Revelation Chapter 2: letters to the assemblies of Asia - letter to the assembly in Ephesus, the religiously correct but unloving assembly; letter to the assembly in Smyrna, the suffering but faithful assembly; letter to the assembly in Pergamos, the assembly who remained faithful with the testimony of Yahushua (Jesus) but who was compromised by false doctrine, idolatry, and immorality; letter to the assembly in Thyatira, the overly tolerant assembly
2:1-3 “To the (a)angel of the [assembly] of (b) Ephesus write, 'These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: I know (c) your patience, and that (d) you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and (e) have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary.
a. Again (cf. 1:20), “angel” (Greek: aggelos) may carry a double meaning, referring to both the leading elder (the “messenger”) of the assembly and to an angel who is charged with getting the message to the types of assemblies represented by the assembly at Ephesus throughout history.
b. Ephesus, an opulent seaport city of about 500,000 on the western coast of Asia Minor, across the Aegean Sea almost directly east of Athens, Greece, was the political capital of the Roman province of Asia and also a prominent cultural, commercial, and religious center. It was famous for its fabulous temple of the goddess Artemis, or Diana - one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Paul’s teachings caused a life-threatening uproar among those who practiced false religion there (cf. Acts 19:23-31). He lived in Ephesus, establishing the assembly there, for about three years, and one of his Renewed Covenant letters was written to the assembly at Ephesus. Later, Paul’s disciple and close companion, Timothy, was the leader of the assembly at Ephesus. The apostle John was the “resident apostle” there during the last years of his life - about 90-100 CE. According to historians, he died there. John wrote his gospel while he lived at Ephesus which was not far from the Isle of Patmos where he received the Revelation.
c. There was much persecution of the Assembly of Believers in Yahushua in that part of the world - from Rome, the pagan religions, and the Jews. The assembly at Ephesus was commended by the Lord for her patience in the face of much opposition.
d. The Believers at Ephesus were also commended for their strong stand against “evil” people and false teachers and leaders in the assembly.
e. And they were diligent and tireless in their efforts to maintain doctrinal purity and right living in the assembly.
2:4-5 'Nevertheless I have this against you, that (a) you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and (b) do the first works, or else (c) I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place - unless you repent.
a. Regardless of her patience, perseverance, tireless good works, intolerance of evil people, and diligence to maintain doctrinal correctness, there was something fundamentally wrong with the assembly at Ephesus - she had fallen out of the love of Yahuah ("God") which she had in the beginning. She had neglected the “first and great commandment”: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind,” and the second great commandment: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
b. What was the solution? - remembering her loving relationship with Yahuah, repenting (turning away from) her loveless form of life in the Messiah, and doing the “first works” (works done in love).
c. What were the consequences of continuing in her present ways? - Yahuah would remove her light - her Gospel witness - in the world.
2:6 'But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.'"
It was said by various writers at the time that the Nicolaitan “Christian” sect encouraged idolatrous worship, denied that Yahuah was the Creator of the world, and was morally licentious. Also, the Nicolaitan clergy exercised dominion over the laity and claimed exclusive power to correctly interpret Scripture.
In conclusion, the assembly at Ephesus represents those assemblies who are spiritually dead or close to death because they maintain the outward form of life in the Messiah - doctrinal fidelity, right living, and intolerance of conspicuous evil in their midst - but they are just going through the motions, having neglected the Spirit of Yahuah’s love in which they began.
2:7 (a) "He who has an ear, let him hear what (b) the Spirit says to (c) the [assemblies]. (d) To him (e) who overcomes I will give to eat from (f) the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of [Yahuah].”
a. Notice that the final exhortation: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the [assemblies]. To him who overcomes . . . ,” is exactly the same for each of the seven assemblies (cf. 2:11, 17, 26, 29; 3:5, 6, 12, 13, 21, 22). As Yahushua and the writers of the New Covenant Scriptures taught, salvation in Him is not just a having-once-believed done-deal (“once saved always saved”). It is the process of “being saved” (1 Corinthians 10:18). As James wrote, “A man is justified by works and not by faith only” (James 2:24). And Yahushua Himself told His disciples, “He who endures to the end shall be saved” (Matthew 24:13).
On the other hand, the apostle Paul wrote, “By grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of [Yahuah], not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8), making it clear that it is not our works or good deeds that justify or save us.
How is this apparent contradiction to be resolved? It is very simple, really, if we will just read and understand the rest of Paul’s statement: “For we are His [Yahuah’s] workmanship, created in [the Messiah Yahushua] for good works which [Yahuah] prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
So, although on the surface it appears that it is our faith and/or good works that save us, ultimately, it is neither our faith nor our works that justify and save us, is it? It is only the grace Yahuah. It is His gift. It is the faith that He gives us and the “good works” that He enables us to do by His Spirit that save us. And we must, by His grace, “endure to the end” and “overcome” (all the obstacles of the enemy of our souls) to be saved.
b. Although the message of each assembly may be delivered by the written or spoken word, or by an angel, ultimately it is from Spirit of Yahuah.
c. The message to each assembly is for all assemblies - the universal Assembly of Disciples of Yahuah - not just the seven assemblies.
d. And ultimately the message to each of the seven assemblies is for the individual believers in all assemblies.
e. Just hearing the Word is not enough; there must be a victorious response in the love of Yahuah.
f. The ultimate reward for faithful, victorious obedience is, by eating of the Tree of Life, eternal life in Paradise. [By rebelling against Yahuah, Adam and Eve forfeited the opportunity to eat of the Tree of Life and live forever in Paradise (cf. Genesis 2:9; 3:26).]
2:8-9 “And to the angel of the [assembly] in (a) Smyrna write, ‘These things says (b) the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: I know your (c) works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know (d) the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
a. Smyrna, the main commercial center of western Asia Minor, was a very prosperous and beautiful city 40 miles north of Ephesus. Persecution of the assembly was severe there. Polycarp, a disciple of the apostle John and an early "Church father," was martyred in Smyrna in 156 CE.
b. Reinforces that the One who dictated the letters to the assemblies to John was not only Yahuah, but specifically Yahushua the Son/Yahushua the Messiah (cf. John 10:30).
c. Tribulation and poverty, probably resulting from persecution, were the circumstances of the assembly at Smyrna; but they were spiritually “rich.”
d. Part of the persecution in Smyrna apparently came from Jews who were Jews by birth but not truly Jews spiritually (cf. Romans 2:28-29; 9:6) - actually called “a synagogue of Satan” by the Lord because of their blasphemy.
2:10 (a) ‘Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, (b) the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have (c) tribulation (d) ten days. (e) Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.’”
a. About 60 years earlier, Yahushua had warned his Disciples that, “Then [at the “End of the Age”] they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake” (Matthew 24:9). But He also comforted them with, "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). He is just repeating that warning and that consolation to the assembly at Smyrna.
b. Here, the name “devil” (from the Greek diabolos) is used because the assembly at Smyrna was primarily a Gentile, Greek-speaking congregation. Satan (from the Hebrew satan) is behind all persecution of the Assembly.
c. The term “tribulation” (Greek: thlipsis - pressure, distress, oppression, affliction) is used throughout the New Covenant Scriptures to refer to the suffering, at the hands of the wicked, of those who follow Yahushua. Some call the entire seven years at the End of the Age, foretold in the Revelation, the “Tribulation.” However, as we shall see, the “Great Tribulation” (7:14) is a limited period of time within the Final Seven Years which are nowhere called "the Tribulation."
d. In Daniel (cf. 7:7-24) and in the Revelation, the number 10 seems to refer to the complete wickedness of the world. In other words, all of the world’s wickedness would come against the assembly at Smyrna for a limited period of time.
e. Again, the promise of "eternal" life is not to those who are passive in their faith, but to those who “endure to the end,” even if that means martyrdom.
Please notice that, in contrast to the assembly at Ephesus who was sound in doctrine and “good works” but lacking in love, and the assemblies that were compromised in some other way, the Lord had nothing negative to say to the poor, persecuted assembly at Smyrna, but just encouraged her to hang in there until she received her reward.
2:11 “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the [assemblies]. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”
Same exhortation and promise as to the assembly at Ephesus, except to these Believers who were likely facing martyrdom, the promise is phrased in such a way as to comfort them in the face of death, as Yahushua had previously comforted and exhorted His disciples with, "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [the 'second death']" (Matthew 10:28).
2:12-13 “And to the angel of the [assembly] in (a) Pergamos write, ‘These things says (b) He who has the sharp two-edged sword: “I know your works, and where you dwell, (c) where Satan’s thone is. And (d) you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, (c continued) where Satan dwells.
a. Pergamos (Pergamum), about 70 miles north of Smyrna, was the main religious center and, with a vast library of 200,000 volumes, literary center of Asia Minor. The city was addicted to idolatry and was filled with statues and altars to pagan gods, including Zeus, the Greek version of Marduk, the Babylonian god, and king of the Greek gods. So, religious persecution in Pergamum was great.
b. The sharp two-edged sword is symbolic of the Word of Yahuah, personified in Yahushua. It (He) is capable of distinguishing the physical from the spiritual and discerning the thoughts and intents of the heart. (cf. Hebrews 4:12)
c. No doubt due to the dominion of powerful spiritual forces of idolatrous religion in the city, the Lord called Pergamum the location where Satan dwelled and of his throne. It is interesting that the Hebrew name “Satan” is used here, perhaps indicating a strong Jewish element in the church at Pergamum.
d. The assembly at Pergamos was commended for “holding fast” to the name of Yeshua and not denying that He was their Lord and Savior, even when faced with the possibility of being killed for doing so, as one of their members, Antipas, was.
2:14-15 ‘But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold (a) the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold (b) the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
a. The pagan king of the Moabites, Balak, tried to get the false prophet Balaam to prophesy against Israel, but Balaam refused to do so. However, he counseled Balak to subvert and overcome Israel by getting her involved in pagan idolatry and sexual immorality, which happened (cf. Numbers 22-25). The apostle James, leader of the assembly at Jerusalem, had advised the assembly there, which was comprised entirely of Messianic Jews, to write to the Gentiles who had turned to faith in Yahushua, warning them to avoid involvement in practices that even, to the Jews, symbolized idolatry and sexual immorality (cf. Acts 15:13-20). But some in the assembly at Pergamos had given in to the pressure of the powerful pagan spirit of the city and gotten involved in the “doctrine of Balaam.”
b. The doctrine of the Nicolaitans, as was noted in the commentary on the assembly at Ephesus, was essentially the same as the Doctrine of Balaam. But, unlike the assembly at Ephesus, which, like the Lord, hated the deeds (false worship and immorality) of the Nicolaitans, some in the assembly at Pergamum compromised and adopted those practices.
2:16-17 (a) ‘Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will (b) fight against them with the sword of My mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the [assemblies]. To him who overcomes I will give some of (c) the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.’”
a. The solution? Those who had adopted the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans needed to turn away from those doctrines.
b. The consequences? If they did not repent, the Lord Himself would fight against them with His Word, which is capable of destroying false doctrines and those who hold them (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5).
c. The rewards for spiritual victory? –hidden manna (Manna was food miraculously given to Israel to sustain her in the Sinai wilderness. For Believers in Yeshua the Messiah, the “hidden” manna is the “Bread of Life,” spiritual sustenance, the Lord Yahushua Himself in us.); a white stone (The defendant in Hebrew trials, if found innocent, was given a white stone; if found guilty, was given a black stone.); and a new name (As “new creations” in the Messiah, all things are new, including our heavenly names and the song that we sing - cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17; Revelation 14:3).
The assembly at Pergamos was compromised because some of her members had adopted pagan doctrines that led to idolatry and sexual immorality.
2:18-19 “And to the angel of the assembly in (a) Thyatira write, ‘These things says the (b) Son of [Yahuah], who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass: “I know (c) your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first.
a. Thyatira, 45 miles southeast of Pergamum, was originally a Macedonian colony during the Greek empire of Alexander the Great. It was famous for its purple and scarlet dyes. Lydia, a convert of the apostle Paul, is mentioned as a “seller of purple fabrics” from Thyatira (Acts 16:14). Idolatry was prevalent in Thyatira, as it was in all of Asia Minor. The principal deity of the city was Apollos, the sun god, although Artemis, the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology, is also mentioned in inscriptions found in Thyatira.
b. The speaker and the One dictating the letter to the assembly at Thyatira is explicitly identified here as the Son of Yehovah, and His description is exactly the same as in 1:14-15.
c. The good works, faith, and patience of the assembly at Thyatira equal or exceed, because her works have increased over time, those of the assemblies at Ephesus and Pergamum.
2:20-23 “Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because (a) you allow that woman (b) Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And (c) I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed (d) I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into (e) great tribulation, unless they (c) repent of their deeds. (f) I will kill her children with death, and (g) all the [assemblies] shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And (h) I will give to each one of you according to your works.
a. Notice again that life in the Messiah is not a passive religion. The Believers at Thyatira were censured by the Lord because they put up with this evil woman in their midst.
b. The woman, a false prophetess (claiming to speak for Yehovah), was probably not actually named Jezebel, but was, in her teaching and seducing others in the assembly into idolatry and sexual immorality, like the notorious Queen Jezebel, the wife of Israel’s King Ahab (cf 1 Kings 16:31-21:25).
c. Again, the solution to sin is repentance, both for the teacher - the instigator and leader of iniquity—and the followers. But this “Jezebel” refused to repent.
d. One consequence of sin and rebellion against the Lord may be physical illness.
e. Another consequence is “great tribulation,” which may come in the form of various calamities or distress.
f. A third consequence of continuing in sin while refusing to repent is for Jezebel’s (spiritual) children (those who follow her teachings and give in to her seductions) to be “killed with death.” That seems redundant, but “killed with death” is a Hebrew idiom for “slain with a most sure and awful death” in the same way that the literal Jezebel and her children met their end.
g. Sometimes, what is going on in an assembly is not obvious, but when those in other congregations see terrible things happening to members of an assembly that do not seem related to their stand for righteousness or truth, it may be that the Lord, who “searches the minds and hearts,” is bringing the consequences of their secret unrepentant sin and rebellion on them.
h. Note that consequences are not just for the evil in their hearts but are for the evil works that manifest that spiritual evil. Their chastisement was not just because of lack of faith, which was not a flaw of the believers at Thyatira, but because of their unrepentant, evil deeds, for, “Faith without [good] works is dead” (James 2:20).
2:24-25 (a) “Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come.
a. The Lord consoles any in Thyatira who have not given in to the teachings or seductions of “Jezebel,” which have dragged others into “the depths of Satan,” with the promise that He will put no other burden on them than to continue resisting her and to continue steadfastly in what they already have - good works, love, service, faith, and patience.
So, the assembly at Thyatira represents the overly tolerant assembly - putting up with, to her ultimate demise, false prophets (one in particular) with their devilish doctrines and immoral practices.
2:26-28 “And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations-–“He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels”—as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.”’”
This is an incredible promise to those who remain faithful, overcoming and doing the works of the Lord until the end. But it is not, as some think, a promise that the Church will establish the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth independent of the Messiah or before He returns in person to do that. Look at the last part of verse 27 and verse 28: “ - as I also have received from my Father; and I will give him the morning star.” Who is doing the speaking here? Who is making the promise to “he who overcomes”? It is the Lord Yahushua, the One who is dictating these letters to the seven assemblies. And, to whom is He making the promise? It is to “he [singular] who overcomes” - the individual Believer, not the whole Assembly. And what is He promising to give to the individual Believer who overcomes? It is what Yahushua has received from His Father: “. . . power over the nations - ‘he shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like potters vessels’ - as I also received from my Father; and I will give him the Morning Star.” Notice that the part about ruling the nations with a rod of iron is a quote from Psalm 2:9. That promise was originally made to the Son of Yahuah, not to the Assembly. And how the exact same promise to the Son will be kept is shown in 19:15 (“He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron . . .”). So, what is 2:26-28 really saying? Is it saying that the Assembly of Saints, by herself, will rule the nations with a rod of iron? No! It is saying that Yahushua the Messiah, as was promised to Him from the beginning, long before Revelation was written, will be the One who rules the nations with a rod of iron, and the individual believers will rule the nations with a rod of iron only to the extent that they sit on His throne with Him and share His rule with Him. As Paul told Timothy, those (individual believers) who “endure (to The End) shall reign with Him” (2 Timothy 2:12). He will share with them His power to rule the nations. And how will He do that? By also giving them Himself, the Morning Star (2Peter 1:19; Revelation 2:28; 22:16), so that it is no longer they who live (and rule), but the Messiah who lives and rules in them, with them, and through them (cf. Galatians 2:20). This totally negates the dominionist/kingdom-now doctrine that the Kingdom of Yahuah will be fully established on Earth before the King of Kings returns in person to do that.
2:29 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the [assemblies].”
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