Perhaps you have been in one of those Bible classes I have only heard about. A class in which you study Matthew thru Jude, but when you come to Revelation you say “that’s too hard to understand”. So, then you go back and start over at Matthew. Well, we don’t want to do that. I don’t think God would mock us by giving us a book we could not understand. Surely, the Revelation is not an easy book to understand but neither should we think it is so difficult that we ignore it altogether. In fact, there is a blessing promised to those who will give heed to this book (Rev. 1:3).
One of the keys to help us in understanding this book is to realize it was written in apocalyptic language (1:1). The word revelation comes from the Greek word apocalypse which means an unveiling or uncovering, a revelation. This word came to be used of writings which were like Revelation in their use of symbolic language. Other books in the Bible such as Ezekiel, Daniel and Zechariah contain much apocalyptic language. An understanding of how the symbols are used in these other books will help us in understanding Revelation.
In the visions of John numbers (1-unity, 2-strength, 3-Deity, 3½-trial, 4-creation, 5-limited, 6-sinful man, 7-perfection, 8-revival, 10-completeness, 12-God’s people), colors (white-purity, red-bloodshed, black-sin, pale-death), animals (lamb, lion, dragon, frogs), cities (Sodom and Gomorrah, Jerusalem, Babylon), persons (Balaam, Jezebel, Gog and Magog) and other things (angels, demons, stars, clouds, winds, waters, fire, thrones, crowns, swords, chariots, armies, plagues, alters, temples, garments, trees, oil, wine, gold, silver, precious stones, ships, coins, books, musical instruments, eye salve, time periods) are all used symbolically. John sees vivid images which are meant to convey a message. You will read of a dragon that cast down stars from heaven and a flood that proceeds out of its mouth. Frogs come from the mouth of a false prophet and lead armies into battle. The sun is darkened, the moon becomes blood and the heavens are rolled up like a scroll. We must not get too bogged down in the details of the image that we miss the big picture. As is characteristic of most apocalyptic literature Revelation was written to comfort God’s people in their trial with the assurance that their enemies would be judged and that they would be victorious if they remained faithful (2:10).
SHORTLY COME TO PASS
Another key to understanding the book of Revelation is to realize that the things written in the book “must shortly come to pass…for the time is at hand” (1:1, 3). At the end of the book John is reminded that these things “must shortly be done” (22:6) and was instructed, “Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand” (v. 10). When Daniel received a revelation about 550 B.C. (Dan. 8:1) concerning the work of Antiochus Epiphanes in about 164 B.C. (vv.13-14) he was told, “Seal up the vision for it refers to many days in the future” (v. 26). Therefore, Revelation should not be understood as referring to things far removed in time from John’s day but to that which was soon coming upon the church.
Some believe Revelation is about what will happen at the end of the world when Jesus comes again. They see a rapture of the church, the rise of the Antichrist and Jesus coming back to earth to reign for a thousand years. This view ignores the fact that John writes of things which “must shortly come to pass”. Such a view would leave the book without any application to the ones to whom it was addressed and by which it was originally received. We must refrain from applying the symbols of Revelation to events of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
Another group sees an unfolding of history from the time of John until the second coming of Christ. They believe Revelation speaks of the fall of Rome, the apostate Catholic Church, Mohammed, Adolf Hitler, the reformation and the restoration movement. This view also places the major portions of the book too far removed from those to whom the message was originally given. Both of the aforementioned views lead to an arbitrary assignment of the symbols of Revelation.
Still others believe that Revelation does not speak of any specific historical events but of the conflict between good and evil in principle only. This view ignores the fact that the book was specifically addressed to the churches of John’s day and the obvious references to the persecution of Rome upon the church and its fall.
Others believe it is about the persecution of Nero upon the church and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. But the internal evidence does not readily support this position. The conditions of the seven churches seem to indicate a later date for the book than this view calls for. The book seems to speak of a much more severe, long lasting and widespread persecution than that of Nero’s day. The description of the city which falls best fits Rome, not Jerusalem.
I believe as many others that Revelation was written to encourage the saints who must endure the persecution of Rome by emphasizing the fall of Rome and the victory of the faithful. The message serves as an encouragement to every generation of Christians who face trial until our Lord comes again.
Rome ruled the world. The empire had many gods. Even the emperors were deified and the people were called upon to worship his image. Nero was the first among the emperors to persecute Christians. In order to shift the blame off himself he accused Christians of starting a fire in Rome. But it was not until the end of the first century that Domitian began to severely persecute Christians for their refusal to bow to the gods of Rome and the image of the emperors. During the next two hundred years thousands of Christians would be punished, tortured and slain for their faith. Early in the fourth century Constantine legalized Christianity.
Christians were looked upon by the Romans with suspicion because they met at night having to work seven days a week. There were rumors that Christians were cannibals because some misunderstood the communion of the body and blood of Christ. Their acceptance of only one God was seen as disloyalty to Rome. Whenever anything bad happened it was blamed on the Christians not worshiping the gods. Christians often could not do business, send their children to school, fight in the army or even go to the hospital because it would involve them in idolatry. As a result Christians were ridiculed, hated and persecuted by many.
THE DATE OF THE BOOK
John wrote Revelation while exiled on Patmos (Rev. 1:9, 11, 19; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14; 10:4; 14:13; 19:9; 21:5), a small, rocky and barren island about seventy miles southwest of Ephesus in the Aegean Sea, near the end of the reign of Vespasian about 78-79 A.D. In the Syriac version of the Bible (second century A.D.), the book of Revelation is entitled: “The Revelation which was made by God to John the evangelist in the island Patmos, into which he was thrown by Nero Ceasar”. Nero was the fifth emperor of Rome, Vespasian was reigning when John wrote the book of Revelation, Titus would reign for a short term and then Domitian would revive the persecution begun by Nero (17:9-11).
Some date the writing of the book of Revelation about 96 A.D. This later date is based on a misunderstanding of an ambiguous statement from Irenaeus. Foy E. Wallace, Jr. in his commentary on the book of Revelation (pp. 25-26) gives this explanation from Professor Milton S. Terry concerning Irenaeus’ statement:
In speaking of the mystic number given in Rev 13:18, he says: “If it were necessary to have his name distinctly announced at the present time it would doubtless have been announced by him who saw the apocalypse; for it was not a great while ago that (it or he) was seen, but almost in our own generation, toward the end of Domitian’s reign.” Here the critical reader (of the Greek sentence) will observe that the subject of the verb was seen, is ambiguous, and may be understood either of John or the Apocalypse…But why should he say that the book was recently seen? The point that he aims to make is that the man who saw the visions of the Apocalypse had lived almost into the times to which Irenaeus belonged, and had it been needful to declare the name of the Antichrist he would himself had done it.
A BRIEF SURVEY
John sees Jesus among the lampstands which we are told are the churches (1). Each one is sent a letter from Christ (2-3). Then John sees God on the throne, not Caesar (4). Jesus is given a scroll which is sealed with seven seals (5). As the only One able to open the seals, He holds the future in His hands. Each seal is opened revealing thru various images the persecution that is coming upon the church and God’s judgement upon her enemies (6). Before the opening of the seventh seal, the 144,000 (God’s faithful) are sealed so that they do not come under the judgement of God and are next seen as a multitude rewarded with victory (7). With the opening of the seventh seal, six trumpets are sounded to announce and warn of God’s judgements on the oppressors of the saints but they refuse to repent (8-9). A mighty angel swears that God will not delay in completing His judgement (seven thunders) on the oppressor because he spurned the warning (10). The temple of God is measured (judgement begins at the house of God) and it appears that the church is defeated (two witnesses dead in the street) but ultimately she is raised to victory and the seventh trumpet is sounded (11).
In the last half of the book we are introduced to the enemy. A dragon, the devil, is pictured as a three time loser (12). The sea beast (Rome personified in her emperors) and the earth beast (the enforcer of emperor worship) are his workers (13). In spite of the horrible nature of these enemies, the church is singing a new song for as the rest of the chapter tells us the righteous are garnered in and the wicked are trampled in the winepress (14). The faithful saints are explicitly declared victors and await the pouring out of the seven bowls of God’s wrath (15). God’s complete wrath is poured out upon the enemy of His saints (16). The city which ruled the world in John’s day, Rome, is described as Babylon, the Great Harlot, drunken on the blood of the saints (17). The world laments at the announcement of her fall (18). The saints rejoice as at a wedding feast with Christ who is seen as the conqueror of their enemies (19). The binding of Satan for 1000 years tells us he is totally defeated in his work thru Rome. The 1000 year reign of those who faithfully endured the persecution speaks of their complete victory in this matter. Satan is loosed for a little while and mounts a great army against the city of God but is suddenly overcome and cast into hell assuring us that no matter what the devil might bring against God’s people in the future he will not be successful. Finally, all stand before God in judgement. The wicked are cast into hell forever (20). The eternal state of the church is pictured as a beautiful and wonderful city in which God dwells. From the throne of God proceeds the river of water of life and on each side of the river grows the tree of life (21-22).
This opening chapter of Revelation serves well as an introduction to the rest of the book. In the first three verses we are reminded of the two keys that we mentioned in our introduction to Revelation which are helpful in interpreting this book. First, that the message was given to us in symbols. A literal interpretation should not be pressed upon it. Second, that the book is about things which were to shortly come to pass. Certainly, there are some references in Revelation to the time of Christ’s second coming at the end of the world, but to relegate the main portion of this book to events which are taking place in our day some 2,000 years later is to ignore what John writes in these first verses. John did not know and no one else knows when Jesus Himself will return at the end of the world (Mat. 24:35ff).
Emphasis is given to the fact that this book is of divine origin and not of mere man (Rev. 1:1). It came from God to Christ to the angel to John to show to God’s servants. John gives a faithful record of that which was revealed to him (v. 2). The first of seven beatitudes is found here at the beginning of the book (v. 3). Reader (the singular pronoun indicates a reader for the congregation) and hearer alike are blessed as they keep the words of the prophecy (Jam. 1:25).
The book was written to “the seven churches which are in Asia” (Rev. 1:4). “Asia” refers to a Roman province situated on the west central coast of Asia Minor or modern Turkey. The number “seven” is used symbolically in Revelation. It was the most sacred number to the Hebrews, representing perfection. The number for man (4) and God (3) equals seven. There are seven days in a complete week. In Revelation we find many sevens (churches of Asia, Spirits, stars, angels, golden lampstands, book with seven seals, trumpets, thunders, bowls of wrath). Elsewhere in the New Testament we see the use of “seven” (Mat. 12:45; 15:36-37; 18:22; 22:25-28; Acts 6:3; 13:19; 19:14; 20:6; 21:4, 27; 28:14). The “seven churches” are symbolic of the whole church.
All three persons of the Godhead join in the greeting of grace and peace (Rev. 1:4-5). The Father is identified as the eternal One (cf. Exo. 3:14). The “seven Spirits” are symbolic of the Holy Spirit (Rev. 3:1; 4:5; 5:6; cf. Isa. 11:2; Zec. 4). Jesus Christ is identified as:
1.“the faithful witness” – the persecuted saints could rely on His word (Rev. 19:11; cf. 2 Cor. 1:21).
2.“the firstborn from the dead” – which speaks of preeminence (Psa. 89:27; Col. 1:18). Jesus was the first to rise from the dead to never die again and He is the pledge of our resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-23). What a comfort to those facing death for Christ.
3.“the ruler over the kings of the earth” – though it looks like Caesar rules supreme, Christ is in control (Rev. 2:27; cf. Mat. 28:19; Acts 2:33-36; Eph. 1:20-22; 1 Tim. 6:15; 1 Pet. 3:22). It looked like Pharaoh was sovereign over Israel killing their baby boys but he took in and raised their deliverer in his own house (Exo.). It looked like Nebuchadnezzar ruled over Israel taking them captive and destroying their city but as Daniel foretold Babylon fell, then Medo-Persia, then Greece, then Rome; And during the days of the Roman kings God established His kingdom which would never be destroyed (Mat. 16:18; 1:15; Mark 9:1; Acts 2). Premillennialists say Jesus can’t be ruling because of the mess this world is in but even they believe there will be a rebellion at the end of the millennium in which a huge host will rise up and attack Jerusalem.
Jesus Christ is the One to whom we are to give glory and dominion (Rev. 1:5-7). He “loved us”. Unlike the Roman tyrants He cares for the people. Whenever in doubt remember the Cross. He “washed us”. If He can deliver from sins can He not deliver from Rome? He “made us kings and priests” in the church, a spiritual empire (John 18:36) much greater than Rome (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; cf. Exo. 19:6). “He is coming” (Rev. 22:12; cf. John 14:3; Acts 1:9-11; Heb. 9:28). It will not be an invisible or secret coming (Mat. 24:27; 1 The. 4:16) as even those who pierced Him (Zec. 12:10; John 19:37) will be there to see Him, weeping and wailing bitterly with all the ungodly (5:28-29; 2 The. 1:7-11).
Jesus Himself affirms to John His power over all as the eternal One (Rev. 1:8). Each of the descriptions He uses of Himself show His equality with God (1:4; 21:6; 22:13; cf. Isa. 9:6; John 1:1-3; 10:30; Phi. 2:6; Col. 2:9).
John encourages the churches by reminding them that he shares with them in the tribulation (not something in the distant future but what they are already experiencing – John 16:33; Acts 14:22) and in the blessings of the kingdom (as we saw in verse five the kingdom of Christ was already in existence – Col. 1:13; Heb. 12:28) and in the steadfast endurance required (Rom. 12:12; Jam. 1:2-4, 12). John was not writing these things from an ivory tower but from the penal colony on the island of Patmos where he had been banished because of his faithfulness to Jesus (Rev. 1:9).
John was “in the Spirit” (under the influence of the Holy Spirit – 1 Cor. 14:2) on the “Lord’s day” when he heard behind him “a loud voice, as of a trumpet” (Rev. 1:10). The expression “Lord’s” is used in only one other place in the New Testament where it refers to the “Lord’s supper” (1 Cor. 11:20). The Lord’s supper was taken on the first day of week when the church gathered for worship (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2). This is the day the Lord was raised from the dead (Mark 16:9) and the church had its beginning (Acts 2:1; Lev. 23:15-16).
John, inspired of the Holy Spirit, was instructed to write in a book what he saw and send it to the seven churches of Asia Minor (Rev. 1:11; cf. 1:19; 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14; 10:4; 14:13; 19:9; 21:5). These churches are named in a circuitous geographical order. When John turned to see who it was that spoke to him, He saw “seven golden lampstands” (1:12), which he is later told are the seven churches (1:20). As the golden lampstand with seven lamps gave light in the tabernacle so the churches are to give light to the world (Mat. 5:14-16; Phi. 2:15).
One like “the Son of Man” (a term used of Christ – Dan. 7:13) was seen among the seven golden lampstands (Rev. 1:13). The description of Jesus which follows (vv. 13-16) is similar to that of Ezekiel (Eze. 1:26-28) and Daniel (Dan. 10:5-6). His attire suggests high rank and dignity, perhaps the garments of a priest, king or prophet. His white head and hair speak of purity and holiness. His burning, piercing look misses nothing. His feet like burnished brass suggest destructive power to trample (Eze. 1:7; Mic. 4:13; Mal. 4:3). His voice roars like the waves of the sea crashing on the shores of Patmos striking terror in the hearts of His enemies. He has seven stars, which John is later told are the angels of the churches (Rev. 1:20), in His right (strong) hand indicating His authority over the hosts of the heavens and that He holds the destiny of the churches under His powerful control. The sword, the Word of God (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12), which comes out of His mouth (cf. Isa. 11:14) indicates His readiness to wage war with His enemies (Rev. 19:15). The glory and majesty of His person is seen in His face as a bright sun (Mat. 17:2).
It is before this awesome One that John falls in fear (Rev. 1:17). Touching him with His powerful hand He tells John not to be afraid because He is the eternal and living God (1:18). He was dead but is now seen alive forevermore! He has power over (keys which unlock) Hades and death (Acts 2:22-36; Heb. 2:14). In His resurrrection He conquered death for all (1 Cor. 15).
Finally (Rev. 1:19), John is told to make a written record of everything which has been revealed to him (1), the present condition of things (2-3) and the things which are to come (4-22). Remember this is a revelation of things “shortly to take place” (1:1). As noted above, the “mystery” (Rom. 16:25-26; 1 Cor. 2:7-10; Eph. 3:1-7) of the “seven stars” and “seven lampstands” is made known to John (Rev. 1:20). As everything in Revelation has its “angels” (rivers, winds, bowls, trumpets, books) so it can act out its part in the book, so each congregation is represented by an angel (cf. Dan. 10:13, 20-21; Mat. 18:10; Acts 12:15).
THE BIG PICTURE: After emphasizing that the things revealed to John are from God and must shortly take place, Jesus is seen in His power and glory among the churches to encourage their faithfulness even when faced with death and to assure them that their enemies will be judged. This message is preserved for us today that we too might benefit from it.
With this chapter we begin to look at Jesus’ letters to the churches. They convey the sincere interest and deep concern that He has for all of His churches. This would be especially needful for those facing such severe persecution as was to come upon them.
Each letter follows the same general pattern: (1) Jesus identifies Himself using the figures from John’s vision of the Son of Man in chapter one. (2) He examines the congregation commending and/or condemning it for its works. (3) Then, He makes an appeal. The congregation is admonished to repent and/or continue steadfast so that it is not judged. The faithful (ones who “overcome” – Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 26, 5, 12, 21) are promised the blessings of God. Whether they live or die they are victors thru Christ (Rom. 8:37-39).
Though a different letter was written for each congregation, all of the letters were to be read by all of the churches (Rev. 1:4, 11; 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22).
CHRIST’S LETTER FOR THE CHURCH OF EPHESUS
The first letter was written for the church of Ephesus (2:1). This is actually the second inspired epistle to be received by this congregation (Eph.). The apostle Paul had spent more time with this church than any other (Acts 18-20). It was from his efforts there that all of Asia Minor had come to hear the Gospel (19:10). The city of Ephesus was equally important to Asia Minor commercially as it stood on the main route from Rome to the east and was favored with a good harbor on the Aegean Sea. It was also the city of the temple of Diana, whom the whole world worshipped. The original temple crumbled into dust centuries ago but was rebuilt. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Alexander the Great wanted his name on one of its 127 pillars. Though he offered them great riches he was turned down by the city. “If we put the name of another god on her temple it will upset her,” they told him. Alexander couldn’t get his name on the temple of Diana but years later Paul wrote and told the Ephesians that they were the temple of God (Eph. 2:19-22)!
Jesus’ description of Himself (Rev. 1:1) emphasizes His love and concern for this church, though their love had diminished. His love for them is further seen in how He compliments them for being a hard working and persevering congregation (2:2-3; cf. Gal. 6:9). They were also commended for their intolerance of evil men and false teachers (cf. Acts 20:28-30; Eph. 5:11; 1 John 4:1; 2 John 9-11; 2 Cor. 11:3-4, 13-15; 12:11-12). Yet, Jesus had one thing against them (the proverbial “fly in the ointment”). They had left their “first love” (Rev. 2:4). They had lost that fervor, devotion and enthusiasm that early on characterized the love of this church (Acts 19:19-20; 20:36-38; Eph. 1:15).
Jesus looks into the heart of man to see his attitude and what it is that motivates him (John 2:24-25). Even though we may be steadfast in our labor and scriptural in our teaching, without love we are a spiritual zero (1 Cor. 13:1-3; cf. Eph. 4:15; 1 Tim. 1:5).
In order to correct their fault, the Ephesian church needed to do three things (Rev. 2:5):
“Remember” from where they had fallen – They had fallen from God’s favor. Thinking back on the love of God as proclaimed in the Gospel and how they were saved by God’s grace should revive their love (2 Cor. 5:14-15). As a husband and wife may grow cold toward one another through the years, looking back to how they felt about one another in the beginning may help to rekindle those feelings once again. Remembering when we were betrothed to Christ will help restore our love (2 Cor. 11:2; cf. Rom. 6).
“repent” or change their hearts – The problem in the Ephesian church was a heart problem. When we sin, repentance is always required in order to get right with God (Acts 8:22; Luke 13:3; 2 Cor. 7:10).
“do the first works” – If we truly repent, we will change our conduct (Mat. 3:8; 21:28-30; 2 Cor. 7:10-11). The Christians at Ephesus would need to act out of genuine love for Christ, for one another and for all men and with the original zeal that they once displayed (cf. Rom. 12:9-13).
Jesus threatens to come and remove their lampstand (Rev. 2:5). He does not here speak of His coming at the end of the world, but of His judgement upon them which was to be realized in time. Their light was going out and they would no longer exist as a church of Christ. That Jesus would point out their error, encourage them to make amends and warn them of their end was another evidence of His love towards them (cf. Pro. 27:5; Mat. 18:15-18; 2 Cor. 5:11; Gal. 6:1-2; Jam. 5:19-20).
His love is also seen in the encouraging words of verse 6. Jesus did not just see what was wrong with this congregation, but also what they were doing right. Even when people are in need of correction we can usually find something for which to commend them if we will look for it. The Ephesian church hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans. So did Jesus. We are to, “Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good” (Rom. 12:9; cf. Psa. 97:10; 119:104; Pro. 8:13). The Nicolaitans are asssociated with Balaam’s doctrine “to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality” (Rev. 2:14-15). Some believe this sect came from Nicolas (Acts 6:5) who supposedly left the faith but there is no evidence of this.
The term “Nicolaitans” means “victory people”. “Nike” brand tennis shoes come from this same Greek word. Jesus uses this word to refer to the one who “overcomes” (Rev. 2:7). He is the true victor! Jesus promises the overcomer eternal life with God under the figure of “the tree of life” in “the Paradise of God”. The word translated “Paradise” was used of the beautiful oriental parks of the Persian kings. It is used in the Bible of heaven (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:1-4). What was lost in the Garden of Eden when man sinned (Gen. 2-3), was recovered by Christ (Rom. 5) and is forever restored to the faithful (Rev. 22:2).
CHRIST LETTER FOR THE CHURCH IN SMYRNA
This is the shortest of the letters to the churches. It is also one of the only two letters that does not contain any condemnation. The origin of the church is unknown but it probably grew out of Paul’s work in Ephesus (Acts 19:10).
Smyrna was a beautiful city located about forty miles north of Ephesus and known as the Ornament of Asia. It was a great center of Caesar worship. There was also a large population of Jews in this city.
Jesus’ claims for Himself (Rev. 2:8) reflect the city of Smyrna. The ancient city had been destroyed and was dead for 400 years until it was rebuilt by Alexander the Great. Now it claimed to be the first city in Asia. The leading god of Smyrna was Dionysus. Each year the death and resurrection of this god was acted out in public plays. Christians knew the difference between myth and solid, indisputable historical fact!
Jesus was here before Smyrna ever existed and will be here when Smyrna is gone. As a mother quiets the anxieties of her child by saying, “I’ll be here when you wake up”, so Jesus seeks to encourage this church which was facing the threat of extreme persecution, even martyrdom.
He knows what is going on with the church in Smyrna (v. 9). In spite of their difficulties they continue in the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 15:58). They suffered:
“tribulation” – This speaks of their trial as the grinding of grain between stones or the crushing pressure of the trampling of grapes. They were under tremendous pressure to worship Caesar and the gods of Rome.
“poverty” – This means they were really “poooooor”. Materially they were destitute. The government confiscated their property. Their businesses were boycotted. Yet, their poverty was offset by a far greater wealth than silver and gold. They were “rich” toward God (Luke 12:15-21; Mat. 6:19-21; 2 Cor. 6:10; 8:9; Eph. 1:3; 3:8; 1 Tim. 6:6-10, 17-19; Jam. 2:5).
“blasphemy” – This refers to the slanderous accusations of the Jews who stirred up trouble against them. These were not the true people of God but Satan’s church (John 8:31-47; Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6-8; Gal. 3:26-29; 6:16; Phi. 3:3).
Jesus does not promise to take away their suffering, but seeks to prepare them for what lies ahead (Rev. 2:10). He tells them not to be afraid even though the devil was only going to make things worse for them (Mat. 10:28; Heb. 13:5-6; 1 John 4:4). Some of them would literally be thrown into “prison”. All of them would be held for a trial of their faith and many of them would be literally put to death. Their “tribulation” would last “ten days”. The number “ten” is symbolic of completeness. A complete man has ten fingers and ten toes. Revelation speaks of ten horns, ten crowns and ten kings to express fullness of power or rule (Rev. 12:3; 13:1; 17:3, 12, 16). Jacob was tried “ten times” (Gen. 31:7). Job was tried “ten times” by his accusers (Job 19:3). Daniel was tried “ten days” (Dan. 1:12-16). The tribulation of the Christians at Smryna would come to an end, but only when their trial was complete (cf. Rev. 6:9-11).
Though Jesus did not promise to take away their suffering, He does assure them, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
He calls upon them to be faithful even if it means death. He means for them to die as martyrs rather than denounce their faith. His promised “crown” is a symbol of the reward of eternal life (1 Cor. 9:25; 2Tim. 4:8; Jam. 1:12; 1Pet. 5:4). Mt. Pagas gave the appearance of a crown which became the symbol of the city of Smyrna. Many citizens of Smyrna had been crowned for their service and loyalty to city and country. Others had striven in the games and received crowns of victory. All of these crowns would fade away and vanish in time but the crown Jesus promised would last forever!
The negative of this promise is to “not be hurt by the second death” (Rev. 2:11). Death means separation. When we die physically our body is separated from our spirit (Jam. 2:26). We die spiritually when our sins separate us from God (Isa. 59:1-2; Rom. 6:23). The term “second death” speaks of eternal separation from God in hell (Rev. 20:6, 14-15, 21:8; cf. Mat. 25:41,46; 2 The. 1:6-10). It is better to die the first death (physical death) in faithfulness to Christ than to suffer the second death.
Polycarp, an elder of the church in Smyrna, was burned at the stake in 155 A.D. It was on the Sabbath but the Jews in violation of their law helped gather sticks for the fire. He was told to pay homage to Caesar and curse Christ but he responded, “Eighty and six years have I served Christ, and he hath done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my king who saved me?” Threatened with fire he replied, “Thou threatenest the fire that burns for an hour and in a little while is quenched; for thou knowest not of the fire of the judgement to come, and the fire of the eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly. But why delayest thou? Bring what thou wilt.” No doubt the words of encouragement from our Savior to Smyrna had been heard by him and were imprinted upon his heart.
All who will listen are admonished to take this letter to heart. It is time we all quit our wining, moaning and complaining and stand “strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Eph. 6:10), trusting Him for life eternal.
CHRIST LETTER FOR THE CHURCH IN PERGAMOS
Pergamos, the capital city of Asia Minor and seat of emperor worship, sat like a throne on a hill surveying the valley around it. It was a city of numerous idols. Jutting from the hillside about 800 feet up, smoke endlessly ascended from a huge alter to Askelepios, the serpent god of healing. No wonder Jesus calls it "Satan's throne" (Rev. 2:12-13). Yet, Jesus claims to be the One "who had the sharp two-edged sword". This symbolized the fact that He had the power of life and death (Rom. 13:4).
The church in Pergamos is commended by the Lord for their faithfulness to His “name” and to His “faith”. The name of Jesus speaks of His authority (Acts 4:7-12; Col. 3:17). The faith of Jesus speaks of His teaching (Rom. 10:17; Phi. 1:27; Jude 3). Their faithfulness was especially commendable because it was tested by martyrdom, as in the case of “Antipas”.
It is possible that Antipas was not a specific individual, but representative of all those among them who were put to death for their loyalty to Christ. The name Antipas is made of two words which mean “against father”. It may refer to those who went against the authority of Rome in order to be loyal to Christ.
Though they had much to commend them, Jesus had “a few things against” them (Rev. 2:14-15). Some held to the false doctrine of Balaam and the Nicolaitans. Balaam was the prophet for hire who was not allowed to curse Israel for Balak, the king of Moab but counseled him to send the daughters of Moab to entice Israel to join them in the lascivious worship to their gods (Num. 22-25; 31:16; Jos. 13:22; 2 Pet. 2:15; Jude 6). Apparently some in the church at Pergamos believed that a Christian could engage in the immoral feasts and worship held in honor of the Roman gods (1 Cor. 8-10).
The Nicolaitans were first mentioned with disdain by Jesus in His letter to the church in Ephesus (Rev. 2:6). As the term “Nicolaitans” comes from two Greek words which mean “victory people”, so “Balaam” is from two Hebrew words which mean the same. Thus, Jesus is probably referring to the same false doctrine by each of these terms.
Jesus not only had a problem with those who held to these false teachings but also with the rest of the church in Pergamos because they had them in their fellowship. According to Thayer, the word “have” (echo) is “used of those joined to anyone by the bonds of…friendship” (p. 266). Such must not be allowed nor tolerated by the Lord’s church but rather rebuked and corrected with the proper teaching and discipline in order to keep the church pure (1 Cor. 5; Eph. 5:11; 1 Tim. 1:3; 6:3-5; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; 2 John 9-11). The church in Pergamos had not taken a firm enough stand against those among them who held to error.
Without repentance, they were all in danger of being judged by Christ (Rev. 2:16). The “sword” of His “mouth” is symbolic of His word by which we all are to be judged (John 12:48; Heb. 4:13; Eph. 6:17). On the otherhand, eternal life with Christ is promised to the overcomer under three symbols (Rev. 2:17):
“the hidden manna” – God fed Israel with manna in the wilderness (Exo. 16). A portion was kept hidden with the ark of the covenant (16:33; Heb. 9:4). Jesus is the true bread of God from heaven that gives life to the world (John 6:31-35). This “life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3; cf. 2:3). While in the desert of this sinful world, Christians do not partake of the heathen feasts but feed on the spiritual sustenance of Christ (1 Cor. 10:1-4).
“a white stone” – Pergamos mined white stones. They were used to indicate one’s innocence at trial (cf. Acts 26:10, literally “my pebble of voting” may refer to a black stone indicating Paul’s vote of guilty), one’s citizenship and freedom from slavery, a winner of a contest or one’s victory in battle. They were also used as complimentary passes to games or the theater. They were shared with friends to guarantee a warm reception at any time or place. The color “white” speaks of purity, holiness, innocence, victory and heaven. A white stone then would identify the faithful as the friends of Christ who are admitted into heaven and received as citizens free from sin and victors in their battle with Satan, having been acquitted in their trial of faith.
“a new name” – In the Scriptures people were given new names that reflected God’s blessing in their life (Gen. 17:5, 15-16; 32:28; 35:10; John 1:42; Isa. 56:5; 62:2; 65:15; Acts 11:26). The new name given by Christ to the faithful reflect all that they now are and have with Christ after enduring their trial of faith and sharing in His victory over sin and Satan (Rev. 3:12; 19:12). Only the one receiving the white stone “knows” the name “written on” it because no one person’s experience is identical with another’s experience. The fact that it is engraved on the stone indicates the permanence or eternal nature of this blessing.
CHRIST’S LETTER FOR THE CHURCH IN THYATIRA
Thyatira lay in a valley about forty miles southeast of Pergamos. Since it had no natural fortifications it was well built and heavily staffed with soldiers. As such it served as a protective barrier to enemies on approach to Pergamos. It was also a trade and manufacturing city known for its purple dye. Lydia, a seller of purple from Thyatira, was converted to Christ by the preaching of Paul in Philippi (Acts 16).
There were many trade guilds in the city. Membership in these unions was very important to doing business. This was a problem for the Christian because the guilds were dedicated to various gods and served idols. Tertullian wrote against those Christians who joined the guilds and sought to justify their compromise by saying, “A man must live”.
In this longest letter of the seven to the churches Jesus presents Himself as “the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass” (Rev. 2:18). Using these symbols Jesus is really speaking their language. The smith guilds worshiped a god who worked in brass named Hephaestus, but Jesus is the true divine One. His eyes are ablaze like a furnace, angry at what He sees in Thyatira. His feet are ready and able to trample and burn to ashes His enemies (cf. Isa. 63:1-6, Mic. 4:13).
People are more apt to listen to our criticism if we let them know we are aware of their good qualities. Before pointing out their wrongdoing Jesus first commended the church in Thyatira for its works, love, service, faith and patience saying “the last are more than the first” (Rev. 2:19). Unlike the church in Ephesus which had left its first love, the church in Thyatira was on fire doing more than ever before.
It was their toleration of “Jezebel” that Jesus had against them (Rev. 2:20). This was the name of the wicked wife of King Ahab who opposed the Lord and His righteous ways (1 Kin. 16:31). She cut off the prophets of Jehovah and encouraged idolatry by feeding the prophets of Baal and the Asherah (1 Kin. 18:4, 19). It is as unlikely that anyone would have named their girl Jezebel as they would have named their boy Judas. The name is probably used symbolically by Jesus to refer to a woman or a faction in the church. Churches have been greatly disturbed by talented and influential women (i.e. the wife of an elder or preacher, a woman of great wealth or political power).
Like many today, this Jezebel claimed to be inspired of God (“a prophetess”, cf. Acts 21:9; 1 Cor. 11:5) but was a false teacher. She taught the same doctrine as the Nicolaitans and Balaam (Rev. 2:6, 14-15) and her disciples claimed to have “known the depths of Satan” (Rev. 2:24). Perhaps they were saying that one should obtain such knowledge by experiencing sin firsthand. These early Gnostics claimed knowledge from God that others did not have (cf. 1 Cor. 8). Their doctrine was based on the notion that all flesh was evil so it did not matter what one did with his body (cf. 1 John 4:1-6). If one was truly spiritual it would not effect his spirit (cf. 2 Pet. 2:12-16, 18-19; Jude 4, 17-23). This teaching would allow the Christians to join the trade guilds and not have to suffer the economic hardship and social isolation that would result from remaining separate and refusing to participate in pagan feasts and the sexually immoral worship of idols. Such compromise is absolutely unacceptable (1 Cor. 8-10; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1).
Unfortunately, many still compromise faith for material gain (cf. Mat. 6:24, 33). As in Thyatira, such compromisers do not quit the church. They may be some of the best workers. It is such problems within, not without, that often destroy us (1 Cor. 5). Jezebel needed to be opposed, not fellowshipped (Rom. 16:17-18; Eph. 5:11; 2 John 9-11).
Today, some would have us compromise. They say the church of Christ is just a denomination born of the restoration movement in America. They claim superior insight and to have discovered new truth. In many ways they have adopted the culture of our time. Their teachings have caused many to be conformed to the world and unite with denominationalists. They, too, must be stopped (Tit. 1:9-11).
The patience of Christ toward Jezebel and “her children” (i.e. spiritual offspring) had been exhausted to the point that they would be cast from their beds of sin into the bed of judgement (Rev. 2:21-23). All the churches would then recognize that nothing escapes Him. Each one in the church at Thyatira would share in this judgement according to their works. God’s longsuffering toward us should not be taken as though He is indifferent to sin, but as opportunity to get right with God before it is too late (Ecc. 8:11; 2 Pet 3:9). The immorality of Jezebel and her followers was surpassed only by their obstinate resistance to God’s goodness (cf. Rom 2:4).
Dealing with Jezebel was the most pressing business at Thyatira. Jesus would put “no other burden” on them. But deal they must (Rev. 2:24). As the city would have to hold off the enemy until Pergamum was ready, so the church would have to “hold fast” until the Lord would come in judgement upon these enemies of the faith (v. 25). This implies that our salvation can slip from us if we fail to do so (Heb. 3:6; 10:23).
Christ’s promised reward to the victorious one who never gives up is portrayed with two symbols (Rev. 2:26-28). He is given:
“power over the nations” – This is a sharing with Christ in His present reign over all (Mat. 28:18-20; Acts 2:33-36; Rom. 5:17; Eph. 1:20-23; 2:6; 2 Tim. 2:11-12; Heb. 1:3, 13; 1 Pet. 3:21-22; Rev. 1:5-6) which was prophesied long before (Psa. 2:6-9; 110:5-6). The faithful would stand with Christ in triumph over those who sought to make them compromise (Rev. 5:9-10). The strength of their faith is seen in the ease by which the enemy is broken into shivers by the rod of iron (i.e. the word of God, Isa. 11:4; Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12; Rev. 12:5; 19:15).
“the morning star” – This refers to the presence and blessings of Christ Himself (2 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 22:16). As the sun heralds the new day so Christ’s coming in judgement upon their enemies assures His conquerors that the night is almost over (cf. Num. 24:17).
Once again we are reminded that this message as that of the other letters to the churches is not just for the church which is addressed but for all the churches (Rev. 2:29).
CHRIST’S LETTER FOR THE CHURCH OF SARDIS
The city of Sardis was about thirty miles south southeast of Thyatira. At one time it was a capital city of great wealth. It sat 1500 feet up in the air on a ledge of rock jutting out of the side of a mountain making it virtually impregnable. Yet, twice (once by Cyrus in 546 B.C. and then again by Antiochus in 218 B.C.) it was overtaken because the city was not alert. Tradition says that a soldier found a crevice in the rock hill and led a band of men to the summit, taking the city by surprise. In A.D. 17, Sardis was devastated by an earthquake. At the time of the writing of Revelation, it was a city in decline. Sardis was slowly but surely dying.
From this letter of Christ we learn that the condition of the church paralleled that of the city. Unless it awakened to its true condition, it was going to die.
As the letter opens Jesus reminds them that He is the One that possesses the “seven Spirits of God and the seven stars” (Rev. 3:1). The “seven Spirits of God” was first mentioned at the beginning of this book (1:4). There we noted that this refers to the Holy Spirit, who is God’s quickening power (Rom. 8:11; 1 Pet. 3:18). Jesus told John that the “seven stars” are the angels which represent the churches before God (Rev. 1:20). The description Jesus gives of Himself assures them that He is able to revive this dead church and bring it back to life.
Unlike the pattern found in the preceding epistles of Christ to the other churches, He does not begin with any word of commendation for the church at Sardis but goes straight to the point. Like the city, their reputation of greatness from the past lived on but they were in grave trouble. Resting on their laurels, they had settled into a comfortable rut which was closed at both ends. Like the city, they needed to be on guard (3:2) lest the enemy overtake them unawares (1 Pet. 5:8). They had become careless and negligent in the work of the Lord. Like the city, it was time that they began to fortify what was left of the church before it fell into spiritual ruin. It was time to restore and rebuild. Like the city, the church had a promising beginning but had failed to complete the work that they had begun. They were content to hold services and kept the doors open but these works were just grave clothes wrapped around a corpse. They made no impact upon their city. As a result they suffered no negative repercussions from Rome but rather enjoyed peace with the pagan culture. In this peace they had drifted into a coma and on into death. This was a peaceful church if you like the peace of a cemetery.
Jesus, the great Physician and giver of life, gave them a threefold prescription to take in order to hold off their funeral service (Rev. 3:3):
“Remember therefore how you have received and heard” – It would do them good to go back in their memory to the time when they first found Christ in order to renew the life and zeal of this church’s beginning.
“hold fast” – As we might tell a dying man to hold on, so they must not let go of Christ (cf. Mat. 10:22; Heb. 3:6; 10:23).
“repent” – Things also had to change, beginning with their hearts (cf. Acts 8:21-22).
If they would not wake up and get on alert they were going to fall under the judgement of Christ (Eph 5:14; 1 Cor. 10:12). As a thief, it would come upon them suddenly and unexpectedly. On the last day, Christ will so come upon us all whether we are watching or not (Mat. 24:36-25:46; 1 The. 5:1-11; 2 Pet. 3:10).
There were “a few” persons who had survived the death toll that had taken hold of this church (Rev. 3:4). These faithful few had “not defiled their garments” (i.e. stained their souls with sin, cf. Zec. 3; Jude 23), as the others who were spiritually dead, but were trying to carry on the work. These were deemed “worthy” – not of themselves, of course, but by God’s grace – to walk with Christ “in white” (a symbol of the purity, righteousness and holiness of the saved, Ecc. 9:8; Isa. 1:18; 61:10; Dan. 12:10; Rev. 19:14). This is reminiscient of the victory parades conducted by the Roman generals dressed in a white toga. The faithful would march in Jesus’ victory parade dressed in white.
Jesus promised them, “He who overcomes shall…” (3:5):
Wear the “white garments” of salvation in the victory parade with those mentioned above.
Not have their name blotted out of “the Book of life”, the roll book of the redeemed who are to be granted eternal citizenship in the kingdom of heaven (cf. Exo. 32:32-33; Dan.12:1; Psa 69:28; Mal 3:16; Luke 10:20; Phi. 3:20; 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27). Though this is an assuring word to the faithful, it implies that a Christian can lose his eternal reward if he is not careful (Gal. 5:4; Heb. 6:4-6; 10:25-31; 2 Pet. 2:20-22)!
Have Jesus “confess” his name in heaven (Mat. 10:32-33; Luke 12:8-9) so that he is recognized as one of His own.
There are many lessons to learn for all who will “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev.3:6). Let us be careful to learn:
How tragic it is when a church does not fulfill its mission! We boast about what we used to do, but if we are not reaching out and impacting our city for Christ today we are just “dry rot”. Where are the soul winners?
How wonderful it is that some lifeless, nearly dead saints can still be aroused! Where are the encouragers?
How awful it is to have one’s name blotted out of the book of life! It was put there by the grace of God. How, then, can we so carelessly have it fritter away. Where are the warners and watchers of the souls of fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (I The. 5:11-22)?
CHRIST’S LETTER FOR THE CHURCH OF PHILADELPHIA
The city of Philadelphia lay twenty eight miles southeast of Sardis. It was built by King Attalus II a century and a half before Christ and called Philadelphia in honor of his brother and predecessor, Eumenes, whom he loved so much. It has also been referred to as “little Athens” because it was full of idols and idol temples. Serving as a doorway of major trade routes it was seen as a “missionary” city to spread the Greek culture. Like the other cities of this area it suffered devastation from the earthquake of 17 A. D.
Nothing is known of the church here except what we learn from this short letter. It is noteworthy that Christ gives no condemnation of this church.
Jesus begins the letter by identifying Himself as the holy and true God of the Bible who has the authority to grant or deny entrance into the kingdom of God as was foreshadowed by David’s authority over the kingdom of Israel (Rev. 3:7; cf. Isa. 22:15-25). This is in contrast to the Jewish enemies of the church in Philadelphia who claimed to be the holy nation of God, the true people of God and the heirs of David’s throne with authority to rule over the kingdom of God but were not (Rev. 3:9; cf. Rom. 2:28-29; 9:6-7; Phi. 3:3). Though Philadelphia may have shut their doors of business and the doors of their synagogues to the Christians, Christ is the keeper of the doors into the everlasting kingdom of God (cf. Mat. 16:19; Acts 14:22; 2 Pet. 1:10-11).
The kingdom and reign of Christ had already begun. He was already reigning with all authority in His kingdom (Mat. 28:18; Acts 2:33-36; Eph. 1:20-22; Col. 1:18; 1 Pet. 3:22; Rev. 1:5, 18) as was prophesied before (Isa. 9:6-7; 36:3; Luke 1:32-33). Only thru Christ could anyone come into the presence and blessings of God (John 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 10:19-23).
Christ provided such “an open door” for the church at Philadelphia because of their faithfulness and assured them that no one could deny them this privilege (Rev. 3:8). In spite of their smallness in size, lack of earthly wealth and political power they were not intimidated by the enemies of the faith. They remained loyal to the teachings of Christ (cf. John 14:23) and would not deny Him (cf. Mat. 10:32-33). These are the things that determine faithfulness to Christ, not numbers, money or popularity among men.
Christ shut the door to those Jews who rejected Him (Rev. 3:9). They insisted on holding to the shadows and refused the substance (Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 10:1). In doing so they kept others and themselves from entering into the true kingdom of God (Mat. 23:13) and became the devil’s church (cf. John 8:31-47; Mat. 23:15). These haters of Christ and His church would someday be made to acknowledge that those who follow Christ are the true people of God (cf. Isa. 60:14; Rom. 14:10-12; Phi. 2:9-11). Though many in “the city of brotherly love” hated the Christians, they were loved by the Lord.
Jesus warned them that an “hour of trial” was coming “upon the whole world” (Rev. 3:10). This can only refer to the enforcement of emperor worship that began with Domitian and would extend throughout the worldwide empire of the Romans. Though the Christians of Philadelphia would suffer persecution because of their steadfast loyalty to Jesus, He would preserve their souls so that they would not fail in this test of faith (cf. Isa. 43:1-7; Mark 13:11-13; 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 10:12-13; 1 Pet. 1:5; Jude 1, 20-25). Jesus assured them that He would “come quickly” (Rev. 3:11). By this He meant that He was ready to act at any moment on their behalf by coming to their aid to deliver them and to judge their oppressors (cf. Phi. 4:5; Jam. 5:8-9). As long as they were faithful they could not lose their eternal reward (James 1:12; Rev. 2:10). Knowing this should sustain them in the hour of trial (1 Pet. 1:3-9).
Each victor of Christ is then promised a permanent place in heaven with God and Christ under the figure of a pillar in God’s temple (3:12; cf. Acts 7:44-50; 17:24; Heb. 8:1-6; 9; 10:19-25; Rev. 21:3, 22). Such memorials might be seen among the many idol temples of Philadelphia etched with the name of a citizen, soldier or king to honor him for his loyalty and service to Rome. However, those pillars would crack and tumble with the tremors of an earthquake and everyone would run out from the falling temple. The Jewish temple in Jerusalem had already been destroyed, but the true temple of God cannot be shaken (Heb. 12:22-29).
Jesus said that three names would be written on each of the pillars in God’s temple:
The name of God which would identify them as God’s children (Eph. 3:14-15; Rev. 7:2; 9:4; 14:1).
The name of God’s city which would identify them as citizens of heaven (Phi. 3:20; Heb. 12:22-23). Jerusalem had long since ceased to be the city of God. [When the Bible uses the term “forever” in connection with Jerusalem (2 Chr. 7:16) it does not mean eternally but until the end of the age (cf. Gen. 17:8, 13; Exo. 21:6; 40:15; Lev. 16:34; 24:8; Num. 25:13; Deu. 28:45-47).] The great city of Rome that persecuted the church so severely by the beasts that came out of the earth and the sea would fall (Rev. 13; 17-18). The faithful would dwell in the eternal city of heaven, the new Jerusalem that is built by God (2 Cor. 5:1; Heb. 11:10, 16; Rev. 14:1-5; 21-22).
The new name of God’s Son which would identify them with the One who saved them by His blood and by whose power they would win the victory of faith (Rev. 19:11-16). This name is above every name (Eph. 1:20-22; Phi. 2:9-11; Heb. 1:1- 4).
All churches should pay attention to what the Spirit taught this church (Rev. 3:13). What pleased Jesus about the church at Philadelphia was their faithfulness to Him. Faithfulness is not an ability that some have and others don’t, but a choice that we all have to make each day of our lives. Decide for Jesus and you will be rewarded with eternal life.
CHRIST’S LETTER TO THE CHURCH OF THE LAODICEANS
Laodicea was 43 miles southeast of Philadelphia. It was a great commercial and banking center. It had a famous school of medicine which produced an eye salve. It was a clothing and fashion center famous for its soft, glossy, black woolen garments. It also had numerous mineral springs.
The church may have been established by Epaphras (Col. 1:7; 4:12-13). It had earlier received a letter from Paul (Col. 4:16). Jesus is spoken of as the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness (Rev. 3:14; cf. 1:5). This is in contrast to the unfaithfulness of the church in Laodicea. The Beginning (cf. 1:8; 21:6) of the creation of God describes Christ as the first cause or source of creation (cf. John 1:3; Col. 1:15-17; Heb. 1:3).
Jesus gives no commendation for this church, only condemnation (Rev. 1:15-16). The mineral springs of Laodicea produced hot water for therapy, cold water for refreshment and lukewarm water that would make a person sick. Because the church had become “lukewarm” (i.e. useless, indifferent, apathetic, negligent, good for nothing), it made Christ sick to his stomach (cf. Gal. 5:4).
As the self-sufficient city, so the church had developed a false sense of spiritual self-sufficiency totally oblivious of their true spiritual condition (Rev. 1:17-18; cf. John 15:4). Jesus’ words were directed at the pride the city had taken in their banking interest, clothing industry and medical care, especially their eye salve. Jesus stressed that only He can provide the true spiritual needs of the soul like gold (i.e. spiritual treasure), “white garments” (i.e. genuine purity) and eye salve (i.e. true understanding).
Lest they feel their situation hopeless, the Lord lets them know He loves them (Rev. 3:19; cf. Heb. 12:5-6), seeks fellowship with them (Rev. 3:20; cf. Son. 5:2; Jam. 5:9) and promises victory to the faithful (Rev. 3:21; cf. 2:26-27; John 16:33).
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