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Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
"Unto the angel of the church"
See on Revelation 1:20. The "angels" of the churches are the ministers of the churches.
As was noted in comments on Revelation 1:4, these messages were not intended solely for the seven specific congregations mentioned in the text. The number seven indicates completeness, and therefore the seven churches stand to represent all Christian churches of all time.
The seven churches actually symbolize seven periods in the history of Christianity, and our comments here will focus on that application. See chart. Ephesus, therefore, represents the first of those eras - the apostolic age - from the time of Christ until the end of the first century.
I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
"I know thy works"
As Jesus dictates to John a letter for each of the seven churches, He begins each message with these words. Certainly the Lord knows all about His people. The counsel, rebuke, and commendation expressed in these letters comes from one who knows.
"Thy labour, and thy patience"
The apostolic era was a time of great advancement for the church. Acts 8:4 says, "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word." There was much missionary activity on the part of believers, even in the face of difficult opposition.
And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
"Thou hast left thy first love"
The spirit of unselfish service which characterized the church after Pentecost was eventually lost.
Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
"Repent, and do the first works"
A call to repentance is included in the message to five of the seven churches. Repentance is turning from sin in genuine heart-felt sorrow. Repentance is set forth in the Scriptures as a condition for receiving the saving grace of God.
It is interesting that the letter to Ephesus mentions both "first love" and "first works." Love and works are inseparable. "If ye love me, keep my commandments," Jesus said in John 14:15. Faith . . . worketh by love." Galatians 5:6. "Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." Romans 13:10. Actually, the Ten Commandments are summarized in the two great commandments: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind," and "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." Matthew 22:37, 39. "My little children," John wrote, "let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth." 1 John 3:18.
But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
"The deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate"
In verse 15 we find mention of "the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate." The information available on the Nicolaitans indicates that they held to an "antinomian" theology. In other words, they did not believe that obedience to God's law was necessary.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;
Smyrna represents the second period of church history. See chart. This was a time of persecution for the church, inflicted by the Roman government. The message to Smyrna contains no rebuke or call to repentance, but gives encouragement to those who would face death for Christ's sake. Jesus identifies Himself in verse 8 as He "which was dead, and is alive." Verse 9 mentions the "tribulation, and poverty" endured by those living in this period. Verse 10 talks about suffering and prison, and exhorts them to be "faithful unto death," promising a crown of life. And verse 11 promises that the overcomer "shall not be hurt of the second death."
As Christianity began to spread throughout the Roman Empire, it became a threat to all that the Empire stood for. Rome claimed the right to rule all things, whether human or divine. All religions were considered subordinate to the state. The gods of Rome derived their dignity from the state. All forms of religion were allowed to come to Rome and take their places in its pantheon, but they must come as the servants of the state.
Christianity, however, stood for the principle of religious liberty. To receive from the government permission to worship would be to acknowledge the authority of the state over that of Christ. Such submission Christianity could not do, for it would violate the very principle of Christianity. It would subject the authority of God to the authority of men. And so, by her own choice, Christianity remained illegal.
"The whole controversy between Christianity and the Roman empire was upon the simple question of the rights of conscience,--the question whether it is the right of every man to worship according to the dictates of his own conscience, or whether it is his duty to worship according to the dictates of the State." Alonzo T. Jones, The Two Republics, pp. 148, 149.
Persecution of Christians during Roman times was intermittent and usually localized. Patriotic emperors who desired to advance the cause of the empire were generally more committed to destroying Christianity than were the others. During the Smyrna period thousands of Christ's followers were put to death in the arena. Some were given to wild beasts, some were burned at the stake.
I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.
"Ye shall have tribulation ten days"
A day in symbolic Bible prophecy represents a year. This verse, therefore, foretold a ten-year period of particularly noted persecution at the close of the Smyrna period of church history.
Although Emperors Trajan, Hadrian, Marcus Aurelius, Decius, and Valerian all persecuted the church, the most intense period of persecution in Roman times was the ten years from A.D. 303-313. On February 23, 303, Emperor Diocletian, influenced by Caesar Galerius, issued an edict against Christianity unlike any previous policy in that it was designed to completely exterminate the religion. That policy was in effect until the edict of Milan granted full legal status to Christianity in A.D. 313.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;
Pergamos represents the period of church history from the legalizing of Christianity until the papacy gained unchallenged supremacy in Europe. This period lasted a little more than 200 years, beginning in the time of Constantine the Great. The chart of the seven churches shows its relative position in history.
Emperor Constantine was a wise politician. He observed that in spite of all the attempts of Rome to destroy Christianity, the religion flourished. Historians speak of the blood of the martyrs as the seed of the church. The more Christians were killed, the more their numbers increased.
As Constantine watched the tide of public opinion turning in favor of Christianity, He knew that his success as a ruler depended upon taking a favorable attitude toward Christians. Something else influenced him as well, which he described as follows:
"My father revered the Christian God, and uniformly prospered, while the emperors who worshiped the heathen gods, died a miserable death; therefore, that I may enjoy a happy life and reign, I will imitate the example of my father, and join myself to the cause of the Christians, who are growing daily, while the heathen are diminishing." (Schaff, "History of the Christian Church," Vol. iii, section 2, par. 15.)
Constantine received Christianity merely as a good superstition, while he continued to cling to his sun worship and other pagan practices. He hoped to receive the benefits of both worlds. In this policy, Constantine personally epitomized what the church itself would become under his influence - a perfect blend of Christianity and paganism. A masterful play of political genius, uniting pagans and Christians into a single religion, Constantine's legacy to the church would live on throughout the remainder of history.
John Henry Newman describes the introduction of paganism into Christianity at that time:
"We are told in various ways by Eusebius, that Constantine, in order to recommend the new religion to the heathen, transferred into it the outward ornaments to which they had been accustomed in their own. . . . The use of temples, and these dedicated to particular saints, and ornamented on occasions with branches of trees; incense, lamps, and candles; votive offerings on recovery from illness; holy water; asylums; holydays and seasons, use of calendars, processions, blessings on the fields; sacerdotal vestments, the tonsure, the ring in marriage, turning to the East, images at a later date, perhaps the ecclesiastical chant, and the Kyrie Eleison, are all of pagan origin, and sanctified by their adopotion into the Church." - An Essay on the Develpment of Christian Doctrine, (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1906), p. 373.
"These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges"
The word of God, as a two-edged sword, is described in Hebrews 4:12 as "piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Christ therefore presents Himself to those in the Pergamos period as the One whose word "divides" and "discerns" in an age of religious amalgamation and compromise.
I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.
"Where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is"
Satan is described as a dragon in Revelation 12:9, a chapter which describes him working through Rome to destroy the church. Revelation 13:2 tells us that the dragon gave to the beast his power and his seat, and great authority. His seat would therefore be the city of Rome, which after the transfer is called "the seat of the beast." Revelation 16:10.
That the church of Pergamos dwells "where Satan's seat is" suggests that the compromising activities which took place during that period centered in Rome.
"Thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith"
Jesus is addressing His true followers who would not go along with the prevailing trends in the church of Rome.
This is probably short for antipatros a Greek compound of anti, and pater or patros, "father." The name Antipas may be used figuratively for those who resisted the developing power of the bishop of Rome.
"My faithful martyr"
This expression is the same in Greek as Jesus' description of Himself in Revelation 3:14 as "the faithful . . . witness." Those to whom it refers in the Pergamos period are described in the same terms as Jesus used of Himself.
During those days of popularity and compromise, the church needed faithful witnesses to the truth.
But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
"The doctrine of Balaam"
The story of Balaam is recorded in Numbers chapters 22-24. It is followed in chapter 25 with the account of Israel's idolatry and immorality at Baal-peor. The book of Numbers doesn't make the connection, but Revelation 2:14 tells us that Israel's sin can be traced to Balaam. When the disappointed prophet could not curse God's people, he told Balak how Israel could be seduced into sin and thus lose God's blessing.
This well illustrates what happened to Christianity during the Pergamos period. Satan's attempt to destroy the church by persecution during the Smyrna period only strengthened it. So he decided to try a new tactic. He would mingle the church and the world until the church lost its distinction and became part of the world.
So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
"The doctrine of the Nicolaitanes"
See comments on verse 6.
Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.
And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass;
The fourth period of church history lasted the longest. See chart. It also has the longest description in the Bible. This was the era of papal supremacy.
In the year A.D. 538, by the defeat of the Arian Ostrogoths who had controlled Rome since 493, the Catholic bishop of Rome emerged as the most powerful man in Europe. Thus began the long ages of papal rule.
I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.
Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.
"That woman Jezebel"
Jezebel was the wicked wife of Ahab, the king of Israel during the time of Elijah. The symbol of a woman in Bible prophecy represents a church See the evidence. A pure woman represents a pure church, an impure woman represents a corrupt church. Here Jezebel symbolizes the dominant religious system of medieval times.
"Which calleth herself a prophetess"
She falsely claims to represent God.
Spiritual adultery is the forming of an illicit relationship with someone other than the Lord. Revelation 18:3 identifies that other party: "The kings of the earth have committed fornication with her." The church of Rome during the dark ages held strong sway over the kings of the earth. Church and state blended together in a union to oppress those who wished to remain true to the teachings of Scripture.
And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.
Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.
This is explained by the phrase appearing in the same verse: "All the churches."
But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.
"Unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan"
This shows that there were faithful Christians during that time who remained true to God and rejected the errors of Rome.
But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.
And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
"To him will I give power over the nations"
God's humble servants who have been oppressed and downtrodden through the ages will one day reign over their oppressors. See comments on Revelation 20:4.
And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.
And I will give him the morning star.
"The morning star"
Jesus is "the bright and morning star." Revelation 22:16. He is also called "the day star." 2 Peter 1:19. This promise would be of special encouragement to the saints who lived during the long night of the dark ages.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.