Jesus Christ writes to his Churches in the 1st and 21st Centuries

An EasyEnglish Commentary (2800 word vocabulary) on Revelation Chapters 1-3

Les Painter

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A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.


About Revelation chapters 1-3

Imagine what it would have been like, to live at the end of the first century. Your city is a part of the *Roman *Empire. You are a Christian. You are a member of a local church. There is only one church in your city. Your nearest church neighbour is over 40 miles away. There are good *Roman roads. You could travel on your horse. You might reach your nearest neighbour in less than a day. Your leader is John the *apostle. But the rulers have sent him away to another country. The reason was that he was a Christian. There are no large meetings where Christians *worship together. There are no Christian books to encourage you. There is no *New Testament to give you hope.

There have been many *earthquakes in your country. There have been many local wars. You are afraid about many things. You wonder what will happen next.

Your neighbours do not like you. You are different from them. You have a different religion. Every day you are in danger. You turn to other *religious groups for help. But there is no help from them. They do not agree with your religion. They even report you to the authorities. They say that you do not believe in God.

The rulers of the nations do not feel confident. They think that other people want to become leaders. They fear that another will take their place. They are jealous of any new religion. They see other people as a danger to their authority. They bring in new laws. The nation has become their religion. Their leader has become their god. Moreover he is the only one that you may *worship. You ask yourself whether you may one day bow down to a strange god. It would be easy to do this. Some of your Christian brothers and sisters have already given up. They have turned away from Jesus Christ, their *Lord.

This is how it was with the 7 churches in Asia. The description of their situation is in the book of Revelation chapters 1 to 3. There was then a period of much *persecution of Christians. The period was at the end of the first century.

Hear what the Spirit says to the Churches. This request appears 7 times. It is in the second and third chapters of the book of Revelation. These letters went to 7 churches in Asia. The period is in the first century. Maybe the Spirit speaks to Christians in churches today about other matters. But the church in the 21st century still has the same problems. So these three chapters are still very important today.

There is an extra blessing. Those who read these letters will be happy people (Revelation 1:3). Those who hear them will be even happier. They will be even happier if they obey the words in the letters. There is a warning at the end of the book. It warns about anyone who might change the message. They must not add to it or take anything away from it (22:18-19).

The 7 Churches

The 7 churches were in Asia. It is the end of the first century. We have a description of their situation in Revelation chapters 1 to 3. It was a time of great trouble for Christians. *Persecution had started 25 years earlier. It had begun in *Rome. The *Emperor Nero had *persecuted them. The *Emperor Domitian is now the ruler. The authorities in *Rome hate the Christians. The rulers in Asia are also beginning to hate them. They have sent the *apostle John to the little island called Patmos.

The 7 churches were:

·           in Western Turkey. They occupied a wide area of over 200 square miles.

·           among people who *worshipped different gods. Their neighbours had many evil customs.

·           in relationship with the *apostle John.

·           small groups of people. They lived in important cities. They had no church buildings.

·           they had many *earthquakes. There was a *Jewish revolution against *Rome in *AD 66. In *AD 70 the *Romans had destroyed the *Temple in *Jerusalem. This affected the churches. Some of the members were *Jews.

·           always in trouble with the *Jews. The *Jews did not think that they were *believers in the true God.

·           in danger from the *Roman *Emperor Domitian. He was a dangerous man. He had a great opinion of himself. Therefore, he liked people to *worship him. He wanted to be called *lord and god.

·           made to pay big taxes by the *emperor.

·           living with Christians who had stopped believing in Jesus.

·           among false teachers. There were false *prophets in the churches. There were *sexual *sins in the churches.

·           hoping for the return of Jesus. But nothing seemed to be happening.

We note that the number of churches is 7. This number appears 54 times in Revelation.

There are:

·           7 *lampstands (1:12)

·           7 stars (1:16)

·           7 lamps (4:5)

·           7 seals (sign that something is genuine) (5:1)

·           7 horns (they grow on the top of some animals’ heads and show that they are strong) (5:6)

·           7 eyes (5:6)

·           7 *thunders (10:3)

·           7 *angels, *plagues and bowls (15:6, 7, 8).

In the Bible, the number 7 means perfect and complete. The 7 churches in Asia are a part of history. John wrote only to 7 churches. But he also writes to Christians in the whole (complete) church. He speaks to us all. John often says, ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’ (2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). The 7 churches represent churches in all ages. They represent churches in every country.

Those who receive the letters are the 7 churches of Christ. The first words of the book are ‘the *revelation of Jesus Christ’. The book’s last two verses have in them the name of Jesus. The subject and meaning of *revelation is Christ himself. The book is about Jesus Christ, who has risen from death. He has obtained *victory over death. He is now in the place of great power in heaven. This book gives a clear view of him. It is first a *revelation of the *glory of Christ. This book is also about the course of human history. But that takes second place.

John on Patmos

Patmos is an island. On it, there are many rocks. There is not much plant life. It is eight miles long and five miles wide. It is 40 miles away from the main land of Asia. It is about 65 miles from Ephesus. John was probably not a prisoner. One of the rulers in Asia had sent him there (1:1). John had a special relationship with the 7 churches. But he was alone. He could not visit his friends. He knew that *persecution was increasing. It affected all the *believers in Asia. So he writes to them. He wants to help them to be strong. God brings a message to John. The message is for the Christians in the 7 churches. The message is in the Book of Revelation.

What the word *Revelation means

The *Greek word for ‘*revelation’ is ‘apokalupsis’. From that, we get the word ‘apocalypse’ and the word ‘apocalyptic’. It is like this. You have a picture. There is a curtain hiding the picture. You remove the curtain. You can now see the picture. ‘*Revelation’ is something like that. Some things only God knows. We men and women cannot know them. We can know them only if God chooses to show us. It applies in this way. We cannot know what is happening in heaven. We cannot know what will happen in the future. Things are happening in heaven. Things are happening on earth. There is a connection between the two (see Revelation 12:7). ‘*Revelation’ is history as God writes it.

‘*Revelation’ is how God tells us what he wants us to do. Paul says that he went to *Jerusalem by ‘*revelation’. He went because God told him to go there (Galatians 2:2).

‘*Revelation’ is when God shows his truth to men and women. Paul did not receive his *gospel from men. He received it by *revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1:12). The message of the *preacher is a *revelation (1 Corinthians 14:6). The Bible uses the word to show us God’s secrets.

*Revelation is about the whole of our Christian life. God shows us what we must do and say. God shows himself to us through Jesus. We find this in Paul’s letters. In them, he mentions the *revelation of the birth of Jesus Christ (Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:3). He who has seen Jesus has seen the Father (John 14:9). *Revelation tells us about final judgement (Romans 2:5). God will be the judge for those who do not recognise him. But for those who trust in Jesus Christ it is different. For them, the *revelation is of *grace and *glory (1 Peter 1:7). The *revelation is of God’s *grace (1 Peter 1:13). The *revelation is of joy (1 Peter 4:13). *Revelation is not just an idea. It is what God offers to all who will listen.

The *Jews believed that the last days would be times of terrible difficulties. They wrote many books about this. They tried to describe events that were impossible to describe. The book of Revelation is very difficult to understand.

The Book of Revelation

Many people neglect this book. It has strange language. It has signs and pictures. They are difficult to understand. But some people spend a lot of time studying it. It is like a puzzle book to them. *Revelation is about Jesus. It is about his power and his strength. It is ‘the *Revelation of Jesus Christ’ (1:1).

In each of the 7 letters, Jesus says, ‘He who has an ear to hear…’ Jesus expects us to hear what he says. The church belongs to him. We need to understand this. He can therefore say what he likes. He can do what he wants with his church. The book of Revelation brings a message to each one of us.

Plan of Revelation chapters 1-3

1:1-8 ~ The first part of the book of Revelation

1:9-20 ~ God tells John to *prophesy

2:1-3:22 ~ The letters to the 7 churches

            2:1-7 ~ The letter to the church in Ephesus

            2:8-11 ~ The letter to the church in Smyrna

            2:12-17 ~ The letter to the church in Pergamum

            2:18-19 ~ The letter to the church in Thyatira

            3:1-6 ~ The letter to the church in Sardis

            3:7-13 ~ The letter to the church in Philadelphia

            3:14-22 ~ The letter to the church in Laodicea

Chapter 1

1:1-8 The first part of the book of Revelation

There is a description of John’s work in the first five verses in this chapter. He uses three different words. The first is *revelation (apocalypse). It takes the cover off what was secret earlier. The second word is *prophecy. This is in verse 3. Then, in verse 4, he refers to his work as a letter. We find all three descriptions in the book of Revelation

The early chapters help the reader to understand the *prophecies that follow. In them we have the *revelation of Jesus Christ. This could mean the *revelation that Jesus Christ made. It could mean the *revelation that God made about him. It could mean the *revelation that belongs to Jesus Christ. In one way or another, all three are true. The *revelation came from God the Father. It did not come from *angels. It is not a human *revelation. It looks at the questions of history. It brings God’s truth to these questions. Men and women do not create truth. God is the source of all truth. Any truth that we receive comes from God.

God did not make the *revelation directly to John. He sent it through his *angel. This gives the teaching of this book an extraordinary authority. John told everything that he saw. Jesus Christ told him the truth. This truth is the word of God. This means that it is the message from God (verse 2). It is a witness to the truth from Jesus Christ.

Verses 1-3 This book is the *revelation of Jesus Christ. It takes the cover off God’s truth. Otherwise, it would have remained hidden. God gave Jesus these *revelations. He gave them to show his servants what must happen soon. Christ sent this message through his *angel. He sent him to show these *revelations to his servant (slave) John.

God sends his *angel to show the *revelation to John. It is the *revelation of the person of Jesus Christ. He is the one who rose from the dead. The *revelation is that Jesus Christ is *Lord of all. It is a *revelation of God’s *glory and power. John must show God’s servants what must happen soon. ‘Soon’ could mean that it will happen in the very near future. It could mean that it is sure to happen. God has said that it will happen. It could happen quickly. But God’s time is different from ours. One day to God is like a thousand years. A thousand years are like one day to God (2 Peter 3:8).

The blessing in verse 3 is the first of 7 in this book. The message is from God. God will bless (make happy) the person who reads the words of this message. The reader here is not just any person. An official would read a part of the *Old Testament aloud in the *Jewish *synagogue. They did this in the first churches too. A man would read a message to the *congregation. It became part of Christian *worship. A reader became an official in the church.

Next, the people who hear this message will also be happy.

Then there are those who do these things. They practise the things that they hear. They will be happy also. To hear God’s word is a blessing. To obey it is a duty. Here is a warning to anyone that hears but then forgets. It is also a warning to those who take no notice of the message.

John warns that there is not much time left. The first Christians expected the early coming of Jesus Christ. They lived in times of great trouble. So this promise gave them great hope. One day God will take each one of us from the earth. No one knows when this will be. If we have obeyed, we will meet God with confidence.

Verse 4 John sends the message to the 7 churches. They are in the region called Asia (verse 4). He prays for God’s *grace and peace. God is the only God. He is the God who is. He is the God who always was. He is the God who is coming. This refers to the coming of Jesus at the end of the age.

*Grace and peace

The *apostle Paul often starts his letters with a prayer for *grace and peace. He changes the common *Greek word for ‘greetings’ to another word, ‘grace’. The common *Hebrew greeting was ‘*shalom’ or ‘peace’. Paul brings the two greetings together. They form a blessing and a prayer. He prays that his readers may know God’s free help. We do not need to earn this. He also prays that they may know God’s peace. The peace (*shalom) of God is more than just no trouble. ‘Shalom’ has many meanings. It means to be well. It means to have enough for your needs. It means safety and health. Life may be difficult. But we can still know God’s peace.

The message also comes from the 7 *spirits in front of God’s *throne. The 7 *spirits might refer to a group of *angels. There are references here, however, to Father and Son. The words ‘7 *spirits’ appear between these two names. So this probably refers to the Holy Spirit. Seven is a sign of something perfect or complete.

Verse 5 Jesus has three grand titles:

1.         He is the *faithful witness. He witnessed to the truth (John 18:37). It was because of his witness that people killed him.

2.         He was the first one that God raised from death. He rose from death and is alive for ever and ever. He has won the *victory over death. He is the first person in the *kingdom of God. This is an important truth for Christians who suffer *persecution. They need to know this.

3.         He is the ruler of the kings of the earth. Christians who are having *persecution need to know this. The kings of this earth may work against us. But Christ is the King of kings. He controls the history of nations. He rules the kings of earth. His *empire is larger than the *Roman *empire. He rules over the whole world.

Then follow words that praise Jesus. He is the one who loves us. We love Christ because he first loved us. More than that, he has made us free. He has made us free from our *sin. He did this through his blood (death). He died for us on the *cross. The wages for *sin is death. But God gives his people a free gift. It is life for ever in Christ Jesus our *Lord (Romans 6:23). He has also made us free from *sin’s power over us.

Verse 6 There is more. He has made us to be a *kingdom and priests. The *kingdom of God belongs to the people of God. They are the people of the *kingdom. It is not like the *kingdoms of the earth. The people of the *kingdom are those whom God has made free. He has made them free from their *sins. He did this through Jesus Christ. Their purpose is to serve ‘his God and Father’ (verse 6). They are kings. They should rule over *sin. The people of the *kingdom are also priests. This means ordinary Christians. A priest speaks to God on behalf of men. He speaks also to men on behalf of God. Priests pray to God for the world. They tell the world what God has done. They help sad people in the world. They introduce people to God. They pray to the Father for them. To him be *glory and power for ever and ever! *Amen.

Verse 7 Jesus is coming again to this earth. Every eye will see him. This reference comes from the *Old Testament. It is in the book of Zechariah. People will look upon the one whom they have pierced (Jesus). To pierce means to make a hole in something with a pointed object. They will be very sad. It will be like one who cries about the death of a first son. This refers to *David’s family and the people living in *Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:10-13:1). Now all the peoples of the earth will be sad because of Jesus. We are all responsible for the death of Christ. Our *sin has made us responsible.

This is how it will be! ‘So shall it be!’ ‘*Amen’ puts together *Greek and *Hebrew words of agreement. *Amen is a word of agreement. It is not glad about the defeat of the people of the world. The wicked will suffer defeat. The *Amen is glad about the *victory of goodness over evilness. There will be final *victory for Christians who have suffered so much.

Verse 8 God introduces himself as ‘the *Alpha and *Omega’. *Alpha is the first letter of the *Greek alphabet. ‘*Omega’ is the last letter. In English it would be, ‘I am A and Z’. God created all things. He is the one who will end everything. He is the beginning of history. He is the end of history. He is the *Lord of all that comes in between. He is the *Lord King of all the ages. No person, no ruler, no country can oppose the *Lord King. A person who opposes him will never win. Nine times in this book, God has the name ‘Almighty’. This means that nobody can oppose God’s power. His power is very great. He can use his power in any way that he chooses.

The next chapters tell us what Christ thinks about his church. First, he has a right to do this. It is his church. He started it. He set it upon a rock. He promised that the powers of death would not win against it (Matthew 16:8). Second, he knows his church very well. Each of the 7 letters starts with the words ‘I know’.

He knows:

·           the things that they do

·           about their hard work

·           that they suffer

·           that they are patient

·           that they will continue in the *faith to the end

·           about their troubles and that they are poor

·           where they live

·           about their love and *faith

·           about their service and that they will continue to the end.

We shall discover in the next chapters what Christ does think about his church. Sometimes he praises it. Sometimes he blames it. In these letters, we see what an ideal church should be like.

1:9-20 God tells John to *prophesy

The writer of Revelation describes himself just as ‘John’. Some people ask who this might be. The usual view is that he is John the *apostle. He is the son of Zebedee and brother of James. Probably he lived longer than the other *apostles. He was a leader of the church at Ephesus. The authorities had put him in prison on the island called Patmos. He had relations with the 7 churches in Asia. He knew the Christians in these churches.

Verse 9 John says, ‘I was on the island called Patmos’. This means ‘I came to be on the island called Patmos’. He would probably be there for the rest of his life. He was there because of the word of God. He had been a brave *preacher. He was also there for the witness to Jesus. He had been *faithful in *preaching God’s message. He had been *faithful about the truth about Jesus. He suffered for his *faith. The authorities would see him as a poor Christian *preacher. They would make him do very hard and heavy work.

John encourages the Christians in Asia. He describes himself as their brother and companion in suffering. He writes, ‘I am your brother in Christ. We are together in Jesus. We suffer together as members of Christ’s *kingdom.’ Here are three things that we share. We share suffering. We share the *kingdom. We share patience. We mean to carry on until the end.

Verse 10 John was in the Spirit on the *Lord’s Day (verse 10). ‘In the Spirit’ appears several times in the *New Testament. In Revelation, it is in chapter 4 verse 2, chapter 17 verse 3 and chapter 21 verse 10. It may mean some kind of dream. John is especially open to the Holy Spirit. He is prepared to have dreams and to see *visions.

The *vision took place on the *Lord’s Day. This is the only time that this expression appears in the *New Testament. John does not explain it. The *Lord’s Day has its origin in *Caesar’s Day. This might have happened once a week. It was a special day to honour the *emperor. To Christians, however, this day belonged to the *Lord. Jesus is their *Lord. He is the *Lord of this world. He rose from the dead on the first day of the week. So Christians considered this day as the *Lord’s Day. It was right for them to do this.

As John prayed, he had a *vision. First, he heard a voice. It came from behind him. It was a loud voice like a *trumpet. The word ‘*trumpet’ appears quite often in Revelation. It appears more often there than in all the other books in the *New Testament. Usually we associate *trumpets with events that happen in the last days.

Verse 11 The voice said, ‘Write in a book all these things that you see. Send it to the 7 churches. They are Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.’ If a postman had gone to these churches, he would have gone to them in that order. There was a road that connected the 7 churches. It started at Ephesus. It went north to Smyrna and Pergamum. Then it went south through Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.

Verses 12-13 The voice came from behind John. So he turned to see who was there. When he turned, he saw 7 *golden *lampstands. There are descriptions of *lampstands in the *Old Testament. John would know about these. They are:

1.         The *lampstand of pure gold in the Tabernacle. (The Tabernacle was the special tent that the *Jews moved from place to place in the desert. They used it as a *temple.) The *lampstand had 6 parts, like the branches of a tree. There were 3 on one side and 3 on the other. There were 7 lamps (including one in the centre) to give light (Exodus 25:31-37).

2.         The *lampstands in Solomon’s *Temple. There were 10 *lampstands of pure gold. There were 5 on the right and 5 on the left (1 Kings 7:49).

3.         In the *vision of Zechariah. Zechariah saw a *lampstand all of gold. It had a bowl on top of it. It had 7 lamps on it (Zechariah 4:2).

But none of these verses describes 7 separate *lampstands. This is what John saw. Each had a lamp that had a light. Jesus Christ was among the *lampstands. Jesus explained that the 7 *lampstands represented the 7 churches (verse 20).

Christ is in the middle of his people (see Matthew 28:20; John 14:18). He is ‘like a son of man’. This refers to Daniel 7:13. Here we read about a person from heaven. He comes with the clouds. He receives great power. People from every nation and language will *worship him. His rule will last for ever. His *kingdom will last for ever. This person looks like a human person.

The Ancient of Days is a name for God. It shows that he has always been a great king. God gave power and all authority to this Son of Man. Jesus used these words about himself. It is the title of the *Messiah. John is giving Christ the most important place. He is head over all people, countries and rulers.

The Son of Man wears a coat. It reaches down to his feet. This means that he is a very important person. He wears a *golden belt. It is round the upper part of his body.

Verse 14 Jesus’ hair is white like wool. Pure wool is white and like snow. ‘The Ancient of Days’ (God) is like this in Daniel 7:9. White hair gives the idea of wisdom. It gives honour to age. It speaks about Christ who is without beginning or end. He has always been. Snow and white wool give the idea of something that is pure. These words express that Christ is *eternal. Also, he is pure. He is without *sin. You look at a person with white hair. You see him as one who is calm and at peace.

We might compare this with the next description of Jesus. ‘His eyes were like flames of fire’. Again we look at the description of God in the *vision of Daniel. It is, ‘his eyes were like flames of torches’ (Daniel 10:6). Sometimes the eyes of Jesus showed anger (Mark 3:5). Sometimes they looked at someone with love (Mark 10:21). Sometimes they looked at his friends with pain (Luke 22:61).

Verse 15 The next description of Jesus refers to a metal. No one knows what kind of metal it really is. They used to have a special kind of metal. It was a mixture of silver and gold. This would be more precious than either metal. It would shine with a very bright light. The metal is hot and shines in the fire. Here again John would see a reference to the books of Daniel and Ezekiel. ‘The man’s arms and feet shone like polished *brass’ (Daniel 10:6). ‘The animal’s feet shone like polished *brass’ (Ezekiel 1:7). It is possible to see two things here. The *brass in Daniel represents strength. God is sure and strong. The animal’s feet in Ezekiel shone with a bright light. This represents speed. God’s feet move fast. They are quick to help his people. They are quick to punish *sin.

Next John says that his voice was like the sound of rushing water. John would be near the sea. Patmos was a small island. He would always hear the sound of the rushing waves. Again, in Ezekiel, the voice was the voice of God. God’s voice was loud like the sound of the sea (Ezekiel 43:2). God’s voice can be ‘a quiet small voice’ or a gentle wind (1 Kings 19:12). But God’s voice can also be like *thunder. It shows great power and greatness. We should fear this voice.

Verses 16-17 The 7 stars are ‘the *angels of the 7 churches’ (verse 20). These churches are in Jesus’ right hand. This is a sign of God’s help and protection. In the letters that follow, Jesus has some hard things to say to his churches. But he has not left them. He still holds them in his hand.

John, in his *vision, saw Jesus. He is Jesus to whom God had given life after death. John fell at Jesus’ feet. It seemed that John was dead. It was the custom then to fall down in front of an important person. This was to show respect and honour. Here, John fell down through the power of Christ. It was the physical effect of this great *vision. The *apostle Peter had the same experience. When he realised who Jesus was, he fell down on his knees. He was aware only that he was a *sinful man (Luke 5:1-11). We often have fears. Jesus still says to us, ‘I am here; do not be afraid.’

Jesus put his hand on John. He told him not to be afraid (verse 17). At any time, Christ has the whole church in his hands. At any time, he can look after any particular person. God’s hand is strong enough to hold the heavens. It is gentle enough to wipe away our tears.

The sharp sword had two edges. It came out of Jesus’ mouth. The sword is a tool in war for attack. It takes strong action against its enemies. The *Roman sword was short and in the shape of a tongue. There is this description of the sword of God in the *Old Testament. ‘He made my mouth like a sharp sword’ (Isaiah 49:2). The word of God is like a sword. It cuts in deep. It shows our *sins. We cannot hide from God. ‘The word of God is alive. It is active. It is sharper than any sword with two edges’ (Hebrews 4:12). It is a word (sword) of judgement. In his right hand, however, Jesus holds the 7 stars (churches). He holds them to protect them. See verse 20.

John now speaks about the face of Jesus. It shines like the sun. This same reference is in Matthew 17:2. The appearance of the *Lord is strong. It is like a shining light. It is bright and splendid. But to his enemies it is terrible.

The words ‘the first and the last’ are very much the same as ‘*Alpha and *Omega’. In verse 8, it is another term for Jesus Christ. It is a description of God. We find it in Isaiah 44:6 and 48:12. It is the promise that Jesus is there at the beginning and at the end. He is the same yesterday, today and for ever (Hebrews 7:3; 13:8). He is there the moment we are born. He is there when we die.

Verse 18 This verse emphasises the *resurrection. Christ won the *victory over death. Here is the promise that he is alive. He is alive now. He will always be alive. We have the same thoughts about the Father in Revelation 4:10 and 10:6. There is the same truth about God in Daniel 12:7. He is with his people now. He will always be with his people. This would have been a great comfort to the Christians in Asia.

*Hades is the place of souls who have left this earth. Jesus puts *Hades and death together. They are an enemy. Christians believe that Christ has beaten death. He has brought life into the open. He has achieved this through the *gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). Because he lives, we shall live also (John 14:19). Death has its gates (Psalm 9:13; 107:18; Isaiah 38:10). There are keys that will open these gates. Keys represent authority. Christ holds the keys of death and *Hades. He has power to send people to death and to *Hades. He has power to rescue them. He rules over the world of *spirits. He rules over death. The *Roman *emperor has no such authority. Neither does any other ruler. This truth gave great hope to the early Christians. It gives great hope to us too.

Verse 19 Jesus repeats the command to write (verse 11). John must include:

1.         what he has seen. This is the *vision of Christ.

2.         what is now. The next two chapters describe the events that are now happening. In these chapters, we see the situation of the 7 churches. The letters tell us about their different situations.

3.         what will take place later. This is in the *visions in chapters 4 to 22. The Christians had many troubles. They needed to have some idea about future events. This was important to them.

‘What is’ and ‘what will be’, apply to the whole book. There is a connection between past, present and future. We find this in the *visions.

Verse 20 ‘Mystery’ here means something that people could not understand. But God has now made the meaning known to them. The meaning is secret.

The 7 stars are the *angels of the 7 churches. The word *angel means ‘*messenger’. This can mean a human *messenger (Luke 7:24; 9:52). But it is more likely to be someone from heaven. He would be God’s *messenger. There are *angels who guard people or nations. They are responsible to protect a person or nation. *Israel had an *angel, Michael. He looked after the national interests (Daniel 10: 13, 20, 21). *Angels may mean the leaders or ministers of the churches. They are the *Lord’s *messengers to the churches. God would speak through them. A ‘*messenger’ may be someone whom the Christians appointed. He would represent them. They had someone like this in the *synagogue. He would be the one who led the prayers.

Each of the above explanations has its difficulty. The Christians in these churches are different from their neighbours. The Christians are God’s people. They are ‘in Christ’ (verse 9). They are God’s holy people. They are priests and kings to God with Christ. They are like lights in the world. Jesus, the true Light, shines through them. John refers to them as *angels of the churches. This is a possible explanation. Their lives on earth match what their lives will be in heaven.

The stars are in Christ’s right hand. In those days the 7 *planets were a sign for authority. The Romans believed that the *planets were gods. They had power over the lives of men and women. They represented the political power of the *Roman *emperors. They ruled the world. The 7 stars often appear on *Roman coins.

The rule over this world is not in the hands of the *Caesars of *Rome. It is Jesus who rules. He is the *Lord of the church. John says that the Christians are kings and priests to God (Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:6). They have this position by God’s *grace. The rule of the world does not belong to men. They would only damage the Christian church. The church belongs to Christ and to God and to his people. This is probably the best way to understand the stars in Christ’s hands.

The 7 *lampstands represent the 7 churches. The 7 churches are no more important than *lampstands. The churches are just the lamps that hold the light. The light is Christ. The churches must show his light to the world.

2:1-3:22 The letters to the 7 churches

We now study the letters to the 7 churches. In each letter, we see some of the history of each church. We also see some of their qualities. Each letter was to a particular church. The reader would read the letter to the members. The letter was, for other churches too. Here in Asia, God is speaking about the needs of small churches. But the contents are for all God’s people. The letters are for all times and in all places. John is writing to the 7 churches. He is also writing to the Christian church as a whole.

There is a pattern to the letters. We may list this as follows:

1.         A greeting ‘to the *angel of the church in…..’

2.         A title of the *Lord Jesus Christ. This usually comes from the description in chapter 1.

3.         A section with the heading ‘I know’. Then comes praise for what is good in the church’s record. But there is no praise for Laodicea.

4.         Blame. This does not apply to Smyrna or Philadelphia.

5.         A warning.

6.         Words that urge the Christians in that church to do better. This begins ‘He who has an ear….’

7.         A promise. This begins with ‘To him who overcomes I will give….’

There is a further pattern in the arrangement of the 7. Churches 1 and 7 are in very great danger. Churches 2 and 6 are in good health. Churches 3, 4 and 5 are in the middle. They are neither very good nor very bad.

The *angel delivered these letters to 7 churches in Asia. This was in the first century *AD. These letters were a great comfort to the early Christians. But, they apply to the church in all ages. The devil attacks the church in three ways. He attacks by *persecution. He attacks by error. He attacks by *sin. It is the same today as it was in the first century.

In some parts of the world today there is severe *persecution. Thousands of Christians die because they remain *faithful to Christ. In other parts of the world, some people have great wealth and possessions. There are false political ideas. There are many wrong beliefs. Everywhere there are bad moral standards. The devil tries to persuade the Christians to lower their standards. God has put the church in the world. The devil tries to put the ideas of the people of the world into the church. Christ expects us to fight against the devil. Each of the letters that follow gives us important words. These help us to understand what Christ expects from his church.

Chapter 2

2:1-7 The letter to the church in Ephesus


Pergamum was the official capital city of the region called Asia. But Ephesus was the most important of the 7 cities. Ephesus had the largest harbour in Asia. It was on the River Cayster. It was the nearest of the 7 cities to Patmos. It involved a sea journey of about 60 miles. All the roads in the Cayster Valley went into Ephesus. People coming to Asia from *Rome would come through Ephesus. Much of the trade from the East came through the port of Ephesus. It was a rich business centre.

Ephesus was an important *religious centre. It was the centre of the *worship of the goddess Artemis. (A goddess is a female god.) Sometimes her name is Diana of the *Ephesians. The *temple of Artemis was one of the 7 wonders (interesting and important places) in the ancient world. Artemis and her *temple were important to the people at Ephesus. The Romans called their *Roman *Emperors, Claudius and Nero, gods. They also had famous *temples in Ephesus.

There was much false religion and magic in Ephesus. There was *sexual *sin among the priestesses. (A priestess is a female priest.) The *apostle Paul visited Ephesus. He spent over two years there. He started the church there (Acts 19: 8, 10). They sold silver models of Diana’s *temple in Ephesus. When Paul *preached, he badly affected that trade. It caused great confusion in the city. Luke describes this in Acts chapter 19. Later Paul sent his important letter to the Ephesians. Ephesus had the most famous games in Asia. They had these every year.

Verse 1 The greeting is to the *angel of the church in Ephesus. But there is no doubt that the message is to the Christians in the church. It comes from Christ, who is alive after death. He holds the 7 stars in his right hand (see 1:16). This means that Christ holds the churches in his hand. The word ‘holds’ here has a strong meaning. It is stronger than in Revelation 1:16. It means a firm grip. Christ has complete control over the church. We are safe in the hand of Christ. Jesus said, ‘They shall never die. No one shall steal them out of my hand’ (John 10:28). Christ grips all the churches in his hand. He holds the whole church in his hand.

He walks in the middle of the 7 *golden *lampstands. In the *Old Testament, there are references to God as he walks among his people (Leviticus 26:12; Daniel 3:25). The *lampstands represent the churches. Christ is always active in the middle of his churches. He loves them and cares for them. Jesus said, ‘where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18:20).

Verse 2 Christ knows what happens among his people. He chooses three things:

1.         I know all about the things that you do.

2.         I know about your hard work. It is work that makes you very tired. The church at Ephesus was an active church. They were busy people. They looked after sick people. They taught young people. They cared for old people. Every member did something for Christ.

3.         I know your perseverance (strong effort). Their neighbours were not friendly towards them. They had many enemies. There were many religions in the city. People *worshipped the *emperor. Some people practised magic. Business people opposed them (see Acts chapter 19). Sometimes the shops would not sell goods to the Christians. Many people hated the Christians.

The Christians at Ephesus refused to *worship the *emperor. And they refused to *worship Diana of the *Ephesians. Jesus says to them, ‘I know your perseverance (strong effort)’. Perseverance is like courage. The Christians did not give up. Life was hard for them. They were brave people. They accepted the hard things. They turned these things to good. They showed the love and *grace of Christ in their lives. They showed the light of Christ to their neighbours.

The next thing that Christ approves is that the Christians do not accept evil people. There were men who claim to be *apostles. The Christians at Ephesus have tested these evil men. They have proved that they tell lies. They show that these people are not true *apostles. They are false *apostles. These men did not understand the truth. They told lies. They taught people things that were lies. Paul had warned that evil men would come to the church. They would be like wild animals (Acts 20:29). Jesus too had warned about this (Matthew 7:15). Ephesus was on the main road to *Rome and to the east. So many evil people would travel through Ephesus. All these things were happening there.

The Christians tested these false *apostles. Paul asks the Thessalonians to test all things. Then they should hold on to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Paul asks that Christians should test what the *prophets said (1 Corinthians 14:29). Jesus demanded the hardest test of all. He said, ‘by their fruits (the things they do) you will know them (Matthew 7:15-20). The Christians in Ephesus used the tests. They found that these *apostles were false.

Verse 3 The real Christians in Ephesus have passed the test. They continue to live as Christians. They continue to be *faithful to Christ. They live for the name of Jesus their *Lord. They have many troubles. But they refuse to give way. They have not become tired.

Christ has hard things to say to the Christians in the churches. He says hard things to Ephesus and Thyatira. But first, he gives more praise to these Christians.

Verse 4 There are good things in Ephesus. The Christ who has come back to life approves these things. But now something is missing. Christ says, ‘you have lost your first love’.

This could mean different things:

1.         You have lost your love for people outside the church. There are people that no one else loves. You have lost your love for them. You do not make friends with people and love them. You have left the love you had for them in the beginning. You have stopped loving ordinary people.

2.         You have stopped loving one another. The Christians at Ephesus had really loved one another. This was in the early days. They had agreed with one another. They had a common purpose. But something had gone wrong. Maybe they had started to look for faults in one another. They pointed to other members. They accused them of accepting false teaching. But right teaching cannot replace love. Jesus said, ‘you must love each other as I have loved you’ (John 13:34). Without love, all else is nothing. There is a passage about this in 1 Corinthians chapter 13.

3.         It could mean that you do not love Jesus as you used to do. ‘You do not love me now as you did at first.’ You have neglected your first love. The word has a strong meaning. In their first love, they were eager and excited. But they had completely left behind that kind of love. In the *Old Testament God often calls *Israel his bride. God himself is her husband (Ezekiel 16:8). But *Israel then found other lovers. These were the gods of the other nations. She (*Israel) left her first love. So Jeremiah speaks the word of the *Lord. All the people in *Jerusalem hear him. He says, ‘I remember your love when you were young. You loved me as a bride. You followed me through the desert’ (Jeremiah 2:2). They had been in love with him. But now that love had gone.

Verse 5 Christ calls the Christians at Ephesus to come back to him. They should do this in three ways:

1.         They should remember what they were like in the beginning. The loss of their first love had come slowly. It came little by little. They did not realise what was happening. So, Christ tells them to keep on remembering. They used to enjoy a close walk with God. They should keep thinking about that. The story about the son who left home is a good example. The son went to a far country. His father had given him money. He wasted the money. He became ill. He had not enough food. Then he remembered his home and the good life there (Luke 15:17).

2.         They should *repent. To repent is to admit that you are wrong. You are sorry about this. You decide to change your ways. You break away from your previous ways. You live in a different way. You do not blame other people. The son in the story above understood this. He said, ‘I will get up. I will return to my father. I will say that I have been wrong’ (Luke 15:18).

3.         You should do the things that you did at first. You did certain things when you first loved Christ. Remember those things. Continue to do them. You must love people as you did at first. Love one another as you did at first. Turn back to God. Admit that you have done wrong things. Ask him to forgive you. Ask for his help. Like Peter pray, ‘God be kind to me, a *sinner’. You must strongly decide to change your ways.

There is a warning about what will happen if the Christians do not listen. They will have much trouble. It will happen quickly. Jesus says, ‘I am coming’. Christ will remove their *lampstand. This may mean that he will destroy that church. A church cannot exist without love. Christ gives them a choice. They have a choice to *repent or not to *repent. If they *repent, there is hope for them. If they do not *repent there is no hope.

There is evidence that they did listen to Christ’s words. A *bishop wrote to the Christians at Ephesus at the beginning of the second century. Good things were happening in the church. But that did not continue. A traveller visited the city. That was many years later. He found only three Christians there. They hardly knew the names of Paul and John, the *apostles. Many churches today no longer exist. They may still have their buildings. They may still have a minister. They may still have a few people. But their *lampstand has gone. The light has gone. The reason is that there is no love. The church is a dark place.

Ephesus city has gone as well. Now there are only ruins there. The harbour is six miles from the sea. There are only sandy beaches there. Ships cannot enter. The mud from the River Cayster always caused problems. The battle against it has been lost. Ephesus is no longer an important and wealthy city.

Verse 6 There is hope however. There is something that helps them. ‘You hate the things that the *Nicolaitans do. I also hate what they do.’ It may seem strange to say that Christ hates. Maybe we love someone very much. But we may hate something that they do. We see that it is ruining their life. We therefore hate what they are doing. But we still love them.

The *Nicolaitans and the teaching of Balaam

We read about the *Nicolaitans in the book of Revelation. This is the only reference we have to them. Early Christian writers had different views about them. No one can really be certain who they were. We meet them again in Pergamum (verse 15). There we also learn about ‘those who follow the teaching of Balaam’. There is a link with these people and the *Nicolaitans. There is a link too with those who eat certain foods. Some had used this food in their *worship of *idols. Also, many had wrong sex. There is the same problem in Thyatira. In that church, there is a woman called Jezebel. She encouraged Christians to have wrong sex. They ate food that people used in *idol *worship. She encouraged them to join in that. These are dangers that come from inside the church. They do not come from outside.

We have mentioned two groups of people. They are the *Nicolaitans and those who follow the teaching of Balaam. There is a way in which these two are the same. The name of the man who started the *Nicolaitans was (in *Greek) Nicolaus. This name comes from two words. One means ‘*victory’. The other means ‘the people’. We have the same in the name Balaam. This name (in *Hebrew) is two words. One is to ‘defeat’. The other is ‘the people’. So the two names are the same. They both describe an evil teacher. Both had won *victories over the people. Both had taught the people evil things. We see the name Balaam in Numbers chapters 25 and 31. He caused the *Israelites to *sin (Numbers 31:16). In *Hebrew history, Balaam was an evil man.

Early *bishops said that a man called Nicolaus started the *Nicolaitans. They said that he was one of the 7 special servants (Acts 6:5). But some ask whether he was responsible for the behaviour of the Christians at Ephesus. Bible teachers cannot agree about this. Nicolaus taught that we must keep the body under control. Other people later followed him. Perhaps these people did not completely understand his teaching. Nicolaus emphasised that we should be careful about the use of our bodies. But some Christians ate the wrong kind of food. Other people had used in it in false *worship. For Christians this was not right.

Those who followed Nicolaus gave a different meaning to his teaching. They said that the Law (The Ten Rules) was no longer for Christians. Christians were free to do as they wished. The *apostle Paul did not agree with this (see Galatians 5:13). These people also argued that the physical body is evil. Therefore a Christian is free to do what he likes with it. They gave a further argument. They argued that Christ’s *grace has saved us. Therefore, it does not matter what you do. You can do anything that pleases you. God’s *grace will protect you from trouble. This is false teaching.

The standards of Christians are different from those of people who are not Christians. We find Christian standards in what Christian leaders teach us. We find them in our Bibles. The Christians’ neighbours in Ephesus lived by different standards. They were not careful about what they ate and drank. They had no rules on *sexual relationships. To them, wrong behaviour was normal. The false teachers claimed that they were not destroying the church. They were improving it. They were making it more favourable. People outside the church would then accept it. What the *Nicolaitans taught was very dangerous. The Christians at Ephesus must not follow them. Such ideas are a danger to the church today. The enemy can be inside the church as well as outside it.

Verse 7 ‘He who has an ear’. This phrase appears in each of the letters. This means, ‘every person that hears these things should listen to what the Spirit says’. Jesus said the same to his *disciples (Mark 4:9 and other references). The *Holy Spirit is always asking us to listen. The message is to ‘the churches’. It is not just to one church. It is not only for the Christians in Asia. They lived a long time ago. It is for everyone who ‘has an ear’. In each letter, Christ is the speaker. But the words here are what the Spirit says. The word of Christ is the word of the Spirit. Christ speaks to the Christians in his churches through the Holy Spirit.

The tree of life

The word ‘*paradise’ is from the country called Persia. It is a park with a wall round it. It is a garden for pleasure. ‘Paradise’ describes a place with great beauty. The word in the *Old Testament is ‘garden’ (Eden). It is also called *Paradise. The two terms are the same. The ‘Garden of Eden’ or ‘Paradise’ referred to the future life. It would be the home of *righteous people.

In the middle of the first Garden of Eden was the tree of life (Genesis 2:9). But there was another tree, the tree of knowledge. God told Adam not to eat the fruit from that tree (Genesis 2:16, 17). God knew that it would not be good for Adam and Eve. They both ate the fruit. So God sent them out of the garden (Genesis 3:22-24). So then, they could not get to the tree of life.

In the *Old Testament, ‘the tree of life’ represents different things. Wisdom is the tree of life. It gives full life to people who accept it (Proverbs 3:18). The fruit of the *righteous is a tree of life (Proverbs: 11:30). You may hope for something. When you get it, it is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12). A tongue is a tree of life (Proverbs 15:4).

Christ sends a message to everyone who wins the *victory. He sends it to each of the churches. He gives a promise to those who keep going on. They are those who continue to the final *victory. Christ will allow them to eat the fruit of the tree of life. In the beginning, Adam *sinned. The result was that he could not get to the tree of life. God put an *angel to guard the way. The *angel had a sword in his hand (Genesis 3:24).

Now Christ opens the way to God’s *Paradise. This means that we may enjoy *eternal life. Two thieves died with Jesus on the *cross. To one of them Jesus promised entry into *Paradise. He was the one who was sorry for his *sin (Luke 23:43). *Eternal life is to know God and his Son Jesus Christ (John 17:3). It is life for ever with our *Lord. Heaven is where God is. God is love. Heaven is the place where there is perfect love. God allows entry to those who win the *victory (22:14). But he may remove this right (22:19). The reward for love is more love.

2:8-11 The letter to the church in Smyrna


Smyrna is almost due north from Ephesus. It is about 35 miles away, on the coast. It was the next city on a postman’s journey. Smyrna was a beautiful city. They called it the crown of Asia. They called it the flower of Asia. There were beautiful streets and beautiful houses there. There were many beautiful *temple buildings on Mount Pagus. They had a street of gold. This was the most famous street. At one end was the *temple of Zeus. At the other end was the *temple of Cybele. Smyrna competed with Ephesus to be the best city. It had a good road to the rest of Asia. It had a good natural harbour. Therefore, there was much trade in this city. It was one of the richest cities in Asia. Its name now is Izmir. An *earthquake had destroyed the city in 600 *BC. The city had been a ruin for 300 years.

The people in Smyrna were clever at politics. They always chose to be on the right side in wars. In 195 *BC the rulers of Smyrna made a goddess (female god) called Roma. She represented *Rome city as a god. They built a *temple to her. Smyrna was the first city in the world to do this. There was a competition in *AD 25. It was between the cities in Asia. It was for the honour to build a *temple to *Emperor Tiberius. Smyrna won the competition. The judges held their courts in Smyrna. It became a free city. It competed with Ephesus for first place in everything.

Verse 8 The message is from the First and the Last (see 1:27). The message refers to the *Resurrection. Jesus is the one who died. He came to life again. This description is fitting to this city. The city had died in an *earthquake. The people had built it again.

Verse 9 Christ knows that the members of this church suffer. There are three reasons for this:

1.         They have afflictions, which are serious troubles. ‘Afflictions’ are like pushing a heavy weight on someone.

2.         They are very poor. The *Greek word for poor means that they had nothing at all. They were as poor as it was possible to be. There were rich people in Smyrna. So, we may not understand why the Christians were so poor. It could be because of their businesses. Maybe they refused to use wrong methods. Maybe the *Jews and *pagans refused to trade with them. It may have been difficult for them to find employment. Maybe people robbed their houses (see Hebrews 10:34). But Jesus says that they are rich. Jesus said, ‘blessed are you poor’ (Luke 6:20). Paul said this to the Christians in Corinth. ‘We are sad, but we are always happy. We are poor but we are making many people rich. We are making them rich in *faith’ (2 Corinthians 6:10).

3.         Some of the *Jews said evil things about the Christians. *Jewish people were telling lies about the Christians. Christ called these people ‘a *synagogue of *Satan’. The *Greek word ‘*synagogue’ means people coming together. It is when people meet together. It is a *congregation. This is what John is saying. ‘You call yourself a meeting place of God. The truth is that you are a meeting place of the devil.’

They should have been a *synagogue of the *Lord (see also Revelation 3:9 and Numbers 16:3). They learned their ways from their master. He is the devil (see verse 10). This means one who accuses. Jesus called him a liar (a person who does not speak the truth) and the father of lies (John 8:44). Those who follow him do not like the truth. The insults would have made the Christians sad. They did not behave like their neighbours. In this, the Christians copied their Master (see 1 Peter 2:23).

John is referring to a group of *Jews in Smyrna. He is not saying that all *Jews were like these *Jews. He does not apply this to the whole *Jewish nation. Jesus was a *Jew. John himself was a *Jew. John is describing this group of *Jews in Smyrna. This group had become like those who followed *Satan.

There were six lies about the Christians.

1.         The words of the *Lord’s Supper. These are, ‘this is my body and this is my blood’. They said that Christians ate people.

2.         The Christians called the *Lord’s Supper the love *feast. So their enemies accused them of wrong *sexual behaviour.

3.         Sometimes, some members of a family would become Christians. Other people in the family would not. Their enemies said that they were dividing families. They were spoiling family relationships.

4.         The *heathens accused the Christians of atheism. Atheism is a belief that God does not exist. They could not understand that Christians did not *worship *idols. The *pagans *worshipped images of their gods. The Christians would not do this.

5.         They said that the Christians were not loyal to *Caesar. They would not say, ‘*Caesar is *Lord’.

6.         Christians said that the world would end in flames. So they accused them of using fire to cause damage.

The *Lord knows their situation. But he does nothing to end their troubles. They are poor. But he does not make them rich. Some of the *Jews speak evil things about them. The authorities put some of them into prison. The *Lord does not remove all these troubles. He encourages the Christians to continue in their *faith. We often ask this question. ‘Why does the *Lord not help us when we are in great need?’ The writer of the book of Job wrote a lot about this. Christians have struggled with this problem ever since. John does not give an answer. But in the whole book of Revelation, there is a strong certainty. God will never leave us.

Jesus has given us a job to do. Jesus suffered when he died for us on the *cross. He calls us to share in his suffering. We may suffer. But we also share his *glory in his *kingdom. There are many references in the *New Testament to this (Mark 8:34; Colossians 1:24; Hebrews 10:32-34).

Verse 10 The Christians in Smyrna must not be afraid. They are certain to suffer. *Satan will put some of them into prison. This will test them. But God will qualify them to pass the test. Many Christians are in prison. That is the work of the devil. The testing is the work of God.

Prison in those days was not punishment. It was a place of waiting. People waited for a decision on their crime. The result might be work in the salt mines. The result might be that they must leave the country. The result might be death. Whatever the result, they would only spend a short time in prison.

These troubles will last ten days. Ten days was the period of Daniel’s testing (Daniel 1:12-15). This may refer to the end of their suffering. It will last only for a short time. It will be a hard test but it will end. God speaks the last word (see James 1:12). It is not *Satan who speaks.

The Christian message was not popular. The people in Smyrna did not want to hear it. They did not approve of the Christian way of life, with its high standards. High standards are difficult. Sometimes lower standards tempt us. It would be easy for us to lower our standards. It would be easy for us to live as other people live. Here in Smyrna Jesus encourages the Christians. He asks them to be *faithful even if they have to die. We fear death. The opposite of death is life. Here there is no ‘the’ before ‘death’. ‘Life’ is ‘the life’. John is referring to *eternal life. Jesus knew the pain of death. But he won the *victory over pain and death.

There are two *Greek words for ‘crown’. One is the royal crown that kings and queens wear. The crown here is not that one. The other *Greek word is a prize. Here it is something like a bundle of flowers. The winner at the games would receive this. It was a sign of *victory. It would be especially suitable in Smyrna. In Smyrna, they had the famous sports games. The crown was a prize for *victory. The *believer who remained loyal would receive a crown like that (see 2 Timothy 2:5; 1 Corinthians 9:24; Philippians 3:14; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4). Suffering is the distinction of a true Christian.


A famous *bishop belonged to the church in Smyrna. His name was Polycarp. He was one of the best known Christians. He became Smyrna’s *bishop. He died about *AD 160. The Christians in Smyrna suffered greatly. This was because they refused to *worship the *Roman *emperor. It was dangerous to be a Christian in Smyrna. The *Jews and the local people accused Polycarp of being a Christian. The rulers arrested him. They brought him to the courts. The judge ordered him to curse Christ. He ordered him to say, ‘*Caesar is *Lord’. But for Polycarp only Jesus was *Lord. He told the judge that he had served his *Lord for 86 years. During that time he had received only good things from his *Lord. This was his reply to the judge. ‘How can I curse my King who saved me?’ They all then made a large fire. They burnt him to death.

Verse 11 For ‘he who has an ear…’ see note on verse 7.

The burning of *incense on an *altar

Once a year the *Roman citizen had to burn a piece of *incense. He did this on an *altar. *Caesar had announced that he was a god. So the citizen made this *sacrifice to the god named *Caesar. An official would witness this *sacrifice. He would then give the citizen a *certificate. This *certificate approved of the citizen. He had performed his *religious duty. This *certificate did not prove that his religion was correct. That was not its purpose. It was a political test. He had passed the test. That meant that he was a good citizen. It proved that he was *Caesar’s friend. He was loyal to the state.

It was a benefit to have this *certificate. The *Roman government was good to each of its citizens. The citizen could *worship any god that he chose. But he must not refuse to burn the *incense. That was dangerous. People would say that he was not a loyal citizen. The *Roman government would consider him an enemy. He might cause trouble. He might oppose their government. He would be a danger to the state.

So all that the Christian had to do was to burn this *incense. He then said, ‘*Caesar is *Lord’. He received his *certificate. He then *worshipped as he wanted to. But a Christian could not do this. He could not give any man the name of *Lord. That name was for Jesus Christ only. So Christians were always in danger. At any time, someone might go the authorities. They might tell them that a Christian did not possess this *certificate. The authorities could then put him into prison. They could even kill him.

There is another promise to those who are *faithful. The second death will not hurt them. The words ‘the second death’ are only in the book of Revelation. There was a *religious group called the Sadducees. They were among the *Jewish leaders. They believed that after death there was nothing. Another group also believed this. They were the Epicureans. For both of these groups death was the end. But to other *Jewish leaders this was too easy. It did not seem right to them. It meant that the end was the same for everyone. It was the same for both the wise person and the fool (Ecclesiastes 2:15, 16; 9:2).

The belief was that there were two deaths. First, there was physical death. This death comes to every person. Then there was another death. This was the punishment of God. There was a connection with this belief and the idea of *paradise (2:7). See note on the Tree of Life. Everyone passed to another state until the time for judgement. Many *Jews and early Christians believed this. This meant that there would be two deaths. The first would be physical death. No one can escape that. There would also be a *spiritual death. This would be for the wicked.

John speaks about those who remain *faithful. The second death will not hurt them. Paul said the same thing. The promise is to those who love Jesus Christ. Nothing can separate them from their *Lord. Neither life nor death can separate them (Romans 8: 38, 39).

Many Christians in the world today face problems. These may not be the same as the problems in Smyrna. The tests may be of a different kind. Perhaps we do what everyone else does. We know that these things are wrong. But we are afraid to be different. We believe that Jesus is *Lord. Our task is to live to please him. Every person who hears these things should listen. He should listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.

2:12-17 The letter to the church in Pergamum


Pergamum was to the north from Smyrna. It was about 55 miles away. Pergamum was famous for its schools and colleges. There was a large library there. It had over 200 000 books. In those days, people wrote books by hand. They wrote on a material called *parchment. They made it from the skins of animals. They invented *parchment in Pergamum. This was in the third century *BC. ‘*Parchment’ comes from the name of the city. Pergamum was like a royal city. The most important *Roman official lived there. He held his court of law there. There were 120 000 people in the city. There were 3500 theatres.

But this was where *Satan lived. This was where the dark *kingdom was. *Satan is the ruler of this dark world. He hates the light (Luke 22:53; Ephesians 6:12; John 3:20). Pergamum was where *Satan had his *throne. People *worshipped many gods in this city. There was a large *altar to the god Zeus. He was a *Greek god. His statue (a person that someone makes out of material) stood on a rock. It was 40 feet high. It was 800 feet up on a hill. It looked like a great *throne on the hill.

There was another god there. He was Asclepios. He was the god of Pergamum. He was the god of healing. People came to Pergamum from all over the world. They came to get better from their illnesses. ‘Asclepios’ means ‘the *saviour’. The Christians would not have approved of this. To them only Jesus is the *Saviour. He is the *Saviour of the whole world. Also, the sign of Asclepios was a snake. The Christians would not have accepted that either (see 12:9). *Satan came to Adam and Eve as a snake. The people in the city *worshipped many other gods.

Pergamum was the centre of government in Asia. The head of the government was *Caesar, the *emperor. He called himself a god. People had to *worship him. They had to say, ‘*Caesar is *Lord’. If they would not say it, the rulers would kill them. Christians could not make this statement. To them only Jesus is *Lord. John used the words ‘the *throne of *Satan’. This is probably why he used this description.

Verse 12 The greeting is from ‘him who has the sharp sword. This sword has two edges. Pergamum was the centre of government. *Caesar was the ruler. An official represented him in the city. He had power to put people to death. He would kill them with the sword. The use of this word ‘sword’ is important. There is a greater power than *Caesar. The *Lord Jesus Christ has a sharp sword. He is stronger than any world power.

Verse 13 Jesus says, ‘I know where you live’. ‘Live’ here means ‘stay’. It is the place where they have always been. It is their permanent home. Jesus is always with them. So he knows all about them. He knows about their troubles. He knows the kind of people that they live with. These are not friendly people. They *worship many other gods. This is the place where *Satan is very strong. The *Lord says; ‘but you remain true to my name’. ‘You did not stop having *faith in me’.

John tells us about a man called Antipas. He was a *faithful witness. A witness is someone who speaks God’s message. He speaks the truth. He could be in great danger. But he does not fear. We know nothing about Antipas. The authorities probably killed him. They did this because of his *faith. The *Greek word for ‘witness’ is ‘martyr’. Martyrs are people who die for their *faith. There were many martyrs in the early church. There are many martyrs today. Jesus himself is the *faithful witness (martyr) (1:5; 3:14). Jesus gives Antipas the same title. Like Jesus, Antipas is a *faithful witness (martyr).

Verse 14 There were a few things that were wrong. There was false teaching in the church. Some followed the teaching of Balaam. This was the enemy inside the church. For Balaam, see note on the *Nicolaitans and the teaching of Balaam in verse 6. The *Israelites were ready to cross the River Jordan. They were ready to enter the Promised Land. King Balak wanted Balaam to curse *Israel. Balaam tried to speak. But words of cursing would not come. Instead, the *Lord gave Balaam words of blessing. Balaam then had another plan. The girls in Moab should make friends with the *Israelite men. They would get them to take part in their evil meals. So Balaam advised King Balak to trap the *Israelites. There were two ways in which the *Israelites could *sin:

1.         By eating food which men *sacrificed to false gods. People would *sacrifice animals to their god. Then they would sell the meat in the market. The *Israelites would buy the meat. Then they would eat it. But this was not right for them.

2.         By *sexual *sins.

There was a big meeting in Jerusalem in *AD 49. The leaders of the church were there. They said that Christians should not take part in these two things (Acts 15:20).

The people in Pergamum did these things. They held big parties. There was much evil behaviour in them. But these things were not right for the Christians. God had different plans for them. They must not act as their neighbours did. God required this. They were to be holy people. The *Greek word for holy means different or separate. This is the *New Testament meaning. God is holy because he is different from men and women. The Christian is holy because he is different from other people.

Verse 15 They also had those who obeyed the teaching of the *Nicolaitans. See note on verse 6. They taught two false things. These were the example of Balaam and what the *Nicolaitans taught. They were similar. They both taught the same thing. It was that Christians did not need to obey God’s rules. Christ had saved them. Therefore, as Christians, they were free. They were no longer under the law. They did not need to obey God’s rules. They had God’s *grace. They were free to behave in *sinful ways. God’s *grace would cover all their *sins.

This was what they taught. You may continue to *sin. But God’s *grace is sufficient for you. God will continue to give you his *grace. They taught more than this. The more you *sin, the more God will send his *grace (Galatians 6: 1, 2). So it is good to *sin. Clearly, this is false. It is the enemy inside the church.

Verse 16 Christ commands these people to *repent. Otherwise, he will fight against them. ‘The sword of my mouth’ means the words that Christ speaks. They are true words. They are words of the *gospel. Christ did not say ‘I will fight with you.’ He said, ‘I will fight with them.’ His words were not for the ordinary people in the church. His words were for the false teachers. The words of the *gospel can save us. These same words will destroy some people. They will destroy those who do not obey the *gospel.

The words of Christ are important. They are true words. His words ask us to *repent. This means to say that we are sorry. But there is something more. He asks us to change the direction of our lives. He asks us to go in a different direction. He asks us to turn towards him and not away from him.

Verse 17 For ‘he who has an ear…’ see note on verse 7. Christ offers two precious gifts. They are for those who win the *victory. They are for those who continue in the *faith. The gifts are the hidden *manna and a white stone. This stone has a new name written on it.

The hidden *manna

The *Israelites were in the desert. They had no food. God gave them *manna to eat (Exodus 16:11-15). Later they no longer needed the *manna. But they still remembered it. They put the *manna in a gold jar. They put the jar into the *ark (Exodus 16:33, 34; Hebrews 9:4).

God fed his people with *manna. He gave them what they needed. The *manna was like a picture of Christ. Jesus is the bread of life. He is the true bread from heaven. He gives life to the world (John 6:31-35). If anyone eats this bread, he will live for ever (John 6:48-51).

We cannot now see this *manna. One day there will be a *feast in heaven. Then we will eat this *manna. This *manna is better than meals of meat, especially meat which men *sacrifice to *idols. This is what the *Lord was telling the Christians in Pergamum.

The white stone

No one knows the meaning of the white stone. People have suggested many things.

1.         It could be in a court of law. The judge would decide whether a person was guilty or not guilty. If the person was guilty, the judge would give him a black stone. If he was not guilty, the judge would him give a white stone. The Christian is not guilty. He is right in God’s sight. He is *righteous because of the work of Christ.

2.         It could be a reference to counting. They used stones for this.

3.         They used to believe that some days were happy days. A white stone was the sign of a happy day.

4.         With a white stone, you could get things without payment. You could get free bread. You could have a free visit to the circus. The Christian could see the white stone as like Christ’s free gifts. This is what it could mean to him.

5.         Another idea is this. Some *Jews thought that precious stones fell from heaven. They fell with the *manna in the desert. The white stone could mean precious stones. They could be good things from God.

6.         The *Israelites were in the desert. God told *Moses to make a Tent of Meeting. Inside the Tent of Meeting was the Most Holy Place. This was behind a curtain. Only the high priest could pass through this curtain. He could do this only once a year (see Hebrews chapter 9).

The high priest had a *breastpiece on the front part of his body. It covered his heart. Here is a reference to the Urim and Thummim (Exodus 28:30). The *Old Testament has many references to these. There were 12 precious stones on the *breastpiece. Each stone represented one of the 12 tribes of *Israel. (The first *Jews were the 12 sons of Jacob. The family of each son became a tribe.) The High Priest used the Urim and Thummim when he asked for directions from God. They helped him to make correct decisions. The Urim may have been a white stone or diamond. The secret name of God was on it. Only the High Priest could go inside the curtain. Only the High Priest could ask for directions from the Urim.

The Christian life is like a war (1 Timothy 1:18; 6:12). The Christian who wins the battle takes all the benefits of the High Priest. In the end the *Lord will give many advantages to all his people (1:6; 5:10).

The new name

‘New’ here means a fresh name. It is a different name from the old one. God promised *Abram that he would be the father of many nations. God then changed his name from *Abram to *Abraham. Jacob became *Israel. This means a prince with God. The new name represented a new person. He received a new character. In those days, a hidden name was precious. It was secret. Only the person who received the name knew about it. It was not for other people to know. It was a secret between the person and God. With his new name, the Christian shares the character of Christ and God.

These promises are for those who keep their *faith in Christ. God will satisfy them with his hidden *manna. With their new name, they will have a deeper understanding of God.

2:18-19 The letter to the church in Thyatira


Thyatira was the smallest of the cities in Asia. It was also the least important. But this is the longest letter. The Christian church may have been small. Thyatira was about 35 miles from Pergamum. It was on the road from Pergamum to Sardis. The road then went on to Philadelphia and Laodicea. It had a busy market place. It was a centre for the wool trade. It was the place of the *dyeing business. Lydia came from here. She sold purple cloth (Acts 16:14). Purple *dye was very expensive. It came from a little shellfish. (A shellfish is an animal that lives in water. It has a shell but it does not look like an ordinary fish.) They took one drop of purple *dye from the back of its mouth. Lydia must have been a very wealthy woman.

Thyatira was a busy and wealthy city. There were many other trades here. They were in wool, leather, *bronze, makers of clothes, *dyers, pot-makers, bakers and the slave trade. There were unions of workers for each trade. The *Roman rulers did not encourage unions. They had, however, a large army centre near Pergamum. So the local trades were useful to them. They supplied the army with the goods that they needed.

The unions had a god. He was Apollo. He was the local god of Thyatira. The unions held *feasts in their *temple. They were *religious occasions. There they offered meat to their god. Often they did *sinful things at these *feasts. It was not possible for Christians to join in such meetings.

Verse 18 This is the only letter that uses the title ‘Son of God’. It only appears here in Revelation. This description comes to the *angel.

In the book of Daniel, there is this description of God: ‘His face was like lightning. His eyes were like burning torches. His arms and legs shone like shining *brass (Daniel 10:6). The title describes the greatness of God’s Son (Psalm 2:6-9). The words in Revelation 2:27 are from this psalm. There is a description of his eyes and feet in Revelation 1:14, 15. The shining eyes are because of anger against *sin. They look through into a person’s heart and mind. Jesus knows what is in a man (Mark 2:8; John 2:25). His eyes see everything that is there. You cannot hide things from him. The feet show the power of the *Lord Jesus Christ. He will move very quickly. He will pursue evil things. He will put his foot on them.

Verse 19 ‘I know the things that you do.’ Then follows a list of Christian qualities. These are love, *faith, service and patience. Christ is pleased with the Christians. Now they are doing more than they did at first. This church was growing in its service for Christ.

Verses 20-21 However, all is not well. There was a problem at Thyatira. It came from inside the church. The problem was ‘that woman Jezebel’.


People have tried many times to explain who this woman was. The most likely explanation is this: Her name is a description of someone else. Queen Jezebel was the wife of King Ahab (1 Kings 16:31). He was a bad king. He had a weak character. Jezebel came from a country called Sidon. She was the daughter of the king of Sidon. She left Sidon. She brought her own gods with her. She caused Ahab and his people to *worship the god *Baal. She did not prevent the *Israelites from *worshipping God. She wanted them to *worship *Baal as well.

She killed the *prophets of the *Lord. She supported 450 *prophets of *Baal (1 Kings 18:13, 19). There was a man called Naboth. He grew *grapes on his own ground. Jezebel wanted Ahab to possess Naboth’s ground. So she asked someone to murder him. Then Ahab owned his ground (1 Kings 21). She used the magic of *witches. She *worshipped *idols. She agreed with wrong *sexual acts. So the name Jezebel became a sign. It was a sign of evilness. The Jezebel in Thyatira brought new ways into the church. They were evil ways.

Jezebel calls herself a prophetess. The work of a prophetess is to bring a message from God. But her message was a false one. Her teaching was false. She taught the Christians wrong *sexual acts. Further God did not allow the *Israelites to eat certain meat. This was the meat used for *sacrifices. They *sacrificed this meat to *idols. Jezebel told them that they could eat this meat.

This brought a problem for the Christians. They needed to work in order to live. They would have worked in different trades. So they had to join their trade unions. Otherwise, it would have been difficult for them to earn money. They would have had to attend the trade *feasts. There people would *sacrifice animals to their *idols. They would eat the meat of the animals. The Christians had to decide whether to eat the meat.

Jezebel was a *prophetess. But she gave the Christians bad advice. She argued that an *idol was not important (see 1 Corinthians 8:4). She said that Christians could eat these meals. But there is more. The meal would become a party. The people would take part in wrong *sexual behaviour. Jezebel’s teaching brought great *sin to the Christians.

There was another problem about the meat. Someone might have sold it to the butcher. A Christian might buy it. He might not know that it came from a *sacrifice. Jezebel was a *prophetess. She was important in the church. Members of the church would have listened to her teaching. This is why her teaching was so wrong.

We may say that these things do not matter to us. But we have these problems in every age. Christians are a part of society. But they must not give up their *faith. The *Lord Jesus makes demands on Christians. He requires high standards of moral behaviour. Paul talks about this problem in 1 Corinthians chapters 8 to 10. These matters were important to the first Christians. They could not eat certain kinds of food. They accepted this. They then became members of the Christian church (see Acts 15:29).

The *Lord did not hurry to punish Jezebel. He gave time for her to *repent. But she would not *repent. She continued to do wrong things. She took no notice of the invitation to *repent.

Verse 22 ‘So I will throw her on a bed of suffering’. The *Hebrew ‘to fall on a bed’ means to become ill. ‘To throw on a bed’ means that someone makes you ill. The reference here may be to illness. It may be to suffering. ‘Those who take part in *adultery with her’. This refers to those who accepted Jezebel’s teaching. Their *sin was wrong *sexual behaviour. It could have been *adultery. ‘Unless they *repent’. This means that there is still an opportunity for *mercy. God does not want anyone to die. He does not want anyone to be apart from him. He wants to rescue everyone from the results of *sin and the punishment for *sin (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4). There is hope for *mercy to those who *repent. This offer appears many times in this book.

*Adultery can be physical. It can also be *spiritual. *Israel is the Bride of God (Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 3:2). The church is the Bride of Christ (2 Corinthians 11:1, 2; Ephesians 5:24-28). *Adultery meant to follow strange gods. This was the *Old Testament meaning (Deuteronomy 31:15; Hosea 9:1). It is the same in the *New Testament. Jesus describes those who are not *faithful to him. They are an evil and *adulterous people (Matthew 12:39; 16:4; Mark 8:38). Jezebel’s *disciples may have been guilty of *spiritual *adultery.

Verse 23 ‘I will strike her children dead’. This means ‘I will kill her children with death (*plague)’. This could mean disease or hunger. All will result in death. ‘Her children’ may be her own children. They may be those who follow her teaching. The same punishment is for all Jezebel’s *disciples.

These judgements will teach the Christians in all the churches a lesson. They will know that Christ searches minds and hearts. The true meaning of these words is ‘*kidneys and hearts’. For the *Jews the *kidneys meant the emotions. The heart meant the mind (thinking). Payment for *sin will fit the deeds of those who *sin.

These punishments may seem hard. But the Bible tells us about other similar punishments. It tells us about Ananias and Sapphira. They lied. They gave a false impression to the *disciples. The result was that they died immediately (Acts 5:1-11). Other people died because of *sin. This was during the *Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:17-32). Christ’s eyes are still like flames of fire. His feet are still like polished *brass. He sees every emotion and every thought.

Verse 24 There is a message here for the true *believers. They have not accepted the teaching of Jezebel. They have not learned *Satan’s secrets. People call these secrets deep secrets. The false teachers claimed to know more about God’s secrets than the true *believers. Jezebel claims to know the deep things of God. She claims to know these by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:10). The deep things that these people know come from *Satan. They are the deep things of *Satan. They are not the deep things of God.

This is how these false *believers reasoned: You say that you want to have *victory over *Satan. Then you will need to know about *Satan’s works. The false *believers said that the body was not important. So it did not matter what you did with it. They would use their bodies in wrong *sexual acts. The important thing to them was to keep the *soul pure. Therefore, they would have a poor opinion about the true Christians. The true Christians would not join the trade unions. They kept themselves apart from the things of the world.

The *Lord gives a promise to the true *believers. ‘I will not put any other demand on you’. They already performed acts of Christian service. There would be no extra service for them. It reminds us of the *apostles’ decision in *Jerusalem. The *apostles gave instructions to the Christians in all the churches. They should not eat food that men had *sacrificed to *idols. They should not take part in wrong use of sex (Acts 15:28-29). That was all that the *Lord demanded from them. Verse 25 ‘Only hold on to what you have until I come’. This does not mean that life is easy. There is necessary work that they have to do. They must obey what the Bible teaches. They already know about that. They must hold on until Christ comes again. This will be when he comes for the second time. This will be a great and wonderful day.

Verses 26-27 There is another promise for ‘him who wins the *victory’. It is also for ‘him who does my will to the end’. ‘Him who does my will’ means ‘him who does my works’. This is the opposite of her (Jezebel’s) works. Christ requires a different quality of life from Christians. Christians are in a war (see Ephesians chapter 6). It lasts for a long time. There are many battles. The Christians need to continue to the end.

There will be a reward for those who continue to the end. They will have authority over the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron sceptre’ (Psalm 2:9). A sceptre is a stick of wood with iron on its end. It shows the power of a king or ruler. Rule means to *shepherd. The *shepherd had complete control over his sheep. He was strong. The Psalm adds that he breaks them into pieces. This is like breaking clay pots. People mix earth and water to make clay. Then they can make pots out of it. The pots become hard after they have been in a fire. But they can break. The nations will be like pots broken into pieces. They will also be like sheep that a strong *shepherd rules over.

We can say more. This rule is like the gift that the Father gave to the Son. Christ will gain a final *victory. He will rule over those who oppose God. Those who win the battle will share in this *victory. They will share with Christ. Here is a reference to Psalm 2:8, 9. The psalm is about the *Messiah. The *Jewish belief is that the *Messiah will have *victory over the nations. It is a promise for Christians too. This is true especially for *missionaries. ‘Ask me and I will give the nations to you. All the people on earth will be yours’ (Psalm 2:8).

Verse 28 ‘I will also give him the morning star’. This gift is another sign of *victory. It is for the *faithful Christians in Thyatira. To the *Romans, the morning star was Venus. It was a sign of *victory and power. *Roman generals built *temples in honour of Venus. The sign of Venus was on their flags. Their armies carried these flags to war. Christ himself is ‘the bright morning star’ (Revelation 22:16). He is also ‘the star that comes from Jacob’. Balaam *prophesied this (Numbers 24:17). The *lampstands are the churches. Stars are the *angels of the churches. Christ is the bright morning star. The churches get their light from him. Christ promises to give this star. It is for those who win the battle. Christ promises himself to them.

*Believers have refused to follow Jezebel. They will receive the gift of Christ. They will share in his authority and his *glory. They will share in his rule over the nations. They will serve the *Lord of the nations.

Verse 29 For ‘he who has an ear…’ see note on verse 7.

Chapter 3

3:1-6 The letter to the church in Sardis


The city called Sardis was about 30 miles south east from Thyatira. It was 50 miles east from Smyrna. Sardis was a busy trade centre. The powerful king of Lydia had ruled from Sardis. It had been his capital city. That was 700 years before. The ruler of Sardis was now King Croesus. There was a great distinction between him and other people. It was that he was the richest man in the world. His rule was magnificent. There had been gold in the city. It was in the river that flowed through the centre. Sardis was also a centre for the *woollen trade. They *dyed wool there.

Because they were so rich, the people became lazy. They had built the city on the top of a hill. The hill was very steep. They thought that no one could attack them. Twice, enemy soldiers had found a way to climb the hill. Each time there was no guard on duty. People had thought that they were safe. They were too safe to need a guard. They were too lazy to watch.

There was a great *earthquake in *AD 17. However, they soon rebuilt the city. The *Emperor Tiberius helped them. He gave them a large amount of money. He also freed them from paying taxes. This benefit lasted for five years. The people felt safe. So they relaxed. They lived easy lives. The letter to Sardis is one of the most severe of the letters.

Verse 1 The 7 *spirits of God refers to the Holy Spirit. He goes to the 7 churches. The 7 stars are the *angels of the churches (1:20). The church belongs to Jesus Christ. He is *Lord of the 7 stars. He holds them in his hand. He has a firm grip on them. He also judges them.

Christ knows what the Christians in Sardis have done. They are alive. They are successful. That is what the Christians in the other churches thought. There is no mention of Balaam, the *Nicolaitans or Jezebel in this letter. There is no mention of false teachers. The people in Sardis were too lazy to bother about such things. Probably they had plenty of money. But the truth was that they were *spiritually dead.

The *New Testament often compares *sin with death. We see this in one of the stories that Jesus told. It was the story about the son who left home. He went to a far country. Later he *repented. He returned to his father. This son was dead and he became alive again (Luke 15:24). Paul said the same about the *Roman Christians. God brought them back from death to life (Romans 6:13). Paul says the same about the Christians at Ephesus. Before they were Christians, they were dead. They were dead because of their *sins (Ephesians 2: 1, 5).

Verse 2 ‘Wake up!’ (See Romans 13:11 and 1 Corinthians 16:13.) This means watch. It means be careful. They must be awake all the time. This is what Christ warns them. They need to hear this. Twice the people at Sardis had failed to watch. Each time their enemies had defeated them. That was a lesson from their history. Now the Christians at Sardis are in great danger. But it is *spiritual danger. They must keep watching.

But it is not all bad. Some good things remain. They need to make the good things stronger. But even these good things are about to die. The church may have pleased other people. But it did not please God. Nothing they did was ‘complete in the sight of my God’. Yes, they did things. They started but they did not finish. They did ordinary things. But they did not achieve anything that was useful. The *Romans and the *Jews attacked other churches. They did not attack the church in Sardis. There was little life there. Their church was not worth attacking. They seemed to live good lives. But there was no power. They had a form of religion. But they did not use its power. They did not recognise their religion as a power for good (2 Timothy 3:5).

What they did was not complete ‘in the sight of my God’. We look at people and churches in one way. God looks at them in a different way. ‘People look only at the outside of a person. But the *Lord looks at his inside’ (1 Samuel 16:7). God knows our thoughts. He knows our secret plans. This applies to both people and churches.

People will always attack a church that is alive. Jesus said, ‘It is bad when all people say good things about you’ (Luke 6:26). People will always oppose a church where the Christians speak a true message.

Verse 3 Christ’s warning is, ‘remember what you have received’. This refers to the *gospel. It teaches the Christian life. Remember means ‘to keep in your mind’. It means ‘to keep on remembering’. Never allow yourself to forget. Christians must obey what they have received. They know the commands of the *gospel. They must always obey them. The Christians at Sardis have not remembered or obeyed. They must therefore *repent.

If the Christians do not watch, Christ will come to them like a thief. This means that they will not expect him. He will surprise them (see Matthew 24:43). This is further emphasised. ‘You will not know when I will come to you’. They do not know how he will come. He will bring punishment to those who do not *repent.

White clothes

There is blessing for those who have been *faithful. Christ will give them white clothes. This has different meanings:

1.         In the ancient world white represented holidays and fun. ‘Let your clothes always be white. And let not oil be absent on your head’ (Ecclesiastes 9:8). The *faithful Christians could be guests at the *feast of God. They would need white clothes.

2.         In the ancient world white clothes represented *victory. The *Romans would return from a *victory in war. The citizens would dress themselves in white. The city would call itself the city in white. The white clothing may represent those who have won the *victory.

3.         White is the colour that means pure. We find this in all ages and in any country. The white clothes may be a reward. It is for those who have won the *victory. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart because they shall see God’ (Matthew 5:8).

4.         Some suggest that the white clothing represents our *resurrection bodies. The *faithful Christians will one day have these bodies. They will share in the white light of God. ‘God covers himself with light as with clothing’ (Psalm 104:2).

All these could be part of God’s great promise to the *faithful Christians.

Verse 4 There is still hope for the church in Sardis. There are a few people who have kept themselves clean. They have not allowed their clothes to become dirty. They have kept themselves from the world’s evil control (James 1:27). We can understand this in two ways:

1.         People in Sardis *worshipped in *heathen *temples. A person might be wearing dirty clothes. He would try to enter a *temple of the gods. But the authorities would stop him. He wore dirty clothes. So he was not clean. The Christian could apply this in a similar way. It could refer to someone who kept his *soul clean. He was clean by the blood of Christ. God would allow him to enter. He could come to God. He need not be ashamed.

2.         It could refer to *baptism. After the *baptism the person would come out of the water. He or she would be wearing clean white clothes. Each person would promise to remain *faithful to Jesus Christ. They would keep their promise. It meant that they would now live a clean (good) life. If you were *faithful to your promise, you would walk with God. This could have two meanings:

a)         A king would grant a benefit to a servant. It would be to one that he trusted. The servant could walk in the gardens with him. He would allow this. One day some will walk with God. They are those who have been *faithful to him. They will be with him in *Paradise.

b)         There may be a reference to the story about Enoch. ‘Enoch walked with God. He was not (he disappeared). God took him’ (Genesis 5:24). Enoch walked with God on earth. He continued to walk with him in heaven. A person walks close to God on earth. It will be the same at the end of his life. He will then have a closer relationship to God.

‘because they are suitable’. This does not mean that they have earned anything. They have not earned the right to be with God. They have done nothing to cause them to lose their right.

Verse 5 Again there is a reference to white clothes. There is a promise for the one who is wearing white clothes. God will not remove his name from the Book of Life.

The Book of Life

‘The Book of Life’ often appears in the Bible. The *Israelites were in the desert. They had *sinned against God. *Moses offered to *sacrifice for them. He hoped that this would save them. He was willing for God to remove his name from his Book (Exodus 32:32-33). The writer of Psalm 69 asked that God would remove the wicked from the book of the living (Psalm 69:28). ‘At the time for judgement God will deliver those whose names are in the book’ (Daniel 12:1). Christ will honour those names in front of the Father and the *angels. They have nothing to fear. Jesus said that we should tell other people that we follow him. Then he would tell the *angels that we follow him (Luke 12:8-9). If we do not do that, then he will not tell the *angels that. Paul writes about those who worked with him. Their names are in the Book of Life (Philippians 4:3).

There is punishment for those whose names are not in the Book of Life. God will throw them into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). Some people will receive blessing. They are those who are in the *Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 21:27).

Verse 6 For ‘he who has an ear…’ see note on chapter 2 verse 7.

3:7-13 The letter to the church in Philadelphia


Philadelphia became a city in about 140 *BC. The king’s name was ‘Philadelphos’. In *Greek ‘Philadelphia’ means ‘one who loves his brother’. The king loved his brother very much. The city gets its name from him. Philadelphia was about 28 miles south east from Sardis. The city was rich. It was in a good position for trade. They grew *grapes there. Much of their wealth came from that.

Philadelphia was a centre of *worship of the god Dionysos. He was the god of wine. Many other gods had their *temples there.

There were hot springs in the area. Like Sardis they suffered from *earthquakes. There was a large one in *AD 17. It was not as large as the one in Sardis. The people built the city again. *Rome helped them to do this. But many were afraid to return to the city. They lived in the neighbourhood. Philadelphia also held famous games and races. These were in honour of the gods Zeus and Anaitis.

The church was small but of good quality (verse 8). Its enemies did not come from inside the church. They came from outside. The letters do not mention false teaching or arguments. It was very much like Smyrna. There was no blame for either church. There was only praise. Both suffered from those who called themselves *Jews. But they were not true *Jews. The *Romans *persecuted the Christians in both churches. The *prophecy shows the same enemy. He was *Satan. The Christians in both churches received the promise of a crown. There are still Christians in the city today and they still have a *bishop.

When members of the church received this letter, they were having problems. These came from the *Roman rulers. *Emperor Domitian had made an order. They must destroy half of the fields where they grew *grapes. He wanted them to grow corn rather than *grapes. He probably thought that corn was better. This was big trouble for the people in Philadelphia. The soil came from a volcano (a mountain that blew out hot rock, steam and ashes). It was rich soil, which was good for *grapes. But it was not good for corn.

Verse 7 The *Lord Jesus is holy and true. He is like the Father (Revelation 6:10). Holy is the description of God himself. ‘Holy’ means ‘different’. It means ‘separate from’. God is holy because he is different. God’s title is ‘the Holy One’. We find this title all through the *Old Testament. ‘Holy’ is a quality that only God possesses. God’s nature belongs to him alone. He is apart from everything and everyone. Jesus Christ is also holy. He shares God’s nature. We can trust him to keep his word.

Christ is also true. ‘True’ does not mean true rather than false. It means real rather than unreal. Jesus is the only reality. Jesus is the truth itself (John 14:6).

He holds the key of *David. The key is the sign of authority. King Hezekiah had a *faithful servant, Eliakim. The king gave Eliakim authority. This authority was to rule over everything in his house. Eliakim alone could allow someone to enter to see the king. ‘What he (Eliakim) opened no one could shut. What he shut no one could open’ (Isaiah 22:22). There is a similar truth in Job 12:14. See also Revelation 1:18. There Christ possesses the keys of Death and *Hades. When Christ opens, no one can prevent it. Christ does what he wants to do.

Jesus has authority to admit people to the city of *David. This is the new *Jerusalem. It is the new city of *David. He has the key that opens the door. The door admits one into the *kingdom of God. Christ opens the door into *eternal life. See also Christ’s words to Peter (Matthew 16:19). The *Lord Jesus alone either allows entry or refuses it.

Verse 8 ‘An open door’ is sign language. It is a description of Christ’s future action. Paul uses this language on several occasions (1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3). There is also ‘the door of *faith’ (Acts 14:27). There are different opinions about the meaning of an open door:

1.         Some people think that this refers to *missionaries to the *Jews. The *Jews are opposing the Christians (verse 9). So Christians should bring the *gospel to them. But there is no other mention of *missionaries in this book. The truth is that this door is open to any Christian. Any Christian may tell other people the good news of Jesus Christ.

2.         Some people say that the door is Jesus himself. Jesus says that he is the door (John 10: 7, 9).

3.         We need to look at verse 7 for an answer. The key of *David is a door that opens. It opens to the people of the *Messiah. Jesus is the door that admits people into his *kingdom. The *Jews said that the *Messiah belonged to *Israel. They did not think that he belonged to other nations. Christ himself has opened this door to all his people. His *kingdom belongs to both *Jews and *Gentiles (Ephesians 2:11-22). The *kingdom is for all people who accept the *Lord Jesus Christ into their lives.

There may be different meanings for this door. The truth is that no one can shut it.

Christ knows the deeds (good works) of the people in the church. He knows that they have little strength. They have kept his word. They have not said that they do not know him. They have not believed false teachers. They have had *persecution. Yet they have not said that they do not know their *Lord. They have little strength. But they had achieved a great deal. They have really *repented. Good works (deeds) are the evidence of this (Luke 3:7-17; 10:25-28).

Verse 9 The church in Smyrna also had trouble with the *Jews. The *Jews claimed that they were *Jews. But they were not. The *Lord described them as the *synagogue of *Satan. They claimed to be *Jews. But they told lies about the Christians. True *Jews are those who believe the *gospel. They may be either *Jews or *Gentiles. See Romans 2:28-29. The word *Jews here does not refer to every *Jew. Here the word means *Jews who hear the *gospel. But they will not believe. They refuse to *repent. These *Jews believed that God would give the *kingdom only to *Jews. They believed that the *Gentiles would one day bow to them. They will ‘fall down at your feet’ (Isaiah 60:14).

But this is what the *Lord Jesus says. ‘They will come to know that I have loved you.’ ‘They’ refers to those who will not *repent. They are the false *Jews. They are the *synagogue of *Satan. The real *Jews would enter the *kingdom. One day this will happen. Then the false *Jews will have to admit their mistake. It is the false *Jews who will ‘fall down at your feet’. They will bend down on their knees in front of Christ who is the *Lord of his church.

Verse 10 The Christians in this church have obeyed Christ’s command. They have continued in the *faith. They have been patient. Christ says ‘you have obeyed my commands’. ‘Therefore I will keep you safe.’ The words that follow speak about the result of their *obedience.

‘The hour of trouble will come to the whole world’. These words are a warning. The *Messiah will come. He will then bring judgements on people. There are many references to judgements in this book. This is the first one. But here it is not about the judgements. It is about the trouble itself. Jesus used this word ‘hour’ when he prayed in Gethsemane. Gethsemane was a garden outside Jerusalem. Jesus prayed there before the soldiers took him away. The word ‘hour’ related to the terrible time when Jesus would die on the *cross (Mark 14:35). The ‘hour of trouble’ does not mean a period of time. It is about the trouble itself. Troubles are to test those who live on the earth. We see this often in Revelation (6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 13:8, 14; 17:8). A similar thought is in John 17:15.

The effect of these judgements will not come upon the church (see 7:1-8; 11:1; 12:6). However, they will still suffer. But the *Lord Jesus will be with them. He will comfort them in their suffering. This shows God’s love for the world. He is not only going to punish people. He is going to test people. He wants people to *repent. He is giving people another opportunity.

Verse 11 The *Lord Jesus says that he is coming again. He is coming soon. He tells everyone in the church ‘to hold on’. This describes a firm grip. No one can steal their crown. But God can take it from them. The crown is like a bundle of flowers. It would be your reward if you won a race. Some people might not think that their crown was very valuable. They might give it to someone else. There are occasions in the Bible when this happened. Esau is an example. His birth gave him certain rights. He gave them away. He gave his birthrights to Jacob (Genesis 25:34; 27:36). Birthright is the special right of the child who is born first. Then there was Reuben. He was weak. He lost his place to Judah (Genesis 49:4, 8). Saul lost his place to *David (1 Samuel 16:1, 13). Judas lost his place to Matthias (Acts 1:25).

The *Lord Jesus advises each Christian to hold on to his crown. He needs to hold on to it with a firm grip. If not, God might take it from him. He would then give it to someone else.

Verse 12 The one who wins the *victory will earn a reward. He will be ‘a *pillar in the *temple of my God’ (Jeremiah 1:18; Galatians 2:9; 1 Timothy 3:15). A *pillar is solid. It is not weak like a pin. These words refer to the *believer’s reward. The reward is for the one who wins the battle. He will always be near to God.

A *pillar was of stone. It was solid (Isaiah 22:22-25). It was strong. It supported a heavy weight. Peter, James and John were *pillars. This was in the early church in *Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). *Abraham was the *pillar of the world. This is what the *Jewish teachers said. There will be no *temple in the city of God. ‘The city of my God’. This means that the Christian is a citizen. He belongs in the new *Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 11:10). There will be only God and the *Lamb of God in that city (21:22). The promise is about unity with God. The *believer will be in his *kingdom. He will be with him for ever.

‘I will write on him the name of my God’. God told *Moses to give instructions to Aaron and the priests. He told them to pray a blessing on the *Israelites. ‘They shall put my name on the people of *Israel’ (Numbers 6:23-27). The blessing would put God’s name on them. It is the same for the *believer. He belongs to God. God will write his name on him. ‘My new name’ could mean final *redemption. He will be with God for ever.

*Trial in front of Rusticus

Justin Martyr became a Christian in about *AD 130. He taught in Ephesus. He later opened a Christian school in *Rome. He had some Christian friends. They all refused to bow to the *emperor. First the *Romans whipped them. Then they cut off their heads. This was about the year *AD 165. Justin himself came in front of the court. The name of the judge was Rusticus. Rusticus asked Justin to explain the beliefs of Christians. Here is part of their conversation.

Justin: We say that the Christian God is One God. He is *eternal from the beginning. He created all that exists. He created all that you see. He created all that you cannot see. We also believe in his Son, our *Lord Jesus Christ. He came as the *Saviour of all people. The ancient *prophets spoke about this.

Rusticus: They say that you are a clever man. We can whip you and cut off your head. Do you really believe that you will go up to heaven?

Justin: I trust that God will give me his *grace. Then I will be able to accept these things. *Grace remains until the end of the world. It is for those who live like us. This I know for certain.

Rusticus: Do you then think that you will go up to heaven? And then you will receive rewards from above?

Justin: I do not think; I know. I am really certain.

Rusticus: All right. Let us come back to your *trial. Will you agree to make *sacrifice to the gods?

Justin: No one who has a right mind would turn from truth to lies.

Rusticus: If you do not obey, we will punish you. We will have no *mercy on you.

Justin: You will punish us because of our *Lord Jesus Christ. Then we expect that he will save us. We shall have confidence. There is something worse that can happen to us. There is a more terrible judgement. That is the judgement of our *Lord and *Saviour. One day he will be the judge for the whole world. You must do what you want to do. We are Christians. We will not offer *sacrifices to *idols.

Then Rusticus gave sentence. They took the Christians away. They cut off their heads. They had stayed loyal to their *Saviour. They had not said that they did not know him.

Verse 13 For ‘he who has an ear…’ see note on chapter 2 verse 7.

3:14-22 The letter to the church in Laodicea


Laodicea was furthest south from the 7 churches. It was almost east from Ephesus. It was in the valley of the Lycus River. It was on the road that came from Ephesus. The road continued to Syria and then to Asia. It was the most important road in Asia. Laodicea was one of the richest trade centres in the world. It was a centre with many banks. It was also the centre of the courts. Like Sardis, it was also a centre of the cloth trade. It was famous for clothing and *woollen carpets. They made the clothes from a local black wool. They were proud of these clothes. But they did not realise something. They were naked in the sight of God.

Laodicea also had a famous medical school. The doctors there dealt with people’s eyes. They were very good at that. They produced a special eye *ointment. It came from a rock in the area. There is a reference to these three activities in verses 17 and 18. The *Lord has hard things to say to the Christians in this church.

There was a very severe *earthquake in *AD 60. The people, however, were very rich. They liked to help themselves. So they refused help from the *Romans. This is not surprising. They thought that they did not need anything. They were so wealthy that they did not even need God.

We know nothing about the history of this church. We do not know who started it. Epaphras *preached there (Colossians 1:7; 4:12-13). So he may have started the church. Paul wrote a letter to the church in Laodicea (Colossians 4:16). This letter has been lost, although some say that it is our letter to the Ephesians.

An early Christian writer says that Archippus was the first *bishop of the church in Laodicea. Paul mentions this man in his letter to the Colossians. This is what he says to him. ‘See that you complete the service which you have received from the *Lord’ (Colossians 4:17). Maybe Archippus was not doing his job very well. This was, however, 30 years before the churches received the letters in Revelation.

In John’s time, the Christians in this church were not doing very well. The letter to this church is the most severe one. The *Lord Jesus Christ had nothing good to say about this church.

Verse 14 There are three titles here. They are about God’s *faithfulness and authority.

1.         He is ‘the *Amen’. In Isaiah, God is called ‘the God of Truth’ (see Isaiah 65:16). But in *Hebrew his title is ‘the God of *Amen’. ‘*Amen’ means ‘may it be so’. It comes at the end of a serious statement. It gives authority to that statement. We can be sure about its truth. We say *Amen after a prayer. Often in John’s *Gospel Jesus’ statements begin, ‘truly, truly I say to you’ (John 1:51; 3:3, 5, 11). The *Greek for ‘truly’ is ‘*Amen’. It is like ‘*alpha’ in the title ‘*alpha and *omega’ (1:8). It emphasises God’s authority and power. Jesus is all that God is. God says that something will happen. Then it will happen. We can be sure about it. We know that it will happen. It will happen by Jesus, the *Amen.

2.         He is ‘the *faithful and true witness’ (see 1:5). Jesus is the witness that we can depend on. He is the one who is true. Jesus came from God. Jesus is the only one who can tell us about God. We can depend on his words. This is because he is the *faithful and true witness. This description does not fit the church at Laodicea. They were not *faithful and true witnesses.

3.         He is the ruler of God’s *creation. ‘Ruler’ has two thoughts. Christ has complete authority. He rules over all *creation. And he is the primary origin of all God’s *creation (see John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-18).

Paul spoke about these titles of Jesus in his letter to the Colossians. Such references compare with the titles that we are considering here. The Christians in the church in Laodicea would read the letter to the Colossians. Paul especially requested this (Colossians 4:16). We may therefore believe that the Christians in Laodicea knew the contents of letter to the Colossians.

Verse 15 Here we have the words cold, hot and lukewarm (slightly warm). Cold means cold like ice. Hot means very hot. Christ would rather have frozen Christians. Or he would rather have very hot ones. There is no in between state. We like food that is either hot or cold. We do not like food that is slightly warm. We would prefer either very hot or very cold food. Christ hates the state of being neither one nor the other. He wants us to be *spiritually at boiling point (see Romans 12:11; 2 Timothy 1:6).

6 miles from Laodicea was the town Hierapolis. Here there were famous hot springs. Near also was the town called Colossae. It had a cold, clear stream. It had excellent drinking water. The river Lycus, however, dried up in summer. So Laodicea had difficulty in getting pure water. The people there used a long pipe to get it from the springs. They drank the water, but it was neither cold nor hot. It was also not pure. It made people sick.

The church in Laodicea had that effect on Christ. ‘I know what you do. You are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other.’ The Christians were neither cold nor hot. This was a terrible sign of judgement.

Jesus is the Son of God. He became a human person. He died for our *sins. God raised him from death. It is right that we serve him. We must serve him with all our energy. We must put him first in our lives. We must open ourselves to the fire of the Holy Spirit. Christ is against the church that is neither cold nor hot. It is an insult to him. It would even be better to oppose him. These are strong words against a false weak church.

Verse 16 ‘You are only warm. You are neither cold nor hot’. ‘I am about to *spit you out of my mouth.’ This is a warning. Some Christians are happy to continue as they are. But Christ will not allow it. The words of Christ shock us. He intends them to shock us. It is the only way that he can get our attention. This is not, however, the final word. Verse 19 shows this.

Verse 17 The Christians in Laodicea say that they are rich. They think that they have become wealthy. They think that they do not need anything. This is different from Smyrna. The Christians there were poor. But they were *spiritually rich (2:9). The people in Laodicea suffered from the *earthquake in *AD 60. But they refused any help from the Romans. They depended on their own efforts.

Not to depend on other people is not a bad attitude. It is good in relation to material things. But it may not be good in relation to *spiritual things. The people in Laodicea were miserable people. But they did not recognise this. We should pity them. They needed God’s *mercy. They were poor, blind and naked. They were quite content. After all, they were rich people. They owned the city banks. They had a successful medical school. They had a good clothing business. They were quite happy as they were.

Verse 18 The *Lord Jesus Christ advises Laodicea to buy gold. They make gold pure in a fire. Fire represents *faith. This is how Peter describes *faith (1 Peter 1:7). Wealth can do many things, but it cannot buy happiness. It cannot buy good health. It cannot help you when you are lonely. If all that you have is wealth, you are poor.

The people in Laodicea were proud of their clothing trade. The clothes that they made were famous. They sold them all over the world. The *Lord Jesus Christ says that they are *spiritually naked. He mentions their shame in verse 18. In the ancient world, to be naked could mean to be ashamed. There are references to this in the *Old Testament. ‘I am against you Nineveh. I will pull your dress up over your face. I will let the nations see your naked body’ (Nahum 3:5).

But to have fine clothes was an honour. Pharaoh gave fine clothing to Joseph (Genesis 41:42). The king gave Daniel purple clothes (Daniel 5:29). The lost son came home. Then his father gave him the best coat (Luke 15:22). The *Lord Jesus Christ requires this from the Christians at Laodicea. They must buy white coats from him. These represent a new character. Only the *grace of Christ can give this.

Laodicea was proud of its eye *ointment. But they were blind to the truth. Christ advises them to buy *ointment from him. Only he gives real sight (see John 9:39). Maybe we are not eager to serve him. Maybe he does not have first place in our lives. Then these verses represent his view of us.

Verse 19 ‘Those (as many as) I love I correct and *discipline’. This is a reference from Proverbs. ‘You are most precious to me. Therefore I give you strong *discipline’ (Proverbs 3:12). The purpose of correction is not only punishment. There are many references to *discipline in the Bible (Proverbs 13:24; 23:13, 14; 27:6; 29:15, 17; Psalm 94:12; Job 5:17; 1 Corinthians 11:32; Hebrews 12:4-11). They make us aware that our state is serious. The Christians in Laodicea do not deserve Christ’s love. They deserve it least of all the churches. They are *spiritually sick. Christ will *spit them out of his mouth. This is his judgement on them. But Christ loves them. He desires that they change their ways. He asks them to be serious and *repent. They must stop being lazy and sleepy. They must start being serious about their *faith.

Verse 20 ‘Here I am. I stand at the door and knock’ (see Solomon’s Song: 5:2-6). Christ is there, standing at the door. He is knocking. Up to this point John has been writing to the Christians in the whole church. Now there is a change. ‘If anyone’ means every person. Maybe the Christians in the church as a whole will not listen. But some Christians will. Christ’s voice is the voice of love. His promise is to anyone who opens the door. There is more. ‘I will eat with him’. This would be the main meal in the day. There would be no hurry. ‘And he with me’ means that the *believer would be very good friends with Jesus. The Christians in Laodicea have lost their sense of purpose. This is a loving appeal to them.

Christ knocks on the door of our lives. Our heart and *soul is like a house. We can either answer or refuse to answer. He will not break into our lives. We must ask him in.

Verse 21 The letter to the church in Laodicea finishes with a wonderful promise. The Christians in the other churches have the same promise. The promise is for those who have won the *victory. It is for those who hear. They then take notice. Then they obey Christ’s message. He gives them the right to sit with him on his *throne.

The *throne represents the honour that is due to a king. It is the sign of *victory and authority. For the Christian it is a place with Christ. It is the highest honour that anyone could have. Jesus gave this promise to the 12 *disciples. They would sit on 12 *thrones. They would be judges to the 12 tribes of *Israel (Matthew 19:28). (The first *Jews were the 12 sons of Jacob. The family of each son became a tribe.) This promise is for every Christian. It is for everyone who is *faithful. Jesus won the *victory over *sin and death. He sat down with his Father. He sat on his Father’s *throne. He sat there as ruler of God’s *creation (3:14). He won the *victory. It is important to understand this. He won by way of the *cross. It is the same for all those who follow him (see 12:11).

The *believers in Laodicea would have hard times. For Christ the *cross seemed to be a defeat. But in truth it was a *victory. The Christians may suffer. But they need not fear. They too will win the *victory. Christ shared the Father’s *throne. So Christians will share Christ’s *throne. They will have some responsibility in God’s *kingdom.

This last verse is for every person who hears these things. He should listen to what the Spirit says to the Christians in the churches. These same words come at the end of each letter. They remind us of an expression that Jesus used. ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear’ (see Mark 4:9). The phrase here is almost the same. It adds ‘what the Spirit says to the churches’. Christ spoke the words of the letters. But the message is the word of the Spirit. The *Holy Spirit spoke in *Old Testament times. He spoke through the *prophets. In *New Testament times he spoke through the *apostles. The *Holy Spirit now speaks Christ’s words to the Christians in every church. He speaks to every person.

The address of each letter is to a different church. But the end of each is ‘for the churches’. It is for all churches. The message relates to the circumstances of each *congregation. The *Lord’s will for his church is always the same. It is for every church in every age and in every place. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Word List

Abram, Abraham ~ a man of God that God loved because he had *faith.

AD ~ AD 50 means the year that was 50 years after Jesus came, and so on.

adultery, adulterous ~ to break a marriage promise by *sexual *sin.

Alpha ~ the first letter in the *Greek alphabet.

altar ~ a table for people to burn animals and other gifts as a *sacrifice to God or false gods.

Amen ~ a word that shows that one agrees (usually after a prayer).

angel ~ a *messenger, God’s servant in heaven.

apostle ~ someone whom God sends; especially one of the 12 men that Jesus chose to be his helpers.

ark ~ a box with things important to the *Jews in it.

Baal ~ a male god of the people who lived in the country called Canaan.

baptism ~ to put a person in to water, or put water on a person; how we show that Christ has made us clean; when the *Holy Spirit comes in to a person who knows Christ; the way we show to everyone that we belong to Christ and his church.

BC ~ BC 600 means the year that was 600 years before Jesus came to earth, and so on.

believer ~ a person who knows and accepts Christ.

bishop ~ a different name for a church leader.

brass ~ a metal that they made by mixing two other metals, called copper and zinc.

breastpiece ~ a piece of equipment that protected the breast.

bronze ~ a metal that people made by mixing two other metals, copper and tin.

Caesar ~ the ruler of the *Roman *empire.

certificate ~ words on paper that state the truth of something.

congregation ~ a group of people who are meeting together for *worship.

creation ~ the act of God when he made the world and everything there is: everything that God has made.

cross ~ a piece of wood that someone has fastened across another piece. People put Jesus on a cross to kill him.

David ~ a man of God and a king of the *Jews. David wrote part of the Bible.

disciple ~ one who learns from another person; a person who believes in Jesus and follows the things that he teaches.

discipline ~ to train someone to obey.

dye, dyed, dyeing, dyer ~ to colour or stain cloth; a person who does this.

earthquake ~ a movement of the rocks of the earth that causes cracks to appear.

emperor ~ a man who ruled many countries.

empire ~ many countries with the same ruler.

Ephesians ~ the people who lived at Ephesus city.

eternal ~ this describes something that has always been; it will continue for all time; there is no beginning or end; it never changes.

eternal life ~ life of a new quality for those who believe in Jesus. This new life is to be with Jesus for ever.

faith ~ belief and confidence in someone or something. To have faith is to agree with the things that God teaches; to obey his words even when they seem difficult; belief and trust in God and in Jesus his Son; belief that the Bible is true; ‘the faith’ means the things that Christians believe about Jesus.

faithful, faithfulness ~ to be full of *faith and standing firm.

feast ~ a large meal to remember an event or person; a *religious ceremony.

Gentile ~ person who is not a *Jew; people who do not know God; people in all nations who are not *Jews.

glory ~ the power and great importance/greatness of God, great beauty and like a great king; a bright light that comes from God or Jesus.

golden ~ the colour of gold; yellow, bright or looking like gold.

gospel ~ good news about Jesus; the message that Jesus came to rescue us from the wrong things that we do or think.

grace ~ God’s help and protection: a gift of God that we do not deserve and cannot earn.

grape ~ a small, sweet fruit that people make a drink (wine) from.

Greek ~ the language in which the authors wrote the *New Testament; the language from the country called Greece.

Hades ~ a depressing place, under the world, where the souls of dead persons stayed.

heathen ~ a person who does not know the God of the Bible.

Hebrew ~ a *Jewish or *Israelite person. The language of the *Jewish people.

Holy Spirit ~ God’s Spirit sent by Jesus to help people; another name for God; also called the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ and the one who comforts; the Holy Spirit is a person, but not human as we are; he lives and works for God; he is God, equal with God the Father and with God the Son; equal and joined with God and Christ, he does the work of God among the people in the world.

idol ~ an object that someone has made out of wood, stone or metal for people to *worship instead of the real God; an image of a person or object that people *worship instead of God; a false god; something that we love more than God and put in his place.

incense ~ substance that people burned in *religious ceremonies.

Israel ~ God gave Jacob the name Israel; Israel is all the people from the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Israel is the group of people that God chose; the nation of the *Jews and those who speak *Hebrew.

Israelite ~ the people in Israel; people that speak *Hebrew; the people that are *Jews and live in Israel.

Jerusalem ~ capital city of Israel; the *temple of God was there.

Jew ~ the people of Israel; people that speak *Hebrew; the people that are Jews and live in Israel.

Jewish ~ a person who is from the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; a person who believes the *faith of the *Jews. It is also a name for the people of Israel.

kidney ~ part of the body of a human or animal.

kingdom ~ the place or territory or land where a king rules; where God rules as king.

lamb ~ a young sheep.

Lamb of God ~ name that God gave to Jesus; it describes how people killed him and that he died for us; this was to make it possible for God to forgive the bad things that we do.

lampstand ~ oil burns in a lamp; a lampstand holds one lamp or several lamps.

Lord ~ a title for God, or Jesus, to show that he rules over all; master, ruler, God.

manna ~ the food that God gave to the *Israelites.

mercy ~ God’s love to all people when he forgets the bad things that we do.

messenger ~ a person who brings messages.

Messiah ~ the special servant of God, the name that God chose for Jesus Christ. It means the person that God sent to save people from God’s anger against their *sin and to be their king; the only one who can put people right with God; God’s chosen one; Christ is the *Greek word for Messiah; the one who will come again to rule over God’s *kingdom.

missionaries ~ people who go to another country to tell people about Jesus.

Moses ~ a man of God who gave God’s rules to the people.

New Testament ~ the last part of the Bible, which the writers wrote after the life of Jesus. It is about the things that Jesus did and taught; it is about the church; and it is about what Christians believe and do.

Nicolaitans ~ a group of teachers at Ephesus or Pergamum who taught wrong things.

obedience ~ to obey.

ointment ~ a soft, oily medicine to apply to the skin.

Old Testament ~ the first part of the Bible, which the writers wrote before the life of Jesus; the holy things that the writers wrote before Christ’s birth.

Omega ~ the last letter in the *Greek alphabet.

pagan ~ person who shows love to a god or gods that are not the God of the Bible.

paradise ~ the place of God; people who know God go there; they go there when they die; the place of a person’s soul after death of the body, for those who know God.

parchment ~ the skin of an animal prepared for use as a writing material; a paper that looks like that.

persecute, persecution ~ when enemies of God hurt people who trust in Jesus.

pillar ~ a large long piece of wood or stone which stands on its end. It can hold up the roof of a building.

plague ~ something very bad, often an illness.

planet ~ a huge object that moves round the sun.

preach ~ to tell people about Jesus, and how to live for Jesus.

preacher ~ someone who tells people about Jesus, and how to live for Jesus.

prophecy ~ the message that a *prophet gives.

prophesy ~ to speak as a *prophet; to tell about things that will happen in the future; to speak with God’s help (or a false god) and on God’s behalf (or a false god).

prophet ~ someone who tells God’s messages; a person whom God sends to speak for him; someone who is able to tell the will of God to other people; someone who declares God’s words; someone who tells about things that would happen in the future.

prophetess ~ a prophet who is a woman.

redeem, redemption, redemptive ~ what Christ did; he gave his life so that God could forgive us for the bad things that we have done; when someone pays a price to allow a criminal to go free; to get back or free by payment; to get back, to rescue, to help to go free.

religious ~ pure, holy, sincere; affected by religion; one who loves God; one who follows a religion.

repent ~ to turn from *sin to God’s ways; to change from past evil ways; a change of mind and heart to turn away from wrong things.

resurrection ~ to come back to life after death; to rise from death to life; to rise from the dead; to come alive again.

revelation ~ something that God shows to people.

righteous ~ to be right with God; people that God sees as clean and not his enemies; people who do what is right.

Rome, Roman ~ Rome was the most famous city in the world at the time of Jesus. Their soldiers fought and defeated many countries. They made the people obey the rules of Rome. They made them pay taxes to Rome. The people could not rule themselves, but had to obey the laws of Rome.

sacrifice ~ a gift to God to ask him to forgive *sins; or to thank him for something; an offering to God, often an animal or bird, by the *Jews to ask God to forgive their *sins. Jesus gave himself to die as a sacrifice for our *sins.

Satan ~ a name for the chief of the bad *spirits that are against God; He is the enemy of God. He has another name, the Devil.

Saviour ~ Jesus, the one who saves us; the one who rescues; someone who will bring us to God back from the bad things that we have done; someone who saves us from the bad things that other people have done to us.

sexual ~ matters that are the subject of sex.

shalom ~ the *Hebrew word for peace and God’s blessing; *Jews used it as a greeting.

shepherd ~ a person who looks after sheep.

sin, sinful ~ when people do things against God or other people; when we do not obey the commands of God; when we do not do what God wants us to do; the evilness that is in us which we have from birth.

soul ~ the part of a person that we cannot see; it is in us during our life and lives after we die; it is our inner life (not the body); it is that part of people that God speaks to through their *spirits; a person’s inner wishes and desires; the *spirit part of people that relates to God.

spirit ~ the part of a person that is alive, which we cannot see; it can speak to other spirits and the *soul; there are spirits that we cannot see; they can be good or bad; God’s *Holy Spirit that Jesus promised to send to all who know him as the Son of God; nobody sees the Holy Spirit but he joins with the spirit of those who know Jesus; the Holy Sprit helps a person to follow Jesus and to do good things.

spiritual ~ belonging to the *spirit rather than to physical things; holy; relating to the *soul; relating to holy things.

spit ~ to send liquid out of the mouth; to throw out saliva (water) from the mouth.

synagogue ~ a place or building where *Jews gathered for prayer; they went there to study the *Old Testament and to attend other public meetings.

Temple ~ the special building in Jerusalem where the *Jews *worshipped God; the holy place in heaven where God is.

temple ~ a special building where people went to praise God or false gods.

throne ~ a chair for a king or god.

thunder ~ the loud noise that you may hear in a storm.

trial ~ the examination of a person in a court of law to discover whether he is guilty or not of a crime.

trumpet ~ an instrument to make music or to sound an alarm.

victory ~ success in war; to win a struggle.

vision ~ a dream; sometimes a dream that comes to a person who is awake.

witch, witches ~ a person, often woman, who is supposed to use magic.

woollen ~ the material made from wool.

worship, worshipped ~ a way to act when we are with God; to give thanks to God and Jesus; we usually do it together with other people, with prayers and much happy singing; to bend down to God or to a false god; to show honour to God and to say that we love him very much.

Book List

Revelation ~ Leon Morris ~ Tyndale New Testament Commentaries

The Revelation of John, Volume 1 ~ William Barclay ~ Daily Study Bible New Testament, The St. Andrew Press

What Christ Thinks of the Church ~ John Stott ~ Candle Books

The Book of Revelation ~ G. R. Beasley-Murray ~ New Century Bible

New Bible Commentary ~ 21st Century Edition ~ Inter-Varsity Press

Revelation - 7 messages received ~ Selwyn Hughes ~ CWR Creative Services

You’ve got Mail ~ Study Guide ~ Spring Harvest

Letters to the Churches ~ Jenny Baker ~ Spring Harvest

Bible Versions:




Holy Bible Easy-to-Read Version ~ World Bible Translation Center, Texas


The Message, Eugene H. Peterson, NAV Press

The Living Bible


© 1997-2003, Wycliffe Associates (UK)

This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).

March 2004

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