - And He said, "Go, and tell this people: 'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.' Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and return and be healed."
Often, those who do not love the Word of God do not have spiritually attuned ears because they are too proud to listen:
Jeremiah 6:10 - To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear? Indeed their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot give heed. Behold, the word of the LORD is a reproach to them; they have no delight in it.
Jeremiah 13:15-17 - Hear and give ear: Do not be proud, for the LORD has spoken. Give glory to the LORD your God before He causes darkness, and before your feet stumble on the dark mountains, and while you are looking for light, He turns it into the shadow of death and makes it dense darkness. But if you will not hear it, my soul will weep in secret for your pride; my eyes will weep bitterly and run down with tears....
In short, the Lord directs the call in the messages to the churches to each believer within each congregation, who have spiritual ears attuned to listen to what the Holy Spirit is trying to teach about the "mysteries of the kingdom."
The "overcomer" is plainly defined in Scripture, as follows:
1 John 5:4-5 - For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Accordingly, the promise for the overcomer included in each message is for the entire body of believers, not just for the church that the Lord directed the message to. In other words, all true born-again believers will receive all the promises given in the letters to all the churches:
Revelation 21:7 - He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.
Nevertheless, each promise relates to the general theme in each letter, as does the specific description the Lord gives of Himself. These promises reveal some of the "mysteries of the Kingdom," as discussed in the "call to hear" category.
Every word spoken by the Lord to each church pertains to the condition and behavior of each church. At first glance, some of the items seem to have no relation with each other whatsoever. However, careful study shows that the Lord focused on the main issue or issues for each church, and everything He said dealt with these. Therefore, at the end of the study of each letter, I attempt to draw together the various points made by the Lord into a summary about the main theme or themes.
The character of each church has curiously appeared to manifest in the major divisions of the history of the Church. In this last section, we will briefly touch on these observations at the end of the study of each church. Again it is important to stress, while there are certainly parallels that support these "Church Age types," this view should not overshadow the clear literal meaning directed toward the first century churches and the Church body at large.
Praise 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; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary.
Counsel 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. 6 But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Revelation 2:1 - "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write..."
The name Ephesus means: "Overseer" or "guardian," possibly derived from the Greek word "ephoros."
Historical background of Ephesus:
Revelation 2:1 - These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand...
As discussed in Revelation 1:16 & 20, the seven stars are the seven angels, or messengers to the seven churches. Jesus holding these seven stars in His right hand symbolizes strength and protection (Isaiah 41:10, Psalm 18:35, 20:6, 63:8). In other words, Jesus is the guardian over the angels of the churches.
Jesus first appeared in Revelation 1:13 & 20, in the midst of the lamp stands, or churches, as the "Son of Man." As in the menorah, Jesus is the supporting base to the branches that hold the lamps, which represent the churches, or the assembled believers of Christ:
Matthew 18:20 - "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them."
Revelation 2:2 - I know your works, your labor, your patience...
Paul wrote to the Ephesians about their works and labor:
Ephesians 2:8-10 - For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
Ephesians 4:28 - Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.
Those saved by the grace of God, are to labor and do good works as a testimony of their faith:
James 2:18 - But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
As shown in Ephesians 2:9 above, while salvation is all about grace, you can do nothing of yourself to "be counted worthy of the kingdom of God." That being said, God gives evidence to the world that you belong in the Kingdom, by enduring trial and tribulation, which cultivate patience, or perseverance, and character:
Romans 5:3-4 - And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.
2 Thessalonians 1:4-5 - ...we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer.
Revelation 2:2 - ...and that you cannot bear those who are evil.
In the church of Corinth there was at least one member of the congregation that openly committed evil acts. Paul commanded the church to cut off fellowship with this "evil person":
1 Corinthians 5:11-13 - But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner - not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore "put away from yourselves the evil person."
Similarly, Paul admonished the church of Ephesus to avoid fellowship with those who show the "works of darkness" and "expose them":
Ephesians 5:8-11 - For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.
In other words, the church was not to put up with open sin within the congregation. We will see in the next section what "evil" the Ephesians did not allow into their congregation.
Revelation 2:2 - And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars...
The Greek word "apostolos" translated "apostles," means "one who is commissioned." The use of the word "apostle" in this context extends beyond the scope of the original twelve chosen by Jesus (Luke 6:13). While many argue that either Matthias (Acts 1:26) or Paul (1 Corinthians 15:4-9, Galatians 1:1) replaced Judas in the core group of apostles, we see that Barnabas was also called an apostle (Acts 14:14), as the church in Jerusalem commissioned him to minister in Antioch.
God appointed apostles as the primary leaders in the Church body:
1 Corinthians 12:28 - And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.
Paul defines false apostles as "deceitful workers" who are after personal gain:
2 Corinthians 11:4-5, 12-15 - For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted - you may well put up with it! For consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles.... 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.
Paul prophetically warned the early congregation at Ephesus that these men of deceit would come:
Acts 20:29-30 - 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.
Paul taught the Ephesians that God commissions leaders, including the apostles, to teach sound doctrine. These leaders were to teach believers to resist the doctrines of deceitful men:
Ephesians 4:11-16 - And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head-Christ-from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
Due to deception, believers are to test all things:
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 - Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
1 John 4:1 - Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
John's first epistle is all about false teachers and leaders. The following passages may shed light on what these false apostles in Ephesus were lying about:
1 John 2:4 - He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
1 John 2:22 - Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son.
1 John 4:20 - If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?
The Ephesians "persevered," enduring an apparent bombardment of false teachers trying to infiltrate the church. Similarly, Paul admonished the church in Thessalonica to combat false doctrine through the "patience of Christ":
2 Thessalonians 3:5-6 - Now may the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the patience of Christ. But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.
As discussed int Revelation 1:9, patience is aquired through tribulations, which helps build character and cultivate proper Christian conduct. Through these tribulations God gives evidence to the world that you belong to His Kingdom.
Laboring for the Lord's "name sake" is to minister to other believers:
Hebrews 6:10-15 - For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, "Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you." And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.
As a show of thanks for our promised inheritance, believers should not become "sluggish," but labor "heartily" for the Lord:
Colossians 3:23-24 - And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.
Colossians 1:10-12 - ...walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.
Revelation 2:4 - Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
While the Ephesians had a "labor of love" (Hebrews 6:10) toward other believers, they had abandoned their "first love." The "first love" is undoubtedly that for the Lord. The Lord applauded believers at Ephesus for their "labor of love" toward other believers, through their works. The love we are to have towards others is the second of the two greatest commandments given by the Lord. However, these believers were apparently lacking in obedience to the first commandment:
Mark 12:30-31 - "...and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.' This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
The Greek word "aphiemi" translated as "left," in this context, means to leave, abandon, or depart from. As a side note, "aphiemi" can also mean to "forgive," or "release." The Greek word "agape" translated as "love" is a sacrificial form of love. Thus, the Ephesians had abandoned their sacrificial love for the Lord.
Sacrificial love is that which is essential to strengthen a marriage between a husband and wife. This is also the same type of love Christ has given to the Church through His sacrifice on the cross:
Ephesians 5:2 - And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.
Incidentally, Paul taught the Ephesians about the love between Christ and the Church, comparing it to the marriage relationship:
Ephesians 5:25-27 - Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.
Ephesians 5:28-32 - So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.
Engaged and newlywed couples rarely have an issue being attentive to the needs and desires of each other. In their first years together, it seems that any task is not too difficult or mundane, as long as it is for the benefit of their beloved. Likewise, Israel, as the betrothed of God followed after Him in love, even in the wilderness:
Jeremiah 2:2 - 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."'
Sacrificial love generally tends to fade as routine sets in for married couples. In many cases, life becomes busy. Couples begin to take each other for granted if they lose their devotion and affection for one another. When sacrificial love loses its vitality too much, it can turn a gratifying experience into a chore, which can devastate a relationship. This is because sacrificial love generally builds the natural love of affection ("phileo" in the Greek). In other words, purposefully giving attention and care to a relationship will usually foster natural affection.
Likewise, a lack of sacrificial love toward God usually results in diminished affection toward God. In the case of Israel, their hearts eventually turned completely away from the Lord, as they fell into idolatry. God considered this adultery, with regard to their relationship with Him:
Jeremiah 2:5 - 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?"
Ezekiel 6:9 - Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations where they are carried captive, because I was crushed by their adulterous heart which has departed from Me, and by their eyes which play the harlot after their idols; they will loathe themselves for the evils which they committed in all their abominations.
With regard to the Ephesians, they had apparently became so busy in their works, that their heart turned from serving the Lord, to serving men; they left their "first love." Prophetically, Paul warned the early congregation at Ephesus to be careful of their motives in service:
Ephesians 6:5-7 - Bondservants, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in sincerity of heart, as to Christ; not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men.Revelation 2:5 - Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works...
Making the Lord first in priority, by loving Him with all one's "heart, soul and mind" (Revelation 2:4) are the "first works." The works of the Ephesians toward others were admirable, as the Lord commended them. However, it is clear that their motive for doing good works had changed because they had "left their first love." In other words, the Lord urged them to repent of their motives and return to serve with "sincerity of heart, as to Christ... and not to men" (Ephesians 6:5, 7), as they did in the past. Repentance would restore the relationship with the Lord; such was the case for Israel:
Zechariah 1:3 - Therefore say to them, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Return to Me," says the LORD of hosts, "and I will return to you," says the LORD of hosts.'
Revelation 2:5 - ...or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place-unless you repent.
Christ gives a stern warning to the church at Ephesus that He would personally intervene if they did not repent. This does not mean that He would physically return, as will be the case at the end of the Tribulation (Revelation 19). Rather, because the Church is subject to Christ (Ephesians 5:24), as the head of the Church, He has authority to intervene judicially in a congregation's affairs:
Ephesians 1:22-23 - And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.
It is also interesting to note, that Aaron, as the first earthly high priest, was in charge of the lamp stands in the tabernacle (Leviticus 24:1-4). Jesus, as the ultimate high priest (Hebrews 5), is in charge of the heavenly lamp stands, the churches (Revelation 1:13).
The Greek word translated "quickly" means swift, speedily, or without delay. The Ephesians needed to promptly repent. If they delayed in turning from their sin, the Lord would soon come and remove their "lampstand from its place." Recall from Revelation 1:12, that the churches are lamp stands that "shine as lights in the world." The Holy Spirit is the source of the light. Revelation 1:13 shows that the shaft or based support the branches of the lamp stand, just like the vine that supports the branches:
John 15:5 - I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing....
Therefore, the lamp stand being moved "from its place" means that the church of Ephesus would no longer be used by the Lord. It is interesting to note that the Greek word "kineo" translated as "remove" can also mean to provoke, or stir. I imagine that this letter to the Ephesians would have created quite a "stir" that would hopefully have led the congregation to repentance. Indeed, for the next several hundred years, the church at Ephesus remained and played an important role in the early church, which suggests that the congregation that received the letter repented. At some point, the lamp stand of Ephesus was eventually removed, as there is little trace left of the church that existed there.
The Ephesians received commendation by the Lord for hating the "deeds of the Nicolaitans." Speculations abound as to who the "Nicolaitans" were. There is nothing in Scripture, or extra-scriptural, that explicitly discloses who the Nicolaitans were. That being the case, I believe that the meaning of the name may shed some light on the issue.
"Nicolaitan" comes from the Greek words "nikao," a verb which means to conquer, or lord over, and "laos," a noun which means people. Therefore, a "Nicolaitan" would be clergy who rule over the "laity," or body of believers. In other words, the "Nicolaitan" movement would have been the beginning of the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which has its roots in the Babylonian pagan priesthood. Clearly, this model is not Scriptural:
1 Peter 5:2-3 - Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
Revelation 2:7 - He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Spirit-led believers can understand the "mysteries of the kingdom of God" (Luke 8:8-10), some of which the Lord includes as promises to the "overcomers" in the letters to the churches in Revelation.
Click here for the full discussion on the "call to hear."
Revelation 2:7 - To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.
Click here for the full discussion on the overcomer.
Overcomers, or those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 5:4-5) will eat from the tree of life. We are first introduced to the tree of life back in Genesis:
Genesis 2:9 - And out of the ground the LORD God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
After the fall, God prevented man from eating of the tree of life, so that he would not live in sin forever:
Genesis 3:22-24 - Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever" - therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.
The tree of life is symbolically used in the following proverbs:
Proverbs 3:18 - She [wisdom] is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who retain her.
Proverbs 15:4 - A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
Proverbs 11:30 - The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.
Proverbs 13:12 - Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.
These proverbs describe characteristics and fruit of the Holy Spirit (Spirit of wisdom, unprofaned speech, righteousness, and hope fulfilled in Him), as found in the following passages:
Isaiah 11:2 - The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.
Ephesians 5:3-9 - But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth).
Romans 5:1-2, 5 - Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.... Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Believers have a sure "hope" in the "glory of God" because of the access to God that we have gained through Jesus. Believers led by the Holy Spirit will exhibit the same characteristics as the Spirit:
Psalms 37:28-31 - For the LORD loves justice, and does not forsake His saints; they are preserved forever, but the descendants of the wicked shall be cut off. The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell in it forever. The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom, and his tongue talks of justice. The law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide.
Not only will overcomers be given an eternal inheritance, they will be able to eat freely of the tree of life. This is symbolic of eternal life without sin and the regained access to God through Christ (Romans 5:1-2), by obedience to the commandments to believe that Jesus is His Son and to love one another:
Romans 8:10-11 - And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
1 John 3:23-24 - And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
Revelation 22:14 - Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city.
The tree of life is in the "Paradise of God" (Revelation 2:7). The "Paradise of God" was initially in the Garden of Eden. After the fall of man, God moved "Paradise" to the center of the earth. After the cross, when Jesus restored man to God, Jesus took "Paradise" to Heaven. For more on this topic, I recommend reading my pastor's article: "Paradise Relocated."
Adam had access to the tree of life when he was in obedience to God. Adam's disobedience resulted in broken fellowship and denied access to the tree of life. Through Jesus Christ, we have been given access back to God and the tree of life (Revelation 2:7). Sacrificial love is the essence of obedience to God, which garners unbroken fellowship with Him. Broken fellowship with God leaves a person, or church body ineffective in bearing fruit for the Kingdom and being a light in the darkness of the world.
Many believe the name Ephesus came from the Greek word that means "guardian." As guardian and head of the Church body, Christ has authority to remove the lamp stand from churches that are unfruitful (Revelation 2:5). The Lord may remove a church's lamp stand, unless they return to their "first love." This is the sacrificial love toward God, desiring to please Him in all things, as a beloved bride should:
Matthew 22:36-38 - "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" Jesus said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment.
The first century churches were widely founded by the apostles who instilled solid doctrine to these early believers. Like Ephesus, many believe that the first century churches were generally discerning against false teaching. The first generation of believers embraced the sacrificial love toward the Lord, which allowed them to spread the Gospel to the far reaches of the Earth, even before the end of Paul's ministry (Colossians 1:6, 23). Since the apostles believed that Jesus would return during their lifetime, if they could finish the task of spreading the Gospel (Acts 1:6-8), there is little doubt that most other early Christians believed the same. When Jesus did not return as expected, the fervor of the Church body generally faded within a few generations; they had left their "first love."
Counsel 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.
Revelation 2:8 - And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write...
The name Smyrna means: "Myrrh," from the Greek "smurna." Myrrh is a bitter spice that releases a fragrant aroma when crushed. Myrrh was a spice used in embalming the dead.
Historical background of Smyrna:
Revelation 2:8 - These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life...
Revelation 2:9 - I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)...
It will become clear in a few verses that the works of the church at Smyrna relate to enduring persecution, because the Lord promises a reward to them for being faithful to Him even unto death (Revelation 2:10). The "tribulation" that Smyrna was going through led to physical poverty. Many believe that the guild, or union structure, of Smyrna's economy may have led to persecution of the Christians there.
Some believe that the unions boycotted Christian services, driving believers in Smyrna into poverty. Being in poverty, yet rich is a paradox, but Jesus was speaking in terms of the spiritual versus the physical. Paul and James spoke about the spiritual riches that believers can look forward to, regardless of what we might have to endure physically:
2 Corinthians 6:4-10 - But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
Hebrews 10:32-34 - 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.
James 2:5 - Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?
Revelation 2:9 - ...and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
It is a blasphemy against God for people to call themselves Jews, merely by ancestry, or by trying to keep the Mosaic Law, which has been an impossible task for all but Christ (Acts 15:10). God only considers those circumcised in the heart that do not resist the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51), as true Jews:
Romans 2:17-24 - Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, "Do not commit adultery," do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you," as it is written.
Romans 2:25-29 - For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? 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.
The religious leaders in Jerusalem mandated that anyone that confessed that Jesus was the Messiah were not allowed in the synagogues, where Jewish believers gathered to worship:
John 9:22 - ...the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue.
John 12:42 - Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue.
John 16:2 - They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.
These religious leaders were looking for the Messiah, but rejected Him when He came. Their rejection was satanic in origin:
John 8:42-44 - Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me. Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it."
Therefore, those who call themselves Jews, yet deny that Jesus is the Messiah they are a "synagogue of Satan."
Revelation 2:10 - Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer.
As discussed in Revelation 1:17, we should not fear what might happen to us because Jesus paid the penalty for our sin through His death, claimed victory over death and Satan, and rose from the dead to live eternally as the firstfruits of our resurrection.
Jesus prophesied persecution of the Church at the hands of Christ rejecting Jews (Matthew 23:34, Mark 13:9, Luke 21:12, John 16:2). Paul experienced this persecution (Acts 9:20-23, 13:45-50, 14:1-2, 17:5-10, 18:4-6, 19:8-9, 22). Christianity was initially considered a sect of Judaism by the Romans, which many believe is the reason the Jews persecuted the Christians. It is possible that the Jews depicted Christians as troublemakers, to distance themselves as a separate religion in the eyes of the Romans. The following words from the Lord show that the church of Smyrna was about to suffer at the hands of Christ rejecting Jews.
Revelation 2:10 - Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested...
The Christ rejecting Jews, who were of their "father the devil" (John 8:44), were going to throw some of the Christians in Smyrna into prison. The devil is our adversary, who seeks every opportunity he can to devour us:
1 Peter 5:8-10 - Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.
In some cases, like Job, God uses Satan to test us:
Job 23:10 - But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.
Testing is a refining process, as in precious metals:
Psalms 66:10 - For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined.
Proverbs 17:3 - The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the hearts.
The testing of our faith, through trial and tribulation, builds character and produces patience:
1 Peter 1:6-7 - In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 2:2-4 - But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict. For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit. But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.
James 1:2-3 - My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.
Taking the literal meaning of the text, some of the Christians in Smyrna were going to prison for "ten days." There is possible significant to this length of time. In Scripture "ten days" relates to testing, tribulation, or waiting:
Numbers 14:20-23 - Then the LORD said: "I have pardoned, according to your word; but truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD - because all these men who have seen My glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have put Me to the test now these ten times, and have not heeded My voice, they certainly shall not see the land of which I swore to their fathers, nor shall any of those who rejected Me see it.
Daniel 1:11-14 - So Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, "Please test your servants for ten days, and let them give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance be examined before you, and the appearance of the young men who eat the portion of the king's delicacies; and as you see fit, so deal with your servants." So he consented with them in this matter, and tested them ten days.
1 Samuel 25:32-34, 37-38 - Then David said to Abigail: "Blessed is the LORD God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me! And blessed is your advice and blessed are you, because you have kept me this day from coming to bloodshed and from avenging myself with my own hand. For indeed, as the LORD God of Israel lives, who has kept me back from hurting you, unless you had hurried and come to meet me, surely by morning light no males would have been left to Nabal!" So it was, in the morning, when the wine had gone from Nabal, and his wife had told him these things, that his heart died within him, and he became like a stone. Then it happened, after about ten days, that the LORD struck Nabal, and he died.
Jeremiah 42:4-7 - Then Jeremiah the prophet said to them, "I have heard. Indeed, I will pray to the LORD your God according to your words, and it shall be, that whatever the LORD answers you, I will declare it to you. I will keep nothing back from you." So they said to Jeremiah, "Let the LORD be a true and faithful witness between us, if we do not do according to everything which the LORD your God sends us by you. Whether it is pleasing or displeasing, we will obey the voice of the LORD our God to whom we send you, that it may be well with us when we obey the voice of the LORD our God." And it happened after ten days that the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah.
There were ten days that the disciples waited between Christ's ascension and Pentecost (Acts 1:4). The Feast of Atonement is the time of "affliction of the soul" before the Lord (Leviticus 23:24-29). The ten days between the Feast of Trumpets and Atonement became known as the "days of awe," or the "days of repentance."
The Lord calls us to be faithful to Him through persecution, even to the death:
2 Corinthians 4:7-12 - But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed- always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.
Luke 21:12-17 - But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake.
Persecution and threat of death are temptations to forsake Christ, out of fear and love for one's life (Revelation 12:11). As discussed in the "Pre-Tribulation Rapture" study, the "crown of life" is a reward for faithfulness through trial:
James 1:12-15 - Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
While God uses the devil to test believers, it is the devil that does the tempting, not God. For more on this topic, check out my pastor's article: "Trial, Testing and Temptation."
Revelation 2:11 - "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
Spirit-led believers can understand the "mysteries of the kingdom of God" (Luke 8:8-10), some of which the Lord includes as promises to the "overcomers" in the letters to the churches in Revelation.
Click here for the full discussion on the "call to hear."
Revelation 2:11 - "He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death."
Click here for the full discussion on the overcomer.
There will be two types of resurrections. The "first resurrection" is to eternal life. Therefore, the second kind of resurrection is to eternal death, which is the "second death":
Revelation 20:5-6 - But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.
Those included in the second kind of resurrection will stand before God at the "Great White Throne Judgment." After this judgment, they are cast into the lake of fire to die again in the "second death":
Revelation 20:10-14 - The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 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. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
This second death is not annihilation, as the antichrist and his false prophet will still be there being tormented in the lake of fire when Satan joins them a thousand years later. The second death is permanent separation from God and eternal suffering for all those who do not "overcome":
Revelation 21:7-8 - He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. 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.
Suffering through testing or tribulation builds character. As discussed in Revelation 1:17-18, Jesus conquered death so we should not fear the death of our body, which is temporary. As the crushed myrrh is a fragrant aroma, the Lord sees those who are faithful (2 Corinthians 2:14-16), even to the death, for His sake. The Lord will reward such a martyr with the "crown of life," for enduring such temptation (Revelation 2:10).
Christ rejecting Jews of the "synagogue of Satan" (Revelation 2:9), and all unbelievers, who are of their "father the devil" (John 8:44), who persecute believers, they will find their destiny in the "second death" (Revelation 2:11):
2 Thessalonians 1:4-9 - ...we ourselves boast of you among the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that you endure, which is manifest evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer; since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.
Picture source: Wikipedia
During the rule of ten Roman Caesars, between Nero and Constantine, the Church body suffered severe persecution. Many believe that the "ten days" of tribulation mentioned in Revelation 2:10 may have had further implications beyond the first century. Interestingly, the last ten years of Christian persecution, under the Caesar Diocletian, was the bloodiest, and became known as the "Diocletian Persecution," or the "Great Persecution."
Persecution of believers became widespread across the Roman Empire, when Nero blamed the burning of Rome on the Christians. However, much of the persecution stemmed from a decree under the Caesar Maximinus Thrax, who required sacrificing to Roman gods in honor of the Roman Emperor, which Christians refused to partake in. The Caesar punished disobedience by imprisonment, torture and death.
One of the most famous martyrs during this period was the bishop Polycarp, from Smyrna. Tradition has it that the Romans martyred Polycarp, but the Jewish religious leaders perpetrated the execution. Some accounts say that the Jews even helped gather the wood to burn Polycarp at the stake. Ironically, the execution supposedly took place on a Sabbath.
If this story is true, the breaking of the Mosaic Law by gathering wood for fire would have exposed the hypocrisy of these Jews. Whether or not Jewish leaders were behind Polycarp's death, history confirms that there was plenty of Christian blood on their hands. Thus, the message of the letter to Smyrna appears to have gone beyond the first century church, as the Lord warned about the Jews of the "synagogue of Satan."
Revelation Flow Chart:
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