Revelation 2:1–11

Common Structure of the Messages to the Seven Churches

  1. Address: “To the angel of the church of . . . , write”
  2. Self-presentation of Christ in imagery drawn from the vision of 1:12–20
  3. Jesus’ disclosure of the condition of each church, beginning with “I know”
  4. Specific exhortation - stated as an imperative - to each church in light of Jesus’ evaluation
  5. General exhortation to listen to what the Spirit is saying to all the churches
  6. Promise “to the victor” linked to final salvation.

In two of the messages, the order of the final two elements is reversed.

Rev 2:1–7

The church of Ephesus, the first of the seven to whom Revelation is addressed, played an extraordinarily important role in early Christianity. Because it was a large church, located centrally between Jerusalem and Antioch in the east and Rome in the west, Christian missionaries and travelers would naturally visit there.

The city of Ephesus was known as “the metropolis of Asia” (meaning “mother-city”). Boasting a large population, it was the fourth-largest city of the empire and a major center of commerce, government, and religion. It was home to the temple of Artemis, a huge marble structure that was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and to a notable temple to the goddess Roma and many other pagan temples. Around AD 90 it became the provincial center of emperor worship when a temple was dedicated to the Flavian Sebastoi, the emperor Vespasian and his sons Titus and Domitian. To mark that occasion cities from all over Asia donated statues with inscriptions on their bases, some of which archaeologists have recovered.

Christianity also flourished in Ephesus. The account in Acts 19 suggests that it was the scene of the most successful of Paul’s missionary endeavors. The church of Ephesus was large, consisting of many house churches. According to Acts 19:10, “all the inhabitants of the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord, Jews and Greeks alike.” Thus Ephesus became a kind of mother church of Asia. Paul wrote to the Corinthians from Ephesus (1 Cor 16:8), and he sent his Letter to the Ephesians and 1 and 2 Timothy to the church there. The apostle John resided in Ephesus, and the Fourth Gospel and the First Letter of John may have originated here.

One strand of tradition even identifies Ephesus as the final home on earth of the Virgin Mary.


It comes as a surprise that John is instructed to write to the angel of the church. The Greek word angelos can mean “angel” or “messenger,” and it is not clear here whether it refers to the local church’s guardian angel or to its bishop. In either case, however, the content of all the messages is clearly directed to the community as a whole.

In each of the seven messages, after naming the church, the risen Lord introduces himself usually by referring to some part of the vision in chapter 1.

In this first message Jesus indicates how near he is to his people and how complete is his control: he is walking in the midst of the seven gold lampstands, the seven churches, and he holds the seven stars, securely in his right hand.

The introductory phrase “says this” was used many times in the Old Testament to introduce God’s words to his people spoken through his prophets (e.g., Isa 29:22; Jer 2:2; Ezek 11:5; Amos 1:6; Mic 2:3; Zech 1:3).


The third element of each message is Jesus’ declaration of the condition of each church, beginning with the words “I know”. The Gospel of John and other New Testament writings (Acts 17:31; 2 Cor 5:10) teach that Jesus is the one whom God has appointed to judge the human race at the end of history (John 5:28–29).

In the seven letters John’s readers are given an advance warning about their standing in the eyes of their judge so they can make necessary changes before the final judgment. This is their midterm examination. The criterion by which they will be judged is their conduct.

We are saved by grace but will be judged by our works, understood not as a mere counting of good deeds but as Christ’s all-knowing evaluation of our thoughts, words, and deeds.

Christ begins by commending the church of Ephesus for several things: your labor, probably meaning their hard work in every kind of ministry, and your endurance, a major theme in Revelation. This term occurs seven times in Revelation (1:9; 2:2, 3, 19; 3:10; 13:10; 14:12), always in the context of trials. It indicates “a life of trust and patient steadfastness in hard times.”

The next thing Christ commends the Ephesians for is that they cannot tolerate the wicked. When it comes to false teaching in the Church, tolerance is not a virtue (see also 2:20). The Ephesians have tested itinerant teachers who call themselves apostles and discovered that they are impostors—literally, “false.” (See John 4:1; Matt 7:15–23; 2 Tim 3)


Christ repeats his praise for their endurance, observing that they have suffered persecution for his name. They have not grown weary and have not given up; they have persevered.

In this phrase John reflects a theme found elsewhere in the New Testament: the call to identify with Christ even if it brings rejection and persecution (Matt 10:22; Mark 13:13; John 15:21).


Christ’s intimate knowledge of them includes a sharp rebuke — they no longer exercise the cardinal Christian virtue of love for God and for people.

“I have against you”. Was their persevering toil and vigilance against false teaching for the sake of Christ exercised with uncharitable manner?

Their fervent attentiveness to Jesus and care for one another has begun to fade. This disease is fatal if unchecked (1 Cor 13:1–3). The statement warns that it is possible to remain doctrinally orthodox but to fail for lack of love.


The church must “remember and repent” or face severe consequences. The Greek word for “repent,” literally means “to change one’s mind—one’s attitude or mentality.”

“Remember then from where you have fallen.”

It helps to remember the initial passion we had when we first discovered God’s love for us.

Christ’s command is not optional advice. Unless they repent, he will come and remove their lampstand - disperse the congregation.

Despite its orthodoxy, the shining reputation and even the existence of the church of Ephesus are imperilled by its lack of love. Jesus’ future coming spoken of here, as in the other messages, likely refers both to his coming to judge at the end of history and to his coming to judge within history.

Over the centuries the Christian communities in some places—including Ephesus—have been scattered and passed out of existence. The consequences of losing our first love are serious.


“Nicolaitans” is a term that means “followers of Nicolaus,” presumably a sectarian leader and group known among the Christians in Asia Minor, but Revelation does not tell us anything specific about this person - Nicolaus. The group seems to have advocated accommodation to the surrounding pagan culture and its idolatrous practices.

Christ does not speak of hating a group of people; it is their “works” that he does not accept.


There is a command to hear (v. 7a) and a promise to the overcomer (v. 7b).

The command to hear is very similar to Jesus’s words describing the purpose of his parables (Matt 13:9; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8), where he acknowledges that some are unreceptive and will not comprehend the spiritual truths veiled within the parable, but he calls all those to whom God has granted understanding to obey what they hear.

The command of v. 7a acknowledges that some will be receptive and some not, and it calls on individuals within the community to respond (“anyone who has an ear”). It is a wake-up call for the faithful in the Ephesian church.

Although it is the risen Jesus himself who is speaking, he speaks by means of the Spirit and through what John has prophesied and written. As in Acts and Paul’s Letters, the Holy Spirit is the agent through whom the risen Lord acts in Christians and in the Church (e.g., Acts 2:33; 16:6–7; Rom 8:9; Phil 1:19).

“To the one who conquers”. It expresses an important theme in Revelation: Christians are engaged in battle, a contest, in which it is possible either to win or to lose. If they remain faithful, even though they are killed, they are victorious. Jesus has already conquered (5:5), and also the martyrs (12:11).

The beast is temporarily allowed to conquer—that is, to prevail temporarily over “the holy ones” (13:7). But God’s people ultimately conquer Satan and his agents by the blood of the Lamb, by their faithful testimony (12:11), and by refusing to worship the beast (15:2).

At the end of the book Jesus conquers the beast (17:14) and destroys all the enemies of God’s people.

A final mention of “the victor” at the end of Revelation (21:7) ties the book together, describing the heritage of those who persevere through trial and temptation: “I shall be his God, and he will be my son.”

Faithfulness in the present will enable Jesus’ disciples to conquer and to enter into their eternal inheritance.

The particular reward promised in 2:7 is the right to eat from the tree of life (Gen 2:9; 3:22, 24). Jesus promises eternal life to those who work hard in the service of Christ and others, endure suffering, reject false teaching, and rediscover their first love.

The final vision of Revelation unveils the tree of life in the new Jerusalem (22:2).

Revelation 2:8–11

Smyrna, modern-day Izmir, is a harbor city located 56 km north of Ephesus. It had long-standing ties with Rome as a wealthy trading partner and had erected a temple to the goddess Roma in 195 BC and the first temple in Asia for the worship of the emperor Tiberius in AD 26.

It remained a center of the imperial cult, which may have been the reason why the church of Smyrna faced persecution. This church became famous in Christian history for its martyr-bishop St. Polycarp (ca. 69 AD - ca. 155 AD) who personally met apostle John.


In addressing these persecuted Christians, the risen Lord introduces himself with titles that emphasize his divine eternity—the first and the last and his victory over death—who once died but came to life. For the persecuted Christians it was an encouragement.


Jesus offers comfort by assuring the Christians of Smyrna that he knows well their tribulation and poverty.

“Tribulation” is commonly used in the New Testament for the suffering that Christians undergo on account of their faith.

Perhaps the economic plight of this community was a consequence of its refusal to take part in the idolatrous practices woven into the commercial life of a pagan city. Or perhaps it was simply because these Christians came from the lower ranks of society.

Jesus also knows the slander of those who claim to be Jews and are not. The risen Christ denies that those who slander his disciples are really Jews.

Smyrna had a large Jewish community. Because the Roman Empire recognized Judaism as an ancient religion, it exempted its members from the idolatrous rituals that were otherwise obligatory. But when the Jewish community excluded followers of Jesus, Christians were left without this legal protection.

At times the Jewish community seems to have exploited this vulnerability, testifying against Christians, whom they regarded as heretics. Jesus had foretold this situation to his disciples (Matt 10:17–18; 24:9; John 16:2).

Perhaps it was legal testimony of this kind that lies behind the word “slander,” which can simply mean “speaking against.” Jesus says that those who do this are an assembly (literally, “synagogue”) allied with Satan, the enemy of God and his people, the accuser of the brothers and sisters (12:10; see also John 8:44).


Jesus exhorts the church of Smyrna, Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer.

The foundation of Christian courage is trust that God is in control, that he cares for us and those we love, and that he will save all who entrust themselves to him (Mk 14:38).

The opponent of the Christians in Smyrna is the same as the one who acted against their Lord (Luke 22:3; John 13:27): the devil. Acting through the civil authorities, he will throw some of the members of the church into prison. God, who is ultimately in control, permits this persecution so that we may be tested (see James 1:2–4).

The ten days of “tribulation,” as in 2:10, indicates a short period of time, comparable to the testing of Daniel and his friends (Dan 1:12–15). Nevertheless, it seems that the lives of these Christians are at risk, since Jesus exhorts them to remain faithful unto death and promises them the reward, the crown, of eternal life (see also 2 Tim 4:7–8; James 1:12).

The victor—everyone who remains faithful through such trials—will be preserved from the second death, which the conclusion of the book reveals to be “the lake of fire”, the lasting recompense of the wicked (20:14; 21:8).

The exhortation to the Christians in Smyrna echoes Jesus’ teaching in Matt 10:28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”

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