Notes on Revelation

Chapters 2-3

by Jeff Smelser


The seven messages are not seven individual letters. Rather they are all part of one letter, the book of Revelation itself (1:4). We are not to imagine that each church received only the message addressed to its angel, for each individual was to hear what was said to all the churches (2:7, cf. Col. 4:16).


TO THE ANGEL OF THE CHURCH IN EPHESUS WRITE:    First, observe that the "angel", or messenger is addressed throughout each message, for the second person verbs and pronouns are generally singular. Second, observe that each messenger represents his respective church, for what is said to the angel of the church is clearly directed to the church itself. This is clear in that the singular pronouns are made interchangeable with plural pronouns. As a rule, singular pronouns are used unless the sense requires a departure from the singular.(e.g. 2:10, 2:23-25). The "ye" (plural) in 2:10 is the same as the "thou" (singular) in 2:9. Third, note that aside from the eight references to the angels of the churches, the word "angel" is used in Revelation 68 times. Although the word can well be used of men (Mt. 11:10, Mk. 1:2, Lk. 9:52, 7:24,27, Js. 2:25), it is never so used in any of those 68 instances. Fourth, remember that in Dan, 10:13. 21 (cf. Jd. 9), an angel of Persia and an angel of Israel are mentioned, being called "princes". It seems that, while no single man would likely be addressed as representative of a church, an angel who had a relationship to the church such as Michael had with Israel might well be addressed as representative of the church.

THESE THINGS SAITH HE    This phrase is equivalent to the "Thus saith the LORD" of the O.T. The typical LXX translation of that O.T. phrase is the same as the Greek wording found at the beginning of each of the messages to the seven churches.


DIDST LEAVE THY FIRST LOVE    Cf. Jer. 2:2 and Ezek. 16:8, 15. To see the fervent love that first characterized the saints in Ephesus, see Acts 19:19.


MOVE THY CANDLESTICK OUT OF ITS PLACE    At the beginning of this message, the Lord had been described as "he that walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks" (2:1), thus calling attention to the fact that it was within his power to remove the candlestick.


WHO WAS DEAD AND LIVED    The threat of death on account of the faith was very real at Smyrna (2:10). By describing the Lord as the one "who was dead and lived" the brethren at Smyrna would be encouraged to face that threat with courage, knowing that the victory would yet be theirs, in the resurrection.


(BUT ThOU ART RICH)    Though materially, they were in poverty, they were rich spiritually. Cf. Mt. 6:19-20, 1 Tim. 6:18-19. Contrast the condition at Laodicea (Rev. 3:17).




FEAR NOT    The Greek language had different ways of expressing a prohibition. One, using the subjunctive mood, meant, "do not begin to..." The other, using the imperative mood, meant, "do not continue to..." or "stop..." Here, the latter construction is used, indicating that the situation in Smyrna was already at the point that the suffering was at least a real potential, if not a realized fact, for the brethren were seemingly already fearing the things they would suffer.

THE DEVIL    Notice that while persecution may have come at the hands of the Jews, and/or the Roman authorities, it was in reality from the devil.

TEN DAYS    The Greek construction suggests the meaning to be "during ten days"

FAITHFUL UNTO DEATH    This means be faithful even if you are put to death for your faith. It is not simply an exhortation to be faithful till whatever day you should die.


WHERE SATAN'S THRONE IS    Pergamum was the official Roman capital of the province. Furthermore, Pergamum was the major city for Caesar worship in Asia, having been the first to have a temple erected in honor of a Caesar. The temple of Augustus was erected in 29 B.C., and two more were erected at later dates (for Trajan and still later, Severus). It is significant that the seat of Imperial power, both civil and religious, was identified as Satan's throne. This will help us in determining the identity of the beasts in Rev. 13. As was indicated in Rev. 2:10, as the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4), Satan uses the powers of this world to war against God's people. Cf. Ezek. 38 and Daniel 2 and 7.


THE TEACHING OF BALAAM, WHO TAUGHT BALAK TO CAST A STUMBLINGBLOCK BEFORE THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL    According to Num. 31:16, it was Balaam's counsel that led to the corruption of Israel through fornication (Num. 25:lff). The Nicolaitans (2:15, cf. 2:6) seem to have taught a similar kind of compromise with the world. Some at Pergamum held to this teaching, as also at Thyatira (Cf. 2:20). The fact that fornication is mentioned in connection with eating things sacrificed to idols could indicate that a spiritual fornication is referred to (cf. Js. 4:4), but more likely, in view of the reference to what Balaam led Israel to do, actual sexual immorality is what was being advocated, this in connection with religious rituals practiced by the pagans.


THYATIRA    The precise circumstance in which Christians would have felt the pressure to compromise their faith and conform to the world in Thyatira would likely have been in the various trade organizations, or guilds, which were so strong in Thyatira (Cf. the guild of silver smiths at Ephesus mentioned in Acts 19:24-25) H. B. Swete, in the introduction to his commentary on Revelation, wrote,

But the most outstanding feature in Thyatiran life was probably the institution of trade guilds....At Thyatira there were guilds of bakers, potters, workers in brass, tanners, leather- cutters, workers in wool and flax, clothiers, dyers....To these guilds many of the Thyatirene Christians would have belonged, and their connexion with them would raise questions of much difficulty. One of the inscriptions records an honour voted by the guild of dyers to the priest of the ancestral hero Tyrimnus....From time to time the members of a guild partook together of a common meal which had a sacrificial character and moreover too often ended in revelry and licentiousness. (p. lxiii).

Swete further quoted a Professor Reid, "There was probably no guild which was not devoted to some form of heathen worship."


THE WOMAN JEZEBEL    Ahab, King of Israel, married Jezebel, daughter of a Sidonian king. The account of how her influence helped spread the worship of Baal among God's people can be found in 1 Kings 16:31-32 and chapters 18 and 19. similarly, some woman at Thyatira was influencing the Christians to commit fornication and eat things sacrificed to idols.


SEARCHETH THE REIGNS AND HEARTS    Cf. Jer. 17:10, 11:20, 20:12, Ps. 7:9, 26:2. The reigns are the kidneys, and were the seat of the emotions (Ps. 73:21, 23:16). Not only does the Lord know the heart (mind) of man, but also his feelings, his emotions. In other words, the Lord sees thoroughly inside the man.


SARDIS    In ancient times, Sardis had been a wealthy city which had slumped into an easy decadance. Herodotus reported that the captive Croesus, concerned that Cyrus would lay Sardis to ruins in retaliation against the rebellious Lydians, offered counsel to the Persian king as follows:

Grant, then, forgiveness to the Lydians, and to make sure of their never rebelling against thee, or alarming thee more, send and forbid them to keep any weapons of war, command them to wear tunics under their cloaks, and to put buskins upon their legs, and make them bring up their sons to cithern-playing, harping, and shop-keeping. So wilt thou soon see them become women instead of men, and there will be no more fear of their revolting from thee. Herod. 1.155.4

Cyrus did just that. Evidently, the spiritual condition of the church in Sardis at the end of the first century A.D. was similarly soft.

THOU HAST A NAME THAT THOU LIVEST, AND THOU ART DEAD    The claim is contrasted with the spiritual reality.


BE THOU WATCHFUL    A popular but perhaps inaccurate account of how the city of Sardis had fallen to Cyrus in the sixth century B.C. involved the negligence of the watchmen of Sardis. This story can be found in William Barclay's Letters to the Seven Churches, p. 69, and in William Ramsay's work by the same title, pp. 359-361. Whether accurate or not, the story was evidently known in the first century. Again in the 4th century B.C., Sardis fell due to the failure of its guards to watch, this time to Antiochus the Great. It is to people living in the city with this legacy that the Lord said "Be thou watchful." These words would have, or at least, should have had a significant impact.


I WILL COME    The words do not necessarily refer to the Last Day. See Mt. 24:14, Jn. 8:42 3:4

THOU HAST A FEW NAMES IN SARDIS THAT DID NOT DEFILE THEIR GARMENTS    These words demonstrate the fact that the Lord views his people as individuals. Although the church as a whole was dead, certain individuals were faithful.


THE KEY OF DAVID...    For the significance of this phrase, read Is. 22:15-25 where Shebna, who was in charge of the royal household (Is. 22:15) is told that he will be deposed from his office and replace by Eliakim. Eliakim would be given the key of the house of David and have such authority in the royal house that "when he opens no one will shut, When he shuts no one will open" (Is. 22:22). While David himself was a type of the Christ, in this instance, Eliakim's authority foreshadowed that which the Lord would have.


I HAVE SET BEFORE THE A DOOR OPENED    The one who had the authority to open doors such that none other could shut them had opened one for the church at Philadelphia. See Acts 14:27, 1 Cor. 16:9, 2 Cor. 2:12, and Col. 4:3 for the significance of this phrase. It suggests opportunity.


SYNAGOGUE OF SATAN    Cf. Rev. 2:9, and notes on that passage.

WORSHIP BEFORE THY FEET    The victory that would belong to God's people over their enemies in the Messianic age was often portrayed in the 0.T. prophets (e.g. Amos 9:12, Obadiah 19-21). At tines this idea clearly involved the conversion of the heathen, or at least a recognition of Israel's God, and the result would be humble submission to God's people as those through whom the heathen learned of God (Is. 49:22-23, Is. 60:14.) Cf. 1 Cor. 14:24-25. Ironically, it is fleshly Jews, who are not truly Jews in the heart (Rev. 3:9, Rom. 2:28-29) who would be learning of God from those who were indeed God's Israel, though not necessarily of fleshly Israel, and who would be worshipping before others' feet. The turn of roles is similar to that described in Gal. 4:21-31.

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