The 7 Churches of Revelation
Chapters two and three of Revelation cover the letters that Jesus Christ had the Apostle John write to the seven churches in Asia Minor. These are an extremely important two chapters and it is very unfornuate that they get so neglected because people are intimidated by Revelation (αποκαλυψις). However, these two chapters are very easy to understand and apply. There are difficult details to be sure, such as who the Nicolaitanes were, but we must not let that distract us from the clear positive and negative reviews that these churches are getting.
See you guys on Sunday the 21st for our next Bible study!
1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
So now we begin the 7 letters to the 7 churches in Asia (Turkey). Why these churches? I don’t know, but 7 is the number of completeness so maybe these churches had qualities, both good and bad, that typify most congregations. These letters are certainly great lessons for us today.
I do not believe that each of these churches represents an “age” through history as is commonly taught. That is highly subjective and something that is read into the text (eisegesis) rather than pulled from the text (exegesis). Adam Clarke said, “I consider the Churches as real; and that their spiritual state is here really and literally pointed out; and that they have no reference to the state of the Church of Christ in all ages of the world, as has been imagined . . . and such expositions should not be entertained by any who wish to arrive at a sober and rational knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.”
2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
Pretty good praise so far! These are things that all congregations should be doing: labor for Christ and the gospel, be patient in hard times and with difficult people, and don’t give an inch to evil people!
1 Corinthians 5:9-13 says, “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”
We can expect evil people outside the church (the world), but to tolerate them and their sin within the church will damage the congregation. In Galatians 2:4-5 Paul writes, “And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.”
A church absolutely cannot tolerate false doctrine, not even for an hour.
Also, for verse 3 above, we should not be weary in well doing (Galatians 6:9).
4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
They were doing a lot of things well, but they neglected their first love which is Christ. We can do all the right works, but what good is it if a fervent love for God is not at the center of it all? Even Christians walking on the right path need to remind themselves of the simplicity of the gospel and of God’s amazing love. We need to take time to just focus on Him.
Matthew 24:12 says, “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” We can’t be too focused on the world and the evil therein.
Also see 1 Corinthians 13:2. I think God values the simple yet pure faith of a child more than all the intellect and knowledge of a scholar.
5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
They’re doing some things well, but they need to fix this one area ASAP. It’s interesting that this is the only church threatened with the removal of its candlestick.
6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.
As far as who the Nicolaitanes were, nobody knows, but Albert Barnes says it well: “It has been supposed that some person now unknown, probably of the name Nicolas, or Nicolaus, was their leader, and laid the foundation of the sect. This is by far the most probable opinion, and to this there can be no objection.”
This group is mentioned again in verse 15. It’s good to hate false doctrine, and reject subversive teaching.
7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
“He that hath an ear” means that what is being written for these churches is for everyone’s instruction and learning. If you hear what Jesus is saying to these churches, then take notice and examine your own congregation.
Who is he that overcometh? See 1 John 5:4-5.
8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;
9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
Now we’re at the church in Smyrna and they are praised for their works! They are poor in the world, but rich in the things of God.
The synagogue of Satan is also mentioned in 3:9 and there have been books written speculating on who this is referring to. Let’s ask some questions. Who goes around calling themselves Jews, but aren’t real Jews? Who goes to a synagogue? Adam Clarke says, “There were persons there who professed Judaism, and had a synagogue in the place, and professed to worship the true God; but they had no genuine religion, and they served the devil rather than God. They applied a sacred name to an unholy thing.”
Albert Barnes says, “It may throw some light on the passage, however, to remark that at a somewhat later period - in the time of the martyrdom of Polycarp - the Jews of Smyrna were among the most bitter of the enemies of Christians, and among the most violent in demanding the death of Polycarp.”
Finally, Romans 2:25-29 may shed some light on this.
10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
There’s a lot of speculation about these 10 days of tribulation and whether is has some prophetic meaning, and that may be so, but at the least I think this church went through an extremely difficult 10 day period. Ultimately, Jesus tells them that they will suffer, and to not be afraid of any of it.
11 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
If you’re born once you die twice; if you’re born twice you die once. See Revelation 20:14.
12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;
13 I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.
This is a very interesting verse. This church is keeping the faith despite living right near where Satan lived (lives?). It’s possible that Satan makes his home right in this area. It could also mean that there was heavy evil influence in that area. John Wesley writes, “Pergamos was above measure given to idolatry: so Satan had his throne and full residence there.”
We don’t know much more about Antipas than what is stated here.
14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.
So they’re making some big mistakes by allowing this false doctrine and wicked teaching to exist in their church. The doctrine of the Nicolaitanes is likely connected or similar with what is described in verse 14.
16 Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.
Regarding this white stone, Hanserd Knollys writes, “There was among the Romans a two-fold use of ‘a white stone.’ First, he that was victor, and overcame in their Olympic games and wrestlings, had ‘a white stone’ given him, which he did bear as a badge of honor and victory. Secondly, he that being accused of any crime in their civil courts and judicatories was found innocent, and so was acquitted of that crime, had ‘a white stone’ given to him as a sign of absolution.”
18 And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass;
19 I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.
That their last was more than their first I take to mean that they were making progress, and growing in the things mentioned. This is excellent praise for this church.
20 Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.
So they have a woman teaching at this church which is prohibited by God (1 Timothy 2:12). Some manuscripts read “your woman” instead of “that woman” which could mean she was the wife of the pastor of that church, and she was teaching awful things to that congregation that they shouldn’t have tolerated. Her name might have actually been Jezebel, or this referenced Jezebel who is mentioned many times in the books of the Kings. 1 Kings 16:31 says, “And it came to pass, as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took to wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Zidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshipped him.”
21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.
22 Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
If you hold to a pre-tribulation rapture view, then you could see this as implying the churches won’t go through that time.
23 And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
This should tell you how much Jesus hates false teaching and wickedness, and that we should call it out and expose it whenever it rears its ugly head. This is why I absolutely hate when people who don’t know the Bible at all make outrageous claims saying that Jesus doesn’t care what sins we commit because He is loving. “Her children” likely refers to those who follow her teachings.
24 But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.
25 But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.
To those who aren’t led astray by this Jezebel, keep doing what you are doing.
26 And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.
“Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?” (1 Corinthians 6:2). Revelation 20:4 says, “And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.”
Also see Psalm 2:9.
28 And I will give him the morning star.
See Revelation 22:16. There is no greater reward, in all the heavens and earth, than Jesus Christ Himself.
29 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
1 And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.
Remember from chapter 1, the seven spirits were mentioned, and the seven stars are the angels (probably the pastors) of the seven churches.
This church did not get a good review. They called themselves by the name of Christ but that’s it. Perhaps this is in line with what James says, that faith without works is dead. This is the church that gathers every Sunday but that’s it.
2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
3 Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
Perhaps this refers to His Second Coming and shows support for a post-tribulation rapture. It could also mean that Christ will come upon them specifically and suddenly.
4 Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.
There are often faithful people in bad churches.
5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
6 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;
8 I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.
On this open door, John Wesley says, “To enter into the joy of thy Lord; and, meantime, to go on unhindered in every good work.”
This church was likely a small congregation, and weak, or of little influence, but they kept the Word of God.
9 Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.
God will make sure the enemies of the church will see God’s love for the church. James Coffman says, “What is done here is to take the ancient Scriptures regarding the Gentiles "bending before" Israel (Isaiah 60:14) and to state that the reverse is true now. The Jews were once God's chosen people, an honor forfeited by them in their rejection of the Son of God.” Perhaps the conversion of Jews is also meant.
10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
Like Jesus prayed in John 17:15, “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.”
11 Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.
12 Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
13 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
Throughout Scripture, God warns us and encourages us to stay close to Him.
14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
This is apparently a terrible church, and we should do everything we can to avoid being lukewarm. What the King James translates as “spue” should be a word more like “vomit” showing God’s utter disgust with their complacency and comfort. I can see many churches today that fit this description.
It’s perhaps worse to call yourself a Christian, but live just like the world, than to call yourself an atheist and live accordingly. John Gill says, “A lukewarm professor is one that serves God and mammon; that halts between two opinions, and knows not what religion is best, and cares little for any, yet keeps in a round of duty, though indifferent to it, and contents himself with it; and is un concerned about the life and power of godliness, and takes up with the external form of it; and has no thought about the glory of God, the interest of Christ and truth.”
17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
Remember the church of Smyrna? They lacked material goods and wealth but were rich in the things of God. Here they are wealthy, but poor in faith. It’s better to be like Smyrna than Laodicea.
18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
In contrast to being lukewarm, they are told to be zealous. And so should we! We should be always passionate for the cause of Christ.
20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
This verse is often used for non-Christians (which is fine), but the context here is that this is directed at the church! The idea is close fellowship with Jesus Christ. Also the context is of a church that Jesus has nothing good to say about, yet He’s right at the door, ready for them to turn to Him.
21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
“This promise of sharing the throne is the climax of an ascending series of glorious promises which carry us from the Garden of Eden to the throne of God in heaven.” – W. B. Carpenter
22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
When we start to see more of the visions and signs in this book, I try and look at the big picture and the main message rather than try and solve particulars of each verse. For example, we can ask what the rainbow and jasper represent in verse 3, but I think it’s best to see that description as something that highlights the glory and majesty that surrounds our Creator. Of that we can be certain.
1 After this I looked, and, behold, a door was opened in heaven: and the first voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither, and I will shew thee things which must be hereafter.
2 And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
These verses are where pre-tribulationists see the rapture occurring, although I think it’s a bit of a stretch.
3 And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.
4 And round about the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold.
So who are these 24 elders on the 24 thrones? They are dressed as priests with kingly crowns. There is plenty of speculation, but nothing Biblically solid to determine who they are.
5 And out of the throne proceeded lightnings and thunderings and voices: and there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God.
6 And before the throne there was a sea of glass like unto crystal: and in the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, were four beasts full of eyes before and behind.
Now we start to get into the wild stuff. What are these four animals (living creatures, ζωα) full of eyes? Fortunateely this isn’t this only book of the Bible these creatures are mentioned. See Ezekiel chapters 1 and 10, and Isaiah 6:1-6. Ezekiel 10:20 says, “This is the living creature that I saw under the God of Israel by the river of Chebar; and I knew that they were the cherubims.”
What is a cherubim? They guarded Eden after Adam and Eve were thrown out (Genesis 3:24), and Satan was also once a cherubim (Ezekiel 28:12-15). As best we can figure, they are some sort of angelic beings.
7 And the first beast was like a lion, and the second beast like a calf, and the third beast had a face as a man, and the fourth beast was like a flying eagle.
8 And the four beasts had each of them six wings about him; and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come.
They exist for the worship of God.
9 And when those beasts give glory and honour and thanks to him that sat on the throne, who liveth for ever and ever,
10 The four and twenty elders fall down before him that sat on the throne, and worship him that liveth for ever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.
The elders cast their crowns before God in an act of submission and showing that their state is derived entirely from Him. He is the King of Kings.
What’s the big, obvious message of this chapter? The powerful, impressive, and absolutely glorious majesty of Almighty God.