Revelation - Chapter 2
In Revelation chapter 2 and 3 we see the messages to the seven churches in Asia Minor. The glorified Christ addresses these seven churches with promises and warnings. At that time the churches were facing hardship from outside and allowing compromise inside. In these letters there is no commendation for two Churches and no condemnation for two churches. Some scholars suggest that these churches represent the spiritual condition of the church throughout the history and others thinks they represent only the local churches in the region. But in these letters we see the spiritual condition of the past, present and future churches. Someone characterized "Ephesus was the loveless church, Smyrna was the persecuted church, Pergamum was the tolerant church, Thyatira was a compromising church, Sardis was the sleeping church. Philadelphia was the mission oriented church and Laodicea was the complacent church". Each letter is addressed to the angel of the church. The angel here is a reference to pastor or elder. They are the one in whom the leadership authority has been given over local churches. When Christ confronts sin and calls for repentance, He is motivated by His gracious love for us. It is crucial that Christians should respond to His warning and be transformed to the image of Christ.
The Church of Ephesus
(Read Rev 2:1-7)
The church of Ephesus is known as the loveless church. The word Ephesus means “desirable”. This letter is addressed to the angel of the church of Ephesus. Ephesus was the capital of Asia Minor with a population of 250,000. The temple of Diana, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world was here. Ephesus was the meeting place of oriental religions and Greek culture. This church was established by Paul on his third missionary journey (Acts 19). He preached the gospel here for three years and from here the word of God spread throughout Asia Minor. This was an evangelistic church. The word, angel could mean messenger or pastor of the church. Christ holds the seven stars and walks among the seven golden lamp-stands. We are told that stars are the messengers and the lamp-stands are the seven churches (Rev 1:20). Christ has intimate knowledge of each church. How comforting to know that the messengers are securely held by the Lord. The church of Ephesus was known for their work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope. They did not tolerate false teaching. They examined the claims of those who claimed that they were apostles but were not. Also they patiently endured suffering for the sake of Christ. Yet there is a serious problem, the church has abandoned their first love. It was a growing and committed church (Ephesians 1:15). But it has changed since Paul left them some 30 years ago. Commitment to truth without devotion towards the Lord can lead to dead orthodoxy.
The church of Ephesus hated the work of Nicolaitans. The name “ Nicolaitans” means “Conquerors of the people”. The believers were divided into two groups, namely clergy and laity to have rule over them. God hates hierarchy rule in the church because it divides God's people. Christ warns them by saying "Remember from where you have fallen; repent and do the works you did at first" (2:5). This church no longer has the passion for evangelism. They were warned that failure to return to their first love will result in the removal of this church. A church without love will eventually die. Our worship, ministry and sacrifice are worthless without love (1 Cor 13:1-3). Today there is no church in Ephesus. Love must be the underlying motivation in everything we do (1 Cor 13:1-4). Jesus also promised great blessing to the one who overcomes. "I will grant him to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God". Sin barred access to the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. Jesus who won victory over sin made it possible for us to have access to the tree of life. He who has ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Those who overcome will be victorious and eat from the tree of life (2:7). We are saved by grace. Overcoming is the proof of that reality. They will have a rich entrance into eternal life in the Kingdom of God (2 Pet 1:11). Pray that God would help us to live for his glory and purpose.
The Church of Smyrna.
(Read Rev 2:8-11)
The Church of Smyrna was a persecuted church. The word Smyrna means “Myrrh that produces fragrance”. Myrrh is an aromatic substance that comes from a thorny tree. It must be crushed to yield its fragrance. Christ does not condemn this church but gives words of empathy and encouragement. Smyrna was a seaport and a cultural center situated 35 miles north of Ephesus. It was a city of temples and known for emperor worship. This church was faithful unto death as they endured persecution from the synagogue of Satan (2:10). One of the students of the apostle John, Polycarp served the Lord here. He was executed for the testimony of Christ. When he was asked to renounce Christ to escape death, his famous reply was “For 86 years I have served Christ, and He has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and the Savior?” Jesus told his disciples that they should fear God who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:35). Christ knew their works, tribulation and poverty. Those who reject Christ will reject Christians also. Rejection is the absence of meaningful love. Jesus promised that though Satan will put some of the believers in prison their suffering will be shortened. In the first century imprisonment led to trial and execution. No church has produced fragrance of faithfulness and loyalty like the church of Smyrna. Jesus promised the crown of life to those who remain faithful even unto death. This crown is not a king’s crown but a victory wreath (Stephanos) worn by athletes. This victor’s crown is for those who remain faithful unto death (Acts 7). They will not suffer the second death. Believers only suffer the first death. The second death is for those who reject Christ (Rev 20:14). Suffering is normal and inescapable in Christian life (1 Pet 4:12). But it produces Character and Christ-likeness (Rom 5:3, 4). Christ is able to sustain us in our afflictions (Rom 8:37; Isiah 63:9). Perseverance shows the genuineness of our faith in Christ. History shows that God has used persecution to purge the church and prepare believers for greater use. Those who hear and respond the Spirit will victorious and will not be hurt by the second death (2:11).
The Church of Pergamos
(Read Rev 2:12-17)
The church of Pergamos was a church of tolerance. The word Pergamum means “marriage”. It was a church willing to compromise to the world and embrace false doctrines. It was a wealthy city located 65 miles north of Smyrna and renowned for its 200,000 volumes library. It was a religious center with large temples and emperor worship. They lived under the threat of death for proclaiming the gospel. This letter comes from the Lord who has the sharp two-edged sword, which is the word of God. Even though they lived in the city where Satan had his throne they cling to the name of Jesus (2:13). Satan’s throne may be a reference to the great Alter of Zeus on the hill or to emperor worship. But this church allowed compromise by embracing false teaching of Balaam (Num 25:1-3). They ate food sacrificed to the idols and practiced sexual immorality. They also tolerated the teaching of Nicolaitans, the Clergy rule over the laity. Christians were living under the threat of death during that time. Antipas, a faithful servant of God who refused to deny Christ received martyrdom. Some believers followed his example and remained faithful to the Lord when others were compromising the truth. Is it not the spiritual state of the postmodern church today?
Christ reprimands and calls the entire church to repentance. Repentance is turning from sin to Christ. Some directly involved in immorality and others tolerated them who were involved. If there is no sign of repentance, Christ would come suddenly and fight against the church with the sword of his mouth, His Word (Ephesians 6:17). But Jesus promised three blessings to those who remain faithful. They will receive the hidden manna, a white stone and a new name. Israel was fed by manna for forty years. Jesus is the bread of life and those who come to Him never go hungry but be satisfied (John 6:31-58). They will have eternal life. Scholar suggest that in John’s day white stones were used to free a person accused of crime and also used as entrance ticket in the theater. Christ not only sets us free from the guilt but also free us to serve God. Believers also will enter in celebration when Christ returns (Rev 19:9). New name speaks of our new identity with Christ (Isaiah 41:10; 43:1). Those who respond to God's Word will receive a new name.
The Church in Thyatira:
(Read Rev 2:18-29)
This was a compromising church. Like the church in Pergamum, this church has tolerated false teaching and immorality (2:20). Thyatira was a commercial city located 55 miles east of Pergamum. It was known for textile and wool manufacturing. Thyatira means “Continual sacrifice”. The first person who got saved in Macedonia was Lydia and she was from Thyatira. She was a merchant of expensive purple cloth (Acts 16:14). Jesus praises this church for their love, faith, service and perseverance. They were progressing spiritually. But also they allowed the false teaching of the woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophet. She is a symbolic representation of idol worship. She influenced believers to engage in sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. She, like the ancient Jezebel, wife of the Ahab who promoted Baal worship, encouraged many ungodly practices in the church and led many believers astray (1 King 18:19-22). In Thyatira, Christians were forced to become members of the trade union and to get involved in their immoral practices. Sadly many believers had chosen to compromise rather than confronting sin. They refused to confront the false teaching. This compromise eventually led them to justify their idolatry and immoral behavior. The Lord gave Jezebel time to repent but she did not. God is patient but He does not tolerate sin forever (2 Pet 3:9). He wants His church to be pure in belief and behavior. Christ always gives warning before judgment (Ezekiel 33:7-11). If we do not repent God will judge. Despite all the false teachings many remained loyal to Christ in Thyatira.
God is faithful to preserve those who trust Him. Christ warned the believer in Thyatira against the “deep things of Satan”. This might refer to a very early form of Gnosticism. It is a philosophy that proposes that God is grace and He forgives all our sins. Many misunderstood this and considered God's grace a license to sin. Secondly it claimed a type of mysticism that offers deeper truth to its followers. These dangerous doctrines affected the early church. Jesus warns that instead of seeking secret knowledge they should embrace the once for given truth in the scriptures. Jesus also promises blessings to those who overcome. They will rule over the nations together with Christ (Rev 2:26-27). The second reward is Christ Himself. He is the morning star that lightens the whole world (Luke 1:78, 79; John 8:12). False teachers always tried to bring their damnable doctrines in the church. The church in every age must be alert to protect the purity of Christ's teaching. Let us pray that the Lord would protect us from doctrinal errors.