In chapter 4, we begin to read of future events. The words, “after this” tell us John is now writing about things that will happen after the events of chapters 2 and 3, which describes the Church Age in which we now live. Between chapters 3-4, the rapture will have occurred; Jesus will have come as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17.
vs. 1 The chapter opens with a scene in Heaven. The voice telling John “come up hither,” is a hint of the voice of the Lord calling His saints to rise and meet Him in the clouds.
vs. 2-3 John was transported in spirit to heaven, where he sees a throne being set, which is the throne of God. During this Church Age, God has been seated on a throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16), with Jesus at His right side. However, after the rapture, a time of judgment begins. Therefore this throne John sees is a judgment throne. And yet, we note the rainbow around this throne – the rainbow is indicative of God’s mercy, given in the time of Noah after the flood. Even as the Lord will begin to pour out His judgement on the earth for seven years, His mercy will still be manifested. It is not His will any should perish (2 Peter 3:9).
Sardis represents the universal church from time of the Protestant reformation until the end of the age. The root word of Protestantism is “to protest.” At this time God revealed to Martin Luther that salvation is by faith, not by works. He then wrote his thesis which protested the teachings of the Roman Church. Thus Protestantism was born.
vs. 1. “He that hath the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.” The Holy Spirit, represented by the seven Spirits of God, is seen to be especially active in this church, usually working through the ministers (the seven stars) to lead. Jesus states, as he does with all the churches, “I know thy works.” But here no good works are mentioned. This probably surprised them, because they evidently thought their works would be accepted as good. Instead, they have a name that they are living, but are dead. Through the years, many Protestant churches have become this way. It is not only true of churches, but also individuals (1 Timothy 5:6).
vs. 2Jesus admonishes them to be watchful. There are many scriptures which instruct us to “watch” or be awake. It is a ploy of Satan to cause Christians to become lax, indifferent, or sleepy concerning the things of the Lord.
“Therefore, let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch and be sober.” 1 Thessalonians 5:6
Jesus continues to tell the church their works are not perfect or complete before God; they needed to remember what they learned from the beginning – to hold fast to those things and repent. This echoes the letter to the Ephesian church, when Jesus admonishes them to remember from where they had fallen and repent and do the first works – those works which came from loving Jesus supremely. “Repent” means to turn completely away from what one is doing and have a different attitude towards those things.
vs. 3If they would not watch, Jesus would come as a thief, and catch them unawares. This describes His coming at the beginning of the Tribulation, where many Christians will be asleep and not paying attention. There are warnings of this in Matthew 24:23-27, 25:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-8, and 2 Peter 3:10.
vs. 4We learn that though this church had a lifeless condition, God had a few who weren’t defiled by their surroundings, but walked in righteousness.
vs. 5The overcomers would be clothed in white raiment. We see the fulfillment of this reward in Revelation 19:7-8 where the Lamb’s wife is arrayed in fine linen, clean and white, which is the “righteousness of saints.” The overcomers are also promised that their names will not be blotted out of the book of Life, but will be publicly acknowledged before God and His angels, by Jesus Himself!
The book of Life mentioned here speaks of a book God writes the names of all individuals born into the world. For those who believe on Jesus as their Savior, their names remain in this book of Life. However, if an individual lives a lifetime without ever acknowledging Jesus as Savior, their name is blotted out of the book of Life. This occurs either at the time of their death, or when they simply reject God’s plan of salvation and henceforth become a “son of disobedience,” (Ephesians 2:2). Only God knows who those individuals are. We must never stop praying for the salvation of lost souls.
Church of Philadelphia:(A.D. 1750 – Rapture)
The meaning of the word Philadelphia is “brotherly love.” This church is true to its name. Between the 1700-1800’s, several mighty revivals came about as God awakened His people to the fact of His soon coming. This church represents believers who live at the time of Jesus’ coming in the rapture, and give Him first place in their lives. They love His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:8)
vs. 7Jesus’ first address comes as “He that is holy.” His holiness is absolute; nothing can be added to it. He is perfect and complete in His holiness. The more we understand, realize and accept His holiness, the more we will desire to walk in that same holiness. We read this also in 2 Peter 1:4, and 1 Peter 1:15.
“But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.” 1 Peter 1:15
Then Jesus addresses them as “He that is true.” Jesus is Truth. There is nothing false or hidden about Him. He is perfect and constant in truth. Consequently, we can know truth. Have you ever wondered, “How can I know what is true, and what is false?” The answer – get to know Jesus. The more we know and understand His Word and ways, the more we will know what is true.
Jesus’ final address is “He that hath the key of David, He that openeth and no man shutteth…” Isaiah 22:22-23 gives a clear understanding to this reference.
“And the key of the house of David will I lay upon His shoulder; so He shall open and none shall shut; and He shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten Him as a nail in a sure place; and He shall be for a glorious throne to His Father’s house.”
This is a prophecy of Jesus reigning on the throne of David, also mentioned in Luke 1:32 when the angel Gabriel told Mary God would give her son, Jesus, “the throne of His father, David.” This picture of Jesus with the key of David implies the door right into His throne room – and He is offering this church the privilege of entering in and reigning with Him as joint-heirs. (Romans 8:17).
vs. 8 This awesome opportunity is offered this church because of the three-fold commendation Jesus give them.
“Thou hast a little strength.” This could read, “You have but little strength.” In other words, they were not strong in themselves, but learned to relinquish their self-effort and live in the sufficiency of Christ. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
“Thou hast kept my Word.” In 1 John 2:5, we read how God’s love is perfected in those who keep His word. Also, in Psalms 119:101, there is a correlation between keeping His Word and walking in holiness. So how do we keep His Word? See Deuteronomy 6:4-9.
“Hast not denied my name.“Jesus tells us in John 15:18-21 the world will hate and persecute us for His name’s sake. Are we willing to endure persecution for Jesus? To proclaim the name of the Lord even though it brings ridicule from others? If we are ashamed to stand for the name of Jesus, our Christian walk will become more and more lax and worldly, which will hinder us from entering the door to the throne room of Jesus. We are heirs of God when we are born again, but we will only become join-heirs as we are willing to suffer with Him. (Romans 8:17)
vs. 9Those of the synagogue of Satan are ones who profess to be believers, but do not possess salvation. They have never accepted Jesus as their Savior. One day Jesus will vindicate His true believers by causing those who only profess to believe to worship before the feet of those who love Him.
vs. 10 Here is a wonderful promise to those who have kept the word of His patience. James 5:7-8 admonishes us to be patient concerning the Lord’s coming. Why does Jesus say here, “My patience“? Because any true patience is not from us, but from the Lord. As we give ourselves to Him, He works His characteristics in us. To those who have such patience for His coming, Jesus said He will keep them from (out of, in Greek) the hour of temptation which shall come upon the entire world. The word hour means “a definite and limited time, a specific period.” This no doubt refers to the 7 year tribulation period which shall begin following Jesus’ coming for the rapture of the overcoming Christians who look for His return. (Hebrews 9:28)
vs. 11 The word quickly does not mean soon, but rather, speedily. In other words, when it is time for His coming, He will speedily come and not delay.
The church in Philadelphia is admonished to hold onto their crown. This indicates it is possible for a believer to give their lives completely to Jesus, only to lose that place by allowing someone to interfere with their complete submission to the Lord. See Colossians 2:4,8 and 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
vs. 12 Several promises are given to the overcomers of this church:
Made a pillar in the temple of God. The church is called “The pillar and ground of truth,” in 1 Timothy 3:15. The church is the support and foundation of truth. In like manner, the overcomers of the church (whom we identify as ‘first rank’) will be the support and strength in the temple of God (heaven).
Go no more out. Christians do not belong to this world. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are strangers and pilgrims here. When we get to heaven, we’ll finally belong, and never have to leave our home!
Given the name of God. We will be identified with our heavenly Father.
Given the name of the city of God. We will be identified with the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21).
Given Jesus’ new name. We will be identified with Jesus. We don’t know what this new name will be, but no doubt it will reveal Him as Bridegroom. The overcomers of the Philadelphia church are the ones mentioned in Revelation 19:7-8 as the bride. The bride of Christ will be seated on His throne, reigning as joint-heirs with Him for eternity, known by His new name. This is the hope of every believer! So run with patience the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Church of Laodicea:(1900’s – Tribulation)
This church represents present day conditions. Indifference, professors of Christianity rather than possessors, and apathy seem to permeate. The city of Laodicea had everything the ancient world could offer: a stadium, gymnasium, numerous theaters, public baths, and even running water. The citizens of Laodicea had all the wealth and luxury they wanted, and the city even had their own coin mint.
vs. 14In this last letter, Jesus addresses them as “The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.” The meaning of the word Amen is “true”. It speaks of that which is final, revealing Jesus as the final truth. He who is complete. Nothing can be added to Him. He is all in all. The title “faithful and true witness” depicts Him as the One on Whom we may rely. There is nothing false about Him. He is real and true in every aspect, thus a perfect witness and testimony of God. In Hebrews 1:1-2 that God has spoken to us by His Son, “by Whom also He made the worlds.” This describes Jesus as the Creator of all things. See Colossians 1:15-17.
vs. 15In light of this depiction, the church of Laodicean had absolutely no excuse for the pitiable condition they were in. There’s no word of commendation for them. They were lukewarm, which can be very deceiving. Jesus told them He would rather they be either cold or hot. Being cold would’ve allowed them to recognize their need and thus be more likely to make needed changes. Hot would have meant they were zealous for the Lord. But being lukewarm, they thought they were doing well, deceived into thinking they were rich and needed nothing more.
vs. 16-17Riches of this world are of no value whatsoever as far as our spiritual life is concerned. Jesus’ assessment of them was they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked! This is a sharp contrast to the Smyrna church, a very poor church, and yet Jesus called them rich. The difference in the two churches was one loved Jesus enough to suffer for Him, even in their poverty, while the other gloried in their wealth and did not even realize they needed Jesus.
Laodicea represents those people who have a form godliness, but deny the power thereof (2 Timothy 3:5). There are many people today who are very religious and claim to know the Lord, but Jesus will say to them when they stand before Him on that day:
“I never knew you, depart from me…” Matthew 7:21-23
vs. 18Jesus counsels these ones to buy of Him gold tied in fire – to accept His divine plan of salvation. Isaiah 55:1 gives the invitation to everyone athirst to come buy wine and milk without price. Eternal life with Christ cannot be bought. It can only be received as a precious gift by believing on Him. This gift of salvation allows us to be clothed with white raiment, which is the robe of righteousness, taking away the shame of our nakedness. Then our eyes are anointed with the slave of the Holy Spirit, enabling us to see spiritual things.
vs. 19Jesus assures this church His rebuke and chastening is because He loves them, and desires they repent. Jesus proved His love for sinners by dying on the cross, atoning for our sin, that we might be saved.
vs. 20Jesus invites all who will hear His voice to open the door of their hearts, so He can come in and fellowship with them. Jesus doesn’t force Himself on anyone, but all have the opportunity to let Jesus enter their lives and dwell in them.
vs. 21The promise to the overcomers of this church is the privilege of sitting on the throne with Jesus, even as He overcame that which was before Hime when He was on the earth and is now seated with His Father on His throne.
A part of the promise to the overcomers in Philadelphia church was they would have the name of New Jerusalem written upon them. According to Revelation 21:9-10, the bride, the Lamb’s wife, is seen as the New Jerusalem. Realize the city will be made up of more believers than just the ones known as the Lamb’s wife. She receives the name of the city to give her honor and recognition. Romans 8:16-17 states all children of God are heirs of God, but those willing to suffer with Him will be joint-heirs of Christ. These joint-heirs will be seated on His throne with Him, and make up the bride, the Lamb’s wife.
By faith, our hearts can reach out and lay hold of this hope set before us! What awesome reality that this highest reward of exaltation with Christ is offered to the overcomers of this Laodicean church, which has not even seen their need of salvation! This demonstrates how salvation is offered to the entire world, and this place of reigning with Christ is offered to all who have received Him as Savior. However, just as everyone in the world will not accept God’s gift, neither will all believers accept the offer to be seated on His throne as His bride, reigning jointly with Him.
Why? Because the price of reigning with Christ is suffering. (2 Timothy 2:12)
In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:18-23), Jesus speaks of how the seed which fell on good ground yielded fruit, some hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. The believers who bear hundredfold are the ones who will have that place of reigning with Him on His throne. Other believers will have their place in heaven as servants or guests. However, Jesus died for the church for a specific purpose.
“That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing,; but that it should be holy and without blemish. This is the great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:26-27, 32
What a wonderful hope set before us! This is the prize of the high calling of God Paul mentions in Philippians 3:8-14. See also 1 Corinthians 9:24.
“He that holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;” Revelation 2:1
This is how Jesus addresses Himself to the church of Ephesus. It is awesome to think of Jesus holding His messengers in His right hand as He walks among the churches. As we noted before, these lamp stands represent the universal church. The stars, or messengers, represent pastors of the individual churches around the world. It shows the importance of pastors allowing Jesus to guide them. Not to say that Jesus does not speak to others also, but He usually speaks through the pastors. It is a serious thing to stand against a true pastor who seeks the Lord’s guidance, else we find ourselves standing against the Lord Himself!
As Jesus walks in the midst of the church, He sees and knows every problem, every need, and every victory taken. And acts accordingly.
“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”Matthew 18:20
Jesus uses this description as He tells not only the Ephesus churchbut each of the 7 churches, “I know thy works.” Nothing is hidden from Him, therefore His judgments are just.
vs. 2-4Ephesus was a church with many good works. They labored much for the Lord, unto weariness and pain. They were constant in patience and cheerful endurance, unwilling to give up. They gave no place to evil in their midst or to false apostles. Nevertheless…all of these good works stemmed from a natural effort, which is of no value to Christ – because they had left their first love.They put their service for Christ ahead of their love for Him (See 1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
When we become more occupied with good works than with spending quality time in fellowship with Jesus, we risk leaving our first (chief) love, and He is not pleased.
“Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works;”Revelation 2:5
vs. 5Remember. Repent. And renew fellowship with Jesus. Do the “first works,” that is, those works which stem from loving Jesus supremely. The warning to the church, if they would not repent, was Jesus would remove their lampstand out of its place. Thus they would no longer be a light for the Lord. This is true today of either an individual assembly or believer.
vs. 6 This church hated the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which Jesus also hated. “Nicolaitanes” comes from the word Nikao, meaning “to conquer or overthrow,” and Laos, which means “the people of laity.” It is not clearly understood just what group or sect is meant by the Nicolaitanes; however, from the word’s meaning, it may refer to the order of clergy asserting wrongful authority over the lay people. Also, some believe the Nicolaitanes were a sect which taught that what you do in your body does not affect your spirit, giving license to sin (for more, check got questions? ).
vs. 7Whatever is meant here, the church of Ephesus was in agreement with Jesus on this false doctrine, and He commends them. He then promises the overcomers they will be able to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. In other words, they will have eternal life and enjoy the blessings of heaven.
The Church of Smyrna:(A.D. 100-312)
vs. 8The word Smyrna means “myrrh.” Myrrh is a bitter herb which when crushed, emit a fragrance. This expresses the terrible persecution brought upon the believers during the 2nd – 3rd century. Hundreds of thousands of Christians were martyred during this time by crucifixion, thrown to lions, burned at the stake, and many other ways. How appropriate Jesus addresses this church as being the One Who is “the first and the last, which was dead and is alive,” giving them blessed assurance that He is eternal. Because He lives, they will live forever with Him.
vs. 9Their works consisted of tribulation and poverty – not what we might consider good works. Yet Jesus’ assessment of them is they are rich! Our riches are never determined by how much or little we have in material possessions. The apostle Paul described himself as,
“having nothing and yet possessing all things.” 2 Corinthians 6:10
Jesus also assures the church He knew what they endured from the blasphemy of those who claimed to be believers, but were really of Satan (see Romans 2:28-29). Any church which does not preach the true gospel of Jesus Christ is a synagogue of Satan – he uses these false teachings to deceive many, leading them astray.
vs. 10 Do not fear these things you’ll suffer. This seems a strange admonition to not fear suffering or death. It would be impossible for the natural man – but for those whose trust is in God, it is not only possible, but suffering becomes a pathway to learning the grace and strength of the Lord. Paul even prayed, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death.” Philippians 3:10.
It’s unclear what is meant by tribulation for ten days. Some scholars think from Emperor Nero to 312 A.D., there were ten distinct edicts demanding governors to seek out Christians and put them to death. The 10th and last persecutor was Diocletian. This could very well be what “ten days” referred to. (See John Gill’s Exposition for more).
A crown of life is promised to the faithful. This reminds us of James 1:12
“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.”
See also Romans 8:17-18. Those willing to suffer with the Lord in this life, will reign as joint-heirs with Him in heaven.
vs. 11 The second death mentioned here refers to the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14)
The Church of Pergamon:(A.D. 312-606)
vs. 12Jesus addresses this church as “He which has the sharp sword with two edges.” This immediately speaks of a need for judgement.
vs. 13Pergamos was the center of idol worship. The city’s influence and and commercial import rivaled that of Athens. People from all over came to worship in the temples, one of which was the temple of Zeus, often referred to as “Satan’s throne.” The word throne implies the master’s seat, or where the lord of the domain resides and rules. In other words, Satan felt at home in this place! The temple’s remains now reside in Berlin, Germany.
According to tradition, it was in the temple of Zeus where the believer, Antipas, was roasted to death inside a bronze bull, during the reign of Roman Emperor Domitian (A.D. 81-96). Jesus commends the church in Pergamon for holding fast to His name, not denying the faith even in the face of Antipas’ horrible death.
vs. 14 But Jesus had a few things against them – they held fast to the doctrine Balaam and of the Nicolaitanes. In Numbers 22-25, Balaam prophesied for gain of the world’s good, a mentality very prominent today! (See Numbers 31:16, 2 Peter 2:15, & Jude 11). He taught compromise with the world’s ways. The King of Moab, Balak, attempted to bribe Balaam in cursing Israel so they would be defeated. God prevented Balaam from doing this (using a very unusual messenger), so Balaam advised the king to entice Israel to disobey God…thus bring God’s judgment upon them. The wiles of Satan has brought defeat to many all through the year. How important for us to know God’s Word and obey Him only!
vs. 15The church of Ephesus hated the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, but with some in the church of Pergamon, those deeds became a doctrine they gave place to. Remember the Nicolaitanes had to do with clergy exerting undue authority over the laypeople. It seems these people took the analogy of Jesus’ holding the stars in His hand too far – they gave too much prominence to the leaders of the churches. This extreme practice can be seen in teaching the infallibility of the Pope. Jesus states He hated the deeds of the Nicolaitanes and their doctrine. Should we not agree with our Lord in this?
vs. 16A solemn warning is given this church to repent, or face judgement by the sharp sword of Jesus’ mouth.
vs. 17The reward promised to the overcomes of this church is two-fold:
To eat the hidden manna. Manna was the food God gave Israel during their forty year period of wandering in the wilderness. Jesus mentioned this in John 6:32-58, teaching His disciples He is the Bread of life. This may be the “hidden” manna in our text, because the natural man does not understand how to partake of Christ as Bread of life.
A white stone in which a new name is written. It’s been said in ancient times, a person tried in court was handed a black stone, if found guilty. If found innocent, he was handed a white stone. It’s possible this is what Jesus refers to. We know that white symbolizes righteousness, and Jesus is spoken of as the chief corner-stone (1 Peter 2:4-8). The main thought here is to receive more of Jesus. A new name in the stone displays ownership – we belong to Christ.
The Church of Thyatira:(A.D. 606-Tribulation)
This church represents the universal church as it was during the dark ages. It was during this time the Islamic religion became strong, as well as Catholicism.
vs. 18Jesus addresses this church as the Son of God, in contrast to the worship of man or idols. His eyes like a flame represents ability to pierce into the innermost being of all people; His feet like fine brass shows walking in judgement. This description suggests Jesus knew all about this church – their good works and bad.
vs. 19-20He mentions their good works – love, service, faith, patience, and works. Yet He then tells them even though they have these, He is not pleased with what they were permitting, namely, the same sins which were prominent during Jezebel’s time.
We read about Jezebel in 1 Kings 16:29-32, 21:1-25. She was a prophetess who promoted idolatry, fornication, and total immorality under the guise of religion. Idolatry and fornication has been prominent throughout history, and often mentioned in scripture as things which to flee from.
vs. 21-23God will always give mankind time to repent, but if we refuse, His judgment will fall. It is believed the judgements mentioned in these verses take us to the 7 years of tribulation when the false church will be judged. See Jeremiah 17:9-10.
vs. 24-25There were a few in this church who were not in agreement with the false doctrine, or the false practices so prevalent in their midst. The Lord gives them an encouragement to hold fast to what they had until He comes.
vs. 26-27The promise to the overcomes is a place of rulership over nations, ruling with a rod of iron. This is said of Jesus in Revelation 19:15, so the overcomes of Thyatira will be part of the true church who will rule under the leadership of Jesus.
vs. 28Jesus also promises them the Morning Star. The idea of a “bright morning star” is a star that outshines all the others, and Jesus is the One who is called “bright.” Perhaps this promise implies being a light to the whole world, as Jesus is (See John 9:5, & Revelation 22:16). The morning star also represents hope, as the star heralds the sun rising in the east. From the shadows of night, hope rises with the dawn.