LESSON IV (Revelation 2:1-7): The Church of Ephesus
- The letters to the seven churches all follow the same pattern: a. An address and self-announcement of Christ. b. An appreciation of the condition of the church that is addressed, with its good and bad features. c. A message of encouragement, exhortation to repent, threat of judgment, promise.
- Address and self-announcement; vs. 1: “To the angel of the church of Ephesus write”: (1) For “angel” see vs. 20. He is addressed as the representative of the church. (2) Ephesus: situated on the coast of Asia Minor. Rich and flourishing metropolis. Idolatrous. Temple of Diana. ef. Acts 19:23, sqq. Church there had enjoyed the labors of Paul, Timothy, John. The Lord announces Himself as (1) He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand. (2) He that walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. Cf. 1:13, 20. Note here: (1) That this self-announcement is derived from the vision in ch. 1. (2) That the Lord is said to hold (fast) the stars, and to walk in the midst of the candlesticks. (3) That this announcement is related to (a) The defect of the church, vs. 4. (b) The threatened judgment, vs. 5.
- Commendable features; vss. 2, 3, 6: “I know thy works”. a. “Works” is the general term further defined in what follows. Refers to the entire conversation of the church. b. Christ knows them. (1) Is acquainted with them. (2) Correctly evaluates them. These works are further mentioned as: a. “Thy labour”, i.e. difficult toil in the face of opposition, suffering. Hence, b. “Patience”, endurance under suffering for Christ’s sake. c. Intolerance with respect to evil workers. This had become manifest in (1) In their trial of false apostles: false teachers that claimed apostolic authority. They had tried them and exposed them as liars. (2) In their hatred of the works of the Nicolaitanes, which Christ also hates, vs. 6. The name is probably derived from their leader, Nicolas (not the deacon of Acts 6:5). They were libertines, men that used their Christian liberty as a pretext for a corrupt life. Se vss. 14, 15. d. And this was still the condition of the church, vs. 3: “Thou has borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast labored, and hast not fainted, i.e. in the midst of much opposition the church had not grown weary and not given up the battle.
Note: Apparently an ideal church: strong in doctrine and discipline; faithful in confession and walk. Yet there was a very serious defect:
- Defect; vs. 4: “Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee” (1) Something the Lord condemns. (2) In respect to which He stands opposed to the church; for which He holds her responsible. “Thou has left they first love”. Concerning this note: (1) That love here refers to the love of God in Christ, the very root of the life of the church. (2) That first love refers to the early condition of the church, when the church was filled with this love and abounded in it. (3) That they had forsaken this first love: no longer was the church filled with it; in some this love was not at all; others had fallen asleep. (4) That the church was held responsible for this: they had not watched, not emphasized the necessity of spiritual reality and truth. (5) That the church, therefore, lived partly by what love there was left, and partly by tradition. There was no true zeal.
- Christ’s message to this church; vss. 5, 7: a. Exhortation, vs. 5: (1) “Remember whence thou hast fallen” (a) Recall the blessedness of the former state. (b) And compare the present sad condition with it. (2) Repent: acknowledge this condition as thy sin and deplore it. (3) And do the first works: as the fruit of true repentance. b. Threat: (1) “Or else I will come to thee quickly”, vs. 5. (2) And will remove thy candlestick out of its place: so that Ephesus would no longer be a representation of the true church on earth. This the ultimate result of “leaving our first love”. c. Promise: vs. 7: (1) To whom: (a) To him that hath an ear to hear (spiritual) what the Spirit saith unto the churches. Note, that the Spirit speaks the Word of Christ. Note also the plural: churches. (b) To him that overcometh: endures to the end in the battle. (2) What promise: (a) The paradise of God is the eternal, heavenly realization of the covenant of God in the new creation. (b) The tree of life is the antitype of the tree of life in the first paradise: perpetuation of life, pledge of life in God’s fellowship, favor. (c) To give to eat is to give the right and the power to eat of that tree.
LESSON V (Revelation 2:8-11): The Church In Smyrna
- The Church of Ephesus represents the Church in the beginning of her decline. The Church of Smyrna is the Church rich and strong in tribulation.
- Vs. 8: Address and Self-announcement: a. For “angel” see 1:20. b. Smyrna was a beautiful city, rich in trade, situated north of Ephesus on a bay of the Aegean Sea. Some think that Polycarp, who suffered martyrdom there, is the “angel” here addressed. c. The Self-announcement of Jesus is wholly in harmony with the condition of the church in Smyrna (tribulation): (1) He is the first and the last (see 1:11). He is the “Firstborn of every creature”, unto Whom all things are created. Hence, He will be the end, the victorious Last. (2) And the resurrected One: He was dead and is alive with a new and victorious life, victorious over all the power of death. The Church whose Lord He is has nothing to fear, not even death itself.
- Vss. 9, 10: External condition of the Church: a. “I know thy works (“thy works” does not occur in the R. V.) and tribulation”. This is the general statement concerning the condition of the Church. Its chief feature is that it suffers tribulation (1) The word denotes a state of being pressed on all sides so that there is no room to stand in the world. (2) Suffering for Christ’s sake. b. Poverty. (1) This part of her tribulation, most probably due to the persecution by the rich Jews. They could not find a position, a job. (2) The members were poor, and therefore, the Church as such had no means. c. Slander, reproach, denouncement: (1) Blasphemy of those that say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. (2) They were Jews according to the flesh. (3) But no in heart. One the contrary they were a gathering (synagogue) whose spiritual lord was Satan (adversary); his will they performed. (4) And their blasphemy consisted most probably in denouncing the Christians before the civil magistrates: the Christians said that Jesus is Lord! Christ versus Caesar! d. And this would lead to more tribulation. (1) Some would be cast into prison. (b) And they would have tribulation “ten days”. Notice, that there is a threefold comfort implied here: (a) The devil (liar, slanderer) would cast them into prison. There is comfort in the thought that the devil hates us and persecutes us. (b) The purpose would be that “ye may be tried”. The devil’s purpose was temptation, their downfall. But God’s was tial, for their good, unto “praise and honor and glory”. And God’s purpose is reached even through the work of the devil. (c) The tribulation would last “ten days”. Ten is the number of a complete measure according to God’s determination. Hence, the tribulation would last as long as God willed. And “days” denotes that the time would be short. Tribulation is always short in comparison with the glory that shall be revealed in us!
- Its spiritual condition, vs. 9b: a. “But thou art rich”: (1) Notice that this is all that is said about the spiritual condition of the Church. (2) But it really implies everything good. And there is no rebuke in this letter! b. Meaning: (1) The Church of Smyrna consciously, by a living faith, possessed all the spiritual riches in Christ. (2) And was endowed with all the spiritual virtues that are in Christ: faith, hope, love, meekness, patience, etc. c. Why should a church in tribulation be rich? (1) Because God reveals His strength in weakness, glorifies Himself by revealing the wonder of His grace. (2) Because tribulation causes the Church more closely to cling to Christ by faith. (3) Because in tribulation the wicked do not join themselves to the Church.
- The message it receives, vss. 10, 11: a. Exhortation, vs. 10: (1) “Fear none of the things which thou shalt suffer”: there is no reason to fear if we look on Him that was dead and liveth! (2) “Be faithful unto death”. (a) To be faithful is to walk and speak according to the covenant relation. (b) Unto death is: even if we must die for Christ’s sake. b. Promise, vss. 10, 11: (1) “I will give thee a crown of life”. (a) The crown here is not the royal crown, but he wreath of victory. (b) And “crown of life” is a crown that consists in eternal life. Life as a wreath of victory! (2) “Not be hurt of the second death”, i.e. of eternal death in hell, after the resurrection. (3) For whom: (a) For him that is faithful. (b) That overcometh (see 2:7). (c) And that hears what the Spirit saith unto the Churches. This means all the Churches. The Church of all times!
LESSON VI (Revelation 2:12-17): The Church of Pergamos
- Vs. 12: Address and Self-announcement: a. Pergamos: a city north of Smyrna, situated on the northern bank of the river Caicus. Noted for its beauty, learning, and its worship and temple of Aesculapius. b. Christ here designates Himself as the One that hath the sharp two-edged sword. Cr. 1:16. This anticipates the threat of judgment in vs. 16.
- Vs. 13: Commendable features: a. The church of Pergamos was in especially difficult circumstances; (1) Satan’s throne was there, i.e., he had dominion there in a special sense. (2) And he dwelled there, i.e., he was permanently at home in Pergamos. (3) This refers to (a) The fact that Pergamos was especially given to idolatry. (b) That believers suffered martyrdom there. (c) Perhaps to the worship of Aesculapius as healer and savior, whose symbol was the serpent. b. Already they had suffered bloody persecution at the time of Antipas, of whom we know nothing further. Is called “faithful martyr”, i.e. in this case: “witness even unto death”. c. And the church had been faithful: (1) “Thou holdest fast my name”. The Name is Christ revealed to us in all His riches and power. To hold fast to that name is to adhere to Christ in confession and walk, by faith. (2) “And hast not denied my faith”. The faith of Christ is the faith concerning Him, in Him, that which is believed concerning Christ. Not to deny is to confess that faith, the truth. Here expressed as “hast not desired”, because the Church was hard pressed to deny Christ’s faith.
- Vss. 14, 15. Defect of the Church: a. She permitted false teachers in her midst: (1) They were the Nicolaitanes. Cf. Vs. 6. (2) Here they are described as those that hold the doctrine of Balaam, etc. Cf. Num. 25:1ff; 31:16. Having failed in his attempt to curse Israel Balaam instructed Balak to entice Israel to commit adultery and idolatry with the Moabites, thus causing them to stumble. (3) Thus the Nicolaitanes were those who taught the people to partake of the sacrificial feasts of the heathen and their accompanying fornication. Under the pretext, no doubt, of Christian liberty. Libertines. B. Hence, the weakness of the Church. (1) Was not one of doctrinal nature: the Church as a whole did not teach this false doctrine. (2) But laxity in discipline: they tolerated these false teachers in their midst. Is responsible for their presence and activity.
Note. Question: How must it be explained that in a church such as Pergamos, which was in tribulation and faithful (1) Such false teachers existed? (2) And were tolerated? Answer: (1) The severest form of persecution was past (in days of Antipas). (2) Men like the Nicolaitanes, who compromised with the world, had little persecution to fear. (3) The church perhaps afraid to stir up more hatred.
- Vss. 16, 17. Exhortation, threat and promise: a. Exhortation: repent! (1) This is not addressed to the false teachers, but to the Church as a whole. (2) She must change her attitude over against the false teachers and (a) Admonish them. (b) Put them away from their midst if admonition is of no avail. The Church may not tolerate evil men. B. Threat: (1) “Or else I will come unto thee quickly.” This means that the Lord will come to judge His church in Pergamos, and cause her to experience His displeasure if she does not repent. See I Cor. 11:30. (2) “And will fight against them with the sword of my mouth”. He Himself would send judgments upon the evil ones by His almighty Word. c. Promise: (1) Hidden manna the Lord will give the victor. Manna was the food Jehovah gave His people in the desert. It is a type of Christ, the Bread of life, as He imparts Himself to His people. Hence: grace, the favor of God. Cf. John 6:31ff. This manna is said to be hidden. (a) Not because it is spiritual. (b) But because it refers to the future enjoyment of God’s favor in His heavenly tabernacle. “Eye hath not seen”! (2) The white stone: (a) Stones were used for different purposes among the ancients. (b) The reference here is probably to the custom of casting a white or black stone in rendering verdicts; the white stone indicting acquittal, the black stone condemnation. In that case the white stone denotes the future public justification of the saints. (3) New name (a) Name denotes the person, character nature. (b) New: because it denotes the glorified nature. (c) Only the bearer can know it: there will be individual difference in the future kingdom of glory. Endless variety with fundamental unity and harmony. Hence, this name is the proper name of each individual saint.
Originally Published in:
Vol. 19 No. 9 January 1960