LINK: Revelation 2:1-17
Chapters two and three contain the letters to the seven churches: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. These were seven cities where Christianity was established at the time John wrote. The letters are messages from Jesus Himself. Only Jesus could know the condition of the hearts of the people, and this is primarily what He addressed in these letters. Most of the letters contain a commendation praising the people for their faith and/or deeds. And most of the letters also contain a charge against the church. They also contain an exhortation and a promise. It is helpful while studying these letters to make a chart identifying the praise, rebuke, exhortation, and promise to each church.
Although these letters were written to specific churches, they are meant to be taken to heart by all churches and all believers individually. The letters close with "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." All local assemblies will do well to listen to what God says to the churches here in Revelation. And, remember, that all churches are made up of individuals, and whatever the people do is what the church does.
The city of Ephesus probably first heard the gospel through Priscilla and Aquila when Paul stopped there on his second missionary journey. On Paul's third journey, he stayed in Ephesus for about three years, making it his home base while he took the gospel all over Asia Minor. He left Timothy to pastor the church as well. Later, John lived there for a time before his exile.
The city of Ephesus was a major business, political, and religious center. It was the home of the temple of Artemis (Diana). It was located on a major trade route and ranked with Alexandria and Antioch as a major business city. Under Caesar Augustus, Ephesus became the capital of the Roman province called Asia (now western Turkey).
The early church fathers spoke of the Nicolaitans as "lovers of pleasure" and "given to calumnious speech." Ignatius defined a Nicolaitan as "a corrupter of his own flesh," indicating immorality.
Smyrna (today known as Izmir) was a seaport city about 35 miles north of Ephesus. It was a center of the imperial cult of Rome, and Christians were greatly persecuted for not following the religion of Rome.
The city of Pergamum was about 45 miles north of Smyrna. It had one of the finest libraries of ancient times and was the place where parchment was first used. At one time, it had been the capital of the Roman province of Asia. The first temple dedicated to Caesar was in this city, and the city very actively promoted the cult of Roman religion. In this city was also a temple dedicated to Aesculapius, the god of healing. The serpent entwined on a staff was its symbol and is still used as a medical symbol today.
Find the praise, rebuke, exhortation, and promise in each letter and consider how they might apply to your own life as a believer.
Begin a chart with the following sections for each church: description of Jesus, praise for the church, rebuke, exhortation, promise. Fill it in as we go through the seven letters over the next few days.
Lord, give us ears to hear what you are saying to us about our lives in you. May we be sensitive to your Holy Spirit and have the humility to repent where we have sinned, correct our path where we have strayed, and seek to follow your teachings in all areas of our lives. Amen.