Revelation Jewish New Testament, JNT, CJNT, David H. Stern

chapter 2
1. “To the angel of the Messianic Community in Ephesus, write: ‘Here is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven gold menorahs:
Angel. See 1:20N.
Ephesus had the most important Messianic community in the province of Asia. It was already a religious center, home of the pagan goddess Artemis (Ac 19:35), and a focus for magic (Ac 19:19). The congregation had been founded by Aquila and Priscilla (Ac 18:18), and with Sha'ul's guidance it quickly became an evangelistic center (Ac 19:10). Timothy later took Sha'ul's place (1 Ti 1:3), and tradition has it that Yochanan the emissary lived here (Irenaeus, Eusebius).

The seven stars... the seven gold menorahs. See 1:12-13,16,20 and 1:12N. 

2. “I know what you have been doing, how hard you have worked, how you have persevered, and how you can’t stand wicked people; so you tested those who call themselves emissaries but aren’t — and you found them to be liars.
3. You are persevering, and you have suffered for my sake without growing weary.
4. But I have this against you: you have lost the love you had at first.
You have lost the love you had at first — not the strong emotions, which cannot be expected to last, but the zeal for God, which can be renewed by repentance and reded i cation. 

5. Therefore, remember where you were before you fell, turn from this sin, and do what you used to do before. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your menorah from its place — if you don’t turn from your sin!
Remove your menorah, so that you will cease to exist as a part of the Messiah's body, even though you may continue as an institution or social grouping. 

6. But you have this in your favor: you hate what the Nicolaitans do — I hate it too.
Nicolaitans. A heretical sect which encouraged idolatry and sexual sin; see vv. 14-15. Writing in the late second century, Irenaeus speculated that they were followers of Nicholas, the Jewish proselyte who was appointed shammash in the Jerusalem community (Ac 6:5) but, by implication, later went astray. There is no evidence for his hypothesis. 

7. Those who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the Messianic communities. To him winning the victory I will give the right to eat from the Tree of Life which is in God’s Gan-‘Eden.”’
To him who wins the victory (or: "to him who overcomes"). The victory is over evil, temptation and apathy. According to 3:21&N Yeshua himself is our role-model.

To eat from the Tree of Life means to have eternal life. Genesis 2:9; 3:22, 24 shows that this was true in the original Gan-Eden ("Garden of Eden" or "Paradise," Lk 23:43N). It is also true in God's Gan-Eden, which is the New Jerusalem (21:2; 22:2, 14, 19). In the Tanakh the term "tree of life" is used at Proverbs 3:18, 11:30, 13:12 and 15:4 to describe wisdom, the fruit of the righteous, desire fulfilled, and a wholesome tongue — all of which may be seen as aspects of eternal life. 

8. “To the angel of the Messianic Community in Smyrna, write: ‘Here is the message from the First and the Last, who died and came alive again:
Smyrna was a wealthy seaport, a competitor of Ephesus, and a center of emperor-worship.
The First and the Last, who died and came alive again. See 1:17-18&NN. 

9. “I know how you are suffering and how poor you are (though in fact you are rich!), and I know the insults of those who call themselves Jews but aren’t — on the contrary, they are a synagogue of the Adversary.
Yochanan writes about Gentiles who call themselves Jews but aren't — on the contrary, they are a synagogue of Satan, the Adversary (see Mt 4:1N). Perhaps they, like the Gentile Judaizers of the book of Galatians, adopted a smattering of Jewish practices and tried to force them on Gentile Christians. They may have subjected themselves to a legalistic perversion of the Torah (see 1С 9:20&N). They apparently organized a pseudo-Messianic synagogue. Their false doctrine probably led them to wrong and immoral behavior, since false doctrine usually does. They probably drew Gentile Christians away from the truth and thereby threatened the Messianic community.

Virtually all the commentators ignore the obvious and straightforward interpretation that Yochanan is talking here about Gentiles who pretend to be Jews. The same kind of expression is used in v. 2: " tested those who call themselves emissaries but aren't — and you found them to be liars." It obviously refers to false apostles, and there the commentators accept the literal sense without demur. But here they opt for the metaphorical interpretation that Yochanan is talking about Jews who reject Yeshua as the Messiah instead of the literal understanding that these are non-Jews who lie and say they are Jews but in fact are Gentiles. In this way a verse which says nothing about Jews is given a virulently antisernitic significance. The result is that over the centuries Jews have had the epithet "synagogue of Satan" hurled at them by Christians who thought they understood the Bible.

But nowhere in the New Testament are unbelieving Jews called non-Jews, although Ro 2:28-29 is sometimes mistakenly brought as evidence to the contrary (see note there). Nor does anything in the present context call for a violent outburst against Jews. A good rule of interpretation is that when the literal sense makes good sense, seek no other sense. The only explanation I can see for its nearly universal disregard in this case is the anti-Jewish mindset that infected the Church, including its theologians and commentators, so that even those without antisemitic feelings rejected the p 'shot in favor of imposing on the text their own drash (see Mt 2:15N). For another instance of this process, see Ro 10:4&N.

In the first century, the Jewish religion was highly regarded; many Gentiles became Jewish proselytes. It is not surprising that other Gentiles preferred a short-cut, reaping the advantage of Jewish identification without the burden of adherence to Torah. Sha'ul had already encountered such types in Galatia (see Ga 6:12-13).

Should it nevertheless be thought improbable that Gentiles would call themselves Jews, Hebrews or Israelites, consider the following modern examples. The "British Israelites" regard the British as the Ten Lost Tribes. The Mormons not only consider themselves to be the Ten Lost Tribes but regard themselves as Jews and everyone else (real Jews included) as Gentiles! A sect of mostly American-born blacks consider themselves the true Hebrews; several thousand of them are living in Israel. All of these are outside the pale of Christianity. In addition, scattered about are well-meaning Gentile Christians whose strong identification with and love for the Jewish people has made them believe — without a shred of evidence — that they are actually Jewish themselves (see 1 Ti 1:3b-4N). In fact, some years ago a congregation was expelled from the American Lutheran Church because, along with a general drift into weirdness, its pastor and dozens of its members claimed to have heard from God that they were really Jews; many even said they knew which tribe they belonged to.

Without exception this phenomenon of Gentiles imagining and asserting they are Jewish when they are not leads to strange patterns of doctrine and practice. Such people are not accepted by Jews as Jewish; nor, as this verse shows, are they to be accepted by Christians as Christian. Isolated and self-defensive, they can easily become prideful, neither obeying the Torah nor showing brotherly love to Yeshua's real followers. It is easy to see why Yeshua does not regard them as harmlessly neutral but pegs them as a synagogue of the Adversary. 

10. Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer. Look, the Adversary is going to have some of you thrown in prison, in order to put you to the test; and you will face an ordeal for ten days. Remain faithful, even to the point of death; and I will give you life as your crown.
Ten days, that is, a short time. It is impossible to recover what ordeal is referred to. 

11. Those who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the Messianic communities. He who wins the victory will not be hurt at all by the second death.”’
The second death, eternal death in the lake of fire, according to 20:6, 14; 21:8. 

12. “To the angel of the Messianic Community in Pergamum, write: ‘Here is the message from the one who has the sharp double-edged sword:
13. “I know where you are living, there where the Adversary’s throne is. Yet you are holding onto my name. You did not deny trusting me even at the time when my faithful witness Antipas was put to death in your town, there where the Adversary lives.
Pergamum was a center for pagan worship of many deities, hence it is called the site of the Adversary Satan's throne, with the result that the sins of vv. 14—15 are widespread. Sharp double-edged sword. See 1:16&N.
You did not deny trusting me, or "You did not deny that I had been faithful." See Ro 3:22N.
Antipas, unknown except here, was apparently one of the early believers who died at the hands of the Roman overlords 'al kiddush HaShem (see Ac 7:59-60N; Greek marturos can be translated either "witness" or "martyr"). Some twenty to forty years later the same Roman government put to death the ten Jewish martyrs recalled in the Мига/liturgy on Yom-Kippur. among them Gamli'el II and Rabbi Akiva. 

14. Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: you have some people who hold to the teaching of Bil‘am, who taught Balak to set a trap for the people of Isra’el, so that they would eat food that had been sacrificed to idols and commit sexual sin.
The teaching of Bil'am (Balaam). Although God did not allow Bil'am to do what Balak had hired him for, namely, to curse Israel (Numbers 22-24; see 2 Ke 2:15-16N). Bil'am made up for the king of Moab's disappointment by counseling Israel to engage in idolatry and harlotry (Numbers 25:1-3,31:16). Bil'am's counsel was indirect — he taught Balak to set a trap for the children of Israel, so that they would eat food which had been sacrificed to idols and commit sexual sin. The issue here is not eating meat used in pagan rituals, as at 1С 8:1-13, 10:21, but actually participating in idolatrous feasts and sexual sin, thus violating the mitzvot laid down for Gentile believers at Ac 15:28-29.

An alternative understanding here and at v. 20, based on the Tanakh's frequent figurative use of the word translated "sexual sin": the Israelites ate food sacrificed to idols, thus joining in idolatrous worship and thereby "committing adultery" against God— that is, they became apostate. 

15. Likewise, you too have people who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.
Nicolaitans. See v. 6N. 

16. Therefore, turn from these sins. Otherwise, I will come to you very soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.
17. Those who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the Messianic communities. To him winning the victory I will give some of the hidden man. I will also give him a white stone, on which is written a new name that nobody knows except the one receiving it.”’
Hidden manna. The biblical data are that God fed Israel in the wilderness with "bread from heaven" (Exodus 16:4, 35; Yn 6:31-35), which was called manna (Exodus 16:15, 31), and that a pot of it was preserved in the ark of the covenant (Exodus 16:32-34, MJ 9:4). The Talmud says that in the third heaven "mills grind manna for the righteous" (Chagigah 12b). According to 2 Baruch 29:8, in the Messianic Era "the treasury of manna will again descend from on high, and those alive then will eat of it." When the first Temple was destroyed, Jeremiah (2 Maccabees 2:4-8) or an angel (2 Baruch 6:5-10) rescued the ark with its pot of manna, and they are being kept for the days of the Messiah, when God's people will again eat manna. Yochanan here uses the language of such traditions to show that believers in him will be admitted to the Messianic Banquet, "the marriage supper of the Lamb" (19:9).

In the ancient world a white stone was used as an admission ticket to public festivals; believers will be admitted to the Messianic feast. On it is written either their own new name or that of the Messiah (19:12); this reflects the quantum jump in purity and identification with Yeshua attained by those winning the victory. 

18. “To the angel of the Messianic Community in Thyatira, write: ‘Here is the message from the Son of God, whose eyes are like a fiery flame and whose feet are like burnished brass:
Thyatira was a small town noted for its trade guilds, and these held meals probably dedicated to a pagan god. A believer whose livelihood depended on his membership in a guild was thus faced with the problem of whether he could in good conscience participate.
Yeshua remains the Son of God (see Mt 4:3N) even after his resurrection and ascension into heaven. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (MJ 13:8&N).

Eyes like a fiery flame... feet like burnished brass. See 1:14-15. 

19. I know what you are doing, your love, trust, service and perseverance. And I know that you are doing more now than before.
20. But I have this against you: you continue to tolerate that Izevel woman, the one who claims to be a prophet, but is teaching and deceiving my servants to commit sexual sin and eat food that has been sacrificed to idols.
That Izevel woman, that is, someone who resembles King Ahab's queen, Izevel (Jezebel). She supported idolatry and came dangerously close to eliminating true worship of God (1 Kings 16:30-33; 18:4, 13, 22; 2 Kings 9:22). Evidently the "Izevel woman" injects occultism and other demonic practices into the Messianic community. 

21. I gave her time to turn from her sin, but she doesn’t want to repent of her immorality.
22. So I am throwing her into a sickbed; and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great trouble, unless they turn from the sins connected with what she does;
23. and I will strike her children dead! Then all the Messianic communities will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and that I will give to each of you what your deeds deserve.
Those who join in the sins connected with what the Jezebel woman does are in turmoil; they are struggling with how to be loyal to the Messiah and at the same time function in their social and business environment (see v. 18N). But her children have no such ambivalence; trained by her, they are fully committed to her teachings. Hence their punishment, death, is worse than hers, a sickbed (literally, "a bed"; but see Exodus 21:18). 

24. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, to those who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some people call the ‘deep things’ of the Adversary, I say this: I am not loading you up with another burden;
«"Deep things." Various Gnostic philosophies appealed to people's pride by promising spiritual knowledge deeper than that available to ordinary mortals. Many modern cults and movements make the same empty promises. 

25. only hold fast to what you have until I come.
26. To him who wins the victory and does what I want until the goal is reached,
I will give him authority over the nations;
27. he will rule them with a staff of iron
and dash them to pieces like pottery
(Psalm 2:8–9),
Psalm 2 is understood as referring to the Messiah as early as in the first century B.C.E. Pseudepigraphic work. Psalms of Solomon 17:21-27. The believers will reign with the Messiah when he returns — compare 20:4, 6; also Mt 5:5, 19:28; 1С 6:2. Psalm 2 is also cited at 11:1.8, 12:5 and 19:15. 

28. just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star.
The morning star. Literally, this would be Venus, the brightest object in the sky after the sun and the moon. Here it means either great glory; or, as in 22:16, the Messiah himself, whose coming was foretold by Bil'am: "A star shall step forth out of Jacob" (Numbers 24:17). See 2 Ke 1:19&N. 

29. Those who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the Messianic communities.”’
vv. 2:1-3:21 Like the days of creation in Genesis 1, the seven letters of Chapters 2-3 to the Messianic communities named in 1:11 share a common form. Each commences with "Here is the message from," followed by a characterization of Yeshua the Messiah based on specifics found in 1:12-18. Next the congregation is praised for its virtues (except Laodicea) and warned about its faults (except Smyrna and Philadelphia). Yeshua then gives promises of good things, especially to "those winning the victory"; often they are related specifically to the congregation's situation — the Philadelphians, with "little power" (3:8) will be "pillars" (3:12); those in Pergamum who avoid "food... sacrificed to idols" (2:14) will have "hidden manna" (2:17); the people of Smyrna who are suffering and being persecuted to death (2:9-10a) will have life as their crown and not be hurt by the second death (2:10b—11). Finally, he closes each letter with an admonition reminiscent of the Gospels (Mt 11:15&N): "Those who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the Messianic communities." 

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