Revelation 2 (NRSV)
The letters to the seven churches share a similar structure. They each feature:
- An address to a particular congregation
- An introduction of Jesus
- A statement regarding the condition of the church
- A verdict from Jesus regarding the condition of the church
- A command from Jesus to the church
- A general exhortation to all Christians
- A promise of reward
We can see the state of each of these seven churches — and the state of our own walk with Jesus — by looking at what Jesus has to say to each church in each section.
The Message to Ephesus
Ephesus was a prominent city in ancient Rome, with a famous church. Paul, Aquilla and Priscilla, and Timothy all ministered there. The city was also a religious center as home to one of the seven wonders of the world, the Temple of Diana, with its hedonistic worship. In addition, the temple served as a bank and treasury for individual merchants and even cities. The library, pictured above, was built to store 12,000 scrolls.
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are 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. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. 3 I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
What does it mean, to abandon your first love? Here are some examples:
– I value praise from people more than praise from God.
– I am callous in the way I treat a Christian brother/sister.
– I choose not to witness because I fear rejection.
– My leisure-time thoughts do not turn to God.
– I do not cheerfully give to God’s work.
– I become complacent to sin.
– I hold grudges and am slow to forgive.
5 Remember then from what 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 is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible notes that the Nicolaitans taught that Christians were free to practice immorality in the name of religion.
The Message to Smyrna
Smyrna was a city of beauty and wealth. It was the center for the worship of the Roman Emperor. Ancient Smyrna was located north of Ephesus in a powerful trading position on the Aegean Sea and was known for its harbors, commerce, and marketplaces. The primary ruins of Smyrna, including its massive city market (agora, pictured above) and underground sanitation system, are located in the middle of the modern Turkish city of Izmir. (I lived in Izmir from 1976-1978; I was a teacher at a private Turkish jr. high and high school where most classes were taught in English. It was a wonderful experience for me!)
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of the first and the last, who was dead and came to life:
9 “I know your affliction and your poverty, even though you are rich. I know the slander on the part 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. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
Death is a prelude to real life. Hebrews says that Jesus “endured the shame of being nailed to a cross, because he knew that later on he would be glad he did. Now he is seated at the right side of God’s throne!”
Jesus assures us, Let not your hearts be troubled. I go to prepare a place for you. I will give you a crown of life.
11 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Whoever conquers will not be harmed by the second death.
The Message to Pergamum
The huge Great Altar of Pergamon, with its monumental friezes, is in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin. The base of this altar remains on the upper part of the Acropolis of the ancient site. It is perhaps this altar, believed to be dedicated to Zeus, that John referred to as “Satan’s throne” in verse 13.
12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword:
13 “I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives. 14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication.
Balaam was an ambiguous figure in the Jewish tradition, who blessed Israel with a messianic prophecy (Numbers 24:15-19, HERE), but was also held responsible for the apostasy of the Israelites at Peor (Numbers 31:15 HERE). Here is evoked that more negative tradition.
15 So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.
The Message to Thyatira
Thyatira was a center of business and trade. It had many active trade guilds, each having their own patron deity from the Greek and Roman pantheon of gods. Acts 16:14-15 mentions Lydia of Thyatira, who was a seller of purple cloth from the city of Thyatira. Numerous references are found in secular literature of the period to the trade guilds which manufactured cloth.
18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: These are the words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze:
19 “I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first.
Jesus commends them for wonderful qualities . . .
20 But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication. 22 Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.
. . . but then calls them out for tolerating immorality in their midst. Jesus could not be more clear here!
(Which makes me think — What immorality in my own life am I tolerating, have I become so used to that I hardly see it as sin? Where am I putting my own preferences above the Word of God? What disobedience do I dismiss as not a big deal? Lord, search my mind and heart, and lead me in Your way.)
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 to what you have until I come. 26 To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,
I will give authority over the nations;
27 to rule them with an iron rod,
as when clay pots are shattered—
28 even as I also received authority from my Father. To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. 29 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
At Thyatira they were, with all their great qualities, turning a blind eye to immorality. But Jesus with his eyes of burning fire (v. 18) could not ignore immorality in the church. When it comes to immorality there comes a time when the church needs to be intolerant. Jesus commands it.
“DEEDS show what you BELIEVE and whether one has truly received the truth so as to be saved.”
Verse 4: But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.
“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” is a 1964 song by The Righteous Brothers which became a number-one hit single in the United States and the United Kingdom the following year. In 1999, the performing-rights organization Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) ranked the song as having had more radio and television play in the United States than any other song during the 20th century. Additionally, the song was chosen as one of the Songs of the Century by RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) and ranked #34 on the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone.
Bring back that lovin’ feelin’ HERE.