Revelation Chapter 2 (Pergamum & Thyatira)


REVELATION 2:12-29 (Pergamum & Thyatira)

Dave: July 16, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 2:12-29

[Notes from Adam were added on October 14th, and are in blue font. They are based mostly on Steve Gregg’s book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary).”]

Pergamum

  • 190,000 people
  • 65 miles north of Smyrna
  • Capital city of the northern province of Asia
  • Known as a religious hub –
    • Worship of Zeus
    • Worship of Athene & Dionysus
    • Worship of Asclepios
    • Worship of Caesar

Steve Gregg notes that Pergamum (Pergamos) was the oldest city in Asia. It had the second largest library in the world (after Alexandria, Egypt), with 200,000 volumes of books (Steve Gregg, p. 68).

–What was the church praised for?
–Who was Antipas?  (See 1:5)
–What was the church rebuked for?  (See Num 31:16 for more on Balaam)

Sam Storms:

We read of Balaam in Numbers 22-24. Balak, King of Moab, had solicited Balaam to curse the children of Israel who were preparing to cross over into the promised land. But God intervened. Every time Balaam spoke, words of blessing came forth. Moved by greed for the reward Balak offered him, Balaam advised Balak that Moabite women should seduce the men of Israel by inviting them to partake in their idolatrous feasts (which invariably led to sexual immorality). Balaam knew that this would provoke the judgment of God against his people (which is precisely what happened).

What Balaam was to the children of Israel in the Old Testament, the Nicolaitans were to the church of Jesus Christ in the New. Balaam is a prototype of those who promote compromise with the world in idolatry and immorality (see also Jude 11 and 2 Peter 2:15). The Nicolaitans had dared to insinuate that freedom in Christ granted them a blank check to sin. The fault of the Pergamemes was not so much that they had followed this pernicious teaching but that they had allowed it be vocalized in the congregation. This matter of indifference to the licentiousness of the Nicolaitans was of grave concern to the risen Lord.

Steve Gregg views the teaching of the Nicolaitans as a forerunner to second-century gnosticism:

Whether those in Pergamos were teaching false doctrine for pay [as Balaam did], or simply teaching false doctrine, we do not know. What is evident is that sexual immorality and compromise with idolatry were being tolerated and even advocated by some in the church. In the second century, these same issues would be principal features of the Gnostic heretics (p. 69).

–Who are the Nicolaitans? (See note on Rev 2:6 – antinomians?)
–Why does Jesus say “I know where you dwell?”  (Encouragement that He understands our difficulties.)
–To whom does Jesus say He will come?  (to the church, but He will wage war against those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.)
–Practically speaking, what should the elders of Pergamum have done about the false teaching?
–What application is there for our churches?  And for us?

The Christians in Pergamum had sacrificed the ethical purity of their congregation on the altar of “love” and for the sake of some nebulous “peace” they feared to lose. Purity often comes at an extremely high price. But we must be prepared to pay it. Confrontation is never pleasant, but it often reaps a bountiful harvest. By all means, pursue love, but not at the expense of truth or in such a way that overt sin is left to fester and spread in the body of Christ (Source: Sam Storms).

Verses 16-17: Jesus tells the church in Pergamos what will take place in they do not repent for allowing the teaching of the Nicolaitans to remain in their midst. Steve Gregg remarks (p. 69),

Though the whole church is called upon to repent, it is only the offenders against whom Jesus threatens to fight…with the sword of My mouth (v. 16). What form this judgment will take is not specified, though it probably does not refer to the Second Coming, since this church no longer exists.

The same language Jesus uses here will be used again in Revelation 19:15. Jesus then gives several promises to those who conquer, including that He will give them a new name which no one else knows. A similar promise is given to the church in Philadelphia (3:12), where a second name is also promised (the name of God’s city, the New Jerusalem). Another promise given by Jesus here is that He will give to those who conquer a white stone. Steve Gregg remarks,

Much speculation has attended the interpretation of a white stone (v. 17). In one view, it is a token of vindication or acquittal, referring to the [first-century] practice of a judge handing an accused criminal either a black stone signifying condemnation or a white stone indicating acquittal. The message then would be that, though the Christians may stand condemned in the Roman courts, they will be justified at the bar of eternal justice. Another view is that the white stone was a token given to contestants in the Greek games as they completed their race, to be traded in later for their actual awards.

–The white stone . . . sometimes given to victors at games for entrance to banquets
–Where does Satan dwell these days?

Thyatira

–Economically strong, but culturally and politically ostracized.
–What is the church commended for?  (opposite of church in Ephesus)
–What is it rebuked for?  (tolerated heresy and immorality)

Steve Gregg (pp. 70-71) reminds us that one prominent believer from the book of Acts hailed from Thyatira:

Lydia, Paul’s first convert in Philippi, was from the city of Thyatira (Acts 16:14). The purple cloth she sold was a major product of that city… It is known that the city had many trade guilds, and it would have been difficult to make a living without participating in one of them. Yet the guilds practiced idolatrous rites at their gatherings, which Christians could not countenance. Therefore, the Christians in Thyatira may have been hard pressed to support themselves and their families without resorting to some measure of compromise with idolatry.

–Who is Jezebel?  (real person, but name was symbolic – like the symbolism of Balaam)

“Thus, what is meant is that this disreputable, so-called “prophetess” was as wicked and dangerous an influence in Thyatira as ‘Jezebel’ had been to Israel in the OT”  (Sam Storms).

–What was Jezebel doing to oppose the Lord and lead others astray?
–Didn’t Paul say it was OK to eat food sacrificed to idols as long as a brother’s conscience is not harmed?  What is the difference here?
–What will become of her and those she has influenced?
–What assurance does Jesus give to believers in Thyatira?  (He “searches the mind and the heart.”)
–Is the prophetess a believer?  And what about those who have followed her?  (Acts 5, 1 Cor 11:30-32)
–What are the deep things of Satan?
–What admonition does the Lord give to the believers?  (hold fast what you have until I come; conquer; keep my works until the end)
–What does “I will give authority over the nations” mean?  What are these nations?  (See Ps 2:7-9)

Steve Gregg addresses this question by presenting the various ways this statement in verse 26 is interpreted (p. 72):

Here the overcomer is described as the one who keeps My works until the end, with whom Christ will share His own power over the nations (v. 26). The fulfillment of this promise has been variously applied: (a) to reigning with Christ over the unsaved nations during a future millennium (20:4), (b) to participating in the reign of the saints with Christ after death in heaven (another way of understanding 20:4), or (c) to reigning over Christians of lower rank in the new earth, assuming there will be varying degrees of authority awarded to various saints (see Matt. 25:21-23; Luke 19:17, 19; I Cor. 15:41f).

The paraphrase of Psalm 2:9…appears, in context and without punctuation, to apply to the overcoming believer. In the psalm itself, it is clearly Christ who wields the rod of iron (as also in Rev. 19:15), which no doubt accounts for the translators in this case using quotation marks. Citation of the psalm points out that the authority of the exalted believer is not his own, but derived from the authority of Christ.

–Who is the Morning Star?  (See Rev 22:16)
–Do your latter works exceed your first?  Which direction are you going?

Thank you, Jesus, for giving us time to repent!

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Our study of Revelation 3 can be found here.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.

Revelation Chapter 2 (Ephesus and Smyrna)


REVELATION 2:1-11 (Ephesus and Smyrna)

Mike: July 9, 2009

Scripture text for this study: Revelation 2:1-11

Some of the following notes are taken from commentaries by John MacArthur and David Guzik, director of Calvary Chapel Bible College in Siegen, Germany. Both MacArthur and Guzik are Dispensational Futurists (None of us in this Bible study group hold to this position, however). The following is the source information for their materials:

[1] MacArthur, Dr. John. NASB MacArthur Study Bible. World Publishing, 2006, pp. 1963-1965.
[2] Guzik, David. David Guzik’s Commentaries on the Bible: Revelation 2.

[Notes from Adam are in blue font, and represent the preterist position.]

Introduction: According to David Guzik, the letters to the 7 churches share a similar structure, and these two are no exception:

[1] An address to a particular congregation
[2] An introduction of Jesus
[3] A statement and a verdict from Jesus regarding the condition of the church
[4] A command from Jesus to the church
[5] A general exhortation to all Christians
[6] A promise of reward

A. Letter to the Church in Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7)

In the second half of the first century, Ephesus had a population of about 250,000. It was the largest and most important city in the Roman province of Asia. It was also devoted to the cult of Artemis (Diana), and its temple to the goddess Diana was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (Steve Gregg, Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary, p. 64). David Guzik writes,

Ephesus was a famous city in the ancient world, with an equally famous church. Ephesus was the city where Paul ministered for three years (Acts 19:1, Acts 10, Acts 20:31). It was the city where Aquilla and Priscilla, with Apollos ministered (Acts 18:24-28). It was the city where Paul’s close associate Timothy (1 Timothy 1:3) ministered. And according to strong and consistent church historical traditions, the Apostle John himself ministered there.

Verse 1: David Guzik suggests that “this angel may be the pastor of the church at Ephesus, or an angelic being ‘looking in’ on the workings of the church at Ephesus.” In any case, says Guzik, “the letter isn’t written just to the representative, but to the whole church.”

According to John MacArthur, the 7 stars are the messengers who represent the 7 churches. Christ holds them in his hand, which means that He controls the church and its leaders. The seven lampstands, says MacArthur, were portable, gold, and “held small oil lamps. Each lampstand represented a church from which the light of life shone. Throughout scripture 7 is the number of completeness, so these 7 lampstands are representative of all the churches.”

Verses 2-3: The text says, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance…” Jesus lets them know He knows what’s going on in their church, and it’s not a mystery to him. “There may be sin or corruption hidden in a congregation, but it’s not hidden to Jesus.” He also knows what the church is doing right. They work hard for the Lord and have patient endurance.

Jesus commended the believers in Ephesus for testing and exposing false apostles. Unfortunately, those who test in this way today are often accused of “touching the Lord’s anointed” (as if some are anointed, and others are not), having a critical/religious spirit, being negative, etc. Guzik adds, “The Ephesian church also pursued doctrinal purity.” In Acts chapter 20:29-31 Paul warned them about those who would try to draw them away from the faith. The Ephesians took this warning seriously. Guzik quotes from Charles Spurgeon:

This was grand of them: it showed a backbone of truth. I wish some of the churches of this age had a little of this holy decision about them ; for nowadays, if a man be clever, he may preach the vilest lie that was ever vomited from the mouth of hell, and it may go down with some.

Verse 4: David Guzik remarks, “Despite all the good in the Ephesian church, there is something seriously wrong. They have left- not lost– their first love. They once had a love that they don’t have anymore.” Again Guzik quotes from Spurgeon, who says,

The distinction between leaving and losing is important. Something can be lost quite by accident, but leaving is a deliberate act, though it may not happen suddenly. As well, when we lose something we don’t know where to find it, but when we leave something, we know where to find it.

Verse 5: Jesus’ command to the believers in Ephesus is three-fold: [1] Remember [2] Repent [2] Do (“the works you did at first”). David Guzik remarks, “When the Prodigal Son was in the pigpen, the first step in restoration was remembering what life was like back in his father’s home (Luke 16:17-19). This is always the first step in getting back to where we should be with the Lord.” Jesus then tells them in no uncertain terms what will take place if they fail to respond: “If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” Steve Gregg remarks (p. 65),

The warning that Christ will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place (v. 5) can hardly refer to His Second Coming and almost certainly speaks of the total extinction of the church in that location. Indeed, today there is no city or church in the Turkish location that was once Ephesus. Islam has been established in this region which Paul had once thoroughly evangelized (Acts 19:10). How different might the history of that region have been had the church continued to practice its first love (Eph. 1:15)?

Steve Gregg notes that at least their faithfulness to doctrinal truth continued for some time: “In the second century, Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, commended this church for its loyalty to the truth that had effectively prevented any false sect from gaining a hearing among its members” (p. 64). David Guzik notes how the removal of a congregation’s lampstand can apply today: “When their lampstand is removed, they may continue as an organization, but no longer as a true church of Jesus Christ. It will be the church of Ichabod, where the glory has departed (1 Samuel 4:21).”

Verse 6: Jesus commended the Ephesian believers for hating the works of the Nicolaitans, which Jesus also hated. David Guzik adds these details:

But who are the Nicolaitans and what were their deeds? The doctrine of the Nicolaitans is also condemned in Revelation 2:15, and in that passage is related to immorality and idolatry. Irenaeus (writing in the late second century) described what he knew of the Nicolaitans: “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. The character of these men is plainly pointed out in the Apocalypse of John, as teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practice adultery, and to eat things sacrifice to idols.” (Against Heresies, book 1, chapter 26. From the Ante Nicean Fathers Volume 1, page 352)

Steve Gregg (pp. 64-65) adds that “some modern commentators (e.g. F.F. Bruce) suggest that Nicolas was a disciple of the Gnostic heretic Cerinthus,” and that “their teaching is compared, in verse 15, with that of Balaam, who advocated sinful license in idolatrous practices and sexual immorality.” Guzik also points out that meaning can be derived from the root words which make up the word “Nicolaitans”:

Nikao-laos means literally “to conquer the people.” Based on this, some point to presumptuous claims of apostolic authority and to the heart that sets up hierarchies and separates the “clergy” from the “laity.” Perhaps the Nicolaitans fulfilled all these aspects, being both an idolatrous immorality and a presumptuous, hierarchical, “hidden mysteries” system typical of Gnosticism. The Nicolaitans, like all deceivers which come from the body of Christ, claimed “not that they were destroying Christianity, but that they were presenting an improved and modernized version of it” (Barclay).

B. Letter to the Church in Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11)

David Guzik notes, “The name Smyrna comes from the word myrrh, a sweet smelling perfume used in embalming dead bodies.” He adds that Smyrna was a large, beautiful city. It was a center of learning and culture, and claimed to be the “glory of Asia.” It was a rich city and a great trade city. “We also know from history that it was a city deeply committed to idolatry and the worship of the Roman Emperor,” adds Guzik.

Smyrna was the second largest city in Provincial Asia during the second half of the first century. According to Steve Gregg (p. 66), it’s the only city among the seven cities John wrote to which still exists today. It’s known today as Izmir. In the second century, Polycarp was the bishop of this church.

Verse 8: Jesus calls Himself “the first and the last, who died and came to life.” Guzik comments,

Jesus chose this title from His initial appearance to John (Revelation 1:11, 1:17) to speak of His eternal character. The First and the Last are titles that belong only to the LORD, Yahweh, according to Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, and 48:12… Jesus chose this title from His initial appearance to John (Revelation 1:18) to remind the Christians in Smyrna that they serve the risen Lord, victorious over death. Death could not hold Jesus, and it cannot hold His people.

Verse 9: Jesus assures the believers in Smyrna that He knows their tribulation and poverty. Guzik says,

According to history, Smyrna was a prosperous city. Yet the Christians there were poor. “The word used for ‘poverty’ is the word for abject poverty. They were not just poor” (Walvoord). The Christians of Smyrna knew poverty because they were robbed and fired from jobs in persecution for the gospel. Early Christians joyfully accepted the plundering of [their] goods, knowing that [they] have an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven (Hebrews 10:34).

Jesus says something very interesting to the believers in Smyrna: “I know…the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” This seems to be further evidence that Revelation was written prior to 70 AD, when Jerusalem was destroyed and Jewish persecution of Christians was effectively stunted. Steve Gregg remarks (p. 67):

As in the case of the Philadelphian church (3:9), the troublers of the church in Smyrna were those who say they are Jews and are not (v. 9)—in other words, unbelieving Jews, whom Jesus here considers to be a synagogue of Satan (c.f. John 8:44). Smyrna had the largest Jewish population of any Asian city. If this was written prior to A.D. 70, then it was a period in which the main adversaries of Christianity were the Jews. The church there was understandably harassed more than most.

Verse 10: Does the slander of the Jews in verse 9 provide the context for the “ten days” of testing, suffering, and tribulation the believers there were about to suffer? Steve Gregg believes so (p. 67):

Since the persecution is said to be instigated by the devil, and since the Jews of Smyrna were a synagogue of Satan (v. 9), it is probable that the persecution here, as elsewhere, was brought about by the local Jewish community (cf. Matt. 23:34; Acts 13:45; 14:19; 17:5, 13; I Thess. 2:14-16).

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Our study of Revelation 2 continues at this next post.

All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.