Chapter 2: Letters to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, and Thyatira
A messenger carrying letters to the Seven Churches from the Apostle
John on the island of Patmos, which is about 30 miles off the coast of Turkey and
opposite the nearest port of the ancient city of Miletus, would land at Miletus and
proceed northward about 25 miles to Ephesus. If a systematic distribution of the
letters of the Revelation would take place, then a messenger would continue to the
other six churches. After Ephesus, the messenger would go on "thirty more [miles]
to Smyrna, and sixty-five more to Pergamos. Then moving inland in a rough semicircle
southeastward, he would reach Thyatira forty-five miles away and Sardis thirty miles
farther south. Turning farther inland he would come to Philadelphia about twenty-five
miles away and eventually to Laodicea fifty miles beyond Philadelphia and farthest
from the coast" (from Marshall Neal's Seven Churches: God's Revelation to
the Church Today, pp. 3-4).
Throughout each of the letters to the Seven Churches, the LORD of the Candlesticks (or, lampstands) variously depicts some aspect about His character that the Apostle John saw when he "turned to see the Voice that spake with [him]" (Revelation 1:12). Here, the LORD Jesus is described as holding the "seven stars in His right hand"-- a picture of His ownership and control of all the messengers of all the local assemblies. "Christ is the Head of the Church: and He is the Saviour of the body" (Ephesians 5:23). His walking "in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks" signifies His complete presence in His Church. "22 And hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, 23 Which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all" (1:23).
The LORD describes each of the Seven Churches' condition with the
omniscient statement: "I know thy works". "13 Neither is there
any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened
unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" (Hebrews
4:13). This is only another statement that illustrates the divinity of the LORD Jesus.
"The LORD seeth not as man seeth; for
man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart" (1Samuel 16:7).
Ephesus-- the church of the Apostle John-- was described as a patient and working church, i.e., "I know... thy labour, and thy patience". "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the LORD, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the LORD" (1Corinthians 15:58). Apostolic Ephesus was well-taught. Ephesus could "not bear them which are evil", and had "tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and [had] found them liars". "20 But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things. 21 I have not written unto you because ye know not the Truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the Truth. 22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son" (1John 2:20-22).
Further, Ephesus was an unfainting church, i.e., "hast borne, and hast patience, and for My name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted". A grand characteristic of the true Christian is perseverance. Humanly speaking, every Christian ought to be exhorted and expected to continue in faith until the end. "But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Matthew 24:13). Divinely speaking, the Saints are "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1Peter 1:5). And, the Apostle John adds in his First Epistle that only those who continue in obedience are given the Divine Testimony of their sonship. "And hereby we do know that we know Him, if we keep His Commandments" (1John 2:3).
Ephesus had fallen out of love with the LORD Jesus Christ. The "God [that] is Love" (1John 4:16) declared, that "without Me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5), and that "without Charity, [you are] nothing" (1Corinthians 13:2). As much as Ephesus had been a working church and a well-taught church, Ephesus had now become a loveless church, i.e., "thou hast left thy First Love". Fallen-Out-of-Love Ephesus had forgotten the "great Love wherewith He loved us" (Ephesians 2:4), and now was only going through the motions of orthodoxy. We all would do well to keep on remembering the "unsearchable riches of Christ" (3:8) in every aspect of our lives and beg Him for "grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16), if we would avoid this sad condition of Loveless Ephesus.
Since love is the foundational reason for human action, Loveless
Ephesus was in a backslidden, unrevived condition, i.e., "thou
art fallen", only detectable to the eyes of an Omniscient
God. Only a relatively short time earlier, the LORD Jesus had restated the principle
of love that was known to even the Old Testament Jew. "37 Thou shalt love
the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
is the first and Great Commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour
as thyself" (Matthew 22:37-39).
The solution to anyone who has fallen out of love with the LORD Jesus is to:
(1) remember "from whence thou art fallen", i.e., that you have actually sinned,
(2) repent, i.e., change your mind and heart about your past actions and present condition, and
(3) repeat, i.e., "do [again] the first works" of love and faith. "Return unto Me, and I will return unto you, saith the LORD of Hosts" (Malachi 3:7).
Coupled with the LORD's exhortation to repent, is a threat-- repent "or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent". Would our LORD threaten us so? Yes. Threaten the sinner and comfort the righteous. "19 If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: 20 But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it" (Isaiah 1:19-20). But, what if they never repent? Then, they never knew Christ. "And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from Me, ye that work iniquity" (Matthew 7:23). Remember, the righteous always ultimately repents after backsliding. "6 But Christ as a Son over His own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end... 14 For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end" (Hebrews 3:6,14).
The LORD did not refuse to admit that even backslidden Ephesus
hated the "deeds of the Nicolaitans" at that present hour-- even as He hates their deeds. Is this commendation
for backslidden Ephesus? Not really. Though the action of hating the "deeds of the Nicolaitans"
was a right thing, without love, it was unworthy of reward. "13 Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare
it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work
of what sort it is. 14 If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall
receive a reward. 15
If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be
saved; yet so as by fire" (1Corinthians 3:13-15).
Some suggest that the "deeds of the Nicolaitans" was an advocacy of control by an elevated priesthood, because the word Nicolaitan comes from the Greek words nikao (conquer) and laos (people). Others conjecture that the word Nicolaitans comes from the Hebrew word nicolah (let us eat), i.e., to eat things offered to idols. Whatever the case was, through understanding of God's Word, we will learn to hate what God hates. "Through Thy Precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way" (Psalm 119:104).
That only those who are presently walking with the LORD could pay
heed to the message to the Seven Churches, is evident by the phrase, "he that hath an ear".
A "new creature"
(2Corinthians 5:17) has the new ears to hear "what
the Spirit saith unto the churches". All others will not
understand. "But the natural man receiveth
not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can
he know them, because they are Spiritually discerned"
The LORD Jesus addresses His Seven Churches as Ultimate Overcomers, i.e., "to him that overcometh". "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son" (Revelation 21:7). Christ, Who is the "Wisdom of God" (1Corinthians 1:24), is a "Tree Of Life to them that lay hold upon [Him]: and happy is every one that retaineth [Him]" (Proverbs 3:18). Therefore, the LORD Jesus offers Himself as our Reward for overcoming, as well as all the bounties of Heaven, i.e., "I [will] give to eat of the Tree Of Life, which is in the midst of The Paradise of God".
Ancient Smyrna is today the modern port and manufacturing city
of Izmur, Turkey-- anciently named for its trade in the anesthetic and embalming
herb, myrrh. Known as a political center of Asia Minor, it took its obligation of
Caesar worship seriously, especially when Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, was martyred
by burning in 155 AD. When the proconsul pleaded to Polycarp to save his own life
by denying Christ, Polycarp responded: "Eighty and six years have I served Him,
and He never did me wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour?" It
is reported that the city's Jews were so anxious to see Polycarp dead that they violated
their own Sabbath to haul the faggots (wood) for the fire. Like the LORD Jesus, Polycarp
"witnessed a good confession" (1Timothy 6:13) of how the LORD's people live and die.
The LORD portrays Himself as "the First and the Last, Which Was Dead, and Is Alive" because of Smyrna's special need for grace in persecution. "The LORD is My Helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me" (Hebrews 13:6). Suffering and persecution are God's appointed tools to sanctify His people. Though this concept may startle contemporary professing Christians, it was employed by the Father in the sanctification of His own Son. "Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered" (Hebrews 5:8). "For it became Him [the Father], For Whom Are All Things, and By Whom Are All Things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make The Captain Of Their Salvation [the LORD Jesus] perfect through sufferings" (Hebrews 2:10). How can our sanctification and growth in grace be any less than that of the Sinless Son Of Man? [See our article, "Martyrdom: They Loved Not Their Lives Unto the Death" ---New Window for a discussion of this very sober subject.]
The LORD's omniscience-- "I
know thy works"-- should be a great comfort to the Saints.
"Your Father knoweth what things ye have
need of, before ye ask Him" (Matthew 6:8). Suffering Smyrna
benefits from the wrath of Satan, because "all
things work together for good to them that love God" (Romans
8:28). Now Persecuted Smyrna becomes Sanctified Smyrna, because God's people learn
more about the LORD Jesus' "riches in
glory" (Philippians 4:19) when we are motivated by "tribulation".
Sanctified-Through-Suffering Smyrna had "tribulation, and poverty", yet was "rich". The Greek word ptocheia is translated "poverty"-- having nothing at all. "Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the Kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him?" (James 2:5). Having nothing at all has the tendency to force us to depend upon the LORD Jesus for all. "12 I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philippians 4:12-13).
The Apostle Paul instructed us concerning the characteristics of a true Jew. "But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God" (Romans 2:29). Consequently, Suffering Smyrna's Jewish persecutors-- who assisted in Polycarp's martyrdom-- were of the "synagogue of Satan". Hostility to Israel's rejected Messiah will finally turn against His people. "If the world hate you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you" (John 15:18). "These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (16:33).
It seems that every time the LORD speaks to us, He must tell us
to not fear. "Fear none of those things
which thou must suffer." John's First Epistle also reminds
us, "There is no fear in Love; but perfect
Love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect
in Love" (1John 4:18). Prison in the time of the Apostle
John was normally to wait for trial or execution-- and not the punishment itself.
[See our article, "Tribulation
Survival Guide" ---New Window , to see the relationship of
faith to survival during the Tribulation Week.]
"Ten days" seems to be a determined period of testing, as it was with Daniel eating the king's meat. "Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink" (Daniel 1:12). Our testing will not go on forever. Our LORD will never let us go beyond our capacity to keep from sinning. "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is Faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make A Way To Escape, that ye may be able to bear it" (1Corinthians 10:13).
"Faithful unto death" means that our LORD has sovereignly chosen some of us to be His martyrs. Ours is not to question His judgment, but to ask for His grace to "suffer as a Christian" (1Peter 4:16) and die, "having obtained a good report [i.e., the LORD's approval] through faith" (Hebrews 11:39). Though our Reward is the LORD Himself, He does proffer gifts upon His overcomers. "I will give thee a Crown Of Life." The Epistle of James discusses this same crown, but does not attach martyrdom as a qualification. "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the Crown of Life, which the LORD hath promised to them that Love Him" (James 1:12). Lovingly enduring trial and temptation-- even unto death-- seems to be the requirement for the Crown of Life. [See our article, "The Judgment Seat of Christ" ---New Window , for a fuller discussion of this Crown and other rewards for the Saints.]
If you have spiritual ears, then you are obligated to hear the Spirit's message. "For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath" (Matthew 13:12). Overcomers "shall not be hurt of the Second Death", which is the fate of those cast into the "lake which burneth with fire and brimstone" (Revelation 21:8). We are given the blessed assurance that God will not suffer the rules to change after we get to Heaven, and allow us to "be hurt of the Second Death". "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the First Resurrection: on such the Second Death hath no power" (20:6).
The small Turkish town of Bergma, 60 miles north of Smyrna, is ancient Pergamos. This city was built on a mountaintop, and it was famous for the invention of the animal skin parchment known as the Pergamene sheet. The city's religious worship was to Aesculapius (healing), Zeus (savior), and Caesar (patriotism). "He which hath The Sharp Sword With Two Edges" describes the LORD Jesus as one with authority. "And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto Me in Heaven and in Earth" (Matthew 28:18).
The LORD's omniscience speaks of the commendable actions of the church in Pergamos "wherein Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was slain among you". "For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward His Name" (Hebrews 6:10). "Satan's seat" and "where Satan dwelleth" point out the extremely evil environment of Pergamos. Though Christians live in the world, they are not of the world. "I have given them Thy Word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (John 17:14).
Unfortunately, Pergamos was a worldly church because of its toleration of those who held the "doctrine of Balaam". Balaam was the ungodly seer who was hired by Balak to curse the children of Israel in their wilderness wanderings. Balaam ended his counsel to Balak with the recommendation that the best way to defeat Israel was to corrupt Israel by intermarriage with the Moabites, and to draw Israel into eating the sacrifices in the worship of their idols. "1 And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab. 2 And they called the people unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods. 3 And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel" (Numbers 25:1-3). Thus, Balaam deviously proposed to use Jehovah's anger against Israel to destroy Israel. "Cursed be he that doeth the work of the LORD deceitfully" (Jeremiah 48:10). May we always remember that God's hatred of our sinning and worldliness will always move Him to deal with us. "They provoked Him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they Him to anger" (Deuteronomy 32:16).
Laying-Down-Stumblingblocks Pergamos compounded its sin by also tolerating the "doctrine of the Nicolaitans" (cf. 2:6). It is never right, loving, or Christian to tolerate sin in the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote pointedly concerning the lack of dealing with a wayward church member at Corinth. "1 It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife. 2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, 4 In the name of our LORD Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our LORD Jesus Christ, 5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the Day Of The LORD Jesus" (1Corinthians 5:1-5).[For more on this topic, please see our article "How to Deal With Backsliders" ---New Window]
Compromising Pergamos had to cease and desist with its "politically correct" toleration of both the doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolaitans, i.e., "repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with The Sword Of My Mouth". "Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the LORD, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you" (2Corinthians 6:17). This sounds much the same as the warning to the professed Christians to disassociate themselves from Babylon before its coming destruction. "And I heard another Voice from Heaven, saying, Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" (Revelation 18:4).
Spiritual ears will hear and obey the Spirit. Overcomers will "eat of the Hidden Manna" and not things sacrificed to idols. "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Ephesians 5:11). Unlike "being black-balled", receiving a "white stone" is a sign of acceptance. "Even unto them will I give in Mine House and within My Walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an Everlasting Name, that shall not be cut off" (Isaiah 56:5). Our LORD is speaking to us "good Words and comfortable Words" (Zechariah 1:13). [See our article, "Exceeding Great and Precious Promises" ---New Window to see how our God uses His Promises to meet our every need and sanctify us.]
Thyatira's modern name is the city of Akhisar. This Turkish city
is about 45 miles from Pergamos and 30 miles from Sardis. It was a natural stopping
point for the caravans that traveled the important roads that passed through the
city. Lydia, Paul's first recorded convert in Europe, came from Thyatira. She was
a "seller of purple" (Acts 16:14), for which expensive purple dye Thyatira was famous.
Notice that the LORD Jesus represents Himself as a God of Judgment with:
(1) a strong claim to His divinity, i.e., "Son Of God"-- "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little" (Psalm 2:12),
(2) searching eyes "like unto a flame of fire"-- the "Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God" (1Corinthians 2:10), and
(3) feet of judgment, i.e., "fine brass", which is an even more refined brass than regular brass; thus, denoting more processing and judgment-- "in righteousness He doth judge and make war" (Revelation 19:11).
Thyatira's virtues had been increasing, i.e., the "last to be more than the first". Growth is a sign of life. "But the path of the just is as the Shining Light, that shineth more and more unto The Perfect Day" (Proverbs 4:18). Growth is also commanded. "But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our LORD and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2Peter 3:18).
However, growth stopped by the presence of sin, because "ye cannot serve God [grow] and mammon [sin]" (Luke 16:13) at the same time. When we are engaging in our sin, we have "eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin" (2Peter 2:14). These are the circumstances exploited by false prophets and prophetesses. "9 That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the Law of the LORD: 10 Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits" (Isaiah 30:9-10).
Even Thyatira's Jezebel was given a chance to repent-- but to no avail. "6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation" (Exodus 34:6-7).
Thyatira was typically a defeated church. She had already committed her spiritual adultery. She was sleeping with the enemy. "9 And they that escape of you shall remember Me among the nations whither they shall be carried captives, because I am broken with their whorish heart, which hath departed from Me, and with their eyes, which go a whoring after their idols: and they shall lothe themselves for the evils which they have committed in all their abominations" (Ezekiel 6:9).
God will certainly bless the Righteous with Godly children. "And all thy children shall be taught of the LORD; and great shall be the peace of thy children" (Isaiah 54:13). Likewise, to the disobedient, God will curse their children, i.e., "I will kill her children with death". If they are old enough to sin, then they are old enough to be judged! "Woe unto the wicked! it shall be ill with him: for the reward of his hands shall be given him" (3:11).
Sleeping-With-the-Enemy Thyatira had to be a divided church for there to be some that had "not known the depths of Satan". These had escaped unscathed from sin. But, rather than lecturing them on how to deal with their backslidden brethren, the LORD put upon them "none other burden". "For He knoweth our frame; He remembereth that we are dust" (Psalm 103:14). He was just as concerned about these that had "not known the depths of Satan" as He was the sin of the others in their church, and He desired that they would make it to the end without succumbing to sin. Therefore, He dealt gently with them. "A bruised reed shall [the LORD Jesus Christ] not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench" (Isaiah 42:3).
To the faithful of Thyatira, He counsels more to maintain than to increase. To "continue in the faith" (Acts 14:22) is an achievement, and is not to be despised. "For who hath despised the day of small things?" (Zechariah 4:10).
Overcoming for the faithful of Thyatira is to simply finish the race. But, remember, this is acceptable. "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" (2Timothy 4:7). All that finish will be given "Power over the nations". "But the Saints of the most High shall take the Kingdom, and possess the Kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever" (Daniel 7:18).
The weakest Saint is capable of accomplishing whatever task the Master has appointed, i.e., "he [the Overcoming Saint] shall rule them with a Rod Of Iron". "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" (Philippians 4:13).
Again, the Motivation and the Reward is the LORD Himself. Our LORD Jesus is the "Bright and Morning Star" (Revelation 22:16).
Notice that the message is not just to Thyatira, or to just the Seven Churches, but to all the churches-- that means you and I. "Teach me to do Thy will; for Thou art my God: Thy Spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness" (Psalm 143:10).
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