"'To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands:'" NIV version
Jesus begins the letters to the early church with the one to the local body of believers at Ephesus.
John is told to address the letter to the "angel of the church in Ephesus". When we see this we automatically think of the angels as described throughout the Bible but it is talking about people instead of the angels in heaven. The word "angellos" means "messenger" and was used to describe human as well as heavenly message deliverers. Throughout the Bible, when we see angels relating to people, we do not see them delivering letters. Instead, they normally use visions and words directly from God as in the case of Mary, the shepherds, etc. Then, the verse describes God to the messenger. As we saw at the end of chapter one, the seven stars represent the angels of the seven churches and the seven golden lampstands represent the local bodies of believers. It is also good to notice that the messengers are held in the "right hand" of God. This is significant in that the right hand of the master was reserved for the one that had the power and authority to act in the master's place. This verse is letting them know that God is among the churches and that he is in control. It would be well for the church of today to remember this as well.
Revelation 2:2 & 3
"'I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.'" NIV version
In this verse, Jesus describes to John what God sees as he walks among the believers in Ephesus. This church is known as the apostolic church because they held on to the teachings of the apostles John and Paul. Even as they had false apostles coming in and trying to pull them away from the grace of God, they are remaining faithful and taking care of their people.
"Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitians, which I also hate." NIV version
After describing the good that God sees as he walks among this church, Jesus now corrects his people. The "forsaken your first love" is describing the fact that this body of believers is not doing anything to tell those around them about Jesus.
We see in Acts 19, that when the early church was established and Paul was teaching, the gospel was not only reaching the city of Ephesus but also all of the province of Asia. If you look throughout the Bible, when anyone met and accepted Jesus, the first thing they did was to go and tell others because of the joy that was in their hearts. That is the "first love".
Jesus then goes on to tell them to remember how it was when they first accepted him as their messiah and to repent of what they have become. He then explains to them that, if they do not repent, he will remove them from his presence. The same thing is happening in many hearts (churches) of today where people are happy that they are saved but they don't share it with anyone. They hold fast to the doctrines of their faith but do not go out and effect the city around them. The church in Ephesus must have not repented as the city and the church do not exist today. In the same way, there are many "churches" today that are closing their doors because they got away from their first love of sharing the gospel. Likewise, we must ask ourselves individually if our faith is as vibrant as it was when we first believed. If it is not, we should repent and begin to share again the good news of Jesus Christ.
He then finishes with encouragement in the fact that they hated the "practices of the Nicolaitians". This refers to a group that perverted the gospel to suit their own desires. They believed that all matter was evil and that freedom from that evil came through special knowledge of a spiritual truth. This so called knowledge was restricted to a small group and therefore set up the philosophy of separation between "clergy" and "laity". This led to the clergy further perverting the gospel for personal gain and even continues to varying degrees in the church today. This passage ends with Jesus saying that he too hated the practices of this group. It is not popular today to say that God or Jesus hates anyone but consistently throughout the Bible God is very unhappy when his word is messed with. This separation between "clergy" and "laymen" has led to a religious system instead of a body of believers which is the church.
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God." NIV version
Jesus sums up this message to his people with a prayer that everyone ("He who has an ear") would hear these messages. He then reminds them of the reward for "him who overcomes" that is waiting for them ("the right to eat from the tree of life"). It is talking about man overcoming his human nature of wanting to work to earn something and in this case that something is salvation. As we see, this church overcame that and held to the doctrine of grace. The reward is the same for us today as it was back them for them and that is eternal life with our Father in heaven. The "tree of life" is first mentioned in Genesis 3 after Adam and Eve had sinned against God. We are told there that whoever eats from that tree will live forever. We, as individuals, should also ask ourselves whether we are resting in God's grace or are trying to earn our salvation. Only those who rest in that grace will eat from the tree of life.
"'To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again.'" NIV version
Now, Jesus shifts his attention to the group of believers at Smyrna and reminds them that He is eternal and even returned from the dead. This was to comfort and strengthen them as they were suffering under oppression. Smyrna had replaced Ephesus as a leading port city and was a center of emperor worship with very majestic buildings. The city was renowned for its "crown of porticoes" which was a circle of beautiful public buildings.
"'I know your afflictions and your poverty- yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.'" NIV version
Jesus continues to comfort the believers as he says that he knows of their lack of material possessions and how they are being persecuted. They must have constantly looked around the city at the great buildings and seen the apparent prosperity of those who worshipped the emperor. He reminds them that they are rich due to their relationship with God.
This can be a comfort to the church of today as well. Sometimes it is difficult to see those around us, who do not have a personal relationship with Jesus, seeming to be blessed and prospering with material possessions.
They may even make fun of us but we can rest assured in the fact that our riches come through God and these earthly things will all perish. Jesus knows our situation just as he knew about Smyrna.
"'Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life.'" NIV version
This verse may not seem very encouraging as Jesus explains that they are going to suffer and be tested. But, the people can be assured from the prior verses that God is with them and, as it says at the end, God will give them the crown of life. Jesus told us, while he walked the earth, that we were to expect this persecution if we were following him. It was true for this local body of believers at Smyrna and it is true of us individually and as a body of believers today. Jesus did not say if it happens he said that it will happen. The "ten days" refers to the fact that there were ten periods of intense persecution for the early church. Under ten different Roman emperors, it is estimated that five million people died for their faith during this period of time.
As we shall see in chapter 13, there will be another political power arise that is made up of ten world powers and some have described this as the "new Roman empire" but the old Roman empire has never really gone away. This will be the final period of the persecution of God's people.
"'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.'" NIV version
Jesus closes this letter with the same plea that the people would listen and put the words into action. The promise to this church as well as to us is that we will not suffer the second death. We are told that it is for everyone on this earth to die the first death which is the physical death of our bodies. But, through Jesus, we do not have to take part in the second death which will occur on judgement day. We are told that, on that day, those that are not listed in the Book of Life will suffer the second death which is the spiritual separation from God for all of eternity. One thing to notice from this letter is that, unlike most of the other churches, Jesus did not have anything bad to say about this church or its actions. Unlike most of the cities mentioned in these letters, the city of Smyrna still exists but it is called Izmir today and, although it is relatively small, there is a group of Christians (church) there today.
Revelation 2:12 & 13
"'To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live- where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city- where Satan lives.'" NIV version
Now, Jesus turns to the local body of believers at Pergamum which was the site of the first temple of the Caesar-cult in Asia. It is said twice in this passage that this city was where Satan lived. Jesus is introduced as the holder of a double-edged sword and we are told elsewhere that this sword was in the place of the tongue. This gives us a vision of the power of the very words from God. The believers are praised for holding fast to the name of Jesus in spite of the persecution. The Antipas that is mentioned was appointed by John as the Bishop of the church in Pergamum and he was killed for his faith in the early days of this church. As was the case in this city, we must watch out for the elevation of politicians to savior. It seems that, as problems mount around the world today, many people are looking to politicians to be the answer (savior). We must remember, like the believers in this city of Satan, that our hope is in the name of Jesus Christ.
Revelation 2:14 & 15
"'Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitians.'" NIV version
Now, Jesus points out the corruption in the church. They were praised for holding fast to the name but they are allowing false teachings into the fellowship. Balaam was basically a prophet for hire as he was paid to tell others the future.
In Numbers, chapters 22 - 25, we see the story of how Balaam was hired to curse the Israelites but was unable to do so and how then the Moabite women seduced Israel and caused them to sin against God. The Nicolaitians also corrupted the gospel by teaching that it was ok to do whatever the people wanted. Jesus uses this church to point out that our actions need to match our words.
Today, there are many false prophets/pastors/ministers corrupting the teachings of Jesus Christ for personal gain just as Balaam and the Nicolaitians did in Pergamum. God didn't like it in the early church and He doesn't like it now.
"'Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.'" NIV version
Once again, Jesus calls for the church to repent and gives the consequence of continued disobedience. We notice that Jesus says that he will come to "you" and fight against "them". Jesus is saying that he is going to come to the whole church but he is only going to "fight against" the people that are still in disobedience. He says that he will use the "sword of my mouth" against them which is referring to the fact that he will deny them before the Father on judgment day.
"'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.'" NIV version
Jesus ends this message with encouragement and hope for those who overcome. The hidden manna refers to the bread that was given to Israel from heaven each day as they were in the wilderness. Later, it referred to Jesus giving his body for our redemption and is symbolized by the taking of bread during a time of communion. The white stone refers to the method in which shepherds kept track of the number of sheep in their flock. They would carry a small pebble in their sling for each sheep that they took to pasture. The white stone that Jesus promises will be a reminder that we are his sheep.
"'To the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze.'" NIV version
Now, Jesus turns to the church at Thyatira which was a city noted for their trade guilds. If you did not belong to one of the guilds, it was difficult to earn a living. Each guild had a patron god and held banquets and orgies in honor of them. This posed a problem for the Christians in the city. One temple was dedicated to Sambethe a "prophetess" who claimed to speak for Apollo. Jesus introduced himself as the "Son of God" to let them know of his authority. He then described his eyes as "blazing fire" which represents seeing the truth. (Fire refines things and separates the dross (impurities/false things) from the pure/real.) Jesus describes his feet as "burnished bronze" which was what weapons were made of and symbolizes his ability to stamp out sin. In many ways we have our own "guilds" today as it seems that many people think that it is ok to compromise their faith for the sake of their job.
"'I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.'" NIV version
Jesus now has good things to say about the local body of believers in Thyatira. This verse describes a group of believers that is growing in their walk with Christ. Notice, the emphasis on putting that faith in action as Jesus commends them for their "service" and "doing more".
"'Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.'" NIV version
Now, Jesus corrects the church. In verse 18, we talked about the trade guilds and their sick parties. This is what Jesus is talking about in this verse. For the sake of a job, Christians were taking part in these guild activities and this "prophetess" was teaching them that it was ok. Many Christians today are trying to "fit in" with different groups and have many modern day "prophets" saying that it is ok with God.
This verse should serve as a warning to us, as Christians, that we are not called to "fit in" but to be different and that God's word tells us what is right and not some so-called "prophet".
"'I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.'" NIV version
This passage shows us the mercy and grace of God as well as his patience. But, as it says, there is a set amount of time for repentance and then comes the judgment. This passage warns this church of the consequences of continued adultery but it also contains a lesson for us today.
As the passage says, all of us will be repaid according to our deeds. Mercy and grace is not a license for continued disobedience. We are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ and that means that we should strive to be like him in every way.
Revelation 2:24 & 25
"'Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan's so-called deep secrets (I will not impose any other burden on you): Only hold on to what you have until I come.'" NIV version
What a picture of compassion we see in this passage. Jesus knows the condition of this group of believers and their difficult situation. He knows that they are growing in their faith but are still relatively weak. He says that he will not burden them with anything else like confronting the false gods in the city. Instead, he encourages them to hold onto their faith and not be tricked and tainted by Satan's deception.
Revelation 2:26 & 27
"'To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations- "He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery" just as I have received authority from my Father.'" NIV translation
Jesus promises the church in Thyatira that, even though it is really tough at the moment, in the end they will have authority over the nations. What a promise this would have been for them as they dealt with the corruption of the trade guilds and struggling to put food on the table. The same promise holds true for the local churches today. When we see all of the corrupt governments, we can take heart in this promise that we, as Christians, will have all authority when Jesus comes back. In this passage, Jesus quotes Psalm 2:9 where God promises that Jesus will rule the nations. That is why, at the end of this passage, Jesus reminds us that he was given the authority by the Father.
Revelation 2:28 & 29
"'I will also give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'" NIV translation
Jesus ends the letter to the church in Thyatira with another promise. The "morning star" refers to Venus and the fact that the planet rose before dawn to herald a new day. Just as Venus signaled a new day when it rose, Jesus is telling the church in Thyatira that, if they overcome the corruption, He will bring a new day for them.
This same promise holds true for us today as the last verse addresses it to "He who has an ear". A new day is coming! Hallelujah to the Lamb of God!