Monday, October 7, 2013

Revelation 2:1-17 -- Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum

LINK: Revelation 2:1-17 


After Jesus describes something about Himself, He begins each individual message to the seven churches with "I know" or "I know your deeds." Each says "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Each has a promise that starts with "To him who overcomes" or "He who overcomes." The messages were both reproof and reassurance. As you read these messages, remember that the "seven stars" are the angels or messengers of the churches, and "seven golden lampstands" are the seven churches. 

Ephesus was one of the five major cities in the Roman empire with the others being Rome, Corinth, Antioch, and Alexandria. It was the capital of that particular Roman province of Asia and a major trade center of the empire. Its population was over 250,000 at the time, making it one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean world. It is most famous for being the center of worship for the pagan goddess, Diana. The temple was one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was a "beautiful city, very sophisticated, wealthy, and pagan" (Holman New Testament Commentary: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, p. 88). Learn more about Ephesus in Acts 19:10-41.

Jesus approved of the hard work and perseverance of the Ephesian church. They had dealt with the false teachers of the day. This was something that was a big problem in the early church as we have learned through studying the epistles. (Acts 20:28-31; 2 Corinthians 11:1-4, 12-15; 1 John 4:1-6; 2 John 7-11). 

Also, they hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans. This word means "destruction of people." They were "a sect mentioned in Revelation 2:6,15, who were charged with holding the error of Balaam, casting a stumbling block before the church of God by upholding the liberty of eating things sacrificed to idols as well as committing fornication" (Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon, G3531).

They were rebuked because they had lost their first love (Jeremiah 2:1-2). They were busy doing the Lord's work, but it was not work motivated by love for Christ (1 Thessalonians 1:3). There are 15 references to one of the Greek words for love, agape, in Paul's epistle to the Ephesians. Yet they had gotten away from their first love (Revelation 2:5).

Jesus admonished them to . . .

1) Remember (literally, "keep on remembering") what they had lost and desire to regain it (Look at the early church to remember: Acts 2:41-47; 4:32-35; 5:27-42.), 
2) Repent and confess their sin to the Lord (1 John 1:9), and 
3) Repeat the labor motivated by love they did in the past.

If they did not do this, they would be . . .


He did promise something for the "one who overcomes." The word "overcome" is derived from the Greek word, nike, for the Greek goddess of victory. The overcomers are those who "hold fast their faith even unto death against the power of their foes, and temptations and persecutions" (Enhanced Strong's Lexicon, G3528). I talked about the overcomers in 1 John 5.

The overcomers would eat of the tree of life in the paradise of God. This refers to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:22). You might recall there were two trees in the garden, this tree and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9). Adam and Eve ate from the latter, disobeyed God, realized good and evil, were excluded from the garden, and barred from eating from this tree of life. When evil is destroyed at the end of time, believers will be brought to a restored paradise, and everyone will eat of the tree of life and live forever (Revelation 22:2)! WOOHOO! Do you believe this?

Smyrna was 35 miles north of Ephesus. It was a large and wealthy city due to its excellent harbor on the Aegean Sea. It was nicknamed the "Port of Asia." It is still a large seaport with a population of 200,000 (while Ephesus is a deserted ruin). At the time of Revelation, this city had a Jewish population that was opposed to Christianity and a non-Jewish population that was involved in emperor worship.

Jesus describes himself as "the First and Last, who died and came to life again" referring back to His claim as the Alpha and Omega in 1:7. He claims this three other times in the book (1:17; 21:6; 22:13). He is eternal and lives forever.

Jesus assures them that he knew of their persecution and extreme poverty (beyond just ordinary poverty). They were rich spiritually (2 Corinthians 6:10; James 2:5). Their persecution came from the hostile Jews and pagan Gentiles and Satan. 

He does not rebuke Smyrna but says "stop being afraid"! There was more suffering to come, but it would be for a limited time (not necessarily a literal 10 days). Though suffering may result in physical death, they would receive the crown of life. Smyrna was famous for its athletic games. This is an illusion to the victor's wreath that was a trophy for the champion (1 Corinthians 9:25; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; 1 Peter 5:4). Polycarp, the bishop of the church in Smyrna, was martyred sometime in the 2nd century. 

He ends by assuring the overcomers that they will not be hurt by the second death. Believers will only die once and be resurrected to eternal life, but unbelievers will be resurrected to be punished with a second death and eternal separation from God (20:14; 21:8, 27: 22:15).

Medical Symbol

Pergamum was 20 miles inland from Smyrna and built on a 1,000 foot hill with a surrounding fortress. It was a wealthy but wicked city with the great temple of Asclepius, a pagan god of healing represented by a serpent (and where we get the medical symbol today). It also had a temple dedicated to Caesar. Zeus, Dionysius, and Athena were also worshipped there. Satan certainly had his throne there! We do not know who Antipas was. Some Christian traditions say he was the bishop in Pergamum and was martyred in A.D. 92, but there is no historical evidence to back this up.

Jesus describes Himself as one with the double-edged sword (1:16; 2:16;19:15, 21). The sword symbolizes the living and active Word of God that has been described as a sword in Hebrews 4:12. It "pierces as far as the division of soul and spirit" and can "judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." The sword also represents God's authority and judgment against rebellious nations and sin (19:15,21).

He commends them for being true to His name and not denying their faith in the midst of persecution.

He rebukes them because some of them were compromising their faith by holding to the teaching of the Nicolaitans (see note on Ephesus) and the teaching of Balaam. Balaam was a prophet hired by King Balak to curse the Israelites. First he refused to do it, but an offer of money made him change his mind. But God changed his curse into a blessing (Number 22-25). Later, he led the Israelites into idol worship (Numbers 31:16). Christ rebuked them for allowing people, like Balaam, to lead them into idol worship. We know from Acts 15:22-29 that believers were to abstain from things sacrificed to idols and fornication (see also Jude 11). The error of the Nicolaitans ("destruction of people" in Greek) and Balaam ("swallow down the people" in Hebrew) were similar if not the same. Jesus warns them to repent or they will be at the mercy of His sword.

He promises that the overcomers will find true nourishment with God's manna, the bread of life of Jesus Christ, found in the Word (Matthew 4:4; John 6:32-35, 48-51) instead of things sacrificed to idols! We do not know exactly what the "white stone" is. Alford believes that what is most important is that there is a new name on it, "indicating acceptance by God and his title to glory" (The Greek Testament, 5:572). 


Something I wrote when studying this passage, in-depth, for the first time on June 18, 2001: 

Lord Jesus, Is there something missing in my relationship with You? Have I left my first love? I think sometimes I listen to the lie about me rather than the truth, and I am not looking to my first love. This is where I want, Lord Jesus, not to let a love for people get in the way of my love for You. I want You to be my first thought when I rise up in the morning, and my last thought at night. I want our intimacy to be strong and to be set free from the lie that the world can offer anything for me in the way of love or belonging. I love You, and I want to love You with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.
A study I did had these questions:
How is a Christian's first love manifested? Do you think it is our labors on behalf of His kingdom, the work we do, the services we perform for our church, a ministry, or for the Lord? Is it being steadfast in the profession of your Christianity? being doctrinally sound? being separated from those who are false teachers or messengers? (Precept Upon Precept, Revelation 1, p. 17)
I answered:
I don't think it is our service on behalf of His kingdom or the work we do or perform for our church, ministry, or for the Lord. I think it is simply being and loving. The results will be that the love of Christ compels us to love others by being spent and expended for their souls. 
Then, I wrote this in my journal: 
You are my first love, sweet and gentle as the night. Just being near You now is like a lullaby. All that I have I give away to follow you. . . 
When all these worldly pleasures seem to never cease. You simply lift me up and rest me in Your peace . . .
Your sweet and gentle love will never end!
This is a song I knew many, many years ago. I wonder if I still have it? I do! I just played it!
Lord, I love You more than I did 20 years ago. I feel more excited about telling people about Jesus than I did back then. Yeh!!!! 
Lord, I want to not lose my "first love." I want to always return to You, Lord, I love You.  (Lyrics by Amy Grant)
After I wrote this reflection, I saw this bumper sticker on the way back from church:

That sums it up!


Here are New Testament verses on love for meditation and study:

Mark 12:28-34

1 John 5:1-3; John 15:10
1 John 2:15-16; James 4:4; Ezekiel 6:9
1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Here are verses from the Old Testament about Clinging to God in love:

Deuteronomy 28:45-47

Deuteronomy 30:1-6; 15-20

All He wants is our hearts people! :) 

Have you lost your first love? Follow the path that Jesus gave to the church at Ephesus:

1) Remember - What was it like when you first came to Christ? Where are you now?  
2) Repent - 1 John 1:9 
3) Rekindle that flame of first love by spending some extended time with Him. Go away on a retreat together. This handout might help you: "How to Spend a Day in Prayer" 
4) Repeat all your labor that is motivated by love for Christ!

I also gave a sample of journaling. This is such a great way to "remember" all that God has done in your life. I had such a fun morning "remembering my first love" this morning because I journaled the above so many years ago.


I praise You that You are a God of LOVE! Rekindle the flame of our first love. May we let Your love flow through us in love to a lost world! Amen. 

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