Jesus refers to these seven churches as seven lamps or candlesticks because He wants to help them shine brighter. To help them, He will (1) praise them for their good qualities, (2) rebuke them for their faults, (3) appeal to their heart for repentance and reformation, and (4) offer them a special reward for their positive response to obedience.
As we study these seven churches, keep in mind that God is teaching us to help one another shine brighter as well. Solomon wrote, “The spirit of the man is the candle of the Lord, searching all the inward part of the flesh.” Proverbs 20:27. The Spirit of God searches the whole man. God reveals to him his true condition and appeals to the mind and heart of man to either commend or reprove.
“Seven golden candlesticks”
Seven is the number for completeness, and the number for unity and diversity. The seven branches composing a single candlestick represent the universal church with all its members throughout all the ages. We are one body, and the Head of the body is Christ, not man.
Gold is symbolic of purity and glory. It is the most precious metal mentioned in Revelation. Does that mean we are the most precious thing to God? Are we not told that the church is the “apple of God’s eye”?
In the book of Revelation, we have mentioned a “golden girdle,” “golden crown,” “golden vials,” “golden censer,” “golden altar,” “golden reed,” and a city of “pure gold.”
“in the midst”
Jesus is seen in vision walking about “in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.” This represents His ceaseless care for His church. He ministers to them as their High Priest. He carries on His mediatorial work on their behalf.
The Heavenly Sanctuary
In the Revelation, we first find Jesus in the Holy Place, the first compartment of the heavenly sanctuary. As Paul wrote:
“For there was a tabernacle made; the first, wherein was the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread; which is called the sanctuary. And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; . . . Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God. But into the second [tabernacle or compartment] went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people:” Hebrews 9:2, 3, 6, 7
It is written, “While Jesus ministers in the sanctuary above, He is still by His Spirit the minister of the church on earth.” Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, page 166
“With untiring wakefulness and unremitting vigilance, He watches to see whether the light of any of His sentinels is burning dim or going out. If the candlesticks were left to mere human care, the flickering flame would languish and die; but He is the true Watchman in the Lord’s house, the true warden of the temple courts. His continued care and sustaining grace are the source of life and light.” Ellen G. White, The Acts of the Apostles, page 586
We could say, Jesus is in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, walking from church to church, from congregation to congregation, from heart to heart. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
As we go through the seven churches, we will (1) give the verse reference, (2) identify the period of time it represents during the Christian era, (3) identify the main condition of the church, (4) give a brief history of that city or church era, (5) interpret the various parts of the message, and (6) consider how we can help one another shine brighter for Jesus.
Structure of the Seven Churches
Structurally I want us to notice that there is a difference between the first three churches and the last four.
The first three churches. “To him that overcometh” follows the phrase “He that hath and ear.”
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
“To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God.”
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
“He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.”
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
“To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.”
The last four churches. “To him that overcometh” follows the phrase “He that hath and ear.”
Revelation 2:26, 27
“He that overcometh . . .”
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
“He that overcometh…”
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
“He that overcometh…”
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
“He that overcometh…”
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
The seven seals are also divided into four and three. The first four seals are described as horsemen, but the last three are not. First four seals are referred to as horsemen. 6:2 (White), 6:3 (Red), 6:5 (Black), 6:8 (Pale)
The seven trumpets are divided into four and three. The last three trumpets are called woe trumpets, but the first four are not. The last three trumpets are woe trumpets. See Revelation 9:12; 11:14
When we come to the seven last plagues, we will discover that the first four are not universal, but the last three are. See the book, The Great Controversy, page 628.
When we come to the seven heads of the beast in Revelation chapter seventeen, we will discover that the first four heads different from the last three. The first four describe one nation conquering the next. While the last three will work together. See Revelation chapter seventeen.
The Seven Churches
The word Ephesus means “desirable.” It was a port city overlooking the Aegean Sea. It had one of finest harbor in the ancient world. It became a chief commercial center for the rest of Asia Minor. It was known as the first, meaning finest, city of Asia Minor.
It had a massive wall around the city that stretched for nearly 7 miles, encompassing over one thousand acres of land. The Temple of Diana alone made the city famous. A temple was built to this false goddess, at the same time the temple was being rebuilt under Ezra.
Acts 19:23-41 records the persecution that resulted from the preaching of Paul, and the consequent loss of faith in paganism and loss of business in the selling of shrines to the goddess Diana.
Today the city is in ruins. The harbor has been abandoned. The land is a desert wasteland.
The city that was once the “desirable city” would become the city of change and decay, the declining city.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, He left with us a perfect church. There was the upper room experience of the 120. There was the day of Pentecost. There was the conversion of 3000 souls that day. It was the “desirable church.” But if she loses her first love, she will experience decline and decay.
Early church, AD 31–100
They had lost their first love for Jesus. (Verse 4)
The individuals credited with starting the church in Ephesus were Aquila and Priscilla, a dedicated lay couple; Apollos, an eloquent evangelist; and the apostle Paul, who spent three years in Ephesus. See Acts 18–20.
Description of Jesus 2:1
Jesus describes Himself as the One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, indicating His ability to protect and strengthen His saints. He is seen walking in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, indicating His very presence with them.
Commendation 2:2, 3
Jesus begins by commending them for their works, toil, and patient endurance.
There are seven marks of faithfulness: (Verses 2, 3)
I know thy works = I know your character
Thy labor = labor unto weariness
Thy patience = persevering endurance
Canst bear them that are evil = they could bear ridicule and reproach, but not evil
Thou hast tried them = they detected false shepherds and teachers
Hast not fainted
He commends them for testing others who call themselves apostles but are not.
Rebuke 2:4, 5
After Jesus commended them, He expressed this concern, saying, “I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.” You no longer love Me as you did at first.
The Ephesian Christians were religious, conservative, active saints. They had all the right doctrines. However, they had left behind those original deep affections they had for Jesus. Were they now practicing all these Christian virtues out of a sense of duty instead of love? That was the danger.
When Christian love diminishes, it is evident that some other person or attraction has superseded Christ in the affections. This does not mean that they cease to acknowledge Christ, but that the church was busy doing religion rather than being like Jesus.
It is easier to offer your hands and your feet to Christian service, than to offer your whole heart to the Savior. The great fault described here lies not in the outward, but in the inner life, visible only to God.
Can a believer be an earnest worker in helping with teaching, visiting, and cleaning, and yet have a diminished love toward Christ?
What is the solution?
“Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works;” (Verse 5)
Remember the height from which you have fallen. REMEMBER. The remedy for waning love is to “remember” the first-love experience and then never be satisfied till it returns. A remembrance of the happy love state that once existed is sure to create a desire on the part of a Christian to return to it.
To have a diminished love, when God is love, is a serious spiritual condition.
How serious is it? “repent. . . or I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” Verse 5
This is not an idle threat. In 34 AD, the candlestick of the Jewish nation was removed due to their rejection of Christ via the martyrdom of Stephen.
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.”
To remove a candlestick is to remove someone from a high position and special privilege. Love and light are closely related, for “God is light” and “God is love.” When a church loses her love, she will eventually lose the ability to shine. When love fails, her ability to shine fails.
There was a part of the early church that no doubted repented and returned to their first love. But there were others who never recovered. While still claiming to believe in God, they steadily drifted away from God. Eventually, this movement became the harlot church of Revelation 17, the scarlet women, Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots. At first, there were faithful home churches in Rome, but through a love for self, she lost her candlestick and darkness covered her every step. Eventually, she would bring about the Dark Ages of Papal apostasy.
Then would come the light of the Reformation. But when many of these reformed churches began to lose their love, God would raise up the great Advent movement. Within the Advent movement, some have lost their first love, while others have rekindled that love. Two movements within the church. Since there will not be another church to follow the Laodicean period since 1844, the coming of Christ must be very soon. We have no time to waste in rekindling that love for Christ. Especially since, “love is the fulfilling of the law.” How can God’s remnant church keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus, if it has not love?
After the rebuke, Jesus then told them another thing that He appreciated about them. He commended them for hating, not the Nicolaitans, but the works of the Nicolaitans. Jesus hated their works as well.
Who were the Nicolaitans? Irenaeus, a second-century minister who grew up near Ephesus, referred to them as professed Christians who taught that it was okay to break the Ten Commandments as long as you still believed in Jesus. The Nicolaitans did not see a problem with being a Christian and committing adultery or eating flesh offered to idols. However, the beloved John wrote in his first epistle, “He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” 1 John 2:4.
Nicolaitans comes from the name Nicholas, which means, “conquering the people.”
How are the people conquered? By supplanting Christ as the head of the church, they spiritually weakened the people by imposing their own kingly authority. The exaltation of the clergy exercising lordship over the laity was one of the developments that appeared at an early date in the apostolic church.
There was a man named Nicolas who became one of the seven deacons. Acts 6:5. Some teach that he began the movement of the Nicolaitans. But we do not know this for sure. What we do know is that there were elders/bishops that apostatized to start the counterfeit system of the Papacy. Acts 20:17, 28-31
These Nicolaitans are mentioned again in the church of Pergamos. Revelation 2:15. They were clearly against the message of victory over sin.
Ellen G. White wrote concerning the Nicolaitans, “The doctrine is now largely taught that the gospel of Christ has made the law of God of no effect: that by ‘believing’ we are released from the necessity of being doers of the Word. But this is the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which Christ so unsparingly condemned.” Signs of the Times,January 2, 1912.
“It it [our sin] the sin of the Nicolaitans, turning the grace of God into lasciviousness?” Seventh day Adventist Bible Commentary, volume 7, page 957
After the first commendation, His rebuke, and a second commendation, He then shared with them the reward for overcoming their lovelessness. Jesus told them, “I will grant to eat of the Tree of Life, which is in the paradise of God.” Obviously, this promise was not for the Ephesian Christians alone, but for all who manifest their love relationship with Jesus by being obedient to His Word.
The seven promised rewards to the seven churches make up the sum of all that was lost through disobedience. Therefore, it only stands to reason that they are restored through obedience.
The word “overcometh” implies that the Christian life is a warfare from which there is no discharge, but it is a warfare that they can win.
The tree of life was taken from man when he sinned. It will be restored when Paradise is restored.
What do you say to someone that has left their first love for Jesus? Do you just rebuke them? Do you overlook the issue? I had an employee who was very religious. She was a hard worker, very conservative in her views, but obviously left her first love for Jesus by the way she was treating others roughly. I decided to follow the Ephesus plan to help her shine brighter for Jesus.
I began by commending her for things that I appreciated about her work and about herself. Then I shared with her what I was concerned about. I followed that up with another commendation, and then shared with her what I thought the blessings would be if she overcame her harshness with others. As she cooperating with the Holy Spirit, she became more tolerant of others, and had even apologized for her harshness at times. She was definitely shining brighter.
Smyrna was about 40 miles north of Ephesus and was the next city. The name Smyrna is synonymous with “myrrh,” which was an aromatic substance used sometimes as a healing ointment but more especially for embalming the dead.
It is very bitter to the taste, but has a fragrant odor. This would indicate that the church would go through suffering and persecution, but the results would end in the sweet fragrance of the resurrection of life, from which there is no second death.
Although the afflictions would be bitter to the believer, the results would be the perfume of a Christlike character that would serve as a witness to others.
Smyrna itself was a beautiful city. It was a center of wealth and prosperity, as well as a center of learning and religion. It was famed for its schools of science and medicine, for its fine library, temples, festivals, and athletic events.
Although she was a magnificent city, she had a long history of enduring invading armies, massacres, earthquakes, fires, and plagues. Even so, Smyrna is the only one of the seven cities which retains anything of its ancient standing.
This would teach us that the local church would undergo repeated bouts of persecution. At times, it would seem that the church would be destroyed. But it would always be restored to life.
Time of Persecution, AD 100–313
The Smyrna period, the era of martyrdom, was also a sweet savor of faithfulness unto death.
Pagan Rome severely persecuted the church during this time. Christians who refused to forsake their faith in Christ were threatened with the loss of all citizenship rights, confiscation of property, imprisonment, torture, and death. But during these persecutions the alabaster box of Christian faithfulness in the face of the severest penalties was broken and the perfume of these faithful followers of Christ perfumed the true church for centuries.
We are not sure who started the Smyrna church, but Paul had been working in nearby Ephesus for three years. See Acts 20:31. As in most cases, the raising up of a church is the work of many people with varying talents.
As we have read, the church in Smyrna was a persecuted church. It was slandered by false Jews, and it was slated to be tormented by Satan and to receive “tribulation” for “ten days.” Some of its members were to be imprisoned, and some would be put to death.
Smyrna was the church under many trials and persecutions. To the church of Smyrna was sent the message that Jesus knows exactly what they are going through. (Verse 2:8)
As He triumphed over evil and holds the keys of hell and death, they shall be victorious. Be faithful unto death and I will give thee the crown of life.
For the Christian, severe trials prove to be a blessing in the end. Through them we may become more loving, more forgiving, and more understanding. We shall come out more beautiful in Christ.
It is said of Jesus, “From the desert to Calvary, the storm of Satan’s wrath beat upon Him, but the more mercilessly it fell, the more firmly did the Son of God cling to the hand of His Father, and press on in the blood-stained path. All the efforts of Satan to oppress and overcome Him, only brought out in a purer light His spotless character.” Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, page 759
While the Smyrna Church and the Smyrna Era, lost all things temporal, Jesus assures them that they are rich. (Verse 9)
We are rich in God’s redeeming love (Romans 8:32), in His wisdom (Colossians 2:3), in good works (1 Timothy 6:17, 18), and rich in faith (James 2:5).
During the first three centuries, the church was characterized by material poverty and spiritual power, whereas the church today is known by material wealth and spiritual weakness. Laodicea claims to be “rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing,” but in God’s sight she is spiritually “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” Revelation 3:17
You might say, there are both poor rich-men and rich poor-men. Smyrna was a poor rich-church, and Laodicea is a poor rich-church.
It is better to be poor in the estimation of the world and rich in spiritual things than to be rich in the eyes of the world but poverty stricken in the sight of Christ.
Some might ask:
Why study early church history?
If the Revelation of Jesus Christ is the Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, why not just focus on last day events?
It has been said, “The more we learn in reference to the early days of the Christian church, and see with what subtlety Satan worked to weaken and destroy, the better we shall be prepared to resist his devices and meet coming perils. We are in the time when tribulations such as the world has never yet seen will prevail.” Ellen G. White, Testimonies to the Church, Volume 5, page 297
“the synagogue of Satan”
There are only two churches. There is God’s true church and there is the synagogue of Satan.
Romans 2:28, 29
Consider these verses of the antichrist power within the church. 1 John 2:18, 19; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Compare Revelation 12:1 with 17:1, 5
The final warning is a call for many of God’s people to come out of Babylon—the fallen churches. See Revelation 17:1, 5; 18:1-4
It has been said, “Satan has a large confederacy, his church. Christ calls them the synagogue of Satan because the members are the children of sin. The members of Satan's church have been constantly working to cast off the divine law, and confuse the distinction between good and evil. Satan is working with great power in and through the children of disobedience, to exalt treason and apostasy as truth and loyalty. And at this time the power of his satanic inspiration is moving the living agencies to carry out the great rebellion against God that commenced in heaven. Ellen G. White, Testimony to Ministers, page 16
“At this time the church is to put on her beautiful garments,—“Christ our righteousness.” There are clear, decided distinctions to be restored and exemplified to the world in holding aloft the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. The beauty of holiness is to appear in its native luster in contrast with the deformity and darkness of the disloyal, those who have revolted from the law of God. Thus we acknowledge God, and recognize His law, the foundation of His government in heaven and throughout His earthly dominions. His authority should be kept distinct and plain before the world; and no laws are to be acknowledged that come in collision with the laws of Jehovah. If in defiance of God's arrangements the world be allowed to influence our decisions or our actions, the purpose of God is defeated. However specious the pretext, if the church waver here, there is written against her in the books of heaven a betrayal of the most sacred trusts, and treachery to the kingdom of Christ. The church is firmly and decidedly to hold her principles before the whole world.” Ellen G. White, Christian Experience and Teachings, page 207
“Christ speaks of the church over which Satan presides as the synagogue of Satan. Its member are the children of disobedience. They are those who choose to sin, who labor to make void the holy law of God. It is Satan’s work to mingle evil with good, and to remove the distinction between good and evil. Christ would have a church that labors to separate the evil from the good, whose members will not willingly tolerate wrong-doing, but will expel it from the heart and life.” Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, December 4, 1900
“Remember that the nearer we approach the time of Christ’s coming, the more earnestly and firmly we are to work; for we are opposed by the whole synagogue of Satan. We do not need feverish excitement, but that courage which is born of genuine faith.” Ellen G. White, Testimonies to the Church, Volume 6, page 475
“We offer insult to the Prince of life, and put Him to shame before the synagogue of Satan and before the heavenly universe when we refuse to listen to His delegated messengers, and instead listen to the agents of Satan, who would draw the soul away from Christ.” Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, page 325
Even though the synagogue of Satan will work against God’s true church, His faithful servants must warning the wicked of their wicked ways.
“In the time of end, the people of God will sigh and cry for the abominations done in the land. With tears they will warn the wicked of their danger in trampling upon the divine law, and with unutterable sorrow they will humble themselves before the Lord in penitence. The wicked will mock their sorrow and ridicule their solemn appeals. But the anguish and humiliation of God’s people is unmistakable evidence that they are regaining the strength and nobility of character lost in consequence of sin. It is because they are drawing nearer to Christ, because their eyes are fixed on His perfect purity, that they discern so clearly the exceeding sinfulness of sin. Meekness and lowliness are the conditions of success and victory. A crown of glory awaits those who bow at the foot of the cross.” Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, page 590
The Smyrna Christians rejected the counterfeit that was developing.
Description of Jesus
Jesus identifies with these persecuted saints by introducing Himself as He “which was dead, and is alive.” This, of course, would encourage the Smyrna believers to maintain their fidelity to God no matter the trying circumstances. They knew that the future eternal life was one without pain, suffering, and death.
In His commendation to the Smyrna Christians, Jesus says, “I know thy works, and tribulations, and poverty.” Jesus knew what it was like to work under hostile conditions.
These Smyrna Christians themselves continued in good works while they were being persecuted. They could only do this by focusing on the needs of others, rather than themselves. Perhaps Jesus is telling us that the best way to overcome adversity is to meet the needs of those around us.
Reward 2:10, 11
Appropriate to their trying circumstances, Jesus provided them with a twofold promise of eternal life.
"Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
“He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.”
Of course, this promise is offered to all who are “faithful unto death.” There is a crown waiting for all who triumph over their sinful nature.
Crown of Life”
“Then we began to look at the glorious things outside of the city. There I saw most glorious houses, that had the appearance of silver, supported by four pillars wet with pearls most glorious to behold. There were to be inhabited by the saints. In each was a golden shelf. I saw many of the saints go into the houses, take off their glittering crowns and lay them on the shelf, then go out into the field by the houses to do something with the earth.” Ellen G. White, Early Writings, page 18
“Then I saw a very great number of angels bring from the city glorious crowns—a crown for every saint, with his name written thereon. As Jesus called for the crown, angels presented them to Him, and with His own right hand, the lovely Jesus placed the crowns on the heads of the saints.” Ibid., page 288
“In the kingdom of God, position is not gained through favoritism. It is not earned, nor is it received through an arbitrary bestowal. It is the result of character. The crown and the throne are the tokens of a condition attained; they are tokens of self-conquest through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, page 549
“which was dead”
We are able to wear a crown of life because Jesus wore the crown of thorns.
“Overcomers” (Verse 2:11)
If it were not possible to overcome, then we would not be called to be “overcomers.”
The apostle John wrote, “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God.” 1 John 5:4, 5
James wrote, “Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.” James 1:12
“We can overcome. Yes, fully, entirely. Jesus died to make a way of escape for us, that we might fully overcome every evil temper, every sin, every temptation, and sit down at last with Him.” Ellen G. White, Testimonies to the Church, page 144
For all who would rather endure persecution than to disobey God, there is no second death.
What is the second death? We know that everybody dies once, for the wages of sin is death. See Romans 6:23.
Ever since sin entered our world there has been death for all living things. But not everybody has to die twice.
Everybody is born once, but not everybody is born again. If you are born again, and remain faithful unto death, you will not face the second death.
The Bible says, “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” Revelation 20:14.
The second death is the lake of fire.
“In consequence of Adam's sin, death passed upon the whole human race. All alike go down into the grave. And through the provisions of the plan of salvation, all are to be brought forth from their graves. ‘There shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust;’ ‘for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.’ Acts 24:15: 1 Corinthians 15:22. But a distinction is made between the two classes that are brought forth. ‘All that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.’ John 5:28. They who have been ‘accounted worthy’ of the resurrection of life are ‘blessed and holy.’ ‘On such the second death hath no power.’ Revelation 20:6. But those who have not, through repentance and faith, secured pardon, must receive the penalty of transgression—‘the wages of sin.’ They suffer punishment varying in duration and intensity, ‘according to their works,’ but finally ending in the second death. Since it is impossible for God, consistently with His justice and mercy, to save the sinner in his sins, He deprives him of the existence which his transgressions have forfeited and of which he has proved himself unworthy. Says an inspired writer: ‘Yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be.’ And another declares: ‘They shall be as though they had not been.’ Psalm 37:10: Obadiah 16. Covered with infamy, they sink into hopeless, eternal oblivion.” Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, page 544
Such will be the end of sin, and the result of sin. As the psalmist wrote, “Thou hast destroyed the wicked, Thou has put out their name forever and ever. O thou enemy, destructions are come to a perpetual end.” Psalm 9:5, 6
There was no rebuke for those in Smyrna. We could assume that there was no need of any rebuke. However, what do you say to a faithful fellow believer who is under a lot of persecution from others? Do you go to them and tell them what you do not like about them? I believe that Jesus is telling us to commend and encourage them. There is a time and a place for rebuking, but it is not when someone is being persecuted for righteousness sake. Remember, we are trying to cooperate with divine agencies to help others shine brighter for Jesus.
Too close to Satan.
Pergamos was located about forty miles northeast of Smyrna in the Caicus Valley and on the imperial highway running along the coast of Asia Minor. The city was about 15 miles from the Aegean Sea on the banks of the little river Caicus. It was one of the oldest cities being built soon after the fall of Troy around the 12th century BC.
Pergamos means tower, height, or elevation, and carries the idea of exaltation. It was an exalted city that sat on a lofty hill.
The name Pergamos also indicates a union as through a marriage. Per-gamos [gamos means marriage in Greek. This is significant, because Constantine married paganism with Christianity, and would exalt it above every other religion.
Pergamos had the second largest library in the world, next to Alexandria. It heralded famous poets like Homer, and historians like Herodotus.
Pergamum was the capital of the Province of Asia. Here the decrees of Caesar were executed for all of Asia. You might say, Pergamos held a sword above others.
It was the seat of the supreme court.
Now notice what Jesus said about Pergamos, “I know where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is.”
Pergamos was the capital of the Province of Asia, but also the headquarters of the pagan religion, illustrating the union of religion and the state. It was during this time that the church, the apostate church, the Church of Rome, was exalted to royal power through a union, a marriage, with the state, under Constantine.
Satan had failed to conquer the true church through persecution, so he changed his policy. He would try to destroy the church from within through the amalgamation with the world, in joining hands with the state, and with paganism.
Through Constantine as emperor, the church of Rome mounted the throne of Caesar as the queen to Constantine.
During the Pergamos period [313-538 AD] the transition took place between pagan Rome and papal Rome. This Pergamite period, in which true faith began to diminish, was when clericalism gradually formed itself into a system, and the Church of Rome controlled that system.
As history attests, “Little by little, at first in stealth and silence, and then more openly as it increased in strength and gained control of the minds of men, ‘the mystery of iniquity’ carried forward its deceptive and blasphemous work. Almost imperceptibly the customs of heathenism found their way into the Christian church. The spirit of compromise and conformity was restrained for a time by the fierce persecutions which the church endured under paganism. But as persecution ceased, and Christianity entered the courts and palaces of kings, she laid aside the humble simplicity of Christ and His apostles for the pomp and pride of pagan priests and rulers; and in place of the requirements of God, she substituted human theories and traditions. The nominal conversion of Constantine, in the early part of the fourth century, caused great rejoicing; and the world, cloaked with a form of righteousness, walked into the church. Now the work of corruption rapidly progressed. Paganism, while appearing to be vanquished, became the conqueror. Her spirit controlled the church. Her doctrines, ceremonies, and superstitions were incorporated into the faith and worship of the professed followers of Christ.” Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, pages 49, 50
This compromise between the church and state, and between paganism and Christianity, resulted in the antichrist system, also known as the “man of sin,” and the “son of perdition.” This became Satan’s way of destroying the true church.
Satan offered Jesus the kingdoms of the world if He would worship Satan. But Jesus refused. However, only a few centuries later, the Bishop of Rome, who claims to be the Vicar of Christ, would bow to the state, and head up this amalgamation of paganism and Christianity.
Pergamos was a city of heathen temples and pagan deities. Jupiter was said to have had his origin in Pergamos. Pergamos was also the center of emperor worship. In AD 29, a great temple was erected to the worship of Caesar Augustus, who was to be prayed to as “Lord Caesar.”
The temple of Zeus was the most celebrated of all the temples of Pergamos. What we have in Pergamos was a variety of heathen gods, temples, altars, figurines, and statues, to all these false gods. What we have developing in the apostate church is the same.
Summary of History
Jesus said to the congregation of Pergamos, “I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is.” Revelation 2:12. Pergamos was the site where the first temple was dedicated to worship of the emperor of Rome. This occurred in 29 BC, in honor of Caesar Augustus. At the very time John wrote these words, Christians were being persecuted for refusing to worship the emperor Domitian (AD 81–96), who insisted on being worshiped as lord and god.
During this prophetic time of the Pergamos Christian era, we find emperor Constantine in the fourth century meshing Christianity and paganism together. He lavished the Church of Rome, giving her gifts both financial and political. It was during this time that the Papacy was developing and Satan was establishing his seat within the church structure.
Description of Jesus
Jesus is described as He “which hath the sharp sword with two edges.” Paul wrote:
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12, 13.
The power of God’s Word is described here because apostasy from the truth is creeping into the church. No matter the sincerity of those who bring in error to the church, the Word is powerful and will cut like a two-edged sword. It is not wise to mesh truth and error, for such is the work of Satan.
Christ is pleased with some in Pergamos, for in spite of so wicked an environment, some have not denied the faith, “even in those days wherein Antipas who was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.”
This faithful Antipas represents thousands who refused to either worship the emperor or to participate in the paganizing of the church.
Anti means opposed to or to be against. Pas or Papas means father or pope or one who takes precedence.
In other words, God had a faithful group of men, women, and children who were against the one trying to take precedence over all others. They were against the development of the pas or papas or papacy.
According to tradition, Antipas was the elder of the church at Pergamos. He was martyred during the persecution of Domitian, who was emperor when John wrote the Revelation.
Remember, it took centuries for the Papacy to develop and take hold of the reigns of the Roman Empire. It was especially during these years of 313–538 that the Papacy really took form in preparation to control the empire both religiously and politically by AD 538.
While God could commend Antipas and other faithful saints that spoke out against the development of the Papacy, Jesus could not commend those who did just the opposite.
Instead of taking a stand for truth they accepted the “doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.”
Jesus added, “So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.”
We had learned earlier that the Nicolaitans taught that faith in Christ released them from keeping God’s commandments, particularly the commandments dealing with adultery and idol worship.
Nicolaitans comes from the name Nikalaos, which means “those who conquer the people,” or the laity. By doing away with the law and mixing paganism with Christianity, the laity were being destroyed or conquered spiritually.
By committing spiritual adultery in marrying the state, the people were being led to disregard God’s law, especially the second and fourth commandments. The second commandment forbids the worship of idols, and the fourth commandments asks us to remember God’s seventh-day Sabbath.
All this was done to make the church popular before the masses of pagans within the empire, who worshipped idols and kept Sunday.
Jesus also rebuked them for accepting the teaching of Balaam. The historical Balaam was an Old Testament prophet turned bad. See Numbers 25:1–9; 31:16. After serving God for many years, Balaam accepted the offer of a bribe from Balak, King of the Moabites, who wanted him to curse the Israelites so that Israel would be unable to defeat the Moabites in battle. You might say, Balaam bartered his religion for wealth and honor, which is exactly the sin of the Papacy.
God worked a miracle to keep Balaam from cursing Israel, but Balaam was so determined to get the bribe that he advised King Balak to invite the Israelites to a pagan festival, supplied with women and wine. Apparently, Balaam reasoned that if he could get the Israelites to sin seriously, God Himself would curse them.
King Balak followed Balaam’s devilish plan, and many Israelites succumbed to the temptation of alcohol and illicit sex. God did not curse all of Israel, but He did order that those who had cooperated with Balaam should be hanged. In all, 24,000 Israelites perished.
In like manner, it makes you wonder how many millions will perish because of the apostasy developing during the third, fourth, and fifth centuries of the Christian era.
Out of love, Jesus warns these apostates to repent. See Revelation 2:16. Otherwise, Jesus said solemnly, “I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” The sword represents the punishment that will result if they do not repent.
“To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone which no one knows except him who receives it.”
Jesus is the Bread of life. He is the hidden manna that came down from heaven. Only by turning back from following the Nicolaitans and Balaam can we receive Jesus as our nourishment.
God is not trying to hide anything from us. Manna was provided for the Israelites to receive every morning for their sustenance.
In the sanctuary, it could be said that the “manna” was hidden, because it was within the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place. There was also the table of showbread found in the Holy Place. Both of these places, the average Israelite was not to enter except by faith.
But the message is clear, after we receive forgiveness of sin in the Courtyard, we are by faith, to walk in the Holy Place and partake of the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ. As we move unto perfection in the Most Holy Place, the common denominator is the Bread, Jesus Christ. Here we find the jar of manna inside the ark, just below the Mercy Seat, and next to the Ten Commandments. Hence, we are able to keep the commandments of God by partaking of the Heavenly Manna, Jesus Christ.
“Christ must be brought into all the studies, that students may drink in the knowledge of God and may represent Him in character. His excellence is to be our study in time as well as in eternity. The word of God, spoken by Christ in the Old and New Testaments, is the bread from heaven.” Ellen G. White, Testimonies to the Church, volume 6, page 132
In a court room, the white stone represented an acquittal, while the black stone represented guilt. White is the color of innocence, purity, joy, and victory. After all, the white stone is given to him who overcomes.
In addition, a “white stone” was given to the winner of a race. In fact, the winner was given a white stone with his name on it. This became his ticket to attend a special awards banquet.
There was no rebuke for those who were fighting against apostasy in the church. These faithful individuals encourage us to stand for truth though her champions are few.
To those who are compromising the faith and getting too close to Satan, we need to take them to the Word of God and encourage them to repent.
We are not to try to persuade them with our opinions. There is no power in our opinions.
However, there is power in God’s Word. But it is not enough just to open the Word, we should encourage people to make a commitment to the truth. After all, how can people shine for Jesus while they are espousing falsehoods?
The church that tolerates Jezebel.
The city of Thyatira was not a seaport, but it was located on a main highway. It was located about 25 miles southeast of Pergamos. The name “Thyatira” means “sweet savor of labor,” or “sacrifice of contrition.” The name indicates “weakness made strong” or “never weary of sacrifice.”
Thyatira was not a thriving seaport city, but a simple manufacturing city made up of mostly poor and humble laborers. There sweet savor came from their hard labor or by the sweat of the brow.
The leading industries were brass, bronze, and other metals, and the manufacturing of dyeing of cloth, especially of royal purple and red. Paul had brought the gospel to “a certain women named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira.” Acts 16:12-14
With Thyatira representing the time of Papacy rule from 538 to 1798, it is significant that the main colors worn by the pope and cardinals is purple and scarlet.
“So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” Revelation 17:3-5
Description of Jesus
Jesus introduced Himself to the church of Thyatira as the “Son of God, who hath His eyes like unto a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass.”
This would be very meaningful to a city known for its metal work, with this description of Jesus with “feet…like fine brass.”
His feet like fine brass burning in a furnace, in connection with His eyes like unto a flame of fire, may denote the solid foundation of truth upon which Jesus stands, and His perfect ability to see all. Everything Jesus does is based upon the foundation of truth. He changes not. His eyesight is also perfect. Therefore, He is able to judge perfectly.
Since Jesus is in heaven ministering as our High Priest during the time of Papal Rome, His feet of fine brass are in reference to His work as our High Priest in Heaven. Therefore, we would see His feet in Heaven as representing His power and support of His people. The firmness of His government. The justice of His ways. His victory over sin and death. The eventual demise of Satan and all that is evil.
“His eyes like unto a flame of fire.” (2:18)
The eyes of Jesus are “like unto a flame of fire”? What do we know about the eyes of the Papacy? The Papacy is described as having the “eyes like the eyes of a man and a mouth speaking great things…” speaking “great words against the most High.” [Daniel 7:8, 25]
“Eyes” represent intelligence, but the Papacy only has the wisdom of unconverted men. Such wisdom has led her to speak great words against God. But Jesus who has the “eyes like unto a flame of fire.” Jesus sees all and understands all. He is all-knowing.
The Papacy cannot hide all its schemes and secret plans from the Son of God. They may work behind the scenes and fool men, but not God. The description of Christ’s eyes like unto a flame of fire, tells us that the Papacy will be judge. He watches and takes account of all that is done, whether it is good or bad. And He will judge aright.
“The Son of God” (2:18)
Here the definite article is being used, “THE Son of God.” And there is none other. The Papacy failed to recognize the authority of Jesus Christ, and has become antichrist, by assuming prerogatives that belong solely to Christ, THE Son of God. Jesus is THE head of the church, not the pope. Jesus is THE Mediator between God and man. 1 Timothy 2:5. Jesus is THE High Priest of the Christian faith, in THE Heavenly Sanctuary. Hebrews 2:14-18; 4:14-16; 8:1, 2
The Period of Time
We begin this period of time in 538 AD, when the Pope assumed both civil and religious power over the western part of the Roman empire. This was the year when the three horns were destroyed, namely, the Ostrogoths, Vandals, and Heruli. See Daniel 7:8, 20, 24
Christ complimented those Christians in Thyatira, who lived a life of “charity, and service, and faith, and . . . patience, and . . . works” during the time when the structure was in deep apostasy. Jesus noted that their good works grew even better as time progressed, saying, “and the last to be more than the first.”
“Charity and service,…and works”
“The Lord has a great work to be done, and He will bequeath the most in the future life to those who do the most faithful, willing service in the present life.” Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, page 330
It is not the greatest accumulation of service, but faithful service.
“Faith is trusting God,--believing that He loves us, and knows best what is for our good. Thus, instead of our own, it leads us to choose His way. In place of our ignorance, it accepts His wisdom; in place of our weakness, His strength; in place of our sinfulness, His righteousness.” Ellen G. White, Education, page 253
“Life is disciplinary. While in the world, the Christian will meet with adverse influences. There will be provocations to test the temper; and it is by meeting these in a right spirit that the Christian graces are developed. If injuries and insults are meekly borne, if insulting words are responded to by gentle answers, the oppressive acts by kindness, this is evidence that the Spirit of Christ dwells in the heart, that sap from the living Vine is flowing to the branches.” Ellen G. White, Testimonies to the Church, volume 5, page 344
Whereas the faithful Ephesians had rejected the Nicolaitans, faithful Smyrna Christians stayed out of the synagogue of Satan, and faithful Pergamites rejected both the doctrines of Balaam and the Nicolaitans, vast numbers of professed Christians living in the time of Thyatira, actually tolerated Jezebel—a woman who claimed to be a prophetess that taught and seduced God’s people “to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.”
Like Balaam, the real Jezebel was an infamous person in the Old Testament. She was a false prophetess married to Ahab, king of Israel. Daughter of the pagan king of Tyre, Jezebel brought pagan priests with her to Israel and soon converted most of the Israelites to the immoral worship of Baal. Many Israelites who refused to give up the worship of God were martyred. See 1 Kings 16–21.
Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel represents the adulterous union of church and state. The result of such an unholy wedlock is the martyrdom of the righteous. The toleration of pagan Jezebel represents that period of church history when the Papacy ruled the state and had brought into the Christian community pagan worship under the guise of Christianity.
Jezebel hated the prophets of God and persecuted them. She was the most dominant power during the time of king Ahab. The undisputed role of Jezebel continued for 3 ½ literal years, which was a time of spiritual drought and darkness in the time of Elijah.
Spiritual Jezebel, the Papacy, ruled for 3 ½ prophetic years, from 538 to 1798. Daniel 7:25; Revelation 12:6, 14; 13:5
“To commit fornication” (2:20)
To lead men to commit spiritual fornication is to lead them to be unfaithful to God through her many false traditions.
“All false worship is spiritual adultery. The second precept which forbids false worship, is also a command to worship God, and Him only serve. The Lord is a jealous God. He will not be trifled with. He has spoken concerning the manner in which He should be worshiped. He has a hatred of idolatry; for its influence is corrupting. It debases the minds, and leads to sensuality and all kinds of sin.” Ellen G. White, Manuscript 126, 1901.
“Spiritual fornication was committed with the kings of Europe by the union of church and state.” Ellen G. White, Signs of the Time, November 17, 1942
Jezebel came to her end. Spiritual Jezebel will also come to her end. See 1 Kings 21:19; 2 Kings 9:35; Revelation 17:16; 19:17, 18
Verse 21: The Church that Refused to Repent
God gave the Church of Rome time to repent of her apostasy. Early on, God tried to reach these errant church leaders with churches that had remained faithful to God’s Word. Later, He tried to reach them through the reformed churches. But Jesus tragically predicted, “she repented not.” (Verse 21) Any church that refuses to repent of her errant ways is an apostate church.
“There are none so hardened as those who have slighted the invitation of mercy, and done despite to the Spirit of Grace. The most common manifestation of the sin against the Holy Spirit is in persistently slighting heaven’s invitation to repent. Every step in the rejection of Christ is a step toward the rejection of salvation, and toward the sin against the Holy Spirit.” Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, page 324
Verses 22, 23: God’s Judgment on the Church of Rome
Due to her unrepentant heart, the Papacy was to suffer from a dread disease. “Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts.”
This verse makes evident that all professed Christians are judged, “and all the churches shall know that I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts.”
Remember this prophecy was written in 96-100 AD, predicting that the Papacy would not repent. The Papacy as we know it, did not exist in 96 AD. There were several churches in Rome, but they were home churches, not some Papal power. This Papal apostasy took place over several centuries. Romans 16:5
Concerning the judgment, Paul noted, “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.” 2 Corinthians 5:10.
“God may bear long while the account goes on, and calls to repentance and offers of pardon may be given; yet a time will come when the account will be full; when the soul’s decision has been made; when by his own choice, man’s destiny has been fixed.” Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, page 165
“searches the reins of the heart” (2:23)
Jesus knows what is in every heart. He knows the motive behind every word and deed. See Proverbs 15:3; Jeremiah 32:19; Hebrews 4:13
“into a bed” (2:22)
Notice that the church of Jezebel goes from the harlot’s bed to the sick bed.
Those that had joined in her apostasy, were held accountable.
The great tribulation is likely referring to the black plague of the Middle Ages, which caused much suffering. Due to her apostasy and persecution of God’s people in the end of time, she will face the seven last plagues. See Revelation 16.
“kill her children with death.”
If a person is killed it would mean death. Therefore, something is being emphasized here. Death by the plague. By some manifestation of God’s power, people will be punished for their apostasy and persecution of the true church. The same will result in the end of time. See Revelation chapters sixteen and eighteen.
This would refer to those that she hath seduced into error, and has caused them to commit spiritual fornication.
“and all churches might know that”
This sounds like the death will be very public. This is likely the black plague that took the lives of millions. But it will also have and end time application in the seven last plagues, which fall just prior to the millennium, and the lake of fire, which consumes the wicked at the end of the millennium. See Revelation 18:7-12, 16-18; 20:1-15
Verses 24, 25: God Still had a Faithful Remnant
“as many as have not this doctrine”
There were many faithful followers of Christ that did not embrace the false doctrines of Rome. They were not contaminated by this false system.
“The depths of Satan”
There are erroneous doctrines, traditions, religious holy days, ceremonies, that seems as if someone other than man could have developed. Could they have originated with Satan? After all, the Bible is clear that “the dragon [Satan] gave him [the first beast, the Papacy] his power, and his seat, and great authority.” Revelation 13:2
Paul wrote concerning antichrist, who is “that man of sin,” “the son of perdition,” that “Wicked. . . whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders.” 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 8, 9
The Papacy is the antichrist power of Bible prophecy that is known as “that man of sin” “the son of perdition,” and that “Wicked.” In the end, Jesus will destroy this apostate system for leading millions astray. But Paul makes it clear that this apostate system is “after the working of Satan.”
“The compromise between paganism and Christianity resulted in the development of the ‘man of sin’ foretold in prophecy as opposing and exalting himself above God. That gigantic system of false religion is a masterpiece of Satan’s power—a monument of his efforts to seat himself upon the throne to rule the earth according to his will.” Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, page 50
“There is one pointed out in prophecy as the man of sin. He is the representative of Satan. Taking the suggestions of Satan concerning the law of God, which is as unchangeable as His throne, this man of sin comes in and represents to the world that he has changed that law, and that the first day of the week instead of the seventh is now the Sabbath. Professing infallibility, he claims the right to change the law of God to suit his own purposes. By so doing, he exalts himself above God, and leaves the world to infer that God is fallible. If it were indeed true that God had made a rule of government that needed to be changed, it would certainly show fallibility.
“But Christ declared that not one jot or tittle of the law should fail until heaven and earth should pass away. The very work that He came to do was to exalt that law, and show to the created worlds and to heaven that God is just, and that His law need not be changed. But here is Satan's right-hand man ready to carry on the work that Satan commenced in heaven, that of trying to amend the law of God. And the Christian world has sanctioned his efforts by adopting this child of the Papacy—the Sunday institution. They have nourished it, and will continue to nourish it, until Protestantism shall give the hand of fellowship to the Roman power.
“Then there will be a law against the Sabbath of God's creation, and then it is that God will do His ‘strange work’ in the earth. He has borne long with the perversity of the race; He has tried to win them to Himself. But the time will come when they shall have filled their measure of iniquity; and then it is that God will work. This time is almost reached. God keeps a record with the nations: the figures are swelling against them in the books of heaven; and when it shall have become a law that the transgression of the first day of the week shall be met with punishment, then their cup will be full.” Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, volume 7, page 910
Faithful companies did exist at this time who were not associated with Rome and her apostasy. They were to hold fast to the light that they had received. This, of course, implies that more light from God’s Word was coming. As the Bible says:
“But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” Proverbs 4:18.
The Dark Ages of Papal rule was definitely not the perfect day. But light is progressive. Others would come along and build upon the faithfulness of those before them.
Those faithful ones during the Thyatira era were to hold fast until Jesus comes. This does not mean that Christ was coming before the close of the Thyatira era, but that signs of His return would begin to become manifest, such as the fulfillment of the 1260-year prophecy ending in 1798, and the unsealing of the Book of Daniel. See Daniel 7:25; 12:4.
To him that overcomes the temptation to forsake truth for political, economic, and social gain, Jesus promises power over the nations and a rod of iron.
In ancient times, a rod of iron was used by the shepherds. See Psalm 23:4. Its function was to protect the flock from danger. Those who protect others from error will see the destruction of the wicked and will no longer suffer at their hands.
Psalm 2:9 = government of strength; no opposition will be successful
The “morning star” that Jesus promises to give us is Himself. See Revelation 22:16. Living in the presence of the Son of God, who has taken on the human form forever.
While the world seeks an alliance with the man of sin who exalts himself above all others, God’s faithful seek a full union with Jesus, the Light of the world, the Morning Star, in whom in no darkness at all.
He is the “Sun of Righteousness.” The church clothed with the sun, Revelation 12:1.
The Day is Dawning.
What do you say to someone who refuses to repent?
What do you say to church leaders who act like they are God?
What else can we do but point them to the Son of God and His authority over all things.
If they do not recognize the authority of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.
What do we do when calls are made to unite the church and the power of the state?
We are to speak out against it. The results of the union of church and state were demonstrated for over twelve centuries, from 538 to 1798. What was the result? Apostasy and murder.
We are ourselves to live a life of charity, service, and faith. Seldom do we convince others of the truth simply by our words. There must be a demonstration of the power of God in our lives. We are to love our enemies, live a life of service to others, live by the faith of Jesus, be patient and kind, and do the works that Christ has for us to do. Then we can bid others to repent.