I’ve been memorizing chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation and truly enjoying it. I believe that all scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit and that the original writings turned just as He and the human authors intended, but it does seem like these chapters don’t get the same weight as, say, Paul’s pastoral epistles. I’m going to write this overview then do separate posts on the warnings and promises threaded throughout these sections. I encourage you to read the Bible passages closely and really meditate on these eternal truths.
One thing I love about memorizing using the Bible Memory app is that it slows me down to notice countless things that I’d otherwise minimize or miss. This has been completely true with these passages.
I think it helps to back up a bit to chapter 1. We find the apostle John, who used to have a much more casual relationship with Jesus, being greatly humbled by the glorified Jesus. And then in v. 20 there is a good lesson about interpreting things in Revelation (not my strong suit, to be sure, especially in later chapters). But note how symbolism is used then John immediately explains what the symbols mean. We don’t need to overthink some of these things.
Revelation 1:17–20 (ESV) 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
I’m not big on numerology, as some people get mischievous with it, but when memorizing you notice things like John using the word seven a total of seven times in v. 20, as if it is important or something . . .
Now to the messages! There is a general pattern, with a message to the angel (or possibly church leader . . . I’ve read different views and would appreciate any of your insights) of each church. Then there is usually a positive, a negative with a warning, and a promise, though there are exceptions.
While there are apparently different views on this, I think a few things are obvious: These were seven real churches that Jesus was addressing. His promises and warnings were as serious and true as could be. There have been churches throughout history through today that fit these molds (e.g., the U.S. is probably similar to Laodicea, but others have attributes of us as well). And I think they also apply to us as individuals. I see myself in the good and the bad of many of these.
Revelation 2–3 (ESV) To the Church in Ephesus
2 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
2 “ ‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
Each section notes one or more traits of Jesus. In this case, that He is the one who holds angels of the churches in his hand (the seven stars) and walks among the churches (the seven golden lampstands). Jesus is here among our churches!
Again, I’ll cover the warnings and promises more in subsequent posts, but note how Ephesus sounds fantastic (works, toil, endurance, calling out false teachers) until Jesus points out that they have lost their love. Then He threatens to remove their church! We should not get complacent just because we do some things well.
To the Church in Smyrna
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
9 “ ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’
V. 8 points to Jesus’ divinity, being first and last, and has a brief but powerful statement of his true resurrection. The “Christian” Leftists like to claim that He was just resurrected in our hearts or some such nonsense, but the Bible never even hints at that.
Jesus had no issues with Smyrna. He promised them the crown of life for enduring to the end, which we will also get. But He also promised them tribulation and noted that despite their poverty they were actually rich.
Trivia fact: Polycarp, a mid-2nd century martyr, was the Bishop of Smyrna.
To the Church in Pergamum
12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.
13 “ ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’
V. 12 notes that Jesus has a sharp two-edged sword. He isn’t the “how about a hug and a cookie” Jesus that the “Christian” Left portrays him as.
Just a side note: In passing the massive Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Houston once my youngest daughter said, “I’m pretty sure Satan lives there.” That came to mind when Jesus said the Satan dwelt in Pergamum.
To the Church in Thyatira
18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
The words about Jesus’ features, including the sword coming out of his mouth in chapter 1, can be confusing if people take them too literally. But they don’t describe what He looks like (He obviously doesn’t have a literally sword coming out of his mouth as He speaks) but as what He is like.
19 “ ‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. 24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25 Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26 The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27 and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself 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.’
Again, Jesus is depicted as having eyes of flame and feet of burnished bronze and not some doting grandfather. He is not soft of sexual immorality. He calls it out repeatedly in the strongest possible terms. Yet much of the church ignores and even mocks this today.
To the Church in Sardis
3 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
“ ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. 4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
If Jesus says you are dead or dying, that’s a bad sign.
For believers, Jesus will actually confess your specific name before the Father.
To the Church in Philadelphia
7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.
8 “ ‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, 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 from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
The part about patient endurance is noted four times in these message, such as in v. 10 above. It is obviously a major issue to Jesus. Will we endure patiently through trials and still hold fast to his word and not deny his name?
To the Church in Laodicea
14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
15 “ ‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ”
If Jesus says something once, you ought to obey. But if He says something seven times, such as, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches,” then perhaps we should really pay close attention.
P.S. After reading the text many times along with study notes from the Bible Knowledge Commentary, I really enjoyed this series of talks from a conference covering this passage.