Bible: What Does Revelation 2:1-29 Teach Us About Local Churches (Part One)?
The Place Where the Church Meets for Worship
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Revelation 2: Jesus' Messages to the Churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, and Thyatira
John constructs each one of his individual messages to the seven local churches in Asia Minor as follows:
(1) Jesus’ command for John to write to the spiritual leader (“messenger”) as the representative of the church (2:1a, 8a, 12a, 18a; 3:1a, 7a, 14a);
(2) A description or title of the speaker, Christ (2:1b, 8b, 12b, 18b; 3:1b, 7b, 14b);
(3) Jesus’ commendation for good work (2:2-3, 9, 13, 19; 3:8-10);
(4) Christ’s criticism for inconsistency or evil work (2: 4, 14-15, 20-23; 3:1c-2, 15-17);
(5) His counsel or call for repentance (2:5, 10, 16, 24-25; 3:3, 11, 18-20);
(6) His call to obedience, and promise to overcomers (2:6-7, 11, 17, 26-29; 3:5-6, 12-13, 21-22).
Ephesus, the capital of the Asian province of the Roman Empire under Caesar Augustus (Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 458), receives John’s first exhortation from Jesus (v. 1a).
The apostle describes the Lord as the One who protects these messengers while dwelling within the churches (v. 1b).
When Jesus speaks to the church, He commends her for several good qualities:
(1) her hard work;
(2) her perseverance;
(3) her intolerance of evildoers;
(4) her diligence in “testing the spirits” of lying, false apostles (v. 2; cf. 1 John 4:1); and
(5) her “never-say-die” attitude (v. 3).
However, He also criticizes her for leaving her “first love”—a love for which Paul commended them thirty years earlier (v. 4) [see Eph. 1:15-16; Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 459].
[The church has intentionally stopped demonstrating a particular attitude that may have encompassed both love of God and love of human beings.]
Jesus commands them to recall the wonderful way they once lived, change their mind about their current behavior (“repent”), and start showing loving actions toward others again.
He warns them that unless they do so, He will no longer use them as a local church to do great deeds (v. 5).
Verse six seems to be an anomaly in the pattern, for it shows Jesus commending the church for hating what He hates: “the deeds of the Nicolaitans.”
[Ryrie suggests that either this sect behaved poorly, or it introduced a clerical hierarchy into church governmental affairs (New Testament Study Bible, 59).]
Finally, Jesus calls for her (and all believers in future churches) to obey the Spirit’s messages; here Christ promises the overcomer the privilege of eating from the tree of life (v. 7).
One may understand this "eating" to refer to a reward of special fellowship with the Lord for maintaining one's first love (showing good deeds, Rev. 2:5).
Second, Jesus commands John to write a letter to the pastor in Smyrna, “a seaport city 35 miles north of Ephesus” (v. 8a; Ryrie 459).
The apostle designates the speaker as the Eternal One who died but returned to life (v. 8b; cf. 1:17b-18a).
Jesus commends this church for bearing up under trying persecutions from blaspheming Jews whom the Lord labels “a synagogue of Satan” (v. 9).
He counsels them not to fear the testing that they will soon experience for “ten days” under Satan’s direction, but to keep the faith.
Christ will reward the faithful witness/martyr with the crown of life (v. 10). The Lord encourages them that they will not experience the lake of fire (v. 11).
[Of course, believers should already know this truth; but Jesus wants to assure them that, though they may physically suffer for a short while now, He will reward them richly in the eternal kingdom.]
The False Prophet Balaam
Third, the One who wields “the sharp two-edged sword” (cf. 1:16) directs the apostle to send a message to Pergamos, the one-time capital of the Roman province of Asia (v. 12; Ryrie 459).
Christ applauds them for standing firm in the faith despite being where the pagans worship Caesar and Zeus (“where Satan’s throne is . . . where Satan dwells”) and where they sometimes kill Christians (for example, Antipas) [v. 13].
Nevertheless, the Lord shows displeasure with them for not opposing those covetous teachers who have Balaam as their predecessor in this doctrine and who were causing believers to descend into moral sin (v. 14).
He also criticizes them for tolerating some in their midst who adhere to “the doctrine of the Nicolaitans” (v. 15; cf. 1:6).
Again, Jesus counsels church members to change their mind if they dio not want Him to destroy these teachers with His “sword” (v. 16).
[Would not that be a good thing?]
To those who obey the Spirit’s word and overcome these obstacles, Jesus promises to give “hidden manna” and “a white stone”—clearly rewards for service.
Ryrie comments that these items may symbolize the sufficiency of Christ to meet the believer's needs (460).
Another writer sees the white stone as the victory stone given at the games (Sauer, In the Arena of Faith, 63-64).
If this latter interpretation is accurate, this reward will come because of perseverance.
Ahab and Jezebel
Local Church Issues
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Fourth, the holy Judge and Son of God instructs John to compose a strong note to Thyatira, a town thirty-five miles southeast of Pergamum (v. 18; Ryrie 460).
Even to this corrupt local assembly, Jesus brings some words of commendation and encouragement, lauding the faithful service and perseverance of a few people (v. 19).
However, He also forcefully criticizes them for permitting “Jezebel” to teach false doctrine—some of the same teachings that “Balaam” espoused (v. 20; cf. 2:14; 1 Kings 16; 2 Kings 9).
Though Christ gave her sufficient opportunity to change her ways, she refused to heed; therefore, He promises to cause her and her consorts to suffer greatly unless she finally repents (vv. 21-22).
Not only will He make her suffer, but He will also bring calamity upon her children (v. 23a).
This destruction will be so noteworthy that every local church will acknowledge Christ’s ability to scrutinize the inner lives of all people and render just judgment upon each individual (v. 23).
Jesus will not require any further responsibility from those who have not succumbed to these false doctrines—namely, “the depths of Satan”—except to adhere closely to what teaching they have until He returns (vv. 24-25).
To the individual who perseveres until death or the Rapture in doing many of the good works that Christ did, the Lord promises a share in kingdom rule (v. 26).
He does not specify here in what capacity Christians would serve in the Messianic government, but the Scriptures do say that Jesus’ reign will be one of strict righteousness (v. 27; cf. Ps. 2:9).
Perhaps overcomers will have the authority or power to administer disciplinary action for unrighteous behavior.
They will also receive “the morning star”—perhaps Christ will give them Himself in greater measure—because of their obedient service (vv. 28-29).
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