Setting

The Lord Jesus Christ, who is in the midst of the lampstands and holds the seven stars in His right hand, commands John to write to each of the seven churches. Christ’s messages to the churches consist of commendation for their spiritual progress, warnings against their shortcomings and sins, and promises for those who persevere. The words to each church are also for the collective body of believer. So “he who has an ear” should heed what the Spirit has to say to the churches.

Key Verse

(2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22)

Did You Know...?

1. Nicolaitans (2:6): “A heretical sect within the church that had worked out a compromise with the pagan society. They apparently taught that spiritual liberty gave them sufficient leeway to practice idolatry and immorality.” [ref]
2. Satan’s throne (2:13): “The center of Pergamos was a large hill covered with pagan temples, some of which were used in worship of the Roman emperor.” [ref]
3. Balaam (2:14): “Since the name “Balaam” can mean to ‘conquer the people’ (Heb. ba‘al ‘am), which means the same as ‘Nicolaitans,’ and since they are mentioned together in this letter, both groups may be closely related….” [ref]
4. White stone (2:17): “A widely used symbol for victory or special privilege….” [ref]
5. Book of life (3:5): “In ancient cities the names of citizens were recorded in a register till their death; then their names were erased or marked out of the book of the living. This same idea appears in the OT (Exod 32:32-33; Ps 69:28; Isa 4:3).” [ref]
6. Gold, white garments, eye salve (3:18): “Refers to three items in which Laodicea took great pride: financial wealth, an extensive textile industry and a famous eye salve.” [ref]
7. Dine with him (3:20): “The ‘eating’ (deipneo) refers to the main meal of the day, which in Oriental fashion was a significant occasion for having intimate fellowship with the closest of friends.” [ref]

Outline

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General Analysis

  • 1.

    Read through both chapters and fill out chart D at the end of this lesson. Spend some time to compare the messages to the various churches.

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  • 2.

    Why do you think that the words of Christ to the churches are placed at the beginning of the book?

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    Judgment begins at the house of God (1Pet 4:17 18). Before God pours out His wrath on the world, He corrects, warns, and strengthens the church so that she will become holy, stand firm in trials, and be ready for the coming of the Lord.

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  • 3.

    What are the prominent themes in the letters?

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    Christ’s authority, Christ’s complete knowledge (“I know”), exhortation and warning, repentance, the Lord’s coming, reward for those who overcome.

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Segment Analysis

  • 2:1-7 (Ephesus)

    1.

    Christ walks in the midst of the lampstands. What personal lesson can you learn from this?

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  • 2.

    How are we to test and expose the “false apostles”?

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    We need to test their words to see if they proclaim the true gospel of Jesus Christ (Gal 1:8-9; 1Jn 4:2-6; Acts 17:11).

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  • 3a.

    What is meant by “you have left your first love”?

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    The forsaking of the first love means the gradual loss of love they had at first—love for all the saints (Eph 1:15). The church must be rooted and grounded in love (Eph 3:17-19). Love is the bond of perfection and the sum of the law (Col 3:14; Mt 22:37-40; Rom 13:8-10). Without love, even charitable deeds become meaningless (1Cor 13:1-3). The forsaking of the first love could also refer to the loss of love for Christ. Sometimes we may lose our initial love for the Lord even though we may have increased in our Biblical knowledge or have been diligent in sacred work. God looks beyond the superficial acts of service to see whether it is our love for Him that motivates all that we do (Jn 21:15-18).

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  • 3b.

    What is the consequence if we fail to repent?

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    We will be removed from our position to shine light for God. In other words, we will not be worthy to be His disciple and member of His church. Love is the mark of discipleship and bond in the body of Christ (cf. Jn 13:34 35; Eph 4:15,16).

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  • 3c.

    How should we restore and maintain our first love?

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    We need to remember from where we have fallen and do the first works (5). We need to recall our fervent love for Christ and for others in the past, examine the reasons for our decline in love, and constantly remind ourselves to do everything out of love.

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  • 4.

    Why did the Lord commend the believers for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans?

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    God is a jealous God who detests all evil (Ex 20:5). It pleases Him to see that we also detest evil with the same jealousy (cf. Num 25:7-11).

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  • 5.

    What does eating from the tree of life represent (cf 22:2,14)?

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    Having eternal life (Gen 3:22).

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  • 2:8-11 (Smyrna)

    6a.

    What difficulties were the believers in Smyrna facing?

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    Tribulation, poverty, imprisonment, threat of death. Their sufferings probably came from those who claim to be Jews.

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  • 6b.

    How do the words of the Lord provide great consolation?

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    Christ identifies Himself as the one who was dead, and came to life. He experienced death, but overcame it. With such encouragement, He tells us not to be afraid but to remain faithful unto death. We know that since Christ has overcome, Satan has no power over us. The Lord also says, “I know…” It is great comfort to know that the Lord is well aware of our sufferings for Him. He is not ignorant of what we are going through. He wants us to pass the trial in order that we may receive the crown of life.

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  • 7.

    Why does affliction and material poverty often result in spiritual wealth?

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    Riches are deceptive (Mt 13:22). Our hearts can easily be entangled and our spiritual eyes blinded by material comfort, and we slack off in our service to God (Deut 8:11 14; Mt 6:21,24). On the other hand, suffering strengthens our spirit and helps us overcome our desires (1Pet 4:1-2). Trials, either in the form of persecution or poverty, enable us to develop perseverance and character (Rom 5:3-4). If we die to sin and even suffer physical death for Christ, we will inherit eternal life (10; Rom 8:13; Mt 16:24-25).

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  • 2:12-17 (Pergamos)

    8a.

    Read Num ch. 22-25; 31:16; 2Pet 2:15; Jude 11 for background information on Balaam and the worship of Baal-peor. 8a. At what point were the believers in Pergamos strong? Where were they tempted?

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    They were faithful in the face of persecution. But they were tempted by false teachings of Balaam and of the Nicolaitans.

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  • 8b.

    Contrast the church in Pergamos and the church in Ephesus. What is it that the Ephesian believers had that the believers in Pergamos lacked? What sin must the believers in Pergamos repent of?

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    While the Ephesians did not tolerate wickedness and hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans, the believers in Pergamos tolerated false teachings and wickedness in the church. For those who hold to the false teachings, they must repent of their doctrinal error as well as their sins of eating food offered to idols and of committing sexual immorality. For those who did not participate in these things, they must repent of their tolerance of evil in the church.

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  • 8c.

    How are false teachings sometimes more destructive than physical persecution?

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    While persecution is visible and obviously negative, false teachings are much more subtle and deceptive. Just as Satan may disguise as an angel of light, false teachers may disguise themselves as apostles and mislead those who are not watchful (2Cor 11:13-14).

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  • 9.

    Why is the sword of Christ an effective and appropriate symbol in this context?

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    In dealing with false teachings, it is the word of God that will expose the error and destroy the scheme of Satan (Eph 6:17; Heb 4:12). The word of God will also judge and condemn the unrepentant (Jn 12:48).

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  • 10a.

    What could the hidden manna refer to?

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    The manna is our Lord Jesus, who is the bread from heaven (Jn 6:31- 33,50-51). Eating the manna means having the everlasting life of Jesus (Jn 6:53-58). The manna is hidden because the world does not know Him or accept Him (cf. Lk 10:21 24; Jn 6:44; 8:19; 1Cor 2:7-9).

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  • 10b.

    What could the white stone with a new name refer to?

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    In the ancient courts of justice, the accused were condemned by black pebbles and the acquitted by white. It is possible that the white stone with a new name refers to the commendation and seal of ownership which Christ bestows on those who overcome (3:12; 14:1; Isa 62:1-2; 2Tim 2:19-22; Mt 25:21,23).

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  • 2:18-29 (Thyatira)

    11a.

    What reminder can the commendation in 19 and command in 25 give us?

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    Our love, service, faith, and patience must grow more and more (Phil 1:9; 1Thess 4:1,10; 2Thess 1:3). We also must not become weary in doing good, even when we don’t seem to reap any results (Gal 6:9). We must persist and hold fast to what we have until the Lord comes. If we are diligent in bearing abundant fruit, we will not stumble but receive a rich welcome into Christ’s kingdom (2Pet 1:5-11).

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  • 11b.

    What can we learn from the word “nevertheless” in 20?

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    Despite their many good works, the believers in Thyatira were rebuked by the Lord for their tolerance of evil. God does not ignore or tolerate our sin, even if we have done much good work (Eccl 10:1).

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  • 12a.

    What was Jezebel like and what were her works?

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    That she was a prophetess implies that she had unusual gifts and played a prominent role in the church. She taught and seduced the believers to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. Through her position as a teacher and her deceptive approach, she succeeded in luring some to commit adultery with her. In the church today, Jezebel could be symbolic of worldly values (lust, pride, dissension, etc) and false doctrines that disguise as teachings of Christ.

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  • 12b.

    Why would the killing of Jezebel’s children let all churches know that Christ searches the minds and hearts?

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    Because the works of Jezebel were very subtle and deceptive, they often went unnoticed. But the punishment that would fall on her and her children will let everyone know that Christ examines everyone and their deeds, even if they are done in secret.

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  • 13.

    What are “the depths of Satan”? (cf. Col 2:8; 1Cor 2:6)

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    The “wisdom of this world,” including philosophy, empty deceit, tradition of men, and basic principles of the world. The depths of Satan may also be false doctrines. These teachings seem wise and persuasive to the people of the world but are actually from Satan.

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  • 14.

    What does it mean to be given the morning star? (cf 22:16)

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    22:16 tells us that the morning star is Christ Himself. To be given the morning star means to have the life of Christ in us.

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  • 3:1-6 (Sardis)

    15.

    What would someone who “has a name that he is alive and is dead” be like? Why is this so dangerous?

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    He may claim to be a Christian or even participates in church activities, but he fails to live a new life in Christ. He still obeys his sinful desires rather than the guidance of the Spirit; he is spiritually dead (cf. Rom 6:11-14). Being alive in name but actually dead may also refer to hypocritical service without sincerity—honoring God with the lips but the heart being far from God (Mt 15:8). Such a condition is dangerous because the outward appearance of life conceals the inner spiritual death. When judgment comes, such people will not stand (Mt 3:12).

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  • 16a.

    According to the Lord, what must the believers in Sardis do?

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    They must wake up from their slumber (“be watchful”), rekindle their zeal (“strengthen the things which remain”), pay attention to the message they once received (“remember what you have received and heard”), persist in good works (“hold fast”), and live a new life (“repent”).

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  • 16b.

    From the words, “Be watchful” and “I will come upon you as a thief,” what do you think causes death in a Christian’s life?

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    The spiritual death mentioned here is probably a result of complacency and indolence. When we fall asleep spiritually, we become dull to the message we hear and weary in bearing fruit. We feel secure in our present condition and have no desire to improve. We become like a tree which has signs of life but is fruitless and dead (cf. Mt 21:19).

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  • 17.

    Explain the threefold promise to those who overcome.

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    Being clothed in white garments means receiving the righteous vindication and glory of Christ (cf. 3:18; 6:11; 7:9,13; 19:14). Having one’s name in the book of life and being acknowledged by Christ means receiving citizenship in God’s kingdom (Mt 10:32; Lk 12:8).

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  • 3:7-13 (Philadelphia)

    18.

    What is the key of David and the open door that Christ sets before the believers? (cf. Isa 22:20-23)

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    The key of David is a symbol of Christ’s kingly power and authority since the term “David” refers to the Messiah. Through His death, Christ has conquered Hades and Death (cf. 1:18). The door that Christ opens is the privilege of entering God’s kingdom (Mt 16:19).

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  • 19a.

    Under what circumstance had the believers in Philadelphia persevered?

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    The believers were probably persecuted or accused by “those who say they are Jews and are not.” These believers refused to deny the name of Christ despite the severe oppositions and threats from those of the synagogue of Satan (cf. 8).

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  • 19b.

    How does their reward fit their faithfulness?

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    A faithful municipal servant or a distinguished priest was sometimes honored by having a special pillar added to one of the temples and inscribed with his name (Barclay, Seven Churches, p. 89). Thus, being a pillar in God’s temple with God’s name, the name of Jerusalem, and Christ’s new name is a great honor. A pillar, a symbol of strength and permanence, well suits the believers’ perseverance and faithfulness. Although they have little strength, they will become strong and honorable in God’s kingdom.

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  • 20.

    What is the trial that shall come upon the whole world? How can we be kept from the hour of trial?

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    This is the wrath that God will pour out on the unbelievers, which Revelation calls “inhabitants of the earth” (6:10; 8:13; 11:10; 12:12; 13:8,12,14). To be kept from this hour of trial, we need to keep the command to persevere (10). In other words, if we remain true to Christ now and suffer for Him, we will not be harmed by the calamities that are to come upon the unbelievers.

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  • 3:14-22 (Laodicea)

    21.

    What does it mean that Christ is “the Amen” (cf. Isa 65:16)?

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    The word “amen” is an expression that means 1) surely, truly or 2) so it is, so be it, may it be fulfilled. It was a custom, passed on from the synagogues to the Christian assemblies, that when he who had read or discoursed, had offered up solemn prayer to God, the others responded Amen, and thus made the substance of what was uttered their own. That Christ is the Amen could mean either that He was true or that He humbly submitted to God’s will and made it His own.

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  • 22a.

    Describe the condition of being lukewarm.

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    Complacency, half-heartedness, lethargy, indifference, stagnancy (cf. Lk 9:62; 13:6-9; Mt 19:20-22).

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  • 22b.

    Why is being lukewarm so offensive to the Lord (15,16)?

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    God wants us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mk 12:30). Those with half-hearted commitment are not fit for God’s kingdom (Lk 9:62). Like lukewarm water, those who are ineffective will be spit out because they have become useless (Mt 5:13).

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  • 23a.

    What did the Laodicean believers think of themselves?

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    They think that they are rich (either materially or spiritually) and lack nothing. They are satisfied with and even proud of their present condition.

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  • 23b.

    Why is their view of themselves so different from what the Lord thinks of them?

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    They have become blind spiritually. Instead of giving Christ the glory, they boast about what they have. Because of complacency, they neglect self-examination and humility.

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  • 24a.

    What three things did the Laodiceans need? Explain what they represent.

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    1) They must buy from Christ gold refined in the fire. Believers must seek their riches in Christ and consider knowing Jesus Christ as of far greater value than the possessions and pride of this world (Phil 3:7-10; Ps 19:9,10; 119:127). Such faith must go through trials in order to be proven genuine (1Pet 1:6-7; Phil 3:10).
    2) They must put on white garments. The white garments represent the righteousness of Christ, manifested in our righteous deeds (Gal 3:27; Eph 4:20-24; Rev 19:7,8). In other words, we need to practice God’s word through faith in Christ and the help of the Holy Spirit. 3) They must anoint their eyes with eye salve. We need to have the anointing and fullness of the Holy Spirit in order to know God and receive the spiritual wisdom to know what is the true treasure (1Jn 2:27; Eph 1:17,18; Jn 16:13; 1Cor 2:9,10).

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  • 24b.

    Do you have these things in your life?

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  • 25.

    What can we learn from 19 and 20 about God’s love?

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    Because He loves us and wants us to become blameless, He disciplines us when we stray (Heb 12:5-11; Prov 3:11-12; Job 5:17). He will not abandon us if we repent. He patiently knocks on the door of our hearts until we open the door and let Him in (cf. Song 5:2). Our Lord always gently calls us and patiently waits for us to turn back to Him (cf. 2Pet 3:9).

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  • 26a.

    In the letters to the churches, what kinds of people will have to suffer the second death? Compare your list with Rev 21:8.

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    The cowardly (2:10,13; 3:8, etc.), unbelieving (all those who do not repent or heed what the Spirit says), abominable (2:6,15; 3:16, etc.), murderers (2:13,14,20, etc), sexually immoral (2:14,20), sorcerers (2:24, as well as all sins of rebellion: 1Sam 15:23), idolaters (2:14,20), and all liars (2:2,9,20; 3:9).

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  • 26b.

    Go through the commendations and the rebukes the Lord gives to the churches and list the things that you are short of or weaknesses that you find in yourself. Then go through the exhortations and write down what you must do to overcome.

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