“The Loveless Church” – Revelation 2:1-7
[Rev 2 NKJV]
Before, we begin to look at the text in any great depth, I must assert that these seven messages which we are going to be looking at are seven real messages delivered to seven real congregation and therefore must be understood in their original context. There are some within the church known as dispensationalists, that is those who see that history has been split into certain ages (or dispensations) who read the messages to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3 as a commentary on the Western Church as follows:
Although this may cater to those who are always in search of conspiracy theories and secret knowledge, its reading does serious damage to the original context and fails to explain why the history of the Western Church would have meant anything to the persecuted churches in the East. It may also be interesting to note that the Bible deals with objective truth and the only people in the early church that sought out secret knowledge were a heretical group that latter became known as the Gnostics (pronounced nos-tiks). In fact, the name itself derives from a root word that means, “pertaining to knowledge.”
Another popular way of interpreting these messages is to apply them to the individual. Although this may be valid, it should only be done when both the speaker and his audience understand that this is addressed to real churches. Therefore, the message speaks predominantly to the original congregation, secondly to a congregation of believers in the context of a local church and finally to us as individuals.
Ephesus is port-city located near modern-day Anatolia. It was the largest city in Asia-Minor and one of the most important cities in Rome.
- It contained one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the temple to Artemis (Greek)/Diana(Latin). Artemis/Diana was a many-breasted goddess known as the “Lady of Ephesus.”
- As a port city Ephesus was renowned for its idolatry and its sexual immorality. The temple of Artemis would have used temple prostitution in its “worship” as a way of generating funds for the upkeep of the temple and its priesthood.
- It is highly probable that the Apostle Paul planted a Church in Ephesus around 46-52 AD (see Acts 18:18-20:11, particularly 19:9-10).
- According to non-biblical tradition Ephesus may have been the home of John the Apostle and the resting place for Mary the mother of Jesus who was taken into his care at the end of Jesus’ earthly life (see John 19:25-27).
*Please note that “Thayer’s Greek Definitions” and “Strong’s Greek Dictionary” have been used and are annotated in the following way. A bold G for the Greek language followed by a number for the reference 32 and so will appear as following G32, G378 etc. This will make it easier for you to find the original Greek through reference works or online http://www.net.bible.org*
“angel” – The Greek word for “angel” here is G32 “aggelos” (pronounced ang’-el-os) which literally means “messenger” and according to the original Greek could either be speaking of an angelic representation of the churches or the pastor of the church. In light of chapters 2 and 3, which deal with the churches, I personally feel that it is the shepherds of the flock that are being dealt with, but I would be more than happy to concede this may be an angelic representation of the church because of the use of symbolism in the book.
“He who holds the seven stars in His right hand” – The seven stars are symbolic of the seven messengers or angels (1:20) and the original Greek would imply that Jesus holds these messengers/angels with firmness, possibly to illustrate that the only way that a separation could occur is wilful disobedience.
It must also be noted that within the culture and context, the “right hand” was considered the hand of authority and power. To this day many people within the East would use the left hand for unclean tasks such as going to the toilet. It has been unclear in my studies whether this was something that was practised amongst Jews within that culture and in that time but it may be a possibility.
“who walks in the midst” – It is easy that this metaphor may be overlooked but because of two other illusions to Genesis in v7 many commentators have seen this as a reference to Genesis 3:8. We would do well to remember that the day in which the vision began was on a Sunday (see Rev 1:10), which was the first day in which the world was created and the day in which Jesus rose again and appeared to His disciples (see the notes on 1:10), as this is the first church the metaphor seems rather fitting.
“seven golden lampstands” – The lampstands are probably the seven-stick candleholders known as menorahs which are symbolic of the churches (1:20). It is these churches, both good and bad that Jesus is walking amongst.
“I know your works” – As the book was written at a time when Christians had been removed from synagogues and suffering persecution, Jesus is reminding this church that He has been exalted to the place of the omniscient (all knowing) One.
“your labour, your patience” – The word “labour” in the Greek is G2873 “kopos” (pronounced kop’-os). It is a word that implies grief, beating and sorrow and comes from a root G2875 “kopto” (pronounced kop’-to) which means to cut, to strike, to smite, to lament and to mourn.
The word “patience” is G5281 “hupomone” (pronounced hoop-om-on-ay’) which is a word suggesting patient endurance and perseverance in a time of immense suffering.
“you have tested those who say they are apostles and…are liars” – It is obvious that this cannot refer to the 12 and so logically this must apply to others who claimed to have a special “calling” or “gift.” All leaders must be regularly tested for character (see Luke 6:39-49) and doctrine (see 1 Timothy 1:3-7). There seems to be many who can be easily swayed through “charisma” and “gifting” which has lead to great destruction both inside and outside of the church. “Gifting” and “charisma” are NOT necessarily the New Testament evidence for orthodoxy (correct belief) (see Matthew 7:15-27).
“laboured…and have not become weary” – Although much of what is said of v2 can equally apply to v3, this phrase would suggest that this Church in Ephesus was not only suffering but seemed to be suffering “well.”
“I have this against you” – In light, of what has been said this phrase seems startling especially as this church appears to being so well externally.
“you have left your first love” – The Greek here would imply that you have left/intensively sent away/forsaken/laid aside/let alone/omitted/remitted or yielded up your first/best/chief in order and importance love, which has left commentators wondering at what exactly has been left:
- It could mean the “first love” for God. They may have been serving Him zealously but their personal relationship with Him was beginning to wane.
- It is also possible that it might mean their “first love” for one another. In this atmosphere trust may have begun to fade, some may have recanted and informed the authorities or returned to the synagogues.
- Finally, it could mean their “first love” for the lost. It is highly likely that this persecution would have turned the group inward and the “endurance” mentioned in v2 could have been used as an excuse to abandon mission.
Unfortunately, we cannot be sure, but with the use of the word G26 “agape” (ag-ah’-pay) for “love,” the historical context (including the of Ephesians), and the illusions to Genesis in v1 and v7 it is probable that it may have been all three. The word “agape” was not a word used in classical Greek writing and was taken by the early Church from the marketplace and loaded with their own particular meaning that is the sacrificial, selfless love: from God, expressed to God and shared amongst the brethren and the lost.
“I will come…and remove your lampstand” – Basically, Jesus is warning the congregation that it is not the persecution, which will destroy the fellowship, but their lack of “first love.” Bizarrely, enough persecution, imprisonment and death have always improved the quantity and quality of believers in the church.
“unless you repent” – The congregation would have known that prophecy was ‘usually’ conditional (see Jonah). Here Jesus is offering a chance to alter the almost inevitable future through a change of heart and life.
“this you have…you hate” – Again this letter is seeking to close with encouragement, this church hates and detests false teachers something that Christ sees as commendable.
“the Nicolaitans” – We do not know who this group is but John had a disciple named Polycarp and he had a disciple named Irenaeus who wrote that they were followers of Nicolas, an deacon in the early church (see Acts 7:1-7). They taught that because the “flesh” was evil, God was not interested in what people did with their bodies and therefore this particular group became involved in sleeping with temple prostitutes. This whole concept of separating the flesh and spirit, sacred and secular is known as dualism, the central belief in a heresy that would become known as Anti-Nomian Gnosticism (that is its liberal form for the legalistic form please read Colossians).
“He who has an ear, let him hear” – It isn’t unlikely that some would find this prophecy ‘unacceptable’ so Jesus is calling for discernment from the churches.
“The Spirit says to the churches” – Even though this message is personally addressed to one congregation it is given to all, hence the use of the word “churches” as opposed to “church” and thereby acting as a public commendation and rebuke. Theologically this lends wait to the “one church doctrine” found in the creeds (see John 17:20-23), a reality that seems almost absent among Protestants.
“To him who overcomes” – Eternal security (that is the once saved always saved) and the perseverance of the saints (holiness teaching) are different sides of the same coin. So we should have assurance and perseverance.
“tree of life…Paradise of God” – These are two phrases that look back to the beginning (Genesis 2:8-9) and forward to the renewal of all thing at the end (Revelation 22:1-5). One thing that you may have already picked up on and one thing that has been mentioned in previous weeks is that John is constantly going to the final judgement. Backward and forward. Backward and forward. Again, showing that Revelation cannot be read chronologically.
“The Persecuted Church” – Revelation 2:8-11
What is remarkable in the message to the church at Smyrna is that it is only one of two churches mentioned in the seven that does not receive the slightest rebuke from the Lord Jesus. This shows that it is uncommon yet purely possible to be a church which walks in accordance with the leading of the Lord, something that all churches must strive for but something that will only be reached by minority.
- Smyrna is port-city located near modern-day Izmir, Turkey. It was the one of the most influential cities in Asia-Minor and vied for capital status with Ephesus (v1-7) and Pergamos/Pergamum (v12-17).
- Smyrna was the capital of Emperor worship in the region and the capital of the worship of the goddess Roma. Roma was a female deity who symbolized the Roman Empire and was the goddess of civilization/progress. She was often depicted as a warlike figure wearing a helmet (or wreath), with a shield, carrying a sword or spear, which probably became influential in the portrayal of Britannia, an image that can still be found on the back of a standard 50 pence piece today.
- It is likely that Smyrna contained a large Jewish community; it appears by the text that this Jewish community was overtly anti-Christian.
- Smyrna was the home of John’s disciple Polycarp, who would become bishop of Smyrna, and died as a martyr aged 86+ because he would not offer incense to the Emperor (there is a slight debate about his age as his disciple Irenaeus records him saying that he has served Christ 86 years and scholars disagree whether this date should be taken from his birth or his conversion).
“angel” – see 2:1.
“the First and the Last” – The NKJV translator have capitalised the “F” and the “L” in “the First and the Last” to show they are referring to titles. Jesus is “the First” as in he is primordial (that is before time) (see Col 1:15-17) and Jesus is “the Last” as in He is eschatological (that is after time). This seems also to be a snipe at the cyclical concept of time. That is the concept that time does not have a beginning or an end and is not going in any particular direction a belief that is very popular in the New Age and in some of the Eastern religions. The cyclical concept of time is a never-ending cycle of death and life, winter and spring but this IS NOT the Judeo-Christian concept of time.
History began in Christ and shall be culminated in Christ, and regardless of things may have looked to this congregation or to our own, history is moving in a certain direction. It is for this theological reason that the Church dated the calendar according to Christ (BC and AD) and embraced the liturgical year (that is advent and lent, Christmas and Easter), to show that Christ was the God of time as well as eternity.
“was dead, and came to life” – This is obviously referring to the death and resurrection of Jesus and again would be a snipe at the cyclical concept of time. Jesus died once and for all and is now alive for evermore. Reincarnation is incompatible with the Christian faith.
“works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich)” – Jesus goes on to commend this particular congregation for their “works,” that is their toil/labour/deeds/efforts amidst “tribulation.” The Greek word for “tribulation” here is G2347 “thlipsis” (pronounced thlip’-sis) which can mean pressing under a weight, affliction, oppression, persecution, distress and trouble which seems to have involved a material or monetary aspect to this particular congregation.
The word “poverty” used here is G4432 “ptocheia” (pronounced pto-khi’-ah) which means absolute destitution. These Christians were not struggling to afford the luxuries in life but were being crushed under the weight of economic injustice for the bare necessities, something that would have invoked ridicule from the pagans and the Jews, who often taught that material prosperity was a sign of God’s (or the gods) blessing. Nonetheless, Christ commends them with the encouragement “but you are rich.”
This may seem confusing to the reader particularly as there seems to be a tension in Scripture between material prosperity (see Deuteronomy 28:1-14) and material simplicity that must be endured by the believer (see Luke 6:24-26). In the light of ALL biblical revelation it seems that the Bible teaches that material prosperity is meant for the commonwealth of all mankind and is not to be squandered on self. That is “make as much money as you can, save as much money as you can and use as much money as you can for the furtherance of the Kingdom.”
“I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews” – Although there was much hatred between the Romans and the Jews, the Romans allowed the Jews to worship in the way in which they saw fit. Christianity was therefore safe as long as it was considered a movement within Judaism, but as the split between the synagogue and the church began to widen, Christianity began to suffer persecution from the pagan state and the Jewish synagogue.
This particular verse echoes the New Testament teaching that not all those who claim to be Jews are Jews (see John 8:37-47). Your understanding of the Bible and “End-Times” particularly will be coloured by one of two theological lens, Covenant Theology or Dispensationalism.
Covenant Theology teaches that although God holds a special place for Israel, her promises have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ and therefore there are not two people of God, Israel and the Church, but one (see Romans 11:11-36). Covenant Theology sees that the book of Revelation as dealing primarily with the Church.
Dispensationalists teach that God has a special place for Israel and therefore there are not one but two people of God. Dispensationalists have been very influential within the Zionist movement, advocating support for the State of Israel and read Revelation as primarily dealing with the Church and the modern state of Israel.
“but are a synagogue of Satan” – Again the author of Revelation seems to be making a direct allusion to John 8:37-47 which would lend weight to the Apostle John’s authorship. The term used “a synagogue of Satan” would imply that John not only sees them as not Jews buts sees them as anti-Christ.
*Please note, I do not capitalise the name satan or devil (or judas) unless directly quoting from the text – this is purely for theological reasons*
“Do not fear…you are about to suffer” – The Greek implies that the Church is already afraid and Jesus is not promising them deliverance from suffering but is offering His encouragement in and through suffering. This concept of redemptive suffering has major implications in our concept of Christianity and should act as a tonic to the complacent comfort-loving Christianity of our own day (see Philippians 3:8-12 or 1 Peter 4:1-2).
“the devil is about to throw some of you into prison” – the NKJV does not capitalise the word “devil” even in areas when it obviously speaking about “satan” (see Matthew 4:1) a word that it does seem to capitalise. The word used here is G1228 “ diabolos” (pronounced dee-ab’-ol’os) and can be used to speak of a human false accuser or of satan himself (v9). Going on my understanding of the NKJV Bible and the context I think this is speaking about satan and not a human accuser that is responsible for them being thrown into prison. Though it is wise to remember that satan normally works through human instrumentality (see Mark 8:31-34).
“you may be tested” – The term used here is G3985 “peirazo” (pronounced pi-rad’-zo) which often used of the testing done by satan and usually implies testing with a view toward destruction rather than testing to refine, which is done by God (the word for testing with a view to refine is G1381 “dokimazo” pronounced dok-im-ad’-zo).
“ten days” – This is an unspecified period of time.
“be faithful until death” – Although these believers are suffering from persecution (v9), absolute poverty (v9), imprisonment (v10) and death (v10) it does not in any way show that they have moved outside of the will of God. Remember this is one of only two churches that are commended, but neither does it mean that God is not in control.
A heretical group that would later become the Gnostics had a belief it in what is called cosmic dualism. That is, everything that is good comes from God and everything that is bad comes from the devil. This, however, is not the theological teaching of the Judeo-Christian faith. Judaism and Christianity actually teach that there is only one form of sovereignty and that is God. It is God who gives life (see Genesis 1), it is God who takes life (see Genesis 6:1-8), God who sets up governments (see Romans 13:1-2), God who heals (see Luke 11:20) and God who causes illness (see Exodus 9:1-12). Not that we can charge God with wrong or negate human responsibility or not see the workings of satan but all that is and will be is found in the preordained parameters of God’s will, this including satan (Job 1:6-12).
“I will give you the crown of life” – The word “crown” here is G4735 “stephanos” (pronounced stef’an-os), which means a victor’s wreath and should be seen as completely different from the word “crown” which is worn by Jesus, which is G1238 “diadema” (pronounced dee-ad’-ay-mah) which is a royal crown.
The word for “life” used is G2222 “zoe” (pronounced dzo-ay’) which refers to fullness of life or eternal life, this may or may not have earthly connotations. Most commentators see this as a reference to eternal life, though this can also imply that the full life is one that is consumed by an over-arching belief in Christ and His Kingdom amidst certain death (see Matthew 5:10-12). A point that is made by other commentators.
“The Spirit says to the churches” – The author is divine, “the Spirit,” and the audience is collective, that is “the churches” plural. Jesus wants to commend this church publicly in the same way He has and will rebuke others publicly.
“He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” – Jesus is exhorting this church to hold firm and promising them that they will escape “the second death” which is hell. Again, you will see a repeated pattern in Revelation where the book gives some information and then goes directly to the final judgement. This constantly occurs throughout the book, and is known as progressive parallelism.
Pergamos: “The Compromising Church” Revelation 2:12-17
The message to Pergamos is a letter to a church that historically has done well but finds itself compromising with those that hold false doctrine. This serves to remind us of the vigilance that is needed to walk as a people who are corporately holy regardless of how unpopular that may make us.
- Pergamos is some times called Pergamum in other translations and Pergamon in other ancient texts and is located in the North West of modern-day Turkey.
- It was a prosperous city, which vied for capital status with Ephesus (v1-7) and Smyrna (v8-11) and was the location of one of the most prestigious libraries in the ancient world, which was second only to Alexandria in Egypt.
- Pergamos was a pagan city, which contained temples to Zeus (who was the king of the Greek gods), Roma (a symbol of the Roman Empire and the god of civilization/progress), Asclepius (a god of healing whose symbol was the snake upon a rod, which is still used as a symbol of the medical profession – Pergamos was the centre for the worship of Asclepius) and the Emperor himself.
“angel” – see 2:1.
“He” – The “He” in this verse is a clear reference to Jesus Christ and has been capitalised by the NKJV accordingly.
“the sharp two-edged sword” – This is a military metaphor which is often used to describe the word of God (see 2 Thessalonians 2:8 & Hebrews 4:12).
“works” – The Greek word for “works” here is G2041 “ergon” (pronounced er’-gon) which can be translated as toil, labour, effort, works or deeds and would probably be a direct reference to the strenuous nature of the church’s ministry within that particular city.
“where Satan’s throne is” – This can be understood in one of several ways:
- This could be a generic reference to the earth being under the control of the evil one (see Matthew 4:8-9, John 12:31, 16:11 and 1 John 5:19).
- This could also be a specific reference and some (though very few) state that it is possible that this is where satan was actually operating from at this time, something that I feel seems to force a text, which is highly symbolic, into an understanding that is far too literal.
- Pergamos was the centre of the worship of the god Asclepius whose symbol is a serpent a symbol that is also used of satan by John (see 20:2).
- It could be a reference to the throne of Zeus, which was located in Pergamos. As Zeus was the chief god among the Greeks (the Romans adopted the Greek gods) this would be a condemnation of Greco-Roman religion in its entirety.
- As Pergamos acted as an administrative centre for Emperor worship its importance in the Emperor cult may be what invoked this particular metaphor.
Although there is no possible way of knowing what the author intended, it seems likely that some possible combination of the above is quite feasible. It is good to remember that the original congregation would have been predominantly illiterate so the metaphors used would have to be understood quite easily, which would imply that it was a common phrase used by John and/or this congregation.
“hold fast to My name…did not deny My faith” – It seems that even within a hostile environment this church predominantly held firm.
“Antipas was My faithful martyr” – The Roman Empire was made up of city-states and the persecution of Christians was localised. Pergamos seemed to be one of the cities that suffered intense persecution. “Antipas” seems to be one of those who were martyred for the faith. In fact, later church tradition records that he was roasted alive in a bronze cauldron.
“But I have a few things against you” – Although this church has been commended for its faithful witness it must also be rebuked for its compromise (Smyrna v8-11 and Philadelphia 3:7-13 are the only churches that escape rebuke among the seven).
“those who hold the doctrine of Balaam” – Balaam was a prophet whose story is told in Numbers 22-24. He was hired to curse Israel but when he was unsuccessful he counselled his employer King Balak of Moab to entice Israel into sexual immorality so that God himself would judge Israel (see Numbers 25, 31:16). Balaam was later killed under the leadership of Joshua (see Joshua 13:22) and serves as a New Testament model of the corrupting nature of wealth (see 2 Peter 2:15-16 & Jude 1:11). It is an interesting thing to note that Balaam appears to begin as a genuine follower of God and even prophesised the coming of Jesus (see Numbers 24:2 & 24:15-19).
“eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality” – It must be understood that the majority of Christians seem to have been poor (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-29) which therefore means many Christians would not have been able to afford the luxury of meat. Nonetheless, free meat would have been available at pagan feasts. This meat, however, would have been sacrificed to idols, something which was permissive to the believer but something that may have troubled those who were of weaker conscience (see 1 Corinthians 8). It is also something that would have brought the Christians into disrepute as the feasts were also accompanied by temple prostitution and sexual orgies. Some commentators believe that those who would have attended these feasts were “Christians” who were seeking to improve their social standing within the community as a means of financial gain or to avoid future persecution. This is something, which may illuminate the early reference to “the doctrine of Balaam” and explain the fact that persecution seems to be past tense in v13.
“the doctrine of the Nicolaitans” – The Nicolaitans were a group that also seem to have been active in the church in Ephesus v1-7 (see v6). We do not know who this group is but John had a disciple named Polycarp and he had a disciple named Irenaeus who wrote that they were followers of Nicolas, an elder in the early church (see Acts 6:1-7). They taught that because the “flesh” was evil, God was not interested in what people did with their bodies and therefore this particular group became involved in sexual immorality. This whole concept of separating the flesh and spirit, sacred and secular is known as dualism, the central belief in a heresy that would become known as Gnosticism (this is its liberal form, Anti-Nomian Gnosticism. There was also a legalistic form of Gnosticism in which the adherents would punish their bodies through severe disciplines this is what is addressed in Colossians).
“I hate” – The term “hate” used here is a strong term, G3404 “miseho” (pronounced mis-eh’-o), which means to hate, to detest and to pursue with hatred.
“Repent” – Again Jesus, is beseeching the whole church to repent; the reprobate believers for their sins of commission (that is what they have done) and the genuine believers for their sins of omission (that is for what they have not done). It is important to understand that there is a collective guilt incurred for sin. This is something that we may struggle with as the philosophy of individualism has infected the biblical understanding of corporate responsibility (see Joshua 7).
“I will come to you quickly and will fight against them” – This could imply temporal judgement and/or eternal judgement for the reprobate. Unfortunately, this is likely to have a negative effect on the whole church as to a certain extent the church is supposed to be a mixed community but Christ cannot tolerate these particular groups. The uprooting however, may destroy the whole fellowship as these weeds have become established (see Matthew 13:24-30 & 47-50).
“the sword of My mouth” – An earlier reference was made of the sword in v12. The interesting point about this reference, however, is that the sword is not in His hand but in His mouth, which could imply that this congregation will be condemned by the preached or prophesied word or that in the same way Christ was active in creation as the spoken word of God He will be active in their destruction (see Genesis 1 & John 1:1-3).
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” – This seems to be the standardised close, which implies that the message may not be readily received apart from the Holy Spirit and the this message is being made public. Note the use of the term “churches” plural.
“To him who overcomes” – Again Revelation goes from its original context and straight to the final judgement, something that is known as progressive parallelism, and something we have come across a number of times before. Progressive parallelism is common throughout Revelation and should warn us against a chronological reading of the book. Revelation is written in interlocking cycles and not in a start-to-finish format.
“hidden manna to eat” – Manna was a miraculous bread-like food-stuff which was given to the children in the desert wonderings by God and continued until they entered the promised land (see Exodus 16:1-4,31 & Joshua 5:12) and is therefore a symbol of God’s miraculous provision. As it appears that the author of Revelation is also the author of the gospel of John it is more probable that this is a metaphor of the person of Christ who is like bread, which is the basic requirement for life (see John 6:31-35).
“white stone” – The word for “white” used is G3022 “leukos” (pronounced lyoo-kos’), could mean white, bright, brilliant or dazzling. This was a commercial commodity mined in Pergamos and probably can be understood in one of several ways:
- Some sort of precious stone.
- Given as a sign of acquittal at court.
- A magic amulet worn for protection or favour.
- An invitation to an elaborate feast.
- Used as a ticket to a gladiatorial game, that is probably a sign of martyrdom.
- Given to a slave as a sign of freedom.
All seem to fit popular descriptions of Christian victory which may mean a small amount of ambiguity and/or a popular phrase known to the church is likely here.
“a new name written which no one knows” – Within the ancient world names were used to describe ones character for example Jesus means “YHWH (the covenant name for God) is salvation.” There are many individuals within scripture that were given new names that publicly described the change in their characters (Abram-Abraham, Jacob-Israel, Saul-Paul etc). The phrase “no one knows” in reference to the name is also important as names were often used in incantations this may have been one of the reasons why this degenerate behaviour was not addressed within the church.
Thyatira: “The Corrupt Church” Revelation 2:18-29
Thyatira is a church that is applauded by Jesus for its endurance. However, the church is warned not to tolerate or participate in the false teaching of a woman referred to as Jezebel. Due to the use of the term “Jezebel” within the text, it is highly probable that this woman is a leader within the church or a woman who seemed to be exerting a negative influence on the church.
- Thyatira was the name of a small garrison city that is now known as Akhisar in modern-day Turkey.
- Although it was small it was located on a major trade route between Pergamos (2:12-17) and Sardis (3:1-6) and was renowned in the ancient world for its guilds (or trade unions), each of which worshipped its own particular guardian deity (god).
“angel” – See 2:1.
“Son of God” – Thyatira was the centre of the worship of Apollo, who was the son of Zeus the king of the Greco-Roman pantheon (group of gods). Apollo was often referred to as the “Son of God.” It is obvious here that Jesus is ‘borrowing’ the term to show that it is in fact He that is the “Son of God.”
“eyes like a flame of fire” – This metaphor was used to depict Jesus in 1:14 and is probably a reference to the messianic figure found in Daniel 10:5-6 and/or a reference to the all-seeing eye symbolised by small glass image which – according to the commentator Hill – are still sold to tourists today. The all-seeing eye was a pagan symbol that was used by the church to symbolise the omniscient God – that is the God who sees and knows all things. This may trouble some Christians but Hebrews and Christians often converted pagan symbols and names for religious purposes (ie baptism, circumcision, the cross, the name El in reference to God, wedding rings, Christmas etc).
You see the faith is not one that destroys culture but one that seeks to redeem it.
“feet” – Considered vulgar and filthy within the ancient world.
“fine brass” – Again, this metaphor is found earlier within the book (see 1:15) and within the picture of the messianic figure in Daniel 10:5-6. Historically, Thyatira was distinguished because of its bronze work so the metaphor of an alloy made through combining a strong metal like iron (which would become brittle and rust) and flexible metal like copper (which wasn’t particularly strong), would have been relevant and spoken of a saviour who was both firm and gentle and even whose feet contained great beauty.
“I know your works…the last are more than the first” – This church is not being affirmed for their “works” in the past but something that still seems to be dynamic and growing amongst them. Please remember that the words found in italics, such as “are” here have been included and are not found in the original Greek.
“Nevertheless, I have a few things against you” – Regardless of how well this church has been doing, Jesus is going to rebuke them for their failure to address false doctrine. Do you see the collective responsibility?
“You allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach” – “Jezebel” was an OT figure who used her privileged position as queen to bring idolatry to Israel and persecuted the true followers of God. Her story can be found in 1 Kings 16:29 – 2 Kings 9:37.
The metaphor of Jezebel is used here to probably describe a “woman” who was given authority (“You allow”) by the church “to teach.” This woman “calls herself a prophetess” and therefore not only teaches but teaches as the mouthpiece of God.
“seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols” – It seems that this particular leader, who was a ‘prominent leader’ within the church at Thyatira was teaching false doctrine similar to that which was found at Pergamos (see 2:12-17).
It must be understood that the majority of Christians seem to have been poor (see 1 Corinthians 1:26-29) and were therefore unable to afford meat, nevertheless free meat was available at various pagan feasts. This meat was sacrificed to pagan gods, something that was permissive to the believer if bought at the market place (in theory all meat had been sacrificed to idols – see 1 Corinthians 8) but something that was condemned at pagan feasts (see 1 Corinthians 10:14-22). Participation in pagan feasts brought believers into disrepute (particularly among Jews), involved the worship of other gods and opened up the temptation of drunkenness and temple prostitution and sexual orgies.
Some commentators believe that those who would have attended these feasts were “Christians” who were seeking to improve their social standing within the community as a means of financial gain or to avoid future persecution. This would seem to fit the historical context, as these feasts would have been linked to the trade guilds. These were mutual societies not too dissimilar to our trade unions today; therefore, the picture that is painted is a church which is seeking to safeguard against physical and financial hardship by becoming more like the people of this city.
“I gave her time to repent…and she did not repent” – It seems that Jesus has already addressed the issue and time has been given for genuine repentance but no repentance was been forthcoming.
“Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed” – Idolatry is often described metaphorically as sexual immorality (see Hosea) and ironically, here the woman who has committed spiritual adultery will be taken from the bed of adultery and “cast…into a sickbed.” This seems to be speaking of temporal and/or eternal punishment.
“and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation” – Not only shall she be punished but all those who follow her teaching shall be punished also. The term “great tribulation” is an important term within the book of Revelation (used in 1:9, 2:9, 2:10, 2:22 and 7:14) and comes from two Greek terms G3173 “megas” (pronounced meg’-as) and G2346 “thlipsis” (pronounced thlip’-sis). “Megas” can mean “great” as in intense or “great” as in lengthy and “thlipsis” can mean tribulation, oppression, affliction, distress. Regardless, though of whether this “tribulation” is intense or lengthy (or both), what is interesting however it is used within a historical setting some 2000 years ago. Possibly this is a way of reconciling the disparity between the “great tribulation” of 7:14 and the whole concept of not-knowing and the relative peace found in Matthew 24:36-44 (particularly Matthew 24:38a) as a “great (as in lengthy) tribulation” stretching from His first coming until His return. This is my own favoured understanding of the concept which is informed and supported by a number of reliable commentators.
Through some strange twist of irony, it seems that Jesus throws those who are trying to escape persecution headlong into it for their deliberate disobedience.
“I will kill her children with death” – Obviously, the reference made here to “children” describes the followers of this false teacher and the mortal consequences of their particular actions.
“the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts” – Again, this is probably a reference to the ‘all seeing-eye’ which is sometimes used as a non-biblical metaphor for God (see notes on 2:18).
“I will give…according to your works” – The bible seems to deal with varying degrees of reward and punishment for our actions in this life (see 22:12). Bizarrely though it seems to me that those things that I see as afflictions are considered valuable (see 2 Corinthians 11:22-33) and the things I would consider hallmarks of blessing seem to carry no innate worth (see Matthew 7:21-23) this is sometimes referred to as the “upside-down-nature of the Kingdom.” St Augustine’s distinction between the “gifts” (that is what is done or what is given) and the “fruit” (that is the motive behind it) is an important distinction and is helpful considering that we shall be judged by our fruit (see Matthew 7:15-20).
“Now to you” – The “you” here is the “angel” referred to in the beginning of the letter (see the notes on 2:18) which again adds to my hypothesis that it is the pastor or senior leadership team of this church which is addressed as opposed to an angelic representative.
“I will put on you no other burden” – You see although it is popular to see Christianity as a form of legalistic moralism, Christ is keen to show this church that although His demands may invoke hostility among the local populace, they are not meant to keep people from Him unnecessarily or to make their lives particularly difficult. Christ’s requirement should really be seen as functional – that is for the sake of our own or others’ ultimate happiness rather than laws that are legal or moral in themselves (see Acts 15:22-29). That is why the purpose behind a particular law seems to override the law itself (see Mark 2:23-27), God has always been a God of grace.
“till I come” – This is a reference to death and/or the second coming which is always described in way that focuses on its imminence.
“keeps My works until the end” – The church is being reminded that the “cornerstone” to the faith is the person of Christ. “My works” would thus imply that the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus is the prism in which salvation must be understood. That is Christ is not only our saviour but also the archetype on which we must pattern our lives. For this church who faced the potentiality of persecution this might actually involve martyrdom.
“I will give power over the nations” – Some would say that the saints are reigning with Christ at present in a symbolic millennium or church age (see Matthew 28:18-19 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-28), something that started small but shall fill the whole earth (see Daniel 2:31-44 & Luke 13:18-21). Equally, there are some who would see this as a something that will come in a future millennial age (see Revelation 20:1-6). Personally, I believe that we are reigning with Christ now but the promise mentioned above will not become a full reality until the return of Christ, something that fits the cyclical non-chronological nature of Revelation and is integral to both a-millennial and post-millennial positions.
“He shall…like the potter’s vessels” – This is a modified quote taken from Psalm 2:9 that has been placed in italics by the NKJV translators. The NKJV red-edition highlights this text in red, as the words of Jesus but this might be parenthesis (that is added information) made by John and therefore should be in black. There is no real way of telling.
“I also have received from My Father” – “have received” is past tense, which would support my belief that Christ’s reign is not something in the future, but something that is active now (see the notes on 2:26).
“the morning star” – Like many things, there is a number of ways this can be interpreted:
(a) The “Him” referred to could be capitalised and therefore would be a reference to God the Father that would mean that the “morning star” could be referring to:
- satan (see Isaiah 14:12).
- The angelic praise (see Job 38:4-7).
(b) If the “him” referred to is the one who “overcomes” in 2:26 then it could be a reference to:
- Christ Himself (see Numbers 24:17, 2 Peter 1:19 and Revelation 22:16).
- The resurrection of the dead (see Daniel 12:2-3).
It must be remembered that the use of capitalisation is not found in the original Greek and has been placed in by the various translators. Did you know that the Message makes “Morning Star” a title for a person by capitalising it (therefore reading it as option A1 or B1) when all other translations I have looked at keeps it in lower case (therefore reading it as option A2 or B2)? Due to the use of the same phrase, by the same author from the same book (22:16) I would be inclined to agree with the Message translators in this particular case (B1).
“He who has an ear…what the Spirit says to the churches” – This is a popular closing phrase within Revelation 2 and 3. Firstly, it is characteristic of the earthly Jesus, showing that the message needed to be perceived spiritually (see John 8:43-45) with the plural term “churches” shows that this letter was open to all.
If Christ was to spiritually evaluate your Church
(a). What would He commend?
(b). What would He condemn?
(c). What difference could we personally make?