2:1 Ephesus. Ephesus was an important seaport on the Aegean Sea, where the Apostle Paul had spent a long time (Acts 20:31). It was the location of the great temple of Artemis (or Diana—see Acts 19:27), considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and a very immoral city. As the first church addressed in the seven epistles, it is often considered typical of the apostolic-era church, with the later epistles representing successive later periods of church history. The supposed correlations, however, are arbitrary at best. Since each type of church is represented somewhere in the world in every period of church history, it is more realistic to understand the seven churches in general as depicting all churches in general, thereby surveying all the merits and defects of churches everywhere.
2:2 works. Compare I Thessalonians 1:3—“work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope.” However, their love was beginning to wane.
2:2 are not. These false apostles were also of great concern to Paul (II Corinthians 11:13-15). John had no doubt warned the Ephesians to “try the spirits whether they are of God,” for they might well be “false prophets” (I John 4:1). They had done just that, and Christ commended them for it.
2:5 remove thy candlestick. The removal of a candlestick must signify the removal of a church, since the candlesticks stand for the churches (Revelation 1:20). The effect would be the same whether the church simply closes its doors or becomes firmly apostate in its teachings. In spite of all the sinfulness appearing in the seven churches as described, it is significant that the Lord is still speaking to them as his churches. There is still a remnant of Biblical truth and practice in each church.
2:6 Nicolaitans. The “Nicolaitans” are mentioned only here and in Revelation 2:15. There was no known sect or movement with this name during the apostolic period, so this is probably a descriptive term rather than a proper noun. Since these messages were meant ultimately for all churches, it is certain that the term has meaning for all churches. In context, it almost certainly is referring to the false apostles of Revelation 2:2. Practically all churches have been plagued at one time or another by false teachers, false prophets, false apostles and sometimes even by false christs. The term “Nicolaitans” means literally “overcomers of the people.” That, of course, is precisely what false apostles seek to do, desiring to turn the love and allegiance of the people in the church to themselves rather than to Christ. Christ hates both the deeds and doctrines (Revelation 2:15) of Nicolaitanism, and we should do the same.
2:7 unto the churches. Note that each of the seven letters was intended to be heard, not by just the one church to which it was addressed, but by all “the churches.”
2:7 overcometh. Each epistle has a special promise to those who “overcome.” We are urged to “overcome the wicked one” (I John 2:13) “by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death” (Revelation 12:11).
2:7 tree of life. John confirms that “the tree of life” and “paradise” were historical realities and will also be future realities (Revelation 22:2).
2:8 Smyrna. Smyrna was also a port city about thirty-five miles north of Ephesus. It survives today as Ismir, in Turkey. Polycarp, a convert of John, later served as pastor there until his martyrdom in about A.D. 155.
2:9 say they are Jews. These must have been Gentile converts of the Judaizers, who were trying to impose Judaism, with its law and priesthood, on Christianity. Just as men claiming to be apostles, who were not, were disturbing the church at Ephesus, so at Smyrna men claiming to have become Jews, who were not, were plaguing the church there. These two groups of heretics were beginning a corruption of Christianity which would eventually pervade the church for a thousand years, imposing an imagined apostolic succession and continuing priesthood, both of which would subjugate the ordinary people in the churches in a “Nicolaitan” hierarchy. As the false apostles were ministers of Satan (II Corinthians 11:13-15), so these false Jews had become—unknowingly perhaps—a synagogue of Satan.
2:10 ten days. It should be kept in mind that these letters to the churches had universal relevance as well as immediate applications to the particular churches addressed. Consequently the “ten days” must suggest a general Biblical principle which was intended to sustain any group of Christians facing persecution. The only other Biblical reference to “ten days” is in Daniel 1:12,14-15. There, Daniel experienced “ten days” of testing, but then God blessed him with seventy years of vital ministry. Just so, if we endure our “ten days” of tribulation, even unto death if need be, God will give us a “crown of life” for eternity. Note also James 1:12.
2:12 Pergamos. Pergamos was sixty miles north of Smyrna. It was a center of idolatry, with the great altar of Zeus, the largest altar in the world, located there. As the church at Ephesus had been infiltrated by false apostles, losing its “first love” as a result, and the Smyrna church by Judaizers, so Pergamos was impacted by compromise with the paganism surrounding it. Ever since the beginning of the church age, the church has been affected by either sacerdotalism, legalism, evolutionary pantheism, or all of these.
2:13 Satan’s seat. “Satan’s seat” is literally “Satan’s throne.” This may be a reference to the great altar of Zeus at Pergamos, but there is also some evidence that the priesthood of Babylonian idolatry had moved to Pergamos when Babylon fell to the Persians.
2:13 Antipas. “Antipas” means “against all.” Although Antipas may have been an otherwise unknown martyr (i.e., “witness”) at Pergamos, the Lord may have included his name here to represent all His faithful witnesses who take a clear stand for Christ “against all” the forces of Satan, even at the possible cost of martyrdom.
2:14 doctrine of Balaam. See Numbers 31:15-16. The “doctrine of Balaam,” which had apparently infiltrated the Pergamos church, was that of compromise with the immoral and ungodly life-style of the pagans around them, in similar fashion to the way Balaam had influenced the Israelites to take Moabite wives.
2:15 doctrine of the Nicolaitans. See Revelation 2:6. The deeds of the Nicolaitans (“overcomers of the people”) troubled the church at Ephesus; their doctrine infiltrated the church at Pergamos. Christ hates both the deeds and the doctrines.
2:17 new name. Like Abraham and Israel, the Lord Jesus will give each overcomer a new name appropriate to his own character and service. Like the names in the precious stones on the breastplate of the Aaronic priesthood (Exodus 28:15-21), it will be inscribed in a pure white stone, perhaps a diamond.
2:18 Thyatira. Thyatira was a city about forty miles east of Pergamos. Lydia, whom Paul met at Philippi, was from Thyatira. The letter to Thyatira is the central and longest of the seven epistles.
2:20 Jezebel. Jezebel had been the pagan queen of Israel in the days of Elijah (II Kings 9:22); she introduced Baal worship into Israel (I Kings 16:30-33). A similar seductress in the Thyatiran church had somehow obtained a position of leadership in the church, despite Paul’s warnings against women prophesying or teaching in the church (I Corinthians 14:34; I Timothy 2:11-12). Her anti-nomian teachings (that is, teachings “against law,” purportedly giving license to sin as one pleased), given with the claim that she had the gift of prophecy, had led the church into gross immorality while simultaneously manifesting love, faith and good works (Revelation 2:19). This church is typical of many churches since then that profess spirituality and “love” while downgrading doctrine and separation.
2:22 great tribulation. Christ referred to a coming period of “great tribulation,” and so did “one of the elders” later speaking to John (Matthew 24:21; Revelation 7:13-14). This warning indicates that the adulterous members (spiritually adulterous, as well as physically, and thus not truly born-again believers) of those Thyatira-like churches at the end of the age will be left behind when Christ returns and be cast into the period of great tribulation on earth, unlike the church at Philadelphia (see note on Revelation 3:10).
2:23 reins. That is, “kidneys,” symbolic of deep feelings.
2:24 depths of Satan. The “depths of Satan” is better rendered “the deep things of Satan.” Contrast I Corinthians 2:10—“the deep things of God.” When a church embraces Nicolaitanism and Balaamism, along with evolutionary pantheism, it may easily become infatuated with various manifestations of occultism, learning the deep things of Satan rather than the deep things of God.
2:25 till I come. The last four epistles all have references to the imminent return of Christ (see also Revelation 3:3, 11, 20). This indicates that there will be Thyatira-like churches, as well as churches like the churches at Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea, prominent on the earth at the time of Christ’s second coming.
2:27 rod of iron. This promise was given first to the Son by the Father (Psalm 2:7-9). Here He shares His Father’s promise with His saints, who shall “judge the world” (I Corinthians 6:2; Daniel 7:18,27).
2:28 morning star. Christ is Himself “the morning star” (Revelation 22:16). He will give His own presence to His people (I Thessalonians 4:16,17).