“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:
2 ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, 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; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Therefore remember 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. 6 Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’
Though the message from Jesus is directed to the angel of each respective church, the message is for those with ears to hear (v. 7), which is the church. The directions pertained directly to the people in the church, and that the angel is informed also just reinforces the idea that spiritual warfare does matter (Ephesians 6:12, Daniel 10:13, 20). In each letter to each church, Jesus identified Himself with various descriptors, each which pertained to things that John described in the first chapter in His vision of Jesus. How Jesus described Himself related to the encouragement and/or exhortations that He would give to each church. In this case concerning the church at Ephesus, He emphasized that the church was in His control and that He walked among it. This directly corresponded to the need for the church at Ephesus to return to their first love and enjoy intimacy with God rather than just activities related to Him. He wanted the church to remember that fullness of joy is found in His Presence (Psalm 16:11), and, while serving God is appropriate and useful, it is not a substitute for enjoying and connecting with the heart of God. True worship is in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), not just in going through the motions. Jesus told the church at Ephesus that He was aware of the good that they had done and of their labor for the kingdom and of their perseverance for the truth. He told them that He was aware of the fact that they stood up against evil and did not tolerate sin which corrupts the body of Christ. They were effective and faithful to discern false teachers. They had continued to persevere in the truth and in sound doctrine despite what doing so might cost them. They did this for Jesus’ sake, and they didn’t grow weary because His joy was their strength. These were all good things that Jesus was happy about, but there was one thing that they were doing wrong. He said that they left their first love. They needed to remember where they used to be and repent so that they could return to having the love for God that they had at first. Sometimes it is easy to replace love for Jesus Himself with faithful church service and activities. While it is good to hold to truth and to persevere in righteousness, the first love of every believer must be Jesus Himself. He is the source of joy and life to the full (John 10:10), and faithful service should overflow from a heart that is rejoicing in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4). Jesus knows when His church goes through the motions while the heart attitude isn’t what it should be. Jesus’ home is not a building, but it is in the heart of the believer (1 Corinthians 6:19). Thus, believers must guard their hearts and make sure that they are wholly devoted to Him (2 Chronicles 16:9). Going to church a lot is not the same as worshipping and enjoying God. Jesus called the church at Ephesus to repent of hollow Christianity and to find their love for Him once again. Holding to sound doctrine is good, and Jesus again complimented them for not adopting the practices of the Nicolatians. The Nicolatians advocated fleshly indulgence and sensuality even to the extent that they believed it was necessary for salvation. This was clearly a false gospel, and it turned the true gospel of enjoying God’s free grace into trying to earn His approval even through impure means. This was a total perversion of love and the gospel, and the church at Ephesus was right to abhor their evil and to cling to what is good. They had the hating of evil and evil deeds right, but they needed to remember their first love of Jesus Christ and how wonderful and awesome it is to belong to Him. That excitement and the thrill of their relationship with God needed to overflow their hearts and impact those around them. It is not just doctrine that separates and defines the church, but the church is also to be known by its love. This starts with those who bask in the love of Jesus, and, as they see His kindness more fully, they repent and grow in their love for others and for one another (Romans 2:4, John 13:34-35, 1 John 4:7-8). Despite all of the good at the church at Ephesus, this one thing was significant enough to Jesus to threaten to remove their lampstand. God is ultimately responsible for faith in a person’s heart and for raising up true churches, for, unless the Lord builds the house, those who labor labor in vain who build it (Psalm 127:1). By taking the lampstand away, God would take His power and blessing away from the church, leaving it but a building or geographical place rather than a spiritually powerful, impactful, and advancing part of His heavenly kingdom. There are many hollowed out churches in the world today with no love for others and a lack of love for God. Ultimately, believers fight a spiritual battle, and the Lord of hosts is He Who can advance the truth through His church by faith. The church is impotent without Jesus’ blessing, power, and provision (John 15:5). This message as Jesus said is for any who have ears to hear so that they listen to what He has to say to the seven churches. He wants people to make the adjustments whether they were part of the church at Ephesus or part of a church somewhere in the world today. He wants all believers to contend for truth, to persevere, to know sound doctrine, and to not lose sight of their passion and love for God no matter what distractions and busyness life might entail. Those who persevere to the end are those who belong to Christ. Revelation 12:11 defines overcoming clearly when it says, “And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” Believers overcome on the basis of their faith in Christ according to the true gospel that they hold dearly and confidently. Though believers do stumble (James 3:2) as Peter did by denying Christ three times when faced with possible death, their ultimate sanctification and coming glorification is on the basis of Christ’s blood which changes them from the inside out at the point of salvation and in an ongoing fashion throughout their lives (Romans 8:28-29). The Holy Spirit never stops teaching, guiding, and convicting a saved heart, and ultimately God will perfect and finish the faith that He began in believers’ hearts (Hebrews 12:2). Believers who properly understand Christ’s love will recognize that this world is passing away and that death is merely a transition to being present with the Lord. Faith in a glorious future, which is how the Bible finishes (Revelation 21-22), is extremely important for encouraging believers to be faithful to the end, even under threat of imminent death. True believers will eat of the tree of life (Revelation 22:2, 14), signifying their eternity with Jesus in heaven, which is best described to the human mind as a paradise (Luke 23:43, 2 Corinthians 12:4). Those who do not overcome, that is, unbelievers, will suffer the second death (v. 11) which is hell (Revelation 20:13-15).
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:
9 ‘I 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. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. 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. 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.’
Jesus clearly identified Himself as the One Who rose from the dead as He communicated with the church at Smyrna. The church at Smyrna was suffering persecution, and they were going to have more. Thus, as a means of encouragement, Jesus referred to Himself as the eternal One Who has promised eternal life to His own. His own resurrection as the firstborn from the dead reminded the suffering believers at Smyrna that their persecution was temporary, for ultimately they would rejoice and be rewarded with God in heaven. Smyrna was a prosperous place on account of their steady support for Rome and even tendency toward emperor worship. But this contributed to them being hostile toward the one true church of Jesus Christ. The Jewish community also sided against them. To be the true people of God, people must put their faith in Him, not just be from a certain gene pool. Thus, in turning against Jesus, the Jewish people were actually worshipping Satan (see also Revelation 3:9). Despite the prosperity of the region, the church suffered and was in need, though in Christ they were rich in eternity, having every spiritual blessing and pleasures forever in eternity (Ephesians 1:3, Psalm 16:11). More suffering and persecution was promised. Some would be cast into prison and their faith tested for a tribulation of ten days. But even if their physical bodies were to expire before the ten days were finished, the believers did not have to fear, for their eternity was sure. Jesus wanted the believers to be faithful even if it cost them their lives. True believers will be given the crown of life because not even martyrdom can take a believer out of His hand. James 1:12 says, “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” When believers endure under trial, God is faithful to reward them in eternity (Revelation 4:4, 10, 2 Corinthians 5:10, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, Hebrews 11:6, 2 Timothy 4:8). Eternal life belongs to those who overcome by faith in Christ Who will sustain His own and complete the work He started in them (Philippians 1:6). Jesus wanted people beyond just Smyrna to read, hear, and heed the call to repent and the call to endure. Jesus didn’t rebuke this church, but He simply wanted the believers to keep believing and persevering. He wanted them not to fear but to focus on the coming reward. Persecution does have a way of keeping faith full, sharp, and focused. God doesn’t promise to take persecution away (John 16:33, 2 Timothy 3:12), but He does help His own to hold tightly and rightly to faith and truth until the end. He knows trials should not be feared but rejoiced in, for they promote character, hope, and endurance (Romans 5:3-5).
12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write:
The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this:
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. 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. 15 So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent; 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, 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.’
Jesus does not mince words toward the church at Pergamum. He identifies Himself as having a sharp two-edged sword proceeding from His mouth, emphasizing that He is about to exhort them with the truth. It is also a threat of a divine judgment on the church (v. 16) if they do not repent (1 Corinthians 11:30) by confronting the error and sin and putting the false teachers out of the fellowship. Sometimes a church needs encouragement, as Smyrna did, but other times the most loving thing God can do is call the church back to sound doctrine. Pergamum was a difficult and hostile place for believers, described even as the throne room of Satan himself. Pergamum was a religious center for the cults of various gods such as Athena, Asklepios, Dionysius, and Zeus as well as the cult of Caesar. The church at Pergamum had been doing some things well, for they held fast His name and did not deny Him even when Antipas, a fellow believer, was killed among them as a martyr. However, God was very concerned with the compromising that they had allowed, for He knows that a little leaven of false teaching is able to leaven the whole loaf given that sin is contagious and corrupting (Galatians 5:9, 1 Corinthians 5:6). In the Old Testament, Balaam, being bought off by the King of Moab, incited the Moabite women to seduce the Israeli men so that the people of God would be corrupted and deceived into idolatry and pagan feasts (Numbers 22-25). The result of Nicolatian teaching was the same, fleshly indulgence, immorality, and assimilating to pagan practices. Unlike the church at Ephesus, the church at Pergamum did not stand up to the false teachers. They were allowing a stumbling block to be put before the believers there, encouraging them to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. Allowing teaching that encouraged fleshly indulgence and immorality was a serious issue that God told them to repent from. If they did not, He was going to come to them quickly and make war against them with the sword of His mouth. That is not to say that the faithful ones among them were to face God’s judgment, but any believers who had not been bold enough to confront the false teachers might be subject to divine discipline, which is something reserved for God’s children whom He loves to teach, train, and sanctify them. Jesus loves His church, and He knows that Satan will come against it. Believers must not compromise on doctrine, but they must take obedience to Christ seriously. The true believers at Pergamum were promised God’s hidden manna. The spiritual food that God provides and the rewards that He gives in eternity are so much better than any sinful fleshly indulgence on the earth. Heaven is eternal satisfaction, fullness, and pleasure, and it is worth persevering in obedience on earth rather than going after false teaching that glorifies sin and Satan. Those who overcome by faith and by the power of God Who is faithful to preserve His godly ones (Psalm 31:23, 97:10; Proverbs 2:8) and keep them until the end (Jude 1:24) will be given a white stone with a new name on the stone that only the person who receives the stone knows. God has a special, personal, distinct, and unique name for each believer. This is significant because every believer’s life matters, and each will be judged not on what others do or what others think but on the basis of faithfulness before God which only Jesus knows for sure. God has special good works designed and prepared for each individual believer to do before they are even born (Ephesians 2:10), and He gifts believers differently and uniquely for the task that He has for them to accomplish. Their name is unique because their gifting, their calling, their responsibilities, and their stewardships are unique to them. Believers are responsible for making their own choices in life, and they will be judged on their faithfulness. God doesn’t give up on the church at Pergamum altogether, but He says that He will deal with the bad and reward the good. It is encouraging to know that God sees all and is fair in His judgments and discipline (see v. 23-24).
18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this:
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. 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. 21 I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds. 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. 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. 25 Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come. 26 He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; 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; 28 and I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
To Thyatira, in stating His identity, Jesus said that He is the Son of God with eyes like a flame of fire and with feet like burnished bronze, just as John saw Him in the vision in the introduction of the book. His eyes see all, and He knows the state of each individual heart, in Thyatira and in churches today. He said to the church at Thyatira that He was aware of the good deeds and love, faith, and service that the believers had done to one another and toward their community. He knew that they were even doing better in regard to good deeds than they did earlier. Thus, there are signs of growth and maturity. But they had one major problem in that they tolerated a false teacher referred to as Jezebel. Much like the pagan wife of evil King Ahab in the Old Testament (1 Kings 21:25-26), this woman taught errors and deceit and sought to lead those who truly loved Jesus astray. God hates when people lead others to stumble (Matthew 18:6), and this church needed to stop tolerating false teaching and put this woman out of their fellowship (Matthew 18:15-18, 1 Corinthians 5:1-5). She was likely very charismatic and interesting, but she was wrong and needed to be cast out. She claimed divine authority and insight, calling herself a prophetess even though she did not speak the truth of God. She gave herself legitimacy, which the church should have quickly taken away. Even bond-servants of God, true believers, had begun to commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. Bad company does corrupt good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33), no matter how mature a believer might be. False teaching always tries to minimize sin and its seriousness before God and the severity of its devastation and destructive effects. It seeks to empower the flesh to do evil and feel as if it is above being harmed, and it seeks to justify sin and abuse the grace of God. God, in consistency with His abundant mercy, gave her time to repent, but she was not interested in changing her ways. Thus, God decided to send a judgment upon her, casting her on a bed of sickness. Those who committed adultery with her, either spiritually or physically or both, would also have great tribulation unless they would repent. God is always merciful to the last possible moment, but eventually those who harden their hearts and love sin rather than God will suffer His just punishment. Believers will not suffer His wrath, but they might have divine discipline which is not meant to harm them but to point them back to the way of truth and the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:4-13). God sees all minds and hearts individually, and He promises to render to each according to his deeds. The innocent will not be punished for the evil of the wicked, and the wicked will not escape on account of the righteous. Each person will be held to account based on his or her own merits. This Jezebel would also lose her children on account of a divine pestilence sent upon them. This could be her biological children or those who followed her and jointly became sons and daughters of disobedience. God does punish the wicked to make a statement to the watching world, and He also disciplines His own children by sickness and even death to purge and refine the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:29-30). By allowing this tribulation to happen, God would send a message to believers and to any who were watching the corruption unfold in this church that He takes sin seriously and is able to punish the wicked. There would be no mistaken identity, and each would get what was deserved. The rest at Thyatira were exhorted to remain pure and innocent of Satanic teaching. There would be no benefit to them exploring the deep things of Satan as they were called. These who were innocent and who had not gone along with this cult of Satan within the church needed simply to keep doing right and enduring by faith. God was in the process of refining the church at Thyatira, and He would do just that. The true believers needed to keep holding to sound doctrine and keep being faithful in what they had been doing that was good. The reward for those who persevered was to be able to rule with Jesus forever in eternity, which is true of all believers. He will be King of the millennial age and forever after, and believers will rule over the nations with Him. He also promises to give them the morning star. Jesus Himself is described as the morning star in Revelation 22:16, and He lights the new heavens and earth by Himself (Revelation 22:5). 2 Peter 1:19 says, “So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.” So perhaps there will be a way in which the Light of Christ will shine forth in the hearts of believers in eternity, reflecting His glory visibly and demonstrating that He is indeed Lord of their hearts. As the angel told Daniel, “Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3). The idea is that God’s intimacy will be closer and more real than ever. As with the other letters to the churches, Jesus’ purpose in this letter is not just for Thyatira but for other churches who might succumb to the same mistake. God wants churches to deal with sin and not allow it to go unchecked. This letter is also an encouragement for those who do not compromise because God sees all hearts and will deal with sinners and reward the righteous. It is always worth enduring, overcoming, and persevering despite the deceptions, distractions, and prevalent delusions of the day.