What does Revelation 2 mean?
In the first chapter of Revelation, John introduced his reason for writing: a direct command from Jesus Christ. He was instructed to record Jesus' words, aimed at each of seven churches in Asia Minor, and to faithfully record them. Each church is given a unique description of Jesus, a command, and a promise. Six of the churches are given specific praise—one is not. Five are given direct criticism—two are not. This chapter contains Christ's words to four of these seven: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, and Thyatira. Chapter 3 will complete this series of messages.
The church in Ephesus is commended for hard work, and for weeding out false prophets, despite persecution. They are also praised for opposing the teachings of a particular sect, the Nicolaitans. Not much is known about this group. Some scholars believe they held to a doctrine of amorality, others that they felt that church leaders ought to "rule" over the laity. At the same time, the Ephesian church is criticized for being loveless. Their efforts are good, but they are slipping into coldness and religiosity, rather than Christian love (Revelation 2:1–7).
Smyrna's church suffered under especially brutal persecution. According to Jesus' words in this message, that experience is going to become worse before it gets better. A significant challenge for this congregation is a group of hostile Jewish leaders, referred to here as a "synagogue of Satan." Smyrna is praised for holding fast, despite this hardship. This is one of only two churches which Jesus does not criticize in some way in His messages (Revelation 2:8–11).
The name of the city Pergamum is related to terms used for marriage. Coincidentally, Jesus' criticism of this church focuses on their inappropriate connections to false teachings, such as those of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. They are praised for resisting persecution, holding to their faith even when under threat. Their situation was certainly dire, as Jesus refers to their location as "where Satan dwells" (Revelation 2:12–17).
Thyatira was a city deeply involved in worship of Apollo, a pagan deity of the sun and a child of Zeus. In this passage, Jesus is described in terms deliberately overshadowing Apollo's status and glory. This church is commended for their ever-growing participation in good works. However, they are strongly rebuked for "tolerating" sexual temptations and idolatry as promoted by a particular woman. This person is identified as "Jezebel," which might be a reference to the Old Testament queen of the same name. Since she refused to repent of sin, Jesus promises to bring fierce judgment on her and her followers (Revelation 2:18–29).
Revelation 2:1–7 is the first letter Jesus dictated to John, intended for the church at Ephesus. This congregation is praised for patient endurance and for rightly rejecting false apostles. Despite such an excellent beginning, however, Ephesus had abandoned its first love. They were drifting into coldness and rote religiosity. Jesus instructs the church to remember its early days, repent, and conduct itself as it had done initially. He promises a reward to the victor.
Revelation 2:8–11 contains Jesus' message, through John, to the church at Smyrna. Christians in Smyrna were undergoing intense persecution at the time these words were written. Jesus predicted even further persecution, but told the believers not to fear. He promised a crown of life to them if they remained loyal to Him to the point of martyrdom. The church at Smyrna prefigures the history of the Church from the mid-third century to AD 316, when Emperor Constantine declared Christianity an official state religion. Out of seven churches mentioned in Revelation, Smyrna is one of only two not rebuked for any specific flaw.
Revelation 2:12–17 is a message from Jesus to the church at Pergamum. Jesus commends the church for keeping the faith despite intense persecution and the pervading worship of Satan around them. However, some members of the church followed the teaching of Balaam, and others followed the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Jesus calls the church out for repentance regarding those flaws. Failure to repent would bring judgment. The passage ends with Jesus' promise to give conquerors hidden manna and a new name written on a secret stone.
Revelation 2:18–29 reveals what Jesus instructed John to write to the church at Thyatira. Although the church exhibited commendable virtues, it allowed an evil woman—here referred to as Jezebel—to lead its members into immorality and idolatry. Jesus predicted strict punishment for her and her followers. The churches would know by Jesus' action that He searches the mind and heart and deals with everyone according to his or her works. Those who did not follow Jezebel's teachings would not be punished, but Jesus encouraged them to stay loyal to Him until His return, when He will rule the nations and permit the faithful to rule with Him.
The contents of Revelation 2 are miniature letters to four churches, dictated by Jesus to John. Ephesus and Smyrna were coastal cities, whereas Pergamum and Thyatira were inland cities. Three more such letters are in Revelation 3. Each of these messages contains a unique description of Jesus, a command, a promise. All but one—the church in Laodicea—receive some commendation. All but two of the seven letters—those to the churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia—also contain a critical rebuke. Like churches today, most of the congregations addressed by Jesus had both good characteristics and at least one point which needed correction.
In chapter 1, John introduced his order from Jesus Christ: to write out a message to seven churches in Asia (Revelation 1:9–11). Here in this chapter, John writes to the church in Ephesus, the church in Smyrna, the church in Pergamum, and the church in Thyatira. Chapter 3 will continue with messages to the other three churches. The rest of Revelation will explain future events connected to the ''end times.''
The word ''revelation'' means ''an unveiling or disclosure.'' This writing unveils future events such as the rapture, three series of judgments that will fall on the earth during the tribulation, the emergence of the Antichrist, the persecution of Israel and her amazing revival, as well as Jesus' second coming with His saints to the earth, the judgment of Satan and his followers, and finally, the eternal state. This content, combined with the original Greek term apokalypsis, is why we now refer to an end-of-the-world scenario as ''an apocalypse.''
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