Revelation Chapters 2 and 3, Part 1 of 3 Parts
by Karl Kemp
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This article was taken from the internet version of my paper titled "A Verse-by-Verse Study of Revelation Chapters 1-10," which was taken from the paper by that title which was published in July, 1999. I was able to use bold, italics, underlining, and footnotes in the original paper and the version on my internet site. Sometimes I will use double brackets [[ ]] and (( )) to make them more obvious. All quotations from the Bible were taken from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 edition, unless otherwise noted. Are you aware that you can click on my name beside any of my articles on this Christian article site and see a listing of all my articles on this site (so too for any author)?
Every verse of the book of Revelation is discussed in papers on my internet site, except for Rev. 11:1-14:5, which are discussed in a verse-by-verse manner in my book, "The Mid-Week Rapture." For a condensed version, see my paper titled "Twenty-Four Articles on the Mid-Week Rapture" that is available on my internet site. Those twenty-four articles are available individually on this Christian article site: "The Mid-Week Rapture, Part 1," and so on. Those twenty-four articles serve as a good introduction for my book and for the mid-week rapture viewpoint (that Christ will return and the rapture will take place right in the middle of the seven-year period that is sometimes called Daniel's 70th week). There is a fold-out Chronological Chart in the back of the book, and a chapter of the book explains the chart in some detail.
BRIEF OVERVIEW OF REVELATION CHAPTERS 2, 3. Revelation chapters 2, 3 contain the seven letters to the seven churches, which were also intended for every other Christian and every other church of every other generation where the same conditions apply. The most shocking feature of these letters was that the Lord Jesus informed many of the Christians (and it is clear that at least most of them were born-again Christians) of that early day (about AD 95) that there was much need for repentance, and that if they didn't repent, they would forfeit their salvation. He wasn't speaking to a few isolated individuals. In two cases (the churches at Ephesus and Laodicea), He was speaking to the entire church (not that the message necessarily applied to every individual in the church). In another church (Sardis), He was speaking to all but the few that didn't need to repent. The most shocking thing is that the Christians at Ephesus had so much right.
Most Christians of most generations of Christians are very slow to see their sin, and our generation may be one of the worst in this regard. I believe we Christians have a serious need to study these seven letters to the seven churches (and everything else the Bible teaches about repentance, righteousness, holiness, and the victory over sin). In our day many Christians put most of the emphasis on forgiveness and right standing (things that are Biblical and important), greatly diluting the Biblical emphasis on the call, and the enablement, to walk in the righteousness and holiness of God, with the victory over sin (by grace/the Holy Spirit through faith). Many Christians of our day never even use the word "repent," and in many circles there is very little fear of God. I'm speaking of a true, balanced, necessary, Biblical fear of God.
We'll start with Rev. 2:1.
[Christ is still speaking here, as He was at the end of Revelation chapter 1.] " 'To the angel of the church [see under Rev. 1:20 in the article on chapter 1] in Ephesus write: the One [the Lord Jesus Christ] who holds the seven stars [the seven angels of the seven churches (cf. Rev. 1:16. 20)] in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands [which represent the seven churches (cf. Rev. 1:12, 13, 20)], says this: (2) "I know your deeds [[or, "works"; also see Rev. 2:19; 3:1, 8, 15. The Greek noun ("ergon") translated "deeds" here is often translated "work(s)." The NASB translates this Greek noun "work(s)" ninety-six times and "deed(s)" sixty-five times. Many places where the NASB has deed(s), they could have translated work(s), including here in Rev. 2:2. I prefer the translation "works" here (and often), with the KJV and NKJV. The Bible makes it very clear that works are required for Christians, but some Christians are confused on this topic. They think the apostle Paul taught that we are required to have faith, but not required to have works.
It's vitally important for us to understand the balanced truth of what the Bible teaches, and especially when we're dealing with the basics of the Christian gospel (like with faith and works). The apostle Paul would agree with James that "faith, if it has no works, is dead" (James 2:17); in other words, it isn't genuine (saving) faith. What Paul was against was making ceremonial works of the Law (like circumcision), or any other works of the flesh, a requirement for new-covenant salvation. (He was against man's trying to earn/merit what God had freely given at a very high cost to Himself, or of any attempt by man to take any of His glory.) Paul would, however, insist that Christians are required to have works, the right kind of works, the works produced by the grace/Spirit of God through faith in Christ (cf., e.g., Rom. 2:6; 2 Cor. 11:15; Gal. 5:16-25; 6:4-10; Eph. 2:10; Phil. 2:12, 13; Titus 1:16; 2:7, 14; and 3:8), the works which equate with living in the righteousness and holiness of God. Genuine (saving) faith WORKS (e.g., Gal. 5:6); it isn't passive - it produces works/fruit (by grace/the Spirit) for the glory of God. For further study on Paul's use of the words faith and works, I recommend my "A Paper on Faith" and "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism."]] and your toil and perseverance [or, steadfastness], and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false [[Many Christians of our day would have rebuked these Christians at Ephesus for what they had done, instead of commending them, as Jesus did, for putting these false apostles to the test. Didn't they know we're not supposed to judge? (A little knowledge can be dangerous, as with the idea discussed above, that Christians are required to have faith, but not works.) Many Christians are far from the balanced truth on this topic. The New Testament makes it clear that we're responsible to make sure those who minister in our midst are genuine. We test them by what they say (e.g., 1 John 4:1-6), and we test them by how they live (e.g., Rev. 2:20-23; Matt. 7:15-23). (Problems in the area of what we believe typically lead to problems in how we live.)
The New Testament also makes it clear that we are required to deal with obvious sin in the church (e.g., Matt. 18:15-20; 1 Cor. 5:1-13; and 2 Thess. 3:6-15). It's true, of course, that we must be careful of judging in the flesh and of hypocrisy (e.g., Matt. 7:3-5), that we must be humble and have the right motives, and that we must be as generous as we can be (e.g., Matt. 7:1, 2).]]; (3) and you have perseverance [or, steadfastness] and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary. [[It's shocking (and I'm not exaggerating) that Jesus went on to warn these Christians who had so much right that they would cease to be His people if they didn't repent. The messages to the seven churches, and especially this first message to the Christians at Ephesus, should serve as a powerful call for each of us to humbly and honestly evaluate ourselves before God (cf. 2 Cor. 13:5). It seems clear that many Christians in our day need to do quite a bit of repenting; and we need to substantially raise the standard of living for God in His truth, righteousness, and holiness, truly loving Him and living for Him from the heart (by grace through faith). We don't need more condemnation, but we do need more transformation. God knows our hearts: He knows if we're making Him, His Word, His righteousness and holiness top priority. God is compassionate and merciful, and He is quick to forgive those who repent.]] (4) But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. [[The point is that they had fallen from the place of loving God the Father and Christ (God the Son) the way they did at first, the way they were required to, and this was reflected in their works (see Rev. 2:5). To love God is the first great commandment (e.g., Matt. 22:36-40). And there is no way we can love God and not do what He commands us to do (e.g., John 14:15, 21, 23; and 15:10). It's also true that our love for one another is part of what God requires of us (e.g., Matt. 22:39, 40; 1 John 4:7-21). As the last reference from 1 John shows, this is especially important regarding our loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we are also required to walk in love toward those outside the church. Walking in love toward others could certainly be included in what "your first love" means here in Rev. 2:4, but we must love God first and foremost.]] (5) Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent [cf. Rev. 2:16, 22; 3:3, 19] and do the deeds [works] you did at first [The "deeds/works they did at FIRST" went with their "FIRST love" (Rev. 2:4) that they had fallen from.]; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place - unless you repent. [[I can't imagine any verse in the Bible topping this one as a powerful warning and call to repent, or else. For Christ to remove their lampstand would mean that they would no longer be His people/His church. These words should powerfully motivate us; they should create in us a proper, necessary, Biblical fear of God. This one verse should suffice to put a proper fear of God in the hearts of any Christians who have been abusing the idea of once saved, always saved, or using any other excuse to not deal with sin.
There can be no doubting that Christ was speaking to those who had become born-again Christians. (They still were born-again Christians; they still had the life of God by the Spirit of life, at least most of them did, at the time they received this revelation, but they were on the verge of losing this status/relationship with God according to these words from Jesus Christ.) The fact that they once had a proper first love for God confirms that they had become born-again Christians. It's also confirmed by the fact that this church wouldn't have been/had a lampstand if it wasn't a true Christian church (Rev. 1:20). The good news is that Christ still loved them (He even still loved the more sinful Christians at Laodicea) - that's why He issued this powerful call for repentance (see Rev. 3:19).
If Christ is calling true Christians to repent in our day, and I'm sure He is (but I'm not the Judge), it's because of His love for us. However, the Bible makes it very clear that He will do what He said He will do, including rejecting those who don't take seriously His call to repent. I'll say quite a bit more about the doctrine once saved, always saved when we discuss the church at Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6).]] (6) Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds [works] of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. [[Revelation 2:14, 15 apparently tell us a lot about the works of the Nicolaitans, but all we really need to know is that they were sinful works. Some sins are more serious that others, but anything that God considers sinful must be a high-priority item for Christians to take seriously and deal with. Christians are required to have a ZERO TOLERANCE for sin in themselves and in the church.
This has nothing to do with striving in the flesh or earning (or partially earning) salvation. The only way we can walk in the righteousness and holiness of God, with the victory over all sin, is by grace (which includes all the work of the Holy Spirit) through faith, a faith that is based on God's Word, with a strong emphasis on the atoning death of the Lamb of God. See my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin: Full Salvation Through the Atoning Death of the Lord Jesus Christ." God hates sin! And He paid an infinite price to save us and give us the victory over sin! This is good news, very good news!]] (7) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. [These same words are repeated at the end of each of the seven messages to the seven churches. God's powerful Word doesn't effectively work in those who won't humble themselves and submit to Him and His Word and Spirit (by faith), including having the intention to repent (as required) and to obey. God doesn't force people to take Him and His word seriously, or to repent, or to obey.] To him who overcomes [[See Rev. 2:11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21; and 21:7. By the definition of the book of Revelation, all Christians must be OVERCOMERS; otherwise they won't have a place in God's eternal kingdom. We overcome sin and the world, the flesh, and the devil by being/staying faithful to God and His gospel (by grace through faith). Christians who truly repent, where repentance is required, become/are overcomers. God's mercy and forgiveness, and His power to restore and to sanctify are very real. The New Testament makes it clear that God forgives those who repent (cf., e.g., 1 John 2:1, 2).]], I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God." [This is a symbolic way of saying they will partake of eternal life in God's eternal kingdom (cf. Rev. 22:2, 14); they will have a place in God's new Jerusalem (cf. Rev. 21:7, 8; 22:15). We are reminded of the tree of life in the garden of Eden (cf. Gen. 2:9; 3:22-24). Genesis chapters 1-3 are discussed verse-by-verse in some detail in my paper on these chapters on my internet site.] (8) And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: the first and the last [cf. Rev. 1:17; 22:13], who was dead, and has come to life [cf. Rev. 1:18], says this: (9) "I know your tribulation [cf. Rev. 1:9] and your poverty [He is speaking of material poverty, not spiritual poverty, as the following parenthesis demonstrates. Compare, for example, 2 Cor. 6:10; 8:9; and James 2:5. The tribulation and the poverty undoubtedly came, at least in part, because they were being persecuted as Christians.] (but you are rich [They were rich in the things of God (contrast Rev. 3:17, 18). This was one of the two churches of the seven that Jesus didn't say anything negative to.]), and the blasphemy [The NIV has "slander."] by those who say they are Jews [These Jews undoubtedly claimed that they, not the Christians, were the true people of God.] and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan [cf. Rev. 3:9]. [[At least some of the Jews of Smyrna were blaspheming/slandering the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel and were persecuting Christians. They were being used by Satan. This wasn't that unusual in the early days of the Christian church (cf., e.g., Acts 13:45-51; 14:2-6, 19; and 1 Thess. 2:14-16). These harsh words from Jesus Christ didn't apply to all Jews living at that time. Furthermore, the time is coming when all (the end-time remnant of) Israel will be saved through Christ Jesus (Rom. 11:25-27).]] (10) Do not fear what you are about to suffer. [Cf., e.g., Matt. 10:28.] Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life [cf. James 1:12]. [[The words of this verse surely had a direct application for some of the Christians of Smyrna at that time, but they undoubtedly were also intended for many other Christians throughout this age, very much including our century. There have been more martyrs for Christ in our century (referring to the 20th century) than all of the other Christian centuries combined. Much of this martyrdom came through communists. All Christians will be tested and must be faithful, but this verse zeroes in on those Christians who will face situations where it may literally cost them their lives to stay faithful. Many understand this verse in this sense.
It's somewhat hard to imagine, though not at all impossible, that the Christians of ancient Smyrna would have tribulation for a literal ten days. A few commentators understand ten literal days here. The ten days probably should be understood in a nonliteral sense for an indefinite period. To be given the "crown of life" (cf. Rev. 3:11) is probably just a symbolic way to say that we will be crowned with (we will partake of) eternal life.
This would be a good place to mention Polycarp, who was martyred along with eleven other Christians AT SMYRNA in AD 156. First I'll quote a few sentences from the article on Polycarp from the "Encyclopedia of Early Christianity" (Garland Publishing, Inc., 1990, page 742."): "Bishop of Smyrna and one of the apostolic fathers. Polycarp is known to us from his letter to the Philippians and the 'Martyrdom of Polycarp.' ... His death is described in the 'Martyrdom,' written within a year of the event ('Martyrdom Polycarp' 18.3). Polycarp links the apostolic era with the next generation, for Irenaeus (Eusebius, H.E. 5.20.6) claimed that Polycarp sat at the feet of the apostle John and that he was appointed to his office at Smyrna by the apostles themselves." Irenaeus (about AD 115-202), who was born at Smyrna and learned from Polycarp, was an important church father. He became the bishop at Lyons.
I'll quote a few sentences that deal with the martyrdom of Polycarp ("Letter of the Smyrnaeans - On the Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp," "Apostolic Fathers": translated and edited by J. B. Lightfoot [Baker, 1971, reprinted from the 1891 edition by Macmillan and Company, London], page 112). The Roman proconsul/magistrate was urging the aged Polycarp to deny Christ, " 'Swear by the genius of Caesar; repent and say, Away with the atheists [meaning the "atheistic" Christians who denied the gods of the pagans and persuaded many not to sacrifice to, or to worship, them].' Then Polycarp with solemn countenance looked upon the whole multitude of lawless heathen that were in the stadium, and waved his hand to them; and groaning and looking up to heaven he said, 'Away with the atheists.' But when the magistrate pressed him hard and said, 'Swear the oath, and I will release thee; revile the Christ,' Polycarp said, 'Fourscore and six years have I been His servant, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me.' "]] (11) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death [This is another symbolic way of saying that overcomers will partake of eternal life in God's eternal kingdom. On the "second death," see Rev. 20:6, 14; 21:8.]." (12) And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: the One who has the sharp two-edged sword [cf. Rev. 1:16; 2:16; and 19:15] says this: (13) "I know where you dwell, where Satan's throne is [[I assume those commentators are right who understand these last four words to refer to the fact that Pergamum was the center of the imperial cult of that part of the world, which demanded the worship of Rome and the Roman emperor. Failure to participate was considered high treason. Because of the imperial cult, Satan had a special presence at Pergamum. I'll quote from E. M. Blaiklock on Pergamum ("Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible," Vol. 4 [Zondervan, 1975], pages 701-704.") "... [The Romans] accepted the royal bequest [by Attalus III in 133 B.C.] and organized the kingdom of Pergamum into the Province of Asia. For another two and a half centuries, Pergamum remained Rome's official center in the province. ...
The imperial cult, the worship of the spirit of Rome and of the emperor, with its loyalty test of formal incense burnt at the foot of Caesar's statue, found a center, appropriately enough, in Pergamum, and colored the city's life. The first temple of the cult was located there in 29 B.C., and is shown as a device on coins down to the principate of Trajan [A.D. 98-117] at the end of the 1st cent. In Trajan's honor a second temple was built, and a third was dedicated to Severus. Only the first temple functioned when John wrote his letter from Patmos, but its presence and ritual was enough to make Rome's authority oppressively apparent in the city. ... Perhaps...Antipas...was the first to suffer martyrdom for rejection of the cult. ... [I should mention that Blaiklock also includes a discussion of the many other pagan religions at Pergamum to help explain "where Satan's throne dwells," but he puts the primary emphasis on the imperial cult. I'll conclude this excerpt with his last sentence.] Nowhere was it more difficult to stand thus lonely and execrated [cursed, denounced scathingly] than in Pergamum, where Christianity and Caesarism confronted each other face to face."]], and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith [speaking of their faith in Christ (e.g., Rev. 14:12), which included being faithful to Him in accordance with the truth of gospel] even in the days of Antipas, My witness [The KJV and NKJV translated "martyr," instead of "witness." The Greek noun "martus," which is used thirty-four times in the Greek New Testament, is always translated "witness(es)" by the NASB. The NIV translated it "martyr" one place (Acts 22:16). Whether we translate "witness" or "martyr" here, the idea is that dying for Christ can be considered the ultimate witness for Him.], My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. (14) But I have a few things against you ["You" is singular in Greek, referring to the church at Pergamum. Apparently some blame fell on the entire church because of the presence there of those Christ goes on to mention. Apparently the church had tolerated (and had not adequately dealt with) those involved with these sinful practices.], because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching [who taught] Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. [[Compare Acts 15:29; 1 Cor. 10:14-22; and Rev. 2:20. On Balaam and his counsel to Balak, see Num. 25:1-18 with 31:16. The point is that the sins being committed by some of the "Christians" at Pergamum were essentially the same as the sins committed by some of the Israelites that came about through the evil, destructive counsel of Balaam. In a pagan city like Pergamum, it was very easy to be caught up in the sins of eating things sacrificed to idols and committing acts of immorality. It was hard to avoid meals/feasts being dedicated to pagan idols/gods, since such meals were so widespread in the ancient world. Those who were members of trade guilds, for example, typically had such sacrificial meals at their regular gatherings. Some of those meals/feasts ended up with drunkenness and immoral practices, and sexual immorality permeated much of the life of the world of that day, including temple prostitution.]] (15) So you also [the church at Pergamum] have some who in the same way [These words apparently mean "in the same way (as some of the Israelites of Balaam's day)."] hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. [["The teaching of the Nicolaitans" led to the "deeds/works of the Nicolaitans" (Rev. 2:6); apparently the deeds/works of the Nicolaitans were the same as those that resulted from the teaching of Balaam mentioned in 2:14. Revelation 2:6 shows that Jesus hated the deeds/works of the Nicolaitans, as did the Christians at Ephesus. There are several different views regarding the Nicolaitans, which I won't get into here; we don't know for sure the details regarding this heretical group, but we know all we need to know.
We know (based of the translation of the NASB, which I believe is accurate) that "the teaching of the Nicolaitans" included advocating involvement with the serious sins just mentioned in Rev. 2:14. (The NKJV is the equivalent of the NASB; it has, "Thus you also have....") That's all we really need to know about the "deeds/works of the Nicolaitans" (Rev. 2:6) and the "teaching of the Nicolaitans" (Rev. 2:15). They had compromised (from God's point of view) in a very serious, totally unacceptable way with the world. These verses need not necessarily be understood to teach that the sinful "Christians" at Pergamum called themselves, or were called, Nicolaitans.]] (16) Therefore repent [These words were spoken to the church at Pergamum; the verb repent is singular. The primary warning, however, was clearly aimed at those involved in these sinful practices, as the following words demonstrate.]; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. (17) He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna [To partake of the hidden manna apparently is a symbolic way to speak of the yet-future partaking of God's eternal life, which centers in Christ Jesus (cf. John 6:47-58; 14:6). This symbol may build on the Jewish tradition that the manna of old is now hidden and is to be restored in the messianic kingdom.], and I will give him a white stone [The color white goes with purity, victory, and the things of God and His kingdom.], and a new name [cf. Isa. 62:2] written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it." [On the new name, compare Christ's new name (Rev. 3:12). Our new name will undoubtedly reflect the glory of our new status after we have been glorified, entered into a glorious, intimate relationship with Christ (who has a new name) and with God the Father, and have begun our eternal reign with Him.]
We will continue this verse-by-verse study of Revelation chapters 2, 3 in Part 2, starting with Rev. 2:18.
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