Letters to the 7 churches- part 1 of 2
What do you hope God will say to you when you see Him?
Revelation began with a vision of the powerful Jesus and a messenger telling John to write down what he sees and to send it to the seven churches listed. They will be blessed if they read the words of this book and take it to heart.
Read Revelation 2
What did you see? (Observation)
The structure is of one section for each of the 4 churches in this chapter. The letters have a similar structure of: Announcing the authority of the letter, I know this about you, and yet I have this against you, blessed is the one who…and a reward that follows. A group might draw a table of each letter with the above flow and fill in the squares for a good overview.
- To Ephesus (1-7)
- To Smyrna (8-11)
- To Pergamum (12-17)
- To Thyatira (18-29)
To Ephesus (1-7)
“To the angel of the church…” Remember that an angel is a messenger. This may be saying that the letter will get to the church via the messenger. The angel/messenger for each church image began in Chapter 1 and it was noted that the churches are not disconnected from the King but his messengers are present. A messenger is someone who brings a message. The churches are receiving this message as they received all revelation from God as they received the gospel.
“…the words of him who holds the seven stars…” The letter begins with the authority of the one speaking. Jesus is giving this message via the messenger. He holds the seven messengers of the seven churches (see 1:20)
“I know…” The second part of the letter is the good news about what Jesus can commend of the church.
“…you cannot tolerate wicked people…[rejected false prophets]…endured hardships…” The image of this church is of a strict “authentic bible only” mentality which is to be praised. The do not allow soft teaching from fools who claim to be of God. They are mighty bounces for the church of Christ. And they are tough enough to persevere because following Jesus and the bible is hard work. They should keep this level of determination going.
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” It seems that this church once loved the grace of God but time and effort have steered them away from this love. They still stand for truth and true religion but even their charity work smells like discipline and duty.
“If you do not repent…” A strict church like this has lost the gospel. Their warning is that they will be removed. They are the lampstand (see 1:20).
“…you have this in your favour…” They hate the Nicolaitans which God also hates. This is a good thing which seems to parallel what they were praised for in Verses 2 to 4. God is fine with the side that they are fighting on but they have forgotten what the fight is about. The Nicolaitans were a sect of the first century. They are mentioned again in Verse 15. Their flaw was trying to work out a “compromise with paganism, to enable Christians to take part without embarrassment in some of the social and religious activities of the close-knit society” (The IVP Bible Dictionary). It is possible that ‘Nicolatan’ is a Greek variation of the Hebrew, ‘Balaam’ who is brought out in later letters. Look at 2 Peter 2:15, Jude 1, Rev 2:15 in their context.
“Whoever has ears to hear…I will give…” As was promised in 1:3, those who listen to these words and take them to heart will be blessed. The blessings are for access to the tree of life which was forbidden after The Fall.
To Smyrna (8-11)
“…the words of Him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.” The authority of the letter is of the risen Lord Jesus. His resurrection is no small thing but defines his power in the context of human salvation.
“I know your afflictions and your poverty…I know about the slander…” Isn’t it beautiful to hear the words: I know : when they mean – I see you. And Jesus’ response to this is not to help them out of their affliction and poverty but to remind them that they are actually rich!
“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer…” The letter to the Smyrnetians (?) contains an exact prophecy that some will be in prison for ten days. God sees the suffering and the affliction even before it happens and he tells them not to be afraid. He also sees those who claim to be one thing but are actually a house of the devil. Appearances are only real when they are from God’s perspective. Everything else is false or temporary.
“The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.” The remedy for suffering is hope. Hope makes us persevere. Those who persevere and are victorious, not giving way to fear, are saved from a worse suffering to come. The first death is our mortal death and the second death is the one after judgment. See 21:8.
To Pergamum (12-17)
“…the sharp double-edged sword.” Easily the word of God.
“… not even in the days of Antipas…” Trickles of real history are in this book of Revelation. God really sees a church suffering.
“…where Satan lives…” Such evil was amidst the location of this church that it is aligned with the house of Satan.
“…yet…some among you hold to the teaching of Balaam…” This is referencing Numbers. Surely a teaching as old as that is not still current at the time of Revelation in its immediate sense. But there is a parallel to what they have fallen pray to with the story of Balaam and Barak. What we need to know is here in the paragraph before us. People of the church are enticed to do something that is ungodly. 1 Corinthians and Romans talk about food offered to idols in ways that do not outright condemn it. But when someone eats against their conscience, this is a big problem. They also have those who have succomned to the false teaching of the Nicolaitans. Again, the specifics of this are unclear but their teaching is false and people in the church have befallen pray. See earlier notes regarding Ephesus linking the Nicolaitans and the teaching of Balaam.
“Repent…or I will come with the sword of my mouth.” The word of God is powerful and right to judge and to condemn.
“…I will give some of the hidden manna.” Old Testament allusion to relief and mercy from God.
“…I will also give…a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” Getting a new name means a new start. Simon is called Peter. Levi is Matthew. The idea of a secret name only known to the receiver is an intimate gift from the One who knows us. It is a personal gift. We don’t conclude that we all get knew names but so what if this ends up being factual – I won’t tell you what name I get.
To Thyatira (18-29)
“…the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.” See 1:14-15. Jesus is named here as the Son of God. The description of Jesus is full in Revelation but must be pieced together. The letters have increased our knowledge of him and now we see one of his titles.
“I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.” What a great start! Praise God for their progress and sanctification. Notice the dance between deeds, love and faith. These things are not just ideas but action.
“You tolerate that woman Jezebel…” This is another Old Testament reference in 1 and 2 Kings. She led Israel astray to worship idols and killed off the prophets. To the Thyatirians she was killing them with her sexual immorality and enticing them away. Who are what is referred to exactly may remain unknown but the reference to Jezebel is that her schemes are directly against the people of God.
“…then all the churches will know…” The action of God against Jezebel will be a witness to more churches than just this one. In the end, wicked will be destroyed and all will know that God searches the hearts and minds and repays each according to their deeds.
“… I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.” Is it that God demands more of some than of others according to their opportunity and gifts? If one church is worthy enough to hold onto grace until Christ returns and yet another will be held accountable because they did not use the gifts given to expand the kingdom…? This seems parallel to the parable of the talents.
“… I will give authority over the nations.” Paul spoke to the Corinthians about being judges in heaven. The nations here are not nations as we know them but stands for those outside the kingdom of God. The morning star is very likely a reference to Isaiah 14:12ff where Babylon, who was high like a mountain smashing all the kingdoms has now been laid low. It is called the morning star that has come down to earth below. Babylon is used in Revelation as a metaphore for all the nations who rise up against God.
What did we learn? (Meaning)
The Church of God is born from the grace of God and the word of God for love and good deeds, for faith and for persevering through suffering, persecution and maintaining truth while keeping love. We live in a battle field wanting to break us and entice us away. Jesus says, if you stand firm and hold fast, then the suffering and the abstaining will be replaced with victory, reigning, riches and a new name. It is not enough to love the bible, we must love God and one another. God sees us and what we go through. He also knows that we are way richer than we think we are.
Now what? (Application)
Topic A: Love being right or love God. The Pharisees fell trap of turning love into a duty and it seems the church in Ephesus had done the same. Churches who are very, very vigilant against false teaching can lose sight of the beauty of scripture and the joy of knowing the community of believers. It is a wonderful thing to know that you are forgiven and saved and set free. We can learn to genuinely love and to take the words of the scriptures to heart as we read them carefully.
Topic B: Do not fear suffering. This is so easy to write and hard to live out. Hope is the antidote to suffering. As soon as we believe that the removal of suffering is the answer, then we have lost sight of eternity. God will remove the suffering but not until He returns. Let’s remember to be people of eternity. Living for this world will disappoint us or kill us.
Topic C: Avoiding Balaam and watching Jezebel. The Balaam’s and Jezebels of this world will trick us into denying Christ and giving way to quick pleasures. But they will be destroyed and their destruction will testify to the justice of God. Our goal is to stand on the right side of justice at the end. Only the One who can give us a new name, clothe us in white and lift us up to rule the nations is worth giving our lives to. What false teachings and enticing ways do you see amongst us?