The following is the first of a series of posts with my notes on the visions/prophecies in the book of the Revelation from Jesus Christ to the Apostle John, given on the isle of Patmos.
The Revelation, not of John, but of Jesus Christ. It was given to John by an angel speaking on behalf of God. This chapters have Jesus Christ speaking to the Revelation to John (v.11,17,18; 2:18). Verses 13-15 correspond very well with Daniel 10:5,6.
It is a record of what will shortly come to pass from John’s perspective and begins at the time of John the Apostle. It is not a futurist prophecy of events all compressed into some far future End-time period long past the centuries that followed the Early Church. The Revelation (and warnings from God) are for events that will occur from the time soon after John received it (v.1,3), not reserved for some future time. The church endured great tribulation in 70 A.D. and has suffered tribulation ever since (v.9). John wrote his gospel in 62 A.D. and the Revelation after that time. There is no mention of the 70 A.D. Roman invasion of Jerusalem (and the abomination that makes desolate) in the gospel of John, which supports this. Some date this book to AD 95-96, during the last part Domitian’s reign. “It appears to be the certain result of historical evidence that the Apostle John was banished to the island of Patmos during the reign of Domitian (A. D. 81-96) and in the fourteenth year of that reign, and was recalled from Patmos to Ephesus by the Emperor Nerva in A.D. 96.“
Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega (v.8,11), the first and last letter in the Greek alphabet, ‘the beginning and the ending’ representing Christ as Creator of the Universe and Judge of all. He is YHWH, Jehovah, “I AM”, and the Creator of the Universe. He sees the beginning from the end.
The 7 churches (symbolised by 7 golden candlesticks (v.20)) were 7 real churches that existed in Asia Minor at the time of John the Apostle. It is supposed that 7, where 7 is the perfect and sacred number, were chosen, because the 7 were to symbolize the whole Church of Christ. And this those churches symbolize churches today as well as the churches that have existed throughout history since Christ. The meaning of the word ‘church’ here is a local church a gathering of the body of believers at a certain place. Only 2 of the 7, Smyrna and Philadelphia, were, and hence today are, ‘true’ churches in those that they symbolize. That means they contained true believers, not just those professing faith but in fact with no filial relationship with Christ. That is, the other 5 churches symbolised those false religious churches that we see everywhere today. Though in some cases they had a little ‘going for them.’
What do the ‘angels’ of the seven churches represent? “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches…” (v.1:20). There are three theories as to what that actually means. They are as follows:
- Guardian angels of the seven churches. But since the meaning of angel is messenger, angels would not normally need to get a message from John revealed through a vision from God.
- Human envoys who have taken John’s message (on scrolls or parchments) to the seven churches in Asia. These could also be evangelists or apostles, nevertheless those who take the message. I think this is the most likely.
- Church leaders, pastors, of the seven churches. If this then John still had to get the message of the book to those church leaders.
The first 4 of the 7 churches are mentioned here. Starting with Ephesus (v.1), which was the capital of Asia at that time, followed by Smyrna (v.8), Pergamos (Pergamum) (v.12), and Thyatira (v.18). These churches were all located in what is now modern Turkey. Ephesus has long been uninhabited. Pergamos and Thyatira, were never entirely blotted out and a small Christian population is found in both places to this time.
Verse 2 indicates there were false apostles in the Ephesian church. The Ephesian church hated the deeds of the Nicolaitanes (v.6) but apparently some in the church at Pergamos held their doctrine (v.15), which Jesus really hated (v.6).
Apparently they were involved with antinomian heresy. Something like libertines. Antinomianism describes those that taught total freedom from all law, which is quite clearly false doctrine. The name ‘Nicolaitans‘ is derived from the Greek word nikolaos, a compound of the words nikos and laos. The word nikos is the Greek word that means to conquer or to subdue. The word laos is the Greek word for the people. It is also where we get the word laity. When these two words are compounded into one, they form the name Nicolas, which literally means one who conquers and subdues the people. It seems to suggest that the Nicolaitans were somehow conquering and subduing the people.
Verse 9: Those who say that they are Jews were of the Jewish race, but were not of the true Israel. “He is not a (true) Jew, which is one outwardly,… But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly…” (Romans 2:28,29). John denies the right of these Jewish opposers to use the term “Jews” in the sense of God’s chosen people. Their synagogue was the synagogue of Satan. Such strong language implies a complete separation of the church and synagogue, an event that occurred at the period of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.. See chapter 3:9.
Pergamos was Satan’s dwelling place (v.13). The people of Pergamum were known as the ‘Temple-keepers of Asia.’ The city had three temples dedicated to the worship of the Roman emperor, another for the goddess Athena, and the Great Altar of Zeus, the king of the Greek gods. Many scholars believe this altar is the ‘Throne of Satan.’ Antipas was the bishop of Pergamum (v.13) and sentenced to death on the altar of Zeus, because he denied the Roman/Greek god.
Verse 10 mentions Smynians who endure tribulation. Verse 22 speaks of some apostate church members (of Thyatira) being cast into ‘great tribulation.’ That fits in well with the Roman persecution of the early Christians, and even God sending the Romans for that task because the heresies and false believers in the churches. The mention of ‘great tribulation’ back then is indicative of the historical view. The church gets tribulation to purge them and maintain only true believers.
Jesus wants the true believers in all these churches, like today, to repent and return to Him. He says (v.26) he that ‘overcomes’ and endures to the end will get his/her reward for faithful service. This notion is repeated through the Revelation. Such believers will receive the ‘morning star’ (v.28). Jesus is the morning star (not Lucifer) so this indicates salvation.
The last 3 of the 7 churches are mentioned here. They are Sardis (v.1), Philadelphia (v.7), and Laodicea (v.14). Two churches (Sardis and Laodicea) are admonished and one, Philadelphia, commended. These churches were all located in what is now modern Turkey. Sardis and Laodicea ceased to exist and have long been uninhabited. They are now just rubble.
The Sardis church is spiritually dead. In that church there are those (the majority it seems who would claim to be Christian) who are believers in name only but actually are spiritually dead (v.1). That’s what “…you have a name that you live, and are dead” means. (This is like many in the so-called churches of today.) The Lord calls them to repent (v.3) and warns them that He will come (i.e. at His Second Advent) when they are not looking. They are spiritually unprepared for Christ’s return, because they are unsaved.
But in that church at Sardis there are a few who are true believers “a few names …. which have not defiled their garments, and they walk with Me in white…” (v.4). Like in any apostate church today you will often find a few true believers. The expression clothed with white or linen raiment (clothing) is often used to symbolise salvation.
The Lord again admonishes those who believe to stay the course and finish the race, to overcome, and their names will be not blotted out of the Book of Life (v.5). This is for the saved to not faint in pursuing the Lord’s work. Keep serving God to the end. It does not mean works for salvation, but works for a reward. See verse 11.
Next is the tried and faithful church at Philadelphia (v.7). Nothing bad is said of this church. Jesus is identified as the “key of David,” as He was born as the Son of David. Jesus has the power to “open” and to “shut,” to bring in souls and to reject souls from His kingdom. Only Christ determines who shall enter in, or be shut out.
When Jesus “sets before you an open door” (v.8) the meaning is in regards to witnessing, to evangelise those to whom Christ had opened a way to convert the Gentiles. For us it means the same; a believing church is one that spreads the gospel message. Those in Philadelphia were true believers. They were distributed among 5 churches within the city, 3,000 believers in a city of 18,000.
Who is this synagogue of Satan? (v.9) They are no doubt the same bitter Jewish opposers who opposed the Christian believers in that city. See chapter 2:9. The Smyrna church had a problem with them also. But the Lord promises to keep the true believers from temptation as the world is plunged into tribulation. It is a promise to all those who truly believe.
Through all time since the church has suffered continual persecution somewhere. It is spiritual warfare. Jesus says to them and us, that He will “come quickly” (v.11) as to God there is no time in the spirit. He will return for His own. We are to hold onto our “crown.” The Greek word used here is ‘stephanos’ meaning the laurels, the wreath type crown given to the winner of a race, not a king’s crown. If that was meant the appropriate Greek word ‘diadema’ would have been used. Thus the crown is not salvation but the reward in heaven for running a good race.
Verse 12 again has this theme of ‘overcoming’ running that race for the Lord until the end, never giving up your faith. The reward is made plain here. You get to be one of the ‘pillars’ or members of God temple, His kingdom in heaven.
The last of the 7 churches mentioned is at Laodicea (v.14). Nothing good is said about that church. They are the lukewarm church. Jesus here (v.14) is identified as “the beginning of the creation of God.” This does not mean He was the first thing God created, as claimed by the Jehovah Witness organisation. “The beginning” means the cause, thus Jesus was the agent Who created all things. The Reformers wrote of this: “Of whom all things are made, have their beginning.” (footnote Revelation 3:14 Geneva Bible)
Verses 15,16 speak of this church being neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm in their zeal for God. Hence Jesus said He would spew them out of His mouth. Apparently Laodicea had two types of springs, which fed bath houses, one hot water and the other cold. So the message is clear for them. Hot is good, on fire for God, cold is good too (it could also mean Jesus knows where they are at, they are against Him, but at least they are not self-deceiving) but lukewarm is a pretence of being for the Lord but in fact not so. Spiritually they are blind (v.17) like so many in the churches today.
Jesus asks them to repent and serve Him, “buy of Me gold tried in the fire” (real faith that stands all tests) that you may be clothed in white raiment (meaning salvation) (v.18). Lastly, He says to them to anoint “your eyes with eye salve,” which means to receive the oil of the Holy Spirit, that they may see.
He then calls them to repentance (v.20). If those in the churches would let Jesus in, He would come in. It can only be by salvation that the body of believers can fellowship in truth, via the Holy Spirit. And again the “overcome” theme is said, that we who do run the race will receive our reward in heaven.