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Bible Commentaries

The Church Pulpit Commentary

Revelation 2

Verse 1

THE CHURCH IN EPHESUS

‘Unto the angel of the Church of Ephesus write.’

Revelation 2:1

Of the various Churches in the Roman province of Asia during the second half of the first century a.d., seven are selected by the author of one of the Apocalypses comprised in what we know as the Book of the Revelation to receive brief epistles containing references to their condition, and with those references such warnings, encouragement, praise, blame, as the circumstances demanded.

The Church in Ephesus is earnestly and plainly warned of the gravity of her condition. She is in peril of final rejection, notwithstanding her toil, her patience, her doctrinal fidelity. She must get back to her old level. She must remember ‘from whence she is fallen.’

Surely this epistle has its lessons for us whether as a religious community or as individuals.

I. Does it not warn us as a Church against relying too much on mere doctrinal accuracy, on formal exactitude, on conformity to traditions however venerable, for a continuance of the Divine blessing? It is so easy to persuade ourselves that the Lord is with us, because we have the threefold ministry, because the sacraments are duly administered by us, because we are in the true succession, because we are the historic Church. It is so easy—so fatally easy—to rest our confidence on such things and to forget that more is required, if we are to continue our work as a Church, to fill the position assigned to us, to be worthy of the recognition of the Ascended Son of Man. Might we not adapt the language of the epistle somewhat thus, so as to apply with suggestive force to ourselves? I know thy works, thy labours, thy history. I know that thou hast been scrupulous in ordinations and forms of service. Thine has been a great record; if there was once stagnation, there is now activity. But I have this against thee that thou art wanting in spiritual power. Beware lest thy light be quenched and thy glory lost beyond recovery.

II. And what of ourselves?—We pride ourselves on our churchmanship, on our religious privileges, on our spiritual inheritance. But what of our inner lives? What is the truth as to the personal relation in which we stand to Christ? What is the measure of our individual love for Him? How far are we willing to sacrifice ourselves in His service? How deep is the joy we find in the thought of Him, in the anticipation of one day seeing Him ‘face to face’? ‘Remember.’ Does memory speak to us in words of reproach? The past was so much better and worthier than the present. The zeal was so much keener. The prayers were so much more earnest. The Bible reading was so much more devout, we got so much more out of it. The presence at the Lord’s Supper was so much more fruitful. Once we did love Him with all our hearts and souls. But now that love has grown less earnest, less inspiring, less uplifting. Formalism has taken the place of enthusiasm; orthodoxy there is still, but not, not, the old burning spirituality. We have not lost faith; we have not broken away from the creeds; we have not cast away the habits of worship; but the bright flame of ‘the first love’—the love of years ago—has sunk low or gone out. If that be so, then what is our religious condition? Can we really think that all is right with us? Can we really suppose that we are in no sort of danger, that whatever may happen to others we at any rate will not be among the castaways? ‘Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I come to thee, and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent.’ Such is the warning!

III. There is also the promise.—‘To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.’ The tree of life! The Paradise of God! The leaves of healing! These are the figures of speech. The realities may be ours, even ours. Life for ever! Life unweakened by disease! Life unclouded by the shadow of death! Life in all its glory! Life in all its vigour and grace and beauty! The life of angels and archangels! The life of the saints! The life of the Son of Man. Such is the reward which will be God’s gift to us, if we overcome.

Rev. the Hon. W. E. Bowen.

Verse 5

REPENT!

‘Repent, and do the first works.’

Revelation 2:5

The text teaches:—

I. The inseparable moral connection between inward feeling and outward action.—Repent and do.

II. The outward aspect of humiliation and regret which the text wears for the sinner and the backslider.—‘Repent’—change your purposes and plans, and do now what you should have done years ago.

III. The inner heart of life and hope which this command bears in it for all men.—Repent! It can yet be done. There is not a more blessed thought in God’s Word. It is indeed God’s message of hope to men.

Verse 8

THE CHURCH IN SMYRNA

‘And unto the angel of the Church in Smyrna write.’

Revelation 2:8

May we not say that the Church in Smyrna finds its counterpart in individual life in those upon whom falls—apparently without adequate cause—the trial of severe suffering?

I. There are some lives which are singularly free from trouble, pain, adversity, sorrow.—The bright sunshine is upon them—not indeed always and invariably, but as a general rule. To this glad and joyous company life is full of interest and happiness, well worth the living. Their faces are not furrowed with care nor drawn with pain. They have no need to be anxious for the morrow, for their future seems to be as safe from the worst assaults of misfortune as their past has been. They do not feel the heavy oppression which comes with the sense that there is some gap which can never be filled, some loss which can never be made good, some sorrow which can never be comforted. ‘Happy souls! their praises flow’—for there have never come to them any of the bodily or mental sufferings which so often check praise, which at times appear to render it impossible, which almost forbid it as unreasonable. Perchance, now and again, they are aware of some faint whisper of foreboding, but it is scarcely heard for the loud and confident tones of actual experience.

II. But there are others!—There are those upon whom the storm has descended, whose faces are cut and bleeding with the cruel hail, who are worn and weary with the roughness and severity of life’s path. Yes, there are those to whom has come the full bitterness of bereavement; or those upon whom poverty has laid its heavy hand. If trouble has visited us—or whenever it visits us—how shall we accept it?

III. There are two main considerations which may enable us to bear with submissiveness and patience whatever Providence sends or permits Satan to send.

( a) Let us remember Who it was that—in the suggestive words of an inspired writer—‘learned obedience’—‘though He was a Son, yet learned He obedience’—‘by the things which He suffered.’ So we too may and ought to ‘grow in grace’ and in conformity to the will of our Heavenly Father by the divers pains and penalties with which we are for a while afflicted.

( b) Let us strengthen ourselves with the reflection that the trials of our individual lives, like those of the first Christians in Smyrna, have their appointed and not far-distant end. The thought of the brevity of life, which is to some full of heaviness and suggestive of dissatisfaction, is welcome and full of hope to others.

Rev. the Hon. W. E. Bowen.

Verse 12

THE CHURCH IN PERGAMOS

‘And to the angel of the Church in Pergamos write.’

Revelation 2:12

The Church in Pergamos, with its constancy and self-devotion, and yet with the canker of grave moral and doctrinal evil, is surely typical of all communities, whether religious or civil, which are to a great extent in a sound and healthy condition, but are weakened and degraded by some deep-seated disease.

I. Take our modern English civilisation as a whole.—There is so much in it that is deserving of respect and admiration. But side by side with them are features to which none of us can shut our eyes, and which are of a very different character. As long as this side of our modern civilisation continues to be so dark and awful, can we really say that things are well with us, and that we have as a nation no reason to fear the Divine verdict? Is there not a very real and grim possibility of our fatally deceiving ourselves as to our standing as a people in the sight of Him ‘from Whom no secrets are hid’? Has the Judge before Whom ‘all the nations shall be gathered’ no cause for indignation—indignation stern and fierce—when such evils and shames are left by us to go on with no adequate effort to check them? These epistles, and not least this particular epistle to the Church in Pergamos, show us clearly that great virtues are not necessarily accepted by God as a set-off against gross sins. ‘I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth’ is ever his warning to those communities in which are found crying moral scandals; and in that ‘war’ all who have tolerated them must surely be to some extent fellow-sufferers with those who have actually committed them. ‘I will make war against them.’ The words ought to rouse us to strive with all our might against our sins and vices as a people, to stir us to clear out the various plague-spots in our cities or neighbourhoods, to eradicate the foul weeds which defile our national garden. We may not, we dare not, we cannot, let these things go on. We must make unceasing war upon them. We must make war upon them or God will make war upon us. ‘The wrath of God is revealed from heaven’—writes the Apostle to the Gentiles—‘against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold down the truth in unrighteousness.’ Woe indeed to us if it be revealed against us.

II. Has not the Church in Pergamos also its counterpart in individual life?—Are not these Nicolaitans, these propagators of the iniquity of Balaam, these who taught evil and tempted into open sin, representative of the dark blots to be found in characters which are otherwise clean and pure? There are such blots—not the infirmities and frailties of the saint, but shameful illustrations of guilt—in the natures of only too many of us. ‘I have a few things against thee’ was the warning to the angel of the Pergamene Church; but those ‘few things’ were provocative of the Divine vengeance. May it not be no with ourselves, with our own souls?

III. ‘To him that overcometh.’—Yes, upon him that is victor over his sins and temptations, ‘the Giver of all good things’ bestows rewards beyond all thought. ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard’ the wondrous gifts which await those who are ‘more than conquerors’ through the strength of Him Who died and rose again.

—Rev. the Hon. W. E. Bowen.

Verse 17

THE NEW NAME

‘I … will give him a … new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.’

Revelation 2:17

Rightly to understand this passage, we may with advantage go back to the beginnings of the Jewish race. ‘Thou shalt no more be called Jacob, but Israel’ (not Supplanter, but Striver with God), said the mysterious Personage with whom Jacob had wrestled, openly and manfully, perhaps for the first time in his life. The blessing he won was the blessing of the text.

I. It told him that his God thought better of him; that for God, whatever man might say—for God, and therefore also for his own consciousness—that mean and unworthy past was gone, never more to haunt and to degrade him. And the blessing was not merely negative, repealing his base traditions; it also spoke clearly of the character of his better life. Effort, and even painful, permanently crippling effort, was the condition of his new life. He is to be called the Striver with God; for his highest honour is to have striven successfully, like one to whose life bad habits, evil associations, bloated and long-indulged appetites are clinging. Israel is the name which belonged to him; so much he won in that strange battle with a combatant willing to be overcome.

II. As Jacob by overcoming won his new name, so Christ says to all men—for whoever hath an ear is bidden to hear His message to the Churches: ‘To him that overcometh will I give … a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.’ Is this a little thing? To him that overcometh is promised the hidden manna, the morning star, to rule the nations with an iron rod, to sit down with his Master in His throne. In company with such gifts, what is it to receive a new name? So hollow, so unreal one might think it, to receive, in reward for a life of struggle, a name that is never to be divulged. But so it was not, to Jacob. It was the very turning-point of his existence. Think what multitudes of men and women must long to do better, but find themselves tied and bound in the chain of their own past. With health lost, reputation lost, purity lost, what sort of man is this to aspire to saintship? And if he aspires, plenty of people are ready to tell him how absurd it is. But Christ does not tell him so. He pardoneth and absolveth all them that truly repent and unfeignedly believe His holy gospel. And having pardoned He says, Go in My strength and you shall overcome. And when His strength in you has conquered the bad old habit, the fierce old temptation, then you shall find the effects reaching down to the very root of your being, and working a blessed revolution there. According to the old Hebrew notion, that a change of character should bring a change of name to tell of it, He offers to each man for himself a new name, a new characterisation.

III. Oh blessed thought, that Christ Himself shall see and observe in me something more really myself than my failures and disgraces; that He shall bid me put away the memory of all the haunting horrors that laugh at my desire for goodness! And this new name is a reality. Jacob is called Israel because he has really striven; it is not a compliment at all, but a fact divinely recognised.

—Bishop G. A. Chadwick.

Verse 18

THE CHURCH IN THYATIRA

‘And unto the angel of the Church in Thyatira write.’

Revelation 2:18

Of the many points in this epistle which we might make the subject-matter of thought, let us take two on which to dwell.

I. There is the deep guilt of the Thyatiran prophetess.—Her wickedness was very terrible, and our horror of it is increased by the appalling fact that it was practised under the plea of religious liberty. Can we, however, claim that modern society is wholly free from a similar tendency? The question brings us to the gates of what is indeed a ‘city of dreadful night,’ into which we need not make our way. But this much some of us may well ask ourselves as we think of the attitude of a certain section of the community towards sin of a particular class. Is there no danger of what is really grossly evil and vicious being let off with easy or even honourable names? It is so easy to plead æsthetic considerations for what is in truth little or no better than immorality. It is so plausible to give the sacred title of love to relations which are wholly dishonourable. High-sounding excuses for breaches of the marriage-vow rise so quickly to the lips. Whatever the claims of virtue and innocence which have been deserted and sinned against, can we really consider that guilt of that kind has any right to subsequent consecration by the customary service in church? Do let us be on our guard against thinking lust anything but lust, or adultery anything but adultery. Do let us avoid the euphemisms which are sometimes applied to them. Do let us remember the uncompromising verdict of Scripture on these sins.

II. There is the reference to the continuous spiritual development of those members of the Church who ‘had not this’ anti-Christian ‘teaching.’—Such development there is in the case of some—many—of us. We know well enough—we are thankful to know—as we watch not a few of the young lives about us, that they are ‘growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.’ We know that faults and frailties are being conquered, it may be slowly, it may be rapidly—but at any rate surely. We see their minds and consciences opening to a fuller realisation of the meaning of the gospel. We are sure that their hearts are being lifted up to the Lord on high. We are confident that their thoughts are being set with ever-increasing earnestness and sincerity on the things that are above. There are lives which are characterised throughout by religious and moral advance. It is true of them also that their ‘last works are more than the first.’ There are those who become less and less unworthy servants. They do the work entrusted to them; and in response God sends them further, more important, more arduous tasks—tasks which make greater demands upon their powers, their self-devotion, their faith, their resolve; so that their ministry, their usefulness, their ‘works’ increase year by year.

III. ‘He that overcometh, and he that keepeth My works unto the end.’—It is the old summons to effort and fidelity. It is accompanied by the old promise of endless reward to those who are victorious in the supreme contest. The Kingdom of Christ will at length be established in universal and unquestionable supremacy. Yes, it is coming. Day by day it is approaching nearer. It will in the end be manifested to quick and dead. We may be worthy or unworthy of it. Woe indeed to those who are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. For us also is the warning, ‘All the Churches shall know that I am He Which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto each one of you according to your works.’ For us also is the splendid promise, ‘And he that overcometh, and he that keepeth My works unto the end, to him will I give authority over the nations … and I will give him the morning star.’

—Rev. the Hon. W. E. Bowen.

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Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Revelation 2". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/revelation-2.html. 1876.