Verse 6: Before issuing His closing challenge to listen to what the Spirit is saying to them (v 7), Jesus affirms one more positive quality in the Ephesian church. Though their love for one another has declined, their loyalty to Him hasnt. In particular, they have not abandoned Him in order to pursue the idolatry and immorality of the Nicolaitans (Rev 2:14, 15). A seductive teaching was coming from a movement called the Nicolaitans but it had not successfully lured them into religious syncretism (trying to practice more than one religion at the same time). In His letter to the church in Pergamum the Lord will define the type of deeds this false doctrine produced (Rev 2:14, 15). He compares the Nicolaitans to a corrupt prophet named Balaam who taught a Moabite king how to bring judgment onto the people of Israel, (Nu 25:1-3; 31:16). Frustrated that God would not allow him to curse Israel, for which he would have received a large payment from the Moabite king, Balaam told the king that even though he couldnt directly curse Israel, there was still a way to bring trouble on them. He advised him to send Moabite women to tempt the Israelite men into joining them in acts of religious prostitution, and along with that to eat the food served in their sacred meals and participate in other acts of Baal worship. In this way the Moabite king would induced God to lift His protective hand from Israel and would punish them Himself and tragically Balaams plan worked (Nu 25:1-18).
Verse 6 (continued): In the first century religious prostitution and sacred communal meals were still widely practiced. Many who came to Christ in western Asia Minor came out of these sorts of religions (Ac 15:29; 19:18-20, 23-28), meaning they would have faced a great deal of pressure from family members and their communities to return. They too would have been constantly tempted to attend family ceremonies held at a pagan temple and to participate in prostitution and communal meals. And it seems that whenever Christians are forced to suffer for Christ, someone will discover a truth that they say the Bible teaches which allows them to yield to temptation without feeling guilty. Then by teaching this to others they became corrupt prophets like Balaam (2Pe 2:15; Jude 1:4, 11). They too deceive Gods people into practicing things which God must judge. So it should come as no surprise that such a teaching was passing through the early churches saying it was all right for Christians to participate in these pagan ceremonies. We hear the Jerusalem Council (Ac 15:19, 20, 29) and Paul (1Co 8:4-13; 10:19-28) also struggling to correct these same issues. Why these false teachers were called Nicolaitans (lit: victory-people) is not said. Hopefully it had nothing to do with a man named Nicolas who was one of the first deacons chosen by the early church (Ac 6:5).
Verse 7: Each of these seven letters ends with this invitation: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Jesus used these words repeatedly in the gospels (Mt 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mk 4:9, 23; Lk 8:8; 14:35). He explained to His disciples what He meant by them in Matthew 13:9-17. He drew the saying from a prophecy in Isaiah 6:9, 10 which described people who deliberately dull their ability to hear God speak to them or see what He is doing. They do this so they will not be forced to repent and obey Him. So when Jesus uses this saying He is inviting those who are willing to be corrected by God to hear His warning and change their ways, or in the cases of the churches in Smyrna (Rev 2:8-11) and Philadelphia (Rev 3:7-13), to hear His promises and stand firm in the face of persecution.
Verse 7 (continued): We should note that this repeated invitation (He who has an ear, let him hear
) is spoken to churches (plural), not simply to one individual church. This tells us that though each letter was addressed to a specific historical congregation, the warnings and promises contained in each are meant to be read by a far wider audience. The Lord wants all believers to hear these principles. They will strengthen those with an ear to hear in every age.
Verse 7 (continued): Not only must a believer comprehend (hear and see) what God is communicating, they must obey and then endure in that obedience until they overcome. It is to the one who overcomes that the Lord promises, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God. The word translated overcome essentially means to be victorious in battle over some sort of opponent whether it be an enemy army or a spiritual attack or a personal inner struggle. By using this word the Lord pictures the Christian life as a battleone in which each believer is a soldier, not a passive observer. Of course Hes not encouraging us to fight such battles in our own strength. The forces arrayed against us are far too strong. His overcomers are believers who learn to constantly draw on His strength. Verse 7 (continued): Jesus calls the place where the tree of life is located Paradise. It was originally an ancient Persian word describing the magnificent stands of timber (Ne 2:8), orchards (Ecc 2:5) or gardens (SS 4:13) belonging to kings. Most significantly, it is the word the translators of the Septuagint used for the garden in Eden (Ge 2:8; Eze 31:8, 9). It pictures the opposite of a deserta lush place where there is an abundance of water.
Verse 7 (continued): By the tree of life Jesus is referring to that tree in the Garden of Eden from which Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat after they sinned (Ge 2:8, 9, 16, 17; 3:22-24). Its fruit held the power to make a person immortal (Ge 3:22), so after the humans rebelled the Lord immediately prevented them from eating it (Ge 3:24) so they would not live forever in their rebellious state. So the prize the Lord is promising to victorious believers is immortalityunrestricted access to that tree. Later on John will see a vision of a huge tree of life (Rev 22:1, 2, 14) located in the middle of the main street of the heavenly Jerusalem, which would also place it in the middle of the river of life since that river apparently flows down the center of the street. The tree is so large its branches hang over both sides of the street bearing a different variety of fruit each month over the course of a year. And even the leaves of this tree contain healing power. However, after the resurrection a believer will no longer be able to die so the tree must be present in the city to testify that the death which had been brought on us by sin is gone forever.
Revelation 2:8, 9
Verse 8: The Lords next charge is to the church in Smyrna, a seaport about 35 miles north of Ephesus. This church had been persecuted by Jews living in that city (v 9) and was about to enter a season of intensified persecution, probably from the Roman government. Many were about to be arrested and thrown in prison (v 10). To these Jesus introduces Himself as, The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life
(Rev 1:17, 18). Believers in Smyrna needed to remember that the eternal Son of God had Himself been persecuted to the point of being executed yet God had resurrected Him. And His example should be an encouragement to them because even if they must face execution (v 10), they too will be resurrected. Verse 9: The Lord says He knows many in that city had been suffering for their faith. Following Jesus had brought them poverty, probably through loss of jobs, being disinherited by parents, raids on their homes and fields, or confiscation of property by authorities (Heb 10:32-34). And not only had many been impoverished, but they also had to endure listening to the blasphemies spoken against Jesus, especially from Jews who rejected Him as Messiah. Jesus says their hatred toward Him only proved that Satan had deceived them. Their hearts had grown so hard they were no longer worthy to be called Jews (F.F. Bruce in The International Bible Commentary, Zondervan (Guideposts edition), 1986, pp 1601-2).