Here we find the letters to the seven churches and thus to the complete (symbolism of the number 7) church. This is the second half of the vision of Christ.
Instead of continuing to mark new paragraphs with “I heard” or “I saw,” now a new section begins with: “To the angel of the church in … write…” This emphasizes that this vision that is seen and heard is to be written down. Next John points to the parts of the vision of Christ. Ephesus: “The words of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands” (Rev 2:1). Smyrna: “The words of the First and the Last, who died and came to life” (Rev 2:8). Pergamum: The words of Him who has the sharp two-edged sword” (Rev 2:12). Thyatira: “The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze” (Rev 2:18). Sardis: “The words of Him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars” (Rev 3:1). Philadelphia: “The words of the Holy One, the True One, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens” (Rev 3:7). Laodicea: “The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation” (Rev 3:14).
The allusions to the vision of Christ opening each are relevant to the circumstances of each particular church. First, Jesus walks among the golden lampstands (Rev 2:1) and can “come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Rev 2:5). Second, Jesus is “the First and the Last, who died and came to life” (Rev 2:8) and the people need to “be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev 2:10). Third, Jesus’ words are “the sharp two-edged sword” (Rev 2:12) and if they do not repent “I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth” (Rev 2:16). Fourth, Jesus “has eyes like a flame of fire” (Rev 2:18) and “I am He who searches mind and heart” (Rev 2:23). And etc.
After mentioning something about the vision of Christ, usually then Christ gives the strengths of that church, but either way the paragraph begins “I know [often: “your works”].” Ephesus: “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary” (Rev 2:2-3). Smyrna: “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation” (Rev 2:9-10). Pergamum: “”I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells” (Rev 2:13). Thyatira: “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first” (Rev 2:19). Sardis: “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive” (Rev 3:1). Philadelphia: “I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name… (Rev 3:8-11). Laodicea: “I know your works” (Rev 3:15).
Virtues that are praised include “patient endurance” (Ephesus: Rev 2:2; Thyatira: Rev 2:19, Philadelphia: Rev 3:10), not denying Jesus and holding fast to His name (Pergamum: Rev 2:13, Philadelphia: Rev 3:8), love and faith and service (Thyatira: Rev 2:19), keeping the word of Christ (Philadelphia 3:8, 10), as well as not growing weary (Ephesus: Rev 2:3) and testing false apostles and kicking them out (Ephesus: Rev 2:2) and even hating the works of the Nicolaitan heretics (Rev 2:6).
Many also include vices like abandoning your first love (Ephesus: Rev 2:4, “But I have this against you…”), being a stumbling block so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality and holding the teaching of the Nicolaitans (Pergamum: Rev 2:14, “But I have a few things against you…”), tolerating a false prophetess who seduces them to practice sexual immorality and eat foods sacrificed to idols (Thyatira: Rev 2:20, “But I have this against you…”), Sardis does not have complete works (Rev 3:2), and Laodicea does not see their need for God (Rev 3:17). Some of the churches are weak where others are strong and vice versa. For example, Smyrna is enduring poverty (“but you are rich,” Rev 2:9), but Laodicea says they are rich not realizing that they are poor (Rev 3:17). Pergamum and Thyatira are not dealing with heresy but Ephesus is (contrast especially apparent on the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:6, 2:15). Two of the letters also mention the “synagogue of Satan” — those who claim to be Jews but are not followers of Christ and are persecuting the church (Rev 2:9 and 3:9).
Some have a promise or threat: “If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Ephesus, Rev 2:5). “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Smyrna, Rev 2:10). “If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth” (Pergamum, Rev 2:16). The great tribulation is the threat for those who hold to false teaching in Thyatira (Rev 2:22). Sardis, “If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you” (Rev 3:3). Philadelphia, “Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown” (Rev 3:10-11). Laodicea: “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20). Of course, a threat implies a promise and a promise implies a threat.
Then each one concludes in a similar way. Ephesus: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Rev 2:7). Smyrna: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death” (Rev 2:11). Pergamum: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one 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 that no one knows except the one who receives it (Rev 2:17). Tyatira: “To the one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority 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” (Rev 2:26-29). Sardis: “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. 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” (Rev 3:5-6). Philadelphia: “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev 3:12-13). And Laodicea: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev 3:21-22). Each one emphasizes us as kings.
The order of “He who has an ear” and “The one who conquers” switches with the church in the middle. It is also worth noting that the second church and the second-to-last church are the ones that Christ does not say something is wrong. These things suggest that the churches are in a chiastic order. G. K. Beale suggests this is the case because the healthy churches are not only a minority but are surrounded by unhealthy ones. It appears though that John has done other things to make sure we do not read too much into the chiasm, like the only two times it does not say “I know your works” but instead “I know your tribulation” and “I know where you dwell” is for the second and third cities. The three in the middle have connections between them. For example Pergamum and Thyatira both have similar problems with sexual immorality and food sacrificed to idols and Thyatira and Sardis both have members who have not been stained by the sins mentioned.
These letters are full of allusions to later parts of Revelation and the rest of Scripture. Just a few examples of the latter: Rev 2:2 and 1 John 4:1; the tree of life and paradise of God (Rev 2:7) refer to the Garden of Eden in Genesis; Balaam and Balak (Rev 2:14) are from Numbers; manna is an obvious reference, but that it is “hidden manna” is probably an allusion to John 4:32; Jezebel is a reference to the Baal prophetess who seduced Ahab away from YHWH to serve idols in the OT Book of Kings; Rev 2:27 is paraphrasing Psalm 2:9; like many other places the thief in the night is a common teaching (Rev 3:3, 1 Thess 5:2, 2 Peter 3:10, Matt 24:43 / Luke 12:39, also Rev 16:15); and others (both more obvious and thus easy to gloss over like references to King David and those that are more obscure).
I look forward to continue to see more things in these seven letters.