INDUCTIVE STUDIES ON REVELATION

Historical Situation

The Seven Churches of Asia Minor
Part One: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and Thyatira
(Rev. 2:1-29)

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THE SCRIPTURES (2:1-29)

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 `I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary. 4 `But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 `Remember, therefore, 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. 6 `Yet 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.'

8 "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this: 9 `I 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. 10 `Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until 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. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.'

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. 14 `But 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. 15 `Thus you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. `Repent, therefore, or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make 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 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.'

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 `And I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. 22 `Behold, I will cast her upon 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 `And he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONS; 27 AND 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.'


INTRODUCTION

Before looking at the passage, we need to remember one of the primary purposes of this study: to keep it moving. By that, I mean I don't want to get bogged down into too many details; otherwise, it will take longer to study Revelation than it will be to live it (the whole 7 years). I don't want to lose the forest for the trees. For this reason I want to do a generalized survey of the 7 churches in Asia Minor rather than an extensively detailed one.

In keeping with what we said last time, we want to look at these churches as being real churches and not as church ages. There really was a church at Ephesus. In fact, after the fall of Jerusalem and the subsequent destruction of the church there in 70 AD, the church of Ephesus became one of the most important churches in Christendom. John, the beloved apostle, moved there after the fall of Jerusalem. From there emerged some important writings in the New Testament. In addition to the Letter to the Ephesians which Paul had written aroundn 60 AD, the Gospel of John, the 3 Johannine letters and the Book of Revelation were penned in Ephesus by John or one of his secretaries.

So why is John writing to these 7 churches? To prepare them for the intensification of the persecution which they were already experiencing to some degree. The persecution was more likely going to get worse than better. They needed to be prepared. As chapters 2 and 3 show though, these churches had some serious flaws which might weaken the Christians there to such an extent that they will not be able to weather persecution. Jon Randles very insightfully said: "Many times your talent will take you where your character won't support you." Well, their "talent" (their profession of faith in Christ) was leading them into the fires of persecution. Would their character sustain them in those fires? Or would they buckle when push came to shove?

The sad thing is that few of us realize that the choices we are making when times seem easy are developing within us a character which will be able or not be able to withstand great testing. The time to get serious about Jesus is not just as things are heating up. By that time it may just be too late. Rather the time to prepare for the stressful times is AT ALL TIMES, even and probably especially when life is running its daily routine. By pointing out the weaknesses of the churches, John is praying that they will correct those flaws so that they will be able to endure persecution. (Weathering persecution is essential during times of tribulation; it is NOT optional. In fact, the main purpose of Revelation is to encourage us to be faithful to Christ during times of persecution.)


SPECIFIC MESSAGES TO THE CHURCHES (part 1) Rev. 2:1-29

As we look at John's messages to 7 churches, we will notice a familiar pattern in each message.

  1. He mentions the church he is writing to.
  2. He points out a particular description of Jesus from 1:9-20 which applies to the church's spiritual condition (or something like it)
  3. He commends them for the spiritual good in the church
  4. He points out a weakness in the church's life
  5. He warns the church to correct the situation
  6. He ends it with a promise of blessing if the church responds positively to his instruction

Most of these elements are in each message to the churches. In the cases of Sardis and Laodicea, John really doesn't have anything positive to say about them, whereas in the case of Smyrna and Philadelphia, he has nothing bad to say about them.

In the table below, write down for each church the missing pieces. I have filled in the ones for the church of Ephesus as an example. As you study these verses, see if any of them relate specifically to our church and then specifically to your life.

CHURCH DESCRIPTION OF JESUS WORD OF COMMENDATION CRITICISM WARNING PROMISE
Ephesus He walks among the seven golden lampstands They have done well,
especially testing those who claim to be apostles
They have left their first love Repent, and do the deeds they did at first He will eat of the tree of life in Paradise
Smyrna .
.
. None . *
Pergamum+ .
.
. . . #
Thyatira .
.
. . . .

*Second death refers to an eternity in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).
+Pergamum is called the city where Satan dwells because it was a major center for emperor worship in Asia Minor. The story of Balaam and Balak is found in Numbers 22-23. We are not sure about who the Nicolatians were; however, they were guilty of the sins John accuses them of.
#Manna was necessary to sustain life during the 40 years of wandering by the Jews.


APPLICATION

Now that you have looked at the churches and John's messages to them, does anything he says relate to our church? If so, what?

Does anything he says relate to your life? If so, what?



A SIDE NOTE

Before leaving this chapter, notice something very important John does. There is no doubt that the churches John is addressing are CHRISTIAN churches made up primarily of Gentiles. That is a given. Now look at what terms and images he uses to describe the churches and the promises he makes to them. He uses JEWISH/OLD TESTAMENT terms. Examples of this include

  1. Jesus who is addressing these churches is decked out as a Jewish priest representing God to man.
  2. The lampstand which stood in the Jewish Temple (Holy Place) to represent God's presence.
  3. Jesus promises the Ephesian church that it will eat from the tree of life, a reference to the Garden of Eden in Gen. 3 (an OT image).
  4. Jesus will give the faithful in Pergamum manna (from the Jewish OT story of Moses).
  5. Jesus will give the faithful in Thyatira authority over the nations with the authority to rule with a rod of iron, in direct fulfilment of Psalm 2:8.
  6. There will even be more of these Jewish references to the Gentile Christian church in chapter 3 which continues Jesus' address to the 7 churches of Asia Minor.
  7. John calls the Gentile Christians of Asia Minor "kingdom of priests," a major OT designation of the nation of Israel (Rev. 1:6).

Because the Jews were accomplices in persecuting Christians, John calls the Jewish synagogue the synagogue of whom (2:9)?

What does all this signify? The fact that John has no problem at all in speaking of the Gentile church with Jewish and OT terms indicates that for him the Gentile church--along with the Jewish Christian church--is the true Israel of God. For this reason, when John speaks about 144,000 of the tribes of Israel, it is easy to understand now why so many NT scholars believe the 144,000 refer to Gentile Christians along with Jewish Christians and not just to 144,000 Jews who were saved after the rapture.