Revelation 2

Revelation 2:1

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:

(a) The angel of the church was most likely the bishop or leader of the assembly. Each of the seven Revelation letters is addressed to an angel. An angel is literally a messenger, often divine, but not so here. The letters were written and sent by John via couriers to seven churches in seven cities. The angel, or bishop, was the person who received and fed the courier. He was the one who opened the letter and read it out loud in church.

The church in Ephesus had an impressive heritage. The first angel or leader was the Apostle Paul. He planted the church and led it for a while (Acts 20:31). After him, it was possibly led by Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:19, 1 Cor. 16:19), or Timothy (1 Tim. 1:3). According to the early church fathers, John himself may have led the church. Since John was in Patmos when he wrote the letter, the current angel or bishop or pastor was probably someone appointed by John. Further reading: “Why did Jesus send letters to angels?

(b) The seven stars in the Lord’s right hand are the angels or leaders of the seven churches. See entry for Rev. 1:20.

(c) The right hand of the Lord; see entry for Rev. 1:20.

(d) The seven golden lampstands are the seven churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (Rev. 1:20).

(e) The One who walks among the seven golden lampstands is Jesus among and with his churches.

Before Jesus came, people pictured God walking in the heavens (Job 22:14). God was distant and “up there somewhere”. But God’s desire has always been to be with us. God walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening (Gen. 3:8). He promised the Israelites, “I will walk among you and be your God” (Lev. 26:12). It rarely happened because every time he approached, we pushed him away. But Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s eternal yearning. He is the man from heaven who walks with us by his Spirit here on earth. Jesus is not sitting on a cloud or wandering above the galaxies. He is among the lampstands, nurturing and enjoying his church.

Revelation 2:2

I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false

(a) Your deeds; see entry for Rev. 2:19.

(b) Your toil. Some make much of Jesus knowing the Ephesians’ deeds and toil, as though an impressed Lord was recording their labors in his scorebook. But the original word for “know” simply means “I see”. It’s not necessarily a commendation. In these letters, Jesus says, “I know” in regard to both good deeds (Rev. 2:19) and bad deeds (Rev. 3:1, 15).

So what is Jesus saying about the deeds of the Ephesians? Many believe that he is commending them for their hard work, but toil means labors, extreme weariness, and beating. The Greek word kopos is derived from kóptō, which means a hard and debilitating blow. The Ephesians were taking a beating. They were working themselves to exhaustion. Why would the Lord commend them for that?

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). The Ephesians were weary and heavy-laden. They were a busy church in a busy city. They were running all sorts of programs, ministries, and activities. They met every day of the week and twice on Sunday, and they were worn out.

Further reading: “Are you working too hard for Jesus?

(c) Your perseverance. Jesus commended the Philadelphians for keeping the word of his perseverance (Rev. 3:10), but the Ephesians were known for their perseverance. The former were impressed with the Lord’s labor, while the latter were trying to impress him with their own.

There is nothing wrong with perseverance if we’re talking about the perseverance that comes from Jesus (Rev. 1:9). But the toilsome perseverance of the Ephesians was not this sort of perseverance. Their endurance was based on their own resources, and the result was weariness and exhaustion.

(d) Cannot tolerate evil men meaning false apostles and Nicolaitans (Rev. 2:6). The Apostle Paul warned the Ephesians to be on their guard against savage wolves (Acts 20:29), and the Apostle John exhorted them to test the spirits (1 John 4:1). The Ephesians heeded these warnings. Among the travelers who passed through Ephesus, many claimed to be apostles or teachers, but the Ephesians tested them all. Any charlatan who darkened their doors was soon sent packing.

(e) You put to the test those who call themselves apostles. The Ephesian believers might have asked questions like, “Do you believe we must live under law?” A Judaizer would have said yes. “Do you believe Jesus, God’s Son, has come in the flesh?” A Gnostic would have said no. “Is it okay for Christians to participate in temple sacrifices?” A Nicolaitan would have said sure.

(f) You have found them false meaning they taught lies. Instead of preaching the truth that sets men free, the false apostles preached a perverted gospel that keeps men bound (Gal. 1:7).

Revelation 2:3

and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.

(a) Have endured. The Ephesians endured attacks from wolves in sheep’s clothing. In contrast with some of the other churches in Asia, there is no record of the Ephesians suffering persecution from hostile outsiders. But they did have to deal with divisive people inside the church, and that was no small thing (see Acts 20:30–31).

Bad teachers sink churches. Even when they are tested and dismissed, those who are left to pick up the pieces can become weary and jaded. Not the Ephesians. Although they had gone through testing times, they had endured. They did not become cynical and anti-church, and for this Jesus commends them.

(b) For My name’s sake. The Ephesians did everything as unto the Lord and to make his name known. They weren’t empire-builders or guardians of doctrine. They were believers with pure motives who wanted to lift up the name of Jesus in their city.

(c) Not grown weary. In verse 2 Jesus says he knows the Ephesians’ wearisome toil (if we read his words literally), but in verse 3 he says they have not grown weary. Are the Ephesians weary or aren’t they? A better way to read it is, “You have not wearied of your toil.” Put it altogether and Jesus is saying, “You have been working so hard, yet you haven’t quit. You’re like the Energizer bunny who just keeps going.”

Revelation 2:4

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.

(a) I have this against you; see entry for Rev. 2:14.

(b) You have left your first love means the Ephesians were no longer abiding in the love of God. Like the prodigal son, they had walked away from their Father’s love.

Some say the Ephesians weren’t loving God like they used to, but the phrase here is protos agape. Agape is a special word that describes the unconditional and self-sacrificing love of your heavenly Father. It is not a human form of love. Only God is agape (1 John 4:8). Protos means foremost. In the love equation, God’s love comes first. He is the source of all love. So your first love is not your love for God but God’s love for you (1 John 4:10). When Jesus says the Ephesians have left their first love, he’s saying they are no longer receiving or abiding in God’s love for them.

In the same way a wife may leave her husband, the Ephesians had left Jesus. No doubt this announcement would have come as a shock to them, just as it would be a shock to us. “I haven’t left you, Lord. Look at how much I’m doing for you.” And Jesus replies, “You’ve left.”

Revelation 2:5

Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.

(a) You have fallen. In the same way the Galatians fell from grace back under law (see entry for Gal. 5:4), the Ephesians fell from the high place of their Father’s love to the pit of dead works. They had fallen from the high way of the spirit to the low habits of the flesh. They were trying instead of trusting, striving instead of resting, and they had worn themselves out.

Note that they had not fallen out of the kingdom, and nor were they in any danger of doing so. When we fall, we fall in the kingdom. Although some fear the Ephesians were in danger of losing their salvation, the Lord who holds them in his powerful right hand (Rev. 2:1) will never let them go.

(b) Remember. The remedy for wandering is to first to remember from where you have fallen. The prodigal returned home because he remembered his father’s home. How do we get off the hamster wheel of wearisome religion? By remembering the love of God that we experienced when we first met Jesus.

(c) Repent and do. True repentance is a change in thinking that leads to a change in behavior. Jesus tells the Ephesians what to think (remember your first love), and then he tells them what to do (what you did at first).

(d) Do the deeds you did at first. When you first entered the kingdom you may have done nothing at all except recline at the feet of Jesus. “Do that,” says the Lord. “Stop trying to give to me and receive from me. Follow Mary who sat rather than Martha who stressed.”

(e) Else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand. If the Ephesians don’t change, Jesus will change them. If they don’t return to their first love, their first love will come to them. This is good news, not bad news. It’s sweet relief for the weary who can’t find their way home.

Some interpret this passage as a vague but dire warning, but Jesus does not say he will punish or extinguish the Ephesians. He doesn’t even say he will remove them, with all the negative connotations that implies. A literal reading of his words indicates he will move them out of their place. Since they are in a bad place of loveless exhaustion, how is this not a good thing?

When the disciples got too busy with ministry, the Jesus of the Gospels would say, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). He’s saying the same thing to his disciples in Ephesus. “Come away with me.” The invitation was there, but the Ephesians had to respond. If they did nothing, perhaps because they were too tired to move or too invested to change, then the Lord-among-the-lampstands would come and lead them himself.

Further reading “What does it mean to remove a church’s lampstand?

Revelation 2:6

Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

(a) The Nicolaitans; see entry for Rev. 2:15.

(b) I hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans. What were Nicolaitans doing? Some frame the issue as one of lawbreaking. “The lawless Nicolaitans were violating the Apostolic Decree passed by the Jerusalem Council forbidding the consumption of idol foods” (Acts 15:29). But if the Nicolaitans were breaking the rules, why didn’t Jesus lay down the law? Jesus didn’t mention the Apostolic Decree because there was no Apostolic Decree. The Jerusalem Council met to discuss whether the Gentile Christians should be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. They did not reject the old law of circumcision only to replace it with new laws pertaining to idol feasts (Acts 15:20). We are under grace, not law.

Others frame the Nicolaitan issue as one of spiritual compromise, as though Jesus was upset that his church was spiritually impure. “Compromise arouses the jealousy of the Lord and causes him to remove his hand of protection.” The picture of Jesus as the jilted lover withdrawing in a huff is a horrendous distortion of God’s character. Jesus is not insecure, and purity is not the price you must pay to earn his love. God’s love has no price tags.

Jesus doesn’t hate the Nicolaitans, but he hates their deeds. Interestingly, this is the only time in scripture that Jesus says he hates something. What terrible thing did the Nicolaitans do to arouse the Lord’s hatred? They were leading Christians into idol worship and immorality.

Further reading: “Who are the Nicolaitans among us?

Revelation 2:7

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.

(a) “He who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit is saying” is one of Jesus’ favorite expressions. It’s the punch line to each of the seven Revelation letters as well as several of his parables. He’s saying, “Don’t just hear my words; receive the Spirit of revelation.” There is an easy way to confirm whether we are hearing the Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit will always seek to reveal Jesus (John 15:26), we know we are hearing if we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. If the message you are hearing directs you to Jesus, you can be sure that you are hearing from the Spirit of Christ.

(b) Him who overcomes is the one who believes in Jesus (1 John 5:5). We don’t overcome on account of our performance; we overcome because we are united to the One who “has overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Further reading: “Who is an overcomer?

(c) Jesus is the Tree of Life who sustains those who feed on him, namely believers (Rev. 22:14). When we think of the Tree of Life we naturally think of the tree in the Garden of Eden. But Ephesian Christians unfamiliar with the Old Testament would have pictured the sacred tree that once grew in the heart of the Artemision.

The Temple of Artemis in Ephesus was built on the site of an ancient tree shrine. Surrounding the temple, to a distance of about 200 yards, was a wall. Those seeking refuge from prosecution could find sanctuary inside this wall. In this way the Artemision became known as a refuge and a place of salvation. In reality, it was a slum for criminals and gangsters. It was a cesspit populated by lowlifes who, in the words of Heraclitus the philosopher, were only fit to be drowned. Yet it was among these dregs of society that Paul’s gospel took root and brought forth a harvest of righteousness. On the site of the sacred tree a new tree, the Tree of Life, flourished and grew.

(d) Life. Two kinds of life are described in the Bible; the psuche– or soul life we inherited from Adam and the zoe– or spirit life that comes from God (John 5:26). It’s the second kind of life that is described here. See entry for New Life.

(e) The Paradise of God is wherever Jesus is. Jesus is speaking a language any Ephesian would have understood, for paradise is a Persian word and Ephesus was once a Persian city. The Ephesians tried to build a paradise inside the walls of the Artemision. Their experiment had failed, but the dream remained. The Ephesians longed for a sanctuary and that’s what Jesus offers them. Against their parody of paradise, the real thing: a living tree and a true Paradise.

Jesus is talking about himself, for he is the Tree of Life in the Paradise of God. He is our refuge and the fortress of our salvation. He is our resting place and our longing fulfilled.

Revelation 2:8

And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:

(a) The angel; see entry for Rev. 2:1.

(b) In Smyrna, the angel of the church was possibly a young man who had been trained and ordained by John called Polycarp (69—155). If so, Polycarp would have been around 26 years old when he received this letter from Jesus. Polycarp would become one of several Christians in Smyrna who would be killed for their faith.

(c) The town of Smyrna was named after myrrh, the spice we associate with death. Myrrh was one of the spices used to prepare Christ’s body for burial (John 19:39), and myrrh mixed with wine was also the last thing Jesus tasted before he died on the cross (Mark 15:23, John 19:30).

The connection with the spice of death is significant because the letter to the Smyrneans is about death. It’s the shortest of the seven Revelation letters, yet death is mentioned three times in four verses. The bad news is that some of the saints are going to be put to death. The good news is that Jesus has been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale.

(d) The first and last. Three times in the Old Testament God describes himself as the first and the last (Is. 41:4, 44:6, 48:12). In the New Testament, Jesus does the same thing (Rev. 1:8, 2:8, 22:13). Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. It is a title to inspire hope among those who are approaching the end of their lives.

(e) Who was dead and has come to life. According to the religious myths acted out on the stages of Smyrna, the god Dionysus was killed and brought back to life by his father Zeus. This story was a fiction that hinted at a greater truth, namely, the death and resurrection of the Son of God. When Jesus introduces himself to the Smyrneans as the dead and resurrected One, he’s saying, “I’m the Reality that is being caricatured in your city.”

The saints in Smyrna were being persecuted, and some were about to be killed for their faith. This would have been a frightening prospect. The One who was dead and has come to life writes to encourage them with the fact of his resurrection. “Death may bury you, but I am death’s foe. I have conquered the grave and I will raise you up.”

Revelation 2:9

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan

(a) Tribulation means trouble or pressure in the sense of being oppressed or crushed. The church in Smyrna was afflicted with two kinds of trouble: extreme poverty and slander. Like John on Patmos, the Smyrneans were suffering for their faith in Christ.

(b) Your poverty suggests the Christians had been mistreated and impoverished as a result of religious persecution. Perhaps their property had been seized or they had been shut out of jobs or they had lost money in frivolous lawsuits. Maybe their homes had been pillaged (Heb. 10:34). Whatever the cause, the Smyrneans had been left destitute. They were the poorest Christians in Asia.

(c) But you are rich. The Smyrneans may have had no money, yet they were heirs of all things in Christ (Rev. 21:7). The Smyrneans, although they had nothing, had Christ, and he who has Christ has everything (Rom. 8:32). While they were poor in the eyes of the world, they were rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom.

(d) Blasphemy. To blaspheme means to slander or falsely accuse (Acts 13:45, 18:4–6). The saints in Smyrna were being slandered by the religious Jews. The Jews were saying things like, “Christians are opposed to Caesar. They’re godless heretics who stir up trouble all over the world” (Acts 17:6–7, 21:28). These lies were more serious than you might imagine, for they could draw the unwanted attention of the state resulting in the imprisonment and execution of Christians.

(d) The Jews that are not Jews refers to the religious Jews who persecuted Jesus and the apostles. In contrast, a true Jew is anyone who has been circumcised in the heart by God (Rom. 2:28–29). A believer, in other words, regardless of their race (Rom. 4:11). “They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (Rom. 9:6).

Jesus is not talking about Jewish people in general, but fanatics who torture and kill in the name of religion. Think of the Pharisees who bayed for his crucifixion. Or the Sanhedrin who flogged the apostles and stoned Stephen (Acts 5:40, 7:58). Or the Jews who conspired with the chief priests and elders to kill Paul (Acts 23:12–15). These extremists were religious terrorists, the al-Qaeda of their day.

(e) Synagogue of Satan. The Jews referred to themselves as the assembly of the Lord (Num. 16:3), but the Lord called them the assembly or synagogue of Satan. He was not referring to God-fearing Jews who revered the law, but religious fanatics who hated him and killed those who got in their way (John 8:44).

Religious Jews persecuted Jesus in Judea, and they persecuted his followers in Smyrna. One story will suffice: When Polycarp was brought to the stadium to be martyred, both Gentiles and Jews clamored for his death. Even though it meant breaking their Sabbath, the latter eagerly gathered the wood with which to burn him.

Revelation 2:10

Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

(a) Do not fear. Jesus warned his disciples that they would be handed over to the courts and hauled before officials for the sake of his Name (Matt. 10:17–18), and it’s the same warning here. The saints in Smyrna were already suffering, but their troubles were about to get worse. Some of them were heading to prison and execution. “Do not fear” is not a command to be obeyed, but an invitation to walk by faith. The One who was dead but now lives is encouraging those who are about to be martyred.

(b) The devil is about to cast some of you in prison. Not the devil personally, but those doing his diabolical work, namely Roman officials prompted by Jews from the synagogue of Satan. But let us not despiritualize the Lord’s words. The devil, not the Jews, was ultimately responsible for this crime. Those who do the devil’s work are but lost souls in need of salvation, just like the rest of us.

When we go through trials and tribulations, the accuser of our souls may whisper, “This is God’s judgment for your mistakes and failures.” But Jesus would say, “Don’t blame God for the devil’s work.” We are supposed to resist the devil (Jas. 4:7), but we won’t if we think God is behind our suffering.

(c) You will be tested. The devil’s intent was to test the saints’ allegiance to Christ and force them to renounce the Lord. This test involved pressure from the state authorities, undeserved prison sentences, and in some cases torture and the threat of execution.

(d) You will have tribulation for ten days, meaning the time of testing will be short. Some have speculated that the ten days refers to ten periods of persecution or ten bad emperors, but the simplest interpretation is the most plausible: Jesus is giving the saints some perspective to help them endure what is coming. Trials are temporary; eternity is forever. There will be trouble, but it will last only for a brief time.

(e) Be faithful. Telling a Smyrnean to be faithful was like telling a fish to be wet. Among the Smyrneans, it was a matter of civic pride that their city had been among the first cities in the region to back an emerging power called Rome. While their neighbors were still testing the waters, Smyrna threw its lot in with Rome and its loyalty to the republic was highly regarded. Cicero the Roman statesman described Smyrna as “a city of our most faithful and most ancient allies.”

(f) Be faithful until death. Some of the Smyrneans are going to be executed. In Roman times criminals weren’t imprisoned except as a preliminary stage to trial (e.g., Acts 12:1–4). Jesus is saying, “After a short time in prison, some of you will be put to death.” Jesus forewarns them to prepare them. He wants them to know that he has the last word. “After death, life!”

The exhortation to be faithful found at the end of the verse is the counterpoint to “do not fear” at the start of the verse. Jesus offers us a choice: You can be fearful or faithful, and faithful is better. Fearful is what you get when you lean on your own resources; faithful is what you are when you hold on to Jesus. Fix your eyes on the source of your suffering and you will fear. But see the Savior who died and lives forevermore, and you will endure.

(g) I will give you the crown of life. Jesus is promising resurrection to believers who are about to die, and he’s doing it in language that held special meaning for those who heard it. “The Crown of Smyrna” referred to Mount Pagos and the circlet of buildings that rose above the city. Crowns or garlands of flowers were also worn in the ritual worship of local idols. The Jesus who meets us where we are adopts a local reference to illustrate a gospel truth. “Let those fading crowns remind you of the lasting crown of life.”

Notice that the crown is given by Jesus. It is not earned through toil and labor, but is given to those who love the Lord (Jas. 1:12). Eternal life is a gift of grace (John 17:2, Rom. 6:23). It is not a reward given to those who pass the torture test.

Further reading: “Faithful until death?! What if I’m not?

Revelation 2:11

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.

(a) He who has an ear; see entry for Rev. 2:7.

(b) He who overcomes; see entry for Rev. 2:7.

(c) The second death is the one that comes after the first or physical death. (Rev. 20:6, 14, 21:8). It’s the ultimate outcome for those who reject the gift of life (John 5:40, 10:28).

According to rabbinical tradition, the second death refers to the ultimate extinction of the wicked. It’s God’s final punishment that follows the first or physical death. It is not difficult to imagine the religious Jews threatening the Christians with this fate. “The Romans will kill you and then God will end you.” To this terrifying threat Jesus replies, “It’s not going to happen.”

Jesus is the Living One (Rev. 1:18) and those who have been united with him in his death shall live with him forever more. The hope of eternal life appears in the seven letters as a tree of life (Rev. 2:7), a crown of life (Rev. 2:10), and a book of life (Rev. 3:5). This is Jesus riffing on his best-known gospel promise: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him (i.e., is an overcomer) shall not perish (in the second death) but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Further reading: “Alternatives to hell.”

Revelation 2:12

And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this:

(a) The angel; see entry for Rev. 2:1.

(b) Pergamum means height or elevation, a most suitable appellation for a city that towered above others in power and authority.

Pergamum represented the pinnacle of human advancement, for it was a city where men were worshipped as gods. Two hundred years before the birth of Christ, Attalus I assumed the titles of king and savior, while his son, Eumenes II was revered as savior and god. These self-made gods embodied the satanic desire to ascend to the highest place (Is. 14:12–14), and in Asia, there was no higher place than powerful Pergamum.

(c) The sharp, two-edged sword held by Jesus is a symbol of supreme authority.

Since Pergamum was the capital of Asia, the ruling proconsul or regional governor would have worn a sword indicating that he possessed ius gladii, or the right of the sword. He was effectively a mini-emperor with the power to punish those who refused to worship the emperor. In short, he could kill Christians.

In Roman times, the sword or gladius was the symbol of absolute authority, and it is a Roman sword that Jesus has here. He’s not holding an Oriental scimitar or a Greek makhaira, but a sharp double-sided sword such as a Roman governor would have.

The Lord-with-a-sword was a powerful revelation for the power-conscious Pergamenes. It was also a great comfort for the oppressed believers. Jesus was saying, “Fear not, for your Protector is mightier than your oppressor. He who is for you is greater than he who is against you.”

Revelation 2:13

I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.

(a) Satan’s throne is a reference to Rome and the imperial cult. Pergamum, like other Asian cities, was home to many temples that extorted money from the gullible and credulous. What made Pergamum unique, however, was the concentration of religious and political power—power that increasingly opposed the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In persecuting Christians, Rome became a tool of Satan, and Pergamum was where Satan’s agenda was most ruthlessly enforced. As the seat of Imperial rule in Asia and the home of the Imperial cult, it was the place where Satan appeared to be enthroned.

(b) Hold fast My name. The Pergamenes had a choice of hailing as Lord either the emperor or Jesus. The Christians chose the latter. Whether in the courts or the imperial temple, the saints refused to worship anyone but the true Lord of all.

(c) Antipas was a Christian martyred in Pergamum. The Bible provides no further information about him, but Jesus knows him by name. He calls him “my faithful witness,” which is the same name the Lord uses to describe himself (Rev. 1:5, 3:14). High praise indeed.

According to traditions observed by the Orthodox Church, Antipas was appointed by the Apostle John as the Bishop of Pergamum. By preaching the gospel, Antipas began to convince the Pergamenes to stop worshipping idols. The pagan priests rebuked Antipas for leading the people away from their ancestral gods. They demanded that he stop preaching about Jesus and join them in making sacrifices to their idols. But Antipas, held fast and “answered that he was not about to serve the demons that fled from him, a mere mortal. He said he worshiped the Lord Almighty, and he would continue to worship the Creator of all, with his only begotten Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

Enraged, the pagan priests seized Antipas and roasted him alive inside a bronze bull. At least, that’s the legend. Nobody really knows much about Antipas other than he was “killed among you.” He was not the only Christian martyred in Pergamum, but he was probably the first.

(d) Did not deny my faith. Even after Antipas was brutally murdered, the saints kept the faith. But note whose faith they kept. “You did not deny my faith,” said Jesus. They held to the faith of Jesus.

Some people like to talk about their faith and their works, but in these letters Jesus keeps the focus on himself. He repeatedly refers to my name (Rev. 2:3, 13, 3:8), my faith (Rev. 2:13), my works (Rev. 2:26), my word (Rev. 3:8), and my patience (Rev. 3:10). This is where Jesus wants our attention—not on our faith but his (see entry for Gal. 2:16). We love because he first loved us, and we believe because Christ first believed in us. He is our supplier of faith, hope, and love.

(e) Where Satan dwells. The saints in Pergamum were persecuted for their faith. From where did this persecution originate? Remove Satan from the story and you might blame idol worshippers or the clash of culture and politics. But Jesus wants us to know that his enemy has a name, and it’s not Caesar or Balaam or Nicolaitan. Although such people may be the agents of evil, Satan is the source. In Smyrna, Jesus said it would be the devil who imprisoned the saints (Rev. 2:10). Similarly, the persecution in Pergamum can be traced back to Satan.

Revelation 2:14

But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality.

(a) I have a few things against you. Jesus does not hold our sins against us (2 Cor. 5:19, Heb. 8:12), but nor does he stay silent when we put ourselves in harm’s way. Jesus is saying, “There is something we need to talk about.” It’s an act of love, not condemnation. “Because I love you we need to address this thing before you hurt yourself.”

(b) The teaching of Balaam said it was okay to participate in idol feasts and commit acts of sexual immorality.

In the Old Testament, the false prophet Balaam tricked the Israelites into cursing themselves by tempting them to sin (Num. 25:1–3). In Pergamum, the Balaam followers, or Balaamites, were teaching a similar message. They certainly did not refer to themselves as Balaamites, for that would have given the game away. In first-century Asia, they called themselves Nicolaitans.

Revelation 2:15

So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.

(a) The Nicolaitans were false teachers who taught grace as a license to sin. They were not confused Christians but libertines who infiltrated the church and introduced destructive heresies. They taught the same thing as Balaam: “It’s okay to participate in idol feasts and commit acts of immorality.” They not only encouraged Christians to participate, but they flaunted their so-called freedom by joining in with abandon. The problem with the Nicolaitans was they put people in harm’s way and promoted unbelief in the goodness of God.

Why did Jesus hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans? He was not angry because they were breaking the rules or compromising his standards. He was angry because they were feeding God’s children to the devil’s machine.

Jesus and the Apostles encouraged people to put their faith in God, while the false apostles and the Nicolaitans discouraged them. They may not have said it in so many words, but their message was “God cannot be trusted. Secure your future by worshipping demons.” The fruit of their mixed-up message was appalling: Instead of idol worshippers coming to the church to find grace and freedom, the Christians were going to the temples and kowtowing to demons. Instead of spending themselves on behalf of the hungry and oppressed, the saints were effectively subsidizing Satan.

Further reading: “Who are the Nicolaitans among us?

Revelation 2:16

Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.

(a) Therefore, repent; see entry for Rev. 2:5.

(b) Or else. If the Nicolaitans (and those who had bought into their destructive message), do not repent, the Lord will come and fight against them.

Within this church there were two groups. First, there were those who held fast to the name of Jesus (verse 13); then there were some who bought into the false teachings of the Nicolaitans (verses 14 and 15). One letter for two groups: the faithful and the foolish, the steadfast and the strays. Where did the ungodly Nicolaitans fit in? They were not part of the church, but they were “among you” (Jude 1:4). Like wolves in the sheepfold, they had infiltrated the assembly. Jesus says I’m coming to you (the church) to make war against them (the Nicolaitans). If the foolish don’t turn around, Jesus will contend with the false teachers who are leading them astray.

Some take Christ’s words as judgment against the church, but any swordplay will be against those who are deceiving his sheep. It’s ludicrous to think that the One who would not condemn the woman caught in adultery would wage war against his own bride.

(c) The sword of my mouth is a classic Revelation depiction of the final judgment (Rev. 19:11–21), but Jesus is not talking about Judgment Day here. He’s saying those who had bought into the false grace message need to quickly repent, or there would be consequences.

Some say Jesus will kill the Nicolaitans and their followers with his sword. “Balaam was killed with a sword. What happened to Balaam will happen to them.” Except Jesus has no intention of killing those he died for. The kingdom of God is not advanced by running people through. Remember, the true enemy in Pergamum was Satan (Rev. 2:13). It was Satan’s message the Nicolaitans were preaching. But Satan is no match for the Lord-with-a-sword. Just as light defeats the darkness, God’s truth will defeat the enemy’s lies.

Balaam ignored the angel with the sword and was ultimately cut to pieces by the Israelites. If the Balaamites of Pergamum ignore the Lord-with-a-sword, they can expect to feel the sharp edge of his words. They will get the same message that Jesus gave to the stubborn Pharisees: “Woe to you.” He will speak to them the same way he speaks to Jezebel in his next letter (see Rev. 2:20–23).

Revelation 2:17

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.

(a) He who has an ear; see entry for Rev. 2:7.

(b) Him who overcomes; see entry for Rev. 2:7.

(c) Jesus is the hidden manna. The manna that fell in the wilderness was called bread from heaven (Ex. 16:4). It pointed to Jesus, who is the Living Bread from heaven. The hidden manna may be an allusion to the manna placed inside the Ark of the Covenant. The meaning is this: He who overcomes (i.e., believes that Jesus is the Son of God) receives the hidden manna (Jesus himself). Jesus is saying, “I know you have been offered idol food from below, but those who partake of me enjoy living food from above.”

(d) White stones. There may be no object in scripture that has been interpreted as widely as these mysterious white stones or tesserae. Do they signify acquittals, honors, food allowances, admission to feasts, status, rewards, protection, friendship, or other privileges? Did they fall from the sky as the rabbis believed or were they cultural artefacts? Take your pick.

(e) The new name speaks of your new identity in Christ and your destiny. In the Bible, the Lord gave names to several people, and each new name was prophetic. Abram the childless became Abraham the father of many nations, while Sarai the barren became Sarah the mother of many nations (Gen. 17:5, 15–16).

(f) A name which no one knows but he who receives it speaks of intimacy rather than secrecy. Your new name comes from your heavenly Father who made you and knows you better than you know yourself. Only your Father knows what he has written into your DNA. The adventure of your life is figuring out your new name and discovering the person God made you to be.

Revelation 2:18

And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this:

(a) The angel; see entry for Rev. 2:1.

(b) Thyatira was probably a Lydian name, the meaning of which has been lost to history. However, Roswell Hitchcock, in his classic dictionary of scriptural names, interprets Thyatira as perfume. It’s a sweet-smelling name for a church that was the fragrance of Christ to those who were lost.

(c) Jesus here reveals himself as the Son of God with eyes aflame. Apollo, the so-called sun god, was the principal deity of Thyatira. Yet this idol, like all the others, would be upstaged by the real thing. The son of Zeus was nothing compared to the true Son of God (see also the entry for Rev. 1:14).

The Lord’s burning eyes search hearts and minds (Rev. 2:23). They penetrate masks and charades. No motive or agenda is concealed from Jesus. Nothing is hidden from his sight (Heb. 4:13).

(d) The burnished bronze feet are the glorious feet under which all things have been placed (1 Cor. 15:27). These are the feet of him who tramples upon his enemies (Ps. 60:12).

At the start of this letter to Thyatira, Jesus is pulling rank and he’s doing so in a rather unusual way. At no other place in the Bible does Jesus introduce himself as the Son of God. (He certainly infers it on a couple of occasions. But normally Jesus prefers to call himself the Son of Man.) We’ve met Jesus with the lamps and Jesus with a sword, but this is Jesus as God. He’s rolled back the heavens to reveal his most exalted name. “I am God’s Son.” Why such a weighty and glorious introduction? Jesus is establishing his divine authority as a preface to the harsh words he is about to unleash on a certain person. The Lord with blazing eyes has come to expose a dangerous charlatan, and this is happy news for Thyatira, as we shall see.

Revelation 2:19

I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first.

(a) I know your deeds. Jesus begins five of his seven letters by saying, “I know your deeds.” He exhorts the Ephesians to do the deeds they did at first (Rev. 2:5); he rebukes the Sardians for having incomplete deeds (Rev. 3:2); and he promises to reward the Thyatirans according to their deeds (Rev. 2:23). Clearly our deeds or works matter to Jesus. But what sort of deeds is Jesus referring to?

The law preacher says, “Jesus is referring to our law-keeping performance. We must keep the commands to please the Lord.” A similar interpretation is offered by the works preacher. “Jesus is saying we need to work out our salvation, do the deeds that prove our repentance, and pursue the spiritual disciplines.” Both interpretations raise uncomfortable questions: How many deeds are needed to qualify? What if I neglect to keep all the commands? Worse, both interpretations do nothing but promote dead works and pride.

Repenting from dead works and having faith in God is one of the elementary teachings about Christ (Heb. 6:1), yet many haven’t grasped it. They’re trying to keep the law or make themselves holy, and they are exhausting themselves. Their dead works are killing them. They have forgotten that in the kingdom, all is grace, and “if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace” (Rom. 11:6).

What deeds matter to Jesus? The only work that counts is faith expressing itself through love (Gal. 5:6).

(b) Your love, faith and service. The word love appears four times in the seven letters and on three of those occasions, Jesus is referring to his love. To the Ephesians, Philadelphians, and Laodiceans, Jesus spoke of his love, but the Thyatirans were known for their love. “I know your love,” said Jesus. And since the word for love is the divine agape, it wasn’t really their love but God’s love shining through them. This was a church that knew the love of God and was actively sharing that love with others.

It’s important to establish the proper order. It is not our love, faith and service that impresses the Lord. Rather, we become commendable when we are impressed by his love, faith, and service. Jesus commended the Pergamenes for not denying his faith, and it’s a similar story here. “I smell agape love,” Jesus is saying. “You have received the love of my Father, you are giving it away, and that’s a wonderful thing.”

Every one of us has deeds of one sort or another. We should not be impressed that the Revelation churches had deeds, but we should ask, what sort of deeds were they? Were they dead works or faith works (see entry for Jas. 2:14)? Jesus acknowledged the deeds of five churches, but only the Thyatirans’ deeds bore the unmistakable marks of God’s love and grace.

(c) Your deeds of late are greater than at first. The Thyatirans were growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus and becoming increasingly fruitful.

Growing in the grace of God is not a sure thing. Many Christians start strong in grace before getting seduced into dead works. They hear about rules they need to keep (e.g., the Galatians), or they get distracted and wander from their first love (e.g., the Ephesians). Not the Thyatirans. They started well and continued in the faith. They made knowing Jesus their main occupation. They kept their eyes fixed on the Lord and refused to be distracted from the main thing.

Revelation 2:20

But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.

(a) I have this against you; see entry for Rev. 2:14.

(b) Jezebel was a false prophet who had infiltrated the Thyatiran church. Some say she was the pastor’s wife, but there is no evidence to support this. Others have suggested she is a metaphor for corrupt institutions or the apostate church. Most likely Jesus was speaking about a real person who was both a false prophet (like Balaam) and a false teacher (like the Nicolaitans).

However, her name was likely symbolic. The original Jezebel was an idol-worshipping pagan who corrupted her Israelite husband, King Ahab, along with much of the nation (see 2 Kings 9–10). Jezebel encouraged the worship of Baal (think child sacrifices, murder, and bondage), massacred the Lord’s prophets and intimidated the socks off Elijah. When her husband died, she effectively ruled the country as a tyrant for ten dark years. The name Jezebel became synonymous with seduction, idolatry, and death. So when Jesus-with-burning-eyes uses this name to describe the false prophetess in Thyatira, he is using the strongest possible language to say, “Beware this woman!”

(c) A prophetess. Jezebel called herself a prophetess but was no prophet of God. She was a fake, an imposter. To quote Archbishop Trench, her prophetic inspiration was “such as reached her from beneath, not such as descended on her from above.” She operated in the counterfeit like the fortune-telling slave of Philippi (Acts 16:16). Bad prophecies plus bad teaching equals a bad influence on the Thyatiran church.

(d) You tolerate the woman. The Old Testament story of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel reveals the damage that can be done when God’s people fail to confront a domineering personality. In Thyatira, the church tolerated a false prophet and some of the Christians were led astray.

(e) She teaches and leads my bond-servants astray. Jezebel of Thyatira seduced Christians into adultery, both spiritually and literally. Like Balaam, she led God’s people into idol worship and sexual immorality.

(f) So that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. The context here suggests Jezebel was promoting the sort of sexual immorality that was practiced at pagan temples and idol feasts.

Idol feasts were a problem for the saints in Pergamum, but they were an even bigger problem in Thyatira. This was because the town had an unusually large number of trade guilds. A Christian who refused to participate in the ceremonies of a guild was, in the words of William Barclay, “committing commercial suicide.” Unable to work, he would soon be faced with poverty and hardship. In Pergamum the Christian’s life was threatened by the imperial cult, but in Thyatira his livelihood was at stake.

Jezebel preached essentially the same message as the Nicolaitans but with more emphasis on sex. In Pergamum the Nicolaitans enticed the people to “eat things sacrificed to idols and commit sexual immorality” (Rev. 2:14), but with Jezebel the order was reversed. “She misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols,” said Jesus. This suggests that sexual immorality was a bigger concern in Thyatira.

“Flee from sexual immorality,” said the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 6:18), but Jezebel embraced it. Unlike Joseph who ran from temptation, she ran towards it. The promiscuous prophetess considered herself free from all restraint, and she promoted pagan immorality. Through her teaching and influence she wrecked marriages and destroyed families, yet the Thyatirans did nothing. They tolerated her. So Jesus showed up like a husband confronting a Lothario hitting on his wife. This was not Jesus meek and mild. This was the Son of God incandescent with righteous fury. “Stop messing with my church!”

Revelation 2:21

I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality.

(a) Time to repent. Under the Law of Moses, adulterers, fornicators and idol worshippers were put to death straightaway (Deu. 17:5). Had Jezebel lived in ancient Israel, her life would have come to a swift and violent end. But Jesus gave Jezebel grace. He gave her life when the law demanded death.

“I gave her time to repent,” says Jesus. This suggests that Jezebel had been warned at least once before. Someone had confronted her – John, perhaps? – but she didn’t listen.

(b) She does not want to repent. Jezebel loved her illicit lifestyle much as Balaam loved the wages of wickedness. She was no naïf caught up in the wrong crowd. She was in a bad place because she wanted to be.

As long as there is life, there is hope, but there was little hope for Jezebel. It’s not that Jesus was fed up with her, but by yielding to sin again and again, she lost her ability to choose. The lies she told herself robbed her conscience of the capacity for truth. By hardening herself to the grace of God, she put herself beyond repentance (see Heb. 6:4–6).

Further reading: “Can Christians fall away?

Revelation 2:22

Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds.

(a) Behold, I will. To a church that did nothing, Jesus promises to do something.

The Thyatirans remind us of Elijah who did nothing about the first Jezebel (1 Kings. 19:1–4). Perhaps they were ashamed of their inaction. Perhaps they were afraid that the Lord would rebuke them. If so, their fears were unfounded. In his letter to them there’s no hint of the Lord’s displeasure, only a wonderful promise. “You have done nothing about her. Behold, I will.”

(b) Throw her on a bed of sickness does not mean Jesus is going to kill her or make her sick. Jesus is the Author of life, not the angel of death. But Jezebel will reap what she has sown in accordance with the Lord’s ancient design.

The Maker of heaven and earth created a world where actions have consequences. “If you eat from the tree you shall surely die,” said God to Adam. Adam ate and Adam died, and it was his own fault. That’s what Jesus is talking about here. Jezebel has resisted the Lord so he will resist her. But his resistance will not come in the form of fire from heaven or anything like that. The consequences of Jezebel’s actions will be more prosaic and connected to her misdeeds.

(c) A bed of sickness. Jezebel sowed a sinful seed in the bedroom of her immorality and will in that place reap her awful harvest. Fool around with multiple partners at temple orgies frequented by diseased pilgrims and it won’t be long before you end up in a bed of sickness.

(d) Those who commit adultery with her. Some Thyatiran Christians had followed Jezebel into sin (Rev. 2:20). The servant of the devil was seducing the servants of the Lord.

(e) Into great tribulation. Sin is its own punishment. Some translations say Jezebel’s followers will suffer intensely. The picture that comes to mind is the painful suffering of sexually transmitted diseases. Those who participated in temple prostitution were risking much, especially in a world without antibiotics. Jezebel’s wicked influence would reap a terrible harvest.

It would be wrong to suggest Jesus is going to punish the wayward Christians. In Christ you are eternally unpunishable. But sin still has consequences. The Good Shepherd is not hard on his wayward sheep, but sin is.

(f) Unless they repent of her deeds. Jezebel has ignored the warnings and hardened her heart, but those who have fallen under her spell may still turn back to God.

Some say Jesus is condemning Christians, but he is actually dispensing grace three ways. First, notice how Jesus does not call these sinning Christians fools or backsliders, but “my servants” (Rev. 2:20). The Good Shepherd deals with their bad behavior by reminding them of their true identity. If you see yourself as a servant of the Lord, you will act different from someone who sees themselves as a servant of Apollo. Second, Jesus does not threaten the wayward saints with damnation or hell. Instead he warns them of the dangers they face (tribulation) before urging them to turn around (repent). Third, he does not accuse them or blame them for their sin. He says they need to repent of her deeds. Although we are all responsible for our actions, the blame for their misdeeds lies squarely on the shoulders of the deceiver. Like Balaam who set a trap for the children of Israel, Jezebel had enticed the saints. The harm originated with her. But all was not lost. Those who repented would be restored.

Revelation 2:23

And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.

(a) Kill her children indicates that Jezebel has no future and will leave no legacy.

Some use this verse to preach perverse lessons on church discipline, as though God could train us by killing us. Apparently the Lord needs to slaughter a few renegade Christians from time to time to keep the rest of us in line. But Jesus is not referring to Christians because it’s her children who die, rather than the children of God. Nor is Jesus referring to Jezebel’s biological children. In the old covenant there was a law that forbade putting children to death for the sins of their parents (Deu. 24:16). Since Jesus is neither a lawbreaker nor killer, Jezebel’s children, if she has any, are safe.

The reference to “her children” is allusion to the original Jezebel of the Old Testament. When the prophet Elijah told Jezebel’s husband that the Lord would “utterly sweep you away” (1 Kings 21:21), he meant Jezebel and Ahab would leave no lineage. This prophecy was fulfilled when Jezebel’s two sons and daughter were slain. Ahab had 70 other sons and they were killed as well (2 Kings 10:1–7). Death reigned in Jezebel’s family. When Jesus says he’s going to kill Jezebel’s offspring, he’s drawing a line to the Jezebel of old. He’s saying her evil influence will end with her.

(b) With pestilence. The original word is death, and most Bibles translate it either as “I will kill her children with death” or “I will strike her children dead.” The point is that Jesus is going to ensure Jezebel leaves no legacy. This is good news for the people of Thyatira. Jezebel has done some damage; Jesus will deal with it; and there will be no lingering effects. Jezebel is going down, but the church will recover.

(c) All the churches will know. Jesus intended his seven letters to enter the public domain, and they did. Two-thousand years later, the churches are still talking about them. Jezebel’s bad news message is ancient history, but the good news of God’s grace is bearing more fruit than ever before.

(d) I am He who searches the minds and hearts. Jesus is quoting a true prophet (see Jer. 17:10) to expose a false one. Deceivers like Jezebel may pull the wool over our eyes, but the fiery eyes of the Son of God penetrate all deception (Rev. 2:18).

Notice that Jesus does not say, “All the churches will know that I am the one who punishes sinners with sickness and slays unrepentant believers.” Yet this is the message that some take from this letter. The truth is sin kills, but Jesus saves. Sin enslaves, but Jesus sets us free. Sin makes life miserable, but Jesus empowers us to sin no more.

(e) I will give to each one of you according to your deeds. We are each judged by our response to Jesus.

In the hands of a works preacher this verse is a rod for driving the sheep. “You’d better work hard for the Lord or he’ll be displeased when he comes.” And the result is dead works and exhausted Christians. This is not what Jesus is talking about.

What is the deed that is repaid? The one deed that counts is following Jesus to the cross (see Matt. 16:27). It’s being baptized into his death so that we might live by his Spirit. It is trusting Jesus instead of ourselves (see John 6:28–29).

Revelation 2:24

But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you.

(a) The rest in Thyatira are the saints who didn’t listen to Jezebel.

As at Pergamum, there were two distinct groups in the church: those who had bought into bad teaching and those who hadn’t. Jesus has a different takeaway for each group. Those who followed Jezebel into immorality and idolatry need to repent. But what about the “the rest” who tolerated Jezebel? What does Jesus want them to do? He’s tells them in the next verse.

(b) The deep things of Satan may be a reference to esoteric mysteries or the Gnostic practice of exploring the depths of sin. Either way, the deep things of Satan can be contrasted with the deep things of God that are revealed to us by his Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10). The latter produces life and godliness; the former leads to sin and death.

(c) No other burden than Jesus himself. The image of Jesus burdening us seems at odds with his promise of a light and easy yoke (Matt. 11:30). But look carefully at what Jesus asks the Thyatirans to do in regards to Jezebel’s deception and you will find… nothing. Which is astonishing given the mess she’s made.

The letter to Thyatira is sometimes held up as a dissertation on church discipline. This is ironic given the total lack of instruction the Lord provides for fixing their problem. Jesus is not happy about the Jezebel situation, but everything that needs to be done, he himself will do. The Thyatiran church made a mistake in letting this woman teach, and Christ’s response is, “I got this.” What a stunning picture of Jesus our Deliverer. He does not condemn the saints or threaten them with punishment. He simply promises to fix their mistake.

Revelation 2:25

Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.

Hold fast or firmly to Jesus alone. In Christ we have every blessing, every promise, and everything we need for newness of life. We have the mind of Christ, the Spirit of Christ, the faith of Christ. In Christ, we have it all. “Hold onto that,” says Jesus. “Hold onto me.”

The Thyatirans have an undeserved reputation as one of the bad churches of Revelation. “They lacked morals and doctrinal purity,” say some. Yet Jesus says nothing about their lack. Instead, he reminds them of what they possess. “You already have everything they need. Hold on to it.”

Christians drift off course when they lose sight of who they are and what they have. Some, like the Galatians, drift into legalism. Others, like the Thyatirans, drift into licentiousness. The remedy in either case is to hold on to we have in Christ Jesus. Good preachers, like Jesus and the New Testament writers, are often reminding the saints of what they already have.

Revelation 2:26

He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations;

(a) He who overcomes; see entry for Rev. 2:7.

(b) Keeps my deeds. To keep his deeds is to trust and keep trusting in his work rather than your own.

Keeping his deeds is analogous to keeping his word and holding fast to his name (Rev. 2:13, 25, 3:11). It’s the Revelation equivalent of continuing in the grace of God (Acts 13:43) or continuing in the faith (Col. 1:23). Keeping his deeds is refusing to be suckered into sin or seduced into self-trust. It is being grounded and settled in Christ and remaining unmoved from the hope of the gospel.

Jesus began this letter by commending the saints for their deeds before briefly discussing Jezebel’s deeds. Her deeds (meaning dead works and sin), will reap destructive consequences. In contrast, their deeds (meaning the faith works of the saints), will be rewarded. Here at the close of his letter, Jesus encourages the saints to keep his deeds to the end. Further reading: “What does it mean to keep his deeds?

(c) Authority over nations. Remain in the secure place of God’s grace and you will reign in life (Rom. 5:17).

Authority over nations is not a distant reward offered to hard-working, high-performing Christians; it is the believer’s present privilege in Christ Jesus. “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18). Jesus is the Lord of all who sits at the right hand of God. And where are we? We are not groveling at his feet like servants; we are seated with him in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). You were a slave but Jesus has made you a king (Rev. 1:6). You have a God-given mandate to rule and reign here and now.

Revelation 2:27

And he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father;

(a) Rule them with a rod of iron. The word of the Lord was a sword in Pergamum and a rod in Thyatira—a rod to smash the stranglehold of the enemy and to shepherd the sheep. As is often the case with these images, Jesus is speaking of himself. He is the truth that divides (like a sword) and cannot be opposed (like a rod).

(b) The vessels of the potter are broken. Those who oppose the Lord don’t stand a chance. We are living in a time of transition when the kingdom of the Lord and the kingdoms of this world coexist side by side. But ultimately only one kingdom shall endure forever (Dan. 2:44, Rev. 11:15).

(c) Authority from my Father. The pagan temples held no real power save that which they extorted from the fearful and superstitious Thyatirans. In contrast, the Son of God has real power given to him by the Maker of heaven and earth. The principalities and powers that terrorized Thyatira could not defeat the kingdom of God. The contest between light and darkness is no contest at all.

(d) My Father; see entry for John 4:21.

Revelation 2:28

and I will give him the morning star.

The promised morning star is Jesus himself (Rev. 22:16). Jesus is speaking of his physical return to earth. We already have his Spirit within us, but when he returns we will have him in person. When that day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts, we will finally have our reward in full. No more sorrow, no more death. When Christ returns it will be the beginning of life such as we can only dream of.

Revelation 2:29

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

He who has an ear; see entry for Rev. 2:7.

Note: Much of the material on this page comes from Paul Ellis’s book Letters from Jesus: Finding Good News in Christ’s Letters to the Churches. This book explores these letters in greater depth as well as providing sources, notes, and illustrations.

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