Notes on the Book of Revelation: Chapter 2, Part 1

Larry Hunt Bible Commentary // Bamberg Apocalypse The Son of Man and the seven lampstands

The Son of Man and the Seven Lampstands

Chapter 2

v. 1: These epistles are to the angels[1] of the seven churches of Asia.  Practically speaking, the epistles are for the Christians in each church, but  I think the epistles are addressed to the angels of the churches for poetic effect since each angel is presumably charged with the well-being of his church.  (The angels are holy,[2] so it cannot be that they themselves are in need of rebuke; besides, they would have no literal need of the epistles of John to inform them of anything.)

The fact that Christ is walking among the lampstands is a bit of information we are not given in the initial description of the vision (1:13).  His walking among them like this means that he is always concerned about the health of the lampstands, making sure that the flames of each church do not go out.

Each time Christ speaks to a church, he follows the same pattern:

Address “To the angel of the church in…” a particular city.

Self-description “These are the words of…” followed by some description of himself taken from the vision John saw in 1:12-16, or from his words to John after the vision in 1:17-18.

Message Proper “I know…” something about the church being addressed.  This is the is heart of the message to each church.

Exhortation “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying.”

Promise “To everyone who conquerors [i.e., is faithful to Christ]…” he will give an eternal reward on “the great day of God the Almighty” (16:14).[3]Thissection always refers to something in that last day.  For instance, 2:11 says, “Whoever conquerors will not be harmed by the second death.”  The second death (since it is harmful) cannot be baptism; it must, therefore, be the death that a condemned person experiences after being resurrected and judged on the last day.[4]

Only the Exhortation is common to all.  The other parts, although they follow the same general pattern, differ in specifics from church to church, and I believe the differences are significant and appropriate to the message Christ has for each church.  For instance, in the Self-description of his address to the Ephesians, Christ focuses on the image of himself holding the seven stars in his right hand and walking among the seven golden lampstands.  I believe, therefore, that this aspect of the vision in 1:12-16 is especially significant for the Ephesians (see v. 5 below).  Following this same logic, I believe all of John’s experience in 1:12-20 contains the substance of Christ’s messages to the churches in chapters 2-3.  In other words, the vision of 1:12-20 symbolizes (or at the very least alludes to) a series of messages to the churches, and chapters 2-3 explain the messages contained within the vision.

v. 5: Presumably, taking away the church’s lampstand would be denying its existence as a church.  The members of the church would, of course, have done this to themselves by allowing their love for God to die.  However, so long as they loved God or even wanted to love God (so that the warning of vs. 4-5 could still sting their hearts) they would still be a true church.  This talk of removing the lampstand is why, in the Self-description part of this message, Christ says he “walks among the seven golden lampstands” (2:1).

v. 8: I do not see as obvious a connection between this Self-description and the Message Proper to Smyrna as I do between the Self-descriptionandMessage Proper to Ephesus; nevertheless, I believe they are just as connected.  Perhaps the line “be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown oflife” loosely echoes the line “who was dead and came to life.”

v. 9: From Romans 2:28-29 we learn that being a true Jew now is a spiritual state, not a physical one.  Therefore, those who may be Jewish by race but whose spirits reject the King of the Jews are not really Jews.  They are cut off from membership in the spiritual kingdom of God and are, instead, working under the direction of Satan.  Thus, they are called the “synagogue of Satan.”  See also 3:9.

v. 11: “Whoever conquerors will not be harmed by the second death.”  The second death (since it is harmful) cannot be baptism; it must, therefore, be the death that a condemned person experiences after being resurrected and judged on the last day.[5]

v. 12: The connection here between the Self-description and the Message Proper is very clear:  “I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth[6] (2:16).

v. 13: Antipas was a martyr, so I suppose “the days of Antipas” were times of particularly harsh trial for the church in Pergamum, a church living in a region so evil that John calls it Satan’s throne.

v. 14: Balaam was a prophet, but not an Israelite prophet.  He was able to prophecy by the power of God, and apparently he charged for the service of cursing and blessing people.  But God would not allow him to curse the Israelites, as Balak wanted him to; therefore, Balaam showed Balak a way to curse them indirectly: tempt them away from their God by means of sex and idolatry (Numbers 22:5-24:25, 31:16).  Apparently, some people  in the church at Pergamum are tempting the faithful in the same way, whether consciously and maliciously (as did Balaam) or otherwise.  These may have been those “who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans” (2:15).

v. 16: For an explanation of when Christ comes with a sword in his mouth, see 19:15-21.

[1] Since, in the Greek, the word translated as angel means “messenger” and is sometimes applied to humans who bear messages, Johnson believes these epistles are addressed to single evangelists who presided over each church, but this seems a stretch to me.  Angels (the supernatural kind) are all throughout the book of Revelation.  Why should “the angel of Ephesus” be anything other than a supernatural being like the rest?  No translation that I have seen renders them as humans.  See also note on 1:4.

[2] See note on 1:4.

[3] For a discussion of this day, see 20:4 notes.

[4] See Revelation 20:14.

[5] See 20:14.

[6] See 19:21.


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