Ephesus & Smyrna & Pergamum

Revelation 2:1-7: Ephesus – In Christ’s letter to the angel/messenger of the church of Ephesus we see rather harshly described a church without love. In these seven verses the glorified Christ is vividly portrayed as the sovereign Judge. The transmission of the letter is as in vv. 1-2 of chapter 1, where the Apocalypse is sent from God through Christ to an angel/messenger (Pastor Matt favors messenger, i.e., pastor) and then to John. Thus, the angel has the basic biblical function of a “messenger” to the church. “The presence of angels in a passage always adds eschatological force to the message as a reminder that divine forces are at work and watching” {Osborne/TAR}.

The City of Ephesus – “The Ephesian church was proud of its position not only as ‘the metropolis of Asia (as Ephesus was called) but also of its heritage as the mother church of the region. Therefore, it is natural that this be the first church addressed, not only for its status but also because the mail route for these letters would naturally begin there” {Osborne}. “Ephesus, as the most prominent city in the Roman province of Asia, had already had a long history of Christian witness. Paul had effectively ministered there for 3 years as recorded in Acts 19. The preaching of the gospel had affected the lucrative pagan worship of Diana, in whose honor the Temple of Diana had been built in Ephesus, an imposing structure considered one of the Seven Wonders of the world (see especially vv. 23-41 in Acts 19). After Paul’s ministry at Ephesus came to a close, evidence indicates that Timothy for many years led the work as superintendent of the churches in that area. There is reason to believe that the Apostle John himself had succeeded Timothy as the pastor at large in Ephesus” {Walvoord}.

Prophetic Formula & Deity of Christ – In verse 1 the Greek text John employs a prophetic formula (“This is what… says”) that is built on O.T. patterns. “This formula was used by Persian kings as well as O.T. prophets in authoritative decrees. Some scholars take this to show that the seven letters are primarily prophetic in nature. The formula occurs 21 times of Yahweh (i.e., “God” – TAR) in the minor Prophets (12 in Zechariah) and this means Christ is assuming the role of Yahweh (therefore, Christ is God – TAR) in addressing the churches” {Osborne}.

Christ’s Commendations – “It will be clear as we study the letters that the character of Christ adduced in each letter is perfectly chosen to address the needs of that church. These characteristics remind the Ephesian church of the key truths they have begun neglecting. Although Ephesus may be the mother church of the seven, she must realize that Christ, not her, ‘holds the seven stars’ and ‘walks among the lampstands.’ There is no room for pride, for it is Christ alone who is sovereign, not any church” {Osborne}. The text records that Christ held the seven stars in His right hand, “a place of sovereign protection as well as divine authority. The second important fact in this vision, Christ walking in the midst of the seven golden lampstands, symbolizes his presence and observation of the testimony of the churches of Asia. His message to the church is based on His knowledge of their notable and commendable works. He mentions their labor and toil, their patience and steadfastness, their abhorrence of those who were evil, and their ready detection of false teachers who claimed to be apostles but who were not. The Ephesian church is therefore commended for abhorring that which is morally bad as well as that which is theologically in error. In contrast to the fact that they could not bear those who were evil, he commends them for continuing to bear their proper burdens, repeating again the fact that they have patience. Likewise, it is noted by Christ that their labor is motivated as work ‘for My name’s sake’ and that they have not fainted or grown weary. These remarkable characteristics establish the fact that the church had served the Lord well” {Walvoord}.

Christ’s Indictment –. “Nevertheless,” Christ says to the church of Ephesus in v. 4, “I have this against you.” “In spite of these most desirable traits Christ declared that the church at Ephesus had failed in one important matter, namely, ‘that you have left your first love.’ This was Christ’s indictment for lack of love. In the Greek text the order of the words is especially emphatic in that the object of the verb is before the verb, i.e., ‘your first love you have left.’ The Greek word for love is ἀγάπη (a-ga-pay), the deepest and most meaningful word for love in the Greek language. Though they had not departed completely from love for God, their love no longer had the fervency, depth, and meaning it once had in the church” {Walvoord}.

History of the Church at Ephesus – “In the letter to the Ephesians, written some 30 years before in the early days of the history of this church, Paul commended them for their love for all the saints (Eph 1:15-16). The church seems to have fulfilled the same commendable qualities found in the apostolic church in Jerusalem. The church at Ephesus was now in its second generation of Christians, those who had come into the church in the 30 years since Paul ministered in their midst. Though they continued to labor faithfully as those who preceded them, the love of God which characterized the first generation was missing” {Walvoord}.

“Remember and Repent and Return!” – “To correct the spiritual declension into which they had fallen, the Lord in v. 5 directs 3 urgent exhortations: ‘Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first.’ The Ephesians Christians were also sharply warned that if they did not heed the exhortation, they could expect sudden judgment and removal of the lampstand: ‘or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent.’ The lampstand is the actual church itself. As Alford comments, this is ‘not Christ’s final coming, His Second Coming, but His coming in special judgment is here indicated.’ The meaning seems to be that He would remove the church as a testimony for Christ” {Walvoord}.

The Deeds of the Nicolaitans – In v. 6 the Ephesian church is commended for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans. The Nicolaitans were probably a sect that led people into immorality and wickedness. Verse 7, which closes the letter to the Ephesians, contains a promise those who overcome. “This is not a promise to a special group of Christians distinguished by their spiritually and power in contrast to genuine Christians who lack these qualities; it is rather a general description of that which is normal, to be expected among all those who are true followers of the Lord” {Walvoord}.

Revelation 2:8-11: Smyrna – Christ’s second of His seven letters (or proclamations [formal, public announcements]) was to the church of Smyrna. The Greek word for “Smyrna” (Σμύρνα [smur-na]) is the same word translated “myrrh” (Matt 2:11; 15:23; John 19:39). “If one traveled from Ephesus to Smyrna, he would cover a distance of about 35 miles to the north, entering Smyrna by what was called the ‘Ephesian Gate.’ Smyrna was a wealthy city, a noted center of science and medicine, second only to Ephesus in the entire area of Asia. Located on a gulf of the Aegean Sea, it was, like Ephesus, a thriving seaport, said to be the most beautiful city in Asia. From extrabiblical literature it is evident that this city was noted for its wickedness and opposition to the Christian gospel. Smyrna was a hotbed for pagan worship. At one end of its most famous street, the ‘Street of Gold,’ was the temple of Cybele, and at the other the temple of Zeus. In between were the temples of Apollo, Asklepios, and Aphrodite. Unlike Ephesus, which today is uninhabited, Smyrna is still a large city (modern Izmir in Turkey). In this large and flourishing commercial city of the first century was the little church to which this message was sent” {Walvoord/MacArthur/TAR}. Smyrna is mentioned only here in Revelation 1-2 in the Bible. Scripture does not record the founding of the church in Smyrna. “According to legend, Smyrna was founded by an Amazon and named after her. According to Aristides (Athenian general and statesman, 530?-468? B.C.), Smyrna was actually founded 3 times, once by Tantalus or Pelops, again by Thesus, and finally by Alexander the Great. A number of great literary figures of the ancient world came from Smyrna, including, according to tradition, Homer” {Aune}.

“The First and the Last” – “To this church our Lord is introduced in v. 8 as ‘the first and the last, the One who was dead, but came to life.’ Christ is relating Himself to time and eternity, He is the eternal God who has always existed in the past and will always exist in the future. ‘Was dead,’ of course, refers only to His physical death on the cross. As man, like any other human being, Christ died a physical death. As God, however, He never dies. ‘The One who lives’ refers to His resurrection. He is not only the eternal One in relation to time but the resurrected one in relation to life. Christ’s eternality is prominent in the first chapter of Revelation. Here in v. 8, Christ’s description as the One who ‘lives’ symbolizes His triumph over death, rejection, and mistrial, which was an encouraging message that the church at Smyrna too could anticipate ultimate victory” {Walvoord/TAR}.

Faithfully Enduring Suffering – In v. 9 Christ says, “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich).” (“In the best MSS (manuscripts) the expression ‘thy works’ is omitted, making the statement much more direct” {Walvoord}). This probably refers to the suffering or distress caused by persecution” {NET Notes}. If Ephesus may be called “the church without love,” Smyrna could be termed “the suffering church.” As may be easily shown in the N.T. (e.g., James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 5:10), “Scripture links persecution with spiritual strength. The church at Smyrna displayed the power and purity that comes from successfully enduring persecution. The Greek word for ‘tribulation’ (θλῖψις [thlip-sis] carries the idea of pressure. The church at Smyrna was facing intense pressure because of their faithfulness. Persecution had purified and purged it from sin and affirmed the reality of its members’ faith. Though they suffered physical privation and poverty, the Christians at Smyrna clung to their immeasurable spiritual riches. Fittingly, the church at Smyrna is one of the two churches (along with Philadelphia) that received no rebuke from the Lord Jesus Christ” {MacArthur}.

Riches in Poverty – The Greek word for “poverty” (πτωχεία [pto-key-a]) describes beggars and refers to extreme poverty. “Many of the believers at Smyrna were slaves; most were destitute. The few who had possessions had undoubtedly lost them in the persecution. The church at Smyrna had every reason, humanly speaking, to collapse. Instead, it remained faithful to its Lord, never (unlike Ephesus) leaving its first love for Him. For that reason, Jesus said to them, ‘you are rich.’ They had what really mattered: salvation, holiness, grace, peace, fellowship, and a sympathetic savior” {MacArthur}.

“Synagogue of Satan” – “It would seem that their persecutors were not only pagans, who naturally would be offended by the peculiarities of the Christian faith, but also hostile Jews and Satan himself. Recognition of the opposition of Jews is made in v. 9 where Christ said, ‘I know of the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan” {Walvoord}. “That shocking statement affirmed that those Jews who hated and rejected Jesus Christ were just as much Satan’s followers as pagan idol worshipers (cf. John 8:44). Jesus’ use of the strong term ‘blasphemy,’ usually reserved for hostile words against God, indicates the slanderer’s wickedness, intensity, and severity. These haters of the gospel were a ‘synagogue of Satan,’ meaning they assembled to plan their attack on the church, thus doing Satan’s will. They may have claimed to be a synagogue of God, but they were just the opposite. In Smyrna, as had happened so often before, the hostile Jewish population poisoned public opinion against the Christians. Persecution of the church of Smyrna reached its peak half a century after this letter, with the execution of its aged bishop, Polycarp, in which the unbelieving Jews played a major role” {MacArthur}.

Crown of Life – Verse 10 is a great verse of exhortation (something said or written in order to urge somebody strongly to do something). Although the devil would incite their foes to cast some of them into prison, an intensification of their present suffering (“’Behold’ signals an oracular declaration [a wise or prophetic statement; cf. 2:22; 3:8, 9, 20]” {Constable}), Christ said they should not fear what they would suffer. Verse 10 is also a great verse of promise: “Be faithful until death,” Christ said, “and I will give you the crown of life” (a genitive of apposition, i.e., “the crown that is life,” “the fullness of eternal life for those who overcome” {Constable}).

“He that Overcometh” – “In concluding the message to the church at Smyrna, the promise is given, ‘He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death’ (eternal damnation)” {Walvoord}.

Revelation 2:12-17: Pergamum – About 70 miles north of Smyrna and 15-20 miles inland lay the magnificent city of Pergamum, with a citadel nearly 1300 feet above the plain of the Caicus River. William Ramsey commented about Pergamum, “Beyond all other sites in Asia Minor it gives the traveler the impression of a royal city, the home of authority. The rocky hill on which it stands is so huge, it dominates the broad plain so proudly and boldly.” Pergamum was the capital of Asia for almost 250 years. The Greek word for “Pergamum” (Πέργαμος [per-ga- mos]) means height or elevation. Pergamum (or Pergamos, as the KJV and NKJ) was “a wealthy city with many pagan temples devoted to idol worship. A thriving university and a large library of 200,000 volumes (later sent to Egypt as a gift from Anthony to Cleopatra) were located there” {Walvoord/TAR}.

Emperor Worship – “Pergamum was an important center of worship for four of the main deities of the Greco-Roman world, and temples dedicated to Athena, Asklepios, Dionysos, and Zeus were located there. But overshadowing the worship of all of these deities was Pergamum’s devotion to emperor worship. In Pergamum, more than any city in Asia, Christians were in danger of harm from the emperor worship cult. Elsewhere, Christians were primarily in danger on the one day per year they were required to offer sacrifices to the emperor; in Pergamum they were in danger every day” {MacArthur}. “Emperor worship was linked to civic loyalty and patriotism. Thus refusal to participate was considered godless and subversive. Christians, due to their rejection of the Roman gods, were called atheists; but they were also accused of hatred of the human race because they refused to show political loyalty to the emperor and thus to the Roman people. Because they were considered an ancient nation, the Jews were tolerated and protected and recognized by a Roman treaty. Christianity had no such background and so was labeled a mere ‘superstition,’ all the more hatred for its exclusivism and intolerance of the gods” {Osborne}. While thankfully somewhat milder, the parallels to Christians in post-modern, New Age America today are striking. Like the Pergamum church in the first century, much of the Christian church in American today, has allowed itself to become compromise by its culture. “But we are not at war with the culture; we are war with sin” {Pastor Mattt}.

“My Name” – “Christ notes in v. 13 that in spite of their evil environment (‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is’) the Pergamos Christians have held fast to His name and have not denied the faith. The reference to ‘My name’ seems to embody a personal loyalty and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ with all the peril this represented. In addition to this they have not denied the body of Christian truth which accompanies faith in Christ, to which He refers in the expression ‘My faith’” {Walvoord}.

“Satan’s Throne” – “The Pergamum Christians had held firmly to their commitment to Jesus Christ and their witness for Him even though they lived in one of Satan’s strongholds” {Constable}. While many possibilities have been suggested, just what the term “Satan’s throne” refers to is uncertain. Rather than a specific pagan temple the term could better be seen as a general reference to Satanic dominion through Roman rule. The Greek word for “Satan” (Σατανᾶς [Sa-ta-nas]) means “Adversary,” one who opposes another in purpose or act.

“Sharp Double-Edged Sword” – “This letter has the simplest description of Christ of any of the seven, containing just one element. The ‘sharp doubles-edged sword was a symbol of Roman justice. This symbol was drawn from Isaiah 11:4 and the picture of the divine justice there. It is linked with Rev 2:16 (cf. 1:16; 19:15, 21) with the imagery of the sword of justice ‘coming out of Christ’s mouth,’ referring to His word of judgment. The Greek word for ‘sword’ (ῥομφαία [hrom-fie-a]) denotes a large Thracian broadsword used in cavalry charges. The word may have originally referred to a javelin. In chapter 6:8 it stands for war (this would be an example of metonymy: a figure of speech using one word to stand for a another, usually a larger concept, as we might say “Washington” and mean the government). In Roman times this large sword became a symbol of their might. Its use in v. 12 tells the church that it is the exalted Christ, not Roman officials, who is the true judge. The ultimate power belongs to God, and nothing the pagans can do will change that” {Osborne}.

Antipas – Jesus refers to Antipas as “My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you.” The “you” is plural, indicating that the address has shifted from the angel of the church to the members of the church now being directly addressed. Antipas was obviously one of the early Christian martyrs. “There has been speculation as to the character of the person, but there is NO certain word concerning the nature of his martyrdom. His name means ‘against all’ which perhaps symbolizes the fact he may have stood alone against the forces of evil and was faithful even unto death” {Walvoord}.

Christ’s Rebukes – In vv. 14-15 Christ rebukes the church of Pergamum. “Two blots on their record labeled them as the compromising church. They held the doctrine of Balaam (cf. Num 22-25) and the doctrine of the Nicolaitans (cf. v. 6 and the Ephesians) {Walvoord}. “It is always perilous for a church to be located in an evil environment, but the greater peril at Pergamos was her condoning evil among her own membership. Viewing now the church at Pergamos in a typical or prophetic sense, observe that the prevailing conditions, both the moral corruption of the Balaamites and the ambitions of the Nicolaitans, are a notable forecast of conditions prevailing in the major portion of Christendom during the centuries immediately following the period of general persecutions forecast by the church at Smyrna. Concerning the Nicolaitans, mention is made of the same group in the church of Ephesus. There the reference is to their deeds; here, deeds have become doctrine” {Smith}.

Christ’s Exhortation – In v. 16 Christ warns them to repent. “’Repent’ here means that the church is to cease her fellowship with the ‘ungodly works of darkness by putting away the two classes of evil doers – the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans. Failure to do so would result in a twofold judgment” {Smith}.

“Hidden Manna” – The “hidden manna” in v. 17 may refer to Christ as the Bread from heaven, the source of the believer’s nourishment.

“White Stone” – The meaning of the “white stone” is uncertain. It could be a symbol of victory. “Scholars differ as to the meaning of the ‘white stone.’ Alford says that the important point is the stone’s inscription which gives the believer ‘a new name,’ indicating acceptance by God and his title to glory. This may be an allusion to the Old Testament practice of the high priest wearing 12 stones on his breastplate with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel inscribed on it. Though believers at Pergamum may not have had precious stones or gems of this world, they had what is far more important, acceptance by Christ Himself and assurance of infinite blessings to come. Taken as a whole, the message to the church in Pergamum is a warning against compromise in morals or teaching and against deviating from the purity of doctrine required of Christians” {Bible Knowledge Commentary}. In Pastor Matt’s study he came away with the impression that the white stone pictured acquittal. Ancient jurors often voted either guilty or innocent by casting a black or white stone. Whatever its exact meaning, the term “white stone” unquestionably carries with it a positive message. It is encouraging ending to an otherwise negative letter.

– Professor Thomas A. Rohm