Revelation 2 Commentary

v.1 “The church at Ephesus is addressed in the first letter. Ephesus was a crossroads of civilization. Politically, it had become the de facto capital of the province, known as Supreme Metropolis of Asia […] Religiously, Ephesus was the center for the worship of the fertility ‘bee’ goddess known in Greek as ‘Artemis’, or Romanized as ‘Diana’ (Acts 19:23 ff.). The temple with its statue of Artemis was one of the wonders of the ancient world. Thousands of priests and priestesses were involved in her service. Many of the priestesses were dedicated to cult prostitution. (This may be related to the ‘practices of the Nicolaitans’ in v. 6.) The temple also served as a great bank for kings and merchants, as well as an asylum for fleeing criminals. To what extent the temple phenomena contributed to the general moral deterioration of the population cannot be assessed, but one of Ephesus’ own citizens, the weeping philosopher Heraclitus, said that the inhabitants of the city were ‘fit only to be drowned and that the reason why he could never laugh or smile was because he lived amidst such terrible uncleanness’ (ibid., p. 17). The church at Ephesus was probably founded jointly by Aquila, Priscilla, and (later) Paul (Acts 18:18-19; 19:1-10). The Ephesians were cosmopolitan and transient, and their city had a history of cultural-political change; these factors may have influenced the apostasy of the congregation at Ephesus from its first love (cf. 2:4).” [1]

“Besides being a centre of religion the Temple of Artemis was also a centre of crime and immorality. The Temple area possessed the right of asylum; any criminal was safe if he could reach it. The temple possessed hundreds of priestesses who were sacred prostitutes. All this combined to make Ephesus a notoriously evil place. Heraclitus, one of the most famous of ancient philosophers, was known as “the weeping philosopher.” His explanation of his tears was that no one could live in Ephesus without weeping at its immorality.

Such was Ephesus; a more unpromising soil for the sowing of the seed of Christianity can scarcely be imagined; and yet it was there that Christianity had some of its greatest triumphs. R. C. Trench writes: “Nowhere did the word of God find a kindlier soil, strike root more deeply or bear fairer fruits of faith and love.”[2]

v.2 “The Risen Christ praises their toil. The word is kopos and it is a favourite New Testament word. Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis all work hard in the Lord (Romans 16:12). The one thing that Paul claims is that he has worked harder than all (1 Corinthians 15:10). He fears lest the Galatians slip back, and his labour is in vain (Galatians 4:11). In each case—and there are many others—the word is either kopos or the verb kopian. The special characteristic of these words is that they describe the kind of toil which takes everything of mind and sinew that a man can put into it. The Christian way is not for the man who fears to break sweat. The Christian is to be a toiler for Christ, and, even if physical toil is impossible, he can still toil in prayer.”[3]

v.4 “The Church at Ephesus had faithfully applied its test and had weeded out all evil and misguided men; but the trouble was that something had got lost in the process. ‘I have this against you,’ says the Risen Christ, ‘that you have lost your first love.’ That phrase may have two meanings.

“(a) It can mean that the first enthusiasm is gone. Jeremiah speaks of the devotion of Israel to God in the early days. God says to the nation that he remembers, ‘the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride’ (Jeremiah 2:2). There had been a honeymoon period, but the first flush of enthusiasm is past. It may be that the Risen Christ is saying that all the enthusiasm has gone out of the religion of the Church of Ephesus.

“(b) Much more likely this means that the first fine rapture of love for the brotherhood is gone. In the first days the members of the Church at Ephesus had really loved each other; dissension had never reared its head; the heart was ready to kindle and the hand was ready to help. But something had gone wrong. It may well be that heresy-hunting had killed love, and orthodoxy had been achieved at the price of fellowship. When that happens, orthodoxy has cost too much. All the orthodoxy in the world will never take the place of love.”[4]

v.6Nicolaitans. A heretical sect within the church that had worked out a compromise with the pagan society. They apparently taught that spiritual liberty gave them sufficient leeway to preach idolatry and immorality.  […]  A similar group at Pergamum held the teaching of Balaam (vv.14-15), and some at Thyatira were followers of the woman Jezebel (v.20). From their heretical tendencies it would appear that all three groups were Nicolaitans.”[5]

v.7 “To ‘eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God’ is a picture of forgiveness and consequent experience of God’s intimate presence (22:2-4).  […] And in Genesis 2-3 the image of the ‘tree of life’ together with the ‘paradise of God’ symbolizes the life-giving presence of God, from which Adam and Eve are separated when they are cast out of the garden paradise.  Revelation speaks of the consummated restoration of this divine presence among humanity in the future (22:2-4), which has already been inaugurated in the present.  Therefore, the ‘tree’ refers to the redemptive effects of the cross, which bring about the restoration of God’s presence, and does not refer to the cross.” [6]

v.8 “Smyrna (modern Izmir) lay almost due north of Ephesus, a distance of about forty miles. The city was exceptionally beautiful and large (c. 200,000 pop.) and ranked with Ephesus and Pergamum as ‘First of Asia.’ Known as the birthplace of Homer, it was also an important seaport that commanded the mouth of the Hermus River valley. Smyrna was a wealthy city where learning, especially in the sciences and medicine, flourished. An old city (third millennium B.C.), allegedly founded by a mythical Amazon who gave her name to it, Smyrna repeatedly sided with Rome in different periods of her history, and thus earned special privileges as a free city and assize (self-governed) town under Tiberius and successive emperors. Among the beautiful paved streets traversing it from east to west was the ‘Golden Street,’ with the temples to Cybele and Zeus at either end and along which were temples to Apollo, Asclepius, and Aphrodite.  Smyrna was also a center of the emperor worship, having won the privilege from the Roman Senate in A.D. 23 (over eleven other cities) of building the first temple in honor of Tiberius. Under Domitian (A.D. 81-96) emperor worship became compulsory for every Roman citizen on threat of death. Once a year a citizen had to burn incense on the altar to the godhead of Caesar, after which he was issued a certificate.”[7]

v.9 “He knows their ‘poverty.’ This can only mean material poverty because the speaker (Christ) immediately adds, ‘Yet you are rich’ (toward God). Why was this church so poor in such a prosperous city? We do not know. Perhaps the high esteem of emperor worship in the city produced economic sanctions against Christians who refused to participate. In Smyrna, economic pressure may have been the first step toward persecution. Sometimes, even today, for Christians to be loyal to their Lord entails economic loss (cf. 3:17).”[8]

v.12 “The inland city of Pergamum lay about sixty-five miles north of Smyrna along the fertile valley of the Caicus River. Pergamum held the official honor of being the provincial capital of Roman Asia, though this honor was in fact also claimed by Ephesus and Smyrna. Among its notable features were its beauty and wealth, its library of nearly two hundred thousand volumes (second only to the library of Alexandria); its famous sculpture; its temples to Dionysus, Athena, Asclepius, and Demeter and the three temples to the emperor cult; its great altar to Soter Zeus; and its many palaces. The two main religions seem to have been the worship of Dionysus, the god of the royal kings, symbolized by the bull, and Asclepius, the savior god of healing, represented by the snake.”

v.13 “Nothing further is known about Antipas than the meaning of his name–viz., ‘against all.’ The proximity of the name ‘Satan’ before and after Antipas in v. 13 makes it virtually certain that his death was instigated by the enmity of pagans in Pergamum. He may have been the first or most notable of martyrs. Christ pays this hero of the faith a noble tribute: ‘faithful witness’-words that John applies to Christ himself in 1:5. Satan tries to undermine loyalty to Christ by persecution; Christ strengthens that loyalty by commending those who are true to him and by exposing those who are deceitful.”[9]

v.14 “Balaam was a pagan prophet hired by Balak, king of Moab, to pronounce a curse upon the invading Israelites.  God prevented Balaam from doing so and caused him to issue a blessing on them instead (Num. 22:5-24:25).  However, Balaam subsequently devised a plan in continued disobedience to God whereby some of the Moabite women would entice the Israelite men to ‘defect from the Lord’ (31:16) by fornicating with them and joining with them in the worship of their pagan gods (25:1-3).  This plan was successful, and God punished the Israelites for their idolatrous involvement.  God also commanded Moses to execute the leaders of the people in order that the plague that had broken out upon Israel should go away.  But Moses did not immediately obey.  Instead he exhorted the leaders to slay those who had actually committed the sins of immorality and idolatry, and even this was not apparently carried out fully.  But when Israel did finally discipline itself, the plague was lifted (see Num. 25:4-9).  Balaam became proverbial for the false teacher who for money influences believers to enter into relationships of compromising unfaithfulness.”[10]

“The episode from Numbers is applied to a group of false teachers in the church of Pergamum because a principle of theological continuity was discerned between two situations.  The false teachers were arguing that believers could have closer relationships with pagan culture, institutions, and religion than John thought proper.”[11]

v.15 “Some commentators think that ‘Nicolaitans’ could be another name for the Balaam sect, since the teaching of the Nicolaitans were the same as the Balaam party.  The meaning of ‘Nicolaitans’ and ‘Balaam’ in their original languages mean ‘he overcomes the people’ and ‘he who consumes (or rules over) the people.’ Some scholars see this as evidence that they were one in the same group.”[12]

v.17 “The promise to the overcomer includes three symbols: ‘hidden manna,’ ‘a white stone,’ and ‘a new name.’ The ‘hidden manna’ is reminiscent of the manna hidden in the ark of the covenant by Moses (Ex 16:33-34; Heb 9:4). Since Moses’ pot of manna was designed to remind the Israelites of God’s grace and faithfulness in the desert (Ps 78:24), there may be a similar thought here. Apocalyptic Jewish teaching, however, saw in the messianic era the restoration of the hidden wilderness manna. Those at Pergamum who refused the banquets of the pagan gods will receive the manna of his great banquet of eternal life in the kingdom (Jn 6:47-48).”[13]

“The meaning of the white stone is more debated, because people used stones in various symbolic ways; often such a tessera or small block of stone or ivory contained inscribed words or symbols. Revelation could draw here on a variety of nuances (cf. 17:9 – 10), but its setting may help us decide which are most likely. A contrast with Asiatic paganism is possible; the sacred totem of Cybele, the prominent Phrygian Mother Goddess, was a black stone. More likely, however, people used pebbles as admission tokens for public assemblies or festivities; the occasion here would be the celebration of heaven and the new manna of the messianic banquet (7:9; 19:9). Perhaps the most significant allusion is a reference to some ancient courtrooms, where jurors voted for acquittal with a white stone and for conviction with a black one. Here a capital case is probably in view (2:13), and Jesus will overturn the verdict of the Pergamum Christians’ persecutors at the final judgment when he declares both life and the second death (2:13; 20:12 – 14; cf. Acts 7:56 – 60).

This pebble may also be white to symbolize eternal life or purity from sin (Rev. 3:4 – 5, 18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13 – 14). Practical considerations also support a white stone for inscribing a name; although most building materials in Pergamum were of dark brown granite, that city used white marble for its inscriptions. Pagan deities sometimes gave worshipers new names to signify a new identity (just as parents named children shortly after birth). In Israel’s own history, a change of name was often associated with a promise (see, e.g., Gen. 17:5, 15; cf. 17:4, 9, 20).”[14]

“The new name alludes here to Isaiah 56:5 and especially 62:2, which promises that God will give his people a new name, removing their shame (62:4); this fits the time of the new Jerusalem and new creation (65:15-19). The new name may represent a new description of a person’s identity (cf. Rev. 3:1,5), but in the context of Revelation more likely the hidden name of God (3:12; cf. 2:13; 3:8; Isa. 43:1) and the Lamb (14:1; 19:12—13, 16), which they will bear forever (22:4).”[15]

v.18 “On the inland route about forty-five miles due east of Pergamum was the city of Thyatira. Although not a great city, it was nevertheless important through commerce in wool, linen, apparel, dyed stuffs, leatherwork, tanning, and excellent bronzework. Associated with its commerce was an extensive trade guild or labor union network which must have played a prominent role in the social, political, economic, and religious life of the city. Each guild had its own patron deity, feasts, and seasonal festivities that included sexual revelries. Religiously, the city was unimportant, though worship of Apollo and Artemis (Diana) was prominent. Acts 16:14 mentions that Lydia, a proselyte of the gate, came from the Jewish settlement at Thyatira. She was a distributor of garments made of the purple dye substance known as ‘Turkey red’ and no doubt a member of the dyers’ guild. It has been suggested that some of Paul’s converts at Ephesus went out and evangelized Thyatira (Acts 19:10).”[16]

v.19 “The ‘works’ for which this church is first recognized are not mere general deeds of Christian ‘service’ but are works of persevering witness to the outside world.  […]  Furthermore, the phrase ‘your last works are greater than the first’ is an intended contrast with the church in Ephesus, whose ‘first works’ of public witness were greater than their last works of witness (cf. 2:5).  Therefore, as with Pergamum, Christ encourages this church’s witness to the outside world, although it has apparently not yet suffered persecution.”[17]

v.20 “The speaker’s verdict reveals that the congregation had allowed a woman prophetess (a false one, according to Christ’s assessment) to remain in the church and to continue to teach the saints to indulge in ‘sexual immorality’ and to ‘eat food sacrificed to idols.’ […] In order to expose her true character, she is labeled ‘Jezebel’-the name of the Canaanite wife of Israel’s King Ahab. Jezebel had not only led Ahab to worship Baal but through Ahab had promulgated her teachings of idolatry throughout all Israel (1 Kings 16:31-33; 2 Kings 9:22).”[18]

v.28 “the overcomers in Thyatira are promised ‘the morning star’ […]  Some link this expression to Christ himself as in 22:16.  Believers would then receive Christ as their very life.  Or it may refer to the Resurrection in the sense that the morning star rises over the darkness of this world’s persecution and offers victory over it. Perhaps a combination of the two thoughts may be intended. The promise of Christ’s return is like the ‘morning star […]’ (2 Peter 1:19). (See 22:16, where Jesus calls himself ‘the bright Morning Star’ […] in apparent reference to his return.).”[19]


[1] Alan F. Johnson, Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 2:1-3:22.

[2] William Barclay, The Revelation of John: Volume 1, Daily Study Bible Series Rev. Ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 2000)  60.

[3] William Barclay, The Revelation of John: Volume 1, Daily Study Bible Series Rev. Ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 2000)  62.

[4] William Barclay, The Revelation of John: Volume 1, Daily Study Bible Series Rev. Ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 2000)  63-64.

[5] The NIV Study Bible, study notes  (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985)  1927.

[6] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 234-5.

[7] Alan F. Johnson, Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 2:8.

[8] Alan F. Johnson, Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 2:9.

[9] Alan F. Johnson, Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 2:13.

[10] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 249.

[11] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 248.

[12] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 251.

[13] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994) notes for v.17.

[14]Craig S. Keener , Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2003) 126-127.

[15] Craig S. Keener , Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2003) 126-127.

[16] Alan F. Johnson, Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 2:18.

[17] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1999) 260.

[18] Alan F. Johnson, Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 2:20.

[19] Frank E. Gaebelein, Gen. Ed. Expositor’s Bible Commentary CD, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992) notes for Revelation 2:26-28.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Response