Revelation : Chapter 2 Study: The letters and the Congregations
So last time we ended, we had begun to examine the congregation at Ephesus.
Now these letters:
The first thing we need, we covered last time but this is worth noting again, that there is a general pattern these letters to these 7 congregations follow:
A greeting “to the angel of the church in..”
A title of the risen Christ that appears to be taken from the description in chapter 1
A section we will title “I Know” which gives praise for what is good in the congregation’s record,. What they are doing right
A criticism of the congregation
A encouragement beginning with “he who has an ear..”
A promise that begins something like “to him who overcomes I will give..”
Now in the last 4 letters the order of 6 and 7 are reversed. So the promise comes first, then the encouragement
Also contained within each of these letters is a divine judgment of Jesus Christ’s disciples and institutions…
These 7 letters are not directed to the world. They are not condemnations targeting pagans of that time
These sometimes scathing and harsh rebukes, often coupled with a good report and praise for areas they are doing well in, are to Believers, just to believers.
God is pronouncing a judgment over these 7 congregations, after all he is The Righteous Judge. I think many times especially in the evangelical world, they like to minimize this side of God, emphasizing the gentler side and toning down the lion. This provides one a very lopsided inaccurate view of Who God is and what He has the power to do.
Remember in Daniel 5: 17-30, Daniel is called in By the King to Read the Writing on the Wall:
17 Then Daniel answered, and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation. 18 O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your [k]father a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor. 19 And because of the majesty that He gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whomever he wished, he executed; whomever he wished, he kept alive; whomever he wished, he set up; and whomever he wished, he put down. 20 But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him. 21 Then he was driven from the sons of men, his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. They fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till he [l]knew that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses.
22 “But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this. 23 And you have [m]lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of [n]His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified. 24 Then the [o]fingers of the hand were sent from Him, and this writing was written.
25 “And this is the inscription that was written:
26 This is the interpretation of each word. MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; 27 TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; 28 PERES: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.”[s] 29 Then Belshazzar gave the command, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a chain of gold around his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
30 That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain. 31 And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.
In this account we see God as the Righteous Judge, who weighs the acts of people, who judges Kings and leaders, and righteously enforces a verdict.
In many cases there is a warning with the impending judgment, and in times past in the Word of God, when the warning was heeded and people turned from their nefarious ways, the lord relented.
And example of this is in the book of Jonah chapter 3:
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, [a]a three-day journey in extent. 4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”
The People of Nineveh Believe
5 So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. 6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. 7 And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his [b]nobles, saying,
Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?
10 Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
Now when it comes to these 7 congregations that the lord is weighing, only 2 of the 7 are commendable, the other 5 have some major issues going on within
Some are in danger of having their light on the menorah or lampstand extinguished completely
Now opening these divine judgments and commendations may be very sobering here. As we examine ourselves and the corporate body through the lense of what the Lord has righteously seen…
What is interesting as well about interpretation of revelation as we move forward is that much of it is prophecy awaiting its fulfillment. We are waiting for a significant part of revelation to still be fulfilled
What was mystery for Israel at the time of the Old testament for them is revealed in the rear view mirror of history for us. The same holds true for revelation as now we are like Israel in the old testament awaiting their messiah, Jesus, to come. So now we await His soon return. Perhaps we have more in common with our Jewish brothers and sisters than we once thought.. So here’s what we need to take from this: too many mysteries about unfulfilled prophecy in Revelation have been transformed into confident hardened facts by Christian religious scholars,commentators, and writers. These facts (that are often merely lofty assumptions) are invariably the result of them working to make the words of Revelation fit into an already established set of beliefs about the End Times. However, let me say that perhaps we’re no different than the ancient Israelites who also sincerely believed God, and also sincerely sought to understand what their Prophets told them about what lay ahead. What Bible history has taught us is that we can really only be certain about some of the important details of unfulfilled prophesy once they have actually happened and become hindsight. Hindsight is almost always 20/20 or so the saying goes…
So here is to facing the mysteries of revelation with caution, asking the Lord in the name of Jesus to our into us Wisdom to understand some of these mysteries
One of these mysteries is right at the beginning of revelation Chapter 2
Revelation 2:1 CJB"To the angel of the Messianic Community in Ephesus, write: 'Here is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven gold menorahs: The mystery is this: who or what is this angel of this congregation in Ephesus?
Why this is such a mystery is: Why would it make any sense for John to be writing a letter to a heavenly Angel?
Thus the majority of Christian commentators are of the belief that this cannot be a heavenly angel, but rather is merely a human messenger. The other belief is that John is only speaking figuratively or metaphorically about this “angel”. We’re going to discuss this at length because it speaks to the credibility of the vision itself, or the reliability of what John has recorded for us, or perhaps both.
Ok so first part, this is a human messenger NOT a heavenly Angel. Take on its surface this may look like a very reasonable point of view to have. Young’s literal translation of the bible actually uses the word messenger instead of angel. This is because the Greek word here in question is AGGELOS which does mean messenger. Therefore it can indicate a heavenly messenger, an angel, or a human messenger. Aggelos is making an attempt to translate the Hebrew Word Malach. Malach means messenger, heavenly or human; the proper interpretation, then, depends on the context. So lets examine the human messenger view first.
The human messenger viewpoint is the easiest to assume because it makes sense and it fits with the Greek word aggelos. Interestinlyenough there is no mention in the new testament of an office or patoral position with the word aggelos assigned to it. Nowhere in the new testament is a bishop, pastor or elder called or referred to as aggelos. To further clarify this we see at the end of Chapter 1:20 20 The [l]mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the [m]angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands [n]which you saw are the seven churches. Most believe this is Christ addressing John so this is a Divine being giving the interpretation
modern Bibles are organized using chapters and verses, it appears to us that there is a pause and a separation between the end of chapter 1 and the beginning of chapter 2. Thus it feels like we have one thought process ending and a different thought process beginning. However, chapter and verse markings or separations never existed in John’s day nor would it for another 15 centuries. Rather, the last sentence of chapter 1 and the first sentence of chapter 2 ran together; they were one continuous thought process. So in reality there is no separation; there is no pause; there is no end of one thought process and beginning of different one. So we need to read the final part of chapter 1 and beginning of chapter 2 this way: Here is the secret meaning of the seven stars you saw in my right hand, and of the seven gold menorahs: the seven stars are the angels of the seven Messianic communities, and the seven menorahs are the seven Messianic communities. "To the angel of the Messianic Community in Ephesus, write:
Now lets bridge the gap to these being actual angelic beings.
The term star aster in Greek and kochav in Hebrew are used throughout the Old Testament as referring either to an actual light in the sky or as symbolic for heavenly angels or spirit beings. It is not used to refer to a human being of any office. So would never be used to refer to as a human messenger
virtually everywhere else in Revelation that the term aggelos is used it means heavenly angel. And yet, where else in the Bible other than in Revelation do we find any such hint that specific angels are assigned as some kind of supervisor or guardian over an assembly of God-worshippers? The answer is that we do not find it anywhere else in the Bible.
The term aggelos appears 165 times in the New testament and 67 times of that 165 it appears in revelation! Of those 67 times, 56 times these are direct references to heavenly angels. In 3 additional areas aggelos refers to Satan or his minions. So that leaves 9 times the term aggelos is used where its meaning is disputed and that is in regard to Revelation chapter 1 and to the letters to the 7 Believing assemblies or congregations throughout Asia. Throughout the remainder of the New Testament only 4 times is the term aggelos translated to mean a human messenger whereby it seems clear enough that there is no scholarly dispute over what it means. But in those 4 instances, never does the term have anything to do with a congregation, pastor, or elder and none of the human messengers are entrusted with God’s Word, as John was, and told to communicate it to a person or a group.
In Conclusion, Scriptural evidence is significant enough that it points to the angel of the assembly at Ephesus, as well as to the angels of the other 6 assemblies, being heavenly beings and not human. Human logic and doctrine states and argues that these cannot possibly be real angels because they don’t fit the “mold” of angels that Theologians have constructed over the centuries. Remember that already in chapter 1 we saw some pretty significant deviations from the norms we had come to expect from both the Old and New Testaments about the descriptions of the very nature and forms of the Godhead. Commentaries and Church doctrines tend to gloss over or superficially address these deviations just as they tend to argue that John’s angels are actually human beings. Otherwise what is traditionally thought and taught from pulpits and theological schools about angels and spirit beings has to be rethought and reworked the deeper you dig into this complex book of Revelation
The angels of the 7 Believing congregations are 7 heavenly angels and John is being asked to deliver God’s judgment of each of these congregations through the angels who have something to do with or are assigned to them. I don’t know why this is the process, this part is not explained in Revelation, but there is nothing unbelievable about it except that it doesn’t agree with what so many Theologians have decided to peg it down as, and told us we ought to believe instead.
And it is the one who holds the 7 stars (angels) in his right hand AND walks among the menorahs (the Believing congregations). The repeat mention of the RIGHT hand is because in the ancient world the right hand was the hand of power and authority. So this divine message-giver says that He has power and authority over the 7 angels. The heavenly beings we have just discussed above
THE SEVEN CHURCHES
Ephesus is a congregation that has been personally mentored By Paul. Ephesus was both the foremost city of Asia and the home of the most important church in the province. I believe it was also one of the largest congregations if not the largest. Today Ephesus is situated approximately 8 miles from the gulf of Ephesus in a swampy plain. However in the first century it was the most important seaport of Asia Minor. Ephesus was also a conglomerate of a religious center for pagan practices. It was the home of temples pertaining to mother goddess (Acts 19:35) that greeks identified with artemis who Greeks referred to as goddess of the hunt, the wilderness, wild animals, the Moon and chastity. To this false goddess was dedicated a HUGE temple that was hailed as one of the wonders of the ancient world. This site also became the worship of the false goddess roma and of the roman emperor. The asiarchs of Acts 19:31
Acts 19:30-33 NKJV 30 And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him. 31 Then some of the [a]officials of Asia(asiarchs), who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater. 32 Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander motioned with his hand, and wanted to make his defense to the people.
The asiarchs were the foremost men of the city and annually from their ranks were selected the high priests of the cult “Rome and the emperor”
Ephesus was also the home and breeding ground for all sorts of superstitious practices and magical arts.
Acts 19:19 NKJV 19 Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver.
Needless to say it was a bubbling over cauldron of pagan and occultic practices. Paul and Timothy had their hands full with this atmosphere
being a Believer in Ephesus was very difficult; you were a very small minority and seen as an insulter of the Grecian gods that the majority of that society worshipped. A hub of pagan practices. Believers in Ephesus were anything but popular; they were the odd balls. But in the popularity driven West where secular humanism has made an advance and taken root, it isn’t cool to be a Christian any more. Oftentimes Believers are looked at with suspicion, with hostility, and at times hatred.
Apparently the Church in Ephesus the founders were priscilla and Acquila. They were the husband and wife team who taught and help to raise up Apollos to preach the Gospel. Yes BOTH priscilla and acquila taught him. We find the Evidence of this in Acts Chapter 18
Acts 18:24-28 NKJV 24 Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he desired to cross to Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him; and when he arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace; 28 for he vigorously refuted the Jews publicly, showing from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ.
Priscilla and Acquila remained in Ephesus while Paul ventured on to Antioch. Paul’s work in Ephesus, laying that foundation became the center of evangelism for the entire province of Asia
Acts 19:9-10 9 But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. 10 And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.
Later the work in Ephesus, the torch was passed on and carried on by Paul’s companion Timothy
1 timothy 1:3 3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may [a]charge some that they teach no other doctrine
The letter to Ephesus is prefaced with a reference to Christ which contains an element of encouragement. The Greek verb used here for “holds” differs from that used in
revelation 1:16 16 He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. This is a stronger word that means a firm grasp, indicating that Christ holds His churches firmly in His hand that they should not be snatched away. This also indicates the persistent vigilance and ever watchful presence of Christ not only over Ephesus but over all the congregations.
Now in Revelation 2:2 2 “I know your works, your labor, your [a]patience, and that you cannot [b]bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars;
The Word Works is a broad term that points at not only good deeds but the entire course of life and conduct. The good works of the Ephesians was connected to their firm opposition to false teachers who had arisen in Ephesus and they had remained steadfast refusing to be led away by their teachings.
Acts 20:29-30 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking [a]perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.
Given how steeped Ephesus was on deviant pagan arts and religion it is no wonder the congregation at Ephesus was so zealous in testing and rooting out false teachers. In an atmosphere like it can be used to sharpen the discernment for what is of god and what is of the kingdom of darkness.
Their good works are described even further as not being able to bear evil men. This is a reference to false teachers in the Church/Congregation
Many traveling preachers and teachers arose in the early church who made claims to be the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit and to Speak for God. When paul admonished the thesssalonians not to quench the Spirit.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies. 21 Test all things; hold fast what is good. Paul here was recognizing the validity and operation of the prophetic gift. However it was very necessary to what I say all the time “test the spirits” to discern whether these teachers in question truly conveyed the word of God.
1 john 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
There were both people claiming to be prophets and those claiming to be apostles, so this was very necessary to test as Paul was instructing.
The question of the role of apostles in the early church is a bit complex to solve. There appears to have been 2 orders of apostles:
The original 12 who maintained a distinct role
Revelation 21:14 14 Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the [a]names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Then there was a larger number that could not be determined who were basically traveling missionaries, examples: Paul, James, Barnabas, Silas. Now among this group were false apostles who used their self professed role for selfish purposes rather than for the edification of the Church. These false apostles were among Paul’s chief opponents in the Church at Corinth
2 Corinthians 11:5 For I consider that I am not at all inferior to the most eminent apostles. 6 Even though I am untrained in speech, yet I am not in knowledge. But we have [a]been thoroughly manifested among you in all things.
This was an outstanding quality of the Church at Ephesus, their ability to distinguish true from false apostles. Their ability to spot the wolves in sheeps clothing. They had zero tolerance for those who were false. This congregation was outstanding in doctrinal purity.
Now in verse 4 of chapter 2 it is pointed out that although false teachers made no headway in their church, it had some ripple effects in other areas of their Christian conduct. It had lead them to abandon their first love. This was a failure that undermined the very foundation of their walk with Christ. The Lord had taught that a mutual love was to be at the head of Christian fellowship
John 13:35 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
In the early years of the Congregation at Ephesus this love was evident, however this very serious struggle with false teachers and their sheer hatred of heretical teachings had apparently caused a root to form of hardened feelings and harsh attitudes towards one another that was so extreme it ended up forsaking this very important foundation of love. Doctrinal purity and loyalty can never ever be a substitute for love. Many theologians have forgotten this and become just like the church at Ephesus, staunchly opposing what is not doctrinal, evicting that transformative love of God and the active power of God from their lives and the lives of their congregations causing them to become, hardened, stoic, and closed off to the leading of the Spirit of the Lord.
The Ephesians are warned to remember the fervent passion of their first experience, to repent because they have fallen into sin, and to go back to doing the works they did at first, those works in love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-2 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
In the letter to Ephesus in revelation, they are told to repent or Christ will come and remove their lampstand from its place. These words potentially refer to a visitation of some kind that will bring a historical judgment upon the Church that some sort of destruction would take place upon it and that church would no longer exist.
In verse 6 the false teachers being resisted are identified as the Nicolaitans.
The Nicolaitans were comprised of a heretical sect in the early church and we know nothing more of them except what is mentioned in Revelation
Verse 7 each of these 7 letters concludes with an admonition to hear what the prophet writes. John addresses his exhortations to the local congregation but the broader Christian community .
The Spirit is the Spirit of Christ who interprets the voice of Christ to the prophet. The new testament establishes a close and intimate relationship between Christ who is now glorified and the Holy Spirit
2 Corinthians 3:17 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
The Glorified Christ Speaks to His Church through the Spirit
The letter concludes with a promise
Revelation 2:7 7 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” This note of Victory is echoed in each of the 7 letters. This reminds us that even though the evils of the anti christ may abound there is a prophecy of the victories to be won by Christ and His Church. The Christian life is indeed a persistent warfare against the powers of darkness and having Victory through Jesus Christ. Love and loyalty to Christ will conquer fear of suffering and death. For we must also understand the power and authority we walk in as children of the one true living God through Christ Jesus our Lord. The Conqueror is promised that they will eat from the tree of life.
Revelation: Leon Morris
A Commentary of the revelation of John: George Eldon Ladd