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Introduction to the Seven Epistles
Now follow the seven epistles, for which all after the three first verses has been only of an introductory and preparatory nature. The blessed Paul marks it in 1 Corinthians 14:25 as one of the most important purposes of prophecy to make manifest the secrets of the heart. Scripture declares salvation only to those who form the true church of the Lord, who live in the Spirit. But along with the promise the admonition always goes hand in hand, and always the more disposed the false seed are to appropriate to themselves what belongs only to the true. To Isaias, for example, the commission was given in the second part of his prophecies to comfort the people of God, by announcing the approaching manifestation of the Lord. But with the announcement of salvation the call to repent, and the admonition to be faithful, is constantly combined; comp. for example, Isaiah 50:1, “Thus saith the Lord, Keep ye judgment and do justice, for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed;” Isaiah 58:1, “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sin.” In the New Testament also, the proclamation of God’s judgment on the world, and his glorification of the church, goes hand in hand with urgent admonitions to the members of the latter to get themselves ready for the Lord’s coming, so that it may prove to them a blessing and not a curse. “Watch ye therefore, and pray always,” says our Lord in Luke 21:36, “that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” And Peter in his second epistle, 2 Peter 3:11, says, “Seeing that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness.” So also John, speaking of the Christian hope, declares that whoever has it, “purifies himself even as Christ is pure.” Here, John is going to show to the servants of Christ what must shortly come to pass, ch. Revelation 1:1, he is going to reveal to them the salvation that Christ has purposed to bring to his suffering church, avenging her of her enemies, and raising her from the dust to sit upon the throne of his glory. But before he is equipped by Christ for the fulfilment of this calling, which he accomplishes from the beginning of ch. 4 to the end of the book, he must prepare those committed to him for the purpose of Christ—not, as Bengel thinks, for receiving the Revelation, but for the great events of the future themselves. He must dissipate the idea, that the name of Christians forms the wall of separation between them and the world, call forth the spiritual state of things which alone can render the coming of the Lord salutary, awaken the slothful and unfaithful to repentance, admonish the faithful and diligent to a steady perseverance and continuance to the end; comp. Revelation 2:5; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 2:16; Revelation 2:25; Revelation 3:11; Revelation 3:19.
In respect to the plan of the epistles Bengel gives a series of excellent remarks, which we deem it right to communicate in his own words.” The conception of the seven epistles is throughout similar. For in each one there Isaiah , 1. A command to write to an angel of a church. 2. A glorious title of Jesus Christ. 3. An address to the angel of the church; wherein is contained (1) a testimony regarding its present mixed, or good, or bad condition; (2) an admonition to repentance or to stedfastness; (3) an announcement of what is to take place, for the most part of the coming of the Lord. 4. A promise to those that overcome, together with the awakening words, he that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.”
The address in each epistle is couched in plainer language, while in the promise Christ speaks more in a flowery style. In the address the Lord Jesus Christ speaks primarily and immediately to the churches in Asia then existing, and more especially to the angels of them; the promise speaks in the third person of those who then and also in future times should overcome.
“Of the seven angels of the seven churches there were two, those at Ephesus and Pergamos, in a mixed state, and two, those at Sardis and Laodicea, in a very corrupt one. Not only those whose state was bad, but also those with whom there was a lack, are exhorted to repent, as are likewise the followers of Jezebel at Thyatira, since she herself would not repent, and the angel there did not need for himself to repent. Two, those at Smyrna and Philadelphia, were in a very healthful condition, and on that account were not called to exercise repentance, but were only admonished to be stedfast. There is no mixed, or good, or bad state, of which we have not here a pattern, and profitable, salutary instruction provided for it. Whether one may be so dead as the angel of the church at Sardis, or may stand so well as that at Philadelphia, and the aged apostle John himself, this book is still fitted to be serviceable to him, and the Lord Jesus has something in it to say to him.
“In the seven epistles there are twelve promises. In the third, fourth, and sixth, there is a double promise, and in the fifth a threefold one, which are distinguished from each other by a special word: I will give, I will not blot out, I will confess, I will write.
In the promise for those that overcome, sometimes the enjoyment of the highest good, sometimes freedom from the greatest troubles is held forth. The one is included in the other, and when some one part of blessedness and glory is expressed, the whole is thereby to be understood (ch. Revelation 21:7). That part is particularly expressed which has reference to the virtues and deeds mentioned in the preceding address. In these promises notice is taken of various things, which are not again referred to in the Revelation, as the manna, the confession of the name, the inscribed name of the New Jerusalem, the sitting upon the throne. Some things carry a resemblance to what is afterwards found in the representations given of Christ, in particular, the secret name, ch. Revelation 19:12, the heritage of the nations, ch. Revelation 19:15, the morning star, ch. Revelation 22:16. Other things, again, occur afterwards in their own place, as the tree of life, ch. Revelation 22:2, freedom from the second death, ch. Revelation 20:6, the name in the book of life, ch. Revelation 20:12, Revelation 21:27, remaining in the temple of God, ch. Revelation 7:15, the name of God and of the Lamb on the righteous, ch. Revelation 14:1, Revelation 22:4.”
What is said of the churches in praise or blame is completed in the number three. The Refrain: “Who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches,” has ten words, divided by three and seven, and the latter again by the three and four. The seven number of the epistles is divided by the three and four. For, in the three first, the call “Who has an ear,” &c., stands before the closing promise, while in the four last it follows after the other. Then, in the four last epistles, the closing promise itself has a peculiar construction: He that overcomes I give to him. [Note: Bengel: “In the four latter promises ὁ? νικῶ?ν , as if it had the distinctive Hebr. accent, is marked with the greatest emphasis; in the three former τῶ?ͅ? νικῶ?ντι (as an equivalent for which in the second we have ὁ? νικῶ?ν without οὐ?͂?τος ) there is H closer union with the following verb.”] This division must have a quite definite ground, and has already been noticed under Revelation 1:11. Elsewhere also, in the seals, the trumpets, and the vials, the seven is divided by the four and three.
In his latter days Bengel strongly recommended to those about him the careful meditation of the apocalyptic epistles. He said, “There was scarcely any thing that was so much fitted to affect and purify us.”
Revelation 2:1. To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These things saith he who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks amid the seven golden lamps. It is not accidental that exactly in this epistle, which begins the series, predicates are attributed to Christ, which mark his unrestricted power over the seven churches, and their angels (and hence also over the church in Ephesus and its angel). These predicates, at the same time, form here the foundation of the threatening in Revelation 2:5, and of the promise in Revelation 2:7. The first is taken from ch. Revelation 1:16. The holding, however, here is stronger than the having there; the distinction between the two is plainly indicated in Revelation 2:25; Christ holds them fast, so that no one can pluck them out of his hand, whether he is minded to protect or to destroy them. The second predicate is from ch. Revelation 1:12. There Christ is in the midst of the seven golden lamps, here he walks in the midst of them The walking points to the circumstance, that the being of Christ in the midst of his church is one of continued activity, that he is everywhere at hand whether the occasion may require him to chastise or to help her. A glance at him who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks is the best antidote against a false security as well as despair.
The Epistle to the Angel of the Church in Ephesus (Ch. Revelation 2:1-7 )
The servants of Christ in the church at Ephesus, in which Paul had laboured for a longer period than at any other place, and which he afterwards committed to the charge of Timothy ( 1 Timothy 1:3), had not fully responded to the exhortation of Paul: “Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” They had displayed great zeal in contending against dangerous heretics, who had appeared among them, “the grievous wolves” of whom the apostle had forewarned them; but with this zeal, which is first of all acknowledged, they had forgotten their first love. Hence they are impressively called to repentance.
Revelation 2:2. I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them that are evil, and hast tried those who say they are apostles and are not, and hast found them liars. We have here, and in Revelation 2:3, a threefold three of acknowledgments before us, which the generous love of Jesus made to take precedence of the blame, that there might be obtained for this a more favourable ear and a more hopeful consideration. The middle three throws light upon the first and the third, and supplies a more limited application to what is there said in a general way. Accordingly, the works, the labour, the patience or stedfastness there refer to the zeal that had been shewn against false teachers. If this is not perceived, then the reproach in Revelation 2:4 of their having lost their first love, will be incomprehensible. For, where the first love has ceased, there a praiseworthy zeal in some particular line may for a considerable period easily be found, the love that still remains concentrating itself in that direction (a dead orthodoxy, however zealous, would certainly not have received such praise from the Lord); but it is in the nature of things impossible that Christian works, labour, and steadfastness generally could have been found there deserving of praise. With the cause the effect also is sure to cease. In like manner the patiently borne sufferings in Revelation 2:3 are such as were encountered in their zeal against the false teachers. In Revelation 2:6 all the praise, which in Revelation 2:2-3 had been conferred on the angel at Ephesus, is collected into the one point, that he hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans. There is great danger when the church is called by the pressure of circumstances to give special heed to some one important matter, that all her vigour shall be concentrated there; and also great danger that the accusations of conscience regarding the neglect of other things shall then be silenced by fixing the eye exclusively upon the exertions made in the one department. It was in that extremely perilous condition that the angel of the church at Ephesus now stood. And when in such a condition, if the call to repent is resisted, very soon also will all that is properly Christian in the one remaining virtue be imperilled. All one sidedness ends in the loss even of the one side itself. It is dying life only that survives in a single organ. When the other members have become cold, the heart will not continue long to beat.
The expression, “I know,” occurs seven times; “I know thy works,” four times according to the genuine text; and, according to the right division of the seven, mention is made thrice of another object of knowing, “I know thy tribulation,” Revelation 2:9, “I know where thou dwellest,” Revelation 2:13, “I know thy love,” Revelation 2:19. Regarding the works with the labour and patience as forming the first three, it is certain that here the discourse can only be of good works, or more definitely of Christian exploits against the teachers of erroneous tenets. We must not conclude from the circumstance of the expression, “I know thy works,” occurring also there, where they were only the object of blame, that works are used indifferently, and that only the divine omniscience in general is brought into view. From its connection alone with the labour and the patience the knowledge indicated respecting the works, though in itself indefinite, receives a more specific determination. The labour against the heretics did not belong to the whole community, but to those that were in office; comp. 1 Timothy 5:17,”Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.” The patience in connection with the labour and the not being able to bear the evil can only be active patience, stedfastness. In this way alone do we get rid of the otherwise troublesome repetition in Revelation 2:3. The badness of those who were evil consisted precisely in this, that they maintained they were apostles and were not, but lied. Bengel remarks on the words, “and canst not bear them that are evil,” as follows: “Many would regard the pastor as a keen and contentious man, and cry out against him as one who would not keep terms with others that were still not to be rejected. But the Lord praises him. There was in him a pure and tender regard for the truth. In his patience there was a laudable impatience. To be able, with a cold unconcern about the good, to bear those who are sunk in impurities, is not good. It is not only said, Cleave to that which is good, but also, Hate and shun that which is evil. Here one must not be indifferent.
What is meant is not a self-willed intolerance, but a just hatred against the evil, feeling the existence of such characters to be a burden. For, where there is love to God, and something of an adverse kind comes in the way, zeal will doubtless be awakened thereby.
Paul had testified beforehand, that after his departure pernicious wolves would come in, and from among themselves perverse teachers would arise; in dealing with these the angel of the church had enough to do and to suffer.”
The trying stands opposed to a superficial enthusiasm, which at once takes all for gold that glitters. It corresponds to the proving (δοκιμά?ζειν , comp. John 6:6, 2 Corinthians 13:5) in 1 John 4:1-3. These passages are throughout strongly analogous. The angel at Ephesus is here commended for having done what the apostle there enjoined his readers to do.
That the false teachers here are identical with those in Revelation 2:6 is clear, for the simple reason, that otherwise no more specific description of these would be given, which still could not be wanting, since this epistle is not destined merely for the Ephesians, but forms an integral part of the entire book, which belongs to the church at large. How little the book itself contains of definite marks for distinguishing the heretical teachers, is manifest from the vacillating to and fro and want of unanimity on the part of those who confine themselves to it. Further, Revelation 2:6 obviously points back to what had already been said in Revelation 2:2-3. What belonged as matter of praise to the angel at Ephesus is fully declared in Revelation 2:2-3; and, after the sharp reproof has been administered, the commendation is only once again resumed for the purpose of pouring balm into the wounds, and to prevent the painful sense of sin they might feel from generating a mistaken view of their excellencies. If in Revelation 2:6 a new subject had been introduced, something more particular would have been said regarding it, than simply “this thou hast.” It would rather have been, “Besides what I have already acknowledged, thou hast so and so;” in which case, however, it would have been introduced in a very unsuitable way.
A third reason is, that only when by the false teachers here we understand those who sought to bring Christianity and heathenism nearer to each other, consequently the Nicolaitans, in Revelation 2:6, do we find a proper explanation of Revelation 2:3, where the Ephesians are commended for their patience under sufferings, which befel them precisely on account of their decided resistance against every attempt to confound the boundary-lines between Christianity and heathenism. Now, whenever it is understood that the false teachers are identical with those in Revelation 2:6, not merely does this verse itself receive a more definite sense, but the epistles also to the angels in Pergamos and Thyatira afford supplementary aid, and the image of the false teachers presents itself to us in clear outline from the scattered traits, as was quite necessary, if the epistles were to answer their destination as sources of instruction and warning for all times. For in that case they behoved to provide the means for ascertaining with certainty what might afterwards arise of a similar kind. But if we indeed have here before us, not Judaizing heretics, but the same ethnicizing seducers, whom we afterwards also meet with, then it is unquestionable that in the whole seven epistles we have escaped in respect to false teaching from the territory of St Paul’s time. Paul had always to do chiefly with Judaizing heretics, the ordinary and the philosophical. That the latter in particular had exercised a considerable influence in the churches of Asia, is manifest from the epistle to the Colossians, and, as regards the church at Ephesus in particular, from the first epistle to Timothy—comp. Neander’s Apost. Zeitalter, I. p. 465, Baumgarten AEchtheit der Pastoralbr. p. 171, ss. This fact, that the power of the Jewish form of error appears as entirely broken among the Gentile churches and gone (with which it is quite compatible that Justin should have known particular Gentile Christians who could plead for the observance of the Mosaic law), presupposes that at the time when the Revelation was composed Jerusalem already lay in ruins. On the powerful influence which this must have exerted on the formation of the Christian church, Rothe has made some excellent remarks in his Anfànge der Christlichen Kirche, Th. I. p. 341, ss. “The Christian churches stood now perfectly independent. And, indeed, it was the Host High himself who had made them independent, since by the lightning-stroke of his Omnipotence he had torn asunder the sacred bond by which they had been entwined with the institutions of the Old Covenant.
Therefore now, when once the sanctuary of the Old Covenant was laid in the dust, the Jewish Christians must have been set more free from their Judaism, and felt more drawn toward their fellow Christians of the Gentiles. The divine judgment inflicted on Israel was God’s solemn rejection of Israel and their religious institutions. From that time Judaism everywhere lost its real power and importance. With the fall of the temple at Jerusalem fell also the wall of separation, which had divided the people of God from the nations of the earth, and from the nature of things the Pauline universalism must rise to the ascendant, with which at first the Jewish particularism, supported by the authority of Peter and James, had so earnestly contended.” From that period other dangers and temptations threatened the Christian church, which sprung from heathenism, and which even in Paul’s age had begun to operate, but were then only of subordinate importance (Hymenaeus and Philetus turned only some persons from the faith); the danger it threatened was chiefly in respect to the future.
In the Apocalypse the Christian church appears quite escaped from the influence of Judaism. All tendency in that direction, such as everywhere meets us in the times of Paul, has entirely ceased. The Christian church stands opposed to Judaism as the synagogue of Satan, which internally possessed no longer any power over her, and by which she was externally assailed, only that the heathens might be stirred up against her.
The apostles, who are named without any notification of the person who sent them, could only be pretended apostles of God and Christ; and a reference to the supposed sending of the church at Jerusalem would require to have been indicated, even if Judaizing heretics had been the class of persons alluded to. Bengel remarks: “So it was still the apostolic age, otherwise there could no longer have been false apostles in the field. Among the properties belonging to an apostle it was one, that he should have seen the Lord Jesus Christ. So that false apostles were persons, who not only broached false doctrine, but also set this forth with an apostolical air, as if they might have seen Christ, or perhaps falsely pretended to have done so.” But we are only led by this to conclude, that the apostolical age had not yet entirely come to an end, as the heretics still did not come forth in the name and the systematic style and form of science, like the later Gnostics, but under a pretended call to a higher mission and enlightenment; comp. John 4:1, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” That in this sense the apostleship was laid claim to by these heretics, appears from Revelation 2:20, where Jezebel, the representative of such, calls herself a prophetess. The property made so much of by Bengel did not belong to the apostle Paul, to whom these false teachers constantly appealed, as the Rationalists to Luther. He had not seen the Lord in the flesh.
Revelation 2:3. Remember, therefore, how thou hast received and heard, and keep it and repent. If thou wilt not therefore watch, I will come as a thief, and thou wilt not know at what hour I shall come on thee. Remember therefore, since the case is so bad with thee You must not merely theoretically remember what you have received, but you must lay it to heart, and seriously consider in what opposition your life has stood to the pure doctrine delivered to yon, which requires living faith and cordial love. The how refers not to the manner of receiving and hearing, but to what has been received and heard; q.d. what is the nature or tendency of what ye have received. Of the simple manner of delivery we cannot think with Vitringa, as it is not the delivery, but the receiving and hearing that is spoken of. The passages 1 Timothy 6:20, 2 Timothy 1:14, Colossians 2:6, “As therefore ye have received the Lord Jesus, so walk in him,” refer to the same subject. John appears to have had distinctly in view the passage last quoted. There, as here, it is pressed that the walk should be in unison with what had been received from Christ In regard to the keeping, comp. on Revelation 2:26.
The second therefore (which is wanting in Luther, while he has upon thee too much) joins to the exhortation, Repent: If thou, therefore, since thou so greatly needest repentance or a change of mind. There undoubtedly exists a reference to the declaration of our Lord, Matthew 24:42-43, “Watch, therefore, for ye know not at what hour your Lord comes; but know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched.” How deep an impression this word of our Lord had made upon the minds of his disciples, is manifest from the allusions made to it elsewhere, 2 Peter 3:10, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:4, where the coming of the day of the Lord as a thief in the night is described as a thing which was already quite well known to the Thessalonians. The passage before us, and that in ch. Revelation 16:15, so far come nearer to the original one than the others, as in these two the coming of the Lord himself is compared to the coming of a thief, while in the other passages it is to the coming of the day of the Lord.
Revelation 2:4. But I have against thee that thou hast left thy first love. Bengel: “I have against thee. This is thrice said in the way of exception against those, who along with their good were chargeable with shortcoming, Revelation 2:14; Revelation 2:20. We have a similar form of speech in Matthew 5:23. If we must make it up with a brother, how much more with the Lord, and that without delay.” That in the place of the first love we must not put the earlier, appears from Revelation 2:19, where the last works are set over against the first; also from 1 Timothy 5:12, and especially the original passage Jeremiah 2:2, “I remember the holiness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, thy walking after me in the wilderness, in a land not sown.” That first love we see still flourishing so long as Paul’s connection with the Ephesians lasts. Nothing in the context leads to a limitation of the love, as for example in Ephesians 1:15, Colossians 1:4, where the subject discoursed of is love to all the saints; so that we must take it in its largest compass, as at Matthew 24:12, and the more so with John, as it is one of his characteristics to combine together the love of God, the love of our neighbour, and brotherly love; comp. 1 John 4:16. That the love here is not the mere love of feeling, but active love, is clear not only from Revelation 2:5, where the first works are spoken of, but also from Revelation 2:19, where those of Thyatira are commended for that in which the Ephesians here are blamed. There the most unwearied application to active service is mentioned as the great proof of love. Still these are but the particular manifestations, and the grand point always is, that the living source actually exists within; for where this fails, the works that are done are only outwardly and seemingly good.
The misunderstanding of Revelation 2:2 could not fail to give rise to false views also of the verse before us. Thus Vitringa supposes, that in Revelation 2:2-3 the earlier state of the church was described, and here the present one. But against this is the, “Thou canst not” in Revelation 2:2, and the “Thou hast,” in Revelation 2:3; and so also in Revelation 2:6. Others, after the example of Grotius, would restrict the love to deeds of kindness toward the poor, a view that is opposed by what has been already advanced, by the fundamental passage in Jeremiah, and by a comparison of the Epistle to the Ephesians, comp. Ephesians 3:18. Also according to Revelation 2:5, the shortcoming is not of a special nature; it concerns the ground-work of Christianity. The root itself was dying away.
Revelation 2:5. Remember therefore from whence thou hast fallen, and repent and do the first works. But if not, I will come to thee (shortly), and remove thy lamp out of its place, if thou repent not. Bengel: “After a backsliding it is needful and salutary to repent,” ch. Revelation 3:3. That from which the angel had fallen, is the earlier glorious state, the engaging time of youthful love. Allusion is made, as appears, to Isaiah 14:12, “How art thou fallen from heaven, thou fine morning-star!” The shortly is wanting in several MSS., and has probably been pressed into the text from the parallel passages, Revelation 2:16, Revelation 3:11, Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:12; Revelation 22:20. The shortly is perhaps too strong here. If the lamp is removed from its place, the church vanishes from the number of the churches of Christ. The promises, which are given to the whole of Christ’s church, grant no charter to individual churches to become lukewarm and to fall away; as, notwithstanding the glorious privileges and promises of Israel, the greater part of them were cast out of the kingdom of God and given over to perdition; Matthew 21:43, comp. Revelation 22:11, where our Lord declares, that the same thing should be repeated on the Christian field. Bossuet: “If the life of the gospel goes out in some one region, it is not therefore extinguished, but is only removed elsewhere, and transferred to another people.”
Revelation 2:6. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Where there is room for reproaching any one for the want of love, it too readily happens, that he thinks he should love, where the word and spirit of God command him to hate. Therefore, the commendation given in the earlier part is here again expressly resumed. But it is well to notice, that the recognition has respect to hatred against the works of heretics. This does not exclude love to their persons, and desire for their salvation; comp. 2 Timothy 2:24-26. The more lively the hatred is against the works, the more powerfully will love prompt to do what is possible for their personal deliverance from perdition. That the subject discoursed of is not the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, but their works, is to be explained from the circumstance, that their doctrine had a practical issue and aim, viz., fleshly freedom, unrestricted liberty as to all authority and all law. It was the moral strength of Christianity at which they especially took offence. Their doctrines themselves were works, deeds, as still all antichristian errors are; and works immediately proceeded from them, such as the eating of meat offered to idols, fornication, and a heathenish mode of life. Then in the works the seductive acts of the false teachers are also comprehended, their attempts to spread their pernicious doctrines. The hatred is to be taken in its full force. Disapproval in such matters is not enough. Strong abhorrence is demanded, comp. Psalms 139:21-22, “Do not I hate, O Lord, those who hate thee, and abhor those that rise up against thee? I hate them in right earnest, they are enemies to me.” We have a commentary on the hating in 2 John 1:1, “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed; for he that biddeth him God speed, is partaker of his evil deeds.” The name of the Nicolaitans is an enigmatical one, the solution of which is given in Revelation 2:14-15. According to this the Nicolaitans are those who hold the doctrine of Balaam. The name of Balaam signifies, Destroyer of the people. [Note: The grounds for the derivation of Balaam from בָ לַ ע devouring, and עָ ם people, have been given in my work on Balaam, p. 20, ss. Against Hoffmann, who after Ewald explains the name as a formation of בָ לַ ע with a as אבים , it is enough to adduce the one consideration, that the city of the same name, 1 Chronicles 6:56, elsewhere occurs under the name of Jibleam, Joshua 17:11, Judges 1:27, 2 Kings 9:27, compounded of the fut. of בלע and עם . But proper names with עם sometimes before and sometimes after are very common; comp. Ewald, § 270, for example, Jeroboam and Jeroboam, people, rich and people increased.] As such Balaam shewed himself especially in the transaction recorded by Moses in Numbers 25, comp. with Numbers 31:16, the seduction of the Israelites through the women of Moab and Midian to licentiousness and participation in the service of idolatry. The Moabites and Midianites had directed their attack against the strong side of the relation, and had been obliged to withdraw with shame and disgrace; Balaam betrayed to them the weak side, and how cunningly his plan was devised appeared in the great success with which it was at first attended. Nicolaus signifies, conqueror of the people. The choice precisely of this name, rather than one that should have literally corresponded to Balaam, was occasioned by the name Nicolaus being one in current use among the Greeks. The point of comparison, by which the prophet was led to name false teachers of that time Nicolaitans, that is Balaamites, appears from Revelation 2:14. It was the smuggling of heathenism into the church of God to the corruption of the latter: “who taught Balak to throw a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication.” Balaam and Jezebel were the Old Testament representatives of this ungodly tendency, which revived anew in the false teachers of the time. Ch. Revelation 2:26 serves also as an explanation, “And he that overcomes, to him will I give power over the heathen,” in opposition to the power of the heathen over God’s people, which they experienced through the Balaam that had risen up anew in Greek clothing. The reasons against a historical explanation of the name of Nicolaitans, and its derivation from a sectarian of the name of Nicolaus, which led some of the ancients to think of the blameless Nicolaus in Acts 6:5, the only person of that name mentioned in New Testament history, have been considered in my treatise on Balaam already referred to. Against the opinion Isaiah , 1. The style of the Apocalypse, which constantly rises above the lower territory, and, with the quite necessary exception of the author’s own name, employs not historical, but only symbolical names. 2. The analogy of the woman Jezebel in ch. Revelation 2:20. 3. Had the leader of a party been understood, Nicolaus, the author would have spoken of him at ch. Revelation 2:15, and not of the Nicolaitans, as his name would have been the proper parallel to Balaam’s. But he seems to know nothing of a Nicolaus, but only of the Nicolaitans. So also in Revelation 2:2 he speaks not of a false apostle, but of false apostles. There is no weight in the objection, that the name stands here, where it occurs for the first time, without any explanation, and must therefore have been a common one, quite intelligible of itself to the readers of the book. It was perfectly natural that the mystical, enigmatical name should here for the first time have been used by itself, and that afterwards, in what follows, an insight should have been given into its import, for the purpose of confirming or of justifying what had already occurred to the mind of each
If we gather up the scattered particulars, we arrive at the following deliverance regarding the false prophets. The mystical names of the Nicolaitans or Baalamites, and of Jezebel, point to the heathenish origin of the heresy, as do also the fornication and the eating of flesh sacrificed to idols, in Revelation 2:14; Revelation 2:20, and the promise of the authority to rule over the heathen in Revelation 2:26. The false teachers pretended to have been favoured with higher revelations, Revelation 2:2; Revelation 2:20, and promised to bring people acquainted with profound knowledge and secrets, Revelation 2:14; Revelation 2:17, and to raise them to a glorious state, Revelation 2:28. Allusion is made to the name of the Gnostics in Revelation 2:24, and also to their antinomianism and their false, delusive show of liberty. So also to their sensuous indulgences in Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:17.
The first small kernel of these aberrations we find in the church at Corinth. They appear in a more developed form in the two epistles to Timothy. There certain heretical teachers are discoursed of,” whose perverse course is thrice described in the same words (“they have made shipwreck of faith, have erred concerning the truth, faith,” 1 Timothy 1:19-20, 1 Timothy 6:20, and 2 Timothy 2:16-18, 2 Timothy 2:25), and of whom we learn, that they professed a gnosis falsely so called, and maintained it with vain talk and insolent opposition to the apostle, so that they even pushed their heresy to blasphemous lengths, and were cast out of the church by Paul. Of the principles of their gnosis we are informed only in respect to one point, that held by Hymenaeus and Philetus as to the resurrection being past already—meaning, that it is to be understood only in a spiritualistic sense, that there is to be no resurrection but that which Christians have in their souls undergone” (Thiersch, Versuch, p. 237.) Peter and Jude in their epistles combated the error of the ungodly ( 2 Peter 2:16), who in abuse of St Paul’s doctrine turned the grace of God into lasciviousness ( 2 Peter 3:16), promised freedom, while they themselves were still the servants of corruption (Jude Revelation 2:4, 2 Peter 2:19), walked after the flesh, and thought themselves raised above all constituted authorities, as well as delivered from the law, nay even denied the Lord Jesus Christ himself ( 2 Peter 2:10, Jude Revelation 2:4).
The identity of the false teachers, whom John contends against in his epistles, and the Nicolaitans, cannot be mistaken. There also every trace fails of any reference to Judaizing errors; the power that was imperilling Christianity was heathenism veiling itself in a Christian dress. The conclusion of the first epistle, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols,” serves as a sort of key. There, too, an entire abandonment of the Christian basis and principles is in question, 1 John 2:19; while the false theories that were propagated carried along with them a bad practice, a walking in the lusts of the flesh; comp. in regard to the intimate connection between the two especially, 2 John 1:6-7. Fleshly indulgence is common to the Apocalypse with the epistles. In a theoretical respect there is a distinction so far, that the denial combated in the epistles of the reality of Christ’s life, work and sufferings, is not noticed here. That heresy, however, stands in the closest connection with the antinomianism, which is here also brought into view. The common root of both was the disposition to set one’s self free from a power that should control the life, in order to indulge the flesh and walk after its carnal lusts. With this view the law was decried as a Pharisaical yoke, comp. Revelation 2:24, and Christ changed into a shadow. It is worthy of remark, in unison with ch. Revelation 2:24 here, how extremely common is the use of γινώ?σκω in the epistles, in opposition to the Gnostics, who had it constantly in their lips. In contrast to their false gnosis John puts the true, comp. 1 John 2:4; 1 John 3:6.
Revelation 2:7. He that has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches: he that overcomes, to him will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God. Bengel: “There is a remarkable difference between the address and the promise. The address has immediate respect to the seven churches in Asia and their angels, and consequently also to all churches and pastors, who might be similarly circumstanced with them in good and evil, in all times and places; the promise, on the other hand, is given forth to all spiritual conquerors, though not excluding such in Asia.” In this promise, as the close of the epistle, the churches must be reminded, that they came into consideration only as a part of the whole, that they were but churches, and must not imagine themselves to be the church, notwithstanding that the last of the apostles stood in a peculiar relation to them.
The words, “He that has an ear let him hear,” form a striking point of connection between the Apocalypse and the three first gospels, more especially the first of the three. There, in the discourses of our Lord, who also speaks here, the words” He that has an ear to hear let him hear,” and” He that reads let him understand” (comp. also the quite corresponding expression, “He that can hold, let him hold,” in Matthew 19:12), are not a mere call to attention, but they also intimate, that to the apprehension of what had been delivered, more was necessary than the outward ear; it was a demand for the deeper spiritual understanding (see the proof in my Beiträge I. p. 261.) In this sense the call here stands very suitably in connection with promises made to the church, which were in themselves mysterious, and required a spiritual exposition.
In place of the ears in Matthew 11:15, Matthew 13:9, Matthew 13:43, we have here, and again in ch. Revelation 13:9, the ear. The spiritual sense of the mind can be denoted by the singular, because it is only one, and by the plural, because of the corresponding bodily organ. And in repetitions of this sort such a change is perhaps occasionally introduced to show, that the appropriation of the language is fresh and independent.
That the expression, “What the Spirit says,” is as much as, what I through the Spirit say to you, is clear from this, that in what follows the address is spoken from the person of Christ: I will give; and then: which is in the paradise of my God. (The omission of the my in some critical helps, which Luther follows, arose from people considering the address of Christ and of the Spirit as standing in contrast). John was in the Spirit, ch. Revelation 1:9, and only through the medium of the Spirit could Christ after his departure communicate himself, and his admonitions and promises. In the Gospel of John” the Spirit is promised as a new principle, which was to go between Jesus and the church” (Köstlin, p. 198.) The Lord had spoken of the Holy Spirit to his disciples as of one that should teach them all things, John 14:26.
Of the victory John speaks very frequently in his Gospel, his Epistles, and the Apocalypse. The victory must be won against all opponents, of whom there are many, and in particular against the Nicolaitans, whose desire of sensual enjoyment is met by the promise of eating spiritual, heavenly food. The angel of Ephesus still wanted a good deal to obtain the true victory over these. The victory hitherto won was in good part only an apparent one, since it was purchased with the heavy loss of the first love. By the construction: “he that overcomes, to him,” the overcoming being detached from any immediate connection with the following words, comes prominently out, and appears as an indispensable condition to participation in the promise. Bengel: “A Christian must overcome as Jesus Christ has overcome, ch. Revelation 3:21, Revelation 5:5. He that overcomes is found in all the seven epistles, and afterwards is only repeated once, ch. Revelation 21:7.” The prosaic expression for, “I will give him to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God,” we have in 1 John 2:25, “And this is the promise, which he has given us, eternal life.” For, that here a participation in eternal life, eternal blessedness, eternal salvation is what is promised, is evident alone from the analogy of the other promises. The figurative expression alludes to Genesis 2:9, Genesis 3:22, according to which in the primeval world the tree of life stood in the midst of paradise, the fruit of which was designed to secure to man the possession of eternal life, if he continued faithful to God. “The first thing promised,” says Bengel, “in the seven epistles, is the last and highest in the fulfilment, ch. Revelation 22:2; Revelation 22:14; Revelation 22:19.” No precise locality is denoted by the paradise. According to ch. 22 the tree of life belongs to the glorified earth. In ch. Revelation 7:17 it is already said of the provisional heavenly blessedness of the elect, “And he will lead them to fountains of waters of life.” According to Ezekiel 47:6 ss. (where on both sides of a stream of life many trees grew, which bore their fruit every month, and the fruit of which served for food, and their leaves for medicine), and according to ch. 22 the tree of life is inseparable from the waters of life. We everywhere find the image of the earthly paradise, where the blessedness is spoken of that belongs to the elect of God when actually enjoyed by them. Three times mention is made of paradise in the New Testament, Luke 23:43, 2 Corinthians 12:4, and here. “Of my God,” says Jesus Christ here and in ch. Revelation 3:2; Revelation 3:12, but elsewhere he calls him in these promises his Father. Both are a very glorious designation, John 20:17.” Bengel.
Revelation 2:8. And to the angel of the church at Smyrna write: These things saith the first and the last, he that was dead and is alive again. The predicates which are attributed to Christ, are from ch. Revelation 1:18. They bear altogether a consolatory character. If Christ is the first and the last, then shall his true people also at last conquer with him, triumph and reign; and they must not suffer themselves to be cast down, if they are now for a little season depressed. He has been dead and has again risen to life; therefore his people must not shun to be faithful even unto death. And since he has risen from the dead, and because he has done so, death can only be for them also a transition to life. Bengel: “Christ was the life before his death, therefore death could inflict but a short sting in him; his power of life was not thereby in the least injured; but when he was put to death after the flesh, the hidden power of the Spirit from the moment of his death broke forth with the more freedom, as if it had reached the heavens.” It is in a high degree probable, that by the time this epistle was written, Polycarp stood at the head of the church in Smyrna. On that supposition the whole character of the epistle readily explains itself. The objections to this rest merely upon the false idea, that the Apocalypse was composed under Galba instead of under Domitian. The martyrdom of Polycarp took place under Marcus Aurelius Verus, about the year 168. He had served Christ eighty and six years, as he himself says in Eusebius IV. 15. If the Apocalypse was written about the year 96, there would remain a number of years from his conversion to his entrance on office. Polycarp, the Joshua of John, must from his whole character have lived a considerable period with him, and in the closest fellowship. Irenaeus in Euseb. Revelation 2:20 relates, that he had in his youth learned from Polycarp, what he was wont to “communicate of his familiar intercourse with John and those who had seen the Lord; how also he used to relate their discourses, and what he had heard of them concerning the Lord.” Eusebius says in B. III. c. 36, “About this time (under Trajan, therefore somewhere about the time of the composition of the Apocalypse) flourished in Asia Polycarp, a scholar of the apostles, who received the episcopate of the church at Smyrna, from the servants and eye-witnesses of the Lord himself.” About the year 108 he was found by Ignatius bishop of Smyrna. The account of the church of Smyrna respecting his martyrdom also styles him “an apostolical teacher.” According to Iranaeus in Euseb. IV. 14, “Polycarp had not merely been instructed by the apostles, and enjoyed familiar intercourse with many who had seen Christ, but had also been appointed bishop by the apostles of the church at Smyrna in Asia.” “We saw him,” says Irenaeus, “when we still were very young. For he lived very long, and ended his life in an extreme age by a glorious and splendid martyrdom, after having continually taught what he had learned from the apostles.” Tertullian expressly testifies that Polycarp was settled by John as bishop of Smyrna (De Praesc. haeret. c. 32), and the others must have had the same apostle more especially in their eye, when they speak of the apostles. So also Jerome (catal. scrip. Eccles.)
The Epistle to the Angel of the Church in Smyrna (Ch. Revelation 2:8-11 )
Bengel: “The angel of the church at Smyrna was in a good state. No such great things, indeed, are recorded of him as of that at Ephesus; but still the angel at Ephesus, with all that was spoken in his commendation, had to repent, while the angel at Smyrna, though such great things are not said of him, is yet spared the call to repent. It is only said to him, Fear not, be faithful. Nothing even is mentioned about great works, but only about fidelity.”
Revelation 2:9. I know thy tribulation and thy poverty (but thou art rich), and the blasphemy of those, who say they are Jews and are not, but are of the school of Satan. Luther has: I know thy works and thy tribulation, etc. But the words: I know thy works and have certainly arisen from the efforts of the copyists to produce uniformity. They are wanting in the best manuscripts, and internal reasons also concur in strengthening the external ones. Works do not suit here. For they could only be mentioned if good or bad works had been found in the context, to give a definite meaning to the term. But there the discourse is only of sufferings. Farther, the number three, on which what follows the “I know” always completes itself, would thereby be destroyed. Bengel: “The description given respecting this angel is only of what he suffered, not of what he did. Suffering tends much to purify, and it had been experienced by this angel of various kinds: he had suffered tribulation from Jews and heathens, and also poverty. But thou art rich, says the Lord, namely, in heavenly treasures. The pastor would not think highly of himself because he was described in such glowing terms, but the Lord used such language respecting him, because in his humility he could bear it.” That the poverty (to this sense of the word we must adhere for the sake of the contrast with riches) must bear respect to the persecutions suffered for the cause of Christ is clear from the circumstance, that it stands between the tribulation and the blasphemy. Now several consider the poverty as arising out of the persecution—comp. Hebrews 10:34. But in that case the word spoiling would rather have been used. James 2:5-7 serves as a commentary, “Has not God chosen the poor of this world, rich in faith? Do not the rich oppress you, and draw you before the judgment-seats? Do not they blaspheme that worthy name by the which ye are called?” We can scarcely doubt that allusion is made to this passage. It has in common with the one before us, poverty, riches in God, blasphemy. Now, according to it, poverty comes into consideration in so far as it rendered the Christians helpless and oppressed. The Jews brought against the Christians false accusations before the heathen then magistrates (blasphemy), and as they had ample pecuniary means ready to support their accusations against the Christians (poverty), the Christians were thrown into great straits, were in a state of oppression corresponding in James to the drawing before the judgment-seats. The riches, which the angel possessed in the midst of his poverty, refers to riches in heavenly goods and rewards, treasures in heaven, Matthew 6:20, Matthew 19:21, comp. Luke 12:21, which in due time would be conferred on him. This is manifest from James 2:5, where the persecuted poor are spoken of as “heirs of the kingdom, which God has promised to those that love him.” Allusion is made, as appears, to the name Polycarp was rich in fruits; comp. the remarks on the name Antipas in ch. Revelation 2:13. With the blasphemy the Jewish adversaries must be content; the persecution could only come from the heathen. Even at the martyrdom of Polycarp the Jews inflamed the malice of the heathens, Euseb. IV. 15), and sought to prevent his corpse from being given to the Christians. The Jews were proud of their name, Jews and children of the kingdom, members of the Lord’s flock, Numbers 31:16, were all one in their account. In this sense there was a pretension in the name they took to themselves. There were no other real Jews than such as possessed the true and internal marks of fellowship in the kingdom of God; and these were no other than true Christians; comp. Romans 2:28-29, Romans 9:6.
The school of Satan (properly, community, synagogue, what in James 2:2 is used of the society of Christians, acquired on account of the passage before us a bad secondary meaning; people were accustomed to place the synagogue of the Jews in opposition to the church of the Christians), was an epithet applied to the Jews on account of their hatred to the true church. Satan appears in this book pre-eminently as the persecutor of the righteous, according to the character which he acquired even in the most ancient times, since he instigated wicked Cain to murder righteous Abel, John 8:44. This is certainly to be regarded as the fundamental passage.
Revelation 2:10. Fear not what thou wilt suffer. Behold the devil will cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried, and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. “As foreseen evils hurt and terrify less, it is a proof of our Lord’s fidelity that he shews the rod before the smiting took place, Luke 9:23, John 16:1, John 16:33.” The announcement of the suffering suggests a twofold source of consolation—first, the persecution will be shortened, and then those who suffer in it will attain to blessedness. It is in itself of general import: times of persecution are always followed by times of revival; God’s protecting hand, which defends the church, makes itself known by causing the persecution always to come by fits and starts. What would have become of the church, if all the persecutions of heathen Home had followed one another in immediate succession? And to those who are faithful unto death, God in every age gives the crown of life. But that this general truth should have been applied precisely to the angel of the church in Smyrna, in this certainly lies an indication of the particular fate that awaited him, or rather the man who formed the soul of those who bore rule in that community. Polycarp was faithful even to the death, and was therefore “crowned with the crown of martyrdom,” as was said in the church’s report of his martyrdom, doubtless with allusion to what was written here. And with his death the ten days’ persecution came to an end: the report says, that Polycarp had by his martyrdom, as it were, given the seal to the persecution, and finished it (Euseb. IV. 15.)
In the preceding verse Satan was the subject of discourse; here the author of the persecution is called the devil, διά?βολος , properly the Calumniator. Züllig: “This adversary was quite properly called a calumniator by the LXX. in reference to the part he acted in the book of Job, and Zechariah 3. In the relation of the Jewish adversaries of Jesus towards his followers, the designation of Satanism (antagonism), as a calumniating, diabolical one, was the more suitable, as their malice could only vent itself in calumniating their opponents before the heathen magistrates.” Also in ch. Revelation 12:9-10, where Satan and the devil are likewise connected together, respect is had to the internal difference of the two names. If we understand here by the devil the calumniator, a closer connection will be found to exist between this verse and the preceding one, where the blasphemies or venomous slanders of the synagogue of Satan are spoken of. In a series of passages, Justin, in his conversations with Tryphon, describes the Jews as the chief authors of the calumnies against the Christians, which in his time were still current. “How little,” remarks Hoffmann justly, “this would suit the time when the Jewish war made the whole Jewish people be suspected of a rebellious disposition, is self-evident;” and the Apocalypse must have been composed during that war, if it belonged, according to the modern supposition, to the reign of Galba.—“Trial,” says Bengel, “is on the devil’s part of an evil and dangerous nature; but on the part of the Lord it is good and salutary. An old, well-tried warrior is worth far more than one who is new-fledged and without experience.”
Ten days, among short periods a long one; comp. 1 Samuel 25:38, Daniel 1:12, Genesis 24:55, where the ten days are beyond doubt, as here also, used as a round period. There is an indication of shortness in the employment of days, and a certain length also in the shortness, neither very great nor very small, in coupling with the days, not an unit or an hundred, but a ten.
By the death we are to understand from the connection a violent one. The till has respect, not to the continuance, but to the high degree of the required fidelity. The angel must follow the example of Christ, who, according to Php_2:8 , was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross; comp. ch. Revelation 12:11.
The crown, is here, as in ch. Revelation 4:4, Revelation 6:2, Revelation 9:7, Revelation 14:14, not the crown of victory, but the badge of royal dignity. We are not on this account, however, to suppose with Züllig, that the subject of discourse is the kingdom of the conqueror. The kingly crown here is brought into view rather as something of a very rich and glorious nature—“the crown of life,” as much as, life, eternal blessedness; comp. on the idea of life at Revelation 7:17, which is so glorious a possession, that the splendour of all kings’ crowns pales before it. So, as the image of the glorious the crown is not unfrequently used in the Old Testament; for example, in Isaiah 62:3, “And thou art a glorious crown in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of thy God;” Isaiah 28:3, where the crown of Ephraim is but another name for his glory. [Note: Gesenius Thes. s v. עטרת : coronae autem imagine designatur quidquid alicui ornamento est et dignitati, Job 19:9, coronam detraxit de capite meo, Proverbs 12:4; Proverbs 14:34, etc.] Death is not to be feared, where it is the passage to a glorious life. In a wonderful manner does the Apocalypse here discover itself as the closing book of the New Testament. It makes allusion to the declarations of Paul, Peter, and James, in which a crown of glory is promised as a reward to faithfulness. Paul speaks of “a crown of righteousness, which the Lord will give to him, and to all those who love his appearing,” 2 Timothy 4:8; and Peter comforts faithful elders with the incorruptible crown of glory, which they shall receive, at the time of the good Shepherd’s appearance, 1 Peter 5:4. James speaks of God ( James 1:12) as having promised the crown of life to those who love him. John here had specially in his eye this passage of James: “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those that love him.” For here also a preceding temptation is spoken of, and the expression, the crown of life, is common to the two passages, and to these only. In Revelation 2:9 an undoubted allusion is again made to the epistle of James and the one reference confirms the other. There is never any reason for thinking of the crown of victory, unless perhaps in 1 Corinthians 9:25. In Peter nothing is said in the context of the conflict and the crown. Images from heathen life (and such an one is the crown of victory), must not be resorted to without necessity, least of all in the Apocalypse, which clings so fast to holy ground. [Note: The anthor would be quite an alius a se ipso, if Ewald’s supposition were right: Inprimis hic respicitur ad ludos Olympicos, ab Hercule institutos, in quibus victores publice donati sunt coruona.]
Revelation 2:11. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches: He that overcomes, shall not be hurt by the second death. He that overcomes, not only obtains a glorious good, but he also escapes a dreadful evil. Let him ponder well, when a choice is set before him between the bodily death, as it is usually called, and the second death, or eternal damnation, which they have to expect who are not faithful unto death. Matthew 10:28, “Fear not those who kill the body,” etc. coincides in thought. The second death is explained in ch. Revelation 20:14, Revelation 21:8, by the lake of fire, hell. The expression is confined in Scripture to this book, in which it occurs four times. But before John’s time it was not unusual in Jewish theology. [Note: Vitringa: It doubtless arose in the school of the holy men, who after the return from Babylon explained the faith and the hopes of the church. It is in frequent use in the Chald. Paraphrase of the books of the Old Testament: for example, Deuteronomy 33:6, Vivat Buben, et ne moriutur morte secunda.] Our Lord frequently uses for the same thing the word Gehenna, Matthew 5:29-30, Matthew 10:28, Luke 12:5.
Revelation 2:12. And to the angel of the church at Pergamos write: These things saith he who has the sharp two-edged sword. The sharp two-edged sword is from ch. Revelation 1:16. “The sharpness,” says Bengel, “of this slaughter weapon must be experienced by the impenitent, Revelation 2:16, Revelation 19:21. The angel at Pergamos had, according to the tenor of his future conduct, either to be afraid of this sword on account of his people, or to comfort himself regarding it as assuring him of victory over the enemies.” The first aspect is expressly indicated in Revelation 2:16.
The Epistle to the Angel of the Church in Pergamos (Ch. Revelation 2:12-17 )
Züllig: “More praise than blame; only a little not quite as it should be. The church is characterised as faithful, amid the difficult relations in which it lived. However, there was there also the mischief of the Balaamites, in regard to which a warning is addressed to it and a threatening appended.”
Revelation 2:13. I know where thou dwellest, where Satan s throne is, and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in the days, in which Antipas (was) my faithful witness, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. Copyists bent on uniformity have here also shoved in “thy works and,” after “I know.” Besides the external grounds, there are also internal ones against the insertion. For what immediately follows is no work, and the threefoldness of the points noticed is made up without it. There can be no doubt that Pergamos is called the throne of Satan from being a principal seat of persecution against the Christians, or rather the principal seat in Asia. For, in Revelation 2:10, Satan had also been mentioned as the author of persecution, and in a similar respect the throne of Satan is brought into notice in ch. Revelation 13:2. But how the persecuting malice should have concentrated itself exactly in Pergamos, cannot with certainty be determined. The circumstance of its being the seat of a higher court of judicature has been thought of as a reason. [Note: Pliny, H. N. L. v.c. 33: Longeque clarissimum Asiae Pergamum.
Pergamena vocatur ejus tractus jurisdictio. Ad eam conveniunt Thyatireni, Mygdones, Mosyni, etc., aliaeque in honorae civitates. Comp. Strabo, L. xiii. p. 623: “Ἐ?́?χει δέ? τινα ἠ?γεμονί?αν πρὸ?ς τό?πους τού?τους τὸ? Πέ?ργαμον , ἐ?πιφανὴ?ς πό?λις καὶ? πολὺ?ν συνευτυχή?σασα χρονον τοῖ?ς Ἀ?τταλικοῖ?ς βασιλεῦ?σι .”] But this is not a sufficient reason, as the other leading cities of Asia had such courts also. It has been supposed that Pergamos was inordinately devoted to the service of idolatry above all cities in Asia. But there is no proof of this, though Pergamos is known to have had a famous temple to AEsculapius. The reason is most probably to be sought in individual persons, who were peculiarly animated by heathenish fanaticism, as the reason also of the internal differences that subsisted among the churches of Asia is to be sought in the existence, or the absence of leading persons more fully penetrated by the Spirit of Christ. The faith of Christ not unfrequently stands for faith in Christ, comp. Ephesians 3:12. We must not expound: True and faith toward me. For πί?στις , as fidelity, never occurs in the New Testament, and the expression, “Thou hast not denied my name,” in ch. Revelation 3:8, corresponds. After: in which Antipas, my faithful witness, is simply to be supplied: proved himself to be such, delivered his testimony. In this Hebraistic abbreviation (a similar one occurs, for example in Genesis 14:1-2), many copyists have lost themselves; and hence, they have either left out, “in which,” or, “who.” Luther adopts the latter reading: even in the days, in which Antipas my faithful witness was slain by you. Bengel remarks on the expression, “even in the days,” “the great trial is sometimes experienced both in the evil and the good. He who despises, as Esau did with his birth-right, is in danger of suffering an irreparable injury; he who walks uprightly, as Abraham did in the offering up of Isaac, as Phinehas with his spear, as Joshua and Caleb, to him will it be reckoned for a perpetual blessing. In this manner a preceding valorous conduct is placed to the account of the angel of this church. Dear reader, when special circumstances befal you, consider well with yourself. In peaceful times it is easy to confess the name of Christ; but it is another thing in times that endanger the very life, and where a hard conflict has to be maintained, to deny not Christ but one’s self.”
According to the common opinion, Antipas is the proper name of a man who suffered death in the persecution of the time. But there are strong reasons for deciding otherwise. All other names in the Apocalypse are of a symbolical character. No historical Antipas is to be found, unless the name is to be regarded as such here. We find in the epistles the symbolical names of the Nicolaitans and of Jezebel. Farther, in a period of general bloody persecution, only such a person could be specially noticed as occupied an important position in the church—one who enjoyed an apostolical, or almost apostolical dignity. But it must appear extraordinary that no mention is made in history of an Antipas. For that the notices which we possess regarding him of very late origin, are pure inventions, is as clear as day. Tertullian adv. Gnos. c. 12, drew his knowledge of Antipas merely from this passage. There has been no want of expositors, who have viewed the name as a symbolical one. Saskerides, an expositor of the Reformed church, explains it as meaning one who is against all. There can be no doubt of the justness of this derivation. Antipas is formed precisely as Antichrist, and probably in imitation of it. A commentary on the Antipas, as similar to Antikosmos, is given by Jeremiah 20:10, Jeremiah 15:10, “Ah! my mother, that thou hast borne me, a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole land.” If we have been followed thus far, it will not be reckoned too bold if we should hazard the supposition, that Timothy was the person here designated Antipas. The two names “Fear God,” and “Against all,” are closely connected with each other. One cannot truly fear God without standing forth against the world, which lies in wickedness, and having it also standing against us—comp. James 4:4, Acts 4:19, Acts 5:29. Elsewhere also in the New Testament we find stress laid on the name, as in Acts 4:36, and particularly in John’s Gospel, John 9:7. He puts his own name also in connection with the love of Jesus toward him, John 13:23. Allusion is probably made here in ch. Revelation 2:9 to the name of Polycarp; and in ch. Revelation 3:1 a similar allusion to the name has with great probability been supposed to be made. The martyrdom of Timothy (comp. Tillemont mem. II. 1, p. 266), places his death in the year 97, when John was still at Patmos, and represents it as following on an affair, in which he truly showed the spirit of an Antipas: on a public solemnity he must set himself in strenuous opposition to heathenish disorder. The circumstance of the scene being transferred to Ephesus, is easily explained from the influence of the New Testament reports. It is not improbable that Timothy, when John took up his abode at Ephesus, removed to one of the two other chief cities in Asia, in order there to undertake the immediate oversight of the church, as being both important in itself and endangered by the prevalence of false teachers.
Revelation 2:14. But I have a little against thee, that thou hast there those that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught for Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things offered to idols and to commit fornication. Bengel: “By this it is indicated, that if the angel of the church had done his part, the vexatious Balaamites would either not have come up, or would have been again put down. Oh! if a pastor in the present day considers what sort of people he has to do with, he must be appalled!” The blame is represented as a little thing. It shows that the angel himself was pure and free from any participation in the dangerous heresies, only that his resistance of these should have been more energetic. Such a representation could not have been given of the angel of the church at Ephesus; he had himself fallen from his first love. Instead of, for Balak, Luther has, through Balak, following an incorrect reading: ἐ?ν τῶ?ͅ? Βαλά?κ . It properly means, who taught to Balak. According to the common opinion, this must be a Hebraistic expression for Balak. But in Revelation 2:20 we find the verb to teach construed quite regularly with the accusative; and this is done also in the Hebrew with the solitary exception of Job 21:22. We must rather suppose, that to “Balak” is as much as, in the interest of Balak, or for pleasing Balak. Bengel even in his day drew attention to the fact, that this Dativus commodi occurs very often in the history of Balaam: curse to me this people, etc. The history is quite silent about Balaam’s teaching Balak. It is said in Numbers 31:16, as a reason why Moses reproved the army sent forth against the Midianite host for neglect of duty in sparing the women, “Lo, it was these, who at the word of Balaam taught the children of Israel unfaithfulness toward the Lord in the matter of Peor, and judgment came forth upon the congregation of the Lord.” It was, therefore, the women whom Balaam taught. Here it is not expressly said, whom he taught, but there is to be supplied from the connection: Balak’s people. According to Numbers 24:25, indeed, Balaam no more met with Balak—see my work on Balaam. The last look of Balaam was directed toward Balak; expecting to obtain from him the reward, when the stratagem succeeded. But he did not venture to apply directly to him. The charge here undoubtedly has respect to existing relations. As remarked by Bengel, “The Balaamites at Pergamos also courted the favour of heathens in high rank.” The same trait, which appears in these false teachers, of seeking to win the favour of ethnicizing heathens (as indeed the breaking down of the limits between the church and the world is in all ages the consequence of such designs), discovers itself even in the epistles of Peter and Jude. In 2 Peter 2:15, it is said, “They follow after the way of Balaam, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.” And in Jude Jude 1:16, “Their mouth speaks proud words, and they have respect of persons for the sake of profit.” To cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, was to employ a temptation by which they might be made to fall, or be brought to destruction; comp. Isaiah 8:15. In reference to the expressions of “eating things offered to idols and committing fornication,” Herder remarks: “the temptation they occasioned did not consist in a literal eating of things offered to idols but licentiousness; for this is only a symbol drawn from the history of Balaam. In whatever manner they caused stumbling and defiled the sanctuary with heathenish pollutions, they were Balaamites; that is, they were seducers, idolators, whoremongers.” But this is only so far right, as among the different kinds of participation in heathenish ways those are here brought specially into notice, which made their appearance even in primitive times. It admits of historical proof, that these very forms of corruption were currently practised by the heretics, whom John has in view, nay that with such they occupied the foreground. To eat things offered to idols or not to eat them, was even in St Paul’s time the Shibboleth between the lax and the stricter party at Corinth (1 Corinthians 10). At that time, those who ate stood upon the ground of being permitted to do so, from the insight they had obtained into the nothingness of idolatry, and from their Christian liberty. But at a later period, the eating of such offerings was defended by the Gnostics, on the ground of that free and mighty spirit they possessed, which nothing could defile, which might handle and taste every thing, nay must do so, in order to give proof of its invincible power; and on the ground also of a false spiritualism, which held everything corporeal to be indifferent. The Jew Trypho in Justin throws it out as a reproach against the Christians, that many of them ate things offered to idols, under the pretext that it did them no harm (Dial. Tryp. 35). Justin’s reply is, that they who did so, Marcianites, Valentinianians, &c., were only Christian in name, and had no proper connection with Christ and his church. The latter, therefore, could not be answerable for what they did. In Eusebius IV. 7 it is stated, as matter of reproach against Basilides, that he had taught it was an indifferent action, if in times of persecution one should taste what had been offered to idols, or had unwarily abjured the faith. And that the Gnostics did not stand even at this, that without any plea of necessity they participated in the heathen festivals and idol offerings, is clear from Irenaeus I. 6, “They eat without hesitation the idol-offerings, because they do not reckon themselves to be thereby defiled. And at every festive diversion of the heathen, which they observe in honour of their gods, they are the first to assemble.” Fornication also appears in the resolution of the council at Jerusalem ( Acts 15:20), in connection with the idolatrous feasts, as something which the Christians might easily be supposed to fall into from their contact with heathenism. From the licentious character of the heathen festivals it went hand in hand with the eating of things offered to idols. Irenaeus, in the passage already referred to, reproaches the Gnostics, after having mentioned their eating of what was offered to idols, with giving full satisfaction to the lusts of the flesh, and proceeds to speak of their licentiousness. According to Eusebius, B. IV. c. 7, those who went farthest even taught “that the basest deeds should be perpetrated by those who would attain to a perfect insight into their secret doctrine.” “Those people availed themselves of the wicked spirit as a helper, in order to make such as were deceived by him the miserable slaves of corruption; whilst to the unbelieving heathen they gave great occasion to slander the true religion, as the ill report proceeding from, them imparted a bad odour to Christianity at large.”
Revelation 2:15. So hast thou also those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans likewise. The sense is, So and in like manner as Balaam formerly taught and his disciples found, hast thou also those who hold fast by the doctrine of the Balaamites of the present time. The likewise (which many copyists did not understand, and hence out of ὁ?μοί?ως made ὁ? μισῶ? ; Luther: which I hate, as for a similar reason some expositors would connect it with the following verse), corresponds to the so, and it is added for the purpose of rendering prominent the abnormal, the surprising and frightful nature of the fact, that now again an evil should have become rife, which had formerly and for all times been so decisively marked with the divine judgment. According to some expositors the angel must here be reproved for having, beside the Balaamites, a second class of heretics, the Nicolaitans, in his church. They explain so, by just as well as the Balaamites, and thou hast also, by not less than the angel at Ephesus. But this exposition is on every account untenable. What sort of writing would it be: So (as the Balaamites) hast thou also (as the angel at Ephesus), and then again the likewise, which must refer back to the Balaamites! The so and the likewise would be a mere Pleonasm, if the Balaamites and the Nicolaitans were different. The reference of the also to the angel at Ephesus is inadmissible. For not to mention, that the epistle to the angel of the church at Smyrna comes between, the angel at Ephesus had no Nicolaitans, but had driven them out of his community, and nothing more remained for him to do in this respect, he is charged with no blame, nor is any call addressed to him to repent. According to the view in question, we should know only the doctrine of the Balaamites, only the name of the Nicolaitans, which cannot possibly be supposed. The next verse too decides against it. The with them, there shews, that in Revelation 2:14-15 it must be the same enemies of the truth that are spoken of. For, it would be quite unsuitable to have two different parties abruptly thrown together, and one of them thrown out again. The sword mentioned there has reference to the fate of Balaam, and loses its significance if the intervening Nicolaitans are different from the Balaamites: the Balaamite doom shall follow the Balaamite guilt. So that it is quite plain, from the whole passage, that the Nicolaitans are those who hold by the doctrine of Balaam, and consequently that we are right in the explanation we formerly gave of the name.
Revelation 2:16. Repent, therefore; but if not, I will come to thee quickly, and will fight with them by the sword of my mouth. The therefore, which rests on the best authorities (comp. Revelation 2:5, Revelation 3:3; Revelation 3:19), is omitted by Luther. The quickly Bengel would remove without sufficient external proof, perhaps, in favour of a pre-established opinion. He says also, “If men, especially pastors, rebuke the evil, the Lord Jesus will spare them, so as not to visit them with rebuke; but if they are careless and negligent, he will come the more sharply against them.” If the angel listening to the admonition exercised repentance, and showed greater zeal, many of the heretics, or, at least, of those who had been deceived by them, would still be delivered. But in that case the Lord would not have come to him, so as to have rendered the appearance, which was intended for the properly guilty party, a subject of terror also to him. Bengel: “Neither here nor elsewhere does the Lord add what he would himself do to the angel of the church. But the conflict with the Balaamites would bring punishment to him also.” Till now the angel could not say with Paul, “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men” ( Acts 20:26); and so he must tremble, when he thought of Ezekiel 3:17, ss., to which Paul alludes, at the words: I will fight with them. If he did his duty, the backsliders would either be reclaimed to the truth, or they would be expelled from the church. The expression: “I come to thee quickly, and will fight with them,” to one not acquainted with the language of Scripture, might seem to indicate a visible appearance of the Lord, and a palpable execution of judgment by him. But the Lord often, and indeed usually, exercises his power secretly; and it is the method of Scripture to designate by such strong expressions even, that concealed action, in order to rouse fleshly security out of its indolent slumber.
The fighting with the sword of the Lord’s mouth, as we have said, refers to the history of Balaam. “Like sin, like punishment.” In Numbers 31:8, it is said, “And the kings of Midian they slew upon their dead, Evi, etc., the five kings of Midian; and Balaam, the son of Beor, they killed with the sword.” In Joshua 13:22, “And Balaam, the son of Beor, the enchanter, did the children of Israel kill with the sword, to their slain.” The author of the seductive plan and the seducers alike fell by the sword of the Israelites. That behind this was concealed the avenging sword of God and of his Logos, appears from Numbers 22:23, “And the ass saw the angel of the Lord in the way, and his drawn sword in his hand.” Numbers 31:8 stands related to this as the fulfilment to the threatening. [Note: At Numbers 31:8 the Sept. version has, not μά?χαιρα , but, is here, ῤ?ομφαί?α .]
Revelation 2:17. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches: He that overcomes, to him will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and upon the stone a new name written, which no one knows but he that receives it. The words: to him will I give to eat, makes allusion to the eating of the idol-offerings. “On this heavenly bread,” says Bengel, “they must lose their relish for the things offered to idols. In the world men are in many ways guilty of imprudence in their desires to make trial of this and that; but whosoever yields himself up in the denial of self and of fleshly delights, he will come to experience much in spiritual, heavenly, supernatural things, of which others must be deprived.” In John 6 Christ represents himself as the true manna, which his people partake of, and obtain thereby life everlasting. Here, the manna is the life itself, consisting, however, in nothing else than close fellowship with Christ. Such free allusions indicate still more clearly the identity of the author than the most explicit agreements. For, in the latter there is the possibility of a borrowing. Manna was the wilderness-food of the Israelites, which ceased when they reached Canaan (comp. John 6:31); and according to the typology of Scripture, the wilderness corresponds to this life, and the possession of Canaan to the next. Accordingly, some expositors refer this first promise to what the Lord imparts to his people in this life, and the second to the future recompense; as also, indeed, in 1 John 3:1-2, we find set beside each other what Christians have now (“that we are the children of God”), and what they shall receive hereafter (“we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”) So Bossuet: “Manna is nourishment in the wilderness, and the secret consolation with which God supports his children during the pilgrimage of this life.” But against this view is the condition, “he who overcomes,” which can only refer to the completed victory, and is explained in Revelation 2:26 by the additional words, “and keeps my works to the end.” So also the analogy of the other concluding promises, which all have respect to the life to come. Hence we must suppose, that the character of the manna as food for the wilderness is here left out of view, and only its character as heavenly food taken into account (comp. Psalms 78:24, Psalms 105:40, John 6:32), in contrast to the poor enjoyments which the earth yields for the satisfaction of the flesh. Still, the promise does not on this account lose its reference to the present life. Scripture knows nothing of an absolute contrast between the present and the future. According to its mode of contemplation, there is only a completing there of whatever has been begun here, and he only that already has, shall have given to him hereafter—comp. John 4:14, John 5:24.
The manna is represented as hidden. This predicate has not respect to the natural manna, which is rather the manifest, the palpable, but only to the spiritual, to the blessed life in fellowship with Christ, “the sweetness of which the world knoweth not, and no one knoweth saving he that tasteth it.” We may compare the hidden treasure in the field, Matthew 13:44, and Colossians 3:3, “Our life is hid with Christ in God.” The foretaste of this hidden manna is given to the faithful in this present life. What the Lord said to his still inexperienced disciples, “I have a bread to eat which ye know not” ( John 4:32), they may repeat before the world. As the eating of the manna, so this designation of the manna itself as the hidden is employed with reference to the Nicolaitans; and in such a manner, that what in this first promise forms only a subordinate point, becomes the main one in the second, and that the predicate which is here attributed to the manna is the link of connection between the two promises. The Gnostics wished to introduce something of the heathen mysteries into Christianity; they boasted, in the spirit that has ever characterised worldly wisdom, of possessing what was hidden and known to none but themselves, and thereby drew many after them. As heavenly stand opposed to their sensual enjoyments, so do the true and important secrets to their false and miserable ones. And the connection of both references with each other is the more natural, as with the Gnostics there existed a combination of sensual lust and trafficking in mysteries, and their pretended discoveries especially had fleshly-indulgence for their object.
The words, I will give him a white stone, are isolated by many expositors, and regarded as a promise apart by itself. But this is entirely unsuitable. The promise can be only a double one here, else were the number twelve destroyed. If the white stone is supposed to have been named only as writing material, the promises of the verse are united together by the bond of the secretness belonging to both. But if, on the other hand, an independent value is attached to the white stone, the promises fall asunder. The new name is written on the white stone. But the white stone cannot first have a separate worth of its own, and then again serve as means to an end. If this last cannot be denied, then the first must be abandoned. Further, if we ascribe to the words an independent value, they would contain a reference to a heathenish custom, as all are agreed who do so. The supposition of such a reference, however, we must be extremely cautious of admitting generally into the Revelation; and the more so here, as this supposed second promise in any case is closely intertwined with the third, which bears a genuine Israelitish stamp. (Ewald even could not avoid remarking: More Graeco mire cum Hebraeo mixto.) Then, the reference to the heathenish custom here would want the necessary clearness and explicitness, as appears alone from the diversity of opinions adopted by the expositors as to what custom was really in the eye of the prophet. Finally, we obtain from this view no satisfactory meaning. What would most readily occur are the judicial stones; but the objection to this is, that the white or exculpatory stones of the judges were not given to the accused, but cast into an urn. In that case too, it would be acquittal before the divine tribunal that would be marked. But this, from the connection, would be too small a boon, and wants, besides, the reference to the Nicolaitans, which undeniably exists in what precedes and follows, and which is also continually found in the promises made to the churches that were infested by these heretics.
We must, then, connect the words closely with what follows. The antiquarian clement that comes here into consideration is simply the fact, that in ancient times they were wont to write much on small stones. To the new glorious name corresponds the white stone. The λευκό?ς , white, is not, as used in the Apocalypse, the simple white, the colour of innocence, but the shining white; comp. on ch. Revelation 4:4. “The word new,” says Bengel, “is a truly apocalyptic word: new name, new song, new heavens, new earth, new Jerusalem, all new, ch. Revelation 14:3, Revelation 3:12, Revelation 21:2.” The word has a sweet sound for those, by whom the old has been felt burdensome and oppressive. It is derived from Isaiah 62:2, “And the heathen see thy righteousness and all kings thy glory; and thou art called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord hath spoken;” comp. Isaiah 65:15, “And he will give to his servants another name.” Neither here, nor in the fundamental passages, is any particular name meant; otherwise, it would certainly have been mentioned. It is enough, that the name is a new one, that it is much more glorious than the old one, that the state which it indicates has nothing in common with the earlier one, so full of tribulation, hunger, thirst, heat, and tears. Parallel is ch. Revelation 3:12, “And I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem—and my name the new.” There, to whom the conqueror in the new state of things belongs, here, the new name which he himself receives. In 1 John 3:2 the new state which is expressed by the new name, is described by the words, “But we know that, when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” No one knows the new name but he who receives it. It is a secret unspeakably more precious than the secrets of the Nicolaitans, so much praised and yet so worthless. The name of Christ in ch. Revelation 19:12 corresponds, as being one which no one knows but himself. Also, according to 1 John 3:1-2, the blessed state of Christians, what now belongs to them, and much more than that, what they shall possess hereafter, is one that the world cannot understand—one that, with all its boasted knowledge, it so little understands, as still to be ignorant of God, and Christ, and those who believe upon his name ( John 15:21, John 16:3).
Revelation 2:18. And to the angel of the church at Thyatira [Note: Text: The Cod. Alex, has merely τῶ?ͅ? ἐ?ν θυατεί?ροις , to the angel that is in Thyatira. That the reading arose from a desire of abbreviation, appears from Tertullian Scorp. xxii. ad angelum ecclesiae Thyatirenorum, comp. with de pudicitia c. 19: ad angelum Thyatirenorum.] write: These things saith the Son of God, who has eyes as a flame of fire, and his feet like to clear brass. The three predicates form the ground at once of the threatening and of the promise. The prophet shows those, who from fear of the power of heathenism were weak towards the Nicolaitans or even inclined to go along with them, one whom they ought much more to fear, and who can give both victory and glory. The first predicate itself exhibits a terrible character. For in the passage, which forms the foundation for this name of Christ, he appears as one who smites the heathen with an iron sceptre and dashes them in pieces as a potter’s vessel. Bengel: “The glorious name, Son of God, has been most fully disclosed in the second Psalm, and to that Psalm reference is also made in Revelation 2:27 of this epistle.” The verse before us forms a commentary on the name. The eyes as a flame of fire, and the clear brass, are from ch. Revelation 1:14. The flame of fire does not bring to light, as Bengel falsely interprets here, but consumes. Bengel remarks on the feet as of clear brass: “It threatens secure persons who think they can do what they please, and when impiety in them rises to the highest pitch, they tread the Son of God under foot. But he will himself tread his enemies under his feet, and will make them as the mire of the street.”
The Epistle to the Angel of the Church in Thyatira (Ch. Revelation 2:18-29 )
One of the roads formed by the Romans from Pergamos to Sardis led by Thyatira, which the apostle could not but have travelled in his earlier visitation-rounds, and which he now again walked in the Spirit. It lay fifty-eight miles from Pergamos toward the south-east, and from Sardis thirty-six miles toward the north-west. Thyatira, according to Strabo, was a colony of Macedonians, and, on that account, from the constant intercourse it gave rise to with the mother country, it is perhaps to be explained, that we find Lydia the seller of purple from Thyatira at Philippi, Acts 16:14. From this Lydia, whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended to the things spoken by Paul, probably arose the first beginnings of the church at Thyatira. She is named in the Acts a seller of purple of the city of Thyatira, not from the city, and was therefore still at Thyatira; and if as a traveller she formed with her house a centre ( Acts 16:40), it was the more to be expected, that she would afterwards at her proper home labour with zeal and success. We might, perhaps, regard the woman Jezebel as her Satanic counterpart. The Nicolaitans in the church at Thyatira had attained to greater power and importance than at Ephesus and at Pergamos. “Here,” remarks Züllig, “much sharper and stronger threatenings are uttered against those adversaries of the good cause than in the preceding epistle.” This is explained from the character of the angel of this church. The angel at Thyatira formed a contrast to that at Ephesus. As the spiritual life of the latter had spent itself too partially in the defence of orthodoxy, the vindication of pure and sound doctrine, so the angel of Thyatira, in accordance with the female origin of the church, exhausted his energy in works of love, and showed himself weak in those duties of his office, in which the angel at Ephesus had shown himself strong. Bengel: “The one could not bear the evil and hated the works of the Nicolaitans, but left his first love and his first works; but the other was rich in love and had always abundance of works, though he did not resist the evil doers with becoming vigour. The former, not the latter, is upbraided as having fallen, and commanded to repent; but the Lord has something against both.”
Revelation 2:19. I know thy love and thy faith; and thy service and thy patience; and thy last works more than the first. Here also the senseless desire after uniformity has introduced, after “I know,” “thy works and.” Then, the desire for brevity has thought that the service must be omitted together with the love. These corruptions, which are discovered to be such by strong external grounds, have been admitted into Luther’s translation. We have here a threefold pair before us—love and faith, service and patience, the first and the last works. If we do not keep by this pair-like arrangement, the faith separates in an improper way the love and its manifestation, the service or deaconship-agency from each other, and the patience remains indeterminate and swims in the air. Love forms the prominent feature. Therefore it stands first. Faith is only paired with love, since this, wherever it is worthy of the name, springs from faith as its root—comp. 1 Timothy 1:5. The love here also is not to be limited (comp. on 1 Timothy 1:4). Still the second pair shows how it exercised itself. The deaconship-service, the Christian ministration of help to the members of the church (comp. 1 Corinthians 16:15), was much attended to amid the various discharge of official duties in Thyatira, “so much so, indeed, that the other official members of the church wrought into the hands of those commonly called deacons (since in Acts 6), whose place in this church we have to think of as standing very high. That the patience here, as in Revelation 2:2, is active patience, is evident, from its connection with the deaconship. And this same connection shows that here also, as in Revelation 2:2, the discourse is of perseverance in a definite sphere. By the works, according to the connection, are to be understood pre-eminently works of love. A reference is here made to 2 Peter 2:20, “For, if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the first.” The close of the verse before us stands in literal agreement with these last words, excepting that instead of χεί?ρονα , worse, there is πλεί?ονα , very similar in sound, though directly opposite in sense. The allusion can the less be regarded as accidental, as in St Peter also the subject of discourse has respect to the Nicolaitans, and to these the prophet comes in what immediately follows; q.d. that does not hold of thee, which is true of the Nicolaitans. If thou hast unfortunately left them too much freedom, if thou hast sinned in not opposing them with sufficient vigour, they still cannot deprive thee of thy glory. The passage in Peter again rests on Matthew 12:45.
Revelation 2:20. But I have against thee, that thou sufferest thy wife Jezebel, who says she is a prophetess, and she teaches and seduces my servants to commit fornication and to eat things offered to idols. After, “I have against thee,” some codices have introduced “little,” (Luther: “I have a small thing against thee”), and others “much;” but the most and best have neither the one nor the other. The origin of both readings is explained from Revelation 2:14, even that of the latter. The feeling, that the style here is sharper than in the preceding epistle, gave rise to the opinion, that a contrast to the small there, was here in its proper place. Other departures from the genuine reading have been occasioned by the harsh and unclassical character of the construction. [Note: Text: The received text: “Ὀ?́?τι ἐ?ᾶ?ς τὴ?ν γυναῖ?κα Ἰ?εζαβὴ?λ τή?ν λὲ γουσαν ἐ?αυτὴ?ν προφῆ?τιν διδά?σκειν καὶ? πλανᾶ?σθαι ἐ?μοὺ?ς δού?λους , at first sight betrays this to have been its origin.] In particular, people could not understand, the “thou sufferest” (namely, to teach and seduce), and “she teaches;” comp. ch. Revelation 11:3, “And I shall give my two witnesses (to prophecy) and they shall prophecy.” But the most important deviation has been, that frequently for “ thy wife,” is substituted “the woman,” which Luther also has adopted. That the external reasons in support of the first reading greatly preponderate, is clear alone from its admission into the text of Lachmann. How the omission of the thy took place, may be learned from De Wette, who rejects it as “unsuitable.” How should any one have thought of thrusting in this thy, the cross of expositors, into the text, if it had not originally existed? It is enough, that it still remains untouched in so many and such important critical helps. Bengel remarks on the expression, thou sufferest: “There are people, who have a hearty love for the good, and occupy themselves with all that is lovely, delight in it and rejoice in the Lord Jesus Christ as their portion. But the evil may still for them have its progress.” Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, the king of Zidon, the wife of Ahab of Israel, who as a murderer of the prophets, introduced the worship of idols into Israel, is after Balaam the second chief representative in Old Testament times of the heathenish seduction that found its way into the church of the Lord. There can be no manner of doubt, that it is not some particular seductive woman, who is designated by the name of Jezebel, as manifesting somewhat of her nature in the church at Thyatira; but that the Jezebel was a symbolical person, the personified heresy and heathenish false doctrine; so that 1 John 4:1, “Many false prophets have gone out into the world,” as to meaning exactly corresponds. To this conclusion, first, the whole character of the seven epistles points; for to this it would be quite foreign to introduce such minute particulars, as a reference here would be to a “certain woman.” Certainly, “it has nothing against it, to suppose that there was a woman at Thyatira,” etc.; but it has a great deal against it, that John should have assigned so important a place to such a woman in a book consecrated to the church of all times. Farther, the analogy of Balaam leads in the same direction, as to this corresponded not a single individual in the prophet’s own time, but a whole class of false teachers. Then, the mention of adulteries and children in Revelation 2:22-23, with which even those who defend the reference to a “certain influential woman,” have no patience; De Wette, for example, who remarks, that “her children, can scarcely he taken in the natural sense, but must mean scholars, followers.” But it is quite decisive, that here the discourse is not indefinitely of a woman, but of the wife of the angel. If it is a fixed point, that the angel is an ideal person, or a collective, then under the woman we cannot understand a single individual. We must rather understand by it the weaker half ( 1 Peter 3:7), that part of the governing body who were infected with the heresy, whether it might be, that there were such among those, who actually held office, or that these, represented by the angel, had false teachers beside them, who exercised a considerable influence on the church, and in point of fact had a share in the direction. Jezebel is represented as one, who said, that she was a prophetess. We have already drawn attention to the false pretensions to inspiration, which were put forth by the Gnostics at the first. Vitringa has shewn, that in a certain sense the Old Jezebel assumed the character of a false prophetess. To this especially points the enchantments attributed to her, 2 Kings 9:22, the enthusiastical conduct of the servants of the Baal-worship which she introduced with fanatical zeal, and the fact, that her father, according to a fragment of Menander’s translation from the Tyrian annals in Josephus, was originally high-priest of Astarte. Little as we can think of identifying the angel with the church, we are still farther prevented from doing so by the circumstance, that the wife also of the angel calls herself a prophetess, teaches and seduces, and the laity, who adhere to the false doctrine, are distinguished from her. That the committing of fornication forms the commencement here otherwise than in Revelation 2:14, is to be explained from the circumstance, that in reference to the Old Jezebel the history makes express mention only of adultery; whereas in reference to Balaam the seducing also to eat of things offered to idols is mentioned. In 2 Kings 9:22, Jehu’s answer to the question of Joram, “Is there peace, Jehu?” was, “What peace, so long as the whoredoms of thy mother Jezebel, and her witchcrafts continue?” There it is primarily spiritual fornication that is meant; but this went hand in hand with the bodily, especially in the worship of demoniacal excitement, like that which was promoted by Jezebel; and 2 Kings 9:30, compared with Jeremiah 4:30 shews, that in Jezebel’s case also this connection existed. The fornication here, too, bears this double meaning. If this is not kept in mind both here and in Revelation 2:21, the transition in Revelation 2:22, where the discourse comes to be of spiritual adultery, will be too sharp.
Revelation 2:21. And I have given her time to repent, and she will not repent of her fornication. The destination to punishment is regarded as a seal of her impenitence, which God sets upon her bad conduct. John lays open another point of view. Bengel: “The adulteress was hardened, her deceived followers were expressly called to repentance: the spiritual overseer will then himself, with his abiding good sense, come right.”
Revelation 2:22. Behold I throw her into a bed, and those who commit fornication with her into great tribulation, if they do not repent of their works. Revelation 2:23. And her children will 1 put to death; and all churches shall know, that I am he who searcheth the reins and hearts; and I will give to every one among you according to your works. “From the bed of infamy they shall be brought to a sick-bed of pain,” Bengel. The following expression: into great tribulation, serves as an explanation. On the words: they who commit adultery with her, comp. Ezekiel 23:37, “with their idols they have committed adultery.” Any one that grew familiar with these antichrists, broke the covenant which had been made with God in Christ. Several expositors would distinguish between the adulterers and the children, understanding by the first the assistants, by the others the scholars. But it is better to understand by the adulterers and children, the followers and children. As the governing body only had teachers formed by the woman, the distinction is too fine a one, the difference too impalpable. In the Old Testament the children stand for the recipients of false doctrine generally; comp. Isaiah 57:3, “Ye sons of the sorceress, the seed of the adulterer and the whore,” a passage to which special reference is probably made here. Through the poetical representations of the Old Testament such figurative expressions had become so naturalized, that even in prose they occur in the New Testament. John calls the believers of his diocese his children, 3 John 1:4, as Peter also names Mark his son. In his second epistle John personifies a church as a woman (so also Peter in 1 Peter 5:13), comp. 3 John 1:9, the associated church as a sister, and its members as children, comp. 3 John 1:13, “The children of thine elect sister greet thee.”
Instead of: I will put to death, it is literally, I will kill with death. Many expositors would here understand by death the pestilence. But this is never designated so (comp. on ch. Revelation 6:8), and such a meaning does not properly suit here with the eyes of flaming fire, and the feet as of glowing brass, nor to what is said in the Old Testament of the death of the literal Jezebel. The appended expression, “with death,’’ must be regarded as showing the earnestness there was in the threatening, just as one says, to burn with fire, in order to place vividly before the eye the scorching heat of the fire. [Note: Text: Allusion is made to the Mosaic formula מרת יומת , which is particularly used in reference to adultery, comp. Leviticus 11:10, “The man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife, he shall die the death, both adulterer and adulteress.” The phrase ἐ?ν θανά?τῳ? serves the same purpose as there the prefixed infin. LXX.: Θανά?τῳ? θανατού?σθωσαν .] The word, and shall know, must be regarded as emphatic. It forms an irony on their gnosis, comp. the “have known” in Revelation 2:24, and the common use of knowing in the first epistle of John. This would be a profitable gnosis, instead of that unprofitable sort, which they lauded. They should help all churches in Christendom to the right gnosis, and must do so, though in a very different manner from what they wished to have done. For, apart from the judgment of God in their personal experience, the Lord has made an end of their error, while the simple divine truth constantly blooms forth anew. The object of that profitable gnosis is, that Christ “searches the reins and hearts.” The original passage is Psalms 7:9, “Let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; and establish thon the righteous, and prover of the hearts and reins art thou, O righteous God.” “It is God,” remarks Bengel, “who, as is also testified in the Old Testament, searches the hearts and reins, and this divine property the Lord Jesus Christ here ascribes to himself.” The proving in the original passage, and here also the searching comes into view, not as an indication of the divine omniscience, but of the divine righteousness. The words point to God’s righteousness, according to which he does not keep himself in a state of indifference toward good and evil, but constantly exercises the divine energy, which can penetrate into the very inmost heart, in order to discern both the one and the other, and to visit it accordingly with blessing or with punishment. Comp. Jeremiah 17:10, Jeremiah 20:12. The practical character of the searching of the hearts and reins shows itself here in the giving to each according to his works. Perhaps here also there is some reference to Gnosticism. The Gnostics expressed themselves with great contempt of common Christians, as persons who stood merely at superficial attainments, while they themselves penetrated into the innermost nature of things—comp. Revelation 2:24. Now, however, they must have to do with one, who can penetrate into their inmost being, and how shall they tremble before him, since even their exterior presents so many spots and blemishes! On the words, “I will give—according to your works,” Bengel remarks, “We shall not easily find a saying that more frequently occurs in Scripture than this; Ps. 63:13, Matthew 16:27, Romans 2:6.” It is especially appropriate in the presence of the lawless, 2 Peter 3:17, who think that they can do what they please.
Revelation 2:24. But to you I say, the others that are at Thyatira, who have not such doctrine, and who have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will not throw upon you another burden. Revelation 2:25. But what you have received hold fast till I come. Instead of, “to you the others,” Luther follows the reading, “you and the others.” According to this there would come forth, behind the ideal oneness of the angel, the concealed real manifoldness: to you, my true servants in the church and the members of it. But the shoving in of the and has too little of external support to justify its adoption. The others are, therefore, those who have kept themselves free from the teaching of Jezebel.”The bad state of matters at Thyatira,” remarks Bengel, “is ascribed not to them, but only to the overseer, as also at Ephesus and at Pergamos the Lord holds the overseers responsible for the evil.” The Gnostics, probably taking occasion from 1 Corinthians 2:10, were constantly keeping the depths in their mouth, perpetually talking about going into the depths with Satan, not less than with God. [Note: Text: Comp. Tertullian adv. Valent. c. 1.: Si bona fide quaeras, concrete vultu, suspenso supercilio, allum est siunt. Iren. I. 1: Καὶ? ταῦ?τα εἰ?͂?ναι τὰ? μεγά?λα καὶ? θαυμαστὰ? καὶ? ἀ?πό?ῤ?ῥ?ητα μυστή?ρια . II. 38: Vere caecutientis, qui profumln Bythi adinvenisse se dicont c. 39: Profunda dei adinvinesse se dicentes. c. 18: Irrationabiliter antem inflati audaciter dei mysteria scire vos dicitis.] But only in respect to Satan did they in a certain measure attain to this. While they set forth the principle that one must, in order to know the depths of Satan, become familiar with everything shameful, they at least succeeded practically in getting an intimate acquaintance with Satan. The nature of these Satanic studies of the older Gnosticism is made plain to us by what is said in Eusebius, II. 13, of the Simonians, “those deeper secrets, of which they say that he who hears them for the first time would be astonished and confounded, are in truth full of things, at which one must be astonished, full of folly and madness. They are of such a nature that a discreet person cannot write of them, nor open his lips about them on account of their horrid filthiness and obscenity.” This was the theoretical result of their practical inquiries. According to the current explanation the expression, “as they speak,” must only refer to the depths, and John puts Satan in the place of God. So Bengel: “The false teachers said, that what they taught were deep things. This the Lord admits, but with the addition, that they were not divine but Satanic depths—just as he had conceded to the Jews the name of a synagogue, but a synagogue of Satan, Revelation 2:9.” But it is arbitrary and without example to refer the words, “as they speak,” which are also wanting at the synagogue of Satan, merely to the depths. Nor is the thought thus obtained at all suitable, as the heretics did not confine themselves in their knowledge to the depths of God, but rather stretched their Gnosis over all points of Christian doctrine, and even to Satan himself. The chief point must lie in the having known, which the heretics took in an exalted and laudable sense, but which the apostle used in a low and scandalous one. That their knowledge only of the depths of Satan is here mentioned, was owing to the circumstance, that here the horse-foot in them became particularly manifest.
By the other burden most expositors understand a new suffering. Bengel: “He who is plagued in one part, will on this account have something withheld from him in other respects. Christ will not let too heavy a burden come upon any of his own.” But in opposition to this view, there is the circumstance, that in the preceding context nothing had been said of a burden in this sense, which the Christians at Thyatira had already borne, or were yet to bear. Against Bengel’s remark, that they “had a sufficient burden in Jezebel and her followers,” it is enough to say, that the existence of heretics in the church had been represented in the preceding context as a matter of guilt. Reference has been made to the patience in Revelation 2:19, but only by a false style of exposition. The threatening has respect simply to the apostate party, not to the true. The other burden, which was not to be laid upon them, must therefore form the contrast to what they now had and should hold fast. Our Lord says in Matthew 23:4 of the Pharisees, “They bind heavy and intolerable burdens, and lay them upon the necks of men.” In Acts 15:10, Peter says to the Judaizers, “Wherefore, then, do you tempt God by laying on the necks of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.” Now, it was an artifice of the lawless party, that by an abuse of St Paul’s doctrine of liberty (comp. 2 Peter 2:19 with 2 Peter 3:16) they were constantly ready with the charge of Judaism and Pharisaism; that they applied to the moral law what bore respect only to the ceremonial law. (Mark: Cantilena scil. perpetua impuri gregis erat Christiana libertas, quam praedicabant et praetexebant suis impuritatibus.) In opposition to them Christ says: They are always speaking of burdens which one seeks to lay upon you. I will lay upon yon no other burden; but one is indispensable, that ye hold by the command which ye have received from the beginning. This does not admit of your flying off with the lawless under the pretext of Christian liberty; for whosoever releases himself arbitrarily from this “burden,” he will have occasion to repent of it bitterly at my appearance for judgment. Receiving to yourselves such a burden, you shall lose salvation.
There is a striking reference to the decree of the apostolic council at Jerusalem, in which also Paul had a part, Acts 15:28-29, “It seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay upon you none other burden (βά?ρος ), but only these necessary things, that ye keep yourselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication, from which, if ye keep yourselves, ye do well.” There, among other things, the eating of things offered to idols, and fornication, were interdicted, which the lawless party gave out for an unprofitable burden.
On Revelation 2:25 comp. 1 John 2:24, “Let that therefore abide in you which ye have heard from the beginning; if that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son and in the Father.”
Revelation 2:26. And he that overcomes and keeps my works to the end, to him will I give power over the heathen. In regard to the first and, which is wanting in some copies, Bengel remarks: “With this little word the present alone begins of all the seven promises; whence we may conclude that this addition has a peculiar connection with the preceding address.” To the and at the beginning corresponds the expression: and keeps my works to the end, as a resumption of what had been said previously about keeping what they had till the Lord came. The keeping forms the contrast to the self-willed or thoughtless forgetting; comp. Revelation 1:3. The: to keep the command, the word, or such like, is a form of expression of which John is particularly fond. Bengel: “ My works.” In these I have gone before him with my example, and in doing them he, as my servant, obeys my commands. These works may be learned from the opposite things in ch. Revelation 22:15. Elsewhere it is said simply, “He that overcomes;” but here there is subjoined, “and keeps my works to the end.” So long as a man still lives on the earth, however far he may have attained, he cannot say, I have overcome.” For each individual the end is the period of his death, when the Lord comes for him. For the church at large it takes place in the fullest sense at the Lord’s advent and appearance for judgment. The end, however, and the Lord’s appearance for judgment, often takes place beforehand in a provisional manner, at the close of every dispensation or epoch, such, for example, as the judgment on Jerusalem—comp. Matthew 10:22; and the judgment likewise on heathen Rome bore a similar character.
The promise given to conquering fidelity, is power over the heathen. By an abuse of 1 Corinthians 8:9, 1 Corinthians 6:12, the Gnostics continually had in their month the power or dominion over the world, and under the pretence of this they led the Christians, who adhered to them, into the service of corruption ( 2 Peter 2:19), of heathenism. “Only a small pool of water (they said, according to Porphyry in Neander’s Church History, ii. p. 665), can be defiled by anything filthy being thrown into it, not the ocean which receives everything, because it knows its own greatness. So, it is only the little man that is overcome by food; but he who is an ocean of power, receives every thing into himself, and is not defiled.” “If we (they said, according to the same passage of Porphyry) fly from food, then we are in bondage to the sense of fear; but all must be in subjection to us.” “We must,” so spake these valiant spirits, according to Clemens of Alexandria, in Neander, p. 664, “through the gratification of lust overcome lust. For, there is nothing great in restraining lust, if one has not tried it; but the greatness lies in not being overcome by lust, when one has experience of it.” In opposition to these false and destructive sentiments, the Lord declares that he who stoutly resists them, and abides stedfast by the law, which they mock and nullify, shall come to the possession of a glorious power, to the ascendancy over heathenism and the heathen world. This promise has been gloriously fulfilled. The Christian church, because it conquered and kept, overcame heathenism, while in so far as it imbibed the principles of Gnosticism, and sought power in the way of a false freedom, instead of doing so in the way of obedience, soon disappeared, without leaving a trace of its existence.
Revelation 2:27. And he will tend them with a rod of iron, and as a potter’s vessels will he dash them in pieces, as I also have received of my Father. On the tending of the heathen with a rod of iron, comp. on ch. Revelation 12:5, Revelation 19:15.
Revelation 2:28. And I will give him the morning-star. De Wette thinks it is difficult to say why the promise here should have been made so exceedingly strong, as the victory was still not to be looked upon as one so peculiarly hard and extraordinary. But that the Nicolaitan seduction was exceedingly formidable in Thyatira, follows as a certain consequence from the richness of the promise, and is confirmed by the length and earnestness with which the heretics are treated of in the preceding context, and also by Jezebel’s being named the wife of the angel. That the words, “as I also have received of my Father,” must be supplied here too, is evident from ch. Revelation 22:16, where Christ is designated “the bright morning-star.” It is but a slight difference, that there Christ receives the designation on account of his glorious dominion, and here the glorious dominion itself is so designated. That the morning-star is here the image of a glorious dominion, admits of no doubt, as star in the Revelation is constantly employed in the sense of dominion; as the star here occurs in connection with the rod or sceptre, and in the prophecy of Balaam, in Numbers 24:17, “A star comes out of Jacob, and a sceptre rises out of Israel and shatters,” &c., the star likewise denotes dominion over the heathen. So also in the original passage, Isaiah 14:12, the bearer of the world-power, the king of Babylon, on account of his glorious dominion is named the bright morning-star. When the church of Christ remains stedfast, the world must change places with it. With every other explanation of the morning-star, the oneness of the promise is also destroyed. For, the dominion over the heathen is the subject discoursed of in what precedes; and again in ch. Revelation 22:16, Christ is called the morning-star in connection with other descriptions of his royal supremacy. That he was to be ruler of the heathen was announced at the first by the star of the Magi—as I have shewn in my work on Balaam, p. 177.
It appears that here also allusion is made to the delusive pretensions of the Nicolaitans. These persons promised to their hearers a new light, the dawn (one may just remember J. Böhme’s Aurora), or the morning-star of knowledge; and they also called themselves shining stars, destined to dispel the darkness of the Christian church. Instead of this wretched morning-star the true one is promised to the faithful. A similar allusion is made, as appears in the epistle of Jude, in Jude 1:13 (comp. 2 Peter 2:17), where the false teachers are described as “wandering stars,” “for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever.” They called themselves shining stars. But now, since they had the predicate of “wandering” applied to them, the most fearful darkness is announced to them, with a reference to Isaiah 14:12-15, precisely as if one should call the “Friends of light” by the name of “Friends of the ignis fatuus.”
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Revelation 2". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20