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The study Index page.
This study is verse by verse, IMAGE by Image, IDEA by Idea, and concept by concept. Which means it is a Marathon.
We are using sources that John the Apostle and those mentioned as the recipients of the letter, the Seven Churches and other First Century Christians, the majority of which were Jews, would / should / could have been familiar with. We will also reference newer translations and versions of the book, beginning with the 1560 Geneva Bible (the bulk source for the 1611 KJV, which we also use) all the way up to much more current publications, and examinations of the text from various scholars as well as beginning the analysis of the text from the Greek.
It should be said here, as we are beginning with the Greek, we are going in remembering that John was writing in an 'apocalyptic' style. It seems many translations have forgotten that and 'moderated' the language.
"To the Angel of the Church of Ephesus, write..."
Let's look at the “to” which this individual letter, and all the following letters, are addressed to.
The Greek word is “angelo”, which is “messenger”. It has always been assumed that the letter to the church was written to the “angel of the church” who was standing in for the local congregation itself, "the people of the Church in Ephesus". Could it be that the message is to the human Messenger of the local church, the Evangelist. Which changes the meaning of the content of each letter somewhat.
'Just thinking out loud.'
"... we rejoin verse one, already in progress..."
The command to write is repeated, this time with the message and the identity of the sender referring back to the Son Of Man description where He is holding the stars and so on, from Chapter One.
The first message is to the church at the ancient Greek city and seaport, and then Roman stronghold of Ephesus. There is some discussion about the population of the city during this time, however, by all reasonable estimates the metropolitan area was well over 100,000 people, and may have been as large as 200,000. (As we'll see, with some of these cities, nobody has any realistic idea of the population during the time of John.)
The local church(es) may well have been founded by Paul on his missionary journey to the area, and he may have stayed in town for over two years. Which is something else we do not know: was there ONE local congregation, meeting in the synagogue or in another public space, or even in somebody's house, all of which are recorded in the NT. Or were there Several churches throughout the area that were "the Church in Ephesus", and in the other cities.
“I know your works...” the reference is clearly to what is mentioned by James in his letter, 2 : 18 and 19. Then it says “kopon” (pain from a cut), and “hypomonen” (endurance/ stamina). The statements imply that they have worked in spite of torment, such as an athlete who has 'hit the wall' but has kept on running. An image also used by Paul when he talks about his race.
(And then EVIL makes its first appearance in The Apocalypse (we made it all the way to the second verse of the second chapter!).)
1611: “and how thou canst not beare them which are euil, and thou hast tried them which say they are Apostles, and are not, and hast found them lyers:”
The term which is rendered as 'evil' is “kakous” which stands for a general badness or that which may cause injury. In this case, the 'injury' is false beliefs. Which false beliefs comes shortly.
This is something important, and still holds true today. There are those that NOW, some Two Thousand Years after the Apostle John and all his friends have moved on that claim to be “apostolous”. They are not. And they are now, as then, spreading falsehoods. The Church in Ephesus tested them and branded them “pseudeis” (false and deceitful), or in other words: liars. Or as the New American Bible (NAB) states it: “impostors”.
There have been those that have used the fact of the very existence of such frauds to substantiate the truth of the Gospel, one of those was Justin Martyr:
“There are, therefore, and there were many, my friends, who, coming forward in the name of Jesus, taught both to speak and act impious and blasphemous things; and these are called by us after the name of the men from whom each doctrine and opinion had its origin.” (citation below)
This verse somewhat restates what is in two. They have persevered, for HIS name's sake, which is exactly as stated in the Greek, and not “kekopiakes” (gotten tired). Some translations include everything from 'fainted' (1611), to “become discouraged” (NAB), or “without quitting” (NLT).
4 “But I have against you....”
It isn't all good news, of course.
1560 “Neuertheles”, and 1611 “Neuerthelesse, I haue somewhat against thee”, which is a fair reading of the Greek.
The reason is that they have 'left their first love' or, in the NAB “turned aside from your early love”. And the word is: agapen. The root is part of the Agape universe of LOVE, which is a different discussion, but this usage is more of an active daily practice.
This looks back to the words of the Weeping Prophet in Jeremiah 2, and comes up again later.
The 1560 and the 1611 are true to the Greek: “Remember therfore from whence thou art fallen, and repent”. The admonition is to “do your first works”, in 2021 words, “press reset and start over”. Remember the use of the word “metanoeson” which is to literally “reconsider” something, it is seen a lot.
HE continues: “if not, I am coming unto you”. And then comes the first actual threat of Revelation. Their “candlestick” will be removed unless they fix their problems, “repent”. In short, they'll end up in the bad place that is discussed at length later. The undercurrent is that the ENTIRE LOCAL CHURCH will be 'removed', unless They, As A Church, get it right.
Think about that for a moment with our earlier idea that this letter is to the Evangelist of the church.
NIV: “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices (works) of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” The word is “miso” which is “to detest”.
Exactly who the Nicolaitans were, and what they believed, is still unknown. There is no Biblical evidence that these are the followers of the Deacon named “Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch” from Acts 6, who supposedly fell away from the true faith.
The evidence that way comes from later writers, most notably from Irenæus in his book “Against Heresies” where he described them as the followers of the Deacon who were “teaching that it is a matter of indifference to practise adultery, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.” Book 1, ch 26 (citation below).
In any case, whatever was going on with them was evidently new. There is some sense in Ephesians that Paul may have gotten wind some things that weren't quite right, but he does not specifically condemn any particular practice or belief, such as he does with that weirdness in Corinth. This may be attributed to the idea that Ephesians was a 'general epistle' and not to a specific church as some think of it, or, perhaps, Ephesus was still in their 'first love' a couple of years after Paul's visit and these ideas had not had time or occasion to take root. Whatever the facts, now, when John was writing, things had gone downhill and word of it had gotten 'upstairs'.
“... let him hear...” (akousato), as the entire book was written to be read out loud, the exhortation here is that everyone who can, should, “hear what the Spirit says to the Churches”.
“Overcometh”, 'nikonti' in Greek, is also rendered as “victorious”, and the reward is food. The Tree mentioned may or may not be the same “Tree of Life” from Eden. If it is, it has now been transplanted to: “Paradeiso tou Theou”.
The term “First and Last” is used again, as is “was dead and is alive”.
Smyrna is another Greek city that was now heavily Roman. Due north of Ephesus on the Aegean on the other side of the Ionian peninsula, and while it was a large city, and a major port, it was somewhat smaller than greater Ephesus with a population of about 90,000.
The Greek words “thlipsin” and “ptocheian” are used. The first is a term for personal persecution and affliction, the 1560 and 1611 use the equivalent term Tribulation, the second word is usually translated along the lines of destitute poverty. But, according to the text, they were 'rich' (plousios: having abundance).
The second half of this verse gets a bit heavy.
The root of the word is the same in the Greek as English: “blasphemian” and both 1560 and 1611 use it. The Jerusalem Bible makes this “slanderous accusations”. The word is used quite a few times in the Bible, and always in the same context: speaking untruths about God in public. Perhaps it is more useful here to look at the New Century Version from 1987: “I know the bad things some people say about you. They say they are Jews, but they are not true Jews. They are a synagogue that belongs to Satan.”
This is a slight paraphrase of the words of Christ in John's Gospel, at 8: 44 and following.
It also references something in Israel's history recorded by Jeremiah's pupil, Baruch, in his book: “...you were handed over to your enemies because you angered God. For you provoked the one who made you by sacrificing to demons and not to God.” (Baruch 4: 6 - 7. RSV)
From that you get the idea that The Bad Guy is in town and actively working against the Church, and the local churches, with willing accomplices. Stand by on that, we'll come back to it shortly.
John tells them not to worry about all that, because things are about to get a whole lot worse. Remember that Bad Guy? In nine the proper noun was used, Satana, now it is a general term: diabolos, but to the same end.
“Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into 'phylaken' prison...” (ESV). The Greek term there also includes simply placing 'under guard', such as house arrest or under surveillance. But then, oddly, John includes a time scale for this new tribulation. In the Greek he sets a mark of 'days ten'.
Earlier we mentioned the fact that some numbers in the Apocalypse of John are not literal. Some will brand that heresy, and we hope they have a good time doing it. In the current case, the reference could well be to Daniel's weeks in chapter 9, and it also comes up as “weeks of days” later in Revelation. Neither should set as an appointment in your 'date minder' notebook.
And then comes the cheerful news: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (ESV)
“He that has an ear....” Then, the same root of the word that was used earlier is back, “He that overcometh shall not be hurt by the second death.” The term here for Death is exactly that: thanatou, and it does mean the end of life, which can be either physical or spiritual, in this case, it is the 'second' ending, of both.
Pergamos (Pergamum/Pergamon) was another Greek city that was then Roman. But Pergamon has the distinction of having been the capitol of its own sizable kingdom about 190 BC after the breakup of the empire of Alexander the Great. It was also known as having two major temples to the 'old gods and goddesses' including Zeus, Athena, and Dionysus. Not long after John wrote the book, the emperor Trajan had the temple dedicated to Zeus rededicated and somewhat rebuilt, in tribute to himself, to re-enforce the existing emperor worship cult in the city (stand by for more on that in verse 13). In a few years the famous physician Galen would begin his career here. The city had been important for a very long time, and could have been one of the largest in the region at the time with a population nearing 200,000 in its metropolitan area.
In this verse, the Speaker identifies Himself as the one with the “two edged sword” discussed earlier.
There is a discrepancy between both the 1560 and the 1611 and the Greek text and the newer translations. The old texts state “I knowe thy workes and where thou dwellest...”. The Greek text has no reference to 'works', only to location. The more modern translations follow the Greek, even the Jerusalem and New American (Catholic) Bible leave out 'works'.
“... where Satan's throne is....” All translations agree with this part, “thronos” with the proper noun for 'the bad guy'.
“and you hold firmly to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.” (New American Standard)
According to the traditions of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, Antipas was martyred as bishop of the local church in 92 AD for casting out demons that were worshiped by the locals. There is no reliable outside information about him, see below for the Greek Orthodox Church's biography of him. That statement alone fixes the earliest date of the writing.
Those who made up the church in Pergamon had held fast to their faith and not denied it even under the persecution by the Romans, even, as with their bishop, unto death, in, as the end of the verse makes it: in Satan's home town, his “katoikei”, in this case, not his throne.
14 and 15
But it isn't all good news. Per the Greek: “But I have against you a few things”. The first being that they had some among them that subscribed to the “teachings of Balaam”.
It is a specific reference to a specific incident in the specific Old Testament Book of Numbers, specifically: chapter 31.
In the story, the infamous Balaam, son of Beor, had talked the soldiers that had conquered Midian into sparing the women for reasons listed in Revelation, and well may be related to the teachings of the Nicolaitans in the next verse. In Numbers, it didn't work out well for Balaam, or Israel, or for the women. The ending of verse 15 in the 1560 and the 1611 “which I hate” has been added on from the earlier verse, it is not in the Greek, nor is it in the newer translations.
“Repent, or else...” The Greek says it directly. “I am coming to you quickly and will fight you with the sword of my mouth.” Meaning, HE will use the Word against them. This image is from Isaiah 11 and elsewhere. As mentioned before, we'll look at “the Word” later.
Again with “he that has an ear...”, this time the follow up is the Manna that has been hidden. The reference is to the food found on the ground beginning in Exodus 16, some of which was 'hidden' in the Ark of the Covenant, as mentioned in Hebrews 9. And also of interest is a reference in the Apocryphal book of Baruch 1 : 10 “And they said, Behold, we have sent you money to buy you burnt offerings, and sin offerings, and incense, and prepare ye manna, and offer upon the altar of the Lord our God..” Christ also referred to Himself as the manna of life in chapter 6 of John's Gospel. Then there is an obscure reference to a 'white stone with a new name written on it'.
There were names written on the stones worn on the shoulders of the priestly ephod of Exodus 28: 9.... They were as a memorial to the founders of the 12 tribes. The stone of the garment was onyx, which can come in several different colors, including white. We'll discuss the related breastplate and its stones again later. Certain individuals today regard white onyx as a useful stone to help 'center' one's emotions and use them during meditation.
New Names are not unknown in the Bible, one aspect of this sort of 'witness protection program' is that it totally leaves their past and all that baggage behind. The idea comes up in several places in Isaiah, namely (all puns intended) in chapter 56, see verse 5. In the beginning of 62 “the mouth of the Lord will designate” the new name. And it comes up again at verse 15 of 65. As well as again in the next chapter of Revelation.
Welcome to the longest of the seven letters.
Thyatira is our first inland city. In Roman times it was most famous for its cloth-making and dying industry as well as its leatherworks. There is no evidence as to who founded this church, although Paul did know the woman named Lydia who was from the city, there is no mention of his ever going there. The population during this time is impossible to estimate, although some make it over 30,000, which seems reasonable given the industries it supported.
After the standard intro we have: “These are the words of the Son of God”, then we have the description of His eyes and feet again.
The list of good points is impressive, and these terms are used elsewhere in 'the letters': works, love, faith, service, perseverance, “and the works of you the latter are greater than the first”. What they are doing now, including New Believers, is better than what they had done as a new church how-ever-long ago.
“notwithstanding”, again, it is not all good news, and this one is apparently an historical re-enactment. A “prophetesse” named Jezebel was at work (was that really her name? It doesn't matter. At All!). The more famous (infamous) lady by that name was the Baal worshiping wife of King Ahab of Israel, and is best known as the foil for Elijah and Elisha, and comes to a bad end in 2 Kings 9. In Revelation the current edition is promoting sexual impropriety and encouraging eating what had been given to her god.
21 through 23
We get well into 'the dark side' here.
It is emphatically stated that she had been given time to “metanoese” (repent), and did not. “Behold” there is a specific prophecy worthy her namesake and the two prophets of old she had worked against. The word “thlipsin” (tribulation) is used again in relation to those that have relations with her, unless they “metanoesosin” in 22. But it doesn't end there, her 'children', which includes those whom she had taught, as well as physical children, are doomed, that they will know that HE searches “affections and hearts” and each will be judged by their works. The focus of this letter on her and her teaching is telling, and in the end, it appears that it is only incidental that this 'bad guy' is a woman, as there are other false teachers mentioned in the letters and the overall book, and, HE, has something special in store for them as well.
24 and 25
Now He is speaking to 'everybody else' in town (as well as in the wider world), those who “do not know the depths of Satan”, “as they say” is added in the Greek. Then “I will not cast upon you any other burden. But that which you have already, hold fast till I come.”
26 and 27
There are several images here all playing off each other. Once again, those that 'overcometh' are promised something. In this case: “Authority over nations”. Except the first word in Greek is “exousian” (power) which also includes the idea of privilege and mastery over the “ethnon” which is “foreigners”.
The passage is from Psalm 2. He will “poimanei” (govern as a shepherd). The Rod of Iron is exactly that (rhabdo sidera), and it was both a weapon and symbol of power. The broken pieces of pottery were often mixed with mud and used as mortar or paving for a road, which means they were never seen again. HE is giving the nations to them as HE received them from the Father, as He is the Ruler of Kings. In the passage in Psalms, the next couple of verses warn rulers to be wise and serve the Lord, obviously Ahab of old didn't read it, and neither did those in Thyatira that were hooked up with their own “Iezabel”.
28 and 29
Those that overcome will be given the Morning Star. There are several ideas as to what that may be, besides the Planet Venus, or the Son of Man Himself. Most probably it is what the morning star rising over the horizon signifies: The Beginning of a New Day. Then comes: “He that hath an ear...”
End Chapter 2
Selected Sources for this chapter:
Irenæus Against Heresies (a.d. 120–202.) Chapter 26, 3 https://sacred-texts.com/chr/ecf/001/0010723.htm
Dialogue of Justin, Philosopher and Martyr, with Trypho, a Jew. Ch 35: “Heretics confirm the faith” https://sacred-texts.com/chr/ecf/001/0010496.htm
The Apocryphal book of Baruch from the 1611 KJV: Baruch https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/1611_Baruch-Chapter-1/
Heiromartyr Antipas, Bishop of Pergamum: Greek Orthodox Church of America https://www.goarch.org/chapel/saints?contentid=15&type=saints
Sources used throughout entire study:
Bible Hub Interlinear pages: https://biblehub.com/interlinear/revelation/1.htm
the Geneva Bible downloadable https://archive.org/details/TheGenevaBible1560
the 1611 KJV https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/1611-Bible/
The study Index page.
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