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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 2

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Verses 1-7



Revelation 2:1. Angel.—If this be taken as the chief pastor of the Church, it is quite? possible that Timothy is the person addressed. Holdeth.—As a figure for exercising dominion over, having power over. Walketh.—Is present among Christian societies and exercises particular inspection over them. Ephesus is first addressed, as the chief city of the district.

Revelation 2:2. I know.—Often used to denote approbation or complacency. Works.—Perhaps “all developments of character,” but better treated as a general term, which is explained as embracing “labour” (strain) and “patience.” The word “labour” here means “labour carried on unto weariness.” “Patience” here expresses the brave and persistent endurance of the Christian. Canst not bear.—Or cannot do with; cannot put up with. Evil.—κακούς Evil ones. Perhaps the morally evil were specially in mind. Found them liars.—For St. Paul’s warning of false teachers, see Acts 20:28-31. Tried is a strong word. Thoroughly tested their pretensions. Apostles.—Involving claim to direct Divine authority. They were probably Judaisers, either of the antinomian or the Gnostic type. The word translated “liars” is ψευδεῖς—false. They who made false claims would be sure to teach false things. They could be tested

(1) by comparing their teachings with those of St. Paul;
(2) by recalling the characteristic features of heretical doctrine, as described by him; and
(3) by the moral and spiritual influence which their teachings were found to exert.

Revelation 2:3. Not fainted.—Or, not been wearied out, though the strain has been long continued. See the word translated “labour” in Revelation 2:2. “They had toiled on to very weariness, without wearying of their toil.”

Revelation 2:4. Left.—Let go. “I have it against thee that thou givest up the love thou hadst at the beginning.” The first love may be

(1) their first fervour of love to Christ; or
(2) their former spirit of benevolence and kindness toward all men. Stuart inclines to the second explanation. Plumptre says: “Whether the ‘first love’ is that which has God, or Christ, or man, for its object, I am not careful to enquire, for the true temper of love or charity includes all three.”

Revelation 2:5. Fallen.—The height of Christian attainment gained has to be maintained. To be satisfied with a lower level is to fall. Do the first works.—This is possible at once. To restore the feeling may not be possible at once; but resuming the works puts us in the way of the restoration of the feeling. Or else.—Lit. “but if not.” Will come.—Am coming. Remove thy candlestick.—A providential and spiritual visitation of Christ is meant. “The judgment threatened was determined by the symbolism of the vision. The lamp was not burning brightly. If it were rekindled and trimmed and fed with oil, well. If not, there would come on it the sentence which falls on all unfaithfulness, and the lamp should be removed. The Church which had not let its light shine before men would lose even its outward form and polity, and be as though it had never been” (Plumptre). A few huts only remain on the site of ancient Ephesus.

Revelation 2:6. Nicolaitanes.—A branch of the Gnostics who held it to be lawful to eat meats offered to idols, and who practised fornication. They traced their origin to Nicolas, one of the seven deacons, but there is no clue to the assumed connection between them. They were the antinomians of the Asiatic Church. Some think the word is but a Greek form of the name Balaam, or as symbolical of Balaam, and so Nicolaitanes was equivalent to Balaamites.

Revelation 2:7 The Spirit.—τὸ πνεῦμα. Yet the Living Christ is the speaker throughout. “The mode of transmission to the Churches is, however, by the Spirit, in His dispensation, ‘giving utterance’ to John.” Remember, however, that to Christ’s human nature the Spirit was imparted without measure. Tree of life.—Figurative description of eternal life (see Genesis 2:9). “The promise of the tree of life is appropriate

(1) to the virtue commended: those who had not indulged in the license of the Nicolaitanes shall eat of the tree of life;
(2) to the special weakness of the Ephesians: to those who had fallen and lost the paradise of first loving communion and fellowship with God is held out the promise of a restored paradise, and participation in the tree of life” (Bishop Boyd Carpenter).


A Church Weak in the Springs of Life.—We are treating the book of Revelation as a spiritual rather than as a historical book. Not anxious to fit it to any history, or to find events that seem to match its symbols, but purposing to find what suggestive spiritual and practical applications can be made of the symbols. In this and the following chapter is the picture of the Living Christ, the searching White Christ, moving among His Churches, carefully inspecting them. And what He notices, and remarks on, in these seven representative cases, may help us to discover what, in the Churches of to-day, must be grieving Him who would have them white as He is white.

I. The Living Christ accepts the fact that His Church on earth is a fighting Church. (Compare St. Paul’s address to the elders of Ephesus, Acts 20:28-30.) That the enemies of the Church are mainly within itself is seen in all these seven cases. The chief wrong is always some wrong in themselves. Outside evils and temptations are easily over-mastered when the internal spiritual health and vitality are well maintained. The Living Christ is not content with surface impressions; He goes to the very root of the evil. He sees—

1. Inconsistency—the failure to harmonise spirit and conduct.

2. Inefficiency—the failure to rise to a high standard of Christian life, or to meet the higher spiritual obligations.

3. Influence of false teachers, regarded rather as the source of moral than of merely intellectual mischief. The conflict of Christ’s Church must partly be with circumstances and with persecutors; but the real importance of their influence lies in the strain put on Christian motive, and the injury done to Christian character. Christ does not expect present perfection in His Church. He does expect “overcoming,” which is the pursuit, step by step, of perfection—steady progress, by advancing triumphs, towards perfection. Christian life should be a series of victories, small and great.

II. The Living Christ may notice a wavering, changeable spirit in a Church.—This is the point of importance in the inspection of this Church. The Searching Lord found out that they were not actually what they had been. Surface appearances were, indeed, the same, but they had “left their first love.” The history of this Church may be reviewed. First, certain disciples of John the Baptist had taught a reformed Judaism. Then came the eloquent preaching of Apollos. Then the instructive work of Aquila and Priscilla, and then the three years’ ministry of St. Paul. The Church was greatly attached to the apostle, but in the epistle to Timothy there have been found signs of what seems to be a change of feeling toward him. And this may suggest one meaning of the expression, “thou hast left thy first love.” There was much that deserved commendation in the Church at Ephesus. It must be borne in mind that it was a very difficult city to live a Christian life in. It was Eastern; Diana’s great Temple was there; it was noted for its superstitions and magical arts. The Living Christ was able freely to praise their

(1) works,
(2) patience,
(3) zeal,
(4) good motive. But if the tone of Christ’s praise is carefully estimated, it will be seen that He observed an intensity in these things, which itself indicated a sense of flagging soul life. Over-activity is a bad sign. Though surface things seemed right, there was weakness in the springs of life. There were signs of a serious change in them. Changed feeling towards St. Paul showed a changed state of soul; they were not keeping soul-steadfast. How did this changeableness, fickleness, come about?

1. Partly it was due to natural disposition. Fickle people need to watch themselves, and their varying moods, with unusual care. Impulsive people seldom have also staying power, and they soon flag.
2. Partly it resulted from the influence of circumstances. The strain of continuance is always trying, and the subtlety of false teachers undermines Christian vitality.
3. The neglect of private soul-culture leaves the inner life to flag. Such neglect often follows from undue absorption in worldly things. Application may be made to the sin and peril of the changeableness that is so sadly characteristic of Christian Churches nowadays. The signs of it are
(1) craving for excitement;
(2) wanting to be made to feel;

(3) distaste of quiet spiritual influences. When a man has lost his soul’s love and life, he tries to make up for the loss by ceremonies, or singing, or revivals. Men should ask themselves this question: How is it we want to be revived? Why are we not keeping up our high standard of Christian life?

III. The Living Christ encourages wrestling with this weakness by promising permanency to them who overcome.—“Eating the tree of life.” See the tree in the Garden of Eden; and the tree figured later on, in this book of Revelation, which bore twelve manner of fruits, and these every month, so that it was permanently refreshing, sustaining a continuous high life and vigour. “Overcoming” includes

(1) recognising the evil, as evil;
(2) returning upon a better spirit—humility—new purposes—dependence;
(3) watching against new failures. In all such recovery the Living Christ helps, fixing the new and better way into a permanency of goodness.


Revelation 2:1. The Seven Stars and the Seven Candlesticks.—This vision is the natural introduction to all that follows, and, indeed, defines the main purpose of the whole book, inasmuch as it shows us Christ, sustaining, directing, dwelling in, His Churches. The words of the text are meant to set forth the Churches and their servants, the Churches and their work, the Churches and their Lord.

I. We have in the symbol important truths concerning the Churches and their servants.—“The seven stars are the angels of the seven Churches.” The word “angel” means messenger, and it is applied to priests, and, in one passage, to an officer of the synagogue. It does not mean here a supernatural being, but the minister, or spiritual pastor, of the Church. 1. The messengers are rulers. They are described in a double manner—by a name which expresses subordination, and by a figure which expresses authority. And this perfectly embodies the very essential characteristic of all office and power in Christ’s Church. Dignity and authority mean liberty for more, and more self-forgetting, work. Power binds its possessor to toil. But to be servant of all does not mean to do the bidding of all. The service which imitates Christ is helpfulness, not subjection. Neither the Church is to lord it over the messenger, nor the messenger over the Church. 2. The messengers and the Churches have at bottom the same work to do. Stars shine; so do lamps. Light comes from both—in different fashion, indeed, and of a different quality; but still, both are lights. These are in the Saviour’s hands, those are by his side; but each is meant to stream out rays of brightness over a dark night. So, essentially, all Christian men have the same work to do. The ways of doing it differ, but the thing done is one. We have all one office and function, to be discharged by each in his own fashion—viz., to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus.

3. The Churches and their messengers are alike in their religious condition and character. The messenger, or minister, represents the Churches completely. The religious condition of a Church, and that of its leaders, teachers, pastors, ever tend to be the same, as that of the level of water in two connected vessels. There is such a constant interaction and reciprocal influence, that uniformity results.

II. The Churches and their work.—

1. The Church is to be light. Light is spontaneous, suggesting the involuntary influence of character. Light is silent and gentle, though so mighty. Light is self-invisible; revealing all things, it reveals not itself. The source you can see, but not the beams. So we are to shine—not showing ourselves, but our Master.

2. The Church’s light is derived light. Two things are needed for the burning of a lamp: that it should be lit, and that it should be fed. In both respects, the light with which we shine is derived. Reflected, not self-originated, is all our radiance. A derived and transient light is all that any man can be. The condition of all our brightness is that Christ shall give us light. And the soul kindled by Christ must constantly be supplied with the grace and gift of His Divine spirit.
3. The Church’s light is blended, or clustered, light. Each of these little communities is represented by one lamp. And that one light is composed of the united brightness of all the individuals who constitute the community. They are to have a character, an influence, a work, as a society, not merely as individuals. A Church is not to be merely a multitude of separate points of brilliancy, but the separate points are to coalesce into one great orbed brightness.

III. The Churches and their Lord.—His strengthening and watchful presence moves among the Churches, and is active on their behalf. That presence is a plain literal fact, however feebly we lay hold of it. He is with us, to hold up and to bless; to observe, to judge, and, if need be to punish. And He is the same loving and forbearing Lord whom the apostle had learned to trust on earth, and found again revealed from heaven.—A. Maclaren, D.D.

Christ’s Presence in His Church.—There is a subject of unusual interest suggested by the attitude in which the Living and Infinitely White Christ is represented as standing, and the relations which He is represented as actually bearing to the “stars” and the “candlesticks,” which are the symbols of the Church, and its ministry. “The seven stars are the angels of the seven Churches; and the seven candlesticks are seven Churches.” That subject is, the actual presence, and practical working, of Christ, in His Church of every age, and in His Church of to-day. To put it in another form: Does the Living Christ still reserve to Himself, even into this nineteenth century, His executive and administrative, as well as His legislative, rights? Those rights He certainly did exercise in the first Churches of the redeemed, for the Church at Ephesus is called to recognise Him in this way—“These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, He that walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks.”

I. The actual presence of the Living Christ with His Church is the Church’s most precious truth.—It always, and everywhere, has been recognised as such. So far as theory is concerned, the living headship of Christ has always been the Church’s theory. What we have to complain of is, not that the truth has ever been really lost, but that it has so often been buried, and therefore practically lost. The constant work of the Christian ages has been recovering lost truths, and getting neglected truths estimated at their right value. If the truth of the actual presence of Christ in His Church to-day were a new truth, it could not be true. It is only a half-buried old truth; one that has been covered over with the dust of men’s formulæ; one that claimed the first place, but was soon pushed back into a second, when ecclesiastics grasped the duties and rights of Him who is “above for evermore”; and then into a third, when men made so much more of getting into the kingdom than of the conduct becoming to those in the kingdom. I want to show you that Christ’s permanent abiding in His Church was the true Messianic expectation; it was our Lord’s own anticipation, and it was the realisation, and the teaching, of His apostles. We may possibly come to see that the indwelling and presiding “Holy Ghost” of the Church of the redeemed is simply the form under which this presence, and consequent presidency, of the Living Christ is now to be recognised by us. Christ, spiritually present, and spiritually working, is the Holy Ghost. There are three possible thoughts that we may cherish concerning the continuance of Christ’s life beyond His human death on the cross. We may think of Him as simply alive again, as men, we assume, will be alive again after the great resurrection-morn. Or we may think of Him as altogether removed from earthly scenes, dwelling away in the heavenlies, and there wholly engaged in what may be found necessary for the completion of His redemptive work. Probably most Christian people cherish this thought of the Risen Christ, to the exclusion of all others. To them He is the great High Priest; the Advocate with the Father; the Angel of the Covenant. He is there, and only there, in the “Temple not made with hands.” But there is another thought of Him, which it would be a new inspiration to us to cherish. He is back again amid mortal scenes. He is as really, nay, more really, here with us now, than when He seemed to live in our homes, eat our food, and speak our words. He went away in order that He might come and abide. He went away from our senses that He might come to our souls. The Church is His Temple; in it He dwells and rules. All is spiritual, the Church, the Temple, the rule; but then, the spiritual is the real, the material is only the picture and the seeming. It is this truth concerning Christ that heroic souls have kept alive through the long Christian ages of struggle and of error. It is this truth which is now every day getting into clearer light. It is this truth which is destined to revolutionise Christianity—not the Christianity of Christ, that only needs restoration, but the Christianity that men have made for themselves out of the revelation that has been given to them. The key-note of the Christianity of the future will be, Christ come; Christ here; Christ spiritually present; Christ saving now; Christ sanctifying now; Christ ruling now. Really, to-day “holding the stars, and walking among the candlesticks.”

1. It is the truth foreshadowed in Messianic picture-teachings. Men would make less of particular Messianic psalms, and Messianic prophecies, if they more clearly saw that the Mosaic dispensation was, in its very essence, Messianic. It is but the expression, fitted for the times, of the primary idea of the “theocracy”; and the “theocracy” was but the preparatory picture-teaching of Christ’s spiritual rule over His Church and in His Church. By the term “theocracy” is meant, God’s immediate and direct rule. Without delegation, or mediation, or intervention, He, actually present with them, controlled, instructed, guided, rewarded, punished, the Jewish nation. That material rule fitted to the times, but it prepared the way for a spiritual realisation of the spiritual truth that it embodied. Christ is God, spiritually present in His spiritual Church, spiritually ruling, and ordering, and sanctifying.

2. And this is the relation He would sustain which was anticipated by Christ. We cannot be surprised to find it held in reserve by our Lord during the earlier part of His ministry. It would have been of no use whatever to speak of a spiritual presence to His disciples while they were so full of worldly ideas and expectations. He had to wait until some beginnings of spiritual apprehension were made by at least some of them. And yet there are many indications that it was always in His thoughts, and hints of it were given when plain words could not be spoken. When He referred to His coming rejection and death, He usually closed His remarks with an allusion to His resurrection, as if He would set the disciples thinking what He would be to them in that risen life. When He came to them in the grey and misty morning, walking upon the sea, He evidently intended to help them towards realising His presence with them in other than sense conditions. That was a stage in His education of them to the apprehension of the unseen. When He had only the chosen band around Him in the upper room, He could speak more freely than He had ever been able to speak before. He felt the closing of the earthly, sensuous relations. He knew what a strain it would be to those disciples. And therefore He bent all His effort to the work of cheering them by the repeated assurance that it would be no real loss to them; it would, indeed, be the most real gain. They might at first think that it was another one who would come to be in them, and to abide with them for ever; but presently it would seem clear to them that Him they called the “Holy Spirit” was, in deepest reality, Jesus Himself with them in a spiritual way, fulfilling His own gracious word, “I will not leave you comfortless, I will come to you; the world seeth Me no more, but ye see Me.” And then that strange coming into vision, and passing out of vision, of the Resurrection day, was His most gracious way of loosening their hold on His bodily presence, and clearing their apprehension of His spiritual presence. And when they saw Him go up from earth, and the cloud hid Him from their sense-view for ever, His last words were in their souls, and they were left to think out, and feel out, their wondrous meanings: “Lo, I am with you all the days.”

3. And this truth of Christ’s present spiritual abiding in His Church was distinctly the realisation, and the teaching, of His apostles. St. Peter stood by the bedside of sick Æneas, and spoke as if Jesus was actually there; he could see Him, and Æneas might if he would look aright. “Æneas, Jesus Christ, maketh thee whole.” It is firmly asserted that, on certain occasions, “the power of the Lord was present to heal.” In the great crises of St. Paul’s life, Christ’s presence with him and ruling of his course, was revealed to him in personal visions. In such a chapter as the third in the epistle to the Colossians, every act and effort of the Christian life is directly referred to Christ’s present inspection: everything is to be done “as unto the Lord.” And the one purpose of the book of Revelation is to associate the Living, Spiritual Christ, in a very direct way, with all the growth, the sins, the frailties, the conflicts, the sorrows, the varied experiences, of His Church. The key-note of the book is struck in the first chapter. The Christ presented in such suggestive symbols is not the Christ of the heavenly places—how the book is misconceived when that idea is unduly pressed!—it is the Christ of the Churches—the presiding Spirit of the Churches; it is the infinitely White One with the sword, who “holds the stars in His right hand, and walks among the candlesticks”; who presided over every movement of the Churches of that day, Ephesus, and Smyrna, and the rest; who presides over every movement of His universal Church in all the ages.

II. The Living Christ, spiritually present, stands in a twofold relation to His Church.—The one relation is universally admitted; the other is generally obscured, misrepresented, neglected, and imperilled: and to some is entrusted the work of recovering, and setting forth afresh in view of men, the imperilled relations. Every human government has two functions, legislative and administrative. It makes laws, and it provides the machinery for carrying out its laws, actually presiding over their administration. A curious relic of the idea that the Sovereign actually executes her own laws is found in the ceremony of opening the Assizes in our county towns. The judges are met, on entering the town, with a state ceremony, as if they were actually the Queen. The Assize is opened on the assumption that it is the Queen herself who is going to try, and condemn or acquit, the prisoners. The fiction of her presence is constantly maintained, and her executive, as well as her legislative, rights are preserved. The right of the Lord Jesus to make laws for His Church is never disputed. The Pope of Rome is but the Vicar of Christ, and he is as zealous as we can be of the legislative claims of his supreme and sovereign Lord. But the assumption is that He only makes the laws, and makes them away up in heaven, and commits the carrying out of His laws to some delegates here on earth. It is supposed that He committed the carrying out of His laws first to St. Peter, through him to the Pope, through the Pope to the bishops, and through the bishops to the priests. And so we have on earth now, not Christ, but a Church, which is supposed to represent Him, and carry His authority. Or we may say that, while the legislative rights of Jesus are duly honoured, He is thought of as having surrendered His executive and administrative rights. He keeps Himself now altogether in the heavenly spheres—He is not here; and His Church, or rather a certain order of priests in His Church, consider they have the right to take His place and do His work. Now you can clearly see the principle for which contest has been variously made through all the Christian ages—the principle for which again, in our day, a holy fight must be waged. As to particular methods of organising Churches, special arrangements of ministry, or systems of government, we have nothing whatever to say. Let every man find out what is best for him, and let every man give me full liberty to find out what is best for me. “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Only we take our stand here; we draw the line here. No plan, no system, must touch the real, present, practical administrative rights of the Lord Jesus. No scheme must even seem to shut Christ up in heaven, and keep Him seated on His throne. No effort must be made to teach that Christ has put his royal rights into commission, so that we can now have no direct dealings with Him, but must deal with priest, or bishop, or earthly sovereign, or Roman Pope, who claim to speak in His name. It is not some fact of a bygone age that He once held the stars in His right hand, and once walked among the candlesticks. It is the fact of the hour; it is the truth of to-day. He is the executor of His own laws. He does now actually Himself hold the stars in His right hand, and walk among the candlesticks. The history of Christianity is really the story of man’s varied efforts to establish a mediatorship between Christ and men. There must be none. There can be none. Christ is mediator between man and God. But Christ’s relation to man is direct. There must be no attempt to push in any mediation between Christ and the soul. The history of Christianity is the heroic story of the struggles of men who fought for, and died for, the administrative rights of Christ. Their conflict took a variety of forms, but the essence of it always was the resistance of all human mediatorship between Christ and His Church.

Revelation 2:4. Losing First Love.—The first love had gone out of their religion; there was a tendency to fall into a mechanical faith, strong against heresy, but tolerant of conventionalism. Their temptations did not arise from the prevalence of error, or the bitterness of persecution, but from a disposition to fall backward, and again do the dead works of the past. There was not so much need to take heed unto their doctrine, but there was great need that they should take heed unto themselves (1 Timothy 4:16; compare Acts 20:28). When there is danger because earnestness in the holy cause is dying out, and the very decorum of religion has become a snare, what more fitting than to be reminded of Him whose hand can strengthen and uphold them, and who walks among the candlesticks to supply them with the oil of fresh love (Revelation 2:1)? The decay of love is the decay of that without which all other graces are as nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3), since “all religion is summed up in one word, Love. God asks this; we cannot give more, He cannot take less.” Great as the fault is, it is the fault which Love alone could have detected. Can any one more touchingly rebuke than by commencing, “Thou no longer lovest me enough”? There is at present, in the Ephesian Church, little outward sign of decay; they have resisted evil and false teachers; they have shown toil and endurance; but the great Searcher of hearts detects the almost imperceptible signs of an incipient decay. He alone can tell the moment when love of truth is passing into a noisy, Pharisaic zealotism; when men are “settling down into a lower state of spiritual life than that which they once aimed at and once knew.”—Bishop Boyd Carpenter.

The True Problem of Christian Experience.—There are many disciples of our time, who, like the Ephesian disciples, are to be warmly commended for their intended fidelity, and are yet greatly troubled and depressed by what appears to be a real loss of ground in their piety. They are compelled to sigh over a certain subsidence of that pure sensibility, and that high inspiration, in which their discipleship began. The clearness of that hour is blurred, the fresh joy interspaced with dryness.

I. The relation of the first love, or the beginning of the Christian discipleship, to the subsequent life.—What we call conversion is not a change distinctly traceable in the experience of all disciples, though it is, and must be, a realised fact in all. There are many that grew up out of their infancy, or childhood, in the grace of Christ, and remember no time when they began to love Him. Even such, however, will commonly remember a time when their love to God and Divine things became a fact so fresh, so newly conscious, as to raise a doubt whether it was not then for the first time kindled. In other cases there is no doubt of a beginning, a real, conscious, definitely remembered beginning, a new turning to God, a fresh-born Christian love. What is the import of such a state? what its relation to the subsequent life and character? It is a character begun, a Divine fact accomplished, in which the subject is started on a new career of regenerated liberty in good. But it is not a completed gift, which only needs to be held fast. It is one of God’s beginnings, which He will carry on to perfection. In one view, indeed, it is a kind of perfect state—a state resembling innocence. It is free, it is full of God, it is, for the time, without care. In this flowering state of beauty the soul discovers, and even has in its feeling, the sense of perfection, and is thus awakened from within to the great ideal, in which its bliss is to be consummated. The perfection conceived, too, and set up as a mark of attainment, is something more than a form of grace to be hereafter realised. It is now realised, as far as it can be. There is a certain analogy between this state, paradisaically beautiful, pure, and clean, and that external paradise in which our human history began. Still, the probability that any one will continue in the clearness and freshness of his first love to God, suffering no apparent loss, falling into no disturbance or state of self-accusing doubt, is not great. Where the love is really not lost, it will commonly need to be conquered again, over and over, and wrought into the soul by a protracted and resolute warfare. A mere glance at the new-born state of love discovers how incomplete and unreliable it is. An angel, as it were, in feeling, it is yet a child in self-understanding. The significance of the first love, as related to subsequent life, is twofold. In the first place, it is the birth of a new, supernatural, and Divine consciousness in the soul, in which it is raised to another plane, and begins to live as from a new point. And, secondly, it is so much of a reality, or fact realised, that it initiates, in the subject, experimentally, a conception of that rest, that fulness, and peace, and joyous purity, in which it will be the bliss and greatness of his eternity to be established. In both respects it is the beginning of the end; and yet, to carry the beginning over to the end, and give it there its due fulfilment, requires a large and varied trial of experience.

II. The relation of the subsequent life, including its apparent losses, to its beginning.—The real object of the subsequent life, as a struggle of experience, is to produce in wisdom what is there begotten as a feeling or a new love, and thus to make a fixed state of that which was initiated only as a love. It is to convert a heavenly impulse into a heavenly habit, to raise the Christian childhood into a Christian manhood. The paradise of first love is a germ, we may conceive, in the soul’s feeling, of the paradise to be fulfilled in its wisdom. At first the disciple knows very little of himself. At first nothing co-operates in settled harmony with his new life; but if he is faithful, he will learn how to make everything in him work with it, and assist the edifying of his soul in love. A great point is the learning how to maintain his new supernatural relation of sonship and vital access to God. And through the same course of experience, he conceives more and more perfectly what is the true idea of character. At first, character is to him a mere feeling or impulse—a frame. Next it becomes a life of work and self-denial. Next, a principle—nothing but a matter of principle. Next he conceives that it is something outwardly beautiful—a beautiful life. Character is at last conceived as a life whose action, choice, thought, and expression, are all animated and shaped by the spirit of holiness and Divine beauty which was first breathed into his feeling. A great point to be gained in the struggle of experience is to learn when one has a right to the state of confidence and rest. By a similar process he learns how to modulate and direct his will. His thinking power undergoes a similar discipline. At first he had a very perplexing war with his motives. The new love kindled by the Spirit has to maintain itself in company with great personal defects in the subject. And his temporary failures may occasion great distress. Still, the process of God is contrived to bring us round, at last, to the simple state which we embraced, in feeling, and help us to embrace it in wisdom. The beginning is the beginning of the end—the end, the child and fruit of the beginning. The fact, then, of a truly first love, the grand Christian fact of a spiritual conversion or regeneration, is no way obscured by the losing experiences that so often follow. On the contrary, its evidence is rather augmented by these irregularities and seeming defections. And, if it be more than nothing, then it is, of all mortal experiences, the chief; a change mysterious, tremendous, luminous, joyful, fearful—everything which a first contact of acquaintance with God can make it.—H. Bushnell, D.D.

Revelation 2:7. Overcoming.—Life on the earth for moral beings is not what we would have made it, if we had been entrusted with the making. Why should it cost such conflict for moral beings to win, and keep, goodness? For it does.

“The path of sorrow, and that path alone,
Leads to the place where sorrow is unknown.”

That is a truth concerning our life on the earth which there is no gainsaying. Nothing, indeed, that is really worth having is easy to gain. That which costs nothing always proves to be nothing worth. St. Paul speaks of the battle of life, and shows us how to win it. St. John speaks of our “overcoming.” The fight is a continuous and prolonged one. We never end it, save with the ending of our earthly life. This fact, this truth, is freshly and vigorously impressed by the message of the Living Christ sent to the Churches of Asia. These seven messages tell what the Living Christ watches—us in the fight; us fighting. These seven messages tell what the Living Christ will do. Reward those who overcome.

I. All of us have something to wrestle with and overcome.—

1. Something preventing our success in life. Often we say that circumstances hinder us. Nay, the truth is this: we will not fight.
2. Something preventing our surrender to Christ. Something we persist in clinging to, something we will not wrestle with and master.
3. Something preventing our union with His Church. 4. Something preventing growth of character. It often is something in the self, in the natural or educated disposition, that makes our great fight; some weakness of character, some besetting sin, some unworthy habit. Or it may be something in our surroundings, our place of business, our companionships, our pleasures. It may be something of sin or temptation, as it meets us out in life. Whatever it may be, we are not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good.

II. There is only one way in which we may hope to overcome.—There are self-reliant ways that men try. They trust in vows, resolves, character, efforts. But life sternly deals with all merely self-efforts, and refuses to let man reap a moral victory in his own strength. There is really only one way. The fight must be waged under the leading of the great Captain of Salvation. By the sign of the cross we conquer, or, to use a Scripture figure, we “overcome by the blood of the Lamb.” David conquered Goliath because the wisdom and strength of God were upon his wisdom and strength. St. Paul could do all things “through Him who strengthened him.” We may be “more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” It is a spiritual fight, and for it we can have our Lord’s spiritual presence—and this presence as help for the small things of life.

III. Gracious rewards await those who overcome.—There is nothing for those who never knew what it was to fight. But the rewards of victors in the moral conflict can only be presented to us in figures. The messages to the Seven Churches indicate that the reward will be precisely adapted to each precise fight, and each precise victor. But, whatever else may be said, the smile and acceptance of Jesus is the one all-satisfying reward.

1. Ephesus—fading, or lost, life of love. Reward: the quickening and sustaining tree of life.

2. Smyrna—test of martyrdom (Polycarp). Reward: “Not hurt of second death.”

3. Pergamos—failing purity. Reward: gift of the White Stone.
4. Thyatira—outward heathen temptations. Reward: mastery over influence of evil.
5. Philadelphia—the steadfast. Reward: made a pillar, with Christ’s great Name inscribed upon it.
6. Laodicea—the self-satisfied. Reward: sit beside Christ, the King of the lowly. It should be our joy that we are in the Lord’s war, and under the Lord’s eye, and assured of the Lord’s acceptance. Then, every day, and everywhere, let us be fully determined that we will “overcome.”

The Symbol of Eating of the Tree of Life.—Prominent as this symbol had been in the primeval history, it had remained unnoticed in the teaching where we should most have looked for its presence—in that of the Psalmists and the Prophets of the Old Testament. Only in the Proverbs of Solomon had it been used, in a sense half allegorical and half mystical. (See Proverbs 3:18; Proverbs 11:30; Proverbs 13:12; Proverbs 15:4.) In connection with the revival of the symbol in the Apocalypse, it may be noted—

1. That it was the natural sequel of the fresh prominence that had recently been given to the thought of Paradise.
2. That the writings of Philo had specifically called attention to the tree of life as being the mystical type of the highest form of wisdom and holiness—the fear of God (θεοσεβεία) by which the soul attains to immortality. We trace, in other things at least, the indirect influence of Philo’s teaching on the thoughts and language of St. John, and as we must assume that all imagery is adapted, even in the words of the Divine Speaker, to the minds of those who hear, there seems no reason why we should not admit the working of that influence here. It may be asked, however, What is the meaning of the symbol, as thus used? How are we to translate it into the language of more abstract truth? And here, if I mistake not, the more developed form of the symbol, at the close of the Apocalypse, gives us the true answer: “The tree of life bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month, and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:2). The leaves and the fruit obviously represent, the one the full and direct, the other the partial and indirect, workings of that eternal life which St. John thought of as manifested in the Incarnate Word. The “healing of the nations,” the elevation of their standard of purity and holiness, of duty and of love—this has been the work of that partial knowledge which the Church of Christ has been instrumental in diffusing. Its influence has counteracted the deadly working of the fruit of the other tree of “the knowledge of good and evil,” which we trace as due to a wisdom that is earthly, sensual, devilish. But to “eat of the tree of life” implies a more complete fruition, a higher communion and fellowship with the source of life. And here, therefore, I cannot but think that the promise of the Judge points to the truth that He is Himself, now, as ever, the “exceeding great reward” (Genesis 15:1) of those that serve Him faithfully; that the symbol veils the truth; that “this is life eternal, to know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent” (John 17:3).—Dean Plumptre.

Legends Concerning the Tree of Life.—In an old, rare book, called “Adam’s Repentance,” it is said that Seth, the third son of Adam, went to the gate of Paradise at the request of his dying father, and there received from the angel in charge three seeds of the tree of life, which he put in the mouth of Adam when he buried him. From these grew three saplings, from which were taken the wood for Moses’ rod, and that by which the waters of Marah, in the desert, were sweetened. The temple of David was also built of the wood of these trees, and the bench on which the heathen Sibyls sat when they prophesied the coming of Christ. Moses’ rod was planted in Canaan, and also became a tree, from which the cross of Christ, the new tree of life, was made, and the eternal life, lost in Adam, regained. This legend is fully portrayed in a picture on the altar of a Church in Leyden. It is, perhaps, founded on a simpler story told by Sozomen, the ecclesiastical historian, that at Hermopolis, in Egypt, stood the tree Persis, the fruit, leaves, and bark whereof possessed wonderful healing qualities. When the Virgin Mary, on her flight to Egypt with the infant Jesus, rested under this tree, it bowed its whole length in humble reverence to Jesus as the true Lord of life and health. The arbor vitœ, familiar to us, is sculptured on Egyptian tombs, as a symbol of belief in another existence beyond the grave. In the Middle Ages it was said that whosoever would eat of the wood of this tree of life would be preserved from weakness and decrepitude, and would be rendered invincible as Achilles. It was also said that to eat of its foliage would cause one to forget all hunger and care.


Revelation 2:1. Ruins of Ancient Ephesus.—Let us go with the traveller, as he journeys over the scenes of Asia Minor—of which Homer, Hesiod, Æschylus, and Euripides, sang, and of which Herodotus and Xenophon wrote—scenes of ancient myths, of high adventure, of sacred narrative,—scenes where Pagan mythology recorded its wonders, and where gospel doctrine claimed its triumphs; and let us rest for a moment with him as he surveys, in the ancient district of Lydia, on the borders of the Ægean Sea, a poor Turkish village, bearing the modern name of Aiasalûk. From the eminence upon which that hamlet stands, built of materials in which are constantly to be seen traces of a more dignified antiquity, the eye wanders over immense heaps of chaotic ruin in the valley below. These masses of ancient masonry are partly overgrown by the wild luxuriance of an almost tropical vegetation, and only the serpent, the lizard, and the scorpion, are at home on the spot. The elegant forms of Corinthian architecture, shafts of Ionic columns, and the less graceful remnants of later Roman days, may be traced amidst the inextricable confusion. A considerable river (the Cayster), the waters of which were originally clear as crystal, having broken loose from its bounds, wanders at will amidst the ruins, and converts the whole into a malarious swamp. Here and there a corn-field offers a contrast to the surrounding desolation, yet only serves to make that desolation more marked and emphatic. Among other remnants of the past are the ruins of an ancient theatre, whose circular seats, uprising one above another, may still be traced, whilst numerous arches remain witnesses of its former grandeur. But though the broken masonry is most extensive, not an apartment remains entire. No Christian dwells in its vicinity; there is no certainty as to the site of any one of the buildings which gave to the city its peculiar character. Confusion has done its utmost work. Such are the ruins of ancient Ephesus. Its position and prospects have undergone a total revolution; “the very sea has shrunk from its shores.” Everywhere are visible the traces of the spoilers’ hand. The columns which once adorned its temples, and which were the envy of the beholder, were removed by Justinian, to ornament the church of Sophia, in Constantinople. Barbarians pillaged all that emperors had spared; and as the traveller gazes upon the fallen fortunes of so much antecedent magnificence, he shudders at the too visible fulfilment of the threat, “I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.” While all trace of the temple of Diana has been lost, Chandler relates that he found amongst the ruins of the city an inscription, commencing as follows: “Inasmuch as it is notorious that, not only among the Ephesians, but also everywhere among the Greek nations, temples are consecrated to her, and sacred portions,” etc., which strikingly illustrates the address of the town clerk of Ephesus: “Ye men of Ephesus, what man is there that knoweth not how that the city of the Ephesians is a worshipper of the great goddess Diana” (Acts 19:35)?

Revelation 2:7. Overcoming.—As on some battlefield, whence all traces of the agony and fury have passed away, and harvests wave, and larks sing where blood ran and men groaned their lives out, some grey stone, raised by the victors, remains, and only the trophy tells of the forgotten fight; so that monumental word, “I have overcome,” stands to all ages as the record of the silent, lifelong conflict.—A. Maclaren, D.D.

Tree of Life.—Comparing this verse with Christ’s declaration to the penitent thief, “To-day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise,” Parkhurst maintains that the tree of life is not an emblem of any agent through which Christ bestows blessings, but that it symbolises our Lord Himself. So, following out the idea, he points out that the cherubim, after Adam was expelled from the Edenic paradise, were set to guard the approaches to the tree of life: the time had not yet come for Christ to be manifested in the “glory of His work of redemption.” In Luke 23:31 we find that Christ alludes to Himself in His attitude of a sufferer as “the green tree”; that is to say, He was under the constant influence of the spirit of God, and brought forth the fruit of perfect holiness in His Divine manhood.

Verses 8-11


Revelation 2:8. Was dead and lived again (R.V.).—Both the death and the return to life are assigned to a past time. The appropriateness of this presentation of Christ lies in the fact that the epistle was addressed to a persecuted Church, exposed even to the peril of martyrdom. They, even as their Lord, might have to go “through death to life.”

Revelation 2:9. Works.—Omitted in R.V. Tribulation.—Trench explains the origin of this word (“Study of Words,” p. 8). Poverty.—Attendant on the persecution. When turned out of the synagogue, on becoming Christians, Jews were often deprived of their property. Rich.—In character, and Divine approval. Blasphemy.—A term usually and properly applied to God; here meaning “reviling,” “insult,” “calumny.” Synagogue of Satan.—With simple meaning of congregation of deceivers. “A company of people bearing the image of Satan, copying his example, doing his work, and supporters of his rule.” Here Satan is treated as the ideal deceiver, who represents these deceivers. No argument in relation to his personality can safely be drawn from such figurative expressions as these.

Revelation 2:10. Devil.—Representing the informers against, accusers of, the Christians, and persecuting magistrates. Prison.—The first degree of punishment. Tried.—In the sense of tempted to apostatise. Ten days.—Not literal ten days; the expression is figurative, and means a strictly limited and relatively short time. Faithful.—Constant, persistent. Death.—θανάτου suggests here a violent death. Crown of life.—I.e., eternal life as a crown, or sealing of the faithfulness. See 1 Peter 5:4; 2 Timothy 4:8.

Revelation 2:11. Second death—Compare Revelation 20:6; Revelation 20:14, Revelation 21:8. It points to a death other than the death of the body. It is used in the Chaldee paraphrase. Carpenter says: “The life of the spirit is the knowledge of God (John 17:3); the death of the spirit, or the second death, is the decay or paralysis of the powers by which such a knowledge was possible, and the experience of the awfulness of a life which is without God.”


Cheer for the Faithful.—He who spake in parables, as the human Christ, speaks in figures and symbols as the Living Christ. Smyrna, now “Ismir” is still an important commercial city of Ionia, with a population of some hundred and twenty thousand. It claims to be the birthplace of Homer. The vine was much cultivated; Dionysos, the God of wine, was worshipped, and intemperance was the characteristic sin of the inhabitants. Dionysos represents the productive, overflowing, intoxicating power of nature, and of this, wine is the natural and appropriate symbol. The association of Polycarp with this epistle is very uncertain, but his martyrdom may be used as illustration. Perhaps he was ordained by St. John; he succeeded Bucolus as bishop of Smyrna, and was martyred A.D. 156, or 157, in the reign of Marcus Antoninus. Evidently the one thing specially noticed by the Living Christ, when inspecting this Church, is its heroic endurance of outward persecution. It was severely subject to the strain of circumstances, and bore it nobly and well. Smyrna suffers for the sake of its culture (as Job did); other Churches suffer as discipline for correction. It is important to face the fact, that a godly individual may be called to suffer simply as an agency to secure his higher culture; and it is equally true that a Christian Church may be put into circumstances of grave anxiety and distress, with a view to securing its spiritual culture.

I. The figure in which the Living Christ appears to this Church.—“The first and the last, which was dead and lived again.” The key-note of the epistle is this: Christ died to live again—to live truly. You die, and you too shall live again—shall live indeed. (Some think the figure may be suggested by the legend of the violent death, and the resurrection, of Dionyses; but see Revelation 1:17-18.)

II. The things noticed in this Church by the Living Christ.—The word “works” is best understood, not as active, energetic, enterprising works, but as suggested by the two following and explanatory terms, “labour,” or strain, bearing, and “patience,” the virtue of the sufferer. The “works” of Smyrna were passive-bearing rather than active-doing. The Living Christ finds no ground of open complaint; and yet, the very fact that there was need for disciplinary and culturing trouble to do a gracious work in the Church, implies some imperfection. The Living Christ saw three things.

1. The tribulation the Church had to endure.
2. The poverty of circumstances which the tribulation involved; and
3. The insults offered by the bigoted Jewish party. Each of these troubles would be hard to bear; the three together made a hard lot indeed. The question of supreme interest to Him who inspected the Church was this: “Would they live—as they might live—by getting from under the pressure of these evils? Or were they willing to die—die to self, as they might die—by nobly yielding to bear them? If they would live by denying Christ, then they would die to the eternal life. If they would die, by suffering for Christ, then they should live to the eternal life. Illustrate by the familiar picture, “Diana or Christ?” Matamoros, the Spanish martyr, is reported to have said, “I purpose, to be steadfast to the end, be that what it may.”

III. The message sent to the Church by the Living Christ.—It was the anticipation of further strain, to which the Church would be subject, and a gracious warning in relation to it. “Prison and death;” not relief, but more trial. “Ten days;” the figure of completeness as a test, but implying a limited time. But the warning blends with encouragement and assurance. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.” It seems that the priests of Dionysos were presented with a crown; but the crown that Jesus gives is a crown of life. The story of the martyrdom of Bishop Polycarp closes with the words, “By his patience he overcame the unrighteous ruler, and received the crown of immortality.”

IV. The provision which the Living Christ makes for those who overcome.—“Not be hurt of the second death.” That expression, “second death,” is not to be found in either the gospels or the epistles. Here is a strange thing: they were to conquer by yielding, to overcome by dying. “Death”—the consummation of persecution and suffering, is the prominent figure of this message. Christ suffered unto death, and gained His victory through death. They were to be “faithful unto death,” and so they were to be secured from the “second death.” The first death is death unto self. The second death is death unto God. Suffer the first, and you are saved from the second. In this we find but a repetition of our Lord’s earthly teachings, for He said, “He that findeth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his life for My sake shall find it.” See the principle illustrated in the Church at Smyrna, regarding Bishop Polycarp as its type. He was aged when arrested. He was offered his life if he would sacrifice to the Emperor. And though he was aged, life was precious. He died unto self, and lives unto God. See the principle illustrated in a Church of to-day. A Church may have to pass through times of outward trouble as correction, but it is also true that the purpose of the trouble may only be culture. Can it bear? Can it suffer? Can it even be crushed, and, as it were, die? If it can, what shall it win? Show what features of the higher Church-life can be won only through the experience of well-borne suffering. There are martyrs who do not die—who are just heroic endurers. And, both as individuals and as Churches, we need to think of ourselves as those who serve Him who died to self, and lived, and lives, to God.

Note on Dionysos.—The tutelary deity of Smyrna was the god of wine, who represented the productive, overflowing, and intoxicating power of nature. The story of the violent death and subsequent resurrection of this god was particularly celebrated by the people of Smyrna, and there may be a reference to this in the figure chosen to represent Christ. “Was dead, and is alive again.” The priests who annually presided at the celebration of the resurrection of Dionysos were persons of distinction, and at the end of their year of office they were presented with a crown.


Revelation 2:9. Poverty in the Early Churches.—Persecution has its heroic side, and under its stimulus men may do and dare much; but when, in addition to this, there is the daily pressure of ignoble cares, the living as from hand to mouth, the insufficient food and the scanty, squalid clothing of the beggar, the trial becomes more wearying, and calls for greater fortitude and faith. We do not sufficiently estimate, I believe, this element in the sufferings of the first believers. Taken for the most part from the humbler class of artizans; often thrown out of employment by the very fact of their conversion, with new claims upon them from the afflicted members of the great family of Christ close at hand or afar off, and a new energy of sacrifice prompting them to admit those claims; subjected, not unfrequently, to the “spoiling of their goods” (Hebrews 10:34);—we cannot wonder that they should have had little earthly store, and that their reserve of capital should have been rapidly exhausted. Poverty brought with it some trials to which those who had been devout Jews (Israelites) before their conversion, and who had not ceased to claim their position as such, would be peculiarly sensitive. In the synagogue which they had been in the habit of attending, and which there was no reason for their at once forsaking—perhaps even in the assemblies of Jewish disciples, which still retained the old name and many of the old usages—they would find themselves scorned and scoffed at, thrust into the background, below the footstool of the opulent traders in whom a city like Smyrna was sure to abound (James 2:2-3). The hatred which the unbelieving Jews felt for the name of Christ would connect itself with their purse-proud scorn of the poor and needy, and “those beggars of Christians “would become a byword of reproach.—Dean Plumptre.

Revelation 2:10. Faithful. Christian Faithfulness.—Bishop Polycarp was martyred A.D. 168, long years after the book of Revelation was written, but his story glorifies the place (see “Illustrations”). In most of the other messages, complaint and commendation are blended. In this to Smyrna there is no complaint. The point of the message is, that this Church must expect unusual trouble. And that is God’s frequently allotted experience for the unusually devout: the better souls are the very ones that respond best to the holy, refining fires; fine gold is most worth refining. Their trouble was to take three forms: the despoiling of their goods, peril of life, and calumny, or slander. Some would be cast into prison. The great “tribulum,” the mighty threshing roller of persecution, would go over their heap of wheat, to and fro, back and again, through the ten long years of Marcus Antoninus’ reign. Man would say, It is overwhelming, crushing. Christ says, the tribulum of God never crushes; it only, with strong hand, separates the chaff from the wheat, that the wheat may be gathered into the garner.

I. Our Lord’s call to an afflicted Church.—“Be faithful,” even to death-limits. In all His dealings with His people, our Lord is ever more anxious about them than about their circumstances. We are worried and anxious about our circumstances, but Christ is not. His anxiety concerns our moral and spiritual state. Nothing relieves us, in times of distress and pain, like this thought: my Lord wants me to be right; and that explains why persecution abides, why misunderstandings will not get corrected, why pain cannot be taken away, why the “thorn” stays, and we are thrown wholly on the “strengthening grace.” The Living Christ does not send to Smyrna saying, “I foresaw persecution and slander threatening you, and I warded it off.” He does not even, when it comes upon them, put forth miraculous power for its removal. He leaves the great providential workings alone, but calls upon His people to be noble in the very midst of suffering. “Be thou faithfull.” “Faithful” is a familiar Scripture term used concerning men, and even used of God. Abraham was faithful. Moses is “faithful in Mine house.” Samuel was faithful to be a prophet of the Lord. “Who is so faithful as Daniel?” “Hananiah was a faithful man.” “Judah is faithful with the saints.” “Timothy is faithful in the Lord.” “Tychicus is a beloved brother and faithful minister.” “Antipas was My faithful martyr.” God is spoken of as “the faithful God who keepeth covenant”; and “we are to commit our souls to Him as unto a faithful Creator.” Christ is “the Faithful Witness,” and His people are “saints and faithful brethren in Christ Jesus.” The figure in the word is that of “keeping covenant.” Those who are in covenant take mutual pledges and come under mutual responsibilities. To meet those responsibilities and fulfil those pledges is to be faithful, and so the word applies to all positions of service or ministry, since all such are really covenant-positions. And we have entered into solemn and everlasting covenant with Christ. He has entrusted to us His truth, His rights, His work in the world. Every one of us lies under this holy burden, unless we be reprobates. Then, being faithful means:

1. Faithful in keeping the truth entrusted to us. It does not matter how few or how simple you make the great primary truths and principles of Christianity to be, there certainly are some truths which are characteristically Christian—that is, which have been brought to light and set forth in the world of human thought by Jesus Christ as the essential first principles of what is called the Christian system. If men do not accept these, they may call themselves by what name they please, they are not Christians. The fundamental revelation of Christ is the Fatherhood of God. This discovers the helpless, prodigal condition of man. And it prepares the way for a redemption of love, wrought by God Himself, operating, in the sphere of the senses, by the manifestation of the Son in our world, and, in the spheres of mind and soul, by the grace and power of the Holy Ghost. And the test of the acceptance of this revelation, this whole circle of truth, is the view that is taken of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Early Ages, again in the Middle Ages, and yet again now in our day, our faithfulness to the Christian truth is tested by our answer to this question concerning Christ, “Whose Son is He?” And the answer must ring out clear as the midnight hour from cathedral chimes: He is “God manifest in the flesh.” “The Word was God.” “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” We may yield a large and generous liberty to men in relation to the forms and terms in which they set the truth in Christ. But we have a trust: in regard to it we must be found faithful. We would “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints,” the faith of Christ, who is God; of Christ, who is Man; of Christ, who has atoned; of Christ, who does redeem; of Christ, who ever lives; of Christ, who is “Head over all things to His Church”; of Christ, who will one day “judge the world in righteousness.”

2. Faithful in manifesting the spirit that is becoming to Christ’s servants. For there is a spirit, a tone, an atmosphere of mind and feeling, which is peculiarly becoming to Christianity; a spirit which times of trouble, and especially times of calumny, misunderstanding, and slander, such as Smyrna passed through, seriously affect. In this, too, the Living Christ bids us “Be faithful.” The spirit becoming to us is comprehensively called love. Jesus bade His disciples “Love one another.” And St. Paul elaborates the great Christian grace in writing to the Corinthians (chap. 13). How readily those Christians at Smyrna might lose love and brotherhood when conflict of opinion and persecution arose and “a man’s foes were they of his own household”! How difficult to keep calm, gentle, loving, when their very good was evil spoken of, and malignant Judaisers blasphemed them for their liberty in Christ! They might hold fast by the Christian truth and yet lose the Christian spirit, and so prove themselves unworthy followers of Him who, “though He was reviled, reviled not again, though He suffered, threatened not”; of Him who, dying on a cruel cross, prayed for His murderers, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” passing out of life full of heavenly, Divine charity. Perhaps it is the very hardest thing we have to do in life, to be firm to the truth, manly in stating settled convictions, brave to point out public wrongs, and yet not lose love, or fail from the Christian spirit when our work is misunderstood, our purpose maligned, and slanders abound which must not be followed and fought through. Happy indeed is he who at such times may “in patience possess his soul;” unto whom God gives the grace of patience and gentleness, that he may be found faithful, “hoping all things, enduring all things.”

3. Faithful in doing that work of grace in the world which Christ wants carried through. For a Church has no right to exist, save as it is an active, working Church. A Christian man has no right to his Christian comfortings and hopes, save as he is an active, working Christian. There are spheres for every one of us. We must find for ourselves what ours is. Nobody can tell us. Having found our sphere, the text has its message for us: “Be thou faithful.” Our work may be witness, prayer, influence, giving, teaching, writing, ministry, or other form of service. But faithful is by no means to be confused with successful; and yet, so full of business ideas, that is very much how we read His meaning. It is not the grandest thing in life to be successful. Success is the false idol-god of this age, and strives hard to take the place of the Lord Jesus. No man ever sees the nobility of human life until he learns to put success second, and faithfulness first. Very often that very thing on which men have pityingly gazed, and called it a failure, God has regarded as among the noblest achievements of the sons of men.

II. For the faithful ones Christ keeps the holy reward, the crown of life.—Bound four together at the stake, the nobles of Madagascar glorified God in the fires, “faithful unto death”; and as they died a lovely rainbow spanned the scene, and crowned those heroic souls. Forth from the conflict in Olympic and Isthmian games conquerors went, with circlets of ivy, or of parsley, twined about their brows; crowned, men called it, and they meant, sealed as conquerors, recognised as conquerors, stamped as kingly among their fellows, attested as heroes Worthless enough in itself, the parsley wreath expressed so much; and the city of him who wore it woke to feel its exceeding honour, and when he returned from the games, flung wide open its gates, nay, even sometimes made a new way through its walls, for him who seemed to them too noble to enter as might commoner men. And Christ gives no crown that may arrest attention for its own value. He gives one which shall be for earth and heaven, the sign of conflict maintained and victory won. The life of faithfulness shall be crowned with acceptance and permanency. The struggle for righteousness shall be crowned with the eternal seal of righteousness. The work for the glory of a completed obedience shall be sealed with the seal of sonship, and the welcome for the “blessed of the Father.” This is Christian life in its progress: being faithful. This is Christian life in its ending: being faithful unto death. And this is Christian life passed through into the unknown: crowned with the crown of life.

The Reward of Faithfulness.—Learn that the religion of Christ—

I. Requires faithfulness.—To be faithful in religion means that the believer should make use of all his powers on behalf of—

1. Religion.
2. Religion in the circle in which God has placed him.
3. Religion according to God’s will.

II. Requires personal faithfulness.—Because every Christian—

1. Has a personal work to accomplish.
2. Is endowed with power to accomplish his own work.
3. Is under a personal obligation to be faithful.

III. Requires continual faithfulness.—Because—

1. The work is great.
2. The time is short.

IV. The religion of Christ rewards this personal and continual faithfulness.—The reward is—

1. Precious—“a crown.”
2. Glorious—“a crown of life.
3. Durable—“life.”
4. Personal—“I will give thee.”—J. O. Griffiths.

Revelation 2:11. Second Death.—(See Revelation 20:14-15).—The imagery of the fiery lake, like that of the worm and the flame of the Valley of Hinnom, may be but imagery, but it points, at least, to some dread reality which is veiled beneath those awful symbols. What that reality is we may infer from St. John’s conceptions of the higher life. If the first death is the loss of the first or earthly life, then the second death must be the loss of that knowledge of God which makes the blessedness of eternal life—and that loss is, at least, compatible with the thought of continuous existence. What possibilities in the far-off future were shadowed forth by the mysterious words that “Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire”! As though they were to be robbed of their power to destroy, and were punished as the great enemies of God and man. How far those who were cast in with them might even there be not shut out from hope, it was not given to the seer of the Apocalypse to know, nor did he care to ask. It was enough for the faithful sufferers under persecution, who overcame in that conflict with the plurima mortis imago, to which they were exposed, to know that this was all that their enemies could inflict on them, and that the “second death” should have no power over them.—Dean Plumptre.

Revelation 2:11. The Three Deaths of Scripture.—In the New Testament, death is spoken of in three different senses. For it is regarded as simply a separation from some form of life; which modern science acknowledges to be a strictly accurate view to take of death. In scientific language, it is the cessation of a correspondence with some special environment. There is, first, physical or temporal death, which is simply separation from this present outward world, the end of our correspondence with our physical environment. There is, next, spiritual death. Here the environment is God, and death means separation from the light of His love. “To be carnally minded is death” (Romans 8:6); “You, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). And, lastly, there is the death to sin, the exact converse of the latter—separation from the devil and his works, through the life that is in Christ Jesus. “Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:11). “He that is dead is freed from sin” (Romans 6:7).


Revelation 2:8. Smyrna.—This celebrated city is situated on the Mediterranean Sea, about forty miles north of Ephesus. It has a population of nearly 130,000, of whom 25,000 are Greeks, 10,000 Jews, 8000 Armenians, and the remainder chiefly Turks. It has twenty mosques, but the Turkish power is declining. The poppy and convolvulus are much cultivated, the latter yielding a valuable drug known as “scammony.”

The Beauty of Smyrna.—“The first sight of Smyrna, especially when approached by sea, must produce a strong impression. It presents a picture of indescribable beauty. The heights of Mount Pagus and the plain beneath, covered with innumerable houses; the tiled roofs and painted balconies, the domes and minarets of mosques glowing and glittering with the setting sun; the dark walls of the old fortress crowning the top of the mountain, and the still darker cypress groves below; shipping of every form and country covering the bay beneath; flags of every nation waving on the ships of war and over the houses of the consuls; mountains on both side of stupendous height and extraordinary outline … tinted with so strong a purple, that neither these nor the golden streaks on the water could safely be attempted to be represented by the artist; at the margin of the water on the right, meadows of the richest pasture, the velvet turf contrasted with the silvery olive, and covered with cattle and tents without number;—all this will at once tell the traveller that he sees before him the city extolled by the ancients under the title of the lovely, the crown of Ionia, the ornament of Asia. It will remind the Christian that he is arrived at Smyrna, the Church favoured so much beyond all the other Churches of the Apocalypse; the only city retaining any comparison with its original magnificence. Ephesus the mart of all nations, the boast of Ionia, has long dwelt in darkness, as though she had not been; the streams of her commerce, like her own numerous ports, are all dried up. Where once pro-consuls sat at Laodicea, now sit the vulture and the jackal. At Sardis, where once a Solon reminded Crœsus of his mortality, the solitary cucuvaia awakens the same reflection; and if Philadelphia, Thyatira, and Pergamos continue to exist, it is in a state of being infinitely degraded from that which they once enjoyed. Smyrna alone flourishes still. Her temples and public edifices are no more; but her opulence, extent, and population, are certainly increased.”—Arundel.

Revelation 2:10. Faithful unto Death: Polycarp. When Polycarp, an ancient Bishop of the Church at Smyrna, was brought to the tribunal, the pro-consul asked him if he was Polycarp, to which he assented. The proconsul then began to exhort him, saying, “Have pity on thine own great age. Swear by the fortune of Cæsar. Repent: say, ‘Take away the atheists’ ”—meaning the Christians. Polycarp, casting his eyes solemnly over the multitude, waving his hand to them, and looking up to heaven, said, “Take away these atheists,” meaning the idolaters around him. The pro-consul, still urging him, and saying, “Swear, and I will release thee: reproach Christ,” Polycarp said, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He hath never wronged me; and how can I blaspheme my King who hath saved me?” “I have wild beasts,” said the pro-consul, “and will expose you to them unless you repent.” “Call them,” said the martyr. “I will tame your spirit by fire,” said the Roman. “You threaten me,” said Polycarp, “with the fire which burns only for a moment, but are yourself ignorant of the fire of eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly.” Soon after this, being about to be put to death, he exclaimed, “O Father of Thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ! O God of all principalities and of all creation! I bless Thee that Thou hast counted me worthy of this day and this hour, to receive my portion in the number of the martyrs, in the cup of Christ. I praise Thee for all these things. I bless Thee, I glorify Thee by the eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ, Thy well-beloved Son; through whom, and with whom, in the Holy Spirit, be glory to Thee, both now and for ever. Amen.”

Ignatius.—Having been sent, bound, to Rome, the Roman prefect caused it to be announced that on a given day Ignatius would fight with wild beasts in the Colosseum. Into the building, which would accommodate eighty-seven thousand spectators, we are told “the whole city” gathered to witness the bloody spectacle. When he was in the amphitheatre, turning to the people, as one who gloried in the ignominy which was before him, Ignatius cried out, “Romans, spectators of this present scene, I am here, not because of any crime, nor to absolve myself from any charge of wickedness, but to follow God, by the love of whom I am impelled, and whom I long for irrepressibly. For I am His wheat, and must be ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may become His pure bread.” When he had uttered these words, the lions, being let loose, instantly flew upon him and devoured him altogether, with the exception of his larger bones; thus fulfilling his prayer that the beasts might be his sepulchre, and that nothing might be left of his body; Christ receiving greater glory from the sufferings of His servant than would have followed from his escape from the wild beasts. Thus perished one who, a short time previously, feared that he was wanting in love to Christ, seeing that he had not then been thought worthy of the crown of martydom.

Hooper.—Bishop Hooper was condemned to be burned at Gloucester, in Queen Mary’s reign. A gentleman, with the view of inducing him to recant, said to him, “Life is sweet and death is bitter.” Hooper replied, “The death to come is more bitter, and the life to come more sweet. I am come hither to end this life, and suffer death, because I will not gainsay the truth I have here formerly taught you.” When brought to the stake, a box, with a pardon from the queen in it, was set before him. The determined martyr cried out, “If you love my soul, away with it! if you love my soul, away with it!”

A Greek Christian.—“A Turk had prevailed by artifice upon a Greek Christian, twenty-four years of age, to enter his service, abandon his faith, and embrace the tenets of Mohammed when he assumed the costume of a Mussulman. On the expiration of his engagement the Greek departed for Mount Athos, in Macedonia, and was absent about twelve months, when he returned to Smyrna; but, his conscience having reproached him for the act of apostasy of which he had been guilty, he proceeded to the Turkish judge, threw down his turban, declared he had been deceived, and would still live and die a Christian. Every effort was made to prevail on him to continue in the principles of Mohammedanism, by offering him great rewards if he did, and threatening him with the severest penalties if he did not. The Greek, having rejected every bribe, was thrust into a dungeon and tortured, which be bore most heroically, and was then led forth in public to be beheaded, with his hands tied behind his back. The place of execution was a platform opposite to one of the principal mosques, where a blacksmith, armed with a scimitar, stood ready to perform the dreadful operation. To the astonishment of the surrounding multitude, this did not shake his fortitude; and although he was told that it would be quite sufficient if he merely declared he was not a Christian, rather than do so, he chose to die. Still entertaining a hope that the young man might retract, especially when the instrument of death was exhibited, these offers were again and again pressed upon him, but without effect. The executioner was then ordered to peel off with his sword part of the skin of his neck. The fortitude and strong faith of this Christian, who expressed the most perfect willingness to suffer, enabled him to reach that highest elevation of apostolic triumph evinced by rejoicing in tribulation; when, looking steadfastly up to heaven, like the martyr Stephen, he loudly exclaimed, ‘I was born with Jesus, and shall die with Jesus’; and, bringing to recollection the exclamation of that illustrious martyr in the cause of his Divine Master, Polycarp, in this very place, he added, ‘I have served Christ, and how can I revile my King who has kept me?’ On pronouncing these words, his head was struck off at once.… The head was then placed under the left arm (after the Mohammedan is beheaded, the head is placed under the right arm, and in this manner he is interred) and, with the body, remained on the scaffold three days exposed to public view, after which the Greeks were permitted to bury it.”

A Brave Boy.—A company of boys in Chicago once endeavoured to force a boy to go with them into a garden to steal fruit. He persisted in his refusal to go with them. They threatened to duck him in the river unless he consented, but he remained firm His tormentors then forced him into the water, and wickedly drowned him, because he would not steal. There was the true hero, and the genuine spirit of a martyr. One of the local printers furnishes the following paragraph in relation to him:—“His father is one of our most worthy and estimable Norwegian citizens. He is a member of the Evangelican Lutheran Church, His little son, though but ten years of age, had given such true evidences of piety, and he was so intelligent and consistent in every respect, that he had also been admitted as a member of the same church. His seat in the Sabbath school was never vacant, and his lessons were always learned.” It is proposed to erect a monument to his memory. Who will say that children are too young to love and obey the truth? Honour to the noble boy who was willing to die rather than sin against God.

The Young Drummer.—In one of the late wars a little drummer boy, after describing the hardships of the winter campaign, the cold, the biting, the pitiless wind, the hunger and the nakedness, which they had to endure, concluded his letter to his mother with the simple and touching words, “But, mother, it is our duty, and for our duty we will die.”

Crowns for Conquerors.—Among the Romans, with other military honours and recompenses, rich and splendid crowns were publicly bestowed upon the illustrious conqueror, and upon every man who, acting worthy of the Roman name, had distinguished himself by his valour and his virtue. In the triumph of Paulus Æmilius, after taking king Perseus prisoner, and putting an end to the Macedonian empire, there were carried before the conqueror four hundred crowns, all made of gold, and sent from the cities by their respective ambassadors to Æmilius, as a reward due to his valour. How beautiful and striking, then, are those promises which assure us that the Saviour shall confer crowns of immortal glory upon His persevering saints, and that before the host of angels and an assembled world!—Kennett.

Verses 12-17


Revelation 2:12. Sharp sword.—Suggesting unusual severity of asserting, and unusual severity of dealing (see Revelation 1:16; also Ephesians 6:17). “On the one hand, it was to smite that it might heal, cutting to the quick, reaching the conscience, laying bare the hidden depths of each man’s life. On the other, it was also quick and powerful to smite and to destroy.

Revelation 2:13. Thy works.—Better omitted, as in Revelation 2:9. Satan’s seat.—Or “throne.” Reference may be to the worship of Æsculapius, under the symbol of a serpent; but Sinclair, on the ground of recent excavations, gives the suggestion that the phrase refers to the great altar of Zeus Soter, carved with the wars of gods and giants, which Attalus set up to commemorate his victory over the Gauls—the last great triumph of Hellenism over barbarism. Another suggestion is, that the phrase merely indicates that Pergamos was, in a special sense, a home of the Satanic spirit of persecution. It may be better, however, to keep the idea of deceiver associated with the term “Satan,” and destroyer associated with the word “Devil.” Antipas.—Probably short for Antipater; a man not otherwise known. Martyr.—Strictly witness; but bearing witness unto death. The death of one of them reveals the severity of the persecution under which all passed. (The legend concerning Antipas cannot be traced earlier than the fifth century, and then legends of martyrs were freely invented.)

Revelation 2:14. Doctrine of Balaam.—Which was this: if you cannot get your own way by open disobedience to God, get it by scheming; get it through offering gratification to human passion. Nothing can be baser, or more demoralising, than this “doctrine of Balaam.” “Israel could not be cursed, but they might be made to bring a curse upon themselves by yielding to sin.”

Revelation 2:15. Nicolaitanes.—These people encouraged Christians to join in the idolatrous feasts of their neighbours, on the plea that to the spiritual man there can be no sin in any merely bodily, animal action. It is true that sin is in the will, but it is known by its expression in acts. I hate.—δ μισῶ. Probably should be ὁμοίως, in like manner.

Revelation 2:16. Repent.—Addressed either directly to the angel or to the loyal ones in the Church. Them.—Those: embers who are yielding to surrounding evil influences. The discipline must be severe on them, and an anxiety for the whole Church.

Revelation 2:17. Hidden manna.—Figure for the Divinely-provided, spiritual food, with which loyal souls are nourished. White stone.—Sign of acquittal. See in “Main Homiletic” account of the “tessara hospitalis,” which explains the secrecy and value of the new name written upon the stone. New name.—That which betokens their adoption into the family of God; a new character, new position and privileges.”


A Church Flagging in its Duty.—Of this Church there is much complaint, and much need for stern discipline. Two evils were imperilling its very life. Christ deals with them hopefully, because they were yet in their early stages, and undeveloped. Only a few were really bad. Pergamos, or Pergamum (the original of the word “parchment”) was in the province of Troas, Asia Minor, some sixty miles north of Smyrna. It was not a commercial city, but its hill formed a natural fortress. It was the seat of the worship of Æsculapius, the god of healing, who was symbolled as a serpent, and represented by a live serpent which was kept in his temple. There is a legend about this god to the following effect: On one occasion, in the house of Glaucus, whom he was to cure, while he was standing absorbed in thought, a serpent entered, and twined round his staff. He killed it, and then another serpent came in, carrying in its mouth a herb with which it recalled to life the one that had been killed. Æsculapius henceforth used that herb, with healing effects, on man. But an elaborate system of magic grew up around this god, attended with deceptive practices. Pergamos became a focus of idolatrous worship, and could be described as the place “where Satan’s seat is.” Outward circumstances of temptation, rather than of trouble, are represented in the picture of this Church. Under pressure of these temptations the Church has partly yielded; but it does not seem to have recognised the seriousness and peril of this partial yielding; and therefore the Living Christ must come to it with the dividing and revealing two-edged sword.

I. A Church faithful to the truth.—“Hast not denied My faith.” Antipas was probably the proto-martyr of the Asiatic Churches. “I know thy works.” We would like Christ to judge us by our Church activities alone; but He always seeks to judge the soul that is behind the activities. Christ takes due account of our disabilities—“where thou dwellest”; but not so much to excuse failure as to show that He expects energy. Only noble souls are put in dangerous places; they are honoured even as is the “Forlorn Hope” of an army. (The “Nicolaitanes of Revelation 2:15 are best apprehended as the Antinomians of that day.)

II. A Church failing from its duty.—Its practice was by no means so good as its profession. Some were going wholly wrong. Balaam and the Nicolaitanes are introduced as types of the two serious evils affecting this Church. 1. Unrestrained feastings, or self-indulgence in food. The story of Balaam which is specially brought before us here is given in Numbers 31:16. Over-mastered by God, Balaam became a revengeful schemer, and taught Balak to show friendliness, and get the Israelites to mix with his people at the idol-feasts, whose great characteristic was riotous self-indulgence. This evil took a refined form in the early Church, and St. Paul had to advise on the question of eating meat which had been offered to idols, if a Christian was invited to a feast by a heathen friend. The difficulty was based on the Eastern idea of communion by eating. Fulness of self-indulgence in eating and drinking still involves the hopeless ruin of Christian piety.

2. Unrestrained passions, or self-indulgence in sexual relations. In Balaam’s day this over-feeding, and these idol associations, led to sadly immoral relations between Israel and Moab—relations that were in open and wilful opposition to the conditions of the Jehovah-covenant. In connection with this, bring in the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which supported immorality by its assertion that self-indulgence is not sin in the regenerate. There have been known cases in which men who were living in open immorality have persisted in coming to the Lord’s Table. But such men always have been, and are to-day, the canker of the Church. The sign that a man is a saved man is his wanting to be righteous, and trying to be righteous. A Christian absolutely must be self-restrained in matters of bodily appetite and passion.

III. A Church encouraged to become steadfast in holy living.—“Eat of the hidden manna,” to satisfy the feast-feeling. The figure may be based on the legend that Jeremiah hid the Temple pot of manna. Manna is Divinely-provided food—spiritual food. The addition of “hidden” makes it clear that it was not such manna as was provided for Israel—not something to satisfy merely bodily appetite. The point is this: overcome, and hold in wise restraint bodily appetite, and Christ’s reward will be the culture of spiritual appetite, with abundant supply of spiritual food. “White stone and new name,” to satisfy the love for human relations. When houses of public entertainment were less common, private hospitality was the more necessary. When one person was received kindly by another, or a contract of friendship was entered into, the tessera hospitalis was given. It was so named from its shape, being four-sided: it was sometimes of wood, sometimes of stone. It was divided into two by the contracting parties; each wrote his own name on half the tessera. Then they exchanged pieces, and therefore the name or device on the piece of the tessera which each received was the name the other person had written on it, and which no one else knew but him who received it. It was carefully prized, and entitled the bearer to protection and hospitality. The idea is, that human friendships and relations should become wholly pure, freed from carnal strain, sanctified, heavenly, the friendship of purified souls. “In heaven they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels.” Overcoming carnal tastes will surely go with culture of the spiritual tastes, so that we shall prefer the “hidden manna,” and see glory in the “white stone.” Every Christian, and every Christian Church, is expected to wear the “white flower of a blameless life.”


Revelation 2:14. Doctrine of Balaam.—“Things sacrificed to idols,” εἰδωλόθυτα.” Every convert from heathenism would acknowledge that he was bound to abstain from any participation, direct or indirect, in the false worship which he renounced at baptism. But the question, What acts involved an indirect participation? was one that gave rise to a perplexing casuistry, and yet could not be avoided. Was the convert to go out of the world, and turn from all social gatherings but those of his own community? Was he to refuse to join in the public meals, at inns, or elsewhere, which travel made almost indispensable? If he did so refuse, he cut himself off, not only from the pleasures, but from the duties and opportunities of family and social companionship. Yet if he accepted the invitation, there was the risk that he might be eating of the flesh of sheep or ox which the host had himself sacrificed, as a festive thank-offering, to Zeus or Apollo, or that the wine which he drank might have been poured out as a libation. If he did so eat, was he not, in “eating of the sacrifice,” a partaker in the worship, eating the flesh and drinking the cup which belonged to the demons that he had learnt to identify with the gods whom the heathen worshipped (1 Corinthians 11:20). Yet another case presented itself, which followed the convert even to his own home. Of the sacrifices that were offered in heathen temples the greater part became the perquisite of the priests. When they had more than they could consume themselves, they sold it to the meat-dealers of the market. The Christian convert, therefore, could never be sure that what he bought had not been thus offered, and the sensitive conscience was harassed with the tormenting thought of an unknown and involuntary transgression, which yet brought with it defilement and condemnation. The Jew might avoid the danger by dealing only, as for the most part, Jews deal now, with a butcher of his own persuasion; but this implied a more settled and organised society than that of most Christian communities in the early days of the Church’s life, and many years would probably pass away before the convert was able to meet with a Christian butcher. On the other hand, in most cases the Jewish butcher would probably refuse to supply him; or, if that were not the case, would only do so under the restrictions (to the Gentile burdensome and vexatious) of the Mosaic law of clean and unclean meats. (See the discussion of this difficulty in 1 Corinthians 10:14-33.) Those who are condemned by this message are precisely those whom St. Paul urges, on grounds of a moral expediency so high that it becomes a duty, to refrain from the exercise of the right and freedom of which they boasted. It was to be expected that some, in their self-will, would harden themselves against the appeal; that they might even use St. Paul’s name, and boast that they were more consistent with his principles than he was himself. This, we know, was what Marcion and his followers actually did when they claimed a true liberty for themselves; and Marcion may well have had forerunners among the Gnostics of the apostolic age.—Dean Plumptre.

Revelation 2:17. The New Name.—The giving of new names is not uncommon in the bible; e.g., Abraham—Israel—Boanerges—Peter. The new name expressed the step which had been taken into a higher, truer life, and the change of heart, and elevation of character, consequent upon it. Such are known in the world by their daily life, their business, their character; they are known above by the place they hold, and the work they are doing in the great war against evil. No man knoweth the characteristics of the growth of the character, the spiritual conflict in which the work is done, and the features of that change which has been, and is being, wrought, except he who experiences the love, the grace, and the tribulation, by which his spirit-life has grown.—Bishop Boyd Carpenter.


Revelation 2:12. Pergamos.—Pergamos, a celebrated city of Mysia, in Asia Minor, and for one hundred and fifty years the capital of a powerful and independent kingdom of the same name, is situated about sixty-four miles north-west of Smyrna. It was the residence of the Attalian kings, and a famous seat of Eastern learning, having a noble library, containing two hundred thousand volumes. The advantages of its situation, near the sea, and commanding an extensive plain, rendered it a place of great importance. The acropolis, or citadel (which was always the most ancient part, and the stronghold, of Grecian and Roman cities), stands on a hill two hundred feet above the plain, now crowned with its ruins, amongst which those of a castle or fortress, resembling those at Smyrna and Ephesus, covering the whole summit, and including about eight acres, stand prominent. It was built in the more prosperous times of Pergamos, though much of its present form is of a later date. The town afterwards became more extended, and the modern one lies in part on the slope of the hill, but principally in the plain. Among the antiquities of Pergamos may be mentioned the remains of the temple of Minerva, which rose on a high area, and was unrivalled in sublimity of situation, being visible from the vast plain and the Mediterranean Sea. Its columns now lie in a lofty heap. With a descent almost perpendicular, on the north and west sides is a very narrow valley, with a rivulet, over which, at one extremity, the great aqueduct of one row of lofty arches is constructed, and at the other a pile of massive buildings, which, filling the whole breadth of the valley, was the front and grand entrance into an extensive amphitheatre, … the most complete edifice of the kind in Asia Minor. Here, at times, by retaining the waters of the rivulet, a Naumachia, or place for the exhibition of a mock sea-fight; was formed; while at others, when the arena was dry, and the stream confined within its narrow bounds, it was used for chariot, gymnastic, and other exercises. Of the site of the royal palace of King Attalus, celebrated for its beautiful prospect (and therefore probably occupying an elevated and commanding position), nothing can be positively asserted. Once there was at Pergamos the celebrated temple of Æsculapius, which was also an asylum, and the concourse of individuals to which was without number or cessation. They passed the night there to invoke the false deity, who communicated remedies either in dreams or by the mouth of his priests, who distributed drugs and performed surgical operations.

Revelation 2:17. The White Stone.—We have here an allusion to an ancient mode of indicating approbation and acquittal, as described by Ovid:—

“A custom of old, and still ordains,
Which life or death by suffrage obtains;
White stones and black within urn are cast,—
The first absolve, but death is in the last.”

This ancient custom was something like our modern balloting, or voting by white and black balls. The White Stone promised by our Lord seems to mean full and complete justification at the great day, through His glorious imputed righteousness. Some interpreters refer to the ancient custom of acquitting an accused person by the jurors placing a white pebble in the balloting box. Thus the Christian, at the last great assize, shall receive, not the black stone of condemnation, but the white stone of salvation, through the merits of Him who died for sinners. The white stone has also suggested the token of triumph allotted to the victor at the Olympic games, entitling him to a triumphant reception on his return home. There is another tessera, or white stone—the tesseragladiatoria. Before a young man could appear as a gladiator in the great public games, he had to pass through a long and severe process of training. During that time he went under the name of tiro, or apprentice. When he made his first public appearance in the arena, if he proved victorious, he received an oblong tablet of ivory (tessera gladiatoria) as a reward and sign of his proficiency, on which was written his name, that of his master, and the day of his first fight and victory. He was then admitted to the rank of the spectati (distinguished persons). The name of tiro was dropped, and his new name of spectatus was inscribed upon his tessera. The tessera gladiatoria may not be so attractive in itself as the tessera hospitalis, but there is no objection to the employment of a symbol by St. John which is used by the apostle of the Gentiles. And, then, it fits the case, which the other does not. There is the change of name, the new name being more honourable, and commanding greater privileges, than the old. And this white stone is given as a reward of victory—of a victory, it should be observed, not in a single brief contest, but which was the crown and finish of a long and self-denying course of discipline.

Verses 18-29


Revelation 2:18. Thyatira.—Situated between Pergamos and Sardis. Inscriptions show that it contained many corporate guilds, one being that of the dyers. Apollo was specially worshipped, as the sun-god, under the Macedonian name of Tyrinnas. Son of God.—This name solemnly affirms His Divine power, as well as right, and prepares for the promised bestowment of power, in Revelation 2:26. Eyes.—A figure representing His omniscience, and especially the intensity of its searching. Feet.—Figure representing the firmness of His tread who comes in judgment. Feet of Chalcolibanus. An aspect of stern sovereignty marks this epistle.

Revelation 2:19. Work.—Divided into two sets—active: charity and service; passive: faith and patience. Ephesus had failed in the second set? this Church was stronger in the second than in the first. It would seem that on the passive side they were even weak; permitting things that put them in peril.

Revelation 2:20. Woman Jezebel.—More exactly, “thy wife Jezebel.” Probably a party in the Church is referred to which was led by an unscrupulous woman. It is necessary to remember that traditions had grown up around the person of Jezebel, and these, rather than the actual history, are referred to. Seduce my servants.—The teachings of St. Paul show how liberty in sensual indulgence, in its two forms, was a cause of constant anxiety in the Early Churches.

Revelation 2:22. Bed.—Of sickness and suffering. The figure is in keeping with the sin, and suggests a fitting and answering punishment.

Revelation 2:23. Children.—Her disciples; those who take up with her teachings, and follow her ways. Death.—In forms that would clearly indicate Divine judgment.

Revelation 2:24. Deep things.—Probably these heretical teachers boasted of knowing the deep things of God, so they are satirised as the deep things of Satan. Other burden.—See Acts 15:28, seqq.

Revelation 2:26. My works.—Not the works of any self-willed teacher. There must be simple and supreme loyalty to Christ, and that involves loyalty to everything that is self restrained and pure. Christ gives power over self and sin. Over the nations.—This is a figure of speech. The individual triumph over all individual and all combined immoral forces and influences is pictured as a rule over riotous and violent nations (Compare Psalms 2:0). “Those who, like their Master, refused to win power by doing homage to wrong (Matthew 4:3-10), would share the nobler sway which He now established.” Morning star.—Used of Christ Himself in Revelation 22:16. “The symbol of sovereignty on its brighter and more benignant side, and therefore the fitting and necessary complement of the dread attributes that had gone before.”


Praise and Blame for Thyatira.—Lydia, the first Christian convert in Europe, was a purple-seller of this city of Thyatira, which was famous for its dyeing works, especially for purple or crimson. Inscriptions found on the spot bear witness to the existence of a guild, or corporation, of purple-sellers, with which Lydia may have been connected. The city stands on the river Lycus, and it is situated on the borders of Mysia and Ionia, a little to the left of the Roman road from Pergamos to Sardis. It was founded by Seleucus Nicator after the Persian Empire had been destroyed by Alexander the Great. From the names that appear on their monuments, the inhabitants seem to have presented a greater mingling of races than was commonly to be found, and included Macedonians, Italians, Asiatics (in the narrower sense of that word as including the inhabitants of the pro-consular province of Asia), and Chaldæans. The chief object of their cultus was Apollo, worshipped as the sun-god, under the Macedonian name of Tyrinnas. An interesting discovery, in connection with the religious rites of the city, materially helps in explaining the allusions made in the epistle. Outside the walls stood a small temple dedicated to a Sibyl, a woman who was supposed to have the gift of prophecy. This temple, or church, was in the midst of an enclosure, called the “Chaldæan’s Court,” and the Sibyl, who was called Sanbethe, is sometimes said to be Jewish, sometimes Chaldæan, and sometimes Persian. The inference to be drawn from this is, that some corrupted Jews of the dispersed tribes had introduced from Chaldæa or Persia a religion which was a mixture of Judaism and heathenism. It is not improbable that this Sanbethe, or her school, had at Thyatira a place dedicated to the promulgation of a religion which was an admixture of Orientalism and Judaism, with some importations from the Greek and Roman rites, and even with some kind of appropriation of Christian ideas, forming altogether a system similar to those which the various sects of Gnostics soon afterwards established. And, this supposition being correct, it is then easy to see how Jewish Christians of the Church of Thyatira might be affected with this heresy, and fail to offer to it the opposition which it ought to have received from a Christian community. Dr. Tristram describes the present city, and its surroundings, as seen when approaching it from Pergamos. “Diverging a little to the right, the broad valley of the Hyllus opens to view, and as we look down in spring or summer, we see before us a panorama resembling in kind, though not equal in extent and grandeur to, the traveller’s first glimpse of Damascus. The eye tracks across the plain the silver thread which marks the course of one of the effluents of the Hyllus; and in the centre are the crowded white roofs of a widespread Turkish city, with here and there a minaret towering in the midst, and many a clump of tall cypresses raising their funeral plumes on high; while the whole is girt with a fringe of orchards, and watered gardens, over which the silver mist, drawn down by the sun, hangs in a thick, quivering cloud. This is Akhissar, ‘the white castle,’ the ancient Thyatira.” That city, or rather the Christian Church in that city, was in the immediate Divine inspection. All about the rites of Apollo, and all about the seductions of Sanbethe, was known to Him who “walketh among the golden candlesticks.” We may see

(1) the form in which the Living Christ is presented in His relation to this Church;
(2) the things in the Church life which He could commend; and
(3) the things which caused Him grave anxiety, and called for His severe reproof.

I. The form in which the Living Christ presents Himself to this Church.—The general symbolical appearance of the Living Christ, as present in His Church, is given in the first chapter, and certain portions of the description are taken to indicate the special relation of the Living Christ to each particular Church. We Westerns speak so little in the language of symbols, that it is often difficult for us to understand them, or to get their precise adaptations. Two things in the figure of the Living White One are recalled to mind in presenting the message to Thyatira: “Who hath His eyes like unto a flame of fire, and His feet like fine brass,” or burnished brass (R.V.). In the first chapter the symbol is given in a fuller form: “His eyes were as a flame of fire, and His feet like unto burnished brass, as if it had been refined in a furnace.” The eyes of flame seem to indicate a severity of inspection; and the feet like burnished brass may indicate the determination to tread down the evils which the searching eyes may discover. “The feet of Chalcolibanus”—that is the peculiar word used—“shall crush the enemies of God as though they were the vessels of a potter.” Dean Blakesley thinks that the special description was determined by the character of the worship of Apollo in this city. He thinks there was a statue of Apollo, of gold and ivory, or of wood or marble, richly gilt; that this shone with a dazzling brightness, and that the “eyes like a flame of fire, and the feet like fine brass” were meant to present the image of the Lord of the Churches as yet more glorious and terrible. There is certainly a tone of severity, as well as of searching, in the epistle. A purpose to burn up, and tread down, the moral evils which were so seriously imperilling the life of the Church. There are some evils in Church life which must be dealt with vigorously. No gentle hand will do. They are corrupting forces, and must be trampled down. If we may take the idea of this prophetess Sanbethe morally corrupting the people with her idolatrous and immoral system, we can well understand that Christ’s inspections of that Church must be as with a flame of fire, and His dealings with that Church as the treading of burnished feet. We should never hesitate to associate the holiest severities with the Lord Jesus Christ. The very perfection of love makes it stern and severe against all wrong-doing, and especially against all evil that is doing an actively corrupting work. Its activity must always be met by a more than answering activity of goodness, in resisting and rooting it out.

II. The things in the Church life at Thyatira which the Living Christ could commend.—It is interesting to notice that they were very much the things which St. Paul could commend in writing his letter to the Philippians. “Loving ministrations, patient endurance, warm-hearted faith, the more feminine graces of the perfect Christian character.” But when this is seen, the sternness of the closing portion of the epistle to Thyatira is explained. The Church needed to be aroused. The sterner, masculine graces were called into exercise by the Church’s peril. It is a serious mistake for a Church to develop “active” graces to the neglect of the “passive”; but it is as perilous a mistake for a Church to settle down into the enjoyment of Christian peace and Christian privileges, heedless of moral evils that may be making serious inroads upon it—as perilous a mistake to develop only “passive” graces, feminine graces, to the neglect of those that are manly, active, and strong. There is a righteous zeal against evil which Churches should exhibit; and Christ puts into His Church the power and the right to judge and condemn. These are the things in the Church at Thyatira upon which the Living Christ can look with complacency. “I know thy works, and thy love, and faith, and ministry, and patience, and that thy last works are more than the first.” Three things seem to be expressed in these terms:

1. Service;
2. Character;
3. Growth.
1. Service. The Living Christ saw this Church realising the ideal of a Christian Church in its “works” and “ministry.” The works may, indeed, suggest “good conduct” as the expression of sincere and active faith; but it seems better to take it as meaning works of charity, and works of witness for the truth in Christ. Then “ministry” would mean loving readiness to serve and help one another in all the various anxieties, distresses, sufferings, which constantly come into the human lot, and which even made a special experience in those early Christian days. That is always commendable in a Christian Church. Its members ought to “love one another” in the sense of being ever ready to minister to one another. And its members ought all to recognise that they are put in trust with the gospel, and are bound to witness to it by attractively holy living, and by all gracious persuasions. In the Church of Christ, the voice—the inspiring voice—of the Living Lord should ever be heard saying, “Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain. This is praiseworthy. Thyatira was a working Church; it was found working in all-loving ministries, within its circle, and in all loving service beyond it.

2. Character. Three words are used to indicate their high level of Christian attainment, but all three belong to the feminine, or passive, graces: Love; Faith; Patience. If we find other names for them, we may call them Gentleness; Dependence; Submission;—the very things that are essential to all Christian character that can be called “beautiful.” Things that give the Christian professor a certain kind of strength—a very admirable kind of strength, but not precisely that kind of strength which is required in dealing with public evils, moral evils. Christ’s commendation ever rests upon gracious character. Of that we may be sure. It is, indeed, one supreme purpose of the communion of saints to cultivate saintliness of character, the “holiness without which no man shall see the Lord” or win the loving approval of Him who is ever walking amid the candlesticks. The Church’s concern is the character of its members. The Church’s safety lies in the character of its members. The Church’s power is the witness made by the character of its members.

3. Growth. This is indicated in the singular expression, “and that thy last works are more than the first.” This was a great thing to say. For a Church to stand still is for a Church to go back. Its only security lies in its keeping going forward. It is full of comforting for this Church at Thyatira that Christ could recognise advance and growth; because that is precisely what both Churches and individual Christians are usually altogether unable to recognise for themselves. They cannot institute befitting comparisons. To them the past of Christian life and feeling is apt to loom large, and the present can seldom be estimated fairly. It is full of good cheer for us, too, if Christ sees that our present is an improvement on the past; if the last is better than the first. Very encouraging is the Divine estimate of the loving, devout, ministering, and almost saintly, Christians at Thyatira. One almost wishes it had not been necessary to turn and deal so severely with evils which, if not actually in the Church, were closely and perilously related to it—did, indeed, affect some, and perhaps some of the principal, members of it.

III. The things which caused the Living Christ grave anxiety and called for His severe reproof.—We must satisfy ourselves with a general understanding of the mischievous influence that was at work, and not dwell too closely on the figures of speech that are employed to describe it. It is clear that there was some mischief-making Jewish Christian teacher in the town; and it seems to have been a woman professing occult powers. She is likened to Jezebel, and her influence is likened to that of the Phœnician priestess and princess, who brought the degrading rites of Astarte into the land of Israel, and wholly corrupted the people who should have been “holy unto the Lord.” Whatever this woman’s teachings may have been intellectually—and of that we can form no sufficient judgment—their influence was bad, very bad, morally. She evidently taught that the Christians were in bondage, and needed liberty. They were an isolated section of Society, and took no part in the so-called pleasures of Society. They had scruples about their eating, and scruples about their relationships, and they needed to have these scruples put away, and just to be men and women, with passions and pleasures like other men and women; they needed to be able to eat what they liked to eat, and to do what they liked to do. This was the practical result of Sanbethe’s licentious and idolatrous teachings, permissions, and example. How far this degrading influence had gone does not quite appear. The message seems to indicate that the elder or pastor of the Church, and a goodly number of the members, had kept themselves from the evil influence. The Living Lord says this: “To you I say, to the rest that are in Thyatira, as many as hare not known, this teaching.” Some, let us hope a great many, were “faithful among the faithless found.” Dean Plumptre suggests that the “Agapæ, or love-feasts, of the Church were stained, as the hints in 2 Peter 2:13-14, and Jude Revelation 2:12, not obscurely intimate, with the perpetration of fathomless impurities, in which this so-called prophetess was herself a sharer,” as well as the leader. What we need to see, is, that idolatry finds, and ever has found, its congenial atmosphere in self-indulgence and licentiousness; that even false and unworthy presentation of Christianity finds, and ever has found, its support in an intellectual and moral liberty, which has always tended to generate into licence, and that Christianity—the Christianity of Christ—can only live in a pure moral atmosphere, and may always be judged by “the fruits unto holiness,” which it produces wherever it is established. The religion which does not tend to make pure lives, pure homes, pure Churches, and pure Society, has no right to be called Christianity. But the point of impression for the Church at Thyatira, which has its practical application for us, is this. The evil in its midst must not be left alone. It must not be left to grow into ruinous power. It must be dealt with vigorously, and at once. It must be resisted manfully. The Living Christ lays “no other burden” upon them, but he does lay that burden. Relative to the moral evil in its midst, whatever form it may take, every Church of Christ must be manly. It must be Christly as the Christ who drove out the money-changers and dove-sellers when they defiled the holy Temple. And they who, striving against all moral evil in their midst, “overcome,” have this for their reward. The Christian life in them gains the full development; the strong things are harmoniously cultured with the gentle. They win authority as well as submission; are now nourished all round into the entire image of Christ, and become strong to resist evil, and to witness for purity, as Christ was strong. To him that overcometh is given the “morning star,” the sign of victory over all darkness, all night—everything evil.


Revelation 2:20. Jezebel.—The best editors decline to adopt the reading “thy wife.” The name of Ahab’s idolatrous wife is here plainly a symbolical name. Except in Jehu’s taunt (1 Kings 9:22), which need not be meant literally, there is no evidence whatever of Jezebel’s unchastity. A great point of this is, however, made in Peter Bayne’s poem on Jezebel. It would seem to be the intimate relation which the woman adverted to sustains to the Church that appears to give occasion for the appellation τὴν γυναῖκά σου. The woman in question, whose proper name (probably from motives of delicacy) is withheld, was evidently one who assumed the office of a public teacher (καὶ διδάσκει), and gave herself out (for so it is said) as an authorised προφῆτις.

Revelation 2:24. Depths of Satan.—The heretics condemned in the preceding verses were doubtless a sect of those who called themselves Gnostics, probably at this time, certainly in the next generation. They contrasted knowledge of the “depths,” or “deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10), with the faith of the orthodox in the plain, simple doctrines that were openly preached to the world. The Lord answers that the depths of knowledge that they attained were depths, not of God, but of Satan.… It is to be remembered that the Gnostic systems of the second century, and probably those of the first also, included a strange mythology of half personified abstractions, and it may be that the Lord rather identifies one of these with Satan than substitutes the name of Satan for that of God. It appears from Irenœus that the Gnostics of his time talked of the “deep things of Depth,” as well as the “deep things of God.” It is curious that the phrase, “the depths of knowledge” is quoted from the great Epbesian philosopher, Heraclitus: possibly it was owing to his influence that such notions found a congenial home in Asia Minor.—W. H. Simcox, M.A.


Revelation 2:18. Thyatira.—“The appearance of Thyatira, as we approached it,” says Arundell, “was that of a very long line of cypresses, poplars, and other trees, amidst which appeared the minarets of several mosques and the roofs of a few houses at the right. On the left, a view of distant hills, the line of which continued over the town; and at the right, adjoining the town, was a low hill, with two ruined windmills. Thyatira is a large place, and abounds with shops of every description. The population is estimated at three hundred Greek houses, … thirty Armenian, and one thousand Turkish; nine mosques, one Armenian, and one Greek church. We visited the latter; it was a wretchedly poor place, and so much under the level of the churchyard as to require five steps to descend into it.… We intended to give the priest a Testament, but he seemed so insensible of its worth that we reserved it, as it was our only remaining copy, and bestowed it afterwards much better. Very few of the ancient buildings remain here; one we saw, which seems to have been a market-place, having six pillars sunk very low in the ground. We could not find any ruins of churches; and, inquiring of the Greeks about it, they told us there were several great buildings of stone under ground (which we were very apt to believe, from what we had observed in other places), where, digging somewhat deep, they met with strong foundations that, without all question, have formerly supported great buildings. I find, by several inscriptions, that the inhabitants of this city, as well as those of Ephesus, were, in the times of heathenism, great votaries and worshippers of the goddess Diana. The city has a very great supply of water, which streams in every street, flowing from a neighbouring hill.… It is populous, inhabited mostly by Turks, … few Christians residing among them; those Armenians we found here being strangers who came hither to sell sashes, handkerchiefs, etc., which they bring out of Persia. They are maintained chiefly by the trade of cotton wool, which they send to Smyrna, for which commodity Thyatira is very considerable. “It is this trade,” says Rycaut, “the crystalline waters, cool and sweet to the taste and light on the stomach, the wholesome air, the rich and delightful country, which causes this city so to flourish in our days, and to be more happy than her other desolate and comfortless sisters.” Hartley remarks, “The buildings are in general mean, but the place in which we are at present residing is by far the best which I have yet seen.… The language addressed to Thyatira is rather different from that of the other epistles. The commendations are scarcely surpassed, even in the epistle to Philadelphia, while the conduct of some was impious and profligate. The Church thus exhibited a contrast of the most exalted piety with the very depths of Satan.”


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Revelation 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/revelation-2.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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