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Revelation 2-3

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

UBS4 NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The Message to Ephesus The Loveless Church The First Letter The Message to Ephesus Ephesus
2:1a 2:1-7 2:1 2:1a 2:1-7
2:1b-7   2:2-7 2:1b-7a  
      2:7b  
The Message to Smyrna The Persecuted Church The Second Letter The Message to Smyrna Smyrna
2:8a 2:8-11 2:8 2:8a 2:8-11
28b-11   2:9-11 2:8b-10  
      2:11a  
      2:11b  
The Message to Pergamum The Compromising Church The Third Letter The Message to Pergamum Pergamum
2:12a 2:12-17 2:12 2:12a 2:12-13
2:12b-17   2:13-17 2:12b-16 2:14-17
      2:17a  
      2:17b  
The Message to Thyatira The Corrupt Church The Fourth Letter The Message to Thyatira Thyatira
2:18a 2:18-29 2:18 2:18a 2:18-29
2:18b-29   2:19-29 2:18b-23  
      2:24-28  
      2:29  
The Message to Sardis The Dead Church The Fifth Letter The Message to Sardis Sardis
3:1a 3:1-6 3:1a 3:1a 3:1-6
3:1b-6   3:1b-6 3:1b-5  
      3:6  
The Message to Philadelphia The Faithful Church The Sixth Letter The Message to Philadelphia Philadelphia
3:7a 3:7-13 3:7 3:7a 3:7-13
3:7b-13   3:8-13 3:7b-12  
      3:13  
The Message to Laodicea The Lukewarm Church The Seventh Letter The Message to Laodicea Laodicea
3:14 3:14-22 3:14 3:14a 3:14-22
3:14b-22   3:15-22 3:14b-21  
      3:22  

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired but it is the key to following the original author's intent which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

GENERAL BACKGROUND

A. This literary unit (chapters 2-3) is connected to the OT titles for YHWH used of the Messiah (cf. 1:12-20). This is one way the NT author affirmed Jesus' Deity. John's revelation transfers Old Testament titles and actions of YHWH to Jesus, the ascended, glorified Messiah.

 

B. Its purpose is to show the spiritual needs of these first century churches, and by analogy, all churches (i.e., the number seven). John's ministry in his old age was in Asia Minor, especially in Ephesus. John is obviously well acquainted with these churches and cities. These letters show the ethical aspect of Christianity. They are a call to faithfulness and godliness. The church will also be judged (cf. II Cor. 5:10).

 

C. There were many churches in the Roman province of Asia Minor in John's day. Why did the author only write to seven of them?

1. It is the biblical number to denote perfection (cf. Genesis 1). There are numerous literary structures of sevens in John's prophecy.

2. These churches formed a travel route, starting at Ephesus and ending at Laodicea. It was possibly the Imperial postage route.

3. They are to some extent representative of the types of churches found in every age and culture.

 

D. What is the significance of this literary unit to us today?

1. Some interpret these churches as prophetic descriptions of Western history from Pentecost to the Second Coming

a. Ephesus = the Apostolic Period, a.d. 33-100 (Pentecost to John)

b. Smyrna = the Period of Persecution, a.d. 100-313 (John to Constantine)

c. Pergamum = the Period of Constantine, a.d. 313-590 (Constantine to Gregory)

d. Thyatira = Papal Rome, A.D. 590-1517 (Gregory to Luther)

e. Sardis = Reformation, A.D. 1517-1792 (Luther - Carey)

f. Philadelphia = Modern Missionary Movement, a.d. 1792-1914 (Carey to rapture)

g. Laodicea = Period of Apostasy, A.D. 1914 - Parousia (WWI - Parousia)

This is a relatively recent interpretative grid which has come to characterize "Dispensational Premillennialism" (which usually sees Matthew 13 as a parallel to the 7 churches). However, there is nothing in the text itself to commend this view. Although some aspects of western history fit this scheme, others do not. It is arrogant to assert that the Bible was written exclusively to address only western culture. Such a scheme would have been meaningless to a first century audience.

2. Some interpret these churches as a representative sample of the types of churches which are found in all ages and cultures.

 

E. One of the books that has helped me interpret prophecy/apocalyptic is D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares and Pruning Hooks: Rethinking the Language of Biblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic. He makes an interesting theological point about all the promises made to faithful believers in chapters 2-3 (pp. 28-32). He lists the promises as

1. the tree of life

2. the crown of life

3. the white stone

4. authority over the nations

5. the Morning Star

6. dressed in white

7. a pillar in God's temple

8. the name of God

9. the name of Jerusalem

10. sit on God's throne

He says these are not meant to be interpreted literally or individually, but as a corporate fulfillment, as is seen in 21:3. I think this is a proper hermeneutical approach to this genre.

STRUCTURAL UNITY OF THE SEVEN LETTERS

A. Many commentators see a seven element structure present in most letters, although not all seven are present in every church.

1. Jesus' common address "to the angel of the church of write . . ." (cf. 2:1,8,12,18; 3:1,7,14).

2. Description of Jesus taken from 1:12-20, which are Old Testament titles and actions of YHWH, introduce each message.

3. Jesus' knowledge of the churches, both positive and negative, "I know . . ." (cf. 2:2, 9,13,19; 3:1,8,15).

4. Jesus addresses the individual churches and their cultural, geographical and spiritual opportunities.

5. Jesus speaks of His sudden, soon coming, either in temporal judgment or the Second Coming, (cf. 1:1,3; 2:5,16,25; 3:3,11).

6. Jesus admonishes spiritual hearing and understanding, (cf. 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22). Jesus used "He who has an ear, let him hear" in the Gospels (cf. Matt. 11:15, 13:9, 43; Mark 4:24.)

7. Jesus promises a reward for faithful followers, (cf. 2:7,11,17,25-26; 3:4-5,11-12,21).

These seven steps are not consistent in each letter. The order changes and some elements are left out in certain churches, but overall this structure shows one of several of John's seven-fold literary structures.

THE CITIES TO WHICH THE LETTERS WERE DIRECTED

A. Ephesus

1. It was the largest city of the Roman province of Asia Minor. It was not the capital, though the Roman governor lived there. It was a commercial center because of its excellent natural harbor.

2. It was a free city, which allowed it to have local government and much freedom, including no garrison of Roman soldiers.

3. It was the only city which was allowed to hold the biannual Asian games.

4. It was the site of the Temple to Artemis (Diana in Latin), which was one of the seven wonders of the world of its day. It was 425' x 220' with 127 columns which were 60' tall; 86 of them were overlaid with gold (see Pliny's Hist. Nat. 36:95 ff). The image of Artemis was thought to have been a meteor which resembled a many breasted female figure. This meant that there were many cultic prostitutes present in the city (cf. Acts 19). It was a very immoral, multicultural city.

5. Paul stayed in this city more than three years (cf. Acts 18:18 ff; 20:13).

6. Tradition asserts that it became John's home after Mary's death in Palestine.

 

B. Smyrna

1. It was supposedly founded by an Amazon (strong woman leader) named Smyrna. In John's day it was a city of about 200,000.

2. It was located on the Aegean Sea. It had an ideal natural harbor and was, therefore, a commercial center surpassed only by Ephesus in Asia Minor. It was a very wealthy city.

3. It was destroyed by the Lydians about 600 b.c., but was rebuilt by Lysimicus following Alexander the Great's plans whereby the sea breeze blew down every street.

4. It was also a free city because it had helped the retreating Roman soldiers after their defeat by Mithradates.

5. It was a center of worship of the goddess Roma (195 b.c.) and Emperor worship. It had the first temple to Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 26).

6. It was a religious center with the worship of Cybele and the pantheon of Homer. There was even a tradition that Homer was born here. Its many temples were located on the Acropolis called Pagos with a golden road between the Temple of Zeus and Cybele.

7. It had a large active anti-Christian Jewish population.

8. It was the city in which Polycarp (John the Apostle's disciple) was martyred in a.d. 155.

 

C. Pergamum

1. It was a large wealthy city and the capital of Asia Minor (since 282 b.c.), although not located on a major trade road.

2. It boasted of the largest library in the Roman world outside of Alexandria, Egypt. It had over 200,000 parchment scrolls!

3. Vellum was invented here. It was processed animal skins which were used for writing. This writing medium was developed because Alexandria, Egypt, refused to sell them papyrus reeds. This was because their king, Eumenes II (197-159 b.c.) tried to hire Alexandria's librarian, Aristophanes. When the Ptolemian king, Epiphanes (205-182 b.c.) of Alexandria found out, he arrested the librarian and embargoed papyri from Pergamum. There was a real rivalry between these two learning centers. Anthony later sent Pergamum's library to Alexandria as a present to Cleopatra.

4. It was the home of Galen the physician and the center of the healing arts of Asclepios. It is even said that Asclepios was "a Pergamum god." The symbol for this god was the snake.

5. It also had a temple to Roma and the Emperor Augustus (A.D. 29) and was the administrative center (neokopros) of the Emperor's cult. Its loyalty to Rome was well known.

6. It was known for its worship and defense of the Greek pantheon. There was a huge Temple to Zeus on the acropolis that overlooked the whole city. It was shaped like a throne (i.e.,Satan's throne).

 

D. Thyatira

1. It was a smaller trade-oriented city. There are many records of its numerous and flourishing trade guilds, each with its own patron deity. It was located on a major road between Pergamum and Sardis which continued on to Philadelphia and Laodicea. It was famous for its woolen products. Lydia (cf. Acts 16:14), a seller of purple cloth, was from this city.

2. It was enlarged by Seleucus Nicateo, who settled his Macedonian soldiers here.

3. It had several temples to local deities

a. Tyrimnos (Apollo) – the sun god

b. Artemis (Diana) – the love goddess

c. Sibyl Sambathe – a local female fortune teller

 

E. Sardis

1. It was a large, wealthy ancient city. For years it was the opulent capital of the Lydian Empire because of its superb military position, 1500' up on a mountain spur. It is mentioned in Persian records because Cyrus the Great captured the city. It is also mentioned in Obadiah v. 20. It had greatly declined by John's day.

2. It was noted for its dyed wool products. The process was invented there, so they claimed.

3. It was the center of the worship of Cybele, the mother goddess. The ruins of the temple are still visible on the acropolis. The excesses of this worship were known and deplored throughout the Roman Empire.

 

F. Philadelphia

1. It was located on a plateau and was protected by water. This made it a highly desirable military position. It was the newest of the seven cities. It was founded by Attalus II (159 - 138 b.c.).

2. It was located on a major trade route to Sardis and it had flourished.

3. It was located in a fine agriculture area, especially for grapes. The god Bacchus, or Dionysus, was one of its chief deities. It was also an active earthquake area and was destroyed in the huge quake of a.d. 17, which also destroyed ten other major cities of the area. However, the after-shocks continued in this area and the population moved to the surrounding countryside.

4. It was also a center for the Emperor's cult (as were Smyrna and Pergamum) which was possibly the source of much of the Churches' persecution in the provinces.

5. It was a major center of Hellenistic culture and aggressively exported its influence. It seems to have been founded for this very purpose on the border of Mysia, Lydia and Phrygia.

 

G. Laodicea on the Lychus River

1. It was one of three cities in the Lychus River valley (the other cities were Colossae and Hierapolis). Churches were founded in each of these three cities, probably by Paul's convert, Epaphras (cf. Col. 1:17; 4:12-13).

2. It was founded by the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus II, who named it after his wife, Laodice, in 250 b.c. It was located on a militarily defensible site like Philadelphia.

3. It was located on a major east/west trade route. It was noted as a banking center.

4. It was located in a fertile agricultural and pastoral region, especially suited for raising a special black sheep for which it became famous worldwide. It mass-produced a black outer garment called a "trimeta."

5. It had a very large Jewish population.

6. It, like Pergamum, was a center for the worship of the healing god Asclepios. The city was the site of a medical school which was noted for its ear and eye salve.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 2:1
 1"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:

2:1 "the angel" The Hebrew and Greek term for angel can mean messenger. It could refer to

1. the pastor (cf. Mal. 2:7)

2. the angel of the church (cf. Daniel 10)

3. the unique spirit or character of the individual congregations

This same phrase introduces every letter (cf. 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 14).

"church" This Greek compound term ekklesia is a combination of two Greek terms, "out of" and "to call." It was used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew term, qahal, or "assembly of Israel." The early Christians used it to designate themselves because

1. they saw themselves as the people of God, like Israel

2. they saw themselves as divinely called by God both for salvation and ministry

See Special Topic at 1:4.

"The One who holds the seven stars" This is a description of Jesus taken from 1:16. These seven stars referred to the churches (cf. 1:20). The term "holds" (present active participle) speaks of a firm, sure grasp (cf. John 10:28). Nothing and no one could separate these churches from Jesus (cf. Rom. 8:31-39) except their own refusal to repent and follow Him! Only unbelief can separate.

"in His right hand" This is an anthropomorphic (speaking of God in physical terms) metaphor for power and authority (cf. 1:16,17,20; 2:1; 5:1,7).

"walking among" This anthropomorphic metaphor is used in Gen. 3:8 as a symbol of God's presence with mankind (cf. Lev. 26:12).

SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS A HUMAN (anthropomorphic language)

"the golden lampstands" This does not refer to the Menorah of the Tabernacle, but is another symbol for the seven churches (cf. 1:12-13).

"says" Jesus' last words to His church are not Matt. 28:18-20 or Acts 1:7-11, but Revelation chapters 2-3.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 2:2-7
  2I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary. 4But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent. 6Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.

2:2 "I know" The form is a perfect active indicative of oida, but translated as a present. Jesus sees, understands, and cares for His churches. His concern involves both affirmation and discipline (which is a form of parental love). This same phrase is repeated in all seven letters (cf. 2:2,4,13,19; 3:1,8,15).

The Old Testament background of this term implies intimate, personal relationship (cf. Gen 4:1; Jer. 1:5).

SPECIAL TOPIC: KNOW (USING MOSTLY DEUTERONOMY AS A PARADIGM)

"your deeds and your toil" This was an active church, but they had forgotten the priority of fellowship with Christ (cf. 2:4). Too many good things had robbed them of the best (cf. Gal. 3:1).

"perseverance" This term implies a voluntary, active, steadfast endurance. This is a major theme of the book (cf. 1:9; 2:2,3,19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12).

Perseverance must be balanced with security (cf. 2:7,11,17,26; 3:5,11-12,21). Most biblical truths are presented in dialectical, seemingly paradoxical, pairs. Both are equally true, but neither is true alone. Salvation is an initial repentance and faith followed by lifestyle repentance, faith, obedience, service, and steadfastness! See Special Topic below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: PERSEVERANCE

NASB"evil men"
NKJV"those who are evil"
NRSV"evildoers"
TEV"evil people"
NJB"wicked people"

This is literally kakous (kakos), which is often used of "evil people." The synonym ponēros can be used of evil (neuter) or evil people and ultimately of the evil one (masculine, cf. Matt. 5:37; 13:38; John 17:15). Context and usage confirm that this text must refer to "bad people" (cf. Rom. 2:9; 13:4) in the church (false teachers) or possibly in the community.

Kakos is used only twice in Revelation, here and 16:2, where it is used to describe the results of the "bowls of the wrath of God" (i.e., sores).

"you put to the test" This Greek term (peirazō) meant to test with either good or bad (majority) intentions (cf. 2:2,10; 3:10). The related term (peirasmos) had the connotation of testing with the view toward destruction. The balance is found in I John 4:1 where believers are to test (dokimazō) with a view toward approval those who claim to speak for God. The call for believers to examine those who claim to speak for God is found in both Testaments (cf. Deut. 13:1-5; 18:22; Matt. 7:15-23; I John 4:1-6).

  There is tension in the NT related to believers critically judging each other (cf. Matt. 7:1-5). However, Christians are called to evaluate each other for leadership roles (cf. Matt. 7:5,6,15; I Cor. 5:1-12; I Timothy 3; I John 4:1-6). Attitude and motive are the keys to proper evaluation (cf. Gal. 6:1; Rom. 2:1-11; 14:1-23; James 4:11-12).

SPECIAL TOPIC: GREEK TERMS FOR "TESTING" AND THEIR CONNOTATIONS

▣ "those who call themselves apostles" This use of the term "apostles" does not refer to The Twelve, but to the wider use of the term (cf. Acts 14:14; Rom. 16:7; I Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19; Eph. 4:11; I Thess. 2:6). The NT often addresses the subject of false apostles or teachers (cf. Matt. 7:15-16; 24:24; Acts 20:29; II Cor. 11:13-15; I John 4:1 and throughout the Pastoral Epistles). This church had correctly identified these false apostles and rejected them.

2:3 This church was faithful amidst difficult circumstances, even persecutions. They had not denied Christ or grown weary in well-doing (cf. Gal. 6:9; Heb. 12:3; James5:7-8). See note at 2:7.

2:4

NASB, NKJV"you have left your first love"
NRSV"you have abandoned the love you had at first"
TEV"you do not love me now as you did at first"
NJB"you have less love now than formerly"

There have been several theories as to what this meant.

1. TEV and Charles Williams translations assume it means love for Christ.

2. James Moffatt assumed it means love for one another.

3. Hershell Hobbs in his commentary assumed it means love for the lost.

4. J. B. Phillips in his translation combined all of the above.

5. Some think it is related to the problem of second generation believers (cf. Jdgs. 2: 7-10).

6. Some see it as a loveless church of cold orthodoxy (cf. I Corinthians13).

 

2:5 "remember" This is a present active imperative meaning "always keep in mind." Believers are often admonished to remember their previous condition in sin and their new position in the grace and mercies of God through Christ.

"from which you have fallen" This is a perfect active indicative. Leaving their "first love" had become a settled condition of neglect!

"repent and do the deeds you did at first" These are two aorist active imperatives. Notice the church as a whole is called on to make a decisive repentance (cf. II Chr. 7:14) and to become active in its love for Christ, for each other, and for the lost.

Repentance is crucial for a faith relationship with God (cf. Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15; 6:12; Luke 13:3,5; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 20:21). The Hebrew term meant a change of actions, while in Greek it meant a change of mind. Repentance is a willingness to change from one's self-centered existence to a life informed and directed by God. It calls for a turning from the priority and bondage of the self. Basically it is a new attitude, a new worldview, a new master. Repentance is God's will for every fallen child of Adam, made in His image (cf. Ezek. 18:21,23,32 and II Pet. 3:9).

The NT passage which best reflects the different Greek terms for repentance is II Cor. 7:8-12.

1. lupē, "grief" or "sorrowing" vv. 8 (twice), 9 (thrice), 10 (twice), 11

2. metamelomai, "after care," vv. 8 (twice), 9

3. metanoeō, "repent," "after mind," vv. 9, 10

The contrast is between a false repentance (metamelomai, cf. Judas, Matt. 27:3 and Esau, Heb. 12:16-17) and a true repentance (metanoeō, cf. Peter, John 21:15-23; Matt. 26:75; Mark 14:72; Luke 22:62).

True repentance is theologically linked to

1. Jesus' preaching on the conditions of the New Covenant (cf. Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:15; Luke 13:3,5)

2. the Apostolic sermons in Acts (kerygma, cf. Acts 3:16,19; 20:21)

3. God's sovereign gift (cf. Acts 5:31; 11:18 and II Tim. 2:25)

4. perishing (cf. II Pet. 3:9)

Repentance is not optional!

▣ "or else I am coming to you" This is a common theme in this book; Christ is coming soon (cf. 1: 2,3; 2: 5,16; 25; 3:3,11). In the OT the coming of God could bring blessing or judgment. In this context Christ was coming to discipline His church (cf. I Pet. 4:17)! Therefore, it has a temporal, as well as eschatological, orientation.

"and will remove your lampstand out of its place" The lampstand symbolizes the entire church. This may have involved the removal of Christ's presence and blessing. The entire congregation was not facing apostasy, but the loss of their effective ministry. This also applies to the churches of Pergamum (cf. 2:16); Thyatira (cf. 2:22-23); Sardis (cf. 3:3); and Laodicea (cf. 3:19). It is possible that each of these churches were affected by a Nicolaitan type of false teaching which promoted compromise with pagan culture.

2:6 "that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans" There has been much speculation about who these Nicolaitans were and what they believed. The only biblical source we have is Rev. 2:6, 14-15. Speculation began early in the Church around a.d. 180 when Irenaeus and Hippolitus supposed that these were the followers of one of "the seven" chosen in Acts 6:5 named Nicolas. This is totally unsubstantiated. Irenaeus, in his book, Contra-heresies, 3:11:7, assumed that they were followers of Cyrenian Gnosticism of the second century. Eusebius, in his book, Ecclesiastical History, 3:29:1, said that this particular sect did not last long.

In 2:14-15, the teachings of Balaam and the teachings of the Nicolaitans are similar. There is a possible etymological connection between their names in Greek; it means "conqueror" and "people" (very similar to the meaning of the name Nicodemus). What is obvious is that both were encouraging believers to participate in pagan worship practices which involved ritual sexual activity. In this sense the Nicolaitans and Balaamites (cf. Num. 25:1-9; 31:16-18) are very similar to the teachings of Jezebel (cf. 2:20).

2:7 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" This admonition is repeated throughout the letters to the seven churches (cf. 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22). It was a phrase that came from the words of Jesus (cf. Matt. 11:15; 13:9,43). Spiritual truth must be responded to by mind and hand. This is similar to the Hebrew term shema, "hear so as to do" (cf. Deut. 5:1; 6:4; 9:1; 20:3; 27:9-10).

"churches" See Special Topic at 1:4.

"To him who overcomes" There is a continuing theological emphasis on the perseverance of believers (cf. 2:7,11,17,25-26; 3:4-5,11-12,21). It is the experiential evidence of a true conversion (cf. Matt. 24:13; Gal. 6:9)! Jonathan Edwards said, "Sure proof of election is that one holds out to the end." W. T. Conner said, "The salvation of a man elected to salvation is from all eternity certain in the mind and purpose of God, yet it is conditioned upon faith, and a faith that perseveres and conquers." See Special Topic at 2:2.

"I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God" This is an allusion to a tree in the Garden of Eden (cf. Gen 2:9). As humans began in fellowship with God and with the animals in a garden, so the Bible ends in the same manner (cf. Isa. 11:6-9; Rev. 22:2,14,19).

The term "paradise" was a Persian word for a nobleman's walled garden, which was used in the Septuagint to translate the Garden of Eden (cf. Ezek. 28:13; 31:8). It is one of the many references to the Messianic age that is found throughout the letters to the seven churches.

The term "paradise" is used in two senses: (1) in Luke 23:4 it may refer to the righteous part of Sheol/Hades (see Special Topic at 1:8). Jesus tells the repentant thief that he would be with Him there that day (Jesus did not return to heaven for 40 days, cf. John 20:17) and (2) in II Cor. 12:3 it refers to God's presence, God's heavenly throne room ("the third heaven").

 God's purpose for mankind, made in His image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-27), has always been eternal life. The fall of Genesis 3 and the rest of the Bible document God's commitment to mankind's redemption and eternal fellowship with Him. This fallen world, this gap in full fellowship, was not God's desire, but mankind's shame. God will restore creation for His purposes.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT 2:8-11
 8And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: 9I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death."

2:8 "The first and the last" This is one of the recurrent titles for Jesus found in 1:17 and 22:13. Initially it referred to YHWH (cf. Isa. 41:4; 44:6; 48:12). It is synonymous with the phrase "I am the Alpha and Omega" (cf. 1:8; 21:6; 27:13) and "the beginning and the end" (cf. 21:6; 22:13). See fuller note at 1:8.

"who was dead, and has come to life" This may have been a slap at the nature cult of Cybele, the mother goddess. Many of the ancient fertility religions based their worldview on personified cycles of nature, winter death, and spring rebirth. In context this relates theologically to 1:18; 5:6, where Jesus is the lamb that was slain but is now alive. It emphasizes Jesus' once-for-all (not repeated) substitutionary death and resurrection (cf. Heb. 7:27; 9:12,28; 10:10).

2:9 "I know your tribulation and your poverty" These are two very strong Greek words. They are significant because the city of Smyrna was very prosperous. The fact that the church was poor seems to imply economic persecution. It is theologically significant that in the book of the Revelation believers suffer "tribulations" from unbelievers and the evil one, but unbelievers suffer "the wrath of God." See full note at 7:14. Believers are always protected (sealed, see Special Topic at 7:2) from divine judgment.

SPECIAL TOPIC: TRIBULATION

"(but you are rich)" Believers cannot judge their standing in Christ by worldly standards (cf. Matt. 6:33).

NASB, NKJV"blasphemy"
NRSV, NJB"slander"
TEV"evil things said against you"

This is literally the term "blasphemy," which had an OT connotation of "to revile" and was usually used in connection with verbal attacks on YHWH (cf. Lev. 24:13-23). Twice in the OT the term "blessed" (barak) is used in the sense of blasphemy (cf. I Kgs. 21:10,13). In context these Jewish religionists claim to know God ("bless God"), but they do not (cf. Matt. 7:21-23).

"who say they are Jews and are not" A very similar phrase is used in 3:9; there it is obvious that they are racial Jews who claim to be God's people but really are not (cf. John 8:44; Rom. 2:28-29; Gal. 3:29; 6:16). From Acts and Galatians we know that the Jews caused great opposition to the proclamation of the gospel (cf. Acts 13:50; 14:2, 5, 19; 17:5).

Revelation 2:13 suggests that this refers to local cults of emperor worship called the Concilia which demanded that Christians call Caesar "Lord" and burn incense to him once a year.

▣ "a synagogue of Satan" John saw the world in sharp contrast, God versus Satan. Satan (see SPECIAL TOPIC: SATAN at 12:3) is mentioned often in the book (cf. 2:9,13; 3:9; 12:9,10; 20:2,7). He slanders the believers and energizes their persecutors. This conflict or dualism in the spiritual realm characterizes apocalyptic literature. There is a battle for control of the hearts and minds of the children of Adam.

2:10 "Do not fear" This is a present middle or passive (deponent) imperative with the negative particle which usually meant to stop an act already in process. These churches were afraid. Persecutions were a sign of their salvation and God's blessings (cf. Matt. 5:10-12).

"the devil is about to cast some of you into prison" Behind evil human leaders lurks a supernatural personal force of evil (cf. Eph. 6:10-19).

The term Satan is an OT title and description. His God-given task was to provide a rebellious, self-centered alternative to mankind and thereby accuse them when they yielded to temptation (cf. Genesis 3; Job 1-2; Zechiah 3). There is a development of evil in the OT. Satan was created as a servant and progressed into an enemy (cf. An Old Testament Theology by A. B. Davidson p. 300-306).

It is surely an assumption that the highly figurative language of Isaiah 14, which directly refers to the arrogant King of Babylon, and Ezekiel 28, which directly refers to the prideful King of Tyre, ultimately identifies the spiritual pride and fall of Satan. The language of Ezekiel 28 is taken from a description of the Garden of Eden. It is difficult to accept a description of a human, historical, pagan king in angelic terms taken from Eden (cf. Genesis 3). However, Ezekiel does the very same thing with the King of Egypt in chapter 31. He is described as a huge tree in the garden of Eden.

All believers long for more information, especially about the origins of God, angels, evil, etc. We must be cautious of turning metaphorical, prophetic description into dogmatic theology. Much modern theology comes from isolated, figurative texts mixed with modern concepts, both theological and literary (Dante and Milton).

In the NT he is called the devil (cf. 12:9,12; 20:2,10), which is a composite Greek term meaning "to throw across," "to slander," or "bring accusations against." This again reflects his task of accusing and tempting. These terms are synonymous in the Revelation (cf. 12:9; 20:2). See SPECIAL TOPIC: PERSONAL EVIL at 12:9.

"that you may be tested" This term is used in two senses: (1) believers are tested so as to show their true faith and grow stronger (cf. 2:10; Acts 14:27; Rom. 5:3-4; 8:17-19; Heb. 5:8; James 1:2-4; I Pet. 4:12-19) and (2) unbelievers are tested to show their unbelief and deserved judgment (cf. 3:10). In Revelation the Christian's trials are called "tribulations" (see Special Topic at 2:9), while the unbelievers are subjected to "the wrath of God."

There were two Greek terms translated "test," "try," or "tempt." One had the connotation of "to test with a view toward destruction" (peirasmos, peirasmo). The other terms (dokimos, dokimazo) were used with the connotation of "to test with a view toward approval." Satan tempts to destroy; God tests to strengthen (cf. I Thess. 2:4; I Pet. 1:7; Gen. 22:1; Exod. 16:4; 20:20; Deut. 8:2,16; 13:3; Jdgs. 2:22; II Chr. 32:31). See Special Topic at 2:2.

"ten days" There has been much speculation about the phrase "ten days":

1. some say that it referred to a literal ten day period of persecution in the city of Smyrna in John's day

2. others say that because ten is the number of completion, it simply meant a complete number of days of persecution

3. some say that it referred to an unspecified period of persecution

The good news is that it has a limit. The persecution will end!

However, in an apocalyptic book one is never sure if the numbers are used figuratively or literally. If the number was often used in the OT and interbiblical apocalyptic literature with a symbolic meaning then probably it is figurative. The most often used symbolic numbers are 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 12 and their multiples (see Special Topic at 1:4).

"be faithful unto death" This is a present middle or passive (deponent) imperative which emphasizes the believer's need to continue in faith even if it means physical death (cf. Matt. 2:13; 12:11; 10:22; 24:13; Luke 12:4; Gal. 6:9). Some believers were and are killed. This is the paradox of the sovereignty of God and our experience in a fallen world.

"and I will give you the crown of life" This was the victor's crown called the "stephanos" (cf. I Cor. 9:25). It was the reward of Christian martyrs. We learn from Eusebius' Ecclesiastical History, 4:15, that there were many martyrs, including Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna. There are also other crowns (rewards) mentioned in the New Testament (cf. II Tim. 4:8; James1:12; I Pet. 5:4; Rev. 3:11).

John uses the term for life, zoē, to refer to eternal life, resurrection life (cf. John 1:4; 3:15,36; 4:14,36; 5:24,26,29,39,40; 6:27,33,35,40,47,48,51,53,54,63,68; 8:12; 10:10,28; 11:25; 12:25,50; 14:6; 17:2,3; 20:31; Rev. 2:7,10; 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12,15; 21:6,27; 22:1,2,14,17,19). True life is far more than physical existence!

SPECIAL TOPIC: DEGREES OF REWARDS AND PUNISHMENT

2:11 "He who overcomes" This is also a recurrent admonition to faithfulness (cf. 2:7,17,26; 3:5,12,21; 21:7). It is certainly an emphasis on perseverance (see Special Topic at 2:2).

▣ "will not be hurt by the second death" This is a double negative construction with aorist passive subjunctive which shows God's ultimate care for those who are martyred (cf. 12:11). The "second death" referred to hell (see Special Topic at 1:18) or eternal separation from fellowship with God (cf. Rev. 20:6,14; 21:8).

▣ "He who has an ear, let him hear" This is a recurrent admonition for spiritual attention and discernment (cf. 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22; 13:9).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT 2:12-17
 12"And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this: 13'I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. 15So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. 17He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.'"

2:12 "The One who has the sharp, two-edged sword" This is the same reference to the glorified Jesus found in 1:16. It was an OT metaphor for YHWH (cf. Isa. 11:4; 49:2). It is used in the NT for the penetrating power of the word of God (cf. 2:16; II Thess. 2:8; Heb. 4:12).

2:13 "I know where you dwell" "Dwell" in the OT implied "to live permanently with." These believers faced strong local governmental and demonic pressure. Jesus knew them and their perilous situation. He was there with them.

"where Satan's throne is" There have been several possible interpretations of this phrase:

1. It could refer to the large throne of Zeus which was located in Pergamum.

2. It could refer to the god of healing, Asclepios, whose symbol was a serpent.

3. It seems that the whole city looked like a giant throne because of the Acropolis which stood hundreds of feet above the city itself.

4. It could be a reference to the Concilia, the local organization to promote emperor worship, which was very powerful in Pergamum.

Because of the historical context, either #1 or #4 seems best.

"you hold fast My name" This is a present active indicative. It shows the significance of the name as representing the character of a person. Believers trust by calling on His name (cf. John 1:12; 3:18; Rom. 10:9-13) and worship by calling on His name (cf. Gen. 4:26; 12:8; 26:25) and persevere by calling on His name (cf. John 17:11-12).

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE NAME OF THE LORD

"and did not deny My faith" This is an aorist middle (deponent) indicative. During these early centuries of Christianity, and even today in certain societies, there was a real temptation to save one's prosperity or life by denying faith in Christ during physical or judicial trials. The church has always struggled with how to handle these apostates.

SPECIAL TOPIC: FAITH (PISTIS [noun], PISTEUŌ, [verb], PISTOS [adjective])

"Antipas, My witness" We know nothing about this man. The title given him is the same that was used for Christ in 5:1. The term "witness" can mean "martyr" (cf. 11:3; 17:6). Tertullian said that Antipas was roasted in a brazen bull, but this is simply later tradition.

2:14 "yet I hold it somewhat against you" Jesus had a negative statement for six of the seven churches. Righteous living in some areas does not excuse sin in others!

▣ "because you have there some who hold to the teaching of Balaam" Balaam was a prophet of God (cf. Num. 24:2) who was lured into helping to compromise the people of Israel (cf. Num. 22-25 and 31:16). He is condemned in both the OT and the NT (cf. Num. 31:16; II Pet. 2:15; Jude 11).

It is possible that the name Balaam in Hebrew meant "conqueror of the people" and the name Nicolaitans may have meant the same thing in Greek (Nicodemus of John 3 also has a similar meaning). This would identify these two groups as to their immoral practices (cf. Jezebel, 2:20).

"who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel" Balaam's suggestion to Balak, King of Moab, was to involve the children of Israel in the fertility worship of Ba'al (cf. Num. 25:1-3). There was a continuing cultural temptation to the sexual worship practices of first century pagans.

SPECIAL TOPIC: ISRAEL (THE NAME)

"to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality" These two sins involved pagan worship practices (cf. Num. 25:1-3 and 31:16). Not only were there pagan meals where the food was sacrificed to idols (cf. I Cor. 8:1-13), but often sexual immorality was the normal and expected worship practice at these pagan assemblies. Human sexual activity was a supposed means of assuring the health and fertility of herds, crops, and society.

2:15 "you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans" Because of the similarity of the teachings of Balaam, the Nicolaitans (cf. 2:6), and Jezebel (cf. 2:20), all three of these refer to pagan, idolatrous worship practices. Believers must not revert to, or compromise with, the pagan cultures.

2:16 "Therefore repent" See note at 2:5.

▣ "or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth" This is an aorist active imperative. There is an ongoing emphasis concerning repentance (cf. 2:5,16,22; 3:3,19). The coming could refer to temporal judgment against the church or to the Second Coming of Christ to judge the world. It is significant that the church as a whole was called on to repent (cf. 3:20; II Chr. 7:14) because of the sins of some; if they did not, the consequences were corporate discipline! See Special Topic: Soon Return at 1:2.

2:17 "to him I will give some of the hidden manna" Manna was God's supernatural provision for the children of Israel during the Wilderness Wandering Period (cf. Exod. 16:14-15,31; Ps. 78:17-33, especially v. 24). There have been several theories proposed to interpret this cryptic phrase:

1. It could refer to the Ark of the Covenant being brought out of hiding by Jeremiah from Mt. Nebo (cf. II Maccabees 2:4-8) because it contained a jar of manna (cf. Exod. 16:32-34; Heb. 9:4).

2. It could refer to the food of the new age of righteousness (cf. II Baruch 29:8).

The exact reference is uncertain but it was obviously an allusion to the new age of the Spirit inaugurated by Christ. Some have even asserted that because of John 6:31-35, the hidden manna referred to Christ Himself. This is a good example of the difficulty in interpreting the specific details of this book which the contemporary hearer understood, but the exact reference has since been lost.

"and I will give him a white stone" This stone, also called Tessera, had many usages in the Ancient Near East.

1. it could be used for a ticket to special banquets

2. it could be used to vote for acquittal by a jury

3. it could be used as a symbol of victory for an athlete

4. it could be used to show the freedom of a slave.

In this context, #1 seems to be the best, referring to the Messianic Banquet (a common theme in Jewish apocalyptic literature).

"and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it" This new name seems to be a symbol of the New Age or a title for the Messiah (cf. Isa. 56:5; 62:2; 65:15; see SPECIAL TOPIC: MESSIAH at 1:1). This new name is mentioned often in the book of the Revelation (cf. 3:12; 14:1; 19:12,13,16; 22:4).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 2:18-29
 18"And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this: 19'I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. 20'But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. 21'I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. 22'Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. 23'And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. 24'But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you. 25'Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. 26'He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; 27and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; 28 and I will give him the morning star. 29'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'

2:18 "The Son of God" It was very common to refer to Jesus as "Son." The most common title using this metaphor was "Son of man," which was Jesus' self-chosen title. The other term was "Son of God" which was a common designation for Jesus in John's writings (cf. John 1:34,49; 5:25; 9:35; 10:36; 11:4,27; 19:7; 20:31; I John 3:8; 4:15; 5:5,10,12,13,20). A third use of "son" is found in the book of Hebrews (cf. 1:2; 3:6; 5:8; 7:28) where Jesus is contrasted with a servant (i.e., Moses, the prophets). He is a full family member with the Father.

This is not one of the descriptive phrases from chapter 1. This term, like "virgin-born," was used sparingly by NT authors probably because of the possible misunderstanding of pagan hearers, who would immediately relate these terms to their usages in the pagan pantheons. The Homeric gods and goddesses often were sexually active with humans, producing special offspring.

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE SON OF GOD

"who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze" This was another title for Jesus taken from 1:14,15. It is an allusion to Dan. 10:6 showing Jesus' heavenly origin. It is possible that it was used in connection with Thyatira because this city was famous for its bronzeware.

2:19 This verse is Jesus' acknowledgment of the ministry of the believers at Thyatira. They were active in kingdom work and getting even more active. This affirmation, however, did not excuse the heresy of v. 20.

2:20 "But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess" This is an allusion to the Jezebel of I Kgs. 16:31-33; II Kgs. 9:21-22. Alexandrinus (MSS A) adds "Thy" before Jezebel, which implied that she may have been the wife of the pastor of this church or an active church leader. But this is speculation. Her teachings (cf. v. 20c) were similar to the Balaamites in v. 14b and the Nicolaitans in v. 15.

Jezebel was not rejected because she was a woman prophetess. There are many biblical examples of godly women leaders.

1. Miriam, Exod. 15:20

2. Deborah, Judges 4:4

3. Huldah, II Kings 22:14

4. Anna, Luke 2:36

5. Philip's daughters, Acts 21:9

6. Phoebe, Romana 16:1

 

SPECIAL TOPIC: WOMEN IN THE BIBLE

2:21 God's mercy and patience as well as His justice are evident in vv. 21-23 (cf. Rom. 2:5).

2:22 "I will throw her on a bed of sickness" This is sarcasm related to her bed of adultery (teachings about immorality).

"great tribulation" See SPECIAL TOPIC: TRIBULATION at 2:9 and the big end-time one at 7:14.

"unless they repent of her deeds" This is a third class conditional, which referred to potential future action but with an element of contingency.

2:23 "and I will kill her children" This does not refer to literal children, but to her followers (cf. 2:22; II John v. 1).

"and all the churches will know" This shows that the seven letters were to be read and the truth applied by all the churches, then and now. For "church" see Special Topic at 1:4.

"I am He who searches the minds and hearts" The Bible asserts that God knows the motives and thoughts of all humans (cf. Ps. 7:9, 26:2; 39:1; Pro. 24:12; Jer. 11:20; 17:10; Luke 16:15; Acts 1:24; Heb. 4:12-13; 8:27).

SPECIAL TOPIC: THE HEART

"and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds" This spiritual truth is presented so clearly in Gal. 6:7. We reap what we sow. This principle does not imply a salvation by human effort (cf. Eph. 2:8-9), but that those who have met God in Christ will live godly, loving, serving lives (cf. 3:12; Matt. 25:1-46; Eph. 2:10).

This is a spiritual principle. God is ethical-moral and so is His creation. Humans break themselves on God's standards. We reap what we sow. This is true for believers (but does not effect salvation) and unbelievers (cf. Job 34:11; Ps. 28:4; 62:12; Pro. 24:12; Eccl. 12:14; Jer. 17:10; 32:19; Matt. 16:27; 25:31-46; Rom. 2:6; 14:12; I Cor. 3:8; II cor. 5:10; Gal. 6:7-10; I Tim. 4:14; I Pet. 1:17; Rev. 2:23; 20:12; 22:12).

2:24 "the deep things of Satan" There are several theories relating to this phrase. It could refer

1. to a catch-phrase of Jezebel and her followers

2. to the Gnostic false teachers' emphasis on knowledge

3. to the initiation rites of the mystery religions of the Roman Empire

4. in an antithetical way, to "the deep things of God" (cf. Rom. 11:33; I Cor. 2:10; Eph. 3:18)

 

"I place no other burden on you" This is an affirmation of the true believers in the city of Thyatira. They had an active, aggressive faith (cf. v. 19).

2:25 "hold fast until I come" Christ's followers must persevere (cf. v. 20) amidst persecution, heresy and apathy. This is a command (aorist active imperative). Jesus is on His way; He is coming soon (cf. 2:16; 22:7,20). This is the hope and encouragement of every generation of Christians.

2:26-27 This is an allusion to Psalm 2:8-9, possibly with Isa. 30:14 and Jer. 19:11 added in. Jesus is the Messianic king. His kingdom is coming in worldwide power and consummation. It will be worth it all when His followers see Him!

2:26 "nations" The use of this term from the OT implies that it refers to those outside the covenant of YHWH (the exception is 7:9). It becomes a way of referring to godless, wicked peoples (cf. 2:26; 5:9; 10:11; 11:2,9,18; 12:5; 13:7; 14:6,8; 16:19; 17:15; 18:3,23; 19:15; 20:8).

2:27 "I also have received authority from my Father" Jesus has already been given all authority (cf. Psalm 2; Matt. 28:18; Phil. 2: 9-11). Jesus' kingdom was present, but not consummated.

The OT quote in verse 27 is from Ps. 2:8 which initially referred to the Messiah (cf. 12:5; 19:15), but here it is used for believers who put their trust in Jesus Christ. They reign with Him. See Special Topic at 5:10.

2:28 "and I will give him the morning star" There have been several possible interpretations of this phrase:

1. it referred to a metaphor for Christ (cf. Rev. 22:16)

2. it referred to intimate knowledge and fellowship with Christ (cf. II Pet. 1:19)

3. it referred to resurrection (cf. Dan. 12:3)

4. it referred to the military Messiah mentioned in Num. 24:17

5. it referred to the joy of God's people (cf. Job 38:7)

6. it referred to a phrase used of Satan in Isa. 14:12, but now for Christ

 

2:29 See note at 2:7.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 3:1-6
 1To the angel of the church in Sardis write: "He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: 'I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. 3So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. 4But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My father and before his angels. 6He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches.'"

3:1 "church" See Special Topic at 1:4.

"He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars" This phrase is another allusion to the glorified Christ (cf. 1:4,16,20). The seven stars refer to the churches and her leaders in 1:20; the seven spirits may be a related metaphor because in 4:5 they are related to the seven lampstands, which are also mentioned in 1:20 as referring to the churches. These seven spirits of God are also mentioned in 5:6 as part of the description of the lamb. See Special Topic: The Seven Spirits at 1:4.

▣ "I know your deeds" Jesus was aware of the strengths and weaknesses of His churches (cf. 2:2,19; 3:1,8,15).

NASB, NKJV"that you have a name that you are alive"
NRSV"that you have a name of being alive"
TEV"that you have a reputation of being alive"
NJB"how you are reputed to be alive"

This was a devastating revelation. They thought they were right with God, spiritually pleasing to Him (cf. Isa. 29:13; Rom. 2:19-20; Col. 2:16-23; II Tim. 3:5), but they were not!

3:2

NASB, NRSV,
TEV, NJB"Wake up"
NKJV"Be watchful"

This is a present middle (deponent) imperative (with a present active participle), literally "be thou continually watching." It is the first of five present imperatives found in verses 2 and 3. Jesus commands His church to keep watching!

NASB, NKJV"strengthen the things that remain"
NRSV"strengthen what remains"
TEV"strengthen what you still have"
NJB"put some resolve into what little vigor you have left"

This is an aorist active imperative. They were to act now and continue to act to preserve what remained of their dying faith.

"for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God" The first verb is a perfect active indicative. They may have looked spiritual (cf. Isa. 29:13), but they were much like the religious people mentioned in Matt. 7:21-23 and Col. 2:16-23.

The term "completed" is a perfect passive participle meaning "mature, perfect, equipped for the assigned task." They had not allowed God to complete what faith had started (cf. Phil. 1:6).

3:3 "remember what you have received and heard" This is a present active imperative followed by a perfect active indicative and an aorist active indicative. This relates to the gospel which they heard and continued to receive. Christianity is not a decision only, but a lifestyle relationship. It involves believing a message and receiving a person. It results in a changed and changing life of repentance (aorist active imperative, v. 3b) and obedience (present active imperative, v. 3b).

"keep it" This is a present active imperative which is an ongoing command.

"repent" This is an aorist active imperative which implies a complete repentance. See note at 2:5.

"Therefore if you do not wake up" This is a third class conditional sentence like 2:22. The action is potential, contingent on their response to Jesus' commands, but not assured.

"I will come like a thief" This is often used of the Second Coming (cf. Matt. 24:43-44; Luke 12:39-40; I Thess. 5:2,4; II Pet. 3:10; Rev. 16:15). However, in this context it seems to refer to a temporal judgment of this church.

3:4 "a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments" The putting on and taking off of clothing was used as a metaphor of the Christian life (cf. Eph. 4:22,24,25,31; Col. 3:8,10,12,14; Heb. 12:1; James1:21; I Pet. 2:1). Some believers had not compromised with pagan culture.

"they will walk with Me in white" White clothing is used as a symbol of purity or victory in vv. 4,5,18; 6:11; 7:9,13-14; 19:14. The term "walk" is often used as a metaphor of the Christian life (cf. 3:5; 21:24; I John 1:6,7; 2:6,11; III John 3-4).

3:5 "He who overcomes" Four things will be given to the one who overcomes.

1. they will walk with the Messiah, v. 4

2. they will be clothed in white

3. their names will never be blotted out of the book of life

4. the Messiah will acknowledge them as His own in the presence of the Father and His angels

See Special Topic on Perseverance at 2:2.

"I will not erase his name from the book of life" This is a strong Double negative. When citizens died, their names would be erased from the rolls of their city but God will never erase believers from His rolls.

This metaphorical phrase "the book of life" is also found in Rev. 20:12-15, where two books are mentioned:

1. the book of life which is made up of the names of God's people (cf. Exod. 32:32-33; Ps. 69:28; Isa. 4:3; Dan. 12:1; Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:23; Rev 13:8; 17:8; 20:12,15; 21:27)

2. the book of deeds or remembrances which records the deeds of both the wicked and righteous (cf. Ps. 56:8, 139:16; Isa. 65:6; Mal. 3:16)

For "book" see notes at 5:1.

"I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels" As believers confess Christ ("call on His name," cf. Rom. 10:9-13), He also confesses them before the Father (cf. Matt. 10:32; Luke 12:8).

"Confess" is the Greek term exomulogeō. It was used in three senses:

1. to publically confess sins to God and others present (cf. Matt. 3:6; Mark 1:5; Acts 19:18; James5:16)

2. to publically confess faith in Christ (cf. Phil. 2:1; and possibly Rom. 14:11)

3. to publically praise God (cf. Matt. 11:25; Luke 10:21; Rom. 14:11 {Isa. 45:23}; 15:9 [Ps. 18:49])

The related Greek word homologeō was used in similar ways:

1. to acknowledge sin (cf. I John 1:9)

2. to acknowledge faith in Christ (cf. Matt. 10:32; Luke 10:32; John 9:22 [negatively, John 1:20; 12:42])

3. to affirm a belief in something (cf. Acts 23:8; 24:14; Heb. 11:13)

 

SPECIAL TOPIC: CONFESSION

3:6 See note at 2:7.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 3:7-13
 7"And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this: 8'I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. 9Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. 10Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. 11I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name. 13He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'"

3:7 "He who is holy, who is true" Verse 7 is a series of four descriptive clauses describing Jesus with titles for YHWH. "Holy" was used 30 times in Isaiah to describe YHWH. John usually substituted the term "righteous" (cf. 15:3; 16:7; 19:2). "True" was often used of YHWH (cf. Isa. 65:16; Jer. 10:10; I John 5:20; Rev. 15:3; 16:7; 19:2). The first two, "holy" and "true," are used again of God in Rev. 6:10. The term "true" in Greek meant "true as over against false," but in Hebrew it meant "faithful or trustworthy." Jesus is surely both (cf. 3:14; 19:11; 21:5; 22:6).

"who has the key of David" This is an allusion to the royal Davidic Messiah of II Samuel 7, but particularly of Isa. 22:22, from where this exact imagery is drawn.

"Who shuts and no one opens" This refers to the preaching of the gospel (see note at v. 8).

SPECIAL TOPIC: USE OF "DOOR" IN THE NT

3:8 "I have put before you an open door which no one can shut" This is a perfect active indicative and a Perfect passive participle. This refers to either

1. preaching opportunities (keys, cf. Matt. 16:19)

2. entrance into the Messianic banquet (clothed in white, cf. v. 4)

3. a divine opportunity for service (cf. Acts 14:27; I Cor. 16:9; II Cor. 2:12; Col. 4:3)

 

"because you have a little power" This is the first of three reasons why Jesus opened such a wonderful door of opportunity. This is the only one of the seven churches to which Jesus had nothing negative to say.

"and have kept My word" The verb tense (aorist active indicative) implies a particular time of persecution or a decisive act of obedience. They had "little faith," but they used it well!

"and have not denied My name" This may be a reference to the persecution caused by the demands of the Concilia, local supporters of the Emperor worship (cf. 2:13).

3:9 "I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan," This may refer to Jewish opposition to the gospel. The Church, not unbelieving Jews, is the true people of God.

"I will make them come and bow down at your feet" This is an allusion to Isa. 45:14; 49:23; 60:14, which initially spoke of the Gentiles coming into the Jewish nation, but because these so-called Jews rejected the Messiah they would come to bow to these Gentile believers to show God's love to them (cf. Isa. 43:4,9). This is a good example of how the NT in general, and John in particular, has modified the OT prophecies concerning Israel. John uses a text that originally saw the Gentiles coming to a restored Jerusalem to worship YHWH, but in the new age of righteousness this geo-political image is expanded to include a believing world (Jew and Gentile) having unbelieving Jews come and bow down! This universalization of Israel and Jerusalem shows that Revelation, far from substantiating a literal fulfillment of OT prophecies to a Jewish nation, has transformed them (cf. Eph. 2:11-3:13). This is the "mystery of the gospel hidden from the ages"!

3:10

NASB"Because you have kept the word of My perseverance"
NKJV, NJB"Because you have kept My command to persevere"
NRSV"Because you have kept my word of patient endurance"
TEV"Because you have kept my command to endure"

This may be a reference to John 8:51 or 17:6. Jesus is not promising to keep His church from persecution because in the letters to the seven churches persecution, even death, was occurring.

Verse 10 refers to a world-wide judgment of God on unbelievers. It is crucial to distinguish between the "tribulations" believers endure in faith and "the wrath of God" that falls on an unbelieving world.

Interpreters differ over how the church will be spared amidst this eschatological judgment:

1.  some see the church as going through it protected by God (cf. John 17:15)

2. others see this as pointing toward a secret rapture of believers before this period

I prefer #1. God's people were not spared persecution and death during the first few centuries in a Greco-Roman culture or the continuing persecution and death as the gospel spread, nor will they be spared the end-time birth pains of the New Age. Persecution has always purged and strengthened the church!

The literary unit of chapters 2-3, in which the Church experiences persecution, is followed by the literary unit of heaven, in which the martyred Church prays for revenge. This "wrath of God" is given in stages of severity (seals-1/4, trumpets-1/3, bowls–total destruction), each stage given for the purpose of calling the lost to salvation. God's ultimate wrath, the second death, the lake of fire (cf. Revelation 20), is no longer for redemption, but is totally punitive.

The persecuted church becomes the victorious church and the persecuting unbelievers experience persecution! God is in control! See Special Topic: Perseverance at 2:2.

"to test those who dwell on the earth" This phrase is used repeatedly throughout to refer to a settled state of rebellion by unbelievers (cf. Rev. 6:10; 18:13; 1:10; 12:12; 13:8, 12, 14; 17:8). God wants them to repent and believe (cf. I Tim. 2:4; II Pet. 3:9), but they will not, even amidst the expanding judgments of the seals, trumpets, and bowls. See Special Topic: Greek Terms for Testing at 2:2.

3:11 "I am coming quickly" This is a continuing emphasis upon the immediacy of the Lord's coming (cf. 1:1, 3; 2:16; 22:7,12,20). The early church expected the immediate return of the Lord. This is the hope of every generation of Christians. See Special Topic: Soon Return at 1:3.

"hold fast what you have" This is a present active imperative, meaning "continue to hold fast" as the aorist active imperative of 2:25 focused on a decisive act of holding fast (see Special Topic at 2:2). As believers hold on to God, He will hold on to them (cf. Gal. 6:9). This is the covenant relationship of God's sovereignty and mankind's mandated response!

Salvation is an initial decision of repentance and faith (cf. Mark 1:15; Acts 3:16,19; 20:21) followed by lifestyle repentance and faith, obedience, service, and perseverance. All of these items are necessary for mature Christianity.

"crown" This is another reference to the stephanos crown mentioned in 2:10. It was a reward for faithfulness.

3:12 "He who overcomes" See note at 2.2.

▣ "I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God" Philadelphia was in an earthquake area; the metaphor of a pillar conveyed the concept of stability. Prominent citizens' names were inscribed on the pillars of the temples in Philadelphia. The term "temple" here is a term (naos) from the verb "to dwell" and was used of the place where deity's very presence dwelt. The overcoming believers will never have to leave God's presence (cf. Ps. 23:6; 27:4-6).

This may be a metaphor because apparently there will be no temple in the new age (cf. 21:22).

"I will write on him the name of My God" Notice the five-fold repetitions of "My" in v. 12. This is a wonderful acknowledgment of intimacy with God. The name symbolized ownership (cf. 7:3; 14:1; 22:4).

"the new Jerusalem. . .new name" Revelation picks up on the prophecies of Isaiah.

1. new things, 42:9; 43:19; 48:6 (Rev. 21:5)

2. new song, 42:10 (Rev. 5:9; 14:3)

3. new name, 62:2; 65:15 (Rev. 2:17)

4. new heaven and new earth, 65:17; 66:22 (Rev. 3:12; 21:1).

The new heavenly city, Jerusalem, is also prophesied in Isaiah: 40:2,9; 41:27; 44:20,28; 52:1,2,9; 62:1,6,7; 65:18,19; 66:10,13,20 (Rev. 21:2,10). It is the metaphor for the presence of God among His people. The OT prophecies have been universalized. New Jerusalem is not a city in Palestine, but the promise of a new age of righteousness.

3:13 See note at 2:6.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 3:14-22
 14"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: 15'I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19'Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. 21He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. 22He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'"

3:14 "The Amen" This is an allusion to a title of YHWH, "the God of the Amen," in Isa. 65:16. The term "Amen" is a form of the OT word for "believe" or "faith" (cf. Gen. 15:16; Hab. 2:4). It usually emphasized faithfulness or trustworthiness (cf. 1:6; II Cor. 1:20). See Special Topic at 1:6.

▣ "the faithful and true Witness" This may be another phrase from chapter 1 (cf. 1:5). In the Septuagint both of these adjectives are used to refer to YHWH. It is possible that emeth, which is the Hebrew word for "faith," "believe" or "trust," was translated as pistos (faithful) and alētheia (truth). These two Greek terms are used often in Revelation for Jesus (cf. 3:14; 19:11; 21:5; 22:6).

NASB, NKJV"the Beginning of the creation of God"
NRSV"the origin of God's creation"
TEV"the origin of all that God has created"
NJB"the Principle of God's creation"

This is an allusion to both Gen. 1:1 and John 1:1. The terms "beginning" (Hebrew, bereshith) and "origin" (Greek, archē) have two connotations: (1) start or (2) origin, source.

This phrase was used in the Arian/Athanasius (Trinitarian) controversy of the fourth century and is an allusion to Pro. 8:22-31. Wisdom was YHWH's first creation and through wisdom all else was created. This was probably the origin of John's use of "logos" in his Gospel (cf. John 1:1). This is one of the strongest passages on the pre-existence of Christ (cf. John 1:1; 8:57-58; II Cor. 8:4; Phil. 2:6-7; Col. 1:17), and also of Christ being the Father's agent in creation (cf. John 1:3; I Cor. 8:16; Col. 1:15,18; Heb. 1:2).

SPECIAL TOPIC: ARCHĒ

3:15 "you are neither cold nor hot" This may be an allusion to the lukewarm water that the people of this city had to drink because of the local hot springs. A similar charge is made against the church of Sardis (cf. 3:1).

3:16 "I will spit you out of My mouth" The warnings of 2:5; 3:3,16,17 are shocking when it is realized that they are addressed to the visible churches of the first century. This is not the loss of salvation, but the loss of effective ministry (cf. 3:19; Heb. 12:5-13).

3:17 "Because you say, 'I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'" Verses 17 and 18 are a historical allusion to Laodicea as a center of banking, a center for dyed wool, and a center for eye salve. The tragedy of their prosperity was that they thought they had so much when they had so little (cf. 3:1).

SPECIAL TOPIC: WEALTH

3:18 "buy from Me" This may be an allusion to Isa. 55:1-3, where God's offer of salvation was free, but described as a cost.

▣ "white garments" See note at 3:4.

▣ "that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed" In the OT nakedness was a sign of defeat, judgment, and poverty.

3:19 "I reprove" This Greek term elegchō is used in the sense of "to expose and thereby to heal or correct" (cf. John 3:20; Eph. 5:11-14).

▣ "and discipline" Being disciplined by God is a sign that we are members of His family (cf. Job 5:17; Pro. 3:12; Ps. 94:12; Heb. 12:6).

▣ "be zealous" This is a Present active imperative. It is from the same word root as "hot" or "boiling" (zestos) used in 3:15-16. Knowing and serving God must be a flaming passion and lifestyle.

"and repent" This is an aorist active imperative. There is a recurring insistence throughout these seven letters that Christians, not just unbelievers, must repent and return to Christ for maturity, stability, and joy (cf. 2:5, 16, 22; 3:3, 19). Repentance is a lifestyle, not only an initial action!

3:20 "I stand at the door and knock" This is a Perfect active indicative, "I stand and continue to stand at the door" followed by a present active indicative "and continue to knock." Although this church received no word of praise, it did receive a warm invitation. This is not the invitation to become a Christian, but rather an invitation for the church members to return to vital fellowship with Christ. This verse is often used out of context to refer to evangelism.

The metaphor of "a door" was used in the Gospels (cf. Mark 13:28-29; Luke 12:36) as a way of referring to the nearness of Christ's coming. See Special Topic: Door at 3:7.

"if anyone hears My voice and opens the door" This is a Third class conditional sentence implying potential but not certain action. In many parts of the world knocking is accompanied by a verbal greeting. Notice the volitional element; the person/church must respond and open the door. This is the covenantal aspect of all of God's relationships with humans. He takes the initiative, He sets the agenda, but humans must respond. Also, notice that the response is not just initial but continual. Salvation is not a product, but a lifestyle relationship. It has its ups and downs, but the existential fellowship is sure!

▣ "I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me" This is an allusion to the peace offering (cf. Leviticus 3, and 7), a time of fellowship where God symbolically ate with the offerer. Others see this as a reference to the eschatological Messianic banquet.

The term used here for a meal is the one used for the meal at the end of the day, which was the major time of family fellowship and companionship. In the East eating has always been a sign of covenant, friendship, and fellowship.

3:21 "I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne," This is a powerful image of intimate fellowship and inclusion. There are many allusions in the NT to believers' reigning with Christ (cf. 2:26, 27; Luke 22:30; Matt. 19:28; I Cor. 6:2 ff; II Tim 2:12; Rev. 20:4). Revelation 22:5 implies Christians' eternal reign with Christ. See Special Topic on Reigning in the Kingdom of God at 5:10.

"as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" It is wonderful to know that Jesus has already overcome the world (cf. John 16:33; Eph. 1:21-22) and that He is already seated at the Father's right hand (cf. Eph. 1:20; I John 2:1 and Rev. 22:1) and that He wants us to join Him in His victory!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why does John's prophecy of the end-times begin with a letter to seven (and only seven) churches in Asia Minor?

2. Why does each letter begin with a description of Christ from chapter 1?

3. How do these letters relate to the Church today?

4. How do you interpret these strong warnings addressed to these churches?

5. How does the doctrine of "once saved, always saved" relate to the warnings and call to perseverance in these letters?

6. Why is 3:20 not a salvation promise?

7. How is the next literary unit related to the letters to the seven churches? Will God spare the end-time believers from persecution, but not the believers of the first century?