SUMMARY OF CHAPTER 2
In this chapter, the Lord, through St. John’s pen, gives praise, instruction, and warnings to the churches in Ephesus (vv.1-7), Smyrna (vv.8-11), Pergamum (vv.12-17), and Thyatira (vv.18-28). The Lord also promises Himself to the blessed who “conquer” the flesh (vv. 7:17).
1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
The angel here is St. Timothy, who was a disciple of St. Paul.
2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear evil men but have tested those who call themselves apostles but are not, and found them to be false; 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.
These false apostles claimed that they were sent by the Apostles or even Christ Himself. Early Christian tradition teaches us that Ebion and Cerinthis were among these early heretics. But the Ephesians were fulfilling the command “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, to see whether they are of God (1 John 4:1).”
4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
Since they were baptized believers, they had once stood in holiness, but have fallen through sin. They fell from a great degree of love. By the removal of the lampstand He means He will withdraw divine grace, unless they turn from their sins and repent.
6 Yet this you have, you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
The Nicolaitans stemmed from Nicolaus, who was ordained by the Apostles to serve the deaconate (Acts 6:5). According to early Christian tradition, Nicolaus was a holy and chaste man, but his followers became corrupt. They lived lives of unrestrained pleasure and taught that adultery was not bad, taught dangerous teachings concerning the beginning of the world, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and even exorcized meat. God is by nature just and holy, and He is said to love righteousness and to hate iniquity (Ps. 11:7).
7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
The tree of life in the book of Genesis 2:9 gave life preserving power and warded off corruption of the body. Christ is called the tree of life because he does the same thing in the Church as the tree of life did in the paradise. The function of that tree was to preserve those who enjoyed its fruit from death and the decline of old age. Christ fulfills this same function in the Church, for he protects his people from the true death, that is spiritual death.
The paradise of God means eternal life.
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
The angel is the bishop of Smyrna, which was St. Polycarp.
9 “‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
Those who say that they are Jews and are not refers to those who are justoutwardly Jew but not inwardly, as Jesus says “Because if they were the children of Abraham, they would do the works of Abraham (ref. to Jn. 8:39).”He is a Jew who is inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart, spiritual and not literal (Rom. 2:29).” The synagogue of Satan are those who are bound to Satan as their foundation. Eusebius records what happened here, “In the city of Smyrna many Jews lived who encouraged the Gentiles to persecute the Christians. In this persecution many were not only robbed of their things but also crowned with martyrdom- among whom Polycarp was thrown into the fire, and when the fire did not harm him, he was struck with a sword and departed to God (Church History bk 4.12).”
10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.
All that is mentioned here is recorded in the writing of The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp . The ten days might have ended when St. Polycarp was martyred on February 22, 156AD. The Church of Smyrna wrote, “We have written to you, brethren, as to what relates to the martyrs, and especially to the blessed Polycarp, who put an end to the persecution, having, as it were, set a seal upon it by his martyrdom (Martyrdom of St. Polycarp 1.1).”
The crown of life is a symbol of eternal life, joy, reward and glory.
11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who conquers shall not be hurt by the second death.’
The second death means Hell. The first death is bodily death, which everyone will experience, but the second death is eternal punishment.
12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.
The angel here is the bishop St. Gaius. See the Apostolic Constitutions 7.46. The sword signifies the right of authority and the Word of God (Heb. 4:12).
13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; you hold fast my name and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.
They lived in a place where Satan’s power was leading a persecution against them. This martyr Antipas is specifically named, because by his word and example he inspired others to martyrdom. He was killed in the lifetime of St. John. Some fix this occurrence in the time of Domitian of about AD 95. He was brought before an image of Caesar and told to confess that Caesar was God. When he refused, the Roman official said, “Antipas, don’t you know that the whole world is against you?,” to which he replied, “Then Antipas is against the whole world!” Antipas was then placed inside of a brass bull which was heated with fire until he was roasted to death.
14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality. 15 So you also have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.
Some of them were holding to the teaching of Balaam, not in reality but in resemblance. See Numbers 25. Balak sent beautiful maidens into the Hebrew camp to tempt the Hebrews and to lead them to fornicate and apostatize from God. Therefore, in the church of Pergamum there were some who led others to fornication, and to eat food sacrificed to idols. See note above on Rev. 2:6 concerning the Nicolaitans. He said He will come soon, that is, in the final judgment, which is near compared to eternity.
17 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it.’
The hidden manna is reference to the Lord Jesus. For as natural bread supports our weak flesh, so Christ, by the operations of the Spirit, gives life to the soul; and even incorruption to the body, (for at the resurrection the body will be made incorruptible.) The obvious interpretation of this passage can be understood from John 6 when Jesus said He was the Bread of Life. For Jesus said 6:49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The white stone is probably a sign that your sins are forgiven, and the new name is “Christian.” Isaiah 1:18 says “Come now, and let us reason together,” saith the Lord. “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
18 “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 “‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first.
The angel/bishop of this church is unknown as far I can tell, and I have search hard to find clues to who it could have been. The eyes and feet mentioned here is explained in Revelation 1:14-15. By exceeding the first, the Lord praises them for proceeding from good to better.
20 But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her immorality. 22 Behold, I will throw her on a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her doings; 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches shall know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.
Some think that this woman Jezebel was the wife of the bishop of the church, but that is unlikely since this bishop appears to have been good and would not have tolerated such a wife. But Jezebel is figurative for some heretic or false prophet. The Lord says he will strike her children dead, meaning spiritual death to those who follow in those footsteps of heresy and fornication.
24 But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay upon you any other burden; 25 only hold fast what you have, until I come. 26 He who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, I will give him power over the nations, 27 and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received power from my Father; 28 and I will give him the morning star. 29 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
While addressing the rest of them who had nothing in common with the adulterous woman, he says that they do not know the deep things of Satan, meaning that they may know of it, and may even feel the attraction to his temptations, but they stayed simple in faith, and learning only what was sufficient for their faith without learning everything the heretics taught. Power over the nations is reference to the judgment of unbelievers being judged by the believers in Christ, “the men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it (Matthew 12.41).” The morning star is reference to Satan (Is. 14:12), and by giving them the morning star he is saying that He will make Satan subject to His servants, “God will soon crush Satan under your feet (Rom. 16:20).”