September 13: Revelation 2:1-7

Revelation 2:1-7

The words of the risen Jesus to John in verses 17-20 continue with the seven “letters” of chapters 2-3. Since the book of Revelation itself has an epistolary format, at least in part, the inclusion of these separate “letters” is somewhat unusual. They certainly should be regarded as something more than simple letters written to believers (along the line of Paul’s letters, etc); instead, their function and purpose is literary and rhetorical, personalizing the message of the book to seven groups of believers, which represent the Christians in Roman Asia, and, in a secondary sense, believers everywhere. Given the frequent and repeated use of seven (as a symbolic number) in the book, it seems most likely that its use here is primarily symbolic as well. This is not to say that the selection of cities is merely a literary artifice; it is possible that the author had particular knowledge and familiarity with them (as a minister in Asia Minor), but that limiting the address to seven in particular is in keeping with the character of the visions, and the book, as a whole.

Each of these letters follow a distinctive pattern, consisting of:

    • A formula of address: “To the Messenger of the congregation [e)kklhsi/a] in {city} you must write”. The address to the heavenly Messenger (Angel) assigned to the believers in the city is somewhat peculiar. Technically, John is commanded to write to this Messenger, who, one must assume, would then deliver the message to the believers. At the same time, the book is already being written to these very believers (1:4). Thus, it appears essentially to be a literary device, designed to “mediate” the message.
    • Introduction to the risen Jesus: “These (things are) said (by) the one (who…)” (Ta/de le/ge o(…). The identity of the speaker is described through phrases and titles, reflecting the special (divine) status of the risen/exalted Jesus, drawn primarily from the vision in 1:11-16 (cf. the note on these verses).
    • The address by Jesus. This functions in the manner of a royal decree, emphasizing the kingship of the risen Jesus (1:5, etc), presumably in contrast to the imperial Roman authority in Asia Minor, etc. From a rhetorical standpoint this is a “mixed” message, alternating between praise and blame.
      It begins with a statement (generally of praise): “I have seen [oi@da]…”
      This is typically followed by a statement of rebuke: i.e., “but I hold (this) against you…” (a)lla\ e&xw kata\ sou=).
      The body of the address concludes with an exhortation (and/or warning).
    • Formula of exhortation: “The (one) holding an ear must hear what the Spirit says to the congregations”. This formula appears to reflect Jesus’ own usage in the Gospel tradition (Mark 4:9, 23 par, etc). It also expresses the important theological principle, certainly familiar from the Johannine writings, that the Spirit represents the abiding presence of Jesus in and among the believers. It is also the source of prophecy, such as the visions and messages given to John in the book of Revelation.
    • Final exhortation and promise: “To the (one) being victorious…” (Tw=| nikw=nti). A promise of eschatological reward, for faithfulness and endurance to Christ, is given, using traditional (Old Testament, etc) religious language and imagery.

We can see how this is applied to the first letter, to the believers in Ephesus (2:1-7):

[Formula of address]
“To the Messenger of the (believers) called out (to assemble) in Ephesus, you must write:”
[Introduction to the risen Jesus]
“These (things are) said (by) the (one) holding firmly (to) the seven stars in his giving [i.e. right] hand, the (one) walking about in the middle of the seven golden lamp(stand)s…” (v. 1; cf. 1:12, 16)
[The address by Jesus]
“I have seen your works…” (vv. 2-3, cf. also v. 6)
“But I hold (this) against you: that you (have) left the you love th(at you had at) first.” (v. 4)
“Therefore you must remember from where you have fallen…” (vv. 5[-6])
[Formula of exhortation]
“The (one) holding an ear, he must hear what the Spirit says to the (one)s called out (to assemble) [i.e. the congregations].” (v. 7a)
[Final exhortation and promise]
“To the (one) being [i.e. who is] victorious, I will give to him to eat out of the Tree of Life…” (v. 7b)

The distinctive elements are found in the main address (vv. 2-6) and the final exhortation of v. 7b. The praise and blame of the address form a chiasm:

    • “I have seen your works…and that you are not able to bear bad (men)…and have borne (this) through my name…” (vv. 2-3) [Praise]
      —”But I hold (this) against you: that you (have) left the love th(at you had at) first” (v. 4) [Blame]
      —”You must remember from where you have fallen…and do the works (you did at) first…” (v. 5) [Blame/warning]
    • “But you hold this (in your favor): that you hate the works of the Nikolaitans…” (v. 6) [Praise]

One might also adopt an alternating thematic structure:

    • The works which the Ephesians have done (vv. 2-3)
      Against them: they have left the love they had at first (v. 4)
    • Exhortation to do these works again (v. 5)
      In their favor: they hate the evil works (of the Nikolaitans) (v. 6)

These particular points (in vv. 2-6 and 7b) will be examined in more detail in the next daily note.

For background information on the seven cities in Asia Minor, to which the “letters” (and the book of Revelation as a whole) are addressed, consult any reputable Bible Dictionary or Commentary, such as that by Craig R. Koester in the Anchor Bible set (Volume 38A, Yale: 2014), pp. 231-5, 255-349. This is an excellent modern critical Commentary which I have used extensively in the preparation of these notes.

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