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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament
Revelation 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1

Revelation 2:1. The political and commercial primacy of Ephesus, conjoined with its prestige as a centre for the Imperial cultus which flourished beside the local cult of Diana, lent it œcumenical importance in the Eastern Empire. Christianity had for about half a century already made it a sphere and centre, and its position was enormously enhanced after the crisis of 70 A.D. in Palestine, when Asia Minor became one of the foci of the new faith (cf. von Dobschutz, pp. 100 f.). The description of the speaker is carried on from Revelation 1:12; Revelation 1:16; Revelation 1:20, with κρατῶν for ἔχων (the church is neither to be plucked nor to be dropped from his hand) and the addition of περιπατῶν to ἐν μέσῳ (activity and universal watchfulness, cf. Abbott, pp. 196 f.), touches which make the sketch more definite, but which are too slight to be pressed into any significance, unless one supposes a subtle general contrast between the ideal of the churches—“a star shining by its own inherent light”—and their actual condition upon earth which, like the lamp, requires constant replenishing and care, if its light is not to flicker or fade.


Verse 2

Revelation 2:2. οἶδα: nothing escapes his notice, neither the good (Revelation 2:2-3; Revelation 2:6) nor the bad (Revelation 2:4-5) qualities. ἔργα = the general course and moral conduct of life, exemplified more especially in its active and passive sides, as exertion and endurance, by κόπος and ὑπομονή, which are knit together by the final σου as epexegetic of ἔργα. The κόπος, or hard work, is further specified in the text of Revelation 2:2 (the church’s vigorous dealing with impostors), while the ὑπομονή is developed in Revelation 2:3. For a parallel, verbal rather than real, see 1 Thessalonians 1:3. Here duty follows privilege (Revelation 2:1), and communion with Christ involves practical energy and enterprise on earth. The remarkable prominence of ἔργα in this book corresponds to its O.T. conception of the fear of God which, as a religious principle, manifests itself effectively in works. The phrase has nothing to do with the special sense in which Paul had employed it during a bygone controversy. Works here are the result of an inner relation to God (Revelation 12:11).—Patient endurance (Revelation 2:2-3; Revelation 2:7) wins everything and triumphs over opposition, as in the case of the Maccabean martyrs (4 Maccabees 1:11) who are lauded for their courage, καὶ τῇ ὑπομοντῇνικήσαντες τὸν τύραννον τῇ ὑπομονῇ.— βαστάσαι, the weak are a burden to be borne (Galatians 6:2): the false, an encumbrance to be thrown off. Patience towards the former is a note of strength: towards the latter, it is a sign of weakness. The prophet is thoroughly in sympathy (cf. 2 John 1:10-11) with the sharp scrutiny exercised at Ephesus over soi-disant missioners; he gladly recognises the moral vigour and shrewdness which made the local church impatient of itinerant evangelists whose character and methods would not stand scrutiny. Pretensions, greed and indolence were the chief sins of this class, but the prophet does not enter into details. He is content to welcome the fact that uncomplaining endurance of wrong and hardship has not evaporated the power of detecting impostors and of evincing moral antipathy to them, upon the principle that ὑπομονή, as Clem. Alex. finely explained (Strom, ii. 18), is the knowledge of what is to be endured and of what is not. The literature of this period (1 John, Didachê, etc.) is full of directions upon the moral and religious tests which a community should apply to these itinerant evangelists and teachers called “apostles”. The popularity and spread of Christianity rendered precautions necessary on the part of the faithful against unscrupulous members of this order, which had already attracted men of quite inferior character as well as of heretical beliefs. The evil men here includes these pseudo-apostles as well as the Nikolaitan libertines of Revelation 2:6 (cf. Revelation 2:15) with whom perhaps the “apostles” were in sympathy; ἐπείρ. and εὗρ. denote some definite and recent crisis, while μις. reflects the permanent obstacles of the local situation. This temper of the church is warmly commended by Ign. (ad Eph. ix.) at a later period; “I have learned that certain folk passed through you with wicked doctrine ( κακὴν διδαχήν), but you would not allow them to sow seed in you”. With equal loftiness and severity of tone, John like Ignatius might have added: τὰ δὲ ὀνόματα αὐτῶν, ὄντα ἄπιστα, οὐκ ἔδοξέν μοι ἐγγράψαι (Smyrn. v.).


Verse 3

Revelation 2:3. The tenses as in Revelation 2:2 denote a general attitude still existing, the outcome of some special stage of persecution for the sake of the Christian name. κεκοπίακες, cf. κόπον (Revelation 2:2), a slight play on words; “noui laborem tuum, nec tamen laboras, i.e., labore non frangeris” (Bengel). Tired in loyalty, not of it. The Ephesian church can bear anything except the presence of impostors in her membership.


Verse 4

Revelation 2:4. Brotherly love, an early and authentic proof of the faith; as in Revelation 2:19, 2 John 1:5-6, 3 John 1:6, and the striking parallel of Matthew 24:12 (see 10) where, as at Corinth (see also Did. xvi. 3) party-spirit and immorality threatened its existence. Jealous regard for moral or doctrinal purity, and unwavering loyalty in trial, so far from necessarily sustaining the spirit of charity, may exist side by side, as here, with censoriousness, suspicion, and quarrelling. Hence the neglect of brotherly love, which formed a cardinal fault in contemporary gnosticism (i.e., 1 John 2:9; 1 Timothy 1:5 f.), may penetrate the very opposition to such error. During any prolonged strain put upon human nature, especially in a small society driven jealously to maintain its purity, temper is prone to make inroads on affection and forbearance; it was inevitable also that opportunities for this should be given in early Christianity, where party-leaders tended to exaggerate either the liberal or the puritan element in the gospel. When Apollonius of Tyana visited Ephesus, one of the first topics he raised was the duty of unselfish charity (Vit. Apoll. iv. 3). The historical reference here is probably to the temporary decline of the Ephesian çhurch after Paul’s departure (see Acts 20:29 f., etc.) Its revival took place under the ministry of the Johannine circle, who—carrying on the spirit of Paulinism with independent vigour—made it the most prominent centre of Christianity in the East. With Revelation 2:2-4, compare Pliny, H. N. ii. 18: “deus est mortali iuuare mortalem, et haec ad aeter-nam gloriam uia”; also Pirke Aboth, ii. 15, where R. Jehoshua, a contemporary Jewish sage, says: “an evil eye [i.e., envy, niggardliness], and the evil nature, and hatred of mankind put a man out of the world” (cf. 1 John 3:15). This emphasis upon brotherly love as the dominant characteristic of the church and the supreme test of genuine faith, is early Christian, however, rather than specifically Johannine (see the account ol the young aristocratic martyr Vettius Epagathus, Ep. Lugd.). The purity which is not peaceable cannot be adequate to the demands of Jesus, and nowhere did this need reinforcement more than in the townships of Asia Minor, where factiousness and division constantly spoiled their guilds and mutual relations.


Verse 5

Revelation 2:5. πόθεν, from what a height. Contrast Cic. ad Attic. iv. 17: “non recordor unde ceciderim, sed unde resurrexerim”. To realise that a decline has taken place, or to admit a lapse, is the first step and stimulus to amendment (see the fine passage in Bunyan’s preface to Grace Abounding, and the “Hymn of the Soul,” 44, 45, in Acts of Thomas). Once this is brought home to the mind ( μνημόνευε, a prolonged effort), repentance quick and sharp ( μετανόησον, aor.) will follow, issuing in a return to the first level of excellence ( καὶ τὰ πρῶτα ἔργα ποίησον), i.e., to the initial charity (2 John 1:6; 2 John 1:8; love shown in deeds). The way to regain this warmth of affection is neither by working up spasmodic emotion nor by theorising about it (Arist. Eth. Nic. ii. 4), but by doing its duties. (“The two paracletes of man are repentance and good works,” Sanhed. 32). It is taken for granted that man possesses the power of turning and returning; the relation of Christ’s redeeming death to the forgiveness of sins throughout the Christian life, although implied, is never explicitly argued (as in Hebrews) by this writer. The present ( ἔρχ.) emphasises the nearness of the approach, while the future ( κιν.) denotes a result to follow from it. σοι either a dat. incommodi or (more probably) a local dat. (rare in classical literature, cf. Aesch. Pr. ver. 360) with “the sense of motion to a place,” (Simcox, Lang. N. T. 81), if not an incorrect reproduction of Heb. לָךְ (as Matthew 21:5, Blass). Cf. Journ. Theol. St. iii. 516. κινήσω κ. τ. λ., (“efficiam ut ecclesia esse desinas,” Areth.); not degradation but destruction is the threat, brotherly love being the articulus stantis aut cadentis ecclesiae. So, in a remarkable parallel from Paul (Philippians 2:14-16), quarrelsomeness forfeits the privileges of Christ’s care and service, since the function of being φωστῆρες ἐν κόσμῳ, λόγον ζωῆς ἐπέχοντες depends upon concord and charity in the church ( πάντα ποιεῖτε χωρὶς γογγυσμῶν καὶ διαλογισμῶν). A slackened sense of the obligation to mutual love formed the cardinal sin at Ephesus; to repent of this was the condition of continued existence as a church; utility or extinction is the alternative held out to her. The nature of the visitation is left unexplained; the threat is vague, but probably eschatological. The Apocalypse, however, knows nothing of the Jewish idea that Israel’s repentance would bring the advent of messiah (cf. Schürer’s Hist. II. ii. 163, 164), as though the transgressions of the people hindered his appearance.


Verse 6

Revelation 2:6. The message ends with a tardy echo of 2 b. The prophet admits that one redeeming feature in the church is the detestation of the N. Not all the spirit of animosity at Ephesus is amiss. When directed, as moral antipathy, against these detestable Nikolaitans (corresponding to the Greek quality of μισοπονηρία), it is a healthy feature of their Christian consciousness. The Nikolaitans have been identified by patristic tradition, from Irenæus downwards, with the followers of the proselyte Nikolaos (Acts 6:5, where see note), who is alleged, especially by Tertullian and Epiphanius, to have lapsed into antinomian license, as the result of an overstrained asceticism, and to have given his name to a sect which practised religious sensuality in the days before Cerinthus. The tenets of the latter are in fact declared by Irenæus to have been anticipated by the Nicolaitans, who represented the spirit of libertinism which, like the opposite extreme of legalism at an earlier period, threatened the church’s moral health. But if the comment of Vict. were reliable, that the N(899) principle was merely ut delibatum exorcizaretur et manducari posset et ut quicumque fornicatus esset octauo die pacem acciperet, the representation of John would become vigorously polemical rather than historically accurate. The tradition of the N(900)’s origin may of course be simply due to the play of later imagination upon the present narrative taken with the isolated reference to Nikolaos in Acts 6:6. On the other hand it was not in the interest of later tradition to propagate ideas derogatory to the character of an apostolic Christian; indeed, as early as Clem. Alex. (Strom. ii. 20, iii. 4; cf. Constit. Ap. vi. 8), a disposition (shared by Vict.) to clear his character is evident. Whatever was the precise relation of the sect to Nikolaos, whether some tenet of his was exploited immorally or whether he was himself a dangerously lax teacher, there is no reason to doubt the original connexion of the party with him. Its accommodating principles are luminously indicated by the comment of Hippolytus ( ἐδίδασκεν ἀδιαφορίαν βίου) and the phrase attributed to him by Clem. Alex, ( παραχρήσασθαι τῇ σαρκὶ δεῖ), a hint which is confirmed, if the Nikolaitans here and in Revelation 2:15 are identified with the Balaamites ( νικο- λαος, in popular etymology, a rough Greek equivalent for בלע עם, perdidit uel absorpsit populum). This symbolic interpretation has prevailed from the beginning of the eighteenth century (so Ewald, Hengstenberg, Düst., Schürer, Julicher, Bousset). The original party-name was probably interpreted by opponents in this derogatory sense. It was thus turned into a covert censure upon men who were either positively immoral or liberally indifferent to scruples (on food, clubs, marriage, and the like) which this puritan prophet regarded as vital to the preservation of genuine Christianity in a pagan city. A contemporary parallel of moral laxity is quoted by Derenbourg, Hist, de la Palestine (1867), p. 363. If Nikolaos was really an ascetic himself, the abuse of his principles is quite intelligible, as well as their popularity with people of inferior character. Pushed to an extreme, asceticism confines ethical perfection to the spirit. As the flesh has no part in the divine life, it may be regarded either as a foe to be constantly thwarted or as something morally indifferent. In the latter case, the practical inference of sensual indulgence is obvious, the argument being that the lofty spirit cannot be soiled by such indulgence any more than the sun is polluted by shining on a dunghill.


Verse 7

Revelation 2:7. A stringent demand for attention ( πίστις, ὦτα ψυχῆς: Clem. Alex.) to the utterances of prophets who were inspired by the Spirit (of prophecy, cf. on Revelation 19:10). These as usual are ejaculatory, positive and brief— ἐκκλ. scattered local communities, and not a Catholic organisation, being the conception of the Apocalypse, it is for use in their public worship that this book is written (Revelation 1:3). It is a subordinate and literary question whether the seer means in such phrases as this to designate himself (Weinel, 84 f.) liturgically as the speaker, or whether (as the synoptic parallels suggest) they form an integral part of the whole menage. In any case the prophet represents himself simply as the medium for receiving and recording (cf. Revelation 1:19) these oracles of the Spirit (cf. Revelation 14:13, Revelation 19:9, Rev 20:17). Unlike other writers such as Paul and the authors of Hebrew and 1 John, he occupies a passive rôle, throwing his personal rebuke and counsels into the form Thus saith the Spirit: but this really denotes the confidence felt by the prophet in his own inspiration and authority. The Spirit here, though less definitely than in Hermas, is identified with Jesus speaking through his prophets: it represents sudden counsels and semi-oracular utterances (cf. on Revelation 1:10), not a continuous power in the normal moral life of the saints in general. The seven promises denote security of immortal life (positively as here and Revelation 2:28 or negatively as Revelation 2:11), privilege (personal, Revelation 2:17, or official, Revelation 2:27), honour (Revelation 3:5; Revelation 3:21), or increased intimacy (Revelation 3:12). As usual, (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9 f.), the higher Christian γνῶσις is connected with eschatology.

Observe the singling out for encouragement and praise of each soldier in the host of the loyal. The effect resembles that produced by Pericles in his panegyric over the Athenians who had fallen in the Peloponnesian war: “together they gave up their lives, yet individually they won this deathless praise” (Thuc. ii. 43, 2). νικῶν (a quasi-perfect), in Herm. Mand. Revelation 12:2; Revelation 12:4 f., Revelation 5:2; Revelation 5:4, Revelation 6:2; Revelation 6:4 (over sin and devil), might have its usual Johannine sense, the struggle being obedience in face of the seductions and hardships which beset people aiming to keep the divine commandments (cf. on John 16:33). For a special application of the term, see Revelation 15:2. But behind the general usage lies the combination of “to be pure or just” and “to conquer or triumph” in the Hebrew ṣédeḳ and the Syriac zedhâ. Furthermore, νικῶν throughout is equivalent to the Egyptian eschatological term “victorious,” applied to those who passed successfully through life’s temptations and the judgment after death. Its generic sense is illustrated by 4 Ezra 7 :(128): “here is the intent of the battle to be fought by man born upon earth: if he be overcome, he shall suffer as thou hast said; but if he conquer, he shall receive the thing of which I speak” (i.e., paradise and its glories). The Essenes according to Josephus (Ant. xviii. 1, 5), held the soul was immortal, περιμάχητον ἡγούμενοι τοῦ δικαίου τὴν πρόσοδον—eternal life the reward of an untiring, unsoiled fight against evil. The imagery of the metaphor is drawn from Jewish eschatology which anticipated the reversal of the doom incurred in Eden; cf. Test. Levi, 18, καὶ δώσει τοῖς ἁγίοις φαγεῖν ἐκ τοῦ ξύλου τῆς ζωῆς, also En. xxiv. 1–11, 25., xxxi. 1–3, etc., and (for Egyptian ideas) below on Revelation 3:21. The garden-park of God ( π. = a garden with fruit-trees, Wilcken’s Griech. Ostraka, i. 157) is one of the intermediate abodes, possibly (as in Slav. En. viii. 1, and Paul) the third heaven where the favoured saints live after death in seclusion and bliss, So Iren. ver 5. 1 (abode of translated) and ver 36, 1–2, where heaven is for the Christians of the hundredfold fruit, paradise for the sixty-fold, and the heavenly city for the thirty-fold (a very ancient Christian tradition). The tree of life blooms in most of the apocalypses (cf. on Revelation 22:2). Philo had already allegorised it into θεοσέβεια τῆς τελείας ἀρετῆς χαρακτήρ. But the allusion corresponds to the general eschatological principle (borrowed from Babylonia, where cosmological myths passed into eschatological) that the end was to be a transcendently fine renovation of the original state (Barn. vi. 8). μου a deliberate addition to the O.T. phrase; Christ’s relation to God guarantees his promise of such a privilege (Revelation 3:12). God’s gift (Romans 6:23) is Christ’s gift. He is no fair promiser like Antigonus II., whom men dubbed δώσων for his large and unfulfilled undertakings (Plut. Coriol. xi.).


Verse 8

Revelation 2:8. The title from Revelation 1:17-18, with special reference to Revelation 2:10 and its situation, also to the promise of Revelation 2:11. The Smyrniote Christians, in peril of death, are addressed and encouraged by One who himself has died—and risen to life. He is familiar [Revelation 2:9] with the rough brake and briars through which faith must struggle to win its crown, and this familiarity is as usual put forward as the first element of encouragement. The other notes of help are (i.) the unapproachable wealth of a devoted life, (ii.) the justice of their claim in spite of their opponents’ prestige and pretensions, (iii.) the providential limit assigned to their trial, and (iv.) its ample reward, besides the fact that Christ does not conceal from them the worst.— πτωχ. Contrast R. Jochanan’s aphorism: “Whosoever fulfils the Torah in poverty will at length fulfil it in wealth; and whosoever neglects the Torah in wealth, will at length neglect it in poverty” (Pirke Aboth, iv. 13). The subsequent allusion to Jews acquires fresh point from a comparison with (Chagigah, 9 b) another contemporary rabbi’s comment on Isaiah 48:10 : “this means that the Holy One sought for all good qualities to give to Israel, and found only poverty”.— ἰουδ. Does the prophet resent (see on this, von Dobschütz, Texte u. Unters. xi. 1. 35 f.) the Jewish claim to the title of God’s people, declaring in so many words (as Matthew 21:43), that Judaism, so far as it is genuine, is now inside the church, and that the Jewish nation has forfeited its privilege and is now a pseudo-church (Harnack, H. D. i. 177–179)? If the passage does not breathe this common antipathy, the calumnies may be supposed to have taken the form of taunts upon the Christian delusion of believing that a Palestinian peasant and criminal was messiah, or of slanders upon Christian morals and motives (reff.), or of malicious, anonymous accusations laid before the Roman authorities with reference to revolutionary designs on the part of the churches. “Les Orientaux prennent d’ordinaire la religion comme un prétexte de taquineries” (Renan). Judaism was strong at Smyrna, and its hostility to the Christians (see Otto’s notes on Just. Dial. xvi. 11, xxxv., etc.) would not be lessened by the accession of converts from the old faith to the new (Ign. ad Smyrn. i. 2, describes the saints and faithful folk of Christ εἴτε ἐν ἰουδαίοις εἴτε ἐν ἔθνεσιν); the reasons for such social animosity and interference are analysed in Jowett’s note on 1 Thessalonians 3:13, in E. G. Hardy’s Christianity and the Roman Government, pp. 45–53, and in Ramsay’s Seven Letters, 272 f. At the martyrdom of Polykarp in Smyrna, some years after the Apocalypse was written (as later still at the death of Pionius, 250 A.D.) the Jews made themselves conspicuous by denouncing him with the pagan mob before the Asiarch ( ἀκατασχέτῳ θυμῷ καὶ μεγάλῃ φωνῇ), eagerly assisting to heap faggots on his pile ( προθύμως, ὡς ἔθος αὐτοῖς), and helping to prevent the Christians from obtaining the martyr’s body ( ὑποβαλλόντων καὶ ἐνισχυόντων τῶν ἰουδαίων: Mart. Polyk. xii., xvii.). The name of “Jew,” ancient and honourable, is claimed ( καὶ οὐκ εἰσί) for believers in Jesus the messiah, who constitute the real people of God with a legitimate claim to the privileges and titles of the O.T. community. “Now by our faith we have become more than those who seemed to have God” (2 Clem. ii. 3).— συν. σατ. a bitter retort to the contemporary claims of Judaism with its σ. τοῦ κυρίου (cf. Numbers 16:3; Numbers 20:4, Ps. Sol. 17:18, σ. ὁσίων). The allusion here is to Jewish, in Revelation 2:13 (throne of S.) to pagan, and in Revelation 2:24 (depths of S.) to heretical, antagonism.


Verses 8-11

Revelation 2:8-11. The message (shortest of the seven) to the Christians in Smyrna, “one of the first stars in the brilliant belt of the cities of Asia Minor” (Mommsen), a wealthy and privileged seaport, and like Sardis a constant rival of Ephesus for the title of primacy which properly belonged to Pergamos, the real capital of the province. It is probably owing to the petty jealousies of these urban communities that the prophet refrains from speaking of one to the other (as Paul did, with his churches), by way of example.


Verse 10

Revelation 2:10. μη. φοβοῦ, κ. τ. λ. “Thou orderest us to endure, not to love, trials. A man may love to endure, but he does not love what he endures” (Aug. Conf. x. 28). Ill-treatment, as well as misrepresentation, is traced back to a diabolic source, in the common early Christian manner (Weinel, 13 f.). The Imperial authorities ( διάβολος as in 1 Peter 5:8), although often instigated by the Jews, had the sole power of inflicting imprisonment, in this case for a refusal to worship the emperor’s image; the prophet here predicts an imminent persecution of this kind (compare Acts 9:16, and above Introd. § 6) lasting for a short and limited time ( δέκα ἡμ. see reff., originally due to the rough Semitic division of a month into decades). The local intensity of feeling upon the Imperial cultus may be gathered from the fact that in 23 A.D. Smyrna had secured from Tiberius and the senate, after keen competition, the coveted distinction of possessing the second temple decreed by the province to the Imperial cultus. Hence the struggle anticipated here is desperate ( ἄχ. θ.); martyrdom is no remote contingency. Compare Ep. Lugd., where the martyr-crisis is taken as an anticipation of the final persecution (cf. Revelation 3:10; Revelation 13:7-15): “with all his might the adversary assailed us, giving us a hint of what his unbridled advent would be like at the end”; the martyrs “endured nobly all the assaults heaped on them by the mob. They were shouted at, struck, haled about, robbed, stoned, imprisoned; in fact they suffered all that an infuriated mob likes to inflict on enemies and opponents.”—Then follows a commandment with promise: γίνου (not ἴσθι), “show thyself” throughout all degrees of trial and in any emergency. It is more than doubtful if this is a subtle local allusion to the loyalty and local patriotism upon which Sardis prided herself and which she had urged as her plea to Tiberius (Tacit. Ann. iv. 56). On the honours subsequently paid to martyrs in Smyrna, cf. Mart. Polyk. xvii. τοῦτον μὲν γὰρ ὑιὸν ὄντα τοῦ θεοῦ προσκυνοῦμεν, τοὺς δὲ μάρτυρας ὡς μαθητὰς καὶ μιμητὰς τοῦ κυρίου ἀγαπῶμεν (also Euseb. H. E. iv. 15. 46, 47), with the contemporary cry of 4 Ezra 8:27 : “Look not at the deeds of the impious but at those who have kept Thy covenants amid affliction” (i.e., the martyrs), also the subsequent Christian honour paid by Hermas (Vis. iii. 1, 2), who reserves the right hand of God for the martyrs who have “suffered for the sake of the Name,” enduring “stripes, imprisonments, great afflictions, crosses, wild beasts”. For καὶ, with fut. after imperative, see Ephesians 5:14, James 4:7.— στέφ. ζ. Life, the reward assigned in Revelation 2:7 to the triumph of faith is here bestowed upon the loyalty of faith. To hold one’s ground is, under certain circumstances, as trying and creditable as it is under others to win positive successes. The metaphor of στέφ. with its royal, sacerdotal, and festal (Song of Solomon 3:11, Isaiah 28:1, Herm. Sim. viii. 2) associations, would call up civic and athletic honours to the local Christians, the latter owing to the famous games at Smyrna, the former from the fact that στ. frequently occurs also in inscriptions as = public honour for distinguished service (paid, e.g., to Demosthenes and Zeno), whilst the yearly appointment of a priest at Eumeneia to the temple of Zeno was termed παράληψις τοῦ στέφανου (C. B. P. ii. 358). Compare, with the ἄξιοι of Revelation 3:4, the sentence in Ep. Lugd. upon the martyrs: ἐχρῆν γοῦν τοὺς γενναίους ἀθλητὰς, ποικίλον ὑπομείναντας ἀγῶνα καὶ μεγάλως νικήσαντας, ἀπολαβεῖν τὸν μέγαν τῆς ἀφθαρσίας στέφανον, and the Greek phrase for noble deeds, ἄξια στεφάνων (Plut. Pericl. 28).


Verse 11

Revelation 2:11. οὐ μὴ (emphatic): no true Christian, much less one who dies a martyr’s death, need fear anything beyond the pang of the first death. The second death of condemnation in the lake of fire leaves the faithful scatheless, no matter how others may suffer from the terrors (cf. on Revelation 3:12) which haunted the ancient outlook (especially the Egyptian) upon the dark interval between death and heaven. Cf. the sketch of Ani, seated on his throne and robed in white, holding sceptre and staff, and crying: “I am not held to be a person of no account, and violence shall not be done me. I am thy son, O Great One, and I have seen the hidden things that belong to thee. I am crowned king of the gods, and shall not die a second time in the underworld” (E. B. D. 99). If a Christian keep himself loyal till death, the prophet here guarantees that Christ will keep him safe after death. After the promise of Revelation 2:10 however, this sounds like an anticlimax. The general tenor of the message indicates that John was rather more cordial and sympathetic to the Smyrniote church than to the Ephesian.


Verse 12

Revelation 2:12. The title is apt in view of Revelation 2:16.


Verses 12-17

Revelation 2:12-17. The message to Pergamos, the Benares or Lourdes of the province.


Verse 13

Revelation 2:13. Two features in the local situation menaced Christianity. Pergamos, besides forming a legal centre for the district (ad earn conueniunt Thyatireni aliaeque inhonorae ciuitates, Plin. ver 33), was an old centre of emperor-worship in Asia Minor; in 29 B.C. a temple had been erected to the divine Augustus and the goddess Roma, and a special priesthood had been formed ( ὑμνῳδοὶ θεοῦ σεβαστοῦ καὶ θεᾶς ῥώμης). Another feature, shocking to early Christian feeling, was the local cult of Aesculapius (cf. Zahn, § 73, note 2), whose favourite symbol (e.g., on coins) was a serpent (“the god of Pergamos, Mart. Revelation 9:17); so Pausan. Cor. 27, (3:402), κάθηται δὲ ἐπὶ θρόνου βακτηρίαν κρατῶν, τὴν δὲ ἑτέραν τῶν χειρῶν ὑπὲρ κεφαλῆ ἔχει τοῦ δράκοντος. In addition to these fashionable cults, a magnificent throne-like altar to Zeus Soter towered on the Acropolis (Paus. ii. 73, 75, iii. 556, 557) commemorating the defeat of the barbarian Gauls by Attalus two centuries earlier, and decorated by a famous frieze of the gods warring against the giants (the latter, a brood of vigorous opponents, having often human bodies and serpentine tails, cf. below, Revelation 9:19). No wonder Pergamos was called “a throne of Satan” by early Christians who revolted against the splendid and insidious paganism of a place where politics and religion were firm allies. Least of all at this cathedral centre of the Imperial cultus could dissent be tolerated. The Asiarch, e.g., who condemns Polykarp is the local high priest of the altar, and the animus against Cæsar-adoration which pervades the Apocalypse easily accounts for the last phrase θ. τ. σ., particularly as the symbol of the serpent in the Aesculapius cult would come vividly home to pious Jewish Christians in the church, as a reminder of Satan (e.g., Revelation 12:9 and passim). The priesthood of this cult, “a vast college, believed to be in possession of certain precious medical secrets,” came “nearest, perhaps, of all the institutions of the pagan world, to the Christian priesthood,” its rites being “administered in a full conviction of the religiousness, the refined and sacred happiness, of a life spent in the relieving of pain” (Pater, Marius the Epicurean, i. 30; see Usener’s Götternamen, 1896, pp. 147 f., 350, and Dill’s Roman Soc. from Nero to M. Aur. 459 f.). κρατεῖς, κ. τ. λ., “And the magistrate pressed him hard, saying, ‘Swear the oath [by the genius of Cæsar] and I will release thee; curse the Christ.’ But Polykarp replied, ‘For eighty-six years I have served him, and he has never injured me. How then can I blaspheme my King, who has saved me?’ ” (Mart. Polyc. ix. Jewish analogies in 2 Maccabees 8:4, Ass. Mos. viii. etc.). Some definite outburst of persecution at Pergamos is in the writer’s mind ( ἠρνήσω). To disown or abjure faith in Jesus, saying κύριος καῖσαρ, implies here as in the gospels the moral fault of cowardice, elsewhere (e.g. 1 John, Judges 1:4, 2 Peter 2:1) erroneous doctrine. The circumstances and surroundings of the local church are taken into account, as usual, in the prophet’s estimate; they either claim some allowance to be made, or reflect additional credit and lustre on the particular community. μάρτυς, κ. τ. λ. He is faithful who retains his faith. Antipas (= ἀντίπατρος, Jos. Ant. xiv. 1, 3; the name occurs in a third century inscription of Pergamos, Deissm. 187), is mentioned by Tertullian (adv. Gnost. scorp. 12); otherwise he is unknown. His Acts appear to have been read by Andreas and Arethas, and, according to Simon Metaphrastes, he was an old, intrepid bishop of Pergamos whose prestige drew upon him the honour of being burned to death in a brazen bull during Domitian’s reign. The sober truth is probably that he formed the first prominent victim in the local church, possibly in Asia Minor, to the demands of the Imperial cultus. Carpus, Papylus, and Agathonikê, the other martyrs of Pergamos named by Eusebius (H. E., iv. 15, 48), died at a later period. On the whole verse see Ep. Lugd., “then did the holy martyrs endure indescribable torture, Satan eagerly striving to make them utter τι τῶν βλασφήμων”. The textual variants arose from a failure to to see that αντίπας (or - α) was a genitive and that μάρτυς was in characteristic irregular apposition to it. The name is neither a personification nor typical.


Verse 14

Revelation 2:14. ὀλίγα, the errorists are a mere minority; they do not represent or affect the main body of the church, whose fault is not sympathy but indifference. This carelessness arose probably from contempt or fear rather than through ignorance.— ἐκεῖ (in the midst of loyalty and martyrdom). κρατ. (not τὸ ὄνομά μου, but) lax principles worthy of a Balaam, the note of a pupil of Balaam being (according to Pirke Aboth, Revelation 2:19), an evil eye, a proud spirit, and a sensual soul. Contemporary opponents of Gnostic tendencies evidently found it an effective weapon to employ O.T. analogies or identifications such as this or the similar ones in 2 Timothy 3:8, Judges 1:2. In the Hexateuch (JE = Numbers 25:1-5, (901)=Num. 25:6–18, 31; Numbers 8-16, Joshua 13:22) Balaam is represented as a magician who prompts the Moabite women to seduce the Israelites into foreign worship and its attendant sensualism; but in the subsequent Jewish Midrash (followed here) his advice is given to Balak (Joseph. Ant. iv. 6, 6; cf. iv. 6, 11 for Zimri, and Philo’s Vit. Mos. i. 48–55), and the sorcerer comes to be regarded as the prototype of all corrupt teachers and magicians (for this sombre reputation, see E.J. ii. 467), as of this party at Pergamos who held—to John’s indignation—that it was legitimate for a Christian to buy food in the open market, which had already been consecrated to an idol. This problem, which had occurred years before in a sharp form at Corinth, was certain to cause embarrassment and trouble in a city like Pergamos, or indeed in any pagan town, where entertainments had a tendency towards obscenity. It is a curious instance of how at certain periods a scruple may assume the rank of a principle, and of how the ethical inexpediency of some practices lies in their associations rather than in their essential elements. Such questions of religious conscience in the East were frequently connected with food; for the association of the latter with sexual vice, see the notes on Acts 15:20 (also 1 Corinthians 10:4; 1 Corinthians 10:8, in its context). The literal sense is preferable, although the usage of the Apocalypse makes the metaphorical sense of πορν. possible, as a general description of pagan religions viewed under the aspect of unfaithfulness to the true God (cf. John 8:41, Philo de migr Abr. § 12) For the connexion between certain forms of popular religion in Phrygia and prostitution, see C.B.P., i. 94 f. Such burning questions arose from the nature of the early Christian society, which never aspired to form a ghetto, and consequently, in a pagan township, had to face many nice problems with regard to the prudence and limits of conformity or the need of nonconformity (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:16-17). In social and trading pursuits the individual Christian met and mingled with fellow-citizens outside his own religious circle, and these relationships started serious points of ethical principle (Dobschütz, 26 f., 188 f.). The line was drawn, but not always at the same place; and naturally laxity lay on the borders of enlightenment.


Verse 15

Revelation 2:15. οὕτως κ. τ. λ. Are the N. put parallel to, or identified with, the Balaamites? The latter becomes more probable when the symbolical sense of N. and B(902) (see above, on Revelation 2:6, and Kalisch’s Bible Studies, i. 23) is adopted. In this event a single class of errorists is in view; they are instigating and seducing the local Christians much as Balaam managed (by means of Balak, in rabbinic tradition, cf. the slight play on βαλεῖν) to get the Israelites enticed to ruin (Sanh. 105 a). Josephus explains that Balaam showed Balak how to win a victory over the Israelites ( νίκην τινὰκατʼ αὐτῶν κερδᾶναι) by enticing them to lust, and such a symbolic allusion is quite in the manner of the Apocalypse. The Niko-laitans, who probably resembled Cerinthus or Carpokrates in their tenets, are no better than a Balaam. And the Jewish dictum was (Sanh. 106 b) that whenever one discovered anything bad in Balaam’s life, one should preach about it.


Verse 16

Revelation 2:16. The church as a whole must repent of her too tolerant attitude to these errorists, but the threatened visitation is directed against the errorists themselves in the shape of some physical malady or mortal sickness, according to the current belief in early Christianity (cf. on 1 Corinthians 5:4-5; 1 Corinthians 5:13; 1 Corinthians 11:30, Everling: die paul. Angelologie, etc., 20 f.). Grotius refers the threat to the prophetic order (“prophetas suscitabo in ecclesia”). But the ethnic conscience generally regarded pestilence or any physical calamity as a punishment inflicted by the god for some offence against his ritual or some breach of morals. In the Hexateuch, the sword opposes (Numbers 22:23; Numbers 22:31) and finally slays (Numbers 31:8) Balaam. The run of thought in the verse is that if the church does not repent, i.e., if she does not act on her own initiative and expel the wrongdoers (in the hope of them ultimately coming to a better mind, 1 Corinthians 5:4-5), she must submit to having them cut out of her, and thus being irretrievably lost by death. The church is responsible for her erring members, and the exercise of discipline is viewed as a duty to them as well as to herself and God. Weak laxity is false kindness, the prophet implies; it merely exposes offenders to an alternative far more dreadful than discipline itself. The sword, Viet, remarks on Revelation 1:16, is used to punish deserters as well as to win victory for the faithful. For instrumental ἐν in the pre-Christian vernacular, see Tebtunis Papyri vol. 1. (p. 86) ἐν μαχαίρῃ- αις.


Verse 17

Revelation 2:17. The reward for those who deny themselves pagan pleasures in this world is (as in Revelation 2:26) participation in the privileges (Pereq Meir 5), reserved for God’s people in the latter days (here = a victor’s banquet, Genesis 14:18), not as hitherto (Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:11) simply participation in eternal life. The imagery is again rabbinic (2 Maccabees 2:4-6, Apoc. Bar. vi. 7–9). Previous to the destruction of Jerusalem, Isaiah or the prophet Jeremiah was supposed to have hidden the ark of the covenant (cf. on Revelation 11:19) with its sacred contents, including the pot of manna. At the appearance of the messiah, this was to be once more disclosed (cf. Mechilta on Exodus 16:25, etc.). It is significant how the writer as usual claims for his messiah, Jesus, the cherished privileges and rights to which contemporary Judaism clung as its monopoly, and further how he assumes that all the past glories of O.T. religion upon earth—as well as all the coming bliss, which in one sense meant the transcendent restoration of these glories—were secured in heaven for the followers of Jesus alone (Revelation 7:17, Revelation 21:2, etc.). See Apoc. Bar. xxix. 8, where “the treasury of manna will again descend from on high,” at the messianic period, that the saints may eat of it; the Fourth Gospel, on the other hand, follows Philo (quis rer. div. 39, leg. allegor. iii. 59, 61, etc.) in using manna as a type of the soul’s nourishment in the present age. There does not seem to be any allusion to the rabbinical legend underlying Sap. xvi. 20.—The strange association of manna and white stones, though possibly a reminiscence of the rabbinic notion preserved in Joma 8 (cadebant Israelitis una cum manna lapides pretiosi), cannot be explained apart from the popular superstitions regarding amulets which colour the metaphor. White stones represented variously to the ancient mind acquittal, admission to a feast (tessera hospitalis), good fortune, and the like. But the point here is their connexion with the new name. This alludes to the mysterious power attached in the ancient mind to amulets, stones (cf. E.J. i. 546–550, where vignettes are given; also Dieterich’s Mithras-Liturgie, 31 f.) marked with secret and divine names (Jeremias, 79–80, Pfleid. Early Christ. Conc, of Christ, 112 f.), the possession of which was supposed to enable the bearer to pass closed gates, foil evil spirits, and enter the presence of the deity. If the new name (cf. Heitmüller’s Im Namen Jesu, 128 f.), is thus regarded as that of Jesus—the irresistible, invincible name above every name—the promise then offers safe entrance through all perils into the inner bliss and feast of God; the true Christian has a charmed life. But when the new name is taken to apply to the individual, as seems more likely here, another line of interpretation is required, and the origin of the phrase (though tinged still with this amulet-conception of a stone, the more potent as it was hidden somewhere on the person, cf. Proverbs 17:8, etc.), is best approached from a passage like Epict.Revelation 1:19, where the philosopher is trying to dissuade a man from undertaking the duties of priesthood in the Imperial cultus at Nikopolis. What good will it do him after death, to have his name used to mark his year of office in public documents? “My name will remain,” replies the man. “Write it on a stone and it will remain,” is the retort of Epictetus—plainly a colloquial expression for permanence. This would fit in with the Apocalyptic saying excellently (see Schol. on Pind. Olymp. vii. 159). Still more apposite, however, is an ancient ceremony of initiation (as among the aborigines of New South Wales: Trumbull, Blood-Covenant, 1887, pp. 335–337), by which each person, on the close of his novitiate, received a new name from the tribe and at the same time a white stone or quartz crystal. The latter was considered to be a divine gift, and was held specially sacred, never to be surrendered or even shown. These boons formed part of the religious covenant which marked the entrance of a man into the closest relation with the deity of his tribe and also into the full enjoyment of manhood’s privileges. Hence, if we suppose some such popular rite behind the language here, the idea is apt: the victor’s reward is the enjoyment of mature and intimate life with his God (so Victor.). For the symbolism of a name as evidence of personal identity (and inferentially of a new name as proof of a renovated, enduring nature), see E.B.D. 75: “May my name be given to me in the Great House, and may I remember my name in the House of Fire.… If any god whatsoever should advance to me, let me be able to proclaim his name forthwith” (the latter clause illustrating Revelation 3:12). The significance attached by the Egyptian religion especially to the reu or name was due to the belief that its loss meant the extinction of a man’s existence. The idea in the prophet’s mind is little more than that developed, e.g., in Mrs. Browning’s sonnet, “Comfort”: “Speak low to me, my Saviour, low and sweet, From out the hallelujahs sweet and low, Lest I should fear and fall, and miss Thee,” etc. As the succeeding chapters are full of the state and splendour of heaven, with royal majesty predominating, the prophet finds place here for the more intimate and individual aspect of the future life, depicting God in touch with the single soul (cf. Revelation 14:1). In addition to this, he conveys the idea that outside the Christian experience no one can really know what God is or what He gives; the redeemed and victorious alone can understand what it means to belong to God and to be rewarded by him.—Wünsch has recently pointed out (Excav. in Palestine, 1898–1900, p. 186) that, as in Egypt the sacred paper ( χὰρτης ἱερατικὸς) was used for solemn appeals to the gods (Brit. Mus. Papyri, xlvi. 308), “in like manner, doubtless, in Palestine, limestone had some superstitious significance, but of what special kind we do not know. Perhaps it is in this connexion that in Revelation 2:17 “he that overcometh” is to receive “a white stone” inscribed with a “new” spell, evidently as an “amulet”. There may also be a further local allusion to the ψῆφοι and names which were supposed to be received by votaries of Asclepius as they lay in a trance or dream (Aristides, i. 352, 520). For the initiation-custom, cf. Spence and Gillen’s Native Tribes of Central Australia, pp. 139–140, where the secret, individual name is described as given only to those who are “capable of self-restraint” and above levity of conduct. Clem. Alex. (Strom, i. 23) preserves a Jewish tradition that Moses got three names—Joachim, Moses, and Melchi (i.e., king), the last-mentioned ἐν οὐρανῷ μετὰ τὴν ἀνάληψιν, ὡς φασὶν οἱ μύσται.


Verse 18

Revelation 2:18. χαλκολιβ. Some local allusion to the bronze-work for which Thyatira was famous. Son of God (cf. Kattenbusch ii. 563 f.) is practically an equivalent for messiah (Luke 4:41), or for the superhuman personality of Jesus as divinely commissioned (cf. Grill, pp. 76–77) to carry out God’s purpose for his people (cf. John 10:36). But the expression has pagan as well as Jewish colouring; and there is undoubtedly an apologetic allusion to the similar terminology of the Imperial cultus (cf. Introd. § 6).


Verses 18-29

Revelation 2:18-29. The longest message of the seven is to a church in the least important of the cities (judged from the historical standpoint) Thyatira, a township of Northern Lydia, the holy city of Apollo Tyrimnaios, adjacent to the high road between Perg. and Sardis. It soon became a centre of Montanism.


Verse 19

Revelation 2:19. Instead of being retrograde like Ephesus, Thyatira has steadily progressed in the works of Christianity. The sole flaw noted (see Ramsay’s discussions in D. B. iv. 758 f., Seven Letters, 338 f.) is an undue laxity shown to certain members (not, as at Pergamos, a mere minority) who, under the sway (cf. Zahn, § 73, n. 7) of an influential woman, refused to separate themselves from the ( ἐργασίαι) local guilds where moral interests, though not ostensibly defied, were often seriously compromised. The prophet takes up a puritan attitude, corroborated by that of the leading church of the district (Revelation 2:6); he demands in the name of Christ that such inconsistent members should withdraw—a severe and costly step to take, amid the social ties and interests of an Asiatic city, where social clubs were a recognised feature of civic life and appealed forcibly to several natural instincts, especially when backed by the approval of an oracular and impressive leader in the local church.


Verse 20

Revelation 2:20. Women (cf. Acts 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5, and the later Ammia in Philadelphia: Eus. H. E. ver 17. 2) occasionally prophesied in the early church, and false prophetesses were as likely to exist as false prophets. This “Jezebel of a woman, alleging herself to be a prophetess,” seems to have been some influential female (as the definite imagery of Revelation 2:21-23 indicates); her lax principles or tendencies made for a connexion with foreign and compromising associations which evidently exerted a dangerous charm upon some weaker Christians in the city. The moral issue corresponds to that produced by the Nikolaitan party at Pergamos ( εἰδ. φαγεῖν, πορνεῦσαι), but the serious nature of the heresy at Thyatira appears from the fact that it was not simply propagated within the church but also notorious (Revelation 2:23) and long-continued ( τέκνα), thanks to obstinacy among the Ahabs and adherents of this prominent woman (Revelation 2:21). They prided themselves on their enlightened liberalism (Revelation 2:24). The definiteness of her personality, the fact of her situation within a Christian church which had jurisdiction over her, and the association of her practices with those of the Nikolaitans, who were members of the church, render it impossible to identify this libertine influence of Jude with a foreign institution such as the famous shrine of the Chaldean Sibyl at Thyatira (Schürer: Theol. Abhandlungen, pp. 39 f., a theory suggested by Blakesley, in Smith’s DB), or with the wife of the local Asiarch (Selwyn, 123). Besides it was not the cults but the trade-guilds that formed the problem at Thyatira. Jastrow points out (p. 267) that for some occult reason female sorcerers were preferred to men among the Babylonians; “the witch appears more frequently than the male sorcerer”. Hillel (Pirke Aboth, ii. 8; see Dr. C. Taylor’s note) had already declared, “more women, more witchcraft”. For the connexion of women and sorcery cf. Blau’s Altjüd. Zauberwesen 18 f., 23 f.— λέγουσα κ. τ. λ., an irregular nomin. absolute, characteristic of the writer. This LXX peculiarity of a detached participle thrown into relief, which is not confined to the Apocalypse (cf. Philippians 3:16-19, etc.), renders the participle almost a relative (Vit. i., 202); but indeed any word or group of words, thus singled out as characteristic of some preceding noun, tends to become independent and to take its own construction (II. 8f). See Zephaniah 1:12 (LXX).


Verse 21

Revelation 2:21. The immorality was flagrant; more flagrant still was the obstinate persistence in it, despite admonitions and forbearance (cf. Ecclesiastes 8:11; Bar. Ap. xxi. 20; 2 Peter 3:9). This allusion to an abuse of God’s patience and to a warning given already (hardly in some writing like Jud. 2 Peter, Spitta) is left quite indefinite; it was probably familiar enough to the first readers of the book. Interests and old associations had proved hitherto too strong for this prophetic counsel to be followed. Membership of a trade-guild, although it necessarily involved the recognition of some pagan deity and often led to orgies, “was a most important matter for every tradesman or artisan; it aided his business, and brought, him many advantages socially” (Ramsay).


Verse 22

Revelation 2:22. κλίνην (bed, not a couch of revelry) aegritudinis non amoris; disease or sickness (cf. for the phrase, 1 Maccabees 1:5) the punishment of error, especially of error accompanied by licentiousness. The inscriptions from Asia Minor abound with instances of the popular belief that impurity, moral and even physical, was punished by disease or disaster to oneself, one’s property, one’s children. Sickness might even go the length of death (1 Corinthians 11:29-30). The prophet, however, seems to avoid calling Jesus or God σωτὴρ or σώζων, a term appropriated by the popular religions of Phrygia and lavished on many deities as healers and helpers (C. B. P. i. 262 f.).— μοιχ., men and women who imitate her licentiousness. θλ., physical distress, illness.— μετανοήσουσιν, the fut. indic., expresses rather more probability than subj. with ἐὰν μή (cf. Blass, § 65, 5). For tense of βάλλω see Zechariah 8:7, LXX, etc.


Verse 23

Revelation 2:23. τέκνα, literally, perhaps with an indirect allusion to the killing of Ahab’s seventy sons. ἀποκτ. θ. (Hebraism), “I will utterly slay”; see on Revelation 6:8. If any particular form of death is meant, it may be pestilence (the inscriptions often mention fever), which represented to an Oriental mind the punishment of God on man’s unfaithfulness. The curious difference between the treatment of the μοιχ. and the τέκνα is due to the fact that (cf. Daniel 6:24), a parent’s sin was visited upon his family, both in Jewish and in contemporary pagan belief (cf. the Phrygian inscription, cited by Mayor on James 5:12, κατηράμενος ἤτω αὐτὸς καὶ τὰ τέκνα αὐτοῦ). Yet even when both classes are allegorised into active coadjutors and deluded victims, the relative punishment looks unequal. John, unlike Ezekiel (Revelation 13:17-18), holds that the victims of the false prophetess are willing and responsible for their position.— πᾶσαι αἱ ἐκκλ., the judgment was to be as notorious as evidently the scandal had been. The idea recalls one of Ezekiel’s favourite conceptions.— ἐγώ κ. τ. λ. “I know the abysses,” and “discerner of hearts and searcher of the reins “were old Egyptian titles for divine beings. This intimate knowledge of man (cf. 16 c) pierces below superficial appearances, e.g., connexion with the church, prophetic zeal, and plausible excuses. As in Jeremiah 17:10; Jeremiah 20:12 (cf. Ps. Song of Solomon 8:8), the divine acquaintance with man’s real, secret life forms the basis of unerring and impartial judgment; while, as in Jeremiah 4:16-17 (cf. Acts 4:1 f., 1 Timothy 1:20, 1 Corinthians 5:4, etc.) the prophetic denunciation or imprecation has a direct effect upon the person denounced (cf. von Dobschütz, 270 f.). The former would be a fairly novel idea to most of those accustomed to the Roman religio, which was “one of observance, sacrifice, and outward act, that in no way searched the heart of the worshipper—a system of rules which covered the circumstances of Roman life” (H. O. Taylor, Ancient Ideals, i. 417, 418).


Verse 24

Revelation 2:24. To know “the depths” of the divine being and counsel was a characteristic claim of the Ophites and the later Gnostics; cf. Iren. adv. Haer. ii. 22, 1 (qui profunda bythi adinuenisse se dicunt; cf. 3), and Tertullian’s sarcastic description (adv. Vàlent. 1), “Eleusinia Ualentiniana fecerunt lenocinia. sancta silentio magno, sola taciturnitate coelestia. Si bona fide quaeris, concreto uultu, suspenso supercilio Altum est aiunt.” “The depth of knowledge” was a phrase of Herakleitus, the famous Ephesian philosopher, and in the creed of the Dukhobortsui, a sect in modern Russia, the Holy Spirit is Depth, the Father being Height and the Son Breadth. Since ὡς λέγουσιν refers to the errorists themselves, the quoted phrase about “knowing the depths of Satan” may (1.) contain an indignant and sarcastic retort; “depths of—Satan,” not “God,” as they boast ( τοῦς. being substituted for τοῦ θεοῦ); such teaching and principles are simply infernal. Or (2.) as is more probable the words may voice the actual claim of the errorists, who considered that some accommodation to pagan practices gave them a necessary acquaintance with the meaning of evil (so e.g., Spitta, Pfleiderer, Zahn, Jülicher, Bousset). Their higher standing gave them immunity from any risks. They could fathom securely what the immature orthodox called immorality. Devil-study, or even devil-worship (Revelation 13:4 is quite different) was not uncommon in some of the Gnostic sects throughout Asia Minor, e.g., the Cainites, the Naassenes, and the Ophites (the earliest Gnostics, φάσκοντες μόνοι τὰ βάθη γινώσκειν, Hipp. adv. Haer. Revelation 2:6). The idea was that as the principle of evil would ultimately be redeemed, it might be used meantime for the advantage of the initiated. Compare Mansel’s Gnostic Heresies, pp. 73, 96, 105. In En. lxv. 6 the unrighteous are punished for their acquaintance with “all the secrets of the angels and all the violence of the Satans and all their hidden power and all the power of those that practise sorcery, and the power of witchcraft.” The influence of a movement like Gnosticism, whose motto was eritis sicut deus scientes bonum et malum, gave wide opportunities to immorality, in its more popular applications. It produced the same sort of union between subtlety and sensualism which can sometimes be traced within Hinduism. In contrast to this unwholesome temper of speculation, the prophet substitutes for speculative flights the obedience of the normal Christian praxis (cf. Parad. Lost, viii. 170–197, xii. 561–589), with a plain allusion to the Jerusalem concordat of the early church which is recommended tacitly as a safe, wise rule of conduct. In the case of the βαθέα τοῦ σατανᾶ, ignorance is bliss. John is totally unsympathetic to the local liberals. He does not combat the theoretical principles at the root of their movement. Like the prophets who wrote Jude and 2 Peter, he attacks instead of arguing, quite content to judge it by its moral fruits of libertinism. He bitterly declares that such occasional results are the deliberate object of the party. The strange collocation of this error with the habit of partaking of sacrificial food is probably due to the prophet’s stern conviction that the latter, with its friendly and liberal attitude to pagan customs, fostered the former, in the case of people who took an ultra-spiritual view of Paul’s principle of Christian freedom.


Verse 26

Revelation 2:26. Triumph here consists in unflagging attention to the duties of a Christian vocation. The ἔργα are (Revelation 14:12, Revelation 19:8) the normal activities of this calling, viewed as the outcome of a personal relation to Jesus; they are “his,” as commanded by him and executed in his strength. The general idea of this and the following verse is that the only irresistible force is the force of a life which is able to resist seduction and compromise, because it holds to faith and purity. The promise of reward, preceding (as in Revelation 3:5; Revelation 3:12; Revelation 3:21) the appeal for attention, is couched in terms of messianic conquest (from Psalms 2:8-9). In a more or less figurative form, the rule of the saints, a cherished hope of Jewish eschatology, had its own attraction for some circles of early Christianity (see on Revelation 5:10 and 1 Corinthians 6:3; and for ῥάβδῳ, the well-known flail wielded by Horus, the Egyptian god of requital or warfare): evidently it appealed to their eagerness for a righting of present wrongs and a reversal of the immoral sway of captain ill over captive good. The ἐξουσία ἐπὶ τῶν ἐθνῶν (by which they are not governed but shivered in irreparable ruin; cf. Isaiah 30:14, Jeremiah 19:11) is defined with ferocious detail in 27; the whole description is modelled on a traditionally messianic application of (LXX) Psalms 2:8-9. For the shepherd’s staff as a royal sceptre see E. Bi. 4317. ὡς κἀγὼ κ. τ. λ., God, Christ, and the individual Christian as in Revelation 3:21 (John 17:16-22). “Illud ὡς aliquam similitudinem, non paritatem significat” (Rosenmüller). John 21:15-17 is not “a deliberate correction of this terrible sentence” (Selwyn, 195), but the mature expression of Christian solicitude in a different province, from which messianic incongruities have been wholly purged.


Verse 28

Revelation 2:28. To “grant the morningstar” (a characteristically loose usage of δίδωμι) means, not to invest him with its glory, nor to give him possession of Christ himself, but (so Bleek, after Victor.) to make the dawn of salvation or of life eternal shine on him after his dark afflictions. The victor shares in the divine life (with its punitive government) and honour above, or rather in the new messianic era of Jesus himself (see note on Revelation 22:16, where by a further application the metaphor is directly connected with Jesus). Staunch adherence to the truth on the part of leaders and confessors is similarly rewarded in Daniel 12:3, En. xiv. 2. Semitic folklore found some mystic connexion between the countless brilliant stars in heaven and the departed faithful, who became immortal (4 Ezra 7 :(97)), and the sense here might be that the loyal Christian was sure of shining like a star in immortality; cf. Ign. ad Romans 2:2, καλὸν τὸ δῦναι ἀπὸ κόσμου πρὸς θεὸν, ἵνα εἰς αὐτὸν ἀνατείλω (and passage cited on Revelation 1:10). But Revelation 22:16 (cf. Job 3:9) tells against this, as does Ign. ibid. vi. 2 (speaking of his martyrdom) ἄφετέ με καθαρὸν φῶς λαβεῖν· ἐκεῖ παραγενόμενος ἄνθρωπος ἔσομαι. The collocation of the morning star and the judicial authority over the nations may have been suggested to the prophet’s mind (cf. Revelation 2:14; Revelation 2:20) by the prophecy, read in a messianic sense, of Numbers 24:17. The sequence and the Christian spirit of the whole promise are certainly improved if we omit 27 a with Selwyn (194) and Jacoby (Neutest. Ethik, 1899, p. 446) and Wellhausen (with Revelation 2:23-28 a), since the doubled promise and the later use of the metaphor do not justify any suspicion of 28 as a gloss (so Könnecke, p. 34). But it is as likely that the author himself (cf. Revelation 17:14) added this co-operation with the vindictive messiah (cf. Revelation 12:5. Revelation 19:15), as that an early copyist was responsible for the insertion.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 2:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/revelation-2.html. 1897-1910.

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Saturday, January 25th, 2020
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