In today’s passage Jesus addresses the churches in Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis. Throughout these messages, Jesus emphasizes the importance of remaining faithful to him and standing firm in the face of adversity.
Smyrna was a proud, prosperous, and beautiful city. Moreover, the city was friendly to Rome, so they welcomed Roman rule. In fact, in 195 B.C., the city erected a Temple to Dea Roma (goddess Roma), the earliest recorded establishment of the Roman Cult.
Smyrna – The Letter
The Church of Smyrna was formed when the Apostle Paul was in Ephesus on his third Missionary Journey. Ignatius, an Apostolic Father, wrote in the early 2nd century that the Church of Smyrna was well organized, with elders, deacons, and a Bishop named Polycarp, ordained as bishop by the Apostle John). He wrote a letter to Polycarp and to the Church of Smyrna. Polycarp is believed to have been a disciple of the Apostle John. Unfortunately, at age 86, he was burned at the stake for refusing to burn incense to the Roman Emperor.
Verse 9: Jesus acknowledges the hardships the Church is facing. They were a persecuted and poor church in a wealthy city. The Church was persecuted because they refused to bow its knee to Rome. They did not recognize Caesar as a deity and declined to offer him worship or renounce their Christian faith.
Jesus reminds them that though they are poor, they are spiritually wealthy. These are words of comfort and encouragement to the Church. Jesus reminds them that the things of this world do not make you rich. Although salvation, redemption, and future glory contributed to the Church being materially poor, they were the wealthiest people on the planet.
In contrast, Jesus speaks about the Jews who are a synagogue to Satan. The persecution of Smyrna does not just come from pagan Rome; it also comes heavily from the Jews. The Jews at this time believed Jesus was a blasphemer, and when they saw the spread of Christianity, they wanted to stop the growth. They would physically harm Christians and inform Roman rulers of Christians and their worship practices. These Jews thought they were faithful Jews, but they were, in fact, a synagogue to Satan. They were not working for the God Israel; they were doing the Devil's work.
Verse 10: Jesus tells them, "Don't be afraid" because hardships are coming. Tough times were ahead for the Church, and Jesus is comforting them. The Church is about to face some persecution. Jesus says, "The Devil will throw some of you into prison." Some suggest that "the Devil" is Rome, but the Devil himself will be the one influencing those who are persecuting.
You will suffer for ten Days could suggest a literal ten days; it could be a short time, while others suggest a long but limited time. Regardless persecution was coming.
Jesus instructs them to remain faithful to him even unto death. The faithful ones will receive a crown of life. The word for crown here refers to the garland wreath, which was given as the prize for victors in competition (the reward of righteousness).
Vs. 11: Anyone with ears must listen… The second death will not hurt the one who conquers. Jesus says in the Gospel of John, "The world will cause great persecution and trials but have courage and know I have overcome the world. The world has no power over me." Likewise, the second death has no power over those who are in Jesus.
Pergamum – The Letter
Pergamum was noted for many things, primarily having the second largest library in the Greek world with over 200,000 volumes. History tells that Marc Antony took the 200,000 volumes and gave them to Cleopatra as a wedding gift. Legend is that parchment was invented in Pergamum because Egypt cutting off its supply of papyrus.
The city was also the location of four major cults with temples and altars built to Zeus, Athene, Dionysus, and Asklepios. The latter was considered the god of healing and represented by a serpent. People would travel to Pergamum from all over for medical attention. It is noted that Galen, one of the most famous physicians in the ancient world, was a native of Pergamum.
Verse 12: Jesus is represented as "the one with the sharp two-edged sword" in response to the power of the proconsul. Pergamum was the only city where the proconsul was given the "right of the sword" – which meant he had the power to execute anyone for any reason. The Proconsul had the power of life and death by sword. Jesus reminds the Church that it is He who truly wields power over life and death, not the proconsul, and not Rome.
Verse 13: "I know you live in a city where Satan has his throne" is a reference to the city of Pergamum and not the Church. Pergamum was a pagan city that was fiercely loyal to Rome. Like the city of Smyrna, it would make it very difficult to be a Christian in the city without facing persecution. The "throne of Satan" is a reference to the Imperial Cult of Roman Emperor worship OR it was a reference to the large altar dedicated to Zeus that stood atop the citadel overlooking the city of Pergamum.
Jesus commends the Church of Pergamum for staying faithful to Him. Even amid great persecution, including Antipas, the Church remained faithful. We know very little about Antipas except what is written in this letter and a couple of other references His name is mentioned in an inscription of Pergamum and early Church father Tertullian mentions him as well.
Verse 14: "But this I have a few complaints against you…" The Church still tolerated the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. The two are probably closely related if not the same.
□ The teachings of Balaam: A Quick overview– (Read Numbers 22 – 24 for the full story).
Verse 16: "Repent of your sin" – It is time for the Church and its leadership to repent of their sins. There is no indication that the whole Church practiced the works of Balaam and the Nicolaitans BUT Jesus declares the whole Church guilty of the sin because they have not acted against it. They were turning a blind eye to sin and figured they would be guiltless because they weren't involved in the sin, yet they were guilty by association. Indifference to sin is a sin.
Verse 17: The promise of receiving "manna hidden" and "a white stone with a new name written on it." "The Pergamos overcomers are promised that they will commune with Him at His feast in the kingdom, since they refuse to commune with demons at the idolatrous meals." It is suggested the white stone is an invitation or pass if to the Messianic feast. There is an ancient when an individual on trial would be given by the jurors either a black stone indicating guilt, or a white stone indicating acquittal. The white stone with a new name could represent the Christians acquittal from sin and declaration of innocence.
Thyatira – The Letter
This passage is believed to be the most difficult letter to interpret of all the churches, it is also the longest.
Verse 18: The eyes like flames of fire & feet like polished bronze point to impending judgment. Jesus' eyes pierce through our exterior and sees the heart of the individuals in the Church.
Eyes are like flames of fire penetrate and burn to the heart and Jesus judges our hearts and actions. Jesus spoke about sin not just being an outward physical act of rebellion it is a matter of the heart. Christ's penetrating eyes see the true nature of who we are, and he judges our hearts and our actions.
Feet like polished bronze represents strength and stability. Jesus is our fortress and our foundation that cannot be moved. This indicates the strength of Jesus in his judgment which is swift, and He will tread upon the wicked with God's wrath.
Verse 19: "I know all the things you do…" Jesus commends the Thyatiran Church because they practice love, faithfulness, service, and they patiently endure trials. Unlike the Church of Ephesus, they were not lacking in love; their love was great and growing in strength.
Verse 20: Also, unlike the Ephesians, the Church of Thyatira tolerated false teachings and teachers, one was leading people astray thus, causing others to commit spiritual adultery.
Jezebel is believed to a prophetess in this Church who was practicing and teaching dangerous and blasphemous deeds. She encouraged people do immoral practices that were forbidden by Jesus and the Church.
Jezebel was an O.T. Phoenician princess who was the wife of Israelite King, Ahab. She was an influential woman over her husband. She convinced him to turn his heart from the true God of Israel to worship Baal. She practiced pagan idolatry and welcomed and protected pagan priests. She persecuted the prophets of Israel (her nemesis was Elijah) and had 150 them killed one time. Her name means "Baal exalts", "Baal is husband to" or "unchaste". She represents false teachers and those who seduce people sexually.
The person in Thyatira was probably not a woman named Jezebel but was a type or symbol of Jezebel. The name symbolized a woman who was a false prophetess who taught antinomianism (The rejection of the authority of the Mosaic Law on the grounds that it has been superseded by Christian grace and freedom, based partially on Romans 3:8. Some Gnostic sects, such as the Carpocratians, interpreted this freedom as a license to sin because only the spirit, and not the body, mattered. ). According to theologian Stephen Smalley, "In early Christianity women prophesied freely; in contemporary Roman and Oriental cults in Asia Minor women often played the major roles as priestesses." It was not uncommon for such a person to rise in the Church. This prophetess taught that idolatry was ok, sexual immorality was permissible and she openly engaged in these activities with some of the members of this Church. It was probably taught that since individuals were saved by grace that Jesus was ok with his people following the ways of the world because the moral Law of Moses was no longer valid resulting in people engaging in sexual immorality. She was falsely teaching that these acts were acts that led to deeper insights and practicing the deeper things of God.
Verse 21 - 23: Jesus gave this woman time to repent of her evil ways but now her time was up. Her refusal to repent led to major consequences.
Conclusion – Three takeaways.
 Gregg, S. (1997). Revelation, four views: A parallel commentary (Re 2:12–17). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers.
 New Bible commentary: 21st century edition. 1994 (D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer & G. J. Wenham, Ed.) (4th ed.) (Re 2:12–17). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
 Kurian, G. T. (2001). Nelson’s new Christian dictionary: The authoritative resource on the Christian world. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
 Smalley, Stephen S. (2005). The Revelation To John: A Commentary on the Greek Text of the Apocalypse. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press. P. 73
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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