Letters to Seven Churches

Why these particular churches? [See map]
One thing to keep in mind when looking at the purpose of these churches is looking again at the number of churches. There were seven churches chosen. The number seven again is used for perfection and completeness of whatever it is God is trying to say or show. So seven churches is what God used and all that He needed to tell His complete story.

These churches were considered historical churches. They were in existence at the time of the writing of Revelation. They represented typical churches with the normal problems, strengths, and weaknesses of the churches of the time, through the churches of the ages, and the churches of today. The characteristics of these seven churches represented the totality of the characteristics we experience in every kind of church and every kind of member. Some have even said the letters are prophetic. They say the letters describe what will come in the course of history until Jesus comes again. See also the table (can also click Significance Today) that shows the comparison of the churches to the churches of the ages. This will become more clear with the study of the individual cities.


Was the order of churches important? [See map]
The "circle" of these churches was a convenient travel route. It also covered the complete variety of churches required for Jesus' quoted letters. The approximate mileage is as follows:
  • Ephesis >> Smyrna = 64 mi.
  • Smyrna >> Pergamum = 39 mi.
  • Pergamum >> Thyatira = 43 mi.
  • Thyatira >> Sardis = 29 mi.
  • Sardis >> Philadelphia = 93 mi.
  • Philadelphia >> Laodicea - 20 mi.
As can be seen, the distances could even be walked relatively easily. So they were a convenient grouping for the deliveries of messages (letters).


General Discussion of Letters
The writing of anything was not very easy in the ancient days. Many could not even read, what's more write. Therefore, to write one had to be able to read. Then, one had to know HOW to write. There were not many who could. Then, one had to have something on which to write. Also, one had to have something with which to write (pen). There had to be a way of preserving these writings. And lastly, there had to be a way of delivering the letters.

John was a learned man; therefore, he could read and write, as a minimum Hebrew and Greek. Using scribes was very common in his day. John did not have an official scribe. However, if one goes to the island of Patmos and look at the cave in which tradition says John lived, there is possible evidence that the actual writing was done under John's direction by a another person, also possibly exiled. At the time of the writing, John is thought to have been in his eighties or nineties and was probably quite feeble. Therefore, he probably had help to scribe the text.

The materials for writing were certainly primitive by our modern day standards. However, considering the technology of the time, documents have withstood the perils of time. People used to write on almost anything such as clay, pottery, and parchments. Clay and pottery were more used for the poor and very short writings. Parchment was better. This was a material made from the skins of animals such as sheep, goats, and calves. These skins were scraped, cured, softened, and rubbed smooth. The better quality parchment called vellum could be written onto both sides. The lower quality parchment was written only one side only. It should be understood that the Jews thought the skins and the tanners that worked with skins were impure and had to go through purification regularly.

By far the most used material of the time was papyrus. This writing sheet was made from the papyrus reed plant. The making of papyrus "paper" generally follows these steps. The plant stem or trunk was cut into lengthwise strips. Those strips were soaked in water until they were flexible and sticky from natural juices. The strips looked a little like today's wicker strips. Then the strips were laid in a criss-cross, woven manner much like wicker. This was pressed, pounded, dried, smoothed. These slabs of papyrus could be stuck together as a scroll for long documents.

Of interest is also the pen and ink used by the writers of the day. The pen was a reed sliced at an angle at the end, split, and smoothed. Ink was made from many materials. The most likely ink was made from lamp soot and a gum-like material. Some paints and inks were based on juices of fruit and other similar materials. Many of these inks have lasted thousands of years. Try that with anything we have today. Many of the inks have not been able to be duplicated by modern man.

The most interesting thing to consider is some of these materials have been found and are readable and able to be handled AFTER THOUSANDS OF YEARS. Try that with OUR modern paper products!

"Mailing" letters was another problem of those days. The Romans had a type of Post Office but it was for official Roman business only. Other people had to arrange for the delivery of private letters completely on their own. Usually, letters were sent by carriers such as trusted travelers or couriers.


Letter Form Used for the Letters to the Seven Churches
These letters were written in the format of the day: Name of the person writing the letter, the name of the person to whom the letter is written, a greeting, the body, and a concluding blessing. This is not too much different than today except we include the date at the beginning and add our name at the end. Actually, why should we read to the end of the letter before we find out who wrote it?

The letters were written to the leaders of the churches but were also meant to be read aloud to a congregation. These letters were very specific.

The language he used was the Greek used at the time. From about 300 B.C. to 300 A.D. there was a Greek Koine, common, language of the Greco-Roman world. The New Testament is in Koine Greek. It should be noted some scholars say a couple of parts in the New Testament, Matthew, may have had Aramaic originals. No such originals have ever been located. There was also a controversy the New Testament was written in a different language style. But the more and more "findings" of old documents, especially well preserved Egyptian writings, are proving these letters were written in the style and language of the times. This says the "holy" book was meant to be truly read and understood by the people, not some specially trained individuals or priests. It was written for real people in the everyday language.

Format of Letters:
The letters are all formatted in the following manner:

  • Description of letter:
    To whom the letter will be written.
  • Description of writer:
    From whom is the letter (Jesus).
  • Commendation:
    What are the good qualities and strengths of the church.
  • Deficiency:
    What serious faults and deficiencies are present in the church.
  • Demand of Lord and remedy for deficiency:
    What is required of the church by Christ to be acceptable once again to God.
  • Discrimination:
    Separation of those who will pay attention and those who will not.
  • God's promise (encouraging reform):
    If the deficiencies are corrected, what good will come from God out of the corrections.


Ephesus 2:1-7
Ephesus [EF-eh-sus] [See map] Largest (approx. 200,000 people) and most important trading port in the Roman province of Asia, situated at the mouth of the Cayster River on the shore of the Aegean. By NT times, it was in a state of decline, due to the silting of its harbor, and its control of trade in the region had diminished. Paul lived there for over two years during his third missionary journey, making it central to the evangelization of the entire province.

Ephesus had heard the Gospel under Tychicus (Eph 6:21), Timothy (I Timothy 1:3), John Mark (I Peter 5:13), John the Apostle (Rev 1:1 1; 2:1), and Paul. It was involved with many power struggles from hundreds of years BC through John's time.

The famous pagan temple of Artemis was built at a sacred site of an ancient Anatolian fertility goddess, about 1.5 miles (2.5 km) NE of the city- the magnificent structure ranked as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was widely represented on Roman coins, and was reputed to be four times the size of the Roman Parthenon. The great theater in Ephesus, into which the rioting mob carried Paul's traveling companions, had a capacity of about 24,000. It remains largely intact to this day. It was located at the end of the impressive marble boulevard that led from Mt. Pion to the ancient harbor, now several miles inland.


Description of letter:
2:1 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:"

Description of writer (Jesus):
2.1 "The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:"

Commendation (good qualities and strengths):
2:2 "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;"
2:3 "and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary."


Deficiency (serious fault or faults):
2:4 "But I have this against you, that you have left your first love"

Demand of Lord and remedy for deficiency:
2.5 "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."
2:6 "Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate."


Discrimination:
2:7 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

God's promise (encouraging reform):
2.7 "which is in the Paradise of God."

NOTES:
v1: Jesus now makes a certainty from whom the letter comes. This description came earlier when John was "getting aquainted" with Jesus (Rev. 1:12-13).

He is writing to the angel of the church. What are the possibilities for the word "angel". There are different ideas of the angel. But, looking at the context of who the angel is and what that angel has to do will clarify the statement.

  • Addressing a real angel (guardian angel)?
    In very scriptural circles, there is a thought that there is an angel, like a guardian angel, for every church. Its purpose is to watch over and support spiritually, as needed, the congregation. However, to write to that angel would not be very fruitful because the letter is to be read to the people. To be sure, there are angels watching over churches of God.
  • Addressing the Bishop of the church?
    The Bishop (or priest, ministor, pastor) of the church was the leader of the specific church. This was the person that most likely would read the letter to the congregation. It sounds most likely the "star" is the leader of the church.
  • Addressing what would be the ideal of the church?
    This was stated by a small number of commentators that the "star" might have been the ideals, precepts, or foundations for which the church stands.

The two most likely are Addressing the Bishop and acknowledging the Ideal.

v2-3: Jesus says he knows the church's works. This is a basic fundamental of all the letters. Jesus knows what the church was and is and what it can be. It sounds as if the church has some foundational precepts that are good. Since all have been warned of false messiahs and false apostles, the church apparently is aware of this and "tests" those persons that are questionable. You cannot tolerate know evil men. You throw out evil and false apostles. They had endurance and steadfastness. They were trying to standup under pressure and were withstanding these pressures.

v4: The KJV says "I have somewhat against thee". The correct Greek is "I have this against thee". Jesus says they have lost or left their first love. What was the first love? They had love of Jesus when the church was first starting out. They had the initial enthusiasm and the love of each other. However, they did not hold onto that strong and burning affection for God and the sacred things they had when they started. At that time they had knowledge of the truth, and justified by faith in Christ.

v5: Now the people of Ephesus were told that not all is lost. They must go back to their first love of Jesus Christ. They are to repent. What DID they have that they should bring back? When they started, they had a happiness, a love, and a joy they had never had. They had a zeal for the glory of God and salvation. They prayed in fervor. Jesus coming "quickly" means coming in judgement. They are given the warning that unless they make those changes their church (lampstand) will be removed. Adam Clark says this means "he would unchurch them; they should no longer have a pastor, no longer have the word and sacraments, and no longer have the presence of the Lord Jesus." How horrible!

v6: Jesus says He appreciates that the Ephesians do not go the way of the Nicolaetans. The mention of the Nicoelatans has been in question forever. These people's particular heresy is not defined. The Nicolations were named after a proselyte (Gentile who totally converts to Judaism, including circumcision) of Antioch (one of the seven original Deacons), Nicolas. It comes from the Greek nikar, to conquer, and laos, the people. The Nicolaitanes were said to have taught the wives that adultery and fornication were things that did not make any difference. Eating meats offered to idols was quite lawful and acceptable. There were mixes pagan rites with the Christian ceremonies.

The Nicolations were persons who followed the teachings of Balaam. The name Balaam (see Pergamum for more details) comes from the Hebrew bela, to conquer, and ha'am, the people. The bad connections are related to eating things offered to idols and also related with immorality (see also Thyatira). The problem was internal to the church. The heretics were saying they were presenting an "improved version" of Christianity.

v7: Each of the letters or epistles say this. If you have ears to hear, let them hear and obey. To those who obey, Jesus will grant them paradise in the presence of Jesus.



Smyrna 2:8-11
Smyrna [SMUHR-nuh; "myrrh"] [See map] A port city in the Roman province of Asia, at the head of the gulf into which the Hermus River empties. An early Greek colony of great prosperity, it was referred to in ancient times as the "first of Asia." Destroyed by the Lydians in 627 B.C., it virtually ceased to exist for three centuries until it was refounded and "came to life again" (Rev. 2:8). Its resurgence was facilitated by alliance with Rome and, under the Roman Empire, Smyrna once again achieved prominence. It became a center of Caesar worship, a cult responsible for much of the persecution of the early church. The "crown of Smyrna," possibly a reference to the magnificent public buildings that encircled the summit of Mt. Pagos, is well known from literary sources, and is alluded to by John. It is not in ruins today.

Description of letter:
2:8 "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:"

Description of writer (Jesus):
2:8 "The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:"

Commendation (good qualities and strengths):
2:9 "l 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."
2:10 "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."


Deficiency (serious fault or faults):
None

Demand of Lord and remedy for deficiency:
None

Discrimination:
2:11 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

God's promise (encouraging reform):
2:11 "He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death."

NOTES:
v8: This letter is said to have been written to the "angel" Polycarp (70 - 156 A.D.). He was the bishop of the church in Smyrna who later died a martyr. The civil authorities had him burned at the stake. However, he would not burn. So they stabbed him and killed him. Then they burned his body.

Jesus acknowledged the "first and the last" again. This goes back to Rev. 1:8 where Jesus is defined as the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. Jesus also refers to His being dead at one time (died on the cross) came back to life (resurrection).

v9: Jesus says He knows all about the suffering, the trials, and tribulations the followers in Smyrna were having. They were poor (in money) but rich (in spirit or Christ). The word “blaspheme” originally means to speak evil things about someone. It could mean to injure by words; to blame unjustly. Apparently there were persons claiming to be Jews, but were not. The persons are being persecuted by the Jews. These Jews are the persons who heard the truth (some may have heard Paul) and still rejected Christ. The synagogue of Satan was a reference to a place of worship (the synagogue) being controlled by Satan. Satan was the one worshipped in that synagogue. Satan here is a word that is applied to a great evil spirit. Elsewhere int the Bible Satan is called the devil.

v10: Here Jesus tells the followers in Smyrna not to fear about what they are about to suffer. No Christians have ever been given an exemption from suffering. Keep in mind that Jesus did not find anything wrong with the Smyrna church. Remember that Smyrna suffers and still has no negatives against them. When we get to Philidelphia, it will be found that, although they also do not have any negatives, they will NOT suffer.

Apparently the Satanic operations in Smyrna (from the synagogue of Satan) will put the pressure on the believers. Some of the Christians will go to jail. Your ability to withstand these pressures are going to be tested strongly. These trials will be for 10 days. What does 10 days mean? It is possible that the 10 days could have been literal. There are references to days in scripture (Gen. 24:55; 1 Sam. 25:38; Dan. 1:12). However, the most likely interpretation of the 10 days is to understand that many of the references in Revelation are in terms of years called prophetic days. Examine the table (can also click Significance Today). This table places the seven churches as prophetic churches in history. The church of Smyrna represents the church of persecution. Therefore, if we look timing (100 - 313 A.D.), was the timing of the approximate 10 years of persecution under Diocletian (284-305), during which all the Asiatic Churches were grievously afflicted. Therefore, the ten days could be meant to refer to oppression for 10 years. If the people stay faithful until they die, Jesus will give them the crown of life (everlasting life in paradise with Jesus).

v11: Jesus again says that those who have ears must listen and hear what the Spirit of God is saying. He that overcomes these persecutions will not be hurt by the second death. What is the second death? This will be discussed again later.

All people have a "first birth". This is when you are born. Unless Jesus comes before death, everyone has a "first death". That is when our earthly body dies. Those who become Christians and are "born again" or are "regenerated" have a "second birth". Those who DO NOT accept Christ will have a "second death" which is eternity isolated from God and eternally suffering. So what Jesus is saying is those who overcome will not suffer the second death.




Pergamum 2:12-17
Pergamum (also Pergamos) [PER-guh-mum] [See map] A city in Mysia, located in the Caicus Valley about 15 miles (24 km) from the Aegean Sea. In the 3rd century B.C., it became the capital of the kingdom of Pergamum, which was bequeathed to Rome in 133 B.C. Thereafter, Pergamum became the chief city of the Roman province of Asia, and was the center of a complex of pagan cults, particularly emperor worship. For this reason, Revelation calls Pergamum the place "where Satan has his throne." Pergamos has Greek root from bigamy and polygamy. It is the word for marriage; but, it is something objectionable. It refers to a marriage with the world of the church organization (i.e., married to the world).

Description of letter:
2:12 "And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write:"

Description of writer (Jesus):
2:12 "The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this:"

Commendation (good qualities and strengths):
2:13 "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."

Deficiency (serious fault or faults):
2:14 "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."
2:15 "Thus you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans."


Demand of Lord and remedy for deficiency:
2:16 "Repent therefore; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth."

Discrimination:
2:17 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

God's promise (encouraging reform):
2:17 "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."


NOTES:
v12: This is the next greeting to Pergamum. There is a reiteration of the definition associated with the description of Jesus.(Rev. 1:16; Heb. 4:12). His words cut and penetrate deep. They cut in every way. It pierces deep into the bones and marrow or the body.

v13: The altar of Zeus was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (100 feet square, 40 feet high, and, because it was on an acropolis (acro, high, polis city), it was 800 feet in altitude). Since the appearance was like a throne, this was most likely the basis for the "Satan's throne" or "Satan's seat" statement. "Satan's throne" could be just a reference to the city because of the major temples in Pergamum.

Jesus acknowledges "the place where Satan dwells" is a tough place to live. The believers tried to keep the faith even when one of the brethren, Antipas, was killed for his beliefs in Jesus. The Jews had as a tradition to call any place where God did not dwell in power was where Satan dwelled. This pagan city was corrupt.

The personage of Antipas is not really known. We know he was a Christian. Tradition says that he was part of the church, possibly the bishop, of the church in Pergamum. He probably became martyred because of his belief in Christ. There is a tradition that Antipas was a martyr in Pergamum who was literally roasted by Domitian.

v14: Balak - The King of Moab called in Numb. 22:2. Although no other peoples except for those associated with the land of Canaan had to worry, Balak was frightened about how powerful Moses and the Israelites had become. He sent for Balaam the prophet to pronounce, for a fee, a curse on the Israelites. See Balaam below.

Balaam - Balaamism was prevalent in the church. It means "destroyer of the people". The prophet Balaam knew about all the gods and worshipped all of them. He was very powerful. A curse or a blessing from him was considered prophetic. God commanded Moses to execute a war of vengeance against the Moabites (Num. 31:3; compare Josh. 13:21). Balak, the king of Moab, rather than battle Moses, asked Balaam to curse the Israelites. When approached, Balaam rejected the curse because it was against God's will. Balaam journeyed to confer further with Balak. On this journey, Balaam's donkey talked with him as he traveled a narrow trail (Num. 22:21-30; 2 Pet. 2:16). Here Balaam clearly understood that an angel's drawn sword enforced his obedience to speak only God's message to Balak. Later in four vivid messages Balaam insisted that God would bless Israel (Num. 23-24). God used Balaam to preach truth. He even spoke of a future star and scepter (Num. 24:17) a prophecy ultimately fulfilled in the coming of Jesus as the Messiah. Balak's actions brought God's anger upon Moab (Deut. 23:3-6). In a battle against the Midianites, Balaam died (Num. 31:8; Josh. 13:22). Balaam could not curse Israel, but he taught the Moabites to bring the men of Israel into Baal worship with its immorality. For this God would punish Israel. What Balaam could not accomplish with a curse he did so through seductive means. Balaam was to have beautiful women tempt the Israelite men then reject them. When the men want to get the women back, the men would have to renounce the Jewish law in favor of the gods of the Midianites and Moabites. Of course, God will be angry with the Israelites. (Numb 22-25; Deut, Jude 11; II Pet 2:1 5).

v15: Nicolotians - See Ephesus

v16: Jesus makes another demand for them to repent or else they would have to contend with the war of Jesus and His sword from His mouth (Rev. 1:16)

v17: Here Jesus makes the statement about the hearing what He has to say when the letter is read. T o receive the hidden manna is the hidden food. Remember the manna, the life giving food, given to the Israelites during the Exodus led by Moses (Exo. 16:16-35).

There is some controversy over what the white stone is. There does not appear to be a significant tradition or award of this type. There was a procedure for the Jews used in the legal system. The Sanhedrin would vote on the guilt of a defendant in court with black pebbles and white pebbles. The black pebble was a vote for condemnation or guilt; the white was for innocence or acquittal. There could be a signficance that the white, always a sign of cleanliness and purity, stone was a token of acceptance by Jesus given to those who retained their faith. The name on it probably was some sign that only the believer and Jesus need know.

There was also a custom for the Greeks and rht Romans to take a white stone and split it into two pieces. The use of the stones halves was for friendship. The two people would engrave their names on their half of stone and then they would exchange the stones. This was for long term friendships. This was even accepted by the ancestors of the two people.




Thyatira 2:18-29
Thyatira [THIE-uh-TIE-ruh] [See map] A city in the Roman province of Asia, on the road from Pergamum to Sardis. For centuries a garrison town, in Roman times it became a busy commercial center, with more trade guilds than have been identified in any other Asian city. Membership in these guilds was essential to social and financial success in the trading community of Thyatira, but often involved acts of pagan worship and immorality. It is likely that the teaching of the woman known as "Jezebel" advocated compromise with the paganism of the city.

The city was also known for its unique expensive purple dye obtained in very small quantities from certain shell fish. Remember, Paul was befriended by a dye dealer called Lydia (Acts 16:14-15).

Description of letter:
2:18 "And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:"

Description of writer (Jesus):
2:18 "The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this:"

Commendation (good qualities and strengths):
2:19 "I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first."

Deficiency (serious fault or faults):
2:20 "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."
2:21 "And I gave her time to repent; and she does not want to repent of her immorality."
2:22 "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.'
2:23 "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."


Demand of Lord and remedy for deficiency:
2:24 "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."

God's promise (encouraging reform):
2:25 "Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come."
2:26 "And he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations;"
2:27 "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;"
2:28"and I will give him the morning star."


Discrimination:
2:29 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."


NOTES:
v18: This is the greeting for the believers in Thyatira. The references to the flaming eyes and the burnished bronze were used earlier by John to describe Jesus (Rev. 1:14-15)

v19: I know your works and beliefs. Your last works and activities were even greater than your first works and activities. That means they were actually growing in faith and grace.

v20: Whether there was at this time a real Jezebel or whether some "Jezebelic" activities, it is not known. This person represented sin in all forms, especially leading Jesus' followers into sin such as eating meat of idol worship. In the Old Testament, there was a real Jezebel which seems to illustrate what Jesus is saying. It appears as if they were "tolerating" this Jezebel. The KJV says "sufferest that woman". The word suffer means "to allow". Remember Jesus when He said "Suffer little children..." which means "Allow little children...".

Jezebel was a leading figure in the apostacy of the church. Jezebel was Ahab's wife, a Zidonian queen, daughter of Ethbaal King of Zid. She introduced idolatry to God's people causing prophets to be slain. Ahab served Baal (I Kings 16) (also remember in the Elijah oratorio, the famous call to Baal). Ahab's Pergamos was the marriage with the world. Ahab built pagan temples and altars angering God more than all previous Kings. There was nothing more than depraved sex worship and prostitution into the temple. (I Kings 18:10) Not clear from scripture translations - But, Elijah challenges Ahab's prophets of Baal and Prophets of the "groves". Groves were once thought to be groups of trees for druid worship. No grove of trees was allowed near altars. (Deut 16:21).

The Hebrew idol Asherah is in form of a tree. The Greek name is none other than Venus. This gave rise to phallic and Venus cults and human sexual practices going with the fertility of the fields. The first major sin of Jezebel, was she brought the worship of male and female prostitution to Israel (I Kings 23; Ezek 15).

The second sin of Jezebel was her treatment of Naboth. Ahab coveted Naboth's vineyard. He asked for it and also offered to pay. Naboth refused because it was sacred (inherited from father). Ahab went on "hunger strike". Jezebel said don't starve; I will set it up for you to have the vineyard. She wrote letters of false witness to nobles. She said Naboth blasphemed against God and king. The letters were believed and Naboth was stoned. Ahab was immediately pushed by Jezebel to grab up the vineyard by supreme ownership force.

v21: This alludes to the story of Jezebel. God first sent Elijah to Ahab to pronounce a severe judgment upon him. Ahab seemed to show tokens of repentance. So God put off his punishment. A similar punishment pronounced against Jezebel was also put off. Thus God gave her time to repent. She did not, She even seduced her sons to the same sins (1 Kings 21:1-29).

vv 22-23: It appears Jesus is makeing a contrast between the bed of adultery and the bed of pain. It is obvious that Jezebel, all those who commit adultery with her, and the offspring of those unions will perish unless they repent.. Jesus said that all would know the results of this destruction.

v24: The rest of the people who have not succombed to the "Jezebelian" ideals will have no other burden on them. This does not mean no more suffering. It means there will be no added burden more then they are experiencing from having these evil persons with you. Remember, the believers these persons to remain in the church. Jesus threatens to punish all those who had become contaminated with these pernicious doctrines.

v25: Jesus says to hold on to truth and purity and faitn. He says He will come to take them to Himself.

v26: Following the teachings of Christ will allow you to be a leader or ruler over Nations of God (may be referring to the millennium and/or eternity).

v27: This is based from the Messianic Psalm thinking of the conquering Messiah who would smash the heathen and extend the Israelite rule. (Psa 2:8,9)

v28: The "Morning Star" can be examined as the following:
  • This is constantly discussed by scholars. Christ is described as a morning star which outshines the lights of the older prophets. (2 Pet 1:19)
  • Lucifer means "light-bringer". It could mean total power over Satan.
  • It could be related to the promise of the first resurrection: just as the morning star rises, so will the Christian rise after death.
  • Those who are wise shine. (Dan 12:3)
v29: Again we get the phrase for those with ears to listen to the words of the letter and abide in them.




Sardis 3:1-6
Sardis [SAR-dis] [See map] A city in the province of Asia and situated on a spur of Mt. Tmolus above the Hermus Valley, at the junction of the royal highways linking Ephesus, Pergamum, and Smyrna with central Asia Minor. It was the Lydian capital under Croesus, who became legendary for his wealth, largely derived from the gold in the Pactolus, a river which flowed through the city. In a surprise attack, Cyrus the Persian conquered the heavily fortified city, about 549 B.C. Sardis fell again in 214 B.C., this time to the Romans, who used similar tactics in their assault. Under Roman rule the city declined, and its devastation in an earthquake in A.D. 17, sealed the fate of the once great city- Sardis never recovered. The church in Sardis apparently shared in the character of the city, relying on its past reputation but inwardly decaying.

In 17 A.D., an earthquake destroyed Sardis. But, Tiberius rebuilt the city and canceled its taxes for 5 yrs. Sardis and Rome were then favorable to each other until the 11th century A.D. when the Turks took Sardis. It was again destroyed 1402 A.D. Only ruins remain today.

Aesop started telling his famed political fables here (approx. 550 B.C.).

Melita of Sardis (2nd Century Bishop) wrote what was probably the first interpretation of Revelation.


Description of letter:
3:1 "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write:"

Description of writer (Jesus):
3:1 "He who has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars, says this:"

Commendation (good qualities and strengths):
3:4 "But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments - "

Deficiency (serious fault or faults):
3:1 "I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead."

Demand of Lord and remedy for deficiency:.
3:2 "'Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God"
3:3 "Remember therefore what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. If therefore you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you."


God's promise (encouraging reform):
3:4 "But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments- and they will walk with Me in white; for they are worthy."
3:5 "He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels."


Discrimination:
3:6 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

NOTES:
v1:The church had a "good name", looked "Christian", and appeared to be alive. The Lord comes to this church having "the seven spirits of God" i.e., the One possessing the all-seeing, all-present, Holy spirit. Jesus sees within and over the "good name".

v2: There are no specific points of sinning given. The scripture is written in general terms. Stop being slow and sleepy in your belief. Wake up! There are still some good things going on. Take those good things and build on that. Jesus says there are a lot of things that have been left undone. Sardis was an example of a church which had a form of godliness but denied God's power (2 Tim 3:5).

v3: Remember or consider the state in which you are. Remember everything you have had and have now. Correct those problems. Repent!! If you do not, Jesus will come as a thief in the night (Matt 24:43-44; 1 Thes. 5:2). This is really telling the people tht He is coming again. They do not know when He is coming. Therefore, they better shape up and be ready. It is too late to change after He comes again.

v4: Jesus gave a commendation that there were some people who had not "soiled their garments". They had not sinned and were trying to bring the church back. References to the defilements are not clear but was very disturbed. The defilement soiled or stained the robes. Those who did not defile the garments will be dressed in white and be with Jesus. The white again signifies purity.

v5: The people that overcome the "soiling" will be with Jesus in white. Their names will not be taken out of the "book of life". The "book of life" will be discussed in more detail in chapters 13, 17, 20, and 21. In summary, the "book of life" is the listing of people who will be with Jesus eternally. Jesus will stand up for believers and represent believers to the Father (Matt. 10:33; John 16:26).

v6: Again we get the phrase for those with ears to listen to the words of the letter and abide in them.



Philadelphia 3:7-13
Philadelphia [FIL-uh-DEL-fee-uh; "brotherly love"] [See map] A city of Lydia, named after Attalus II Philadelphus, king of Pergamum (159-138 B.C.). Situated on the Cogamus River, a tributary of the Hermus, it lies in an area of frequent seismic activity (called the "city of earthquakes"). The city was devastated by an earthquake in A.D. 17 (same as the Sardis earthquake), and tormented by recurrent quakes for some time thereafter. Philadelphia was the site of one of the seven churches of Asia, modern Alasehir. For centuries, this was a free Christian community in the midst of pagan influences. It is still a Christian city.

It should be noted the difference between the city of Smyrna and Philadelphia. Neither had any deficiencies in Jesus' eyes. However, Smyrna will suffer; Philadelphia will not. Why is that? It is thought that the righteous will not be exempt from persecution from outside sources. Some will; some will not.


Description of letter:
3:7 "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:'

Description of writer (Jesus):
3:7 "He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:"

Commendation (good qualities and strengths):
3:8 "I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name."

Deficiency (serious fault or faults):


Demand of Lord and remedy for deficiency:
None

God's promise (encouraging reform):
3:9 "Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews, and are not, but lie-- behold, I will make them to come and bow down at your feet, and to know that I have loved you."
3:10 "Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth."
3:11 "I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, in order that no one take your crown."
3:12"He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore- and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name."


Discrimination:
3:13 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."


NOTES:
v7: Jesus greets the star of the church in Philadelphia by announcing the holiness (divine power) and truth of Himself. What is meant by the "key of David"? Throughout the OT the words have always expressed that Messiah was to come from the line of the King David. The word keys always means authority, privilege, and power. In this case Jesus is stating royal authority. This is nothing new even in the OT or NT (Isa. 22:22; Matt. 16:19). Just as David having the authority to open the doors to Israelites (allow them in) or close the doors to Israelites, Jesus has the power to open the doors of heaven or close the doors to heaven of whomever He pleases. No one else has those powers.

v8: Jesus speaks about His knowledge of the good things that Philadelphia is doing and the faith they are living. Jesus is opening the door (discussed in v7) for them and no person can close or even control in any way. He says that the Philadelphian believers have no real earthly powers. However, they kept His words and faith and not denied Jesus.

v9: Paul said a "true Jew" would not reject the Messiah. Christ promises those Jews who interfere with the Christians and speak lies will be humbled and be made to know the Christians are the true followers.

v10: Because the believers have endured, Jesus makes a promise to them. This promise (many scholars argue these promises) or pledges is:
  • some immunity to some earthquake or imperial persecution, or
  • immunity from judgment of God during the Tribulation.
If the first is correct, this speaks of persecutions and tribulations dependent on earthly causes, not God caused. The phrase "all the world” may mean the whole world, the whole Roman empire, a large district or country; or the land of Judea. Of course, we cannot be absolutely sure. It is important to know because of the question of whether the tribulation is involved. It is not known to what the trial refers. It may have been some form of persecution, or it may have been some calamity by disease, earthquake, or famine that was to occur. Historically, Tacitus says there was an earthquake that sank twelve cities in Asia Minor in one night. Philadelphia may have been involved. If the second option is correct, this speaks of a pretribulation rapture
(1 Thes. 4:13-18)
because of the following references:
  • "hour" - a definite time is called
  • "of testing" or "of temptation" - it defines a period of trial
  • The persecution was future to John's time
  • "upon the whole world" refers to a world-wide trial
  • "I also will keep you" - promise to keep out of the hour of testing
It appears this promises a future deliverance from the Great Tribulation.

v11: This means He will be coming again. The word quickly is a very frustrating word. We simply do not know what the word means. We have to realize that time is insignificant to God. WE are the ones who "invented" time. God sees the beginning and the end now. So His timing is not compatible with our timing. Jesus says to hold on and continue with what they presently have. If they hold on, no one else will take their place in the "many mansions" that Jesus has prepared (John 14:2)

v12: A pillar stands for strength and support. Therefore, Jesus is saying those who hold on to their faith and grace, they will be pillars in the Temple or house of God. All will become permanent in the Temple with Jesus. Those who hold the faith will be identified or marked as God's, the name of the city of New Jerusalem that will come from heaven, and a new name. The study will detail more the New Jerusalem and from where it comes.

v13: Again we get the phrase for those with ears to listen to the words of the letter and abide in them.




Laodicea 3:14-22
Laodicea [LAY-uh-dih-SEE-uh] [See map] A city located on the banks of the Lycus River in the province of Phrygia- last of the seven churches of Asia referred to in Rev. 2-3. It was founded in the 3rd century B.C. by Antiochus, who named the city after his wife, Laodice. Situated on a major crossroads, the city enjoyed great prosperity -- so much so that, with the aid of its large banking community, the city was able to refuse aid from Rome after its devastation by an earthquake in A.D. 61. Laodicea was known for its black wool industry, as well as the manufacture of an eye salve called collyrium, both clearly alluded to in Rev.3:18. Its self-sufficiency was compromised only by its limited water supply, so that water provided by hot springs had to be brought some distance by aqueduct, arriving lukewarm. The city was eventually abandoned, its extensive ruins known in Turkish as Eski Hissar, or "old castle."

It is said by most theologians that this church is the most hated of all. It simply does not know what to do. It stands on the fence of decisions. Rather than making a decision and going with it, they are wishy-washy.

Most conservative scholars feel this is the church of today. Examine the comments below and fill in your own opinion.


Description of letter:
3:14 "And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write:"

Description of writer (Jesus):
3:14 "The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:"

Commendation (good qualities and strengths):
None

Deficiency (serious fault or faults):
3:15 "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot- I would that you were cold or hot."
3:16 "So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth."
3:17 "Because you say, 'I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,' and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,"


Demand of Lord and remedy for deficiency:
3:18 "I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed- and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see."
3:19 "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent."


God's promise (encouraging reform):
3:20 "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me."
3:21 "He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne."


Discrimination:
3:22 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."


NOTES:
v14: Amen means in Hebrew "So be it."; "It is true."; "It is faithful"; "faithful and true". In the gospels, amen used to be was used to similar to the present translation word verily. Jesus used it such as "Verily, verily, I say to you..." or "Truly, truly, I say to you..." or "Amen, amen, I say to you...". In Revelation it is used similar to Isaiah (Isa. 65:16) to refer to "God of Amen" or "God of Truth". This means He is the true witness of God. "The beginning of the creation of God" refers to Jesus being the head of all creatures, the king of creation (Col. 1:15-16).

v15: This is a very, very strong verse. Jesus says He knows there deeds and actions of faith and grace. The church of Laodicea was neither hot nor cold. They are lukewarm. Jesus would actually wish they were hot of cold; but, He did not want to be in the middle or neutral. This is a very unacceptable neutrality to God. To be unconcerned (cold) at least gives any church a direction to go to improve. It can be clearly defined. Being very concerned (hot) is good. But to be wishy-washy is unacceptable. It is said by some scholars, that this representation of the church is our church of today. We have watered down our faithfulness to God that we are lukewarm. See verse 16 comments to get a better idea of God's opinion. This point is shown in the "significance" table

v16: This is said to be referring to the well-known fact that tepid (lukewarm) water tends to produce nauseat. The image is intensely strong. It shows deep disgust and loathing at indifference. Jesus is saying that they would be utterly rejected and cast off as a church. This is a threat that appears to be in abundant fulfillment in subsequent times. God will not allow their church to stand. Indifference is unacceptable on the issues of Life. Doors are closed because of politics and/or indifference. The gospel has been watered down or jazzed up.

v17: Jesus is saying that the people feel they are "rich" and need nothing, especially from God. This term "rich" could mean rich materially or rich spiritually (have enough religion). After the earthquake, Laodicea is rebuilt without the help of Rome. That was because it was "rich" materially This verse accents the lack of spiritual richness. He says the people are wretched (very unhappy, full of misery). They are poor in spirit and don't know it. They are blind to the meaning of the church as it used to be at the start. They are "naked" because they are not now in the image the image of God; they are not clothed with holiness and purity.

v18: Jesus is saying that to "cover up" they should buy or purchase refined gold so that the people may become rich. They should also purchase the white garments to clothe yourself so the shamefulness of nakedness can be not be seen. Also, let's also put medicine (salve) on the eyes so that they may see

v19: Jesus still loves all of them. He says that for all He loves He reproves (rebukes) and disciplines (chastens). REPENT, PLEASE!! This is similar to the fathers and mothers who love their children so much they acknowledge the wrong things done and discipline the children. Those who do not discipline, do not love their children.

v20: Jesus is standing at the door (with you). He is there knocking on your door (beckoning to you to let Him in). He will even yell out in case the knocking is not heard. It was also a tradition that a person might yell out who was at the door so the person on the other side would know who was there. He wants to be heard. If the person lets Him into his life (accepts Jesus as his Lord and Savior), He will come into that person and become indwelled. Then they will eat together. This denotes intimacy and friendship. Supper, with the ancients, was the principal social meal.

v21: He who is victorious or overcomes is, in effect, conquering. In conquering, a person is "authorized" a throne. Therefore, the words here mean the victorious will be with Jesus on His throne. This is the sign of power from overcoming the sins.

v22: Again we get the phrase for those with ears to listen to the words of the letter and abide in them.
 


Significance of these churches to modern time?
Church Main Characteristic Church Type Church Type in Time (AD)
Ephesus First Love Lost Apostolic 30-100
Smyrna Persecuted; no fault Persecuted 100-313
Pergamum Faithful; tolerates false witnesses State 313-590
Thyatira Dominated by powerful false prophets Papal 590-1517
Sardis Spiritually dying Reformed 1517-1790
Philadelphia Faithful witnessing; no fault Missionary 1730-1900
Laodicia Lukewarm Apostate 1900-->

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