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 persecution from outside and doctrinal compromises within. 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 history. Others thinks they represent only the local churches in this region. But in these letters we see the spiritual condition of the past, present and future churches. Someone has 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 a pastor or elder of the local church. 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 was 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 churches. The lamp-stand refers to church (Rev 1:20). The stars are the messengers of the seven churches. First Christ introduces himself as the one who holds the seven stars. He has intimate knowledge of each church and its leaders. 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. This 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. It has abandoned its first love for Christ. They are called to repent and turn to their first love or else their lamp-stand will be removed (Revelation 2:5). The church of Ephesus may represent the apostolic era of the first century. Repentance means to turn from sin. 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 clergy rule over laity started during this time. The believers were divided into two groups, namely clergy and laity. God hates hierarchy rule in the church because it divides God's people. God does not allow autocracy or democracy but theocracy, God’s rule by godly men in the church. Christ warns the church, "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 Corinthians 13:1-3). Today there is no church in Ephesus. Love must be the underlying motivation in everything we do for Christ (1 Corinthians 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. Those who hear and respond to the Holy Spirit will be victorious and will eat from the tree of life. He who has ears, 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 sin and the world is the proof of the reality of our salvation. They will have a rich entrance into the eternal Kingdom of God (2 Peter 1:11). Pray that God would help us to live for his glory and purpose.
The Church of Smyrna.
(Read Revelation 2:8-11)
The Church of Smyrna was a persecuted church. Christ introduced himself as first and the last, who died and came to life. 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 city 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. They were willing to endure persecution from the synagogue of Satan for Christ (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 their soul and body in hell (Matthew 10:35). Christ knew their works, tribulation and poverty. Those who reject Christ will reject Christians also (John 15:20). 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 loyalty and fragrance of faithfulness 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 victorious 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 (Revelation 20:14). Suffering is normal and inescapable in Christian life (1 Peter 4:12). But it produces Character and Christlikeness (Romans 5:3, 4). Christ is able to sustain us in our afflictions (Romans 8:37; Isaiah 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 to the Spirit will be victorious and not be hurt by the second death (2:11). No time in history the church endured suffering like the second and third centuries. How blessed to remain faithful and loyal to Christ!
The Church of Pergamos
(Read Revelation 2:12-17)
The church of Pergamos was a church of tolerance and compromise. The word Pergamum means “marriage”. It was a church willing to compromise with 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. This church 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 Altar of Zeus on the hill or to emperor worship. But this church allowed compromise by embracing false teaching of Balaam (Numbers 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 this time. Antipas, a faithful servant of God who refused to deny Christ received martyrdom. Some of the believers followed his example and remained faithful to the Lord when others were willing to compromise the truth. What the devil failed to do by persecution he tried with protection and compromise. This is the time in history the church had become an official institution. Is it not the spiritual state of the postmodern church today?
Christ reprimands and calls the entire church to repentance. Repentance is turning away from sin to Christ. Some were directly involved in immorality and others tolerated those who were involved. Christ warned this church to repent of their sin. Otherwise Christ would come suddenly and fight against the church with the sword of his mouth which is 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 hunger but be satisfied (John 6:31-58). They will have eternal life. Scholars suggest that in John’s day white stones were used to free a person accused of crime. Also it was used as an entrance ticket in the theater. Christ not only sets us free from guilt but also enables us to serve God. Believers also will enter in celebration in the marriage supper when Christ returns (Revelation 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 Revelation 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”. This church may represent the history of the church from A.D. 500 to 1500. 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 prophetess. She is a symbolic representation of idol worship. She influenced believers to engage in sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. Like the ancient Jezebel, who was the wife of king Ahab, promoted Baal worship (1 King 18:19-22). False teachers encouraged many ungodly practices in the church during this time and led many believers astray. In Thyatira, Christians were forced to become members of the trade union. Sadly many believers had chosen the path of compromise rather than confronting sin. They refused to confront the false teaching. 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 Peter 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 gracious and He forgives all our sins. Many misunderstood this and considered God's grace as 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 Bible. Jesus promises blessings to those who overcome. They will rule over the nations together with Christ (Revelation 2:26-27). The second reward is the morning star, Christ Himself. Christ is the morning star that lightens the whole world (Luke 1:78, 79; Revelation 22:16). 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 doctrine. Let us pray that the Lord would protect us from doctrinal errors.