1: EPHESUS 31-100 AD
“Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;” Revelation 2:1
Ephesus is the first and it was the church of John’s time. Its time was from Jesus’ resurrection to around the death of the last of the apostles. This early church was pure and eager to spread the truth about Jesus to the entire world. They watched carefully, so that those who were false-hearted and meant to sneak in and do the church harm, were sent away and the true believers were carefully taught.
“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.” Revelation 2:2, 3
The early apostolic church carried the Gospel to all the then known world, before the last of the Apostles died. They suffered persecution and many died for their faith. Their eagerness to obey Jesus’ command to ‘teach all nations’ carried them to the ends of the earth.
“Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” Revelation 2:4, 5
We see that already there was a problem in this church. Jesus said ‘they had left their first love’. By John’s day there had come into the church those who wanted to rule, and tell all others what to do. Paul said ‘the mystery of iniquity was already at work’ in his day. They were already starting to look to men, and not as much to Jesus and His Word, as they had been at first. Jesus warned them to go back to their first love or he would ‘remove their candlestick’; and they would cease to be His people.
“But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Revelation 2:6
The Nicolaitans were followers of a teacher called Nicholas, who began, among other things, to teach that the death of Christ on Calvary had done away with God’s Ten Commandment Law, and it was now no longer necessary to keep the Law of God.
This doctrine is also taught in our day. Some claim that the gospel of Christ has made the law of God of no effect; that by “believing” we are released from the necessity of being doers of the Word. This is the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which Christ so unsparingly condemned
Some historians say that the teachings of this group, also brought in the idea that the ‘clergy’ or ministers were separate from the ‘laity’ or people and should rule over them. Of course that idea was as old as paganism, because paganism always taught that, and used it to oppress and rob the common people. Jesus says clearly that we all are brethren, no ‘kingly’ power is to be found among His people.
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” Revelation 2:7
In this promise to the faithful Jesus takes the minds of His people forward to Eden restored at last.
2: SMYRNA 100-313 AD
“And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.” Revelation 2:8, 9
Smyrna means a sweet smell, like a perfume. This was the time when God’s people went through a terrible persecution by the Emperor Diocletian. They would ‘have tribulation ten days’. In Prophecy a ‘day’ represents a literal year. This refers to the ten years of persecution under Pagan Rome, from AD 303-313, where thousands were slain.
Their faithfulness, as they stood for His truth, was like a sweet perfume to God. Though some of the people in the first ‘church’ had not gone back to their ‘first love’, most had, and now in this church they stood bravely for the truth. This is one church that Jesus did not have to say anything bad about.
“Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” Revelation 2:10
The ‘ten days’ here mentioned are ten prophetic years. Persecution has a way of making the church very pure because selfish, ease-loving people are afraid to join it, and those who do, are ready to die for it. There were many martyrs during those ten years and if we are faithful, we will meet them when Jesus comes and raises them to take them home, with all of His people.
There were some in the beginning of the time of this church, who were pretending to be Christians but were not, and were just there to harm the church. Because this is a prophecy, ‘Jews’ here mean Christian believers, because after the death of Jesus, the real Jews were no longer God’s special people, instead, anyone who accepted the Gospel was special to Jesus. The Ten Day persecution no doubt got rid of many of the false ones, as they would quickly leave.
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” Revelation 2:11
The promise to this ‘church’ was that if faithful, they would not be ‘hurt by the second death’. This means they would be raised to have Eternal Life. How kind Jesus was to point out to these dear people going through this terrible time, that He had also been dead and rose again, so they, if faithful, would also.
3: PERGAMOS 313-538 AD
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.” Revelation 2:12, 13
Pergamos means ‘lifted up’. This was when Constantine pretended to be a Christian and it began to be popular to be a nominal Christian. This church covers the period of 313-538. During this time we see the rise of the Papal power; the idea that the Bishop of Rome should rule the entire world as a ‘god on earth’.
This letter is addressed to those who were clinging to the truth and not going along with the wrong practices that were coming in to the ‘Christian church’.
In all these letters we notice that Jesus does not see as people see. He does not recognize the ones who have rejected His truth, and are bringing in their own ideas, as His ‘church’. One of the things Jesus was warning these people about, was they were allowing the people who had the wrong ideas, to stay and teach error among them.
We see here the worship of images coming in, and the ‘faithful martyr Antipas’ dying for his faith. Who was this? It wasn’t just one person, but referred to those who refused to go along with the idea of the Bishop of Rome being the ‘papa’ or pope over all the churches. Many were killed or had to flee into exile for their lives.
“But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.” Revelation 2:14, 15
The doctrine of the Nicolaitans was the idea that the death of Jesus on the cross, meant God’s law no longer had to be kept. This error always becomes popular when Satan is busy bringing in false doctrines and practices that don’t belong in the true worship of God. It gets people saying or thinking, “Well, it doesn’t really matter so much what I do; it doesn’t really matter so much what I believe; I only have to believe in Jesus, and I am sure to go to heaven.” It was popular when the early church was being corrupted by apostasy, and it is very popular now.
Balaam was the one who led Israel into joining with pagan idol worshippers to celebrate their feasts and holidays. ‘Committing fornication’, meant that the church was starting to seek power from the government to enforce her decrees. The true church is to seek only the power that comes from Jesus, and is not to try and force anybody.
“Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” Revelation 2:16
This Sword of His mouth is the Word of God, the Bible, which is what is to be used to expose wrong practices in the church.
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” Revelation 2:17
Jesus promises those who remained faithful that they would eat of the ‘hidden manna’ and have a white stone with a new name. The ‘hidden manna’ means several things; the first one was the assurance that God would feed and care for them, even if they had to flee into desolate areas, like ancient Israel who was fed as they wandered in the wilderness. It also meant that even though their leaders and ministers were proving false, and they were not being given spiritual food in the apostate church, Jesus Himself would give them spiritual food and be their teacher. That is the same for us today.
“Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them. For thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out. . I will feed them in a good pasture, and upon the high mountains of Israel shall their fold be: there shall they lie in a good fold, and in a fat pasture shall they feed upon the mountains of Israel. Ezekiel 34:10-14
The white stone with the new name meant they would be members of the heavenly church, even though they were being thrown out of the wicked church that was claiming to be God’s true church, and they had to flee for their lives into the wilderness. ‘White’ means that Jesus would see them as pure, even though the leaders of the now corrupt church declared them to be black with sin, because they would not be slaves to false doctrines, or give up what was right to obey these apostate leaders.
4: THYATIRA 538-1517 AD
“And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass; I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.” Revelation 2:18, 19
Now in Thyatira, which means ‘sacrifice and humility’, we see Jesus is no longer talking to that great ‘church’ that had set itself up as the ‘ruler of the world’, but rather to His true ‘church’ now hiding in the wilderness. The apostate church had not repented, but had kept on doing wickedness and bringing in pagan practices. Jesus had removed their candlestick, and they were no longer any church of His. The faithful who refused to go along with the majority had fled into wilderness areas, and now Jesus sees them as His ‘true church’ on earth. This is the church of the 1260 years of papal persecution from 538-1517, the start of the reformation.
Jesus is pleased with their works as they humbly do their best to serve Him, and still share His truths with the world, though often, it costs their lives. Their ‘works’ were so wonderful that Jesus mentions them twice.
“Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.” Revelation 2:20
There was a problem here; they were allowing Jezebel to come among them. Who was this? In the Bible, Jezebel was the wicked wife of Ahab, that led Israel into idol worship. So here it is meant that they were compromising at times, by allowing teachers from Rome to come in and teach among them.
This message talks about ‘adultery’; in the Bible, God says when His people join with earthly rulers, and also with pagan idol worshippers, that they commit adultery, just like a wife who runs away with another man who is not her husband. Jesus calls His true church His ‘Bride’.
As long as these churches of the wilderness remained pure, and stayed completely true to Bible Truth, they had great protection from God. Sometimes armies sent out to destroy them were smitten with terror and fled away without ever coming near to the people of God. Other times God sent fog or storms to help His people and hide them from their enemies.
But when, weary of persecution, they made deals with the Romans and began compromising on even ‘small’ points of truth, God could not fully protect them, and terrible slaughters occurred. When Satan can’t get us to go all wrong, he tries to get us to decide it is all right to give in ‘a little bit’ for the sake of peace, and to make others happy. But once we do this, Jesus cannot keep us fully safe, and soon Satan gets us all the way into his ranks. Never give in to wrong, even a ‘little bit’.
“Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.” Revelation 2:22, 23
Here is a clear prophecy made by Jesus, that the course the church was following to seek worldly power and control nations and kings, would lead to great suffering and strife. The ‘great tribulation’ referred to here is the 1260 years of papal persecution.
“But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.” Revelation 2:24, 25
Here Jesus is encouraging those who have not gotten mixed up in this power-seeking and compromising with the world. Although they may not know as much as they ought to, He accepts them, as they are doing their honest best to serve Him.
“And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” Revelation 2:26-29
The church in those days was busy seeking civil power to rule the nations of earth; the faithful were sorely harassed and hounded by church and state powers, but Jesus was telling the faithful ones, that if they were true to Him, the day would come when they would have the victory and real power through Him.
Jesus here promises them the ‘Morning Star’. This is a wonderful promise with several meanings. Jesus is the ‘Bright and Morning Star’, so these people would have Jesus with them in their trials. The Morning Star appeared close to dawn, so this means that even though the terrible night of the ‘Dark Ages’ was upon them, the dawn would come again. Wycliffe, who was the first of the reformers to start trying to return the Word of God to the common people, was known as the ‘Morning Star of the Reformation’. Yes, the dawn would come. The darkness would be made to flee.