Its almost here, the World Vision Half Marathon, and Team Redeemer is nearing their financial goal of raising $50,000 to get clean water to the places that need it the most. It’s not too late to get involved and sponsor a runner to help them fulfill their goal and change lives. To discover more about this race and what Team World Vision is all about, I invite you to read an article from the first hand perspective of one of Team Redeemer’s runners, Ashley Soto. Here is her article, Running for Hope.
After a beautiful Easter season together, we are ready to dive back into our series in Revelation together. This Sunday, Patrick O’Rourke will unpack Revelation 4 for us with Worship Gatherings at 8, 9:30, and 11:15. We have provided a study guide* to help you prep before the sermon or reflect and study deeper afterward. Below you will find a curated collection of commentaries on Revelation 4 that we hope you will find helpful, as well as some reflection questions that we hope you take the time to discuss, pray, and journal through. We are looking forward to continuing this journey through the book of Revelation with you!
“The twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.’” -Revelation 4:10b-11
John is taken in the Spirit to the throne room of God and shown the center of all reality. When the veil is pulled back on the universe, there is God on His throne accomplishing His purposes and receiving praise from all of creation because He is the source of all things.
This scene precedes all of the chaos of the dragon, the beast, and the judgments, reassuring John and everyone that would read this letter after him that this is all part of God’s plan even when it seems like things are out of control.
“’After these things’ John sees a door opened in heaven, initiating a new series of visions that will reveal ‘the things that must occur after these things’ (Rev. 4:1). John has seen and heard the Son of Man diagnose the ‘things which are’ in his letters to the churches (1:19). Now the focus of attention shifts to the future of the seven churches and the forces that assault them.”1
“These chapters, moreover, do not give us a picture of heaven. They describe the entire universe from the aspect of heaven. The purpose of this vision is to show us, in beautiful symbolism, that all things are governed by the Lord on the throne. ‘All things’ must include our trials and tribulations. That is the point. That is why the description of the throne precedes the symbolic prediction of the trials and tribulation that the church must experience here on earth.”2
“The living creatures worship God for attributes central to John’s vision and most applicable to the churches undergoing severe testing: holiness, power, and eternity.”3
“God is holy, almighty, and eternal (4:8), in contrast to the pretense of the mortal human frame, so easily reduced to dust. Imperial choirs throughout Asia were hailing the mighty emperor as god in their own hymns. Before John’s portrait of the most majestic throne room of all, however, the emperor’s claims fade into absurdity, and worshiping Christians find strength to withstand the falsehood of the emperor’s claims.” 4
“If God’s grandeur dwarfs the emperor’s majesty, it also challenges in a different way the numbing triteness of modern Western culture. God’s greatness summons our attention: Who are we to be overwhelmed by the mortal emperor or our present trials? That God is Lord of history and has everything under control helps us view everything else in life the way we should. Praise puts persecution, poverty, and plagues into perspective; God is sovereignly bringing about his purposes, and this world’s pains are merely the birth pangs of a new world (Rev. 21-22).5
Pray and ask the Lord the show you the things in your life that you worship in place of Him. Consider how insignificant they are compared with the One on the throne.
Take some time this week to think and pray about God’s holiness, His worth, and His power in creation. Ask the Lord to help your heart worship as you think about these things.
*Hard copies of the Revelation Study Guide will be available for free at Redeemer Church the first weekend in May.
- Johnson, Dennis E. Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation.
- Hendriksen, William. More than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation.
- Duvall, J. Scott. Revelation
- Keener, Craig S. Revelation
- Keener, Craig S. Revelation
What a moving and joyful time we had celebrating Good Friday and Easter weekend with our church and community. If you were able to attend our Good Friday Worship Gathering and accompanying prayer walk that followed, you saw some moving images of Jesus’ enduring the trial, scourging, and crucifixion. That collection of original art was created by our own Ashley Soto, a faithful part of the Redeemer Church family who joyfully serves in various ministries, which includes often sharing her voice and faith through her art.
Ashley spent hours meditating on the suffering of Christ as she created these pieces, and I am thrilled to be able to share with you some of her thoughts and reflections from that process. And so, I invite you to look through the collection and read Ashley’s article, Facing the Cross, over on her site Ashley Soto Art.
And if you are interested in owning one of these original art pieces, be sure to message her, she is selling/auctioning them to raise money for clean water in Africa in collaboration with the Team World Vision 6K that is happening on May 5, 2019.
“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15-16
Laodicea was a city located about forty miles to the southeast of Philadelphia. The city was known for their soft black wool that they manufactured, their eye salve, and mostly for their abundant riches. The city was so prideful that when a massive earthquake devastated the area in A.D. 60, they were the only city to refuse Rome’s relief money, stubbornly paying for the repairs themselves.
Unfortunately, this self-sufficient attitude and trust in riches and material prosperity had infiltrated the church of Laodicea. They boasted in their accomplishments and assets, but Jesus had to show them how poor, naked, and destitute they really were. In love Jesus called them to forsake their arrogance and proud self-sufficiency and realize their desperate need for Him.
“Jesus illustrates the church’s spiritual problems using the city’s well-known water problems. Hierapolis to the north enjoyed hot springs useful for healing while Colossae to the east had cold, refreshing drinking water. But Laodicea received its water from a spring about five miles to the south. By the time this mineral-rich water made its way over the Roman aqueduct to Laodicea, it had become lukewarm and disgusting to drink.”47
“The language of 3:17-18 employs the technique of irony common in ancient texts: thus, for example, a blind seer tells a sighted king that he sees but will be blind, and is rich but will become poor; but the metaphor is especially common in biblical prophets.”48
“Unfortunately, Laodicea had no reliable water supply of its own…In addition to serving as a leading banking center, the city was well known for manufacturing garments of soft, black wool and was home to a famous medical school specializing in the treatment of eye diseases.”49
“Even though the Lord is thoroughly disgusted with this church because it fails in its duty as light-bearer, nevertheless, there is grace here: wonderful, tender love and admonition. Christ does not really say: ‘I will spew thee out of my mouth’, but ‘I am about to spew thee out of my mouth.’ The Lord is still waiting. He sends this epistle in order to drive out that lukewarm spirit. He is very severe in His condemnation because He is very tender and kind, loving and gracious…Who is more to be pitied than an individual who imagines that he is a fine Christian, whereas in reality the Christ Himself is utterly disgusted with him?”50
“Laodicea’s repentance must be expressed in zeal (Rev. 3:19), which will come only when they discover their destitution and Jesus’ sufficiency. Jesus’ advice is paradoxical: When you see how poor you are, then I counsel you to ‘buy from me gold refined by fire…and white garments…and eye salve to anoint your eyes’ (Rev. 3:17-18). How can paupers buy such precious commodities? Jesus echoes the divine Marketer who spoke through Isaiah: ‘Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost’ (Isa. 55:1). This transaction is not a conventional purchase, for only those who cannot pay may partake. Everything we need must be the free gift of the Beginning of God’s creation. Only he can clear our sight, cover our naked shame (Gen. 3:7, 21; Rev. 16:15), and make the poor rich (Matt. 5:3; Luke 1:52-53; James 2:5).”51
- Does the church at Laodicea, with all its riches and feelings of smug self-sufficiency, sound familiar?
- Why does Jesus indict Laodicea the way He does instead of just wiping them out? How does this encourage you?
- Do you see any of the downfalls of the Laodiceans in your own life? Jesus offered the Laodiceans the very things they boasted of having, what would Jesus offer you that you think you have apart from Him?
- Jesus tells the Laodiceans to “Be earnest (or zealous) and repent!” How does earnestness and zealousness differ from complacency and self-suffiency?
Even the lower class in America is richer than most of the rest of the planet and we are in severe danger of the sin of the Laodiceans. Ask the Lord to show you where you may be relying on things other than Him.
Repent of this sin, ask the Lord to give you earnestness, zeal, and repentance and to show you how truly poor you really are apart from Christ. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 5:3)
47, 49 Duvall, J. Scott. Revelation
48 Keener, Craig S. Revelation
50 Hendriksen, William. More than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation
51 Johnson, Dennis E. Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation
“I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Revelation 3:8
Philadelphia was a city located on a major Roman road in Asia minor that suffered from a devastating earthquake in AD 17.
Jesus has no rebuke for the church at Philadelphia, only encouragement to endure persecution. It appears that the Philadelphian Christians were being excluded from the synagogue and enduring other types of persecution from the Judaizers because of their faithfulness to Jesus. Jesus reassures them that He is the one who holds the key of David and alone has the power to grant entrance into the true kingdom of God and to hold on because He is coming soon with their reward.
“To this church Christ addresses Himself as the holy and true one. The pretensions of the false or non-genuine – that is, unbelieving – Jews are not pleasing to Him. Christ alone has ‘the key of David’, that is, the highest power and authority in the kingdom of God. Christ knows that although this church has but little power, being small in number and in wealth, it has remained loyal to the gospel and has not denied the name of its Lord.”43
“That the Christians have little power (3:8) counts in their favor before God; power is easily abused, but weakness often leads to dependence on God’s power.”44
“For believers who have been expelled from the local synagogue, the knowledge that Christ alone holds the power to grant entrance into God’s kingdom is deeply reassuring…Jesus now assures the believers in Philadelphia that he has opened the door of the kingdom to them, and no one – not even the local synagogue rulers or the Roman emperor himself – will be able to keep them from entering.”45
“Notice that divine protection – ‘I will also keep thee’ – and human exertion – ‘hold fast that which thou hast’ – go hand in hand. A fourfold glorious reward is promised to this church which exhibits in such an adequate manner what it means to be a light-bearer. First, over against the Jewish accusers and scoffers it will not only prevail – like Smyrna – but will gain the victory, a victory in which the vanquished, through their conversion, will share! Secondly, it will be kept safe through the hour of trial. Thirdly, the conquerors will be made ‘pillars’ in God’s temple. A pillar is something permanent. They will obtain the one thing which David desired (Ps. 27:4). No earthquake will ever fill them with fear or drive them out of the heavenly city. They will abide there. Finally, Christ will write upon the conqueror the name of His God, and the name of the city of His God, the new Jerusalem…and His own new name. In other words, to the conqueror will be given the assurance that he belongs to God and to the new Jerusalem and to Christ, and that he will everlastingly share in all the blessings and privileges of all three.”46
- What is the significance of the statement “What he opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open” for the Philadelphian Christians who were shut out of the synagogue?
- Where should we find the strength to endure persecution when we have little strength in ourselves like the church in Philadelphia?
- While we may not be forced out of the synagogue for being Christians, what are some other ways that we as Christians are excluded or persecuted for our allegiance to Jesus?
- Jesus told the church at Philadelphia that He is coming soon. How does this fact give us strength and courage in the midst of persecution? (Luke 21:27-28)
Think about times when you may have been excluded, or about our Christian brothers and sisters around the world that are persecuted and suffer harm for their faithfulness to Jesus. What encouragement does Jesus have for us?
Ask the Lord for His strength to endure and to fill you with the joy of the hope of His impending return.
43, 46 Hendriksen, William. More than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation
44 Keener, Craig S. Revelation
45 Duvall, J. Scott. Revelation
“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up!” Revelation 3:1b-2a
Sardis was a city located about thirty five miles southeast of Thyatira and was one of the wealthiest and most powerful cities in the ancient world.
The church at Sardis was well thought of by outsiders, didn’t seem to have a lot of division or internal strife, and seemed to have it all together, but Jesus had a different opinion about them. They were on the verge of death if they didn’t wake up and do what the Great Physician was prescribing.
“The message to the church in Sardis is the fifth (and most negative) in the series of messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. Jesus confronts a church relying on its past reputation to make up for its present spiritual slumber. Only a few people are commended by the Lord as he attempts to rescue this church from certain death.”37
“In contrast to the churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia, Jesus’ followers seem to have coexisted peacefully with the synagogue community, and therefore likely coexisted peacefully with the city establishment as a whole. Lacking the world’s opposition, they may have grown comfortable in their relationship with the world.”38
“Sardis enjoyed a good reputation, but it did not deserve this reputation…neither the Jews nor the gentiles seem greatly to have troubled the people of Sardis. Sardis was a very ‘peaceful’ church. It enjoyed peace, but it was the peace of the cemetery! Christ tells these dead church members that they must wake up and remain awake and must make firm the rest of the things that are on the verge of death. The lamp on the stand is beginning to burn more and more dimly. Soon the tiny flame will have been completely extinguished.”39
“Jesus’ warning that he will come on them as a ‘thief’ (3:3), presumably unexpectedly as in the night, recalls Jesus’ words about the end times (Matt. 24:43; cf. Luke 12:39) often repeated by early Christians. But this warning would also prove especially alarming to the proud Sardians schooled from youth in the history of their city. Conquerors had never overtaken Sardis by conventional war, but had twice conquered it unexpectedly because Sardians had failed to watch adequately.”40
“Jesus issues five commands to shock them back to life. The first, ‘Wake up!” is the same command Jesus uses so often in other eschatological contexts. It appears again alongside the thief image of Jesus’ warning in Rev. 16:15. In essence, Jesus is telling this church to realize their condition and be willing to do something about it…those who are on the verge of spiritual death need to be strengthened and supported, because while their deeds seem perfectly acceptable to the surrounding society, they are coming up short of God’s standard. From God’s perspective, their works are unfinished or incomplete. They desperately need to ‘remember’ what they have received and heard, namely, the truth of the faith taught by Jesus and passed down by his apostles. But they must do more than recall; they must also keep/obey/live out these truths, which will surely involve repentance.”41
- How can comfort and lack of opposition be a hindrance to the church?
- Do you see any parallel between your life and the church at Sardis?
- Jesus tells the church at Sardis to remember what they have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. What is it that Sardis received and heard? What does it mean to hold it fast?
- What is the danger of relying on past spiritual life and vitality and on the reputation you have with the fallen world?
Ask the Lord to reveal to you His opinion of your spiritual health. Are you dead, dying, or healthy and alive?
Implement, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the remedy of the Great Physician: wake up, strengthen what remains, remember the historic Christian faith, and embrace it, which will necessitate a change of course or repentance.
37, 41, 42 Duvall, J. Scott. Revelation
38, 40 Keener, Craig S. Revelation
39 Hendriksen, William. More than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation
“Nevertheless, I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet.” Revelation 2:20a
Thyatira was a city about forty miles southeast of Pergamum and was a city of little significance except for its trade guilds. Being a center of trade and commerce because of its location, the trade guilds, mainly metal-work and linen dye, held the power in the community.
To be part of the trade guilds meant financial security and comfort, but the guilds were dedicated to the pagan gods and goddesses and worship of these false gods was a requirement for membership. A false prophetess arose in the church, calling the Christians to indulge in the cultic practices and exercise their freedom in Christ to do shameful things which were displeasing to the Jesus. Jesus promises great things to those who do His will til the end.
“The Asian churches may well hear in Jesus’ biblical title ‘Son of God’ (2:18) a direct challenge to the imperial cult. Emperors claimed to be deities and saviors in Asia; some commentators have further suggested a specific contrast with Zeus’s son Apollo, a patron deity of Thyatira, with whom the deified emperors were linked. Apollo’s link with Helios, the sun god, also could amplify the contrast implicit in Jesus’ fiery features here, though these would be relevant to any readers familiar with the biblical prophets. Although the matter is uncertain, it may be more than coincidence that Jesus reminds hearers of his feet like bronze (1:15) specifically in a city where metal-working was a prominent industry.”32
“The presence of this false teaching in the church at Thyatira is the Lord’s only criticism here, but this challenge alone is substantial enough to require warning that the believers must hold firm their faith until Jesus comes (Rev. 2:24). As searcher of hearts and minds – that is, as God – Jesus knows what is in their hearts. By ‘deep secrets’ (lit., ‘deep things’) Jezebel and her followers undoubtedly mean ‘profound things’ likely obtained by revelation. But as the true searcher of hearts, Jesus notes the source of their revelations: Satan (2:24), who has also authored opposition from the synagogue community (2:9; 3:9).”33
“The flaw in the Thyatirans’ growing faith and love was naïveté, a lack of discernment that took place at face value rather than putting them to the test of truth. Jesus says to the church at Thyatira, ‘I love your love, but I hate your tolerance.’ The target of their tolerance and Jesus’ disapproval is a woman whom Jesus calls Jezebel. This is not her real name, any more than Balaam had taught the Nicolaitans or the harlot of Revelation 17 is Babylon, the Chaldean capital on the Euphrates. The Thyatiran prophetess, however, is working the same mischief in the first-century church that Jezebel, princess of Sidon and wife of Ahab, had worked in Israel centuries earlier.”34
“This church, commended for love, had failed to speak the hard truth in love (Eph. 4:15). Church discipline and Jesus’ demand for exclusive loyalty looked narrow to the pluralistic culture of the Hellenistic world, as it does in our tolerant and relativistic day; but church discipline, when pursued with biblical motives and methods, expresses Jesus’ love for His bride.”35
“Jesus addresses three groups in this message: (1) he encourages the faithful Christians who have rejected Jezebel’s teachings (2:24-28), (2) he pronounces judgment upon Jezebel and her dedicated followers (2:23a: ‘her children’), and (3) he warns those who claim to be Christian but are currently being deceived by Jezebel (2:22b). God’s judgment of Jezebel and her children (group 2) will likely involve physical sickness and even death. Those who are currently committing adultery with her (group 3) still have a chance to repent. If they refuse, however, they will ‘suffer intensely.’”36
- What does Jesus have against the church at Thyatira and how is Jesus’ call to be intolerant of false teaching countercultural?
- Do you see any area in your life where you may be dishonoring Christ in your business practices, taxes, or anywhere else in an attempt to secure financial security?
- Given the context, what is the difference between real love and tolerance? Why is important for us as Christians to understand this?
- Jesus promised the Thyatirans that they would be given authority to rule over the nations if they are victorious. How does this promise correspond to the Thyatiran’s fear that they would suffer economically and financially if they didn’t compromise?
Ask the Lord in prayer to show you areas in your life where you are tolerating evil and dishonesty in order to secure your comfort and security.
Repent of these things and ask the Lord to give you a deeper faith in His promises to provide for you regardless of the threats of the world.
Commit to wholehearted devotion to Jesus alone, regardless of the consequences from the world.
32, 33 Keener, Craig S. Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.
34, 35 Johnson, Dennis E. Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2001.
36 Duvall, J. Scott. Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014.
“I know where you live – where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name…Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: there are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam.” Revelation 2:13a, 14a
Pergamum was located about 70 miles north of Smyrna and was an intellectual and religious hub and also the leading center for the imperial cult in Asia Minor. They built the first temple to a living emperor and the city was filled with all kinds of pagan cults with worship that was abominable to the Christian.
Jesus is calling the church at Pergamum to abstain from syncretism: the mixing of pagan and imperial cult worship and the worship of the true Sovereign.
“Jesus commends His church for persevering in faithfulness in spite of persecution but warns them not to compromise with an idolatrous and immoral culture.”25
“Obedience in one area does not cover for or excuse disobedience in other areas. Jesus rebukes this church for tolerating the practices of the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans, groups that encouraged Christians to use their freedom to participate in pagan worship activities, including the worship of the emperor. Practices such as eating food sacrificed to idols in the worship of false gods and sexual immorality were often part of festivals associated with local temples and trade guilds. Christians who refused to compromise suffered social and economic persecution or worse.”26
“The image of the ‘sword’ may allude to the Roman governments ius gladii, the right to execute capital punishment, in which case Jesus is reminding Christians that He, not the Roman governor, holds the power of life and death (1:18).”27
“The city had a temple dedicated ‘to the divine Augustus and the goddess Roma’ (built in 29 B.C.), another temple and related medical college dedicated to Asklepios the Savior (patron god of healing, symbolized by a serpent), and an enormous altar to Zeus the Savior on the city’s highest point. Any of these idolatrous monuments – certainly the three in combination – would justify Jesus’ pronouncement that this church dwells ‘where Satan’s throne is…where Satan dwells” (2:13).”28
“For Christians in Pergamum, to ‘overcome’ means to continue steadfast in the face of opposition (2:13), but especially to stand against teaching of compromise with the world and to do their best to purge such teachings from their ranks (2:14-16).”29
“Although most Western Christians today do not have to deal with literal idols, the analogy with the temptations we face is so straightforward as to be almost transparent – if we have the courage to face it. The problem with an idol is not the artwork, monotheism is not ‘one God or less,’ and pagan ideologies can include the atheistic premises of secular materialism no less than the blatant naming of other gods. In North America we do not confront emperor worship per se, but we have plenty of idols, whether materialism (Matt. 6:24) or celebrities who receive more attention than many people give to God.”30
- Why do you think that Jesus introduces Himself to the church at Pergamum as “Him who has the sharp, double edged sword?”
- In your experience, what are the most prominent forms of cultural accommodation in the Christian churches today?31
- How does it make you feel that Jesus acknowledges His “faithful witness” Antipas by name to the church? What does this say about how Jesus’ cares for and loves His servants even in death?
- What do you think it means when Jesus says to “Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” (Rev. 2:16)
Spend some time in prayer and ask the Lord to search you and reveal to you areas in your life where you may be accommodating the world in order to make this life easier for yourself.
25, 26 Duvall, J. Scott. Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014.
27, 29, 30 Keener, Craig S. Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.
28 Johnson, Dennis E. Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2001.
31 Gorman, Michael J. Reading Revelation Responsibly: Uncivil Worship and Witness: Following the Lamb into the New Creation
“Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.” Revelation 2:10b
Smyrna was a harbor city located about 40 miles northwest of Ephesus. The church in Smyrna is one of two churches that Jesus doesn’t have criticism for. Instead, Jesus tells them that He knows, both by observation and experience, their sufferings that they are enduring. He encourages them that things are not what they seem. They are physically poor, but spiritually rich! While it may appear that they are being defeated, they are victorious in their sufferings and death for His sake.
“Paradox is vivid in the letter to Smyrna, one of Jesus’ two blameless churches. The Smyrnan Christians are poor, yet they are rich. Their opponents claim to be the Jews but are Satan’s synagogue. The victor who is faithful to the extremity of death is promised a crown of life and safety from the second death.”19
“Imprisonment awaited the church at Smyrna, but Jesus assures his faithful ones that the tribulation will be brief, a mere ‘ten days’ (Rev. 2:19). Roman authorities used incarceration not for long-term containment but for short-term custody of those awaiting trial or the sentence of death. Since Jesus’ prediction of coming affliction closes with the exhortation ‘Be faithful until death,’ the release that He promises after the ‘ten days’ may not be a return to freedom on Smyrna’s streets but something better: martyrdom – the apparent defeat that is, paradoxically, the supreme victory.”20
“Some commentators find significance in the particular title of Jesus in 2:8. Centuries before, Smyrna had nearly vanished but had recovered to become a prominent and beautiful city (Strabo, 14.1.37), allowing some to compare it with the mythical phoenix, a symbol of resurrection; Jesus, by contrast, truly rose from death.”21
“Crowns (wreaths of olive, laurel, pine, or celery) were appropriate to victory in battle and more often in athletic competition; hence they became a familiar symbolic image to all adults and most children in Roman Asia.”22
“Whereas ‘overcoming’ in Ephesus required restoration of love (2:4), in Smyrna it demanded withstanding persecution. Popular Jewish teaching on martyrdom already could identify martyrdom with overcoming (4 Macc. 9:24; 17:15), so no one could miss the point. But Revelation especially underlines the point in the image of the triumphant lion as a slain lamb in 5:5-6: We overcome not by returning hostility but by laying down our lives in the confidence that God will vindicate us.”23
“Christians are experiencing economic persecution (e.g., loss of income and jobs, destruction of property, legal trouble), resulting in poverty. This could be related to exclusion from local trade guilds, which provided work but often promoted pagan religious activities that caused Christians to compromise their faith. Yet in spite of their material poverty, Jesus declares them spiritually rich! This stands in contrast to the church Laodicea, which is materially rich but spiritually poor. (3:17)”24
- What does it mean and how does it make you feel when Jesus says, “I know your afflictions?” (Rev. 2:9, Heb. 4:14-16)
- Jesus told the church at Smyrna: “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer.” What is the reason we shouldn’t fear in the face of suffering, challenges, and difficulties? (2 Cor. 4:16-18) Why do we fear?
- How does the truth that we will not be hurt by the “second death” motivate us to live in this life?
- The letter to the church of Smyrna is filled with paradoxical statements: you are poor but you are rich, and you may die but you will live. Can you think of other ways that the kingdom of God is paradoxical?
Take some time this week and think about how often you are ruled by fear. What has that fear kept you from doing or accomplishing?
Confess that fear, ask for help to overcome that fear, and cling to the promises of Jesus.
19, 20 Johnson, Dennis E. Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2001.
21,22, 23 Keener, Craig S. Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.
24 Duvall, J. Scott. Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014.
“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance…yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.” Revelation 2:2a, 4
Ephesus was the Roman provincial capital of Asia minor and was the hub of commerce, civic life, and religion. Ephesus also guarded the temple of Artemis, was very involved in the occult and magic, and was also an important site for imperial cultic worship.
Jesus commends the Ephesian church for rejecting false teaching but indicts them for losing their love in the midst of their good works; calling them to repent and return to their first love.
“Each letter is a prophetic word from Jesus (e.g., Rev. 2:1) through the Spirit (e.g., 2:7), who is inspiring John (1:10).”14
“A serious danger in hearing Jesus’ message to the Ephesian church’s weakness in love is that we will simply dismiss it from any relevance to ourselves. Yet dismissing the church in Ephesus is somewhat like reading the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) and concluding, ‘Thank God I’m not like that Pharisee!’ We need to hear the warning this church presents to us.”15
“In God’s kingdom, truth and love are woven together. Truth without love becomes little more than a cold demonstration of power, and love without truth ceases to be genuine love; both are relational disasters.”16
“The term Nicolaitans means ‘victorious over the people’ or ‘victory people’ and probably captures a wordplay on the important work nikaō used throughout Revelation, which calls Christians to ‘overcome’ or ‘conquer.’ The Nicolaitans are a group of false teachers closely connected to the cults of Balaam (2:14) and Jezebel (2:20-23), who are trying to redefine the faith to allow Christians to fit in with (and perhaps profit from) the surrounding culture with its idolatry, immorality, deceit, and false worship.”17
“Notice Christ’s self-designation: ‘He that holds the seven stars in His right hand, he that walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands.’ What is the reason for this designation?…He holds the stars and walks in the midst of the lampstands. Thus we find that in each separate instance Christ’s self-designation has its bearing on the church to which the epistle is addressed.”18
- What is your initial response to the fact that Jesus says “I know your deeds,” and how might that motivate you to live?
- What is the significance of Jesus’ self-disclosure (the way He describes Himself) to the church of Ephesus given the context?
- What does this passage say about the importance of love for God and others compared with dutiful works in light of 2:5?
- Reword this section as if Jesus were speaking to you, what would He say?
- Jesus points out something that displeases Him in this passage. What does He tell the Ephesians to do to fix the situation? (Rev. 2:4-5)
Spend time in prayer over this passage this week and ask the one who walks among the lampstands to reveal to you how you may be doing the same things as the Ephesians.
If after reflection you find yourself in the same place as the church at Ephesus, what is Jesus’ command to you?
14, 15 Keener, Craig S. Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.
16, 17 Duvall, J. Scott. Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014.
18 Hendriksen, William. More than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998.