In chapters 2-3, Jesus has a special message for each of the seven churches before giving them the general message contained in chapters 4-22.
“To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place--unless you repent. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God’” (Revelation 2:1-7).
The Ephesian church has left its first love. If they do not repent, then Jesus threatens to “come to you quickly.” This would be a coming in judgment, to “remove your lampstand.” Remember, lampstands are symbols of the churches. Jesus will come in judgment and destroy the church as Ephesus.
“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death” (Revelation 2:8-11).
The church at Smyrna is already in tribulation because they are being persecuted by some claiming to be Jews. Jesus says they are not Jews. That is, these persecutors are ethnic Jews, but because they are not spiritual Jews, Jesus calls them “a synagogue of Satan.” Again, this points to a pre-AD 70 writing of Revelation, as there was no Jewish persecution of the church after AD 70.
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it’” (Revelation 2:12-17).
Jesus again threatens judgment against the church at Pergamos: “I will come to you quickly.” This “coming” is fought with the “sword of My mouth,” which is the word of God. In other words, if Pergamos does not expel the doctrine of Balaam, then Jesus will send men to preach the word and replace the cowardly leaders of Pergamos.
“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass: I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first. Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works. Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come. And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations – He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels – as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’” (Revelation 2:18-29).
To the church at Thyatira, Jesus says, “hold fast what you have till I come.” This is not a reference to the second coming, but to Jesus coming in judgment upon Jezebel and her children. When Jezebel and her children die, this will relieve Thyatira from their inner turmoil. However, they have to hold fast what they have until the Lord comes to them.
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’” (Revelation 3:1-6).
Again, Jesus promises a visit: “I will come upon you as a thief.” Again, this is not the second coming. This is a coming in judgment upon the church at Sardis in the first century if they do not repent.
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens: I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie--indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. And I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’” (Revelation 3:7-13).
The church in Philadelphia is also being persecuted by those who claim to be Jews, but are not. These are ethnic Jews, but they are not true Jews, that is, spiritual Jews. Their synagogue belongs to Satan.
Jesus speaks about “the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world.” Here, “world” is oikoumene, which means the inhabited world” or “the known world,” which was common parlance for the Roman empire.
Specifically, this was “to test those who dwell on the earth.” The word for earth is the most common word for “land,” which is a reference to the land of Israel. In other words, Jesus is about to bring tribulation upon the Roman empire, and specifically upon the land of Israel. This can only refer to was about to happen in AD 70.
Again, Jesus says “Behold, I am coming quickly!” When Jesus comes to judge Jerusalem, he will also judge the churches, removing those that are unfaithful and rewarding those who are faithful. This is going to happen quickly.
“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked – I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:14-22).
The church at Laodicea is wealthy and lukewarm. Jesus threatens to vomit them out of his mouth. This time, Jesus is wanting to visit the church in a good way. He wants to dine with them.
Summary of Chapters 2-3
Notice how each of the seven letters contains a reference to Jesus coming, yet none of these are the second coming or personal, bodily comings of Christ. He comes for blessing or for cursing, using agents to accomplish his will.
The letters to the seven churches are in the form of a chiasm.
A) Ephesus – loveless
B) Smyrna – persecuted
C) Pergamos – compromising
D) Thyatira – corrupt
C) Sardis – dead
B) Philadelphia – faithful
A) Laodicea – lukewarm
Ephesus and Laodicea are both lax. Smyrna and Philadelphia are both faithful. Pergamos, Thyatira, and Sardis represent a progression of churches that tolerate error: compromise, corruption, death.