Lesson Two – Chapters 2, 3, 4, and 5
“The Things Which Are (The Things Present – Ch. 2&3)”
Letters to the Seven Churches and Worthy is the Lamb
Section Two – Letters to the Seven Churches – “The things which are…” Revelation 1:19
Revelation Chapters Two and Three
John identifies himself as the author of these letters to the churches of his day located in seven cities all within a few dozen miles of each other on the Western coastlands of what we call today Turkey. This is the second group of seven in the Book of Revelation, the seven churches. Of course, the Holy Spirit inspired John’s words (2 Timothy 3:16) because the Word of God was all “God-breathed”, but the letters to the seven churches are really directly from Jesus Christ Himself. The letters are addressed to the “angel” or the “messenger” of each church. Some have said that each church had their own assigned angel as protector and messenger, and this is probably true. But, some others have said that each church had a designated “reader” or spiritual leader that probably was the courier of the letter from John on the island of Patmos as well as the “explainer” of what was written to the church congregation. Remember, too, that there were no church buildings back then. Churches met in different homes of the church members because of cost but also moved frequently to avoid persecution from the unbelieving Jews as well as the Romans and the pagan believers who all expected the Christians to worship Caesar or the many false gods prevalent in those times.
There are many great lessons that we can learn from the letters to the seven churches of Revelation. We need to remember that Jesus Himself is giving these commendations and rebukes, so we need to listen and heed what He says to the churches, because they apply to us also. At the end of each letter Jesus tells those who overcome what reward they will receive. The seven churches also represent the seven spiritual church ages from the New Testament church, right through to the last church that exists at the time of the Rapture. So, the lessons for us today in these letters is to examine our lives and the life of our particular church to see exactly what Jesus thinks about us, what He likes about us, what He may have against us, and what He plans for us as a result of our activities in our church.
The two chapters, 2 and 3, really are one section and should be considered as one section containing the seven letters from Jesus to the first century churches. Chapter two contains the letters to the churches at Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and Thyatira. Chapter three has the letters to Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. Each letter is personally addressed to the particular church located in the targeted city, and each letter contains what we could call Jesus’ assessment of the spiritual condition, some good and some bad, of the people in that church. We should reflect on what Jesus had to say to each church, determine how much, if any, of what He told them applies to us today, and heed and obey His observations and/or commands concerning either the praise He had for them or what He had against them.
Message to Ephesus
Ephesus was a large city on the west coast of Asia Minor with a population of 250,000 considered at the time to be massive. The most significant feature of Ephesus in the first century was the city-wide worship of the Greek goddess Artemis, or as she was known to the Romans, Diana. There was a temple to this false goddess of love that contained 127 columns, was located in the most prominent hill of the city, and even the coins of Ephesus were inscribed with “Diana of Ephesus”. Paul planted the church there in about 52 A.D. and may have been its pastor for a time. The worshippers of Diana tried to kill Paul (Acts 19:21-41), but he still started the church there.
The city was raw paganism, either Roman or Greek, so the Ephesian church had to confront persecution as well as itinerant preachers who tried to pass themselves off as apostles of Jesus Christ. But the Ephesian believers tested these so-called apostles and found them to be false teachers. In spite of their enduring persecution and false teachers for Christ’s sake, they had lost their first love and had become cold to Christ. Christ hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans, a lawless and licentious cult of followers of Nicolas who taught that belief in Christ was spiritual only and whatever was done in the body was acceptable no matter how disgusting. This was an early form of Gnosticism, which means secret knowledge, that even went farther in saying that Christ was not physical and never was. He was only spiritual and the physical was nothing but evil.
If the Ephesians did not repent, then Jesus would come and remove their lampstand or the light of their witness in a dark and evil culture. They must have repented at least partially since the Ephesians continued to play an important role in the history of the early church. There was a Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. which met to condemn the Nestorian heresy which taught that Jesus existed as two separate persons, one divine and one human.
The Spirit of God says that those who overcome their temptations to sin will be granted “to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God” (verse 7). The postscript here and in all the letters is to all the churches, not just to Ephesus. This means it is to us as well so we can learn and apply Jesus’ teaching in our church today.
Spiritual Church Age: Ephesus was the first church age starting with the apostles in the New Testament, covering the first century after Christ. This is the prophetic application of what Jesus said to His Church then and now. Many in the church today let the world into the church by not studying the Word daily and not demanding that sermons be always based on Scripture and not man’s philosophy. The prosperity gospel of all’s well and everyone can be rich materially also fits this Nicolaitan false belief that Jesus hates.
Message to Smyrna
The church at Smyrna was in a port city in Western Asia Minor. The city was given the “privilege” of building a temple dedicated to Emperor Tiberius in 23 B.C. because of Smyrna’s faithfulness to Rome. This made the city the center of the cult of emperor worship. Naturally, the church of Smyrna suffered great persecution and, as a result, was impoverished. Yet, Jesus said they were spiritually rich. The Jews of Smyrna treated the church there so badly that their synagogue was referred to by Jesus as a “synagogue of Satan”. John’s disciple Polycarp was burned at the stake in 156 A.D. for refusing to worship the emperor. By being faithful unto death, Jesus promised these Smyrna Christians the “crown of life” (James 1:12) and a promise that they would not be harmed by the second death. This church received only commendation and not a single word of rebuke.
Spiritual Church Age: Smyrna was the second church age. We know this because Jesus said that this church would suffer persecution 10 days. These are 10 prophetic days and are actual years (10 years), which matches the 10 year persecution of the true church at the hands of Diocletian between AD303 – AD313. Constantine put an end to the persecution in AD313.That persecution labeled that period in church history as a time of persecution, and, for those holding to their faith during those times, a time of blessing and approval from our Lord.
Message to Pergamum
This city was another cult city, but this time it was the cult of Aesculapius, the god of Pergamum, whose symbol was a serpent. The Lord called this city “Satan’s throne”, and there was a Greek temple there with that name which was dedicated to Zeus. The Germans disassembled that building stone by stone in 1878 and moved it to Berlin. Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer, used the Pergamum Altar as the model for the Zeppelintribüne, the Führer’s grand pulpit in the center of the tribune or zeppelin field in Berlin built from 1934 to 1937. Obama used a Pergamum altar replica as a backdrop at Invesco Field in front of 84,000 people in 2008 for his acceptance speech upon his nomination to the Presidency.
Some in the church at Pergamum held to the “teaching of Balaam” (Numbers 22-24) where the king of Moab tried to get Balaam, the false prophet, to curse Israel. Apparently, the church at Pergamum was falling into the same anti-Israel thinking of many in the church today. The Gnostic cult of the Nicolaitans was attacking this city also. Jesus told this church to repent or He would come and make war against the church with the sword of His mouth. The overcomers were promised the hidden manna and a white stone with a new name written on that stone. The manna in Revelation would be spiritual feeding from God in contrast to the pagan feasts of idolatry, and the white stone was probably a reference to the Urim on the High Priest’s vestments in Exodus 28:30. That stone could be a personal gift from Jesus Christ to all believers as a sign of entry to the Wedding feast of the Lamb, but the stone is certainly a blessing for spiritual endurance.
Spiritual Church Age: This is the church “falling away” that Paul described in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. This church age is from the time of Constantine in 313A.D. to the time of the Rise of the Papal Church of Rome in 538 A.D., when that “man of sin” was revealed (the pope). This was a period of deteriorating moral standards and doctrinal corruption. Christian standards were lowered, and a union was formed between Christianity and paganism through the acts of Constantine and the Roman Catholic Church.
We can see here that COMPROMISE had come into the church and it still exists today. In exchange for religious tolerance and acceptance, the true principles of Christianity were sacrificed to accommodate pagan beliefs. This church is allowing those who hold to different doctrines that are not of Christ to dwell with them and commune with them. Again the doctrine of the Nicolaitans pops up, which is the doctrine of doing away with God’s law. This Jesus hates! God’s Ten Commandments is a law of love that will never be done away with. Look at what the Psalmist would have said to this church, Psalm 1:1-2, …’Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.’
We see compromise throughout the “Christian” churches today? Church councils in certain denominations have meetings to discuss whether or not to allow practicing homosexual men and women as clergy. Some churches have even allowed this to happen recently, like the Lutheran church. They now allow practicing homosexuals to hold positions in the church. This compromise will get worse before Jesus returns. We really need to hold on to a NO COMPROMISE Christian attitude as we near the end. Despite the compromise that came into the church in Pergamos, there were still a few (God’s remnant) that held on to the truth of His Word and sought to maintain the true faith of the apostles.
Message to Thyatira
Thyatira was between the cities of Pergamum and Sardis and was a busy manufacturing and commercial center during the first centuries after Christ. Because of the concentration on manufacturing, there were many guilds there, or as we would call them today, unions. There were many superstitions and pagan cult ceremonies associated with these unions, even eating food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality associated to the pagan cults.
The woman “Jezebel” was probably a pagan witch or priestess of a pagan religion. She was very influential much like the Jezebel of
1 Kings 18-21. Jesus says that this Jezebel would be cast on a bed of sickness and all who followed her would be slain with pestilence so that the church would know that the Lord “searches the minds and hearts” and will hold people accountable. Christ tells His church in Thyatira to hold fast to the Truth “until I come”. Christ’s promise is that the overcomers will reign with Him in the Millennium. They will also receive the “morning star” who is Jesus Christ Himself.
Spiritual Church Age: This is the church of the middle ages, during the murderous reign of the Roman Catholic Church (5th to 15th centuries). In that time of spiritual darkness, the true gospel was abandoned and Christianity was replaced by the old pagan form of sun worship, dressed in a garb of Christianity. Jezebel seems to be a central influential figure with this church. The Old Testament Jezebel led Israel into sun worship. This Jezebel of Thyatira is referring to either a real priestess of a cult or a spiritual Jezebel. In Bible prophecy, a woman can represent a church, and this apostate church is leading God’s people into fornication with her. In other words, she is leading people into accepting her false doctrines, and instead of the city of Thyatira rejecting what this woman (apostate church) is teaching, they are allowing it. Today, and throughout history, the Roman Catholic Church has led billions of people astray with many false doctrines (the need for an intercessory priest between man and God, the deity of Mary, the forgiveness of sins through the priesthood of man, etc.), and some Catholic doctrines are still taught in many protestant denominations.
Message to Sardis
Sardis was the capitol of the region known as Lydia in Western Asia Minor. Sardis had been an important Christian city early, but had fallen into complacency and reliance on past glory since they could trace their history back to the Persians, the Greeks, and, of course, to the early Roman Empire. Sardis was already, in the first century, viewed as a dying city with a dying church.
John accused the church at Sardis of acting like they are alive, but really being dead. The apostle urges the people to wake up and reawaken the things that remain. If they did not repent soon, Christ would come like a thief which was a reference to the culture understanding that thieves that come in the night come brutally and destructively – not clandestinely. But some in the congregation had not “soiled their garments” and would be rewarded to walk with Christ in “white, for they are worthy”.
There may have been many “professors” of Christ who were not “possessors” of Christ as Savior. Jesus promised the overcomers that they will be clothed in white garments and their names will not be erased from the book of life. They will be confessed in glory before God the Father.
Spiritual Church Age: Sardis represents the church age at the end of the protestant reformation in the 1500’s, up to the time of the great awakening in the 18th century. A great work had been started in the reformation (Martin Luther and others) to separate from the error of Rome and to live according to God’s true Word. But instead of carrying on this great work, the reformers submitted to the protection of civil authorities and became subject to the state. And we are now seeing the result of this failure of the reformers to move forward in truth, with many of the original protestant churches abandoning Scripture to conforming with society.
There are so many professing Christians who do not study the Word and, specifically, Bible prophecy, and yet Jesus warns us that if we do not watch, then He will return (at the second coming) like a thief, unexpected and wrathful. How will anyone know when and how Jesus will return if we don’t study Bible prophecy? We are living in the end times and we need to grasp the importance of end time Bible prophecy so that we will not be deceived. Satan is pulling out all the stops to deceive not only the world but the church before Jesus returns, so we need to be rooted in God’s Word, studying like we’ve never studied before, to find out the Truth, share the Truth, and lead as many to Christ as possible through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We need to be watching and eagerly waiting for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Message to Philadelphia
Philadelphia was also in Lydia, a center for the wine industry of the time. The city’s chief deity was Dionysus (Bacchus in Roman mythology), the Greek god of wine. The church in Philadelphia was a faithful church with an open door of access to God and service to Him. That is why the church in Philadelphia has been called the “church of the open door”. The Jews in Philadelphia were apparently working against the church there, but Jesus tells them that those same Jews would bow before the Christ believers, a prophecy still yet to be fulfilled.
Because this church “kept the word of My perseverance”, Christ will keep them from (“ek” – “out of”) the hour of trial or wrath to come (3:10) on the “whole world to test those who dwell on the earth”. When Christ says he will come “quickly”, that means that when He comes, He will do so with swiftness, all at once, with rapidity, at a fast rate, and without any warning. He will give a reward of a crown to those who “hold fast” in their conviction and their walk. The overcomer will also reign with Christ in the Millennial Kingdom and be called a pillar in the temple of My God, forever marked for faithfulness under great earthly stress and persecution.
Spiritual Church Age: This is the church during the great awakening of the 18th Century. This is one of two churches of the seven that don’t receive a rebuke. This church held fast to the true doctrine of Christ Jesus. They did not let themselves be led astray, because they firmly held on to the truth of God’s Word. This is something that is really lacking in the “Christian” world today, because too many people would rather go along with their ‘feelings’ rather than the Truth of God’s Word in the Bible. We MUST hold tight onto the Truth, the True Truth. We must stand on the rock daily and not be thrown about by every different wind of doctrine that comes our way.
Message to Laodicea
Laodicea was a city founded by one of the generals that succeeded Alexander the Great, and it was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 65 A.D. only to be rebuilt by Rome as a retirement center for wealthy Romans. Christ presents Himself to this congregation as “the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God’. Amen means truly or something firmly established. Jesus is Witness to God and His Truth. He is the “beginning” or the ultimate Being of all creation, not created since He always existed.
The Laodicean church was lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, which means it was totally useless for the Lord’s service. In relation to the wealth of the city, the people, and the church, the church was poor spiritually. Christ urged the church to draw from Him true spiritual riches and to clothe themselves in white garments that reflected true righteousness and repentance. Revelation 3:20 is a very familiar one, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me.” Christ wants those who are lost as well as those who are wayward to turn to Christ for salvation. It is our choice, not something that God forces upon us. To the overcomer, Jesus promises the right to sit with Him on his Millennial throne just as He sat down with His Father on His throne.
Spiritual Church Age: Laodicea means “judging the people” which is exactly what the advent movement of the type of the Philadelphian church in 1844 revealed to the world, when proclaiming the message that it was the time for Christ to come and judge the world. From then until now is the last church age. God is judging those who profess to be Christians, and when that judgment ends, the door to mercy will be forever shut.
This is the only church that has no commendation, and this is the letter that perfectly describes the state of the professing Christian world today. The professing church is in a state of being lukewarm. The majority of the Christian world today is holding on to Christ with one hand and holding on to the world with the other. This world is going to be destroyed soon before Jesus returns, so we, as Christians should stop trying to hang on to it. If the church stays in this lukewarm state then Jesus is going to spew it out of His mouth and throw its members into the lake of fire. Jesus is trying to wake the lukewarm church of today up out of its sleep. He is standing at the door knocking. If the modern Laodicean church will but answer the call from the Lord, as time is short, give their all for Him now, they will find out how to worship God in spirit and truth.
So, what can we learn today from the letters to the seven churches of Revelation? Well, these churches represented the churches of God in the first century and Jesus is telling some of them to repent. These seven churches of Revelation can be easily seen to represent portions of the Christian church today, and, since God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, those church members with those same characteristics seen then as now need to heed Christ’s messages to repent and return to their first love.
There are many professing Christians today that believe we do not need to repent once we come to Jesus because He forgives our future sins automatically. Well, Jesus proves here, in these letters to the seven churches, that view to be false, as He is telling HIS people in these letters to repent. When we sin, as all true believers continue to do in this life even after coming to Jesus, then we need to repent and be sorry for that sin on a daily basis. We cannot receive forgiveness without repenting. And, we cannot be guided by the Holy Spirit within us if our judgment is clouded with the world. So, confess the sin that we all continually ty to eradicate from our lives, seek the Lord’s forgiveness of those sins daily, and ask for the filling of the Holy Spirit daily along with His wisdom and discernment so that He, and not the world, can guide our lives and we can live for Him.
Proverbs 3:5 and 6 says, “Lean on, trust, and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind, and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways know, recognize, and acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make straight and plain your paths.” (Amplified)
1 John 1:9 says, “If we freely admit that we have sinned and confess our sins, He is faithful and just, true to His own nature and promises, and will forgive our sins, dismiss our lawlessness, and continuously cleanse us from all unrighteousness, everything not in conformity to His will in purpose, thought, and action.” (Amplified)
Section Three – The Tribulation – Chapters 4 through 18 – “The Things Which Are to Come (The Things Future)”
Chapter 4 and 5 – Worthy is the Lamb
These chapters begin the third part of Revelation 1:19 where John was told to write of the “things which must take place” or, in other words, that are prophecy that has not yet been fulfilled. This section comes after the first two sections that 1:19 referred to, “the things which you (John) have seen” which was what John saw in Heaven of the Glory of Christ, “the things which are” which was the seven letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor, and now “the things which must take place” or what happens after the Rapture.
The focus is on Revelation 4:1 of “a door standing open in Heaven” where a commanding voice like a trumpet declares to John, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” What John sees and hears from this point on are not of the church. In fact, the church which was so prominently displayed in chapters 2 and 3 is never again mentioned in this book! There are no references to the church or the “saints in Christ’ ever again, implying that the church has lifted from the earth. Only a preribulational Rapture explains the absence of ANY reference to the church throughout the rest of the book of Revelation!
Since Christ has not returned yet, and John has been taken to Heaven “in the Spirit”, he sees what the emphasis is centered on, the throne of God the Father. The One sitting on the throne resembles the Old Testament descriptions of God the Father found in 1 Kings 22:19, Isaiah 6:1, Ezekiel 1:26, and Daniel 7:9. The emerald rainbow encircling the throne also points to God the Father or certainly both Jesus the Son and God the Father and to the judgment of the Earth by the bringing of the Flood of Noah and its aftermath which was a rainbow signifying God’s promise of never destroying the world with water ever again.
We now see the majesty and holiness of the heavenly court in verses 4 to 11. The 24 elders wearing white garments and golden crowns represent the raptured church, the body of Christ in Heaven. Jesus promised that we, as His church, would be seated with Him in glory. 1 Corinthians 6:2 and 3 says, “Do you not know that the saints will one day judge and govern the world?…do you not know also that we are to judge the angels and to pronounce opinion between right and wrong for them?” Plus, Revelation 3:21 says, “He who overcomes I will grant him to sit beside Me on My throne, as I Myself overcame and sat down beside My Father on His throne.”
From the throne come awesome displays of lightning and thunder because judgment is about to be levied on the Earth. There are seven blazing torches before the throne which are the manifestations of the Holy Spirit from Isaiah 11:2 (the Spirit of wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, reverential fear, and obedient fear). There is a sea of purity, a sea of glass, in front of the throne, and four angelic living creatures are around the throne. These four creatures who are extremely intelligent because of all the eyes in front and behind. These four are “like” a lion, a calf, a flying eagle, and one with a face like a man. The lion pictures power and majesty, the calf docility and calm, the one with the face of a man intelligence, and the eagle swiftness and decision. These are all representative of God, a physical display of the characteristics of God that would otherwise be invisible. These four are probably angels of the highest order, the seraphim (Isaiah 6:3), attending God’s throne but still reflecting God’s characteristics. They have six wings, show super intelligence, and continually never cease to praise God saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, Who was and Who is and Who is to come.
This scene in Revelation 4 is one of unending worship from the four living creatures and the 24 elders who cast their crowns before God’s throne. Then they say the most awesome praise in verse 11, “Worthy are You, our Lord and God, to receive glory and the honor and dominion, for You created all things; by Your will they were brought into being and were created.” This verse solidifies the fact that since God has always been, and He created all things, then He is also Master and in complete charge of the events about to take place with His wrath coming upon a wicked, evil world. God is and always has been holy and always worthy of glory and honor and blessing. And this especially applies to His divine judgment and wrath because He wants all creation to know that He is God and He demands obedience from all since He Himself made all things!
The time now is the very beginning of the seven year Tribulation period, the Time of Jacob’s Trouble (Jeremiah 30:7). The stage is set and will be activated by the document described in these verses in chapter 5. This scroll that God the Father has in His hand contains all the seal judgments, all the trumpet judgments, and all the bowl judgments that are to come upon the ungodly during the Tribulation. But, One must be found Who is worthy to open the scroll. We saw God the Father seated on His throne in chapter 4, the Holy Spirit designated by the seven blazing torches before God’s throne, and now we will see the Son of God, the Lamb of God Who was slain and shed His sinless blood to cover the sins of all mankind. Only He is worthy to open the scroll of God’s judgment, but, initially, no one in Heaven or on Earth or in Hades is found who is worthy to open the scroll. This makes John weep bitterly because he knew this scroll represented the title deed to the Earth, and as long as the scroll remained sealed, Satan would remain in power over the Earth.
One of the 24 elders then encourages John to stop weeping since the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has won victory over death by becoming the Lamb of God, slain to shed His blood to cover the sins of the world and thereby satisfy God’s wrath on those who believe in the Son. John looks, and there standing among the elders (His Church) and between the throne of God the Father and the four living creatures is the Lamb of God. Jesus is referred to as the Lamb 28 times in Revelation, and here is described as the Lamb Who was slain with seven eyes symbolizing intelligence (omniscience) and omnipresence, and seven horns signifying power (omnipotence) which show forth the seven manifestations of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:2). Jesus being worthy to open the scroll also signifies that God the Father has given to His Son authority over all things under Heaven to exercise justice. The Lamb steps forward, takes the scroll from the hand of God the Father, and immediately the four living creatures and the 24 elders fall before Christ the Lamb in worship. Each had a bowl of the incense of the prayers of the saints and a harp to play a new song and sing in the Heavenly Chorus. And they (we) sing that Christ is worthy to open the scroll because of His sacrifice and has made the saved a royal kingdom and priests to God. He alone is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and majesty and honor and glory and blessing! Then all fell down and worshipped God.