Revelation 2 contains the first 4 of the 7 letters to the 7 churches. And you’ll remember from chapter 1 that we said the 7 stars are 7 pastors or bishops, and the 7 lampstands are the seven churches. So when Jesus gives this threat in Rev. 2:5, “repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place,” this is a threat that Christ will snuff them out, remove them from the holy place (which is where the lampstands were in the temple), such that they are no longer considered churches. And this is a threat that everyone should took heed to, even if they are not in Ephesus. Over and over again we see this refrain, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
- So we should read these letters closely asking God to convict us and to convict our pastors and our churches of the sins we need to confess and repent of. And to receive encouragement for the things we are doing well. What God says to one church, all of us can learn from.
- Now let’s briefly summarize the message to each church and then we’ll go back and answer some the specific questions I had as I read.
Verses 1-7 are addressed “To the angel of the church of Ephesus.”
- And this is significant in that this entire letter is directed to the pastor of the church. All of the 2nd person pronouns “you/your” are singular. Of course this has application to the congregation, and everyone else who hears this letter, but Jesus has some strong words of both encouragement and warning for this angel/pastor of the church in Ephesus.
- He says “I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that 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; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary.”
- This sounds like the life of a pastor. Labor, patience, testing so-called apostles, rooting out false doctrine, persevering and not growing weary. And God commends this pastor for his works, especially his intolerance! (To God intolerance of evil is a virtue). But there is one thing he lacks. Verse 4, “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”
- And so the message to this pastor in Ephesus is to keep up the good work, but to repent of his lack of love. He is told in verse 5, “do the first works,” the works you used to do when your love was hot. It’s like telling a husband to love his wife like Christ loves the church, to treat her the way you did when you first fell in love, the flowers, the love-notes, the romantic dates. Stir up those works you used to do and reignite your love before it goes cold. Because if you persist in this lovelessness, I will come quickly and remove your lampstand.
- Love is like the oil that kept the lampstand burning. And without this love of the Spirit, this oil of the Spirit, the church’s flame will go out.
Verses 8-11 are addressed “To the angel of the church in Smyrna.”
- Like the letter to the pastor of Ephesus, here also Jesus addresses the pastor of Smyrna saying. “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. 10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
- So this pastor has been working hard, enduring tribulation and poverty, and slander from the Jews. And God’s word to him is, Do not fear any of these things with you are going to suffer.
- And it is not only the pastor who will suffer but here we have the shift to the 2nd person plural ya’ll or ye in the KJV, speaking now to the whole church, that they are going to have tribulation for 10 days, but if they are faithful unto death, they will receive a crown of life.
- And the contrast here is between 10 days of suffering, and 1,000 years of reigning with Christ. Some take the 10 days as literal, some as symbolic, either way, the message here is just like what Paul says in Romans 8, “that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory to come.” You only have to suffer for 10 days, and then you will reign with Christ for 365,000 days.
- So God doesn’t have anything bad to say about the church in Smyrna, they are suffering and are probably going to be martyred, and God’s word is Do not fear, be faithful, and if you overcome, you won’t be hurt by the second death.
Verses 12-17 are addressed “To the angel of the church in Pergamos.”
- Pergamos is an especially tough mission field, we are told in verse 13 that Satan’s throne is there and that Antipas was killed there for his faith. And with Pergamos being the capital of Satan’s demonic activity, it is no surprise that there are false teachers there, and God wants this pastor to exercise church disciple to get these men out of there.
- These demonic false teachers are teaching the doctrine of Balaam, which includes sexual immorality, intermarriage with unbelievers, and eating things sacrificed to idols. And so God threatens to fight against them with the sword of his mouth if there is not repentance.
Verses 18-28 are addressed “To the angel of the church in Thyatira”
- God begins by saying that he knows the works, and love, and service, and faith, and patience that this pastor has demonstrated, but, verse 20, “Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.”
- Notice these are the same sins that the Balaamites and Nicolaitans were encouraging: sexual immorality and communion with idols (which are demons). One of the things you will consistently find with false teachers and those who abandon the faith are these two sins. Sexual immorality, adultery, fornication, and turning people away from the Lord’s table, to the world’s table. From communion and friendship with God to friendship with the world.
So there’s a summary of the first 4 letters and the condition of those churches. Now let’s start back at the beginning and answer some questions:
Q1. Who are the Nicolaitans? (vs. 6)
- One of the church fathers, Irenaeus writing in the 2nd century AD says that “the Nicolaitans are the followers of that Nicolas who was one of the seven first ordained to the diaconate by the apostles (Acts 6:5). They lead lives of unrestrained indulgence…that it is a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.”
- If this report is accurate then you would have a former deacon who apostatized and became a false teacher. I find this to be interesting but unlikely.
- I think the primary meaning is found in the name itself, “Nicolaitan” literally means “people conqueror.” And a few verses later, we encounter Balaamites, which literally are people eaters, gluttons. And these two groups are connected in verses 14-15 in that both Balaamites and the Nicolaitans teach the same thing: sexual immorality and idolatry.
- And so there is wordplay here in that we are told in verse 7, “To him who overcomes/conquers I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God”
- The word overcome in Greek is νικάω, (same as Nicolaitan). So putting this all together…
- God commends the pastor in Ephesus for hating the deeds of these Nicolaitans “people conquerors” who are teaching people to eat food sacrificed to idols. And so to those Nikao, conquer/overcome by faith in God, they will eat, not of meat sacrificed to idols, but from the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.
- So I take the Nicolaitans and Baalamites to be basically the same group of false teachers. I suspect these are false Jews or Judaizers, what Paul would call “of the synagogue of Satan” in that they retain the outward forms and appearances of Jewish religion, but they are actually worshipping demons. And as we’ll see at this book progresses, Jerusalem has become Babylon and full of every haunt and evil spirit.
Q2. What is the second death (vs. 11)?
- We are told in Revelation 20 that the second death is “the lake of fire.” After God judges the dead before his Great White Throne, it says, “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.”
- So if the second death is being thrown in the lake of fire, then the first death is when the physical body dies and the soul is separated from the body. The second death is the eternal punishment that unbelievers experience in their resurrected bodies.
- The promise in Revelation 2:11 is that all who overcome by faith need not fear death of any kind, neither the first death nor the second death.
Q3. What does it mean that Satan had his throne in Pergamos? (vs. 13)
- We have already seen that in Smyrna, there were false Jews who had become a synagogue of Satan, meaning they worshipped Satan and his demons instead of Christ. And now here in Pergamos we are told that Satan has his throne here.
- Some have connected this with various cult-sites in Pergamos: there was a throne-like altar to Zeus, the cult of Asclepius had a serpent as its symbol, Pergamos was also a cult center for Athena and Dionysius.
- Phillip Kayser also points out that Pergamos was a center for education, it had a famous 200,000 book library. It was also a center for medicine and healing. He says, “The influential physician, Galen (who is famous even to this day) tied medicine and occultism together by means of the shrine to Asklepios.”
- So the medical symbol still in use today, it’s on the logo of the WHO (make of that what you will), if you have ever seen the rod with a snake around it is called the Rod of Asclepius, who was the god of healing in Greek Mythology. And Pergamos was a center of this mixture of medicine and demonic worship.
- So I take this all to mean that at the time of Revelation, Satan had made Pergamos the capital or central hub of his demonic activity, it was his control center. And it was visibly present in these various occult temples and worship of the Greek gods.
- Now when we get to Revelation 20, I will argue that Satan is now bound, so I don’t believe he has a throne like he used to, but there are hints throughout Scripture that spiritual beings have geographical and territorial boundaries.
- Hebrews 2:14 says that angels are “ministering spirits sent forth to minister to those who will inherit salvation.” So all of God’s elect have at least one angel assigned to them and these angels go with us.
- Jesus says in Matthew 18:10, “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” So every elect child has an angel with them.
- And so when Christians travel and move to various places, angels go with them. As we travel through various geographic regions, so also angels go with us. And it is angels who wage spiritual warfare in heaven as we worship God and serve him here on earth.
- And Revelation is one of those books that gives us a glimpse into the spiritual warfare that is going on all around us, and we see here that there are centers of demonic activity, and yet Jesus says, the gates of hell cannot prevail against His church. So we should be aware of this kind of spiritual warfare, and not afraid of it because we have God and his angels with us.
Q4. What is the significance of Jezebel? (vs. 20)
- Jezebel first shows up in 1 Kings 16, when Ahab the King of Israel marries her. It says, “he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians; and he went and served Baal and worshiped him. 32 Then he set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria.” So Jezebel becomes Queen and immediately leads Israel into idolatry.
- Two chapters later Jezebel massacres the prophets of the Lord, and Elijah arranges for this showdown between himself and the prophets of Baal. And it says in 1 Kings 18:19, “Now therefore, send and gather all Israel to me on Mount Carmel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal, and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
- Notice the mention of eating at Jezebel’s table.
- A few chapters later on she comes up with plan to have Naboth murdered so that Ahab can have his vineyard. She sets up false witnesses against Naboth and then they execute him. And God pronounces this judgment on her, “The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel.’ 24 The dogs shall eat whoever belongs to Ahab and dies in the city, and the birds of the air shall eat whoever dies in the field. 25 But there was no one like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the sight of the Lord, because Jezebel his wife stirred him up.”
- So Jezebel is an evil and murderous woman, who gathers hundreds of false teachers to her table and incites God’s people to idolatry.
- Now because of Jezebel’s infamous reputation, I doubt that this was a popular name for Jews to name their daughters. And so here in Revelation, I take this as a figurative name for a literal female prophetess that taught these same doctrines as the Balaamites and Nicolaitans: fornication and idolatry.
- There is a tradition that identifies this woman in Revelation as the wife of the bishop, and that is because some manuscripts actually read, “your wife Jezebel” rather than “the woman Jezebel.” This is the view of Phillip Kayser, who holds to what we call the Greek Majority Text. I lean more towards the Received Text, which does not have that Greek word “sou” in it, but even if you don’t hold to the Majority Text, the fact that there are manuscripts which contain that gloss suggests this was an early interpretation of who this Jezebel was.
- I am open to this idea, but I do find it hard to reconcile all the good things God commends this pastor for in verse 19, with what would be a rather obvious transgression in allowing his wife to teach and seduce people to idolatry. It’s certainly possible, but I am not sure.
- So maybe it’s the pastor’s wife, maybe not, but this is definitely someone that is inside the church. She is a member in good standing, people consider her a prophetess, which was a legitimate function in the early church (think of Phillips’ daughters in Acts 21), but female prophets were only allowed to prophesy privately per 1 Cor. 14, (and that’s a whole other podcast episode I’ll have to do one day). And so this Jezebel has all the appearances of propriety but the fruit of her ministry is apostasy, fornication, idolatry.
- And there are tons of Jezebels in the church today. Women who are wives of pastors and elders in the church, who have the approval of the evangelical elite, who speak at conferences, they are popular on social media, they get book deals, they teach at seminaries and bible colleges. And they teach just enough truth to appear Christian and orthodox, and use that as a shield to hide behind if anyone calls them out. But what they cunningly teach is deceptive, and they seduce people away from Christ and into worldliness. They twist Scripture and use grace as a cover for sin. They criticize godly men, just like Jezebel false accused Naboth and had him murdered.
- And so God has strong words of judgment on Jezebel and all those who are like her: The dogs shall eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel. God will kill those who follow her with death.
- So be on guard for Jezebels in the church who use their feminine charms to seduce God’s servants away from the truth.
Q5. What is the morning star promised to us in verse 28?
- Well here almost everyone agrees that the morning star is Jesus. Because it says at the very end of the book in Revelation 22:16, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” But what are we to learn about Jesus by this association?
- Rushdoony says that this morning star is a symbol of world dominion. And it connects with what is said right before it in Revelation 2:26-27, that these saints will be given power over the nations.
- In modern cosmology the morning star is Venus.
- One of the church fathers Oecumenius identifies the morning star with Satan, and so under his interpretation, God is promising to put Satan beneath our feet.
- My interpretation is that this image of being given the morning star signifies our receiving of Christ’s kingship and our co-reigning with him over the nations. I take it specifically to refer to these 1st century saints who are going to endure the darkest night in the history of the world, namely the great tribulation. But they are going to receive the first resurrection, the first light before dawn, and reign with Christ in the millennium.
- So these saints received this morning star in AD 70 and currently reign and rule with Christ over all the world.
- And this is should encourage us in our day to keep fighting against the darkness, to wage spiritual warfare in prayer and preaching, to not tolerate false teaching and Jezebel’s in our midst, and to exercise church disciple according to Christ’s command. If you were to summarize the main message Jesus has for the churches, it is, you need to kick false teachers out! You need to hate what Jesus hates and love what Jesus loves, and Jesus is jealous for the purity of His bride.
- If we do this, we too will see the increase of peace and of Christ’s government, of which there shall be no end. And Amen.