Letters to the Churches[a]
“ ‘These are the words of the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and who walks in the midst of the seven lampstands:
2 “ ‘ “I know your deeds, your hard work, and your endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, and how you have put to the test those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be impostors. 3 I am also aware of your perseverance and how you have toiled for my name without becoming weary.
4 “ ‘ “However, I have this complaint against you: you have lost the love you had at first. 5 Remember from where you have fallen. Repent and do as you did originally. Otherwise, unless you repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 Nonetheless, this may be said in your favor: you detest the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
7 “ ‘ “Whoever has ears should listen to what the Spirit says[d] to the Churches. To anyone who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God.” ’
“ ‘These are the words of the First and the Last, who was dead and came to life again:
9 “ ‘ “I know of your hardships and your poverty, but in reality you are rich. I am aware of the slander of those who claim to be Jews but are actually members of the synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not be frightened when thinking about the sufferings that you will have to endure. The devil will throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and you will endure affliction for ten days. Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.
11 “ ‘ “Whoever has ears should listen to what the Spirit says to the Churches. Anyone who is victorious will not be harmed by the second death.” ’
“ ‘These are the words of the one who has the sharp double-edged sword:
13 “ ‘ “I know that you live in the place where Satan is enthroned. Yet you have remained firm in support of my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even at the time when Antipas,[i] my faithful witness, was put to death among you, where Satan lives.
14 “ ‘ “Nevertheless, I have a few things against you. Some of you are holding to the teaching of Balaam,[j] who instructed Balak to place temptations in the path of the Israelites, encouraging them to eat food sacrificed to idols and to engage in fornication. 15 Likewise, there are some of you who follow the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore, repent. If you do not do so, I will come to you quickly and attack them with the sword of my mouth.
17 “ ‘ “Whoever has ears should listen to what the Spirit says to the Churches. To anyone who is victorious I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone, upon which will be inscribed a new name, known only to the person who receives it.” ’
“ ‘These are the words of the Son of God who has eyes like a burning flame and feet like burnished bronze:
19 “ ‘ “I know your deeds—your love, your faithfulness, your service, and your endurance—and that you are doing greater works than you did at first. 20 Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and who by her teaching is luring my servants into acts of fornication and encouraging them to eat food that has been sacrificed to idols.
21 “ ‘ “I have given her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication. 22 So I will cast her onto a bed of pain, and all those who commit adultery with her will suffer intensely unless they renounce her practices. 23 I will also strike her children dead. Thereby all the Churches will be shown that I am the one who searches minds and hearts and I will give to each of you what your works deserve.
24 “ ‘ “And I say to the rest of you in Thyatira who have not accepted this teaching and who have no knowledge of what are designated as the deep secrets of Satan,[m] I shall not impose any further burden on you, 25 but hold firmly to what you have until I come.
26 “ ‘ “To anyone who is victorious
and perseveres in doing my works until the end,
I will give authority over the nations,
27 the same authority that I received from my Father,
to rule them with an iron rod
and shatter them like clay pots.
28 And to such a person I will also give the morning star.
29 “ ‘ “Whoever has ears should listen to what the Spirit says to the Churches.” ’
- Revelation 2:1 Christian communities at the end of the first century found themselves faced with difficulties that were substantially the same as those faced by the Church in every age, from the Passover of Christ to the end of history. The real struggle was and would be that of fidelity in the midst of constant renewal. The letters here are addressed to seven Churches of Asia Minor; the number seven is symbolic, in the sense that these communities represent all the Churches with their difficulties and problems, their efforts to be faithful, and their undertakings.
Each letter follows the same pattern: Christ comes on the scene bearing one of the symbols listed in the great vision of Rev 1:9-20; he judges the communities according to their deficiencies, their fidelity, and their constancy; then he concludes with the promise of final victory.
In every age each community and each believer will read these letters in order to submit to the Lord’s judgment and to hear once again his call. Addressed as they are to angels who, according to the religious thinking of the time, were regarded as presiding over the destiny of a community, they envisage first of all the leaders of the communities.
- Revelation 2:1 Under the pretext of Christian spirituality and freedom, a sect that, certainly without justification, claims reliance on one of the first deacons, Nicholas (see Acts 6:5), allows itself the most serious moral deviations and takes part very freely in pagan worship. (A similar group at Pergamum holds the teaching of Balaam [vv. 14-15], and a third at Thyatira follows the woman Jezebel [v. 20]. All three groups are usually termed Nicolaitans.)
The community of Ephesus does resist the danger that threatens it, but unfortunately in its effort to be faithful it has become judgmental. It has lost its charity. The time has come for it to be renewed. Otherwise, the community will lose its place. What a perspective is thus opened for fidelity! A new access to the tree of life militates against succumbing to sin (see Gen 2:9; 3:22-24); expressed in Jewish language, it is the hope of an unending life.
- Revelation 2:1 Ephesus: see introduction to the Letter to the Ephesians.
- Revelation 2:7 Whoever has ears should listen to what the Spirit says . . .: this formula concludes each of the seven letters and stresses the role of the Spirit in Christ’s relation with his Church. Anyone who is victorious: i.e., anyone who clings to the faith in the face of persecution. Right to eat from the tree of life: a right lost by our first parents but now restored by Christ who abrogated the decree that excluded human beings from the tree of life. God and humans are restored to the perfect fellowship that existed before the advent of sin.
- Revelation 2:8 Those Jews who did not acknowledge Christ as the one who fulfilled their hope, nor the Church as the true Israel, slandered the Christian community. They were regarded as partisans of the forces of opposition represented by Satan. However, the Christians must take courage, for the trial will last only for ten days, i.e., it will be of short duration—the reward for a life in God is near. Believers will escape the second death, i.e., defeat and definitive perdition at the judgment of God.
- Revelation 2:8 Smyrna: a city closely aligned with Rome that housed a large Jewish population hostile to Christians (see Acts 14:2, 19; 17:5, 13). One of the most famous early martyrs, Polycarp, was bishop of Smyrna.
- Revelation 2:12 In this city, a main center of emperor worship, the presence of Satan is visible. Deviant heresies, like that of the Nicolaitans, glorify participation in pagan forms of worship and in the moral disorders they represent, which in the eyes of the Old Testament is tantamount to prostitution. The episode of Balaam is evoked to stigmatize these wanderings of the conscience of believers (see Num 25:3; 31:16). The reward is illustrated by two symbols: the manna, i.e., the food of life (see Ps 78:24f), evokes all the blessings God bestows on those who remain faithful to him, blessings of which the Eucharist is the sign (see Ex 16:32-34; 2 Mac 2:4-8; Heb 9:4); the white stone probably recalls the stones upon which Greeks wrote the names of the candidates for whom they were voting in elections. God chooses us.
- Revelation 2:12 Pergamum: the ancient capital of Asia, built on a hill. Its name means “citadel” in Greek and is the origin of the word “parchment.” It was the center of emperor worship in Asia.
- Revelation 2:13 Antipas: the first martyr of Asia, who was put to death under the emperor Domitian.
- Revelation 2:14 Teaching of Balaam: Balaam counseled the Midianite women on how to lead the Israelites astray (see Num 25:1-2; 31:16; see also Jude 11); thus he is the exemplar of teachers who lead the faithful into becoming completely worldly-minded.
- Revelation 2:18 A prophetess, who is compared to Jezebel of sad memory in the Books of the Kings of Israel (see 1 Ki 16:31; 2 Ki 9:22), is inciting Christians to take part in idolatrous worship. Some, who are doubtless Nicolaitans, believed that they could obtain a deeper religious knowledge through a mysterious initiation. Believers cling to Christ. He will be at their side on the Day of Judgment, according to the classic images of Psalm 2. The morning star is the symbol of the Resurrection and its power—for Jesus rose from the dead just before dawn, the time when the morning star is visible.
- Revelation 2:18 Thyatira: a military outpost noted for its trade guilds.
- Revelation 2:24 The deep secrets of Satan: perhaps the esoteric teaching of the Nicolaitans.