REVELATION
TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES
 Notes on Chapters 2 and 3
Cecil N. Wright

1. Structure of the Letters:

  a. Addressed to the "angel" of each church (2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3, 7, 14).

  b. Author’s characterization of himself to each (2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14).

  c. Author’s knowledge of each declared (2:2-3, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15).

  d. Author’s commendation and/or criticism of each (2:1-7, 8-11, 12-17, 18-2;
      3:1-6, 7-13, 14-22). (No criticism of two and no condemnation of one)

  e. Author’s promises to the faithful and/or threats against the unfaithful in each (2:5,
       7, 10-11, 16-17, 22-27; 3:3-5, 9-12, 16, 19-22).

 2. Historical Background Notes:

  a. EPHESUS: Although not the titular capital of Asia (Pergamum retaining that honor), it had become its metropolis. Its chief attraction was its temple of Diana (Gr. Artemis), one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – a part of which, in 29 B.C., had been dedicated to the worship of the goddess Roma (Rome) and "the divine Julius" (d. 87 B.C.). From that time the worship of Artemis was closely associated with the Roman imperial cult, which was pervasive throughout the Roman province of Asia. A temple was also built to the emperor Claudius, and others were later built to Hadrian and Severus. Emperor worship at its simplest consisted of burning incense to the emperor and confessing that "Caesar is Lord".

  b. SMYRNA: Two of its famous temples were to the Sipylene Mother (a tutelary goddess, and local variety of Cybele) and to Zeus. But as one of the oldest allies of Rome, Smyrna had built a temple to the goddess Roma as early as 195 B.C. Then, in A.D. 26, when eleven cities of Asia competed for the right to build a provincial temple to Tiberias, Rome decided in favor of Smyrna in recognition of her long loyalty.

  c. PERGAMUM: Famed as a "city of temples", it had a cluster of them to Zeus, Apollo, Athene (the patron goddess), Dinonysus, Aphrodite, and Asclepius, in a beautiful and impressive grove called the Nicephorium – the pride of Pergamum as the temple of Artemis was of Ephesus. The shrine of Asclepius, the god of healing, acclaimed as Soter (Savior), attracted people from all over the world. But above all, Pergamum was the official center in the province of Asia for the imperial cult. In 29 B.C., it had been the first city in Asia to receive permission to build a temple dedicated to the worship of a living ruler – namely, to "the divine Augustus and the goddess Roma". In the course of time it added a second, to Trajan (A.D. 98-117), and finally a third, to Caracalla (AD. 211-217).

  d. THYATIRA: Besides a wide variety of other gods and goddesses, the tutelary deity of the city was Tyrimnos, identified with the Greek sun-god, Apollo, who appeared on the city’s coin grasping the hand of the Roman emperor.

  e. SARDIS: As in other cities of Asia, the imperial cult had been grafted into the local pagan religion. On the coin of Sardis from the reign of Tiberius, the empress Livia (mother of Tiberius) was depicted sitting like the goddess Demeter (Mother Earth) with a sheaf of grain in her hand, as the new dispenser of prosperity.

  f. PHILADELPHIA: Although this city had many temples and religious festivals, and the worship of Dionysus was its chief local cult, it was not without imperial cultic connections also. After Tiberius had helped rebuild it following the great earthquake of A.D. l7, it founded the cult of Germanicus, the son and heir of Tiberius. And during the reign of the Flavian emperors (Vespasian and his sons Titus and Domitian, A.D. 69-96), it printed the name of Flavia on its coins. And whatever difficulties these posed for Christians were either abetted or added to by unbelieving Jews – focused on chiefly in the Lord’s letter. The Jews had been exempt from emperor worship, but not so with Christians who, since the days of Nero (d. A.D. 68) had ceased to be considered a sect of the Jews, which indeed they were not.

  g. LAODICEA: This city, while primarily pagan and a center of the imperial cult, had also a large, wealthy, and influential Jewish population. Situated in a rich agricultural and pasturing area, it had a flourishing textile industry. And it was widely known for its medical school, established in connection with the temple of Men (ancient Carian god of healing, later identified with Asclepius), l3 miles to the northwest and for the manufacture of compound medicines – famous especially for eye salve and ointments for the ears. Sister cities, in the Lycus river valley, were Hierapolis, six miles north, across the river, noted for its springs of hot medicinal waters, and Colossae, ten miles to the east, famous for its cold, pure, refreshing waters. Its favorable location and immense wealth also attracted a considerable banking industry.

  Its chief physical weakness was the lack of a convenient water supply. That is said to have left it vulnerable to enemies, especially in the dry season when the Lycus River could dry up. Yet there seems to be no record of its having been imperiled because of this. It has been remarked, however, that "such vulnerable communities must learn the arts of appeasement and conciliation", with the implication that such may partially account for the lukewarm state of the church there – not that it overtly compromised truth – but that it provided "neither refreshment for the spiritually weary, nor healing for the spiritually sick" – hence, was "totally ineffective, and thus distasteful to its Lord".

 3. Vocabulary:

  a. Works of the Nicolaitans (2:6; cf. v. l4). Nicolaitans were obviously the followers of some person named Nicolaus, or a least presumed to be such. Of the early church fathers, Irenaeus believed that the Nicolaus of Acts 6:5, a proselyte from Antioch, whom the apostles in Jerusalem had appointed to assist in waiting tables, apostatized and that the Nicolaitans were his followers.. Clement of Alexandria, however, a contemporary of Irenaeus, defended Nicolaus of Antioch, saying he was misunderstood. Since then it has been disputed whether the testimony of Irenaeus was fact or inference. And the weight of recent scholarship, rightly or wrongly, supports the view that we know little about Nicolaus the proselyte, and nothing about his relationship to the Nicolaitans of our text; also that we know only the information about the Nicolaitans of Revelation from that book itself, and have no certain knowledge of any connection between them and later sects of similar name.

  But there seems to be a close link in Revelation between the teaching and works of the Nicolaitans, the teaching of Balaam, and the teaching and practice of the woman Jezebel (the latter two of which see below). It would seem that all of them taught compromise with paganism and promoted licentious indulgence.

  b. Paradise of God (2:7). The Greek word, paradeisos, borrowed from the Persians, meant a pleasure garden, grove or park – a place of beauty and delight. There was, first of all, an earthly paradise, in Eden, for man in his innocence but forfeited when he sinned – in which a river and the tree of life (Gen. 2:8-17; 3:22-24). Secondly, there is a paradise in Hades for the spirits of the righteous (Lk.23:23; cf. Acts 2:27, 31-12) – Hades being the place of departed spirits between death and the resurrection, where there seems to be a foretaste of their eternal future, whether they be righteous or unrighteous – tartarus being the Greek word (translated "hell" in 2 Pet. 2:4) for the abode of wicked spirits awaiting judgment – evidently in Hades, but separated from the place of the righteous by a "great gulf" (Lk. 16:19-31). Finally, and this is what is referred to in our text, there is a "Paradise of God" for the righteous in eternity – in the heavenly city, in which there is also the river of life and tree of life (Rev. 22:1-5).

  c. Overcometh (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 12. "He that overcometh" is, in the Greek text, to nikonti, the overcoming (one), victorious one, or conqueror. All through Revelation, and the New Testament, it is not defeat to die, but to be unfaithful to the Lord and thus be deprived of eternal life in the world to come. (See Matt. 10:28, 34-39; 16:24-27). "He that overcometh" is "he that keepeth my works unto the end" (Rev. 2:9). The command is to "hold fast that which thou hast, that no man take thy crown" (3:11) – that is, by causing you to become unfaithful to Christ.

  d. Synagogue of Satan (2:9; 3:9). This term is used of a congregation in Smyrna and another in Philadelphia claiming to be "Jews", which word, derived from "Judah", means praise, and taken literally would describe them as praiseworthy – which they were not, because of their disobedience to God and opposition to Christianity. (cf. Rom. 2:29).

  e. Ten Days (2:10). Likely the expression is intended to convey the idea of a comparatively short period of time rather than precisely ten days – and rather than ten years (a year for a day), as some have interpreted it. It would be short in comparison with 42 months or 1,000 years – periods later indicated in Revelation. The then present and immediately pending tribulation mentioned in the foregoing text was not itself to last for long; but the over-all message of Revelation was that persecution would continue, however intermittently, over a more extended period, and would greatly intensify before the then principal persecuting agencies of Satan would be overthrown – which they would be, however and ultimately Satan himself.

  f. Faithful unto death (2:10). This does not mean simply until death, but to the point of dying for one’s faith – faithful even if it costs one’s life on earth – which faithfulness will be rewarded with the crown of life eternal in the world to come.

  g. Satan’s throne (2:13). The city of Pergamum was said to be "Satan’s throne", and "where Satan dwelleth". That would seem to indicate its being the chief center of Satanic influence in the province of Asia. (See the above Historical Background Notes for a partial description.) It was the principal center of the emperor cult in that part of the world. As Rome had become the center of Satan’s activity in the West, Pergamum had become his "throne" in the East.

  h. Sharp two-edged sword (2:12); sword of my mouth (2:16). Reference here, and likewise in 1:16 and 19:15, is not to a literal sword, but to the word of Christ that proceeds out of his mouth. Eph. 6:17 speaks of "the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God". And Heb.4:12 states that "the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit . . . and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart". If the pen of man is mightier than the sword, as observers of history have declared, how much more the word of God in Christ. It is generally recognized that the gospel of Christ was what actually and ultimately undermined and overthrew paganism in the Roman empire.. And it has achieved many a victory on a much smaller scale.

  i. Teaching of Balaam (2:14). It was teaching like that of the ancient prophet Balaam, who advised the pagan king Balak how he could cause God to curse the Israelites, of who Balak was afraid but whom Balaam was unable to curse for him. Reference is made to such by Moses in Num. 31:15-16, speaking of the occasion described in Chapter 25, as a result of which the Lord sent a plague that caused the death of 24 thousand persons. The Jewish historian Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews, Book IV, Chapter VI, Sections 6-12, elaborates upon the details as they had come down to his day, which correspond with the summary description given by Christ in his letter to Pergamum. It was a compromise with paganism in worship and morals.

  j. Teaching of the Nicolaitans (2:15). Apparently this differed little in principle from the teaching of Balaam, though seemingly presented by a different heretical group. Some would connect the Nicolaitans with Balaamites because of similar etymology of the Greek name Nicolaus and the Semitic name Balaam.. That seems fanciful, however, since the two seem to be differentiated in vs. 14-15.

  k. Hidden manna (2:17). This is an apparent allusion to the tradition that the prophet Jeremiah, before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, had hidden the golden pot of manna which was "laid up before the Lord" in the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place (Ex. 16:33-34; Heb. 9:4), and that it would not be discovered till Israel had been restored (2 Macc. 5:4-8).

  l. White stone (2:17). The Greek word here translated "stone" is psephos, a pebble. Pebbles were used in courts of justice, black ones for condemning and white ones for acquitting. Of Paul’s career as a persecutor, when Christians were put to death, he said, "I gave my vote (psephos) against them" (Acts 26:10). But another use of a white stone, if it had a name on it, was to admit one to banquets or other special occasions. Here it would seem to be for admission to the feast of hidden manna at which the OVERCOMER would be the guest of his Lord. Christ while on earth, had represented himself as the true bread from heaven typified by the manna given centuries earlier in the wilderness (Jno.6:48-58).

  m. New Name (2:17; 3:12). In 2:17, addressed to the church in Pergamum, a new name written on a white stone was to be given to the OVERCOMER by Christ. It would be known only by the recipient and his Lord, and therefore would admit no one else to the feast of hidden manna.

  In 3:12, however, addressed to the church in Thyatira, the new name is Christ’s and is not secret. It would be written upon the OVERCOMER, who would be made a pillar in the temple of God.. A new name symbolizes a new status. And new names were not unknown to residents of Thyatira. That city had adopted the name Neocaesarea (New Caesar) out of gratitude to Tiberius Caesar for help in rebuilding after the great earthquake of A.D. 17 (though later, about A.D. 42-50, it fell into disuse). And more recently, during the reign of Vespasian (A.D. 169-79), it had called itself Flavia – Flavius being the family name of Vespasian, founder of the Flavian dynasty (including Titus and Domitian).

  n. The woman Jezebel (2:20). Most manuscripts have "the" woman, but a few have "thy" woman. Some have supposed her to be the wife of the one addressed as the "angel" of the church, since sou (thy) is singular. But the consensus of textual scholars favors ten (the) as having been the original reading.

  Here Jezebel is evidently a symbolic name for some prominent woman in the church at Thyatira, somewhat like the wicked wife of King Ahab who was guilty of "whoredom" and "witchcraft" (1 Kgs. 16:3l; 2 Kgs. 9:22), promoting the worship of Baal and seeking to drive worshippers of God out of Israel. The Jezebel of Thyatira promoted both idolatrous and licentious practices among Christians.

  o. Reins and hearts (2:23). "Reins" are the kidneys, anciently thought to be, along with the bowels, the seat of emotion; and the "heart" was thought to be the seat of both emotions and thought.

  p. Deep things of Satan (2:24). It is possible that Jezebel advocated first-hand experience of the mystery of evil, ostensibly to identify with the common life of Thyatira and avoid persecution, insisting that the grace of God would render such conduct innocuous. (Cf. Jude 4.)

  q. Authority over the nations (2:26). The OVERCOMER is promised a share in the power and rule exercised by his Lord. (See 12:5; 19:15; cf. 20:4-6; also 2 Tim. 2:11-12.)

  r. The morning star (2:28). Christ himself is the morning star (22:16), prophesied of centuries earlier by Balaam – "a star out of Jacob" (Num. 24:17).

  s. Be watchful (3:2-3). This warning may be an allusion to examples in the history of Sardis itself. Its name is plural in the Greek (Sardeis), for there were actually two towns – the original on a high, narrow ridge, and practically impregnable, and the other in the valley immediately below. The former was accessible only by a difficult defile up its south side, and had never been captured by assault. But twice it had been taken by stealth – by Cyrus in 546 B.C., and again by Antiochus the Great in 218 B.C. On both occasions the invaders had come as a thief in the night, and the defenders were caught off guard. The church in Sardis was in the same danger, and needed to take warning from the history of the city.

  t. Key of David (3:7). This signifies the authority of David and his successors as king. In Isa. 22:22,, when pledging to place Eliakim as steward over the royal palace (vs. 20-24), Jehovah had said: "And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; and he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open". Jesus was born to be king (Jno.18:37), and to occupy the throne of his father David (Lk.1l:32). And he was raised from the dead and received into heaven to sit upon David’s throne (Acts 2:25-36) – to reign over the people of God, for God, as David had done. As David had reigned over fleshly Israel, from earthly Jerusalem, Christ reigns over spiritual Israel (of which fleshly Israel was a type), from the heavenly Jerusalem (of which earthly Jerusalem was a type). His kingdom is not of this world (Jno. 18:36).

  u. Word of my patience (3:10). This is an idiomatic expression which the NIV translates as "my command to endure patiently", which seems to be the thought intended. The Greek word here for patience is hupomone, meaning endurance, perseverance or steadfastness.

  v. Go out thence no more (3:12). This is likely an allusion to the fact that Philadelphia was a "city full of earthquakes", with its inhabitants often fleeing for safety. It seems that in A.D. 17, when a great earthquake destroyed eleven cities, Philadelphia fared the worst. It is said that tremors continued for years, and that for a time most of its population lived outside the city in huts and feared to go on the streets lest they be killed by falling masonry. Those terrible days were never forgotten, and the people stood in readiness to flee. Christ was promising the OVERCOMER in the church a security spiritually that physically he had not known in Philadelphia. He would be made a pillar in the temple of God in the heavenly Jerusalem, never to go out.

  w. The Amen (3:14). It is possible that his alludes to the fact that Jesus had so often prefaced his remarks with "Verily, verily I say unto you". The Greek word translated "verily" is amen, which means "truly". Its Hebrew equivalent in the Old Testament is from a root meaning to take care, to support, to be firm, true, reliable. Jesus is all that the word represents, and everything he says can be trusted completely. This is true also of God the Father, who in Isa. 66:l6 is called "the God of truth (Amen)".

  x. The beginning of the creation of God (3:14). This means, not that Christ was the first that God created, but that he is an agent in all of God’s creation. "All things were created through him, and unto him" (Col. 1:16). "And without him was not anything made that hath been made" (Jno. 1:3). That was "in the beginning", before he became flesh (Jno. 1:1-2, 14). As DEITY he always was. Only as a man did he have a beginning – when his body was formed in the womb of the virgin Mary. Yet as a MAN he was no less DEITY. Notwithstanding his incarnation, but because of it, and after he had ascended back to heaven, it was testified that "in him dwelleth all the FULNESS of the Godhead BODILY" (Col. 2:9). And, being DEITY and CREATOR, all the resources of heaven and earth are his, so that he can fulfill all promises made.