In chapters 2 and 3 we see seven Letters that are sent to the churches in the province of Asia (a region now known as Western Turkey). Each church receives a separate letter as part of the overall book, but is also expected to read, learn from, and respond to the others too. I had initially planned to tackle each one separately but is is clear that they all follow the same structure and need to be studied side by side.
There are (surprise surprise,) Seven Aspects of Each Letter
- Address – in each of these letters, the address is made “to the angel”. We saw in Hebrews 1 that primary role of an angel was to be a messenger of God’s word. So this could be either an actual angel or a human messenger, but as John is isolated on the island of Patmos it is most likely to be an actual angel. We read more about them later in the book;
- Ephesus – to the angel of the church in Ephesus (2 v 1) – Ephesus was one of the most important city, having a sea port and being on the major trade routes
- Smyrna – to the angel of the church in Smyrna (2 v 8) – Smyrna (now Izmir) was a beautiful city with close contacts to Rome and its idea of emperor worship. It also had a large Jewish population which was very hostile. These facts made Smyrna a difficult place to live as a Christian.
- Pergamum – to the angel of the church in Pergamum (2 v 12) – Pergamum (now Bergama) was the ancient capital of the area being on a prominent hill. It was the place of the first martyrdom in the area and was the official center of emperor worship.
- Thyatira – to the angel of the church in Thyatira (2 v 18) – Thyatira (Now Akhisar) was a military outpost noted for its trade guilds.
- Sardis – to the angel of the church in Sardis (3 v 1) – Sardis (now Sart) was an ancient and famous wealthy city
- Philadelphia – to the angel of the church in Philadelphia (3 v 7) – Philadelphia (now Alashehir) was an important commercial city. Its name meant “brotherly love”
- Laodicea – to the angel of the church in Laodicea. (3 v 14) – Laodicea (near modern Denizli) was a very wealthy city known for its banking, medical and textile industries.
- Attributes- the seven different attributes of Christ as seen in John’s vision described in chapter 1 v 13 through to 18. This is the message from;
- Ephesus – the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven gold lamp-stands (2 v 1)
- Smyrna – the one who is the first and last, who died and lived again (2 v 8)
- Pergamum – the one who has the sharp two edged sword (2 v 12)
- Thyatira – the Son of God, who’s eyes blaze like fire, whose feet shine like polished brass (2 v 18)
- Sardis – the one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars (3 v 1)
- Philadelphia – the one who is holy and true. He has the key that belonged to David, and when he opens a door, no one can close it, and when he closes it, no one can open it. (3 v 7)
- Laodicea – the Amen, the faithful and true witness, who is the origin of all that God has created (3 v 14)
- Approval – I know what you do/have done; nothing has escaped his attention whether good or bad.
- Ephesus – how hard you have worked, how patient you have been, have not tolerated evil people and tested those who say they are apostles and found them to be liars. Are patient and have suffered for Christ’s sake and not given up
- Smyrna – the troubles you have suffered, you are poor – but really you are rich, I know the evil things said about you.
- Pergamum – you are true to me and did not abandon your faith
- Thyatira – I know your love, faithfulness, service and patience. You are doing more than you did at first.
- Sardis – although outwardly the church looks great and successful, it is dead – nothing good is said
- Philadelphia – you have a little power, have followed my teaching and been faithful to me
- Laodicea – Christ is not even allowed in the church – he is trying to get in but they won’t allow him (3 v 20) again nothing good is said
- Accusation – but this is what I have against you;
- Ephesus – you do not love me as you did at first
- Smyrna – enjoys no accusation because they are pleasing Christ through their suffering and faithfulness
- Pergamum – some among you follow the teaching of Balaam, you have some among you who follow the teachings of the Nicolaitans
- Thyatira – you tolerate that woman Jezebel
- Sardis – a reputation of being alive when you are dead,
- Philadelphia – too receives no accusation because they have been faithful
- Laodicea – you are neither hot nor cold
- Advice – remember and repent
- Ephesus – turn from your sins and do what you did at first
- Smyrna – don’t be afraid, be faithful to me
- Pergamum -turn from your sins
- Thyatira – those that followed Jezebel must repent or be killed. Those that have not followed her must hold firmly to what they have
- Sardis – Wake up!! Remember what you were taught and turn from your sin
- Philadelphia – Keep safe what you have, so that no one can rob you of your victory prize
- Laodicea – be earnest and turn from your sins. Let me in.
- Assurance – the promised rewards if the correct response and action is taken – To those who win the victory;
- Ephesus – will have the right to eat the fruit of the tree of life that grows in the Garden of God
- Smyrna – will not be hurt by the second death
- Pergamum – will receive the hidden manna and a new name written on a white stone
- Thyatira – will receive the same authority that Christ received from the Father over the nations. They will receive the morning star
- Sardis -will be clothed in white and will not have their names removed from the book of the living.
- Philadelphia – will be pillars in the temple of God.
- Laodicea – the right to sit beside me on my throne
- Appeal – If you have ears to hear then listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.
- Ephesus (2 v 7)
- Smyrna (2 v 11)
- Pergamum (2 v 17)
- Thyatira (2 v 29)
- Sardis (3 v 6)
- Philadelphia (3 v 13)
- Laodicea (3 v 22)
Take heed, don’t just hear the word, but act upon it, obey it and the victory will be yours
While several of the churches were outwardly doing well, we see that again false teaching and compromise was being allowed to slip back in. Some were becoming comfortable in their prosperous lives while others were struggling through hardship and persecution because they were not compromising what they had been taught. The Nicolaitans were a group of people who were teaching that they had liberty under God’s grace to carry on with idolatry and immoral ways. They were teaching that God’s grace covered them so that they could justify their sinful lifestyle rather than be obedient and live lives that were pleasing to God.
Balaam was a prophet who compromised God’s words to fit in with whatever circumstances suited him and his audience. He allowed financial reward to distract him from the truth and would say what his audience wanted to hear.
Jezebel was an evil Queen in the days of Elijah who persecuted the Jews and promoted Baal worship. The reference in Revelation 2 v 20 refers to an otherwise unnamed woman in the congregation who was allowed to continue an immoral life and encourage others to do so too.
The common thing with all these references is that they were compromising the world’s ways, allowing their new freedom in Christ to excuse behaviour which was displeasing to God rather than striving to honour him by living pure and Godly lives. Some were too comfortable in their wealthy lives and the rich were being allowed to dominate the church as we have seen in the other letters we have studied.
It is interesting to see as you dig in to each section, that there is so much more. Time does not allow me more detailed research at the moment, but if you do so, you start to notice that the geographical features or the culture of each of these cities also reflect some of the issues raised. An example being Laodicea which although extremely prosperous did not have a reliable water supply – there were hot spring nearby so they would either have hot or cold water or lukewarm. The pure waters of the Holy Spirit were not able to get through. We read verse 20 of chapter 3 which is probably one of the most well known verses of the bible;
Listen, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them and they will eat with me.
We usually think of this verse as Christ calling to the sinner, to repent and allow him into their life, but if you read this verse in it’s full context, it is actually speaking to those who are already professed believers. They have professed faith and attend church regularly but they have got comfortable in their prosperous lives. Here Christ is saying “let me into your Church” let me fellowship with you as you fellowship with each other. This is an important message to all the churches; we can be so comfortable in our routines and nice warm buildings we forget to allow space for Christ to come in and meet with us.
As usual there is so much more hidden among these letters that time does not allow, but there are some short reminders of what the key messages are:
- Don’t give up
- Don’t be afraid
- Be faithful
- Don’t tolerate immorality and idol worship
- Hold firmly to the faith
- Strengthen yourselves
- Remember what you have been taught
- Be ready for Christ’s coming
- Keep safe what you have so that no-one can rob you of the victory prize
- Don’t be lukewarm
Listen to what the Spirit says to the churches
All quotes from the Good News Bible