The seven churches of chapters two and three were local churches which existed in Asia at the time Jesus told John to write these letters. The condition of every church in the world can be seen in the condition of one or a combination of these seven churches. The universal message of Christ is “REPENT”. There are those who believe these seven churches and what Jesus says to them represent church history. We will briefly examine that here. The following is pulled from the Scofield Study Bible: Ephesus is a message to the church at the end of the apostolic age around 90 A.D., a church that has left it's first love. Smyrna is a message to the church during the period of great persecutions lasting to 316 A.D. Pergamos is a message to the church under imperial favor, settled in the world from 316 A.D. until the end. Thyatira is a message to the church during the triumph of Balaamism and Nicolaitanism from 500-1500 A.D. It's a church which has only a believing remnant. Sardis is a message to the church during the period of reformations from 1500-1650 A.D. Again with only a believing remnant. Philadelphia is a message to the true church (a remnant) within the professing church. Laodicea is a message to the church in it's final state of apostasy from 1650 A.D. to the end. Some have allowed this to become the primary meaning of these messages to the seven churches because The Revelation deals with future events. However, we must remember these letters were written to seven literal churches that existed at the time Jesus told John to write. So they were problems that existed then before 100 A.D. They are problems that exist now in our time as well. So I don't believe our focus should be on their value as a picture of church history, but on their value to identify and correct problems that exist in the church here and now.
Dr. McGee says there is a well–defined and definite format which the Lord Jesus uses in each one of the letters to the seven churches.
1. There was some feature of the glorified Christ (whom John saw in chapter 1) that was emphasized in addressing each church. A particular thing was emphasized for a particular purpose, of course.
2. The letters are addressed to the angel of each church. It should be our understanding the angel is just a human messenger whom we might designate as the pastor of the church.
3. Jesus begins by stating to each, “I know thy works,” no one can know us like Jesus does. Jesus is the truth and what He sees is absolutely the truth.
4. Jesus first gives a word of commendation, and then He gives a word of condemnation. That is His method, but the exceptions should be noted. There is no word of condemnation to Smyrna or Philadelphia. Smyrna was the martyr church, and Philadelphia was the missionary church that was getting out His Word. No church gripped by persecution or consumed by the great commission has time to gratify the flesh or embrace false doctrine. He has no word of commendation for Laodicea, it is the totally apostate church.
5. Each letter concludes with the warning, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith.” This is still the great warning today. We need to try the spirits and then hear what the Spirit of God is saying.
2:1 the church of Ephesus - Its founding is recorded in Acts 19:1-20. It was the same church to which Paul wrote the book of Ephesians. At the time of this letter Ephesus was the capitol of Asia with a population of around 200,000. Some say it was also the capitol of heathen idolatry. It was built around the temple of the great goddess Diana which was adorned and beautified by the wealth of all Asia. It was considered to be one of the seven wonders of the world. The temple was a sanctuary for criminals because no one could be arrested for any crime within a bow shot of its walls. Ephesus had a huge outdoor theater which could seat about twenty thousand and a great amphitheater that seated over one hundred thousand. At times there were as many as two million people gathered there. It was a place of resorts, and the Roman emperors often came there. It was a city constructed of white marble, a beautiful place. It was there Paul had his greatest ministry, and it was there John later became pastor. The preaching of the gospel made a great difference. Such was the impact of the gospel on Ephesus that four great pillars or towers were placed at the entrance to the harbor, and upon them was the emblem of the cross. One tower was dedicated to Matthew, one to Mark, one to Luke, and one to John. Only one stands there today, but it still bears the symbol of the cross. There are other evidences of the tremendous impact of the gospel at Ephesus where pagan temples were turned into Christian churches. The church of the living God has always been located in the midst of wickedness. Jesus said, “they that be whole need not a physician”. As God's people we are to be in the world, not of the world. That's the great reason the church needs to repent. Only when we are the light we should be will others see the need to repent.
he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand - The seven stars are the seven messengers or pastors of the seven churches. Jesus identifies Himself as the one that holds these messengers in His right hand and He should be the one with whom their message originates.
who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks – The candlesticks are lamp stands. They represent the seven churches which can not give off light of themselves. Jesus identifies Himself as the one who walks in the midst of His churches. It's His light the churches should be shining into the world. We should note here that Jesus holding the seven stars and walking in the midst of the seven lamp stands shows us He is in control. One could argue such is not the case today, especially in America. The failure of the church to truly influence our culture is proof of it. One thing we can certainly take away from this is it's Jesus that should be in control: of our hearts, of our lives, of our families, of our churches and of our nation.
As we begin to look at Jesus' commendations of this church I believe it's important we identify His one condemnation of this church so we can see the importance of it as we go. It can be illustrated by what we find in Luke 10:38-42 Now it came to pass, as they went (Jesus and His disciples), that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her. The contrast here is of Mary and Martha. Martha is cumbered, meaning to be arrested, to be concerned, to be troubled, or to be grieved. Her eyes are on what needs to be done, while Jesus is sitting there in her house. Her reasoning and desire is commendable. If not for the light which Jesus brings we might commend Martha and condemn Mary. Mary is sitting at Jesus' feet instead of helping her sister. Her focus is Jesus, she's in love with Him and will not pass up an opportunity to see Him, touch Him and hear Him. Her first love must come first. Service then must be motivated by that kind of love. That's what Jesus condemns the church at Ephesus for. Many would still commend Martha and condemn Mary in spite of what Jesus says, but I would remind them of something else that happened in John 12:3-8 Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein. Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always. This is a stern rebuke to those who would rather do things than to nurture and express their love for Jesus. There are many opportunities to do things for Jesus, but relatively few to worship Jesus as Mary did.
2:2 I know thy works - Know here means to see perfectly. Prov 15:3 The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good. Heb 4:13 Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. God sees and knows us perfectly. We hide many things from others, but nothing from God. Something to note here is works do not save us, they do not keep us saved neither do they bring us favor with God. It's love for Christ which gains us favor with God. Works testify of what is within us. Eph 2:8-10 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Paul said in Phil 2:12-13 ...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. James wrote in James 2:18 ...shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Works testify of what is within us. Something else to note is as we find in Eph 2:10 good works should be present in those who are God's. Paul said to Titus about false believers in Titus 1:16 They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. Someone once said the Christian ought to be like a good watch, all gold, open faced, well regulated, dependable, and filled with good works. How we accomplish our works testify of what motivates us. It's the lack of proper motivation that Jesus will later rebuke this church for. The foundation of proper good works is love.
and thy labour - Labor means toil resulting in weariness. One could say it's an over abundance of good works. These people were not idle or lazy, in fact they were very busy to the point of weariness doing God's work. However, this type of toil must be founded upon love for Christ to be proper maintained. If not it will fade and die.
and thy patience - Patience means cheerful endurance under pressure or offense. These people did not give up easily nor were they quitters. They were enduring patiently. Cheerful endurance needs the right foundation in order to last. If it's founded on what we hope to gain or a desire for what we think should happen, it can easily lost when our expectations or desires are not realized. Patience founded on love for Christ can continue indefinitely. Paul wrote in 1 Thess 1:2-3 We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. Work of faith: works show what's on the inside. They show our faith. Labor of love: why we do what we do determines its value and effectiveness. Labor founded on love for Christ can last forever, even beyond death. Patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ: A proper love for Jesus allows us to wait patiently for Him and simply do what He asks because He asked. 1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. Love is the proper foundation of faith, labor and patience. Move any or all of those off the foundation of love for Christ and they will weaken and eventually fail.
An example of what improper motivation results in: The church at Corinth had many problems when Paul wrote to them in first Corinthians. Paul wrote in 1 Cor 3:1-3 ...I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? One of the problems they had was the improper motivation for possessing and exercising spiritual gifts in doing God's work. Paul said to them concerning that in 1 Cor 12:27-31 Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? Have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret? But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way. So what is the more excellent way, what is the most excellent motivation? The following is a paraphrase of what Paul says next in 1 Cor 13:1-8, 11If I speak with the languages of men and of angels, but do not have love, I succeed only in drawing attention to myself. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and have all knowledge; and if I possess great faith, so I could remove mountains, but lack love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I offer myself as a sacrifice, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. Love is patient, is kind and not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, love does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not hold a grudge, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth; love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but prophecy, different languages and being distinguished by knowledge will all vanish away. When I was a child I spoke like a child, thought like a child and reasoned like a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. It's childish, foolish and immature to be motivated by anything but love for our Savior Jesus Christ. It's foolish to place faith, works, labor or patience on any foundation except love for Him. To do so is to set a course for failure.
Some things that only real love for Jesus can motivate:
1. True humility. Jesus said in Matt 11:28-30 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Only a true love for Christ will allow us to see and learn of His meek and lowly heart. Only then can we find the rest to be truly humble. Matt 5:5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
2. A hunger and thirst for righteousness. 1 Pet 1:16 ...it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. When you really love someone, especially someone like Jesus, you want to be like them, you want to please them. What's important to them will be important to you.
3. Joy in persecution. Acts 5:40-41 ...and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. Without real faith founded on love for Jesus that wouldn't have been possible.
4. Loving your enemies. Jesus said while being crucified in Luke 23:34 ...Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. It's said of Jesus in Heb 12:2 ...who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame. Jesus seen that He was providing salvation for all, even those who hated Him. A great love for Jesus is the only thing that will allow us to see the needs of others above our own.
5. Real devotion. Matt 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. How can we do good works in such a way they only bring glory upon God? Matt 6:3-4 ...when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. Matt 6:6 ...when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. Matt 6:17-18 ...when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. Real love for Jesus is the only way to truly glorify God.
6. The right affections. Matt 6:21 ...where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The treasure of far to many Christians is not what it should be. 1 Tim 6:7-9 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. Lives are wrecked by misplaced affections. Ps 24:1 The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. Rom 8:16-17 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. Jesus possesses everything. If we are His and we love Him, then we have everything and need nothing.
7. The right attitude. Matt 7:1-2 Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. To often we analyze and judge people and situations as if we had perfect knowledge and understanding. We are sure we see things the correct way, but our judgment is flawed at best. In fact, the only judgments we can accurately make are the ones God has already made. Our attitude, especially toward others, will often determine whether we can provide real help or make things worse. John 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. God's primary reason for sending Jesus was to save us because we were already condemned. It's true, people won't get saved until they know they're lost, but there is no better way to show them their need than by having a great love for Jesus. Only when we fall in love with Jesus can He teach us to love others like we should. As Paul was trying to teach the Corinthians, love is truly the more excellent way.
and how thou canst not bear them which are evil - Bear means to support as a burden. This church did not compromise with or tolerate evil. The phrase “canst not bear them” should not be associated with hatred for those whom they identified as evil. If reasoning and judgment rests on a foundation of love for Christ then we can have the right attitude. That attitude can be seen in what Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Tim 2:24-26 ...the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will. This is the attitude we should have toward the wayward outside the church. False doctrine inside the church is to be identified and called what it is because a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. Paul himself had said to these people many years earlier in Eph 5:8-17 For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (For the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light. Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. In the years since Paul's letter the Ephesian Christians had done well walking in the light and are a great example to us all. Yet if they began to move off a foundation of love for Christ they could easily become hypocritical and begin to vilify the wayward instead of seeing them as people who need help.
Jesus tried to teach His disciples that just because someone is wrong doesn't make it right to vilify them or desire their destruction. Luke 9:51-56 And it came to pass, when the time was come that he (Jesus) should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him. And they did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them. And they went to another village. The word “spirit” even though it may not be capitalized refers to the Spirit of God. Jesus' answer to the disciples request was to tell them they were not influenced by the right spirit. Their motivation was not love. Loving an enemy is only possible through a consuming love for Jesus.
and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not - Tried means examined, proved, or tested. These people had been actively applying the truth and as a result had a great spirit of discernment. Heb 5:14 ...strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. John himself warned us in 1 John 4:1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. God, angels, men, women, children, demons and Satan are all spirits that must be tried if we are to distinguish truth from error. In our time many preachers and teachers have unintentionally become story tellers and entertainers to gain a reaction from people about their message. Some have also become expert at moving people to the alter at the close of a meeting by learning to play to the emotions of their listeners. However, it's resulting in very little real change or true repentance and that's a sure sign God is not really involved. The Church stands in great need of a spirit of discernment to truly see what's going on in and around it. It can only be gained through embracing and actively using the truth found in the Word of God. A love for the Word is the result of love for the Savior. This is something the church at Ephesus had, but was moving away from.
I want to spend a moment here talking about revival and what it's going to take to really have it. Over the decades since I've been saved I've heard revival described as getting fired up, getting on fire for God or something similar to that. Such terms are most often used to describe how we should feel after a meeting or series of meetings. The meetings may be followed by a short period of determination, activity and involvement, but ultimately the people end up right back where they were. When I was in high school we used to have pep rallies before football and basketball games. The purpose was to get the students excited and provoke fanatical support for their team in the coming game. There was nothing spiritual about it, it was simply an appeal to the flesh. In fact, “let's get fired up” was often a cry heard at these rallies. Many modern day revival meetings and worship services are nothing more than pep rallies which cause excitement and can make people fanatical for a short time, but bring no lasting change. Though we fail to identify it as such those type of meetings are actually relying on exciting the flesh to bring about change or cause us to serve God effectively. Modern day preachers, evangelists and worship leaders are not the first to make such mistakes. Jesus said to His disciples in Matt 26:31-35 ...All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee. Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice. Peter said unto him, Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee. Likewise also said all the disciples. Peter and the others were strong men, but they hadn't yet learned they couldn't rely on their own feelings or fierce determination. Later Jesus tried to persuade them to do what would make them spiritually strong. Matt 26:36-41 Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. We know the rest of the story. Most forsook Him and fled. Peter followed far off and denied even knowing Christ. Only John stayed with Him.
Revival should not involve stimulating the flesh, but rather putting it to death. The only real way to do that is by embracing truth. Jesus said in John 8:31-32 ...If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. Stimulating the flesh only leaves us in bondage, truth makes us free. In the sermon on the mount Jesus commanded us to rejoice in persecution, love our enemies, turn the other cheek, do more than is required, give without expecting anything in return, do good deeds and pray and fast in secret so we may be rewarded openly, lay up treasures in heaven instead of on earth, put God first and let Him provide for us and not be a judge of others. We can't effectively do those things without embracing God's truth we find in the Bible. Revival is about embracing truth, then practically applying it daily. Doing so will change us and put the flesh to death. Love for Jesus is the only true motivation that allows us to embrace truth that will really change us. John described himself as the disciple who Jesus loved. At the time of Jesus' crucifixion John was the only one who had a love for Jesus strong enough to keep him from running away. We will love Him as we should only when realize how He loves us. John continued to live and declare the truth of Christ until he was close to 100 years old, far longer than any other of the original twelve disciples. That's a changed life and that's what revival is. Paul wrote this in 2 Cor 12:7-10 ...lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. God said His strength is made perfect in weakness and Paul said when he was weak then he was strong. Those two statements ought to let us know that real strength has nothing to do with exciting or arousing the flesh.
2:3 and hast borne - Borne means to carry or take up. It's the same word used in verse two translated bear. These people carried the burden of the work of the Lord. Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Tim 1:8 Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God. There are afflictions involved in doing the work of the Lord. These people also carried the burden of others. Paul said in Gal 6:1-3 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. These people carried the great burden of truly identifying with Christ. Previously we seen this church did not support those that were evil and had tried those who said they were apostles and were not showing them to be lairs. How unpopular this must have made them, how hated they must have been by the religious people of their day. Jesus was hated most by the religious crowd and so shall it be for those who truly identify with Him. The last thing religious people want is to see the truth about themselves.
and hast patience – Patience means enduring, continuing and waiting. The Webster's 1828 Dictionary describes patience as the suffering of afflictions, pain, toil, calamity, provocation or other evil, with a calm, unruffled temper; endurance without murmuring or fretfulness. Patience involves doing the right thing even when you see no results. Patience involves suffering in this life and waiting for your reward in the next. It takes trust in God and seeing the invisible to have real patience. If we examine what Jesus wanted us above all to know of Him we will see patience. Matt 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. Rest is a good way to describe patience and we gain it through learning of Jesus' meek and lowly heart. Patience is only possible through humility.
for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted - Labored means to have toiled to the point of being fatigued. Not fainted means to have continued despite growing weary. Earlier Jesus had said He knew the good works of these people and He knew the extent to which they were doing them (to the point of exhaustion). As we just seen He also said He knew their patience (not expecting immediate results or reward for all they did). Here Jesus commends them for not quitting despite their weariness. It's easy to find excuses for quitting. The flesh and the devil will always supply us with many. The one and only reason for not giving up is Jesus. Heb 12:1-2 ...let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Jesus never gave up on us and we should not give up on Him.
2:4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee – These people have done great up until now, but their motivation is shifting. They are beginning to do the right things for the wrong reason. Jesus sees this clearly for what it is, the beginning of the end.
thou hast left thy first love - The first love of all truly saved people is Jesus Christ. When a person truly embraces Jesus for who He is, Jesus becomes the most important person or thing in their life. This is illustrated in what Paul said in Phil 3:7-14 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Paul is telling us he had religion and he gave it up for a relationship with his Savior. Paul's life was now about Jesus, the one who loved him, saved him from himself, from religion and from the corruption in the world.
A lack of love for Jesus causes us to fail to properly identify with Him. This is perhaps the greatest reason the church is not influencing our society correctly. We can judge for our selves the consequences of not properly showing Jesus to the world. If all we show to the world is religion then all we offer them is bondage which is what they already have.
The Bible has one great and important message. God our Creator loves us. When we rebelled He sacrificed Himself for our sin and because of that we should love Him. That's personal, that means God wants a relationship with us. When a christian or a church fails to be motivated by love for Jesus they offer to the world a religion instead of a relationship with God. Therefore, having the wrong motivation has devastating consequences.
2:5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen - The first step to getting where we should be is remembering. Example: Ex 13:3 And Moses said unto the people, Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage; for by strength of hand the Lord brought you out from this place. We need to remember how God saved us and what He saved us from. Example Israel: Eze 16:4-6 ...in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut, neither wast thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, nor swaddled at all. None eye pitied thee, to do any of these unto thee, to have compassion upon thee; but thou wast cast out in the open field, to the lothing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born. And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live. What are the consequences of not remembering? In second Peter chapter one Peter tells us if we are not adding to our faith then we are forgetting what God has done and what He has promised. 2 Pet 1:5-11 ...giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Stuck in the present, focused on the here and now, no vision of God's promises fulfilled, no remembrance of what God has delivered us from. The cure is to be transformed by the renewing of your mind through the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. If we are not learning and growing then we will become unexcited about what we know. However, if we are learning and growing the new never wears off.
repent - Repent means to think differently, to reconsider, to have a change of mind. If we are truly to love Jesus as we should we are going to have to repent. This does not come easy for most of us. Declaring to God that our love for Him is not, or maybe never has been, what it should be will not be something we will do without proof and proof is often rejected or explained away. We humans have a tendency to find a comfort zone and then reason away all statements or truth that might move us away from that zone.
do the first works – In the beginning of most relationships things done for the other are done simply because of love for them. There is no purer motivation than love. Listen as God questions Israel about their lack of love for Him. Jer 2:2-5 ...Thus saith the Lord; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown. Israel was holiness unto the Lord, and the firstfruits of his increase: all that devour him shall offend; evil shall come upon them, saith the Lord. Hear ye the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel: Thus saith the Lord, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me, and have walked after vanity, and are become vain? What sin or wrong have we found in Christ that we do not love Him with all our heart, with all our mind and with all our strength? Jesus should never be far from our thoughts. We should always be speaking to Him and listening for Him. I have never had any trouble saying to one of my grandsons, “I love you”. The reason is because it's true. We should not have any trouble saying that to Jesus, in fact we should long to tell Him. When a relationship becomes a burden there's something wrong with it.
I will...remove thy candlestick – We established before that a candlestick is a lamp stand or light holder. This properly describes the church which should not give off light of itself, but should hold the light of Christ. Holding and projecting His light into the world is simply not possible if we do not love Him with all our heart. A lamp stand without a light needs to be removed.
2:6 thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans - The name Nicolaitans means to conquer laity. From that many have supposed this to be a priestly order taking authority over fellow believers that didn't belong to them. Another theory is there was a man by the name of Nicolaus of Antioch, who apostatized from the truth and formed a cult which taught (among other doctrines) that one must indulge in sin in order to understand it. They gave themselves over to sensuality with the explanation that such sins did not touch the spirit. Whoever the Nicolaitans were they were a cult snared in a false doctrine.
2:7 He that hath an ear, let him hear – We need to remember something Paul said to Timothy in 2 Tim 4:3-4 ...the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. The time is now. Many have an ear to hear, but only what they want to hear. In our time hearing what the Spirit is saying to the Church is going to take some discernment and discernment comes from a willingness to use the Words of God.
him that overcometh - Who are the overcomers? 1 John 5:4-5 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? The overcomers are those who know and are in love with Jesus. The promise to the overcomer here is that he will get to eat of the tree of life, a privilege which Adam threw away in the Garden of Eden. Speaking of the New Jerusalem John said in Rev 22:2 In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
2:8 the church in Smyrna - Smyrna was situated at the head of a beautiful bay about 40 miles northwest of Ephesus. It was celebrated for its games, library, temples, and sacred festivals. The city's temples included, a temple of Zeus, a temple of Diana (the goddess worshiped in Ephesus), a temple of Aphrodite and a temple of Apollo. Years before the time of this letter the city also became a seat of emperor worship, a fanatical religion, that under emperors Nero and Domitian brought severe persecution to Christians. It's probable the church was established there during Paul's time at Ephesus recorded in Acts chapter 19. Polycarp, a man personally taught by John the Apostle, was for a long time the pastor of the church at Smyrna and was there during the time of this letter. Polycarp was martyred in a stadium of the city in 168 A.D. by being buried alive. There was a time of great persecution for all Christians in the Roman Empire from 100-314 A.D. Smyrna because it was a great center of idolatry was especially hard hit and is often known as the martyr church. According to “Fox's Book of Martyrs” approximately 5 million Christians were killed world wide during that time.
the first and the last - Jesus is He which was before all things and will be after all things. He is the beginning and the end and everything in between. He is reality. To ignore Him is to live in a fantasy world that will one day come crashing down. When Jesus speaks to each of the 7 churches He restates part of John's description we find of Him in chapter 1. Many expositors feel this is significant and has special meaning for the particular church He's speaking to. For a church under great persecution hearing Jesus say He is the first and the last would hold great comfort.
which was dead, and is alive – John recorded that Jesus said in John 11:25-26 ...I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. To a church whose members were being martyred this would have had very special meaning. The life we live here on Earth is a very small part of our existence. For most Christians in our society there's not enough pain, struggle or tribulation to make God's promises the foundation of our life. However, the Christians in Smyrna were forced to live everyday as if it were their last. Such a person would find great comfort in Christ's resurrection and the promise of theirs.
2:9 I know thy works - Jesus knows what we are, He knows what we think, He knows what we do, He knows where we go and He knows what motivates us. He sees us perfectly clear. Nothing about us escapes Him. As He is so is His Word. Heb 4:12-13 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Paul wrote in 2 Tim 4:3-4 ...the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. The religious Jews of Jesus' day could not tolerate Him because He knew what they were and showed them. His word made them see what they didn't want to see. The Word of God does the same thing when it's read, preached and taught properly, but in our time sound doctrine is being replaced by what appeals to the flesh. Jesus knew these people at Smyrna and He had no condemnation for them. The fire of persecution had purified them.
and tribulation - Tribulation is affliction, anguish, persecution, and trouble. Tribulation is something all Christians have been called to suffer. 2 Tim 3:12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. 1 Pet 2:19-23 For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously. Phil 1:29 For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake. 1 Pet 3:17-18 For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit. 1 Pet 4:12-14 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. Jesus said to His disciples in John 16:1-3 These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended. They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me. Though most Christians are very familiar with these passages they would still think it strange if they were to suffer in such a way. The truth is we should think it very strange if we are not suffering. The church at Smyrna was suffering greatly and it had drawn them very close to Christ.
and poverty - These people were poor in the sense of worldly possessions. While there are some exceptions the lack of earthly possessions is something common among those who have given themselves wholly to the work of God. Among the church at Smyrna were those who had voluntarily given up their possessions and those who had their possessions taken from them because of their faith. I want to note here some of the passages in the Bible that speak to this poverty. 1 Cor 1:26-29 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. Jesus said in Matt 19:24 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. Paul said in 1 Tim 6:7-10 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. John wrote in 1 John 2:15-17 Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever. These people could have truly said, “I'd rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today”.
(but thou art rich) – These people were poor only in the worldly, earthly, fleshly sense and such a perception would have come from those who knew not God. Jesus said in Matt 16:26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? True riches are found in knowing Jesus Christ. Rom 8:16-18 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Many desire great wealth, but if you truly have Christ then you have everything. Consider also that great riches are found in the midst of persecution. Dan 3:16-28, I wonder if we were able to ask Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego what a walk in the fiery furnace with Jesus was worth to them what they would say? Dan 6:4-23, I wonder if we were able to ask Daniel what spending a night in the lions den with Jesus was worth to him what he would say? Of those persecuted through the ages Paul wrote in Heb 11:37-38 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. All these people were perceived to be poor by worldly standards, but in Christ they were rich beyond measure.
I know the blasphemy of them - Always the greatest trouble we face will come from those who have religion instead of a relationship with God. Those who have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof will usually be embraced by the world and be the chief persecutors of God's people. Blasphemy means railing or evil speaking with the idea of causing injury. It's something God's people should never be involved in. James 4:11 Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge. Titus 3:1-2 Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men. However, it's something the religious are always involved in.
which say they are Jews, and are not – Paul wrote in Rom 2:28-29 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. If a person is not a Christian at heart then that person is not a Christian at all. Faith, obedience, love and expectation start in the heart and then show themselves outwardly.
the synagogue of Satan – Synagogue means congregation or assembly. This does not speak of an assembly for the purpose of worshiping Satan, but an assembly for the purpose of worshiping God. A synagogue of Satan can be any congregation where God is not worshiped in truth and in spirit. You may recall what Jesus said to the Pharisees in John 8:44 Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.
2:10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer - We should not fear the cost of identifying with Christ or His Word. 2 Tim 1:7-8 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God. Fear means to be afraid of and is a relative term. What we are afraid of is determined by what and who we believe as well as our perception of what's happening around us or what we expect to happen. If God and His promises are real to us we will not fear what man can do. If we are not embracing God's promises then we will surly be afraid of men and what they might do.
the devil shall cast some of you into prison - Devil means slanderer. In many instances the devil is the source of suffering for Christians as was the case for Job. Satan said to the Lord concerning Job in Job 1:10-12 Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord. We should remember the devil can only do what God allows and God allows only what is needful for His purpose. Prison is an uncomfortable place where someone is held for a time. God can indeed have great purpose for allowing the devil to imprison His children for a time. In captivity to the devil we can become a spectacle of God's grace and perseverance which may point many to Him.
that ye may be tried – The trial of our faith is both necessary and priceless. 1 Pet 1:7 ...the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ. It's impossible to see the need for trials without seeing the invisible. Paul wrote in 2 Cor 4:17-18 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal. With eyes on the temporary we can never see the true need of trials. Tried means to be examined or proved. What is the value of you and everyone else knowing you belong to the living God?
ye shall have tribulation ten days – Tribulation is affliction, trouble and anguish. Most Bible expositors believe the ten days refers to a specific amount of time. Dr McGee points out there were ten intense periods of persecution by Roman Emperors. Under Nero from 64-68 AD (Paul was beheaded during that time), under Domitian from 95-96 AD (John was exiled during that period), under Trajan from 104-117 AD (Ignatius was burned at the stake), under Marcus Aurelius from 161-180 AD (Polycarp was buried alive), under Severus from 200-211 AD, under Maximinus from 235-237 AD, under Decius from 250-253 AD, under Valerian 257-260 AD, under Aurelian 270 275 AD, and under Diocletian from 303-313 AD (the worst Christian persecutor of them all). The ten days speak of a specific period of time and tells us though God may allow His children to suffer affliction for a purpose, He also has a plan of deliverance. Another interpretation of “ten days” is that “ten” speaks of world power hostile to the church (the beast has ten horns in Rev 13:1) and days speaks of a short time as compared to years or eternity. The time of trial shall be short, the time of joy shall be forever.
be thou faithful until death – This may sound on the surface as if Jesus is asking some great thing of these people, but to someone who knows and has accepted Christ as Lord and Savior this is the least they can do and something they will readily agree to. It would simply be following His example. The great reason many who call themselves christian will not follow in the footsteps of Christ is because they simply don't love Him. They want to go to heaven and will claim Him as Savior, but to live by His words daily and follow Him into death is asking more than they will give. The church at Pergamum had seen their own martyred and most were willing suffer the same.
I will give thee a crown of life - Every true believer has everlasting life in Christ. This is a special crown for those that give their life for their faith in Jesus. Doing so is perhaps the ultimate test, but the decision is easy for one who really loves their Savior.
2:11 He that hath an ear, let him hear - Having an ear to hear is the same as having a heart to understand. Many have a desire to know more, but are hindered because their desire is motivated by the flesh. Prov 18:2 A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself. Those that have an ear to hear are listening for the right reason, motivated by love for Christ.
He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death - An overcomer is one who receives, believes and follows Christ. What is the second death? Rev 20:11-14 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. The second death is to be cast into the lake of fire.