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,
d. Author’s commendation and/or criticism of each (2:1-7, 8-11,
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
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
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".
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
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
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
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
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.