“Revelation Part 2”: INTRODUCTION
A new pastor was visiting the homes of some of the people in his congregation. He came to one house and he knocked but there was no answer. He could see the lights were on and it seemed very obvious that someone was home, so he knocked again. When there was no response, he took out a note card and simply wrote on it Revelation 3:20 and stuck it in the door. The next Sunday after the offering was passed he found someone had put his note card in the plate. He looked at it to see that they had added to it a cryptic message saying simply: Genesis 3:10. The pastor grabbed his Bible and opened it to the verse cited and began to laugh. Revelation 3:20 begins: “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” Genesis 3:10 reads: “I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid for I was naked.” [END OF SERMON CENTRAL CONTENT].
In all seriousness though, Jesus is standing at the door of our hearts. We looked at the first chapter of Revelation last week, and the vision of Christ that John received in all its breathtaking imagery. But most importantly, He walks in the midst of his churches every day of our lives. These two letters to the church at Ephesus and the church at Smyrna are examples of his heart for his people.
Revelation 2 (NLT) 2 “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands: 2 “I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. 3 You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.4 “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! 5 Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. 6 But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do.
This letter was written to the angel of Ephesus, and it is directly from the mouth of the Lord Jesus. He holds the seven starts in his right hand and he walks among the lampstands. In this message, Christ says I know what you’re doing, I see your hard work and how you don’t put up with foolish and evil people. You question the claims of false prophets and apostles and realize they are fake. You have patiently suffered for me. But yet! Your love for me is not what it was. Turn back and do the works you originally did, or I will have no choice but to remove your lamp stand from its place. But you do hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, so I will commend you for this.
First off, we know that the angels being referenced here are the bishops of the churches. Ephesus was a center of land and sea trade, and was also a self-ruled city. There was a temple to the Greek goddess Artemis. Many of the priestesses were temple prostitutes, for Artemis was the goddess of fertility. A major industry was the manufacture of images of this goddess (see Acts 19:21–41). False teachers did indeed cause problems in the Ephesian church, but the church resisted them. Now, Ephesus, the mother church of all the other churches, was filled with pride. That Christ held these churches in his hand shows that he was in control over the churches.
Does God care about your church? If you are tempted to doubt it, look more closely at these seven letters. Just as Jesus cared for each of these churches, he cares for Neighborhood Church. The one who walks among the churches (2:1) is able to say to this church in Ephesus, and to us, I know your works. Christ commended the church at Ephesus for working hard, persevering, resisting sin, examining the claims of false apostles, and patient endurance. Despite his approval of many things the Ephesian believers did right, Christ had something against this church—they had forsaken their first love. The Ephesians, though they protected the faith, had fallen into caring more about orthodoxy, or right doctrine, than love.
Love for Jesus is our foundation — Just as when a man and woman fall in love, so also new believers rejoice at their newfound forgiveness. But when we lose sight of the seriousness of sin, we begin to lose the thrill of our forgiveness (see 2 Peter 1:9). In the first steps of your Christian life, you may have had enthusiasm without knowledge. Do you now have knowledge without enthusiasm? Both are necessary if we are to keep our love for God intense and untarnished (see Hebrews 10:32, 35).
Jesus called this church back to love. They needed to repent of their lack of love and do the things they did at first—love as they had originally loved, with enthusiasm and devotion.
If they refused to repent, however, Christ himself would extinguish any lamp that did not fulfill its design to shine into darkness. The church had to repent of its sins. Now what about the Nicolaitans?
The name “Nicolaitans” is roughly the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word for “Balaamites.” Balaam was a prophet who induced the Israelites to carry out their lustful desires (see 2:14; Numbers 31:16). The Ephesian church had taken a strong stand against these heretics.
Moving back to Revelation, Jesus gives a wakeup call to the first century Turkish churches as well as our modern gatherings.
Revelation 2:7 (NLT) “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.
Jesus says that anyone who has working ears must listen to the Spirit of God and the unique imprint and message he is giving to each gathering of believers. He says that everyone who is victorious and who conquers will be given fruit from the tree of life to eat .
Each of the seven letters ends with this admonishment, Anyone who is willing to hear should listen to the Spirit and understand what the Spirit is saying to the churches. The words of the Spirit are the words of Christ. Those who listen and do what the Spirit leads them to do will be overcomers. These who are victorious will remain faithful to Christ no matter what the cost.
Those victorious ones will eat from the tree of life in the paradise of God. The tree of life produces twelve kinds of fruit, as you will read in the last chapter of Revelation, and somehow this fruit sustains our immortality. In heaven, God will re-establish the perfect fellowship that existed in the Garden of Eden before sin.
If we’re victorious and obey the Spirit, the Tree is ours — We will be reunited with that place of our greatest failure, but also with that place with gave us God’s greatest act of mercy outside the cross…that is, the mercy of us getting kicked out of the Garden. He kicked us out of the garden, so that we could die, and be redeemed, and resurrected. What an awesome God! But it started with a tree and a garden, and it ended with the Garden of Gethsemane and the tree Christ was crucified on.
If we are victorious over sin and temptation, Christ will bring us back to the beginning. Now after his letter to the church at Ephesus, Christ moves on to another church in that circuit, the church at Smyrna.
Revelation 2:8-11 (NLT) 8 “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Smyrna. This is the message from the one who is the First and the Last, who was dead but is now alive:
9 “I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich! I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan. 10 Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life. 11 “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death.
This letter was written to the angel of the church of Smyrna. In this letter Jesus says he is the First and the Last, he was dead, but now he’s alive. He says even though the church at Smyrna was poor, Jesus declares them to be rich. He also acknowledged the blasphemy of those who opposed the Christians of Smyrna. They claimed to be Jews but they weren’t; their synagogue belonged to Satan. Jesus told the Christians of Smyrna not to be afraid of what they would suffer. Satan would cause some of them to be locked up, and they would suffer for ten days. But if they remained faithful even when facing death, Jesus himself would give them the crown of life. Then he repeats the mantra that was voiced in the first chapter, anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious would not be harmed by the second death.
So what about Smyrna? The port city of Smyrna lay thirty-five miles up the coast, north of Ephesus. It also rivaled Ephesus in the export business. This is the only one of the seven cities that is still in existence; its modern name is Izmir. The church in Smyrna was one of the two churches that received no rebukes from Christ.
Smyrna, like Ephesus, was a proud and beautiful city. Smyrna also had earned the right to be self-governing. It had a large library, stadium, and the largest public theater in Asia. They had statues to Zeus, Cybele, Apollo, Asclepius, and Aphrodite lined the way.
Perhaps even more important, the city had become a center for the cult of emperor worship. Under the emperor Domitian (who ruled from a.d. 81 to 96), emperor worship was required for all Roman citizens. Smyrna also had a large Jewish population that actively opposed the Christians. Thus, the church in this city struggled against two hostile forces: a Gentile population that was loyal to Rome and supported emperor worship and a large Jewish population strongly opposed to Christianity. In a.d. 156, the eighty-six-year-old church father, Polycarp, was burned alive as “the twelfth martyr of Smyrna.” Obviously, the church in Smyrna was persecuted.
Although this church was almost dead due to persecution, Christ was reminding them that he was sovereign and eternal.
Neighborhood, Allow your suffering to draw you toward greater faithfulness. Out of suffering will come the crown of life.
The call for anyone who is willing to hear to listen to the Spirit is repeated at the end of each letter. Whoever stands strong for the faith despite persecution and suffering—will not be hurt by the second death. The Greek negative is emphatic—they will not in any way be hurt. All people will be resurrected, but believers will be resurrected to eternal life with God, while unbelievers will be resurrected to be punished with a second death—eternal separation from God (see also 20:14; 21:8, 27; 22:15).
No double-jeopardy for believers — The second death is a term used in the NT only in the Book of Revelation, to describe God’s eternal judgment on sin. Originally a rabbinic expression, the second death will be experienced by those whose names are not written in the “book of life” (20:15). The second death is equated with the “lake of fire” (20:14), or the lake that burns with “fire and brimstone” (21:8 kjv), This is a permanent state (Rev. 14:11), where anything that would qualify as “life” is forever absent.
Lake of Fire. God’s final retributive punishment. After Armageddon the beast and false prophet will be tossed into this “lake of burning sulfur,” joined by Satan at the millennium’s end, and “tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev. 19:20; 20:10). After the final judgment, Hades and the wicked are cast here. This lake of fire and different descriptions of it are a big deal for several reasons. First, thrown into this lake, the wicked are permanently separated from God’s love and good creation, and thus experience the “second death” (Rev. 20:14; 21:8). Second, fire denotes God’s searing holiness exacting retribution for evil deeds (Heb. 10:30; Rev. 14:9–11). Third, this “unquenchable fire” portrays hell as everlasting (Mark 9:43, 48; Rev. 20:10).
Phillips, T. R. (1996). Lake of Fire. In Evangelical dictionary of biblical theology (electronic ed., p. 460). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
However, all of this scary stuff doesn’t apply to believers. We don’t have to worry about double jeopardy, meaning having to see our bodies grow old and decay and die, and then waking up in a lake of burning fire that we’re trapped in forever. Revelation says that eventually, the beast, the anti-christ, the false prophet [The Unholy Trinity], and Satan and all of Hades itself, they will all be thrown in this lake. So we as believers should be bold and warn as many people as we can. Folks if we really believe that people will be forever separated from God in a fiery lake, this second death, we can’t be afraid to speak on it. Are we afraid of losing friends? Are we afraid of making people angry? I would much rather a person be angry at me and know the truth than not know the truth and keep walking around thinking everything is okay when it’s not. For those who are on the fence about Jesus Christ, just know that if you place your confidence in him, you will not have to face the double jeopardy of the grave and the lake of fire. Won’t you put your confidence in him? God is good. Amen.