The letters to the seven churches, 2:1-3:22
In the letter to the church at Ephesus, Jesus announces that he knows of their toil for the gospel, their endurance, and their opposition to false teachers, Matt.24:11. Yet, their love has grown cold, Matt.24:12, and for this they must repent, or no longer be regarded a fellowship of believers. Let the church hear what the Spirit says: those who endure to the end inherit paradise.
i] Context: See 1:1-8. The prologue has set the ground for Jesus' revelation (unveiling) to John. Believers in the community of the church experience the now / not yet reality of the kingdom of God. In this age, the kingdom / God's reign, although realized, is experienced as if only inaugurated, not fully realized, so consequently we find ourselves within a cosmic battle between good and evil, Christ and his church battles against the powers of darkness and their minions - secular powers and authorities, philosophies, religions, ...., opposing and infiltrating the church, assailed from without and from within. As a consequence, we must repent, we must turn from our worldly attachments and put our trust in Christ, and then press forward in faith, enduring, persevering, conquering, 1:9. Yet, whatever our experience may be, Christ is in control, not only of his churches, 1:12-13, 16a, but also over the powers of darkness, 1:18. Christ reigns because he has already won the victory, the kingdom of God is now, judgment enacted, glory realized.
In the letters to the seven churches, 2:1-3:22, our view is earthward as we are introduced to seven Christian churches, churches representative of the first century and of successive ages. They are all struggling to some degree, although only rarely have members faced imprisonment or death. They have some good points worth noting, but also have some problems within the fellowship, often some form of accommodation with secular society. So, each church fellowship is encouraged to both repent (turn from their accommodation with the world), and to persevere - all who persevere, who conquer, are blessed (the sense is persevere in faith).
Some of the older commentators, for example Charles, regard the letters as actual letters sent to the seven churches and later used to introduce the Revelation. Dispensational commentators interpret the letters as if prophesying a plan about the seven future historic periods of the Christian church, see Thomas. More critical commentators view them as nothing more than a rhetorical device, but as Sweet notes, they evidence pastoral insight; John may personally know the individual churches. This personal link with the churches seems likely, but at the same time the message of Christ moves beyond the individual churches to the Christian church at large. The letters serve as "a royal or imperial edict", Aune, an edict to all believers throughout the ages, so also Osborne, ....
Both Beale and Beasley-Murray stress the similarity of style between the seven letters and the messages of the prophets to Israel, eg., Jer.29:1-23. The instruction to "listen" serves as a "prophetic warning to open one's mind and heart to kingdom truths", Osborne. As Jesus would often say, "he who has ears to hear, let him hear" = believe.
Each letter has a similar structure, although not all elements are found in each letter, eg., Smyrna and Philadelphia have little in the way of weaknesses and Sardis and Laodicea has little in the way of strengths:
to whom - the church addressed;
from whom - "These are the words of him ...."
Analysis of the church:
strengths - "I know your deeds ....."
weaknesses - "Yet I hold this against you ..."
Promise -"listen to what the the Spirit says to the churches ....."
he who endures is blessed - "to everyone who conquers .......
The strengths and weakness of the seven churches serves to provide an overview of the Christian church, warts and all, for John's time, as well as ours. When the commentators are compared, we end up with numerous outlines of their good points and their bad points. This derives from John's purposely vague analysis of each church. It's as if John wants us to find one of the seven that seems to fit our own church situation and then for us to fill in the details. So, take for example Laodicea, the lukewarm church, 3:14-22. It claims to be "rich", but in Christ's view it is "poor", but in what sense is it "rich", and in what sense is it "poor"? The church in Laodicea needs to buy "white clothes" to cover its "nakedness", and so again we must fill in the details, which of course we all do from our own perspective (for myself its all about grace, but .......!). Christ tells the Laodicean believers to "be earnest / zealous", but about what? Is it earnest about witnessing, faithfulness, faith, obedience, ......? And how actually does a church open its door and invite Christ in, v20? So, John provides us with a general description of the seven churches rather than the exact details of their strengths and weaknesses. When it comes to their response, repentance is the prime directive, yet what type of repentance does John have in mind? Is it "repentance" in the sense of "turn back to / turn around to God", in a spiritual sense, "turn back in faith to Christ", or is an ethical sense in mind, a turning from attachments with the world that are compromising the Christian community? Is it both?). Having repented, they are to press forward in faith for it is the one who endures, perseveres, conquers (perseveres in faith???), who is blessed.
A summary of the strengths and weakness, along with Phillips description of the churches, is as follows:
Ephesus - a loveless church:
endure, cannot bear evil, not weary and hate false teaching;
left their first love.
Smyrna - a persecuted church:
bear with poverty;
Pergamum - an over-tolerant church:
hold fast to Jesus, do not deny the faith;
syncretic, inclined to false teaching.
Thyatira - a compromising church:
possess love, faith, service and endurance;
tolerate immorality and eating food offered to idols.
Sardis - a sleeping church:
a reputation of being alive but are dead.
Philadelphia - a church with opportunities:
keep true to the Word and do not deny Christ;
Laodicea - a complacent church:
lukewarm in their faith.
ii] Background: See 1:1-8. Ephesus, situated where the Cayster river meets the Aegean sea, was by the 1st. century AD a powerful trading port and viewed as the greatest city in Asia Minor. It housed one of the wonders of the ancient world, the temple of Artemis, a temple built completely of marble, four time the size of the Parthenon in Athens - it was the largest building in the ancient world. The temple was served by thousands of priests and priestesses, many functioning as sacred prostitutes. It housed what was claimed to be a meteorite, a rock believed to be the goddess Artemis. Other temples were scattered throughout the city to service numerous pagan cults. It was in this environment that a small church, founded by Paul in 52AD, struggled to exist, cf., Eph.4:14 and 1-2 Timothy.
iii] Structure: The letter to the church in Ephesus:
to whom, v1a;
"to the angel of the church in Ephesus."
from whom, v1b.
"He who holds the seven stars ... and walks among the seven golden lampstands."
Analysis of the church:
the who endures is blessed, v7
In the seven letters to the churches, 2:1-3:2, we see the Christian fellowship warts and all. As it was for the church in the first century, so it is for us. We stand at the crossroads of history, of God's now / not yet reign, compromised in the face of a hostile environment. We have survived to this moment in time between the cross and Christ's return, and if we are to share in God's promised reward we must repent, we must turn around to Christ and renew our faith in him, and then we must press forward in faith, we must endure, persevere, conquer.
The Ephesian church is like countless others, standing against evil, enduring hardships, but again, like so many others, no longer with a fire in its belly. So, the time has come for repentance. Jesus reminds the Ephesian believers that it is only those who endure who will be given" the right to eat from the tree of life."
Text - 2:1
Ephesus - a loveless church, v1-7: i] Introduction, v1: The Lord instructs John to write to the Ephesian believers. This is presumably what is meant by "the angel of the church"; see 1:20 - "Christ speaks to the spirit of the church: namely, to the church in its spiritual, as well as earthly, expression", Smalley. The description of Jesus holding the "seven stars" and walking among the "seven golden lampstands", probably expresses the idea that Jesus as lord over the church, "upheld by him and subject to his power", Beasley-Murray, and involved in the church (present when it meets), "companion of the churches", Sweet.
tw/ aggelw/ (oV) dat. "to the angel" - [write] to the angel. Dative of indirect object. See "Interpretation", A definition of terms, 1:9-20, for the different meanings attributed to "the angel of the church."
thV ... ekklhsiaV (a) gen. "of the church" - If we take "the angel" as in some way representing the church, the genitive would be classified as adjectival, attributive / idiomatic, limiting "angel"; "the angel which represents the church in Ephesus."
en + dat. "in [Ephesus]" - Local, expressing space.
tade legei "these are the words of" - thus says. Used in the LXX of the announcement of a prophet, eg., Amos 1:6; "Hear the words of ......."; "listen to what I say", CEV.
oJ kratwn (kratew) pres. part. "him who holds" - the one holding [the seven stars in the right hand of him and the one walking in midst of the seven golden lampstands says thus]. As with "the one walking", the participle serves as a substantive, nominative subject of the verb legei, "say". "Who holds the seven stars firmly in his right hand", Cassirer.
en + dat. "among" - in [midst]. Local, expressing space.
twn ... luxniwn (oV) gen. "the [seven golden] lampstands" - of the [seven golden] lampstands. The genitive is adjectival, partitive. The lampstands represent the Christian church as it exists, warts and all. "Striding through the seven radiant lights."
ii] Analysis of the church, v2-4: a) strengths, v2-3. The church is affirmed for its actions, effort and fortitude, and its intolerance of false teachers, v2; it is steadfast, it endures and has not flagged, v3.
ta erga (on) acc. "[I know your] deeds" - [i know] the works [of you]. Accusative direct object of the verb "to know". The genitive pronoun sou, "you", is best treated as verbal, subjective, so also for "endurance of you"; "I know the life you have lived", Barclay. This statement is used in five of the letters. Revelation is about strengthening the faith of the faint-hearted rather than encouraging good works. So, "works" should always be viewed in the context of "faith, such that "works" are the fruit of "faith"; "faith ... demonstrated by actions", Smalley.
kai ... kai ... kai ... kai .. "and" - and [the labor] and [the endurance of you] and. This coordinate use of the conjunction is a stylistic feature of Revelation.
kopon (oV) "hard work" - labor. "I know how hard you have toiled as believers (for your "Christian profession", TH)."
oJti "that" - Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what the Lord knows.
bastasai (bastazw) aor. inf. "[you cannot] tolerate" - [you are not able] to bear [evil = evil men]. Complementary infinitive, completing the negated verb "to be able."
touV legontaV (legw) pres. part. "those who claim" - [you have tested] the ones calling [themselves apostles]. "You have tried to find out the genuineness of those people who say that they are Christ's messengers, and you have found that they are lying", TH.
kai "but" - and [are not]. Aune thinks the conjunction here is adversative, as NIV, but Mathewson disagrees.
yeudeiV adj. "false" - [found them] liars. Accusative complement of the accusative direct object "them" of the verb "to find" standing in a double accusative construction.
dia + acc. "for [my name]" - [you have endurance / perseverance and bear up = persevere] because of [the name of me, and have not flagged / become weary]. Causal, "because". The "name" = the person, so "because of me", often also indicating the authority of the person, so "because of who I am"; "you have struggled on through thick and thin because of your relationship with me / because you love me / believe in me / believe that I am the Christ the Son of the living God." The intended aspect of the surrounding verbs is unclear, given that we have present and aorist verbs together, so ignored by the ESV, "I know you are enduring and bearing up." The final verb kekopiakeV "you have not flagged", again expressing the steadfastness / fortitude of the Ephesian congregation, is perfect, at least expressing a present condition. Swete makes much of the aorist ebastasaV as though the hardships prompting the "bearing up" were at an end, but this is a stretch.
b) weaknesses, v4. Morris nicely skirts the glaring problem we have with this verse when he states that "they have completely forsaken their first fine flush of enthusiastic love." The problem we face is identifying the object of the love. Is it "you no longer love me (Jesus)", Weymouth, or "you have given up loving one another", Moffatt, so Beasley-Murray. Commentators increasingly think there is no intention, in statements like this, to differentiate between the act of Christian love toward Christ / God and ones fellow believers, for the one demands the other, so Mounce, Osborne, ...
alla "yet" - but. Strong adversative.
kata + gen. "against [you]" - [i have this] against [you]. Here expressing opposition; "against".
oJti "-" - that [you abandoned]. Introducing an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what the Lord "has" against the Ephesian congregation. A statement like this may be constructed, as in English, ti exw, "I have something against someone", in which case oJti would introduce an epexegetic clause specifying the "something". So, we may have an ellipsis, ti, "something", being assumed.
sou gen. pro. "you [had at first]" - [the first love] of you. The genitive is usually treated as verbal, subjective, as NIV.
iii] Instruction - repent, v5-6. The Ephesians are asked to recognize that when it comes to love, they are turncoats. To this end they must repent / turn around to the Lord, otherwise ...... As to when Jesus will "come", and what is involved in having their lampstand shifted, is by no means clear. "I will come" may refer to either the return of Christ, the parousia, so Aune, Sweet, Osborne, ...., or a local chastisement / judgment, so Caird, Beasley-Murray, Mounce, .... The approach taken in these notes is that both events are in John's mind. John has a prophetic perspective such that he speaks to an immediate situation in the context of the parousia, blending both events together. See "Interpretation" in the Introductory Notes. As for "I will ...... remove your lampstand": Taking the lampstand to represent the church in its present state on earth, its removal may refer to a local chastisement - the loss of their capacity to witness to the city of Ephesus, a loss of gospel opportunities; like Israel, no longer a light to the world. If judgment is in mind, then Jesus is warning the church that they may be viewed as apostate, no longer a fellowship of believers. According to Ignatius the church did repent and went on to flourish. Of course, "these things are examples for us", 1Cor.10:6.
oun "-" - therefore. Inferential; drawing a logical conclusion.
mnhmoneue (mnhmoneuw) pres. "consider" - remember. The present tense, being durative / imperfective, may give the sense "keep on remembering" = "never forget", TH.
poqen "how far" - from where [you have fallen]. Interrogative spacial conjunction; "from where?" "Never forget, when it come to Christian love, you are turncoats / backsliders."
metanohson (metanoew) aor. imp. "repent" - [and] repent, [and do the first works]. The aorist imperative indicates a decisive act. "Repent" in the sense of "turn about." If ethical, then "live again the life you lived when you first became Christians", Barclay. If spiritual, then "turn back to God" = "refocus your lives on Jesus / renew your trust in Jesus."
ei de mh "if [you do] not repent]" - but if not. Assuming the presence of a subjunctive "repent" we may certainly have a conditional clause, as NIV, but usually treated as an exceptive clause expressing a contrast by designating an exception; "otherwise I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place."
soi dat. pro. "[I will come] to you" - [i will come] to you [and remove the lampstand of you. Dative of destination / termination. "I will come to you and take away your radiant light, no longer a light to the world / no longer a people of God."
Those wicked people, tested and tried, who claim to be apostles, are now named. There is no extant references to the Nicolaitans. The church Fathers, writing years later, claimed it was a gnostic sect, but it is more than likely that they had no idea of who they were. The chances are it is a created word covering all false sects within the Christian church. The word means "conquerors of the people" and it is likely that John uses it in an inclusive sense covering all "those who claim to be apostles" and so lead God's people into error.
alla "but" - Strong adversative; "however".
touto pro. "this in your favor" - [you have] this. Forward referencing demonstrative pronoun, accusative direct object of the verb "to have." "But there is something I will praise you for."
oJti "-" - that [you hate]. Introducing an epexegetic clause specifying "this". "Despise" rather than "hate".
twn Nikolaitwn (hV ou) gen. "[the practices] of the Nicolaitans" - [the works] of the nicolaitans [which I also hate]. The genitive is usually treated as verbal, subjective, but adjectival, attributive / idiomatic is also possible, "the works which are performed by the Nicolaitans."
iv] The promise, v7. God's word to the church is that those who persevere in the conquest of the powers of darkness in and through Christ, find, both in the present and in the future, the fullness of life that was lost to humanity in the garden of Eden.
oJ exwn (ecw) pres. part. "whoever has [ears]" - the one having [ears let him hear]. The participle serves as a substantive. The "let him hear" is similar to the OT "Hear the word of the Lord", cf., Jer.2:4.
ti pro. "what" - what [the spirit says]. Interrogative pronoun serving as a relative pronoun.
taiV ekklhsiaiV (a) dat. "to the churches" - Dative of indirect object. In Revelation, there is no distinction between the work of the exalted Christ and that of the Spirit - the Spirit speaks / Christ speaks. Note legei, "speaks", is a present tense, so a durative "is saying"; he speaks continually.
tw/ nikwnti (nikaw) dat. pres. part. "to the one who is victorious" - to the one conquering. This independent dative may be treated as adverbial, reference / respect, "with respect to the one who is victorious", resumed by the pronoun autw/, "to him", dative of indirect object after the verb "to give"; "to the one who is victorious, I will give to eat ........... to him" The present tense, being durative, suggests ongoing conquering. Revelation is focused on the conquest of the powers of darkness through perseverance / endurance / fortitude.
fagein (esqiw) aor. inf. "to eat" - The verb "to give", followed by an infinitive, takes the sense "to grant", such that the infinitive serves to introduce a dependent statement of indirect speech expressing what Jesus grants, namely, the right to eat from the fruit of life; "I will allow the one who conquers to eat of [the fruit] of the tree of life", Aune. An epexegetic classification would also be appropriate, specifying what is granted, "namely, to eat from the tree of life." A promise that the believer will share in the heavenly messianic banquet.
ek + gen. "from" - Expressing source / origin. The phrase is possibly elliptical, "eat of the fruit of the tree of life", in which case the preposition stands in the place of a partitive genitive.
thV zwhV (h) gen. "[the tree] of life" - The genitive is adjectival, attributive, "the life-giving tree", idiomatic / producer, "the tree which gives life", so Wallace.
en + dat. "in" - Local, space.
tou qeou (oV) gen. "[the paradise] of God" - The genitive is adjectival, possessive. Cf., Gen.2.9, imaging the restoration of Eden, but now a heavenly reality. In Christ, this reality is now, we are even now seated with Christ in the heavenlies, alive in him. The word "paradise" is used for the heavenly representation of the garden of Eden. The word is actually used in the LXX for the "garden" in Gen.2:8 and 15.