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History of the Church from its Decline till its Rejection
REMARKS ON THE ADDRESSES TO THE CHURCHES .
All the visions contained in the Apocalypse refer to the future, save the first or introductory one, which is of present application. In this Christ is witnessed in the characteristic glory of Son of Man in the midst of the seven assemblies (Revelation 1:12-66.1.16 ). But did these assemblies as to their actual condition answer to the Spirit’s designation of them as “golden lamps,” and in keeping with the holy character of the glorious One in their midst? Alas, no! The features which distinguished the Church in the morning of her birth in holiness, truth, devotedness, unworldliness, power, and unity, are now in the evening of her days conspicuously absent. For a brief season the golden lamps shone brightly, now scarcely a glimpse is seen. Open infidelity, which once hid itself in the lecture room, the hall of science, and in the professor’s chair is now securely and openly lodged in the Church, in the pulpit, and in the hall of divinity. *See the terrible indictment proved to the hilt, and the charges concisely put, in “The Anti-Christian Crusade, or Official Attacks on Christianity,” by Robert P. C. Corfe (Simpkin, Marshall &Co.).
In these addresses, called for by the state of the assemblies, there is disclosed the point of decline, heart departure from Christ (Revelation 2:4 ). As a consequence of cooled affections, longing for His personal Return from Heaven wanes (Matthew 24:48 ), and thus the door is open for the enemy to enter. The external history of the Church as here depicted has been amply verified by contemporary records. Once the Church door was barred and bolted against the entrance of evil and Satan; now Satan’s throne and dwelling is in the Church itself (Revelation 2:13 ; Revelation 2:20 ; Revelation 2:24 ). Moral darkness is rapidly settling down on these christianised lands, and we are not far from its last development, the public disavowal of Christianity. It is when Christ gives up the Church as His vessel of light and testimony that it becomes a special subject of divine judgment.
In the brief epitome of ecclesiastical history as presented in these chapters not many details are specified, but rather the development of general forms of evil. One leading idea is kept steadily in view, namely, Christ’s relation to the state of things, presenting Himself to each assembly in a character suited to its condition. Christ is the one resource for spiritual decline and weakness.
The historian of “the times of the Gentiles” is Daniel. The historian of the Church is John. The former was for the special instruction of Daniel’s people, the Jews. The latter is for the profit of the Church of God. The application of these addresses extends to the whole Church, and to every one who has ears to hear. The moral profit to be derived from an earnest and devout study of these addresses to the assemblies named is immense, and has ever proved helpful to prayerful readers.
In these addresses a principle is introduced by which the actual condition of the Church at any time may be determined. The history and testing of the Church come in between the revelation of its original standing in the full blessing of God, and its ultimate destiny in association with Christ in glory. Now its past and future condition is the principle by which it is presently judged. What a contrast exists between what the Church was and is ! How unlike the resplendent glory awaiting it! In the addresses to the first three assemblies they are called to repent in view of “from whence thou art fallen,” whereas in the addresses to the last four assemblies a return to pristine state is deemed impossible, the goal of hope being the Coming of the Lord, which is not directly referred to in the previous Church addresses.
Ecclesiastical pretension and departure from first love characterised the close of the apostolic period Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-66.2.29 . l-7). Next succeeded the martyr period, which brings us down to the close of the tenth and last persecution, under Diocletian Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-66.2.11 ). Decreasing spirituality and increasing worldliness went hand in hand from the accession of Constantine and his public patronage of Christianity on to the seventh century Pergamos (Revelation 2:12-66.2.17 ), The Papal Church, which is Satan’s masterpiece on earth, is witnessed in the assumption of universal authority and cruel persecution of the saints of God. Its evil reign covers “the Middle Ages,” the moral characteristics of which have been well termed “dark.” Popery blights everything it touches Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-66.2.29 ). The Reformation was God’s intervention in grace and power to cripple papal authority, and introduce into Europe the light which for 300 years has been burning with more or less brilliancy. Protestantism, with its divisions and deadness, shows clearly enough how far short it comes of God’s ideal of the Church and Christianity Sardis (Revelation 3:1-66.3.22 .Revelation 4:1-66.4.6 ). Another Reformation, equally the work of God, characterised the beginning of last century Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-66.3.13 ). The present general state of the professing Church which is one of lukewarmness is the most hateful and nauseous of any yet described. We may well term this last phase of Church history on the eve of judgment the Christless period Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-66.3.22 ).
Note, that the history of the first three churches is consecutive, whereas the history of the remaining four overlaps, and then practically runs on concurrently to the end, the Coming of the Lord. One other consideration of interest, and we bring these remarks to a close. The divine element, signified by the numeral three, is the predominant thought in the first group of churches, whereas the human enters more largely into the second group signified by the number four.
THE SPIRIT’S ADDRESS TO EPHESUS
(Revelation 2:1-66.2.7 ).
1. “ To the angel of the Church in Ephesus write. ” The same form of words is repeated in the introduction to each of the seven churches. The Authorised Version, in Revelation 2:1 , reads “of Ephesus,” and in Revelation 3:14 “of the Laodiceans,” but in the Revised Version the respective readings are correctly given as “in Ephesus” and “in Laodicea.” The churches in these cities were composed of professing Christians, not of the pagan inhabitants, as the Authorised Version would imply. Each of the epistles is addressed to the “angel” of the Church. We have in these addresses the voice of the Spirit to the churches (v. 7, etc.), and of the Lord Himself, but they are not directly spoken to. Paul wrote to the saints in Ephesus (Ephesians 1:1 ). John to the angel of the Church. Why this? Intimacy characterises the former. Distance distinguishes the latter. The reason for the more distant style of address employed by John is found in the fact that the Church had sunk so low morally that the Lord could only address it through its representatives or angels, not spiritual beings, but men.
Some writers, as Dean Alford, argue for the guardianship of literal angels over the churches, and consider that these guardian angels are here addressed. But such a theory seems to us far-fetched and untenable. The Spirit on earth and the Lord on high make the Church their special subject of care. The spiritual powers in heavenly places learn through it God’s manifold wisdom (Ephesians 3:10 ); lessons, too, of godly order are taught these heavenly beings (1 Corinthians 11:10 ). But the care of the Church is committed to higher and better hands than that of angels. Besides, it would be absurd to think of angels failing in their duty. They “do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His Word” (Psalms 103:20 ); whereas the angels of the churches are justly blameable, being held responsible for the moral state disclosed. Thus the words to the angel, “I have against thee,” “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent,” etc., seem quite inapplicable to God’s angels who are spoken of as “elect” and “holy,” and hence preserved from falling. It has, however, been more commonly understood that the “angel” represents a bishop, or presiding presbyter. But Scripture affords not the slightest countenance for the modem bishop of a diocese, or the more ancient bishop of a Church. Elders or bishops refer to the same persons (Acts 20:17 ; Acts 20:28 ). The term “elder” directs attention to the age and experience of the man, whilst that of “bishop” or “overseer” to spiritual oversight. The man and his work are thus respectively signified in the terms “elder” and “bishop.” Elders were made bishops, and there were several such in various assemblies, as in Ephesus (Acts 20:17 ) and in Philippi (Philippians 1:1 ). Timothy, Onesimus, and John have had the questionable honour thrust upon them by speculative divines of being after Paul’s time the respective angels of the Church in Ephesus.
To insist upon a necessary application of the term “angel” to bishop or presbyter seems forced; besides, the other symbol used of the same persons, namely, “stars” (Revelation 1:20 ), would forbid such exclusive application. The “stars” are appointed to shine, to reflect the light of Heaven in the dark night of the Church’s history. A person occupying the highest official position in the Church might not be a “star.” We regard the angel of the Church as symbolically representative of the assembly in its actual moral state. Representation is the thought. Hence in this book, the waters (Revelation 16:5 ), the winds (Revelation 7:1 ), the abyss (Revelation 9:11 ), and fire (Revelation 14:18 ) have each their representative angel. According to this view the angel of the Church may signify more persons than one. We would emphasise the remark that not official but moral representation is the idea conveyed in the word “angel” as used in connection with the seven churches. While, therefore, the Spirit has in view each local Church, and the assembly as a whole, yet each Church is addressed in its representative, and it will generally be found that in most companies of saints there are those who morally lead, apart altogether from official status.
THE SEVEN STARS AND SEVEN GOLDEN LAMPS.
1. “ These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand, that walketh in the midst of the seven golden lamps. ” The descriptive titles of Christ towards each of the churches are almost wholly taken from the detailed account of His Person as presented at the close of chapter one. In Revelation 1:20 the stars are seen on His right hand; in Revelation 3:1 He has the stars; but here a more intense action is intimated, He holds them. The stars are the Church’s light bearers. They derive their light from Him, they are subject to His power, and sustained by Him. He guides, controls, and holds them fast. What a strength to the tried servant! How fitting, too, that the absolute authority of Christ over all responsible to shine for Him during the dark night of His absence should be shown at the commencement of this epitome of Church history in these two chapters.
The ecclesiastical place of our Lord (Revelation 1:13 ) is in the “midst” of the seven golden lamps; but here He walks in their midst, taking note of every corporate and individual difficulty. He observes if the lamps shine. He is present to sustain the vessels of testimony. His help is instantly available in every circumstance of need. The Church will never find itself in a position in which it is deprived of the active service of Christ, Who walks in and out amongst the churches, observing their ways, and according praise and blame. He trims each lamp, or, when it is proved utterly unfaithful, may remove it from its place of responsibility on earth . But this character of truth in no wise enfeebles the everlasting security of the Church, against which the gates of hades shall not prevail (Matthew 16:18 ), nor against any individual member thereof (Romans 8:38-45.8.39 ).
Revelation 2:2-66.2.3 . “ I know thy works, and thy labour, and thine endurance, and that thou canst not bear evil (men); and hast tried them who themselves say (are) apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and endurest and hast borne for My Name’s sake, and hast not wearied. ” The Lord commends before He reproves. He loves to count up what grace His own grace has wrought in the souls and ways of His people. In these epistles the Church is witnessed in its downward course, going from bad to worse. But the Lord is unchanged. He loves to commend His saints when and where He can, and if things are drifting to their final consummation that does not hinder the fullest acknowledgment of the Spirit’s work everywhere and in every saint. The fruit of the Spirit should more readily catch the eye than the works of the flesh. Be ever ready to heartily own and unqualifiedly express appreciation of all that is good and excellent, especially where evil may exist.
“I know,” seven times repeated, intimates the Lord’s absolute knowledge of the condition and circumstances of His people. Then He says, “I know thy works.” These, no doubt, were many and varied. But all work is not accompanied by, nor is it the fruit of, toil or “endurance,” as that spoken of here. The first Christian lesson is patience (endurance) (Romans 5:3 ), and “much” of it the first trait of a true minister of God (2 Corinthians 6:4 ). Endurance is followed by intolerance of evil persons. Patience towards the weak, exercised in the midst of trial and opposition, did not make the Church indifferent to evil; the moral nature was roused. Moreover, they had tested the claim of some to be co-ordinate with the apostles, and this they did so thoroughly that all false pretension was exposed in light of those signs which characterised the Lord’s apostles (1 Corinthians 9:1-46.9.27 ; 2 Corinthians 11:1-47.11.33 ; 2 Corinthians 12:1-47.12.21 ). The word “tried” signifies tested , or put to the proof (2 Corinthians 13:5 ; 1 John 4:1 ). “Hast found them liars.” The baseless assumption of these pretenders to apostolic office and authority was completely overthrown, and the men themselves branded as “liars,” or, as Paul puts it, “false apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:13 ).
How unstinted is the praise! Yet, rich and copious as the foregoing declarations are, there is still more to follow. Not only had there been endurance, but it continued, “and endurest,” and was in exercise even when the apostle, “the secretary of the Lord,” wrote. Further, “and hast borne for My Name’s sake.” They had suffered much, had been sorely tried, but all had been cheerfully borne for the sake of the Name of Jesus Christ. On account of that same Name their sins had been forgiven (1 John 2:12 ).
Lastly, they had not “wearied.” There was no thought of giving up or giving over the conflict with evil; they had not wearied of the contest, nor had they wearied in it. What a beautiful picture of devotedness to the interests of Christ! But what about the springs of these holy activities? They are not mentioned; not because they were wholly wanting, else there could have been no commendation. What are these moral springs of Christian life and activity? They are stated in the first of the Pauline epistles: “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith , and labour of love , and enduring constancy of hope ” (1 Thessalonians 1:3 ). There was work, and labour, and endurance witnessed in the Ephesian assembly, but the “work” would appear to have been to some extent separated from “faith,” its moral source; “labour,” too, appears not to have fully drawn its strength from “love,” which is the activity of the divine nature, the very atmosphere in which the Church and Christians should live and act; and “endurance,” for which Ephesus is twice commended (chap, 2: 2, 3), is not mentioned in connection with “hope,” its spring and living energy.
Revelation 2:4 . “ But I have against thee that thou hast left thy first love. ” Here is disclosed the root of Church and individual failure: heart departure from Christ. The fine gold had become dim. The flower was fading. The first-named fruit of the Spirit is love (Galatians 5:22 ), and that was but faintly seen, yet in Paul’s day the Church in Ephesus was noted for its “love unto all the saints,” a love begotten by love. When love, the very kernel of Christianity (1 Corinthians 13:1-46.13.13 ), its crown too, and distinguishing glory is wanting, the moral power of Church and individual life is gone. Things may appear outwardly fair and promising, and none but an Omniscient eye may see the lack inwardly , coldness of heart to Christ. “Thou hast left thy first love” was the first step in the Church’s downward career (compare with Matthew 24:48 ). The loss of virgin love is a serious matter, and not to be regarded as a mere “somewhat,” as in the Authorised Version. “But I have against thee” first love given up. “But I have a few things against thee” (v. 14) persons allowed in the midst holding the doctrine of Balaam, and others holding the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes. “But I have against thee” (v. 20) Jezebel permitted to corrupt with her loathsome doctrines. Observe that in each instance the “But I have against thee” is in marked contrast with approval ungrudgingly bestowed.
THREATENED WITH JUDGMENT.
Revelation 2:5 . “ Remember therefore whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; but if not I am coming to thee, and I will remove thy lamp out of its place, except thou shalt repent. ” The Lord has a positive, definite cause of complaint against the angel. “I have against thee that thou hast left thy first love.” It is the only thing for which Ephesus is censured, but, oh, how serious! The coming shipwreck of the professing Church, its public and nauseous rejection by Christ is here traced to its root , first love given up. The Lord never forgets His joy in the first love of His people. “Thus saith the Lord; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after Me in the wilderness, in a land that was not sown” (Jeremiah 2:2 ). Judah’s first love is never forgotten by Jehovah; the Church’s first love, too, is equally remembered by the Lord, and desired by Him, which, in fact, “Ephesus” really means. Now if the threatened judgment is to be averted there must be a recovery to “first love” and “first works,” hence the two admonitions needful to this end are “Remember” and “Repent.” Remember the moral elevation you once occupied, remember the heights of love, “the mountain of myrrh” and “the hill of frankincense” once trod in fellowship with the everlasting Lover of your soul! To what depths you have fallen! Repent. Judge the state of heart which has led to the first step in the downward course. Thus memory and repentance are presented as the two factors in recovery from a backsliding state. “Quickly” should be deleted. Ample time is given for restoration. The removal of the lamp as a light bearer in no wise weakens the question of eternal security of all who build on Christ the Rock of Ages. Speaking in general terms, we may say, the lamps which once shone so brightly, and especially in the renowned capital of Ephesus, have been taken out of their place, and the gross darkness of Mohammedanism now wraps its deadly folds around these seven cities of proconsular Asia. A like removal awaits the western profession of Christianity. Unfaithfulness, whether corporate or individual, must be judged, and the present miserable condition of Ephesus, now known as Agiosalouk , is an object lesson to all. Has Christendom continued in the goodness of God? It has not, and “gross darkness” shall yet cover these lands, once brilliant with the light of the Gospel (Isaiah 60:2 ). According to the interpretation adopted in this Exposition we regard Ephesus as representing the Church in a special phase of its condition, a condition characteristically present at the close of the first century. We are pleased to know that love and faith were in a measure rekindled, and the lamp trimmed in the Ephesian assembly, so that in the third Ecumenical Council (A.D. 431) it gave forth no uncertain sound on the great underlying truth of Christianity, the incarnation of our Lord. But the hour of doom nevertheless came. In like manner various partial recoveries have been granted to the Church at large, but its doom, too, is fixed.
Revelation 2:6 . “ But this thou hast, that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate. ” The doctrinal faithfulness of the Ephesian assembly and its unswerving condemnation of evil have been already matters of warmest commendation (vv. 2, 3), followed by censure couched in terms of severe simplicity (v. 4), and judgment has been finally threatened, a judgment which repentance alone could avert (v. 5). Now one special character of evil is specified, hated alike by the Lord and by the angel. The absence of love has been deplored, but hatred, love’s antithesis, was rightly present. The Nicolaitanes were not hated, for they shared in the general love of God (John 3:16 ), but their works were, and for this the angel is commended. They must have been works of a decidedly evil character which called forth such a stern word of reprobation. Who, then, were the Nicolaitanes, and what their tenets and deeds? A satisfactory answer to these questions is well-nigh impossible. The Nicolaitanes as an immoral and exceedingly impure sect undoubtedly existed, but whether Nicolas of Antioch, the last of the “seven” (Acts 6:5 ), was the originator of the sect bearing his name cannot be determined with any degree of certainty. Irenaeus is the first Church father or writer who affirms it. Others, however, consider that Nicolas is wronged when charged with the impure teachings and deeds of that sect; all the more evil that it existed under the cover of Christianity. If, indeed, the deacon was the founder of the sect, then he must have seriously lapsed from the faith. But on this we cannot pronounce with certainty. It has been conjectured that the Nicolaitanes are identical with the followers of Balaam. *“Nicolas (‘Conqueror of the people’) is identified with Balaam, according to one etymology of the latter word, as the ‘lord’ according to another, as the ‘devourer’ of the people. Both derivations are, however, uncertain, and the best Hebraists (Gesenius and Furst, the latter admitting the possibility of ‘devourer’) explain the name as meaning ‘not of the people,’ i.e. , an alien and foreigner.” E. H. Plumptre D.D. But this is difficult to understand in the light of verses 14 and 15, where the evils are separately named. “So thou also hast those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes in like manner.” The latter, it would seem, was the grosser evil of the two. All early writers, however, are agreed on the main features of this sect as being of an impure and licentious character. *Ecumenius says they were “most impious in doctrine, and in their lives most impure.” W. Kelly tersely sums up, saying: “The essence of Nicolaitanism seems to have been the abuse of grace to the disregard of plain morality.” “Lectures on the Book of Revelation,” page 48. Nicolaitanism therefore would appear to have combined the profession of Christianity with the impurities of Paganism. Fleshly indulgence is a practical denial of the holy nature of Christianity, and cannot be tolerated by the Lord, nor by any who are faithful to the Name of Him Who is “the holy, the true” (Revelation 3:7 ).
As to this evil, Ephesus and Pergamos, the first and third churches present a marked and striking contrast. The first turned in holy loathing from these impurities; the third sheltered the propagators of these filthy teachings. What was hated by Ephesus was accepted by Pergamos; the one “deeds,” the other “doctrine;” but doctrine, good or bad, ever bears its own fruit. The point is, Ephesus would have none of it. Pergamos permitted it to corrupt and poison the sources of purity and morality.
THE CALL TO HEAR.
Revelation 2:7 . “ He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches .” This exhortation occurs seven times. In the addresses to the first three churches it immediately precedes the promise to the overcomer; whereas in the last four the exhortation forms the closing words of the address in each case. The Church as a whole is in view in the first group, and is called to repent. *The word repent occurs twelve times in the Apocalypse, but not in any other of St. John’s writings. But in the second group the hopeless condition of the Church is but too apparent, and hence a remnant company is marked off from the mass, whose one and only hope is centred on the personal Return of the Lord from Heaven. Now from the fact of the call to hear being placed after the words of cheer to the overcomers in the last four churches, we gather that none save overcomers or conquerors hear the voice of the Spirit.
Individual and direct responsibility to God is a cardinal truth in Christianity. In popery individual conscience is ignored. “Hear the Church” is the very essence of the papal system. But in truth the voice of the Church is never heard in Roman Catholicism. The higher orders of the clergy usurp the place of the Church; it is their voice which is declared to be the voice of the Church, a voice which the inferior orders of clergy and the mass must hear and obey under threat of Anathema, while the people are deceived with a semblance of truth. The favourite and oft-repeated formula from Matthew 18:17 , “Hear the Church,” is employed to cover and defend the most cruel, superstitious, and soul-enslaving system which ever disgraced the earth; it is, indeed, Satan’s masterpiece. How can the Church, itself threatened with judgment (Revelation 2:5 ; Revelation 3:16 ), become a source and ground of authority to any? Hence in these addresses to the churches the individual hearer is called upon to listen to the voice of the Spirit. It is He Who speaks, His voice alone to be heard. Thus we have linked together in this exhortation corporate and individual responsibility. Both exist. If the Church has become so utterly corrupt that the voice of God in Holy Scripture awakens no response there is the greater need for each one to open the ear of the soul to “Thus saith the Lord.” The Lord when on earth repeatedly called attention to His teaching in the familiar words, “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9 ; Matthew 13:43 ; Matthew 11:15 , etc.). Here the same Lord utters His voice, bespeaking earnest and devout attention to the new testimony and in almost the same verbal formula. *“Ears” in the Gospel; “ear” in the Apocalypse.
7. “ To him that overcomes I will give to him to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God. ” We have already referred to certain distinguishing features of the two broadly marked divisions of these seven churches the first three and the last four. Each of these groups forms a separate unity of its own; while, of course, there are characteristics common to both. The divine element predominates in the first set of three churches, as that numeral signifies; while the human element enters largely into the composition of the second group of four churches, its numerical value.
But another distinction of interest meets us in the consideration of these promises and rewards to the overcomer. Those in the first group are not so full, nor of such a public character, as those in the second group. These latter are exceedingly grand in combining personal intimacies with Christ and scenes of public glory. We account for the difference in the fulness and character of these rewards, as respectively shown in the first and second group of epistles, by the fact that in the latter, overcoming is a matter of greater difficulty. The storm rages more fiercely, the adverse elements are more numerous, so the promises are proportionate to the severer character of the conflict. From Thyatira to Laodicea the Church is regarded as hopelessly corrupt. To swim against the tide, therefore, requires an energy of faith not called for to the same extent as when the Church was publicly owned Ephesus to Pergamos. Not only are all these rewards and promises given to cheer the pilgrim band, and nerve each for the ever-deepening and narrowing conflict, but Christ Himself personally pledges His Word for their certain accomplishment, “I will give.” His own hand crowns the victor. His own voice acclaims the overcomer, as he exultantly steps over the threshold of the heavenly portals.
In all cases the witnessing is individual, and of course the overcomer is one who in the energy of faith surmounts those special difficulties in which he finds himself. The overcomer in Laodicea has a more serious task before him than the overcomer in Ephesus. The position, circumstances, and character of the conflict are different in each Church.
This, the first promise to the overcomer, contains an evident allusion to the garden of Eden, with the tree of life in its midst (Genesis 2:1-1.2.25 ). Adam had not to overcome in the garden, he had simply to obey and keep his innocence, and the test of an innocent creature’s obedience was the prohibition against eating of the symbolical tree of knowledge of good and evil. We have no ground to suppose that Adam ate of the tree of life although not forbidden to do so. But the scene presented to the gaze of the Christian overcomer is one of a far more glorious character than that of Genesis 2:1-1.2.25 . Here we have the Paradise of God with its tree of life, of which one may freely eat, and no tree of good and evil, the symbol of creature responsibility. The life of innocence (Genesis 2:1-1.2.25 ) was dependent on obedience. But here the tree of life, eternal life in its full character of blessedness, is enjoyed without alloy, without fear of failure. Eternal life becomes the everlasting feast of the conqueror in the Paradise of God. The word Paradise occurs three times in the New Testament (Luke 23:43 ; 2 Corinthians 12:4 : and Revelation 2:7 ). It is of Oriental derivation, meaning a pleasure garden . It is three times used in this sense in the Old Testament. *The word Paradise is not used of the garden of Eden. There are six occurrences of the word in the Holy Scriptures: Nehemiah 2:8 , translated forest; Ecclesiastes 2:5 ; Song of Solomon 4:13 , orchard; Luke 23:43 ; Revelation 2:7 ; 2 Corinthians 12:4 Paradise is an actual place existing now and in the risen state. Moses never employs the word. Solomon is the first to do so. To an Oriental mind “Paradise” is the expression and sum of blessedness. The Paradise of God is the expression of Heaven’s blessedness. It is an actual place, of which the earthly garden (Genesis 2:1-1.2.25 ) was but a shadow. Here the blessedness is fixed and eternal. Paradise is the sum of all enjoyment, the aggregate of all pleasure, promised to the converted dying robber, and “into” it Paul was caught. It is the special and unique promise held out to the overcomer in the Ephesian state of the Church.
THE SPIRIT’S ADDRESS TO SMYRNA
(Revelation 2:8-66.2.11 ).
SMYRNA AND LAODICEA CONTRASTED.
The briefest of these Church addresses is that to Smyrna, the longest that to Thyatira. Smyrna is wholly commended, and not one word of reproach or censure is addressed to it; Laodicea is in every respect blamed, and not one word of commendation or praise is bestowed. Again, the poverty and tribulation of Smyrna stand out in marked contrast with the rich and self-satisfied condition of Laodicea. There is but one other Church not censured, namely, Philadelphia. It must not, however, be supposed that there was nothing wrong in these unblamed assemblies, only the characteristic Church states represented by them were suffering (Smyrna) and weakness (Philadelphia). A child in affliction or in bodily weakness is spared words of censure, and surely our God is not less gracious than an earthly parent.
CONSOLATION IN TRIBULATION.
8. “ And to the angel of the Church in Smyrna write: These things says the First and the Last, Who became dead and lived. ” Declension from first love had set in. The angel of the Church in Ephesus had fallen (v. 5), not, however, from Christ’s right hand, but from love, whilst preserving doctrinal faithfulness and walking blameless in outward consistency. But the moral springs of action were relaxed, and Ephesian Church life thereby robbed of its fragrance. This consideration brings us to the second distinguishing Church period, one of Tribulation. The angel, the Church’s representative, is addressed in words of rich and gracious consolation. The full blast of imperial pagan persecution was being endured. For about 250 years, with occasional lulls when the ruthless hand of the persecutor was stayed, the Church was passing through a “baptism of blood,” and this in order to rekindle the smouldering flame of love well-nigh extinguished. What the suffering Church was to the Lord is imaged in the meaning of Smyrna, myrrh a well-known fragrant perfume, a sacred one moreover (Exodus 30:23 ), also one of the love perfumes of the spouse in the Canticles. The consolation that suited the Seer (Revelation 1:17-66.1.18 ) became the consolation of the Church. We have here the same combination of divine and human predicates which characterised Christ in the glorious vision of His Person as beheld by John. “The First and the Last” is one of the grandest of divine titles, a Rock against which the utmost power of the enemy is futile. As “the First” He is before all in time, and above all as supreme. As “the Last” He is after all, closing all up, for to Him all tend. He is eternal in His Being. But He stooped to die. Death had no claim on Him. He, “the first and the last” Jehovah’s special tit le (Isaiah 41:1-23.41.29 48) became dead. He breasted the waves of death. He rose out of it, and “lives” to die no more. This, then, was their “strong consolation.” The One Who died and lives is none other than Jehovah in the truth of His Being, the self-existing One. We have had the glory of the Speaker what He was as God, and what He became as Man now we are to listen to His consoling and animating message.
Revelation 2:9 . “ I know thy tribulation and thy poverty; but thou art rich; and the railing of those who say that they themselves are Jews, and are not, but a synagogue of Satan. ” In the Authorised Version we read, “I know thy works .” The word “works” should be deleted according to the critics, besides, it is to suffering and not to works that prominence is given in the message. “I know.” What a tower of strength to an afflicted saint and Church! The One in Whose Person are combined at once the greatness of the Godhead and the sympathy of One Who has been in the utmost depths of suffering and death says, “I know thy tribulation and thy poverty.” The measure, character, and duration of every phase of trial are known to Him. There is not a tear too many, not a blow too severe. The hardness, the unbrokenness of spirit, the self-confidence have to be broken down. We flourish best in suffering. Jacob was a better man morally after the night of wrestling than before it (Genesis 32:24-1.32.32 ). Paul was kept humble and lowly by that continual reminder, whatever it was, “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7 ). But He also knows our “poverty.” Not many grandees are numbered amongst the Lord’s people. The Hebrew believers took joyfully the spoiling of their goods (Hebrews 10:34 ). Confiscation of goods and property, either to the imperial treasury or to those base enough to inform against the Christians, generally followed apprehension. But, says the Lord, “Thou art rich.” Our treasure is in Heaven. Our inheritance is there. An inventory of Christian wealth is furnished in 1 Corinthians 3:21-46.3.23 . Our origin is of God (1 Corinthians 1:30 ); our position , sons of God (Romans 8:14 ); our dignity , kingly authority (Revelation 1:6 ); our destiny , conformity to God’s Son (Romans 8:29 ); our wealth , limited only by Christ’s millennial and eternal portion (Ephesians 1:10-49.1.11 ). Truly the Church is rich, whatever its poverty on earth may be. Endowed with the love and riches of Christ, which are enduring and placed beyond the possibility of loss or corruption, we may well triumph in Him Who knows not only our tribulation and poverty, but knowing all pronounces us “rich.”
Not only was the Church suffering from the pagan world without , but also from an enemy of a religious character within . There was a company, it would seem (not really Jews), which took up the place and pretension of the Jews to be alone God’s people on earth. We saw a company of higher clergy in Ephesus (v. 2), whose proud and lofty pretensions were exposed, and the pretenders styled liars. That movement for the time was crushed. But now a movement of a similar character, although on a lower scale, is again in evidence. Arrogant claims to be the Church, to be alone God’s people, have been repeated again and again since the Smyrnean era, sometimes on a large scale, at other times on a smaller one. This body of religious pretenders railed against the suffering Church. False accusations, contempt, and contumely were the cruel work of these religious people. What were they in His sight? “A synagogue of Satan.” *We again meet with this strong expression in the address to Philadelphia (Revelation 3:9 ). Here it opposed itself to the Church in suffering; there in antagonism to the Church in weakness. The Synagogue (Jewish assembly) and the Church (Christian assembly) are distinguished by the apostle James; for the former see Revelation 2:2 , R.V. ; for the latter see Revelation 5:14 . The two names, “Satan” and “Devil,” are employed in the Revelation as everywhere else in Scripture with propriety and precision. The former means adversary , the latter slanderer . To the Church he is both. Satan “the adversary” set up a heretical party in direct antagonism to the lowly and suffering position of the Church. The devil, “the calumniator,” forged lies and all manner of false accusations against God’s saints, and succeeded, too, in getting the heathen powers to believe them, and thus he became the real author and source of the “ten persecutions” ten legal outbursts of rage and fury against the Church which were only stopped on the accession of Constantine to the throne of the Caesars. Abounding suffering, however, was answered by abounding consolation, and both, no doubt, were the portion in full of the suffering Church. Christian and heathen contemporary records abundantly verify the truth of this.
TRIALS AND ENCOURAGEMENT.
Revelation 2:10 . “ Fear nothing (of) what thou art about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give to thee the crown of life. ” “Fear not,” or “nothing,” is a word of preparation for yet further trials, and is evidently taken from Revelation 1:17 . There it fell on the ear of the fainting Seer, carrying absolute and unqualified assurance to his soul; here it is to reassure the Church in view of the gathering storm about to burst upon it. Tribulation and poverty were bad enough, and hard to be borne. But worse still was in store. The closing imperial persecutions exceeded in savage cruelty the former ones. The dark clouds were gathering; the wild, hoarse roar of the coming storm was heard. Here the Church is forewarned and encouraged. These coming trials are traced from false accusers, and from the instruments and agents of cruelty to the devil. Persecution was his work. But faith rests on this mighty and grand sustaining truth that “Power belongeth unto God” (Psalms 62:11 ). The power of the devil is limited and controlled, and he cannot put forth his hand and touch even the feeblest lamb of the flock without express permission (Job 1:1-18.1.22 ; Job 2:1-18.2.13 ). “There is no power but of God” (Romans 13:1 ), whether satanic or human. The use and employment of the power is another question, involving responsibility of the gravest character. God’s purpose was that His Church might be tried, and that to the utmost, and to this end the devil was His servant. Thus God’s saints were purified. Love, faith, courage, and faithfulness were strengthened. The Church had a definite and appointed period of tribulation “ten days.” There may be here an allusion to the well-known “ten persecutions,” and also to the tenth under Diocletian, which lasted just ten years. The expression “ten days” signifies a limited period , a brief time inconsistent with the lengthened period of pagan persecution covering 250 years. The following references to “ten days” will confirm the meaning of the term as implying a brief and limited time: Genesis 24:55 ; Nehemiah 5:18 ; Daniel 1:12 ; Acts 25:6 ; Jeremiah 42:7 , etc.
Some, not many, of the early witnesses for the truth, appalled by the dread of torture and death, denied their Lord. Here faithfulness every step of the way, even unto death, is urged. If the martyr’s crown is to be won, then constancy and steadfastness to the end must be maintained. There are various crowns spoken of in the Word. There is the crown of gold on the head of every redeemed one in Heaven (Revelation 4:4 ). The crown of righteousness , the reward of a holy and righteous walk on earth (2 Timothy 4:8 ). Next, there is the crown of glory bestowed on all who shepherd the beloved flock of God (1 Peter 5:4 ). Lastly, we have the martyr’s crown, the crown of life (Revelation 2:10 ). This crown, like other rewards and encouragements, is given personally by Christ, “I will give.”
Then follows the usual call to hear. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Individual responsibility is ever and firmly maintained. In these addresses is contained the mind of the Spirit and of the Lord which is one , and is meant for all Christian assemblies at all times throughout the earth.
PROMISE TO THE OVERCOMER.
Revelation 2:11 . “ He that overcomes shall in no wise be injured of the second death. ” To be an overcomer in the Smyrnean condition of things requires endurance suited to the death struggle. The synagogue of Satan is raging on the one hand, and heathendom on the other, alike determined to crush Christianity, whilst between the two stand the lowly confessors of the Nazarene, patience and meekness their only defence. What was the human prospect? Loss of character, of goods, and of life itself. To overcome under such appalling circumstances required strong faith and clear spiritual vision as seeing Him Who is invisible, yet Who is never more near than when apparently His saints are forsaken, and never more true and tender in sympathy than when seemingly He has forgotten them. The overcomer may die under tortures prolonged and gloated over by the almost fiendish malice of men who delight in blood, but he is assured that he shall not be hurt of the “second death,” He shall in “no wise,” on no account an exceedingly strong negative be hurt of the “second death” *“The second death” stands in purposed contrast to the first. Death among men is the cessation of human life and activity on earth. It brings about a temporary separation of soul and body, but resurrection unites them and introduces the wicked to the “second death” the lake of fire. Extinction of being is not effected when one dies, nor does consciousness cease at death. After death and before resurrection we have a man in hades, the state between these two, namely, death and resurrection, with memory, consciousness, speech, reason, etc. This terrible picture, no doubt, is an everyday awful reality, and is not termed a parable (Luke 16:19-42.16.31 ). “The second death” is the lake of fire. “The raised body will be made capable of enduring the fierce wrath of Almighty God, whether by literal fire or not. The death of the body is a type of the “ second death,” but inasmuch as antitype exceeds its type, so does the “second death” in all respects exceed the first. which is the lake of fire, i.e. , the everlasting abode and place of punishment for the devil and the wicked (Revelation 20:14 ; Revelation 21:8 ).
THE SPIRIT’S ADDRESS TO PERGAMOS
(Revelation 2:12-66.2.17 ).
PERGAMOS OR PERGAMUM.
12. “ To the angel of the Church in Pergamos write. ” The most northern of the churches is next addressed. The ancient capital of Mysia still exists under the name of Bergamo, but shorn of its greatness and glory. Pergamos, or Pergamum more generally read, has been described as a “sort of union of a pagan cathedral city, a university town, and a royal residence.” Attalus III. bequeathed his city to the great republic; then, and subsequently under the empire, it was considered one of the finest cities in Asia. Distinguished as it was for its idolatry, its learning, and medical science, nevertheless it was, from a Christian standpoint, one of the worst of the seven cities named. Christianity reverses the judgment of the world, inasmuch as it reveals things, principles, and persons in their true relation to God.
THE SHARP SWORD OF JUDGMENT.
12. “ These things says He that has the sharp two-edged sword. ” The glorious description of Christ, which constitutes the first vision beheld by the Seer (Revelation 1:12-66.1.16 ), is applied in its various parts in the addresses to the churches, or more correctly to their respective angels. The character of Christ to Pergamos is taken from verse 16 of the great introductory vision. There , however, the sword proceeds out of His mouth as denoting the character of judgment, the authority of His Word. Here , it is not said to be out of His mouth, but He has it. In neither passage is the sword seen sheathed, but drawn and ready for instant and thorough work, “sharp and two-edged.” The sword is used as a symbol of judgment. It is employed to denote the Lord’s vengeance on the guilty world (Revelation 19:15 ), as also of thorough and unsparing judgment of evil, not on His people, but of evil in them (Hebrews 4:12 ). Christ ever holds the sword, and uses it on friends and foes alike. He fights against evil, and by the simple authority of His Word it is exposed and judged. To those, whether in the Church or in the world, who refuse to bow before Him and own His absolute authority, the sword must do its mighty and sure work in the execution of judgment; for, be it solemnly remembered, judgment and the execution of it also, are committed to the Son of Man (John 5:22 ; John 5:27 ).
The sword is not to wound or kill the angel of the Church, but to be used against those for whose presence in the assembly the angel was responsible (Revelation 2:16 ).
SATAN’S THRONE AND DWELLING.
Revelation 2:13 . “ I know where thou dwellest, where Satan’s throne is. ” In the Authorised Version the words “ thy works and ” coming after “I know” are an unwarranted interpolation, believed to be the work of a careless copyist. “Satan’s throne ” (not “seat”), as in the Authorised Version and other modern versions, alone suits the demands of the context and of the general truth of the passage. The decay of first love was the first characteristic feature of the Church in its downward career. The second, or Smyrnean condition, was one of open persecution from the heathen imperial power. Probably the most severe but the most useful and sanctifying periods of persecution were those under Decius, A.D. 249, and Diocletian, A.D. 284. *White, in his excellent and condensed history, “The Eighteen Christian Centuries,” gives the ten pagan persecutions as follows: The first under Nero, A.D. 54; the second under Domitian, A.D. 81; the third under Trajan, A.D. 98; the fourth under Adrian, A.D. 117; the fifth under Septimius Severus, A.D. 193; the sixth under Maximin, A.D. 235; the seventh under Decius, A.D. 249; the eighth under Valerian, A.D. 254; the ninth under Aurelian, A.D. 270; the tenth under Diocletian, A.D. 284. It is impossible in all cases to determine the exact year when persecution commenced. The legal enactments against Christianity were suspended or enforced according to the will of the then reigning emperor. The persecuting laws of Domitian were repealed by the gentle Nerva, and those of Diocletian by the first Christian (?) emperor, Constantine. The effect of both was to separate the false from the true, and to purify the faith of the suffering Church. The cruelty of Satan from without was let loose against it, the heathen authorities being his instruments; but utterly baffled in his efforts to destroy Christianity his next move was to destroy the Church in its true character and testimony, and effect its ruin from within , using religious men and teachers to accomplish his deadly work. It has been said that “Paul feared the clergy, while Ignatius feared the people.” Paul’s prophetic forecast (Acts 20:29-44.20.30 ) was amply verified, as the Pergamos and Thyatiran states of the Church fully demonstrate.
Pergamos at the time of the Apocalypse was the capital of the Roman government in Asia. Heathenism reigned supreme. From it as a centre idolatry and persecution spread all over western Asia, the Asia of the Apocalypse; hence the local force of the expressions “Satan’s throne” and where “Satan dwelleth.” Satan had his throne and dwelling in Pergamos, and from thence he sought to strangle Christianity in that part of the earth. *Divine honours were paid to the Roman emperors, and in this impiety Pergamos took the lead in Asia. Says a Roman historian: “The city of Pergamos made a merit of having already built a temple in honour of Augustus,” and petitioned Tiberius for the honour of erecting another. It is significant that the last phase of public idolatrous evil is to be the worship of the Beast, or revived power of Rome, in an intense and malignant form. Surely, however, a larger and more comprehensive use of these expressions must be sought for!
We must keep steadily in view that each of these three first churches describes a special condition of the whole professing Church at successive periods of its history. Thus the Pergamos period brings us up to the era of Constantine, the beginning of the fourth century. The repeated assaults of Satan as a “roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8 ) in open persecution for 250 years left the Church spiritually richer if poorer in the eyes of the world. Where Diocletian, the last of the persecuting emperors, failed, Constantine the first Christian emperor succeeded. The seductions of Satan effected the moral ruin of the Church.
After the death of Licinius, the colleague of Constantine the Great, the latter became sole emperor. On his accession to the throne the persecuting edicts of his predecessor were repealed, and liberty granted to the Christians to worship according to their conscience, A.D. 313. But the Christian religion was then simply regarded as one of the many religions of the empire. All were equally tolerated. But as time wore on Constantine got better acquainted with Christianity, and was sagacious enough to discern in it principles of an enduring character, and such as would tend to consolidate his power; his Christian subjects, too, could be relied upon to uphold the imperial dignity, whereas his pagan ones were continually raising insurrections in various parts of the empire.
Accordingly Constantine, A.D. 324, and frequently afterwards, issued edicts against paganism, and sought with might and main to force Christianity on the empire as its one and only religion. Pagans were banished from the court, and Christians advanced to posts of honour. Constantine offered his gold and patronage to the Church, and it eagerly swallowed the bait, sacrificed its conscience and allegiance to its Lord, and the Church and the world, which had hitherto walked apart (John 17:1-43.17.26 ; 2 Corinthians 6:14-47.6.16 ), were soon locked in each other’s arms. Fatal union! From this period we date the unhappy alliance of Church and State, and the rise of Church establishments endowed by the State. Christianity was in many instances forced upon unwilling subjects at the point of the sword. It was either the sword or baptism, although the august ruler himself put off observance of the Christian rite till a few days before his death at Nicomedia. The gorgeous heathen temples and vestments of the priests were consecrated for Christian service. Instead therefore of the plain and unpretending meeting rooms and halls, in which the early Church assembled, grand buildings and ostentatious display became the order of the day. Christianity walked in golden slippers. In order to reconcile the priests and people of the ancient superstitions to the new order of things many of the pagan rites and ceremonies were adopted by the Church. Thus it falsified its character as a witness for holiness and truth. The effects of that unholy alliance remain to this day, and although God has governmentally used it in checking the tide of infidelity, yet it has wrought incalculable mischief to the Church viewed as the body of Christ, and has done much harm in lowering the holy and unworldly character which the Church ought to show in this Christ-rejecting age. The true union of Church and State awaits the revelation of another day (Revelation 21:9 ; Revelation 22:5 ). The Church thus at her ease in the presence of the “throne” and “dwelling” of Satan, who is the god of this world, enables us to see the force of the unusually strong expressions in verse 13. Satan has both a “throne” and “dwelling” on earth, and for the Church to sit down thereon or therein is truly awful. There are enumerated twenty-eight items in chapter 18 of the Apocalypse as characteristic of the false Church: the first is “gold,” and the last “souls.”
This epoch of Church history is one of such importance that we have devoted to its consideration these lengthy remarks.
DWELLERS ON THE EARTH.
13. The Lord was not indifferent. I know “where thou dwellest” has a deeply moral and ominous significatian (compare with Philippians 3:19 and Revelation 3:10 ; Revelation 6:10 ; Revelation 11:10 ; Revelation 13:14 ; Revelation 14:6 ; Revelation 17:8 ). These passages point to a class of persons who are not simply on the earth, but whose sole interests are in it and bounded by it. They refer to a class of persons morally characterised as “dwellers on the earth.” *“The dwellers upon earth are a moral class, the worst in it, seemingly, apostates who have had the offer of the heavenly calling, but have deliberately chosen earth as their portion instead.” C. E. S.
13. “ Thou holdest fast My Name, and hast not denied My faith. ” All that is vital in Christianity had been firmly maintained the Name and faith of Christ. They had been tested and proved under the most appalling circumstances confiscation of goods, torture, and death. “Swear by the genius of Caesar” they would not. They held fast the Name of Him Who is holy and true. Deny the faith of Christ as Son of God in divine relationship, as Son of Man in Holy humanity towards men, and as Son of David in Judaic rights and glory they would not. They endured as “seeing Him Who is invisible.” They shrank not from the fiery trial, and the Lord delights to recount it and commend them for it, even when He has to strongly censure them for dwelling in the high places of the earth where Satan had established his throne and dwelling. It was Satan really who had his throne first at Rome, afterwards at Constantinople, and who employed the Caesars as his instruments and agents; from thence he governed. He dwelt there while also having access to Heaven. His overthrow is determined and the moment fixed (Revelation 12:7-66.12.13 ).
ANTIPAS, THE FAITHFUL.
The orthodoxy of the angel as to vital truth was unquestionable. Pergamos, in the main, had not surrendered one article of fundamental truth, and this especially, “ even in the days in which Antipas, My faithful witness (was), who was slain among you. ” The name of this noble witness for Christ who sealed his testimony with his blood has been handed down to all ages. *“Andreas speaks of the account of the martyrdom of Antipas existing in his time and his bold expostulations against his accusers. It is said that in the reign of Domitian he was cast into the brazen bull.” “The Apocalypse, with Notes and Reflections,” p. 30. But although nothing certain is known of Antipas save the name, there is much wrapped up in that sentence, “My faithful witness, My faithful one” (R.V.). What Christ was to God (Revelation 1:5 ), that Antipas was to Christ.
BALAAMISM AND NICOLAITANISM.
Revelation 2:14-66.2.15 . “ But I have a few things against thee: that thou hast there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a snare before the sons of Israel, to eat (of) idol sacrifices and commit fornication. So thou also hast those who hold the doctrines of Nicolaitanes in like manner. ” “But I have against thee,” words of definite complaint to the angel of Ephesus (Revelation 2:4 ), and to that of Thyatira (v. 20); in the former, departure from first love; in the latter, corruption of doctrine. Here, however, the plural “things” point to more than one just cause of complaint. Those who held the teaching of Balaam were one class, and those who held the teaching of the Nicolaitanes were another. Both were tolerated in the Pergamos assembly. But what was hated in Ephesus was accepted in Pergamos (vv. 6, 15), Nicolaitanism being sternly rejected by the former, while permitted by the latter. *There are certain parallel resemblances between the seven parables of Matthew 13:1-40.13.58 and the seven churches of Revelation 2:1-66.2.29 ; Revelation 3:1-66.3.22 , notably between the first and third parable with the first and third Church. The “ kingdom ” is the subject in Matthew 13:1-40.13.58 ; the “ Church ” the subject in the Revelation 2:0 and 3.
Balaam’s heart was not in the magnificent prophecies he was compelled by the Spirit of God to utter (Numbers 23:1-4.23.30 ; Numbers 24:1-4.24.25 ). The honours and gifts of the king of Moab filled his soul’s vision. For money he would curse the people of God. “He loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2:15 ). Baffled in his attempts to curse those whom God had blessed, the wicked Mesopotamian prophet taught the wicked Moabite king to cast a stumbling-block in the path of Israel. We have no record of this transaction in the Old Testament. The prophet and the king went their respective ways (Numbers 24:25 ). But the stratagem succeeded. Under the direction of their guilty monarch the women of Moab caused Israel to sin (Numbers 25:1-4.25.18 ; Numbers 26:1-4.26.65 ; Numbers 27:1-4.27.23 ; Numbers 28:1-4.28.31 ; Numbers 29:1-4.29.40 ; Numbers 30:1-4.30.16 ; Numbers 31:1-4.31.54 ). Thus Balaam, even more guilty than the king, was the real instigator under Satan of the fall of Israel, which led to the signal judgment inflicted upon 24,000 of the people (Numbers 25:9 ). *In 1 Corinthians 10:8 the number who perished is given at 23,000, but the words “fell in one day” sufficiently account for the apparent discrepancy in the numbers who perished. The full number destroyed would not necessarily be accomplished in one day. Moses states the larger number without reference to the time covered by the execution of the judgment. Peter, Jude, and John are the only writers of the New Testament who specifically refer to Balaam. The two sins into which Israel was thus led were idolatry and fornication. These very evils were energetically denounced by Paul in a later day (1 Corinthians 10:19-46.10.28 ; and 1 Corinthians 6:15-46.6.18 ). Here the teachers and adherents of these impure practices were sheltered in the very bosom of the Church itself. These sins were the result of Balaam-teaching. For the Christian any object short of God Himself is idolatry (1 John 5:21 ), and illicit intercourse with the world is fornication (2 Corinthians 6:14-47.6.16 ). *Israel is charged with adultery in having fellowship with the Gentiles (Jeremiah 3:8 ), because viewed as married to Jehovah. The Church is charged with fornication in its illicit intercourse with the world (Revelation 2:21 ), because not yet married to the Lamb.
Revelation 2:15 . “ The doctrines of the Nicolaitanes ” were not quite the same as those of Balaam, although the result was the same in both cases, namely, the moral ruin of all contaminated by these unholy teachings and practices. Balaam, the false prophet, has his modern representatives in the Church to-day. Men occupy responsible positions in it, who, Balaam-like, cling tenaciously to their emoluments and preferments, while they labour with a zeal worthy of a better cause to overthrow the faith they are paid to defend and uphold. The honesty of these men is on a par with their soul-destroying work. The teachings of Balaam act upon the souls of men; whereas the doctrines of Nicolaitanism are sown in the souls of the people. Between the two the corporate body is well-nigh ruined. From the fourth century till today rapid strides have been made in the wrong direction, so that now there is scarcely a feature of early apostolic Church character left. The angel is not charged with holding these doctrines, but they had not been resisted. Indifference to evil is an insult to God. The moral relaxation of the angel of Pergamos stands out in marked contrast to that of Ephesus. The sin of the Church is toleration of evil and evil men.
REPENTANCE OR JUDGMENT.
Revelation 2:16 . “ Repent therefore: but if not, I come to thee quickly, and I will make war with them with the sword of My mouth. ” In the warning to Ephesus “remember” precedes the call to repent. Not one of the assemblies had been so richly blessed, had enjoyed so much of the goodness and grace of God, as the assembly in the capital of western Asia. Paul had laboured in Ephesus for three years. His service and tears had borne abundant fruit, and in his epistle to the saints of that city he had unfolded truths of the most exalted character without one accompanying word of rebuke or censure. Faith in Christ and love to all saints were characteristics of their Church life. How fitting therefore the words of divine admonition, “Remember therefore whence thou art fallen, and repent.” But the assembly in Pergamos never had been in the enjoyment of such exalted grace and privilege; hence the omission of the word “remember.”
“Repent therefore ,” omitted in the Authorised Version, is in view of the faithful exposure of grave evils in their midst. Personally the angel of the Church had neither imbibed the teachings nor practised the deeds reprobated, but, on the other hand, he had not denounced them, nor had he opposed their entrance into the Church which the angel of the Church in Ephesus had energetically done. If no self-judgment followed the call to repent, the Lord threatens speedy judgment: “I come to thee quickly.” The imminence of the judgment is expressed in the use of the present tense, as also in the introduction of the word “quickly,” wrongly inserted in verse 5, rightly here in verse 16 (see R.V. for both texts). The coming here referred to does not signify the personal return of the Lord, or what is spoken of as the second Advent, but points to an immediate dealing with the assembly by the Lord Who would visit it in judgment. To the angel He says, “I come to thee ,” but to the still more guilty, “I will make war with them .” Thus the Lord distinguishes. There are degrees of sin and, proportionately, of punishment. We, too, should distinguish between leaders and led. In the various forms and phases of discipline enjoined in the New Testament in order to preserve the holiness of God’s House this distinction should be carefully acted upon. “Of some,” says the apostle, “have compassion, making a difference; but others save with fear, snatching (them) out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 1:22-65.1.23 ). “The sword of My mouth” refers to the judging power of His Word; it pierces.
A CALL TO HEAR.
Revelation 2:17 . “ He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. ” In these addresses we listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. In them He speaks to the churches of Christendom. Had Christendom listened to the voice of the divine Speaker the public ruin of the Church would have been averted. But whilst the Spirit speaks to the churches, it is individuals who are called to hear. The Church throughout is regarded as a body insensible either to the pleadings or warnings of the Spirit; hence the churches are not called upon to hear, but individuals are: “ He that has an ear to hear, let him hear.” Corporate recovery is hopeless, hence individual responsibility, always of prime importance, is the more earnestly and continuously pressed. This is a cardinal truth in Christianity, on the denial of which the papacy flourishes. The very kernel of the papal system is the stern disallowance of individual thought and of one’s direct relation to God.
SPECIAL AND PERSONAL REWARDS.
17. “ To him that overcomes, to him will I give of the hidden manna; and I will give to him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which not one knows but he that receives (it). ” The overcoming here, as elsewhere, is an individual matter. If a company of overcomers is to be formed it can only be in the exercise of faith and spiritual energy by each one. The overcoming company, or “cloud of witnesses” of Hebrews 11:1-58.11.40 , is separately presented. Each witness for God had to fight the foe alone, yet not alone, for the living God was for him and with him.
In our English Bibles the words “ to eat ” are not found in the Sinaitic and Alexandrine MSS., and are also deleted in the Revised Version, and rejected by Tregelles, Kelly, Darby, and others.
There is peculiar sweetness in these promises, as also in the way of their bestowal. “I give of the hidden manna.” The twice repeated “I give” enhances the value of the promised blessings. The manna is termed “angels’ food” (Psalms 78:25 ) and “the bread of God” (John 6:33 ). Manna, meaning “ What is this? ” is the standing expression of Israel’s bewilderment at the manner and abundance of Jehovah’s provision for them in the desert (Exodus 16:15 ), but certainly it was not “hidden,” since it lay on the face of the ground round their camp. For 12,500 mornings Jehovah rained down bread from Heaven for His people on earth. Israel’s God is our God, and He is even more to us than He was to them, owing to our present and living association with Christ in glory. As a memorial of God’s grace to His people a pot full of manna was laid up before the Lord (Exodus 16:33 ), a “golden pot” we are informed by Paul (Hebrews 9:4 ). For about 500 years this “hidden manna” told its tale of Christ in humiliation, but to God alone. Hid in the ark, the most sacred of vessels, it was screened from the gaze of the people; probably during the long period of five centuries no human eye beheld it.
Now, says Christ, “I give,” not mediately, but personally, “of the hidden manna.” It is, of course, a reward in the future when the struggle is over. What a blessing! To learn then from Christ Himself in glory the secrets of His life here, the depths of His humiliation, the moral beauties and perfections of His life hid from the eyes of men. It will then be seen that the path of the overcomer is but a reflex of the life of Jesus here. What communings in the glory between the Victor and His victorious people. Life’s story understood and rehearsed above, but whose life’s history? ours or His? The unwritten records of His life, if penned, would require a larger world than this to contain them (John 21:25 ). The manna of old was rained from Heaven for the blessing and satisfaction of the people on earth. The hidden manna is to be given to the overcomers in Heaven. The public place of the Church in closest fellowship with the world, in which Satan established his throne and dwelling, had been refused by the overcomers in Pergamos; hence they had to abide in the shade, and suffer as they trod a solitary path in fellowship with Jesus, Who Himself had trod that separate path to Him more rugged and lonely surely than to any before or since.
But not only will He give the hidden manna, but also “I will give to him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which no one knows but he that receives (it).” What is to be understood by the white stone and secret name written thereon? A “white stone” was largely employed in the social life and judicial customs of the ancients. Days of festivity were noted by a white stone; days of calamity by a black stone. A host’s appreciation of a special guest was indicated by a white stone with a name or message written on it. A white stone meant acquittal; a black stone condemnation in the courts of justice. Here the overcomer is promised a white stone and a new name written thereon, which none knows save the happy recipient. It is the expression of the Lord’s personal delight in each one of the conquering band. It is by no means a public reward. There are common and special blessings now; there will be public and individual joys then. The Lord’s approbation of, and special delight in, each one of the triumphant company will be answer enough to the rejection and scorn heaped upon the faithful witness now. The new name on the stone, alone known to the overcomer, signifies Christ, then known in a special and peculiar way to each one, and that surely is reward beyond all price and beyond all telling. It is a secret communication of love and intelligence between Christ and the overcomer, a joy which none can share, a reserved token of appreciative love. In the glory the hidden manna is the expression of our appreciation of Christ in His humiliation; while the white stone equally sets forth His appreciation in us as overcomers. His and our individual path here are the points respectively set forth in the glory by the symbols of the “manna” and the “stone.”
THE SPIRIT’S ADDRESS TO THYATIRA
(Revelation 2:18-66.2.29 ).
Revelation 2:18 . “ To the angel of the Church in Thyatira write: These things says the Son of God, He that hath His eyes as a flame of fire, and His feet are like fine brass. ” This is the only Church of the seven in which a woman’s name is mentioned. Jezebel, the wicked consort of the apostate king of Israel, who was but a tool in her hands, the upholder and patroness of the worst forms of idolatry, a murderess, yet withal a clever and determined woman, is the prominent person named in the address to the angel. We cannot regard it as a mere coincidence that the earlier mention of Thyatira is in connection with a woman (Acts 16:1-44.16.40 ), but a very different character to the one named here. There are striking points both of contrast and resemblance between Lydia, the active, generous, decided Christian, and her relation to Paul (Acts 16:1-44.16.40 ), and Jezebel, the zealous and equally large-hearted pagan, and her relation to Elijah (1 Kings 18:1-11.18.46 ; 1 Kings 19:1-11.19.21 ).
This fourth epistle is the longest of the seven, and marks the commencement of the second group in which the history of each Church runs on till the second Coming of the Lord. The first direct reference in these epistles to the second Advent is found here (vv. 25-28).
The hopeless, helpless, corrupt condition of the Church a condition out of which it cannot emerge, and one incapable of improvement, is another noted feature, distinguishing it thus from the three previous churches. Here, then, is an active propagation of evil and corrupting teaching from within. Pergamos tolerated certain grave evils; but Thyatira suffers them to be taught, and herself becomes the mother of similar evil systems, “her children.” What a truly remarkable feature of this Church!
Another noticeable characteristic is that a remnant is now formally recognised and separately addressed (v. 24), thus clearly distinguishing the Church or mass from the remnant or faithful company.
Further, the call to hear which in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamos precedes the promises to the overcomer, in Thyatira and succeeding churches is found after the promises, closing up in each case the respective address. In the first three epistles the Church stands related to the call to hear, whereas in the last four the overcomers are in relation to the words, “He that hath an ear, let him hear.”
Another striking feature in the address to this Church is that for the first and only time, in the course of these epistles, the name of the divine Speaker is introduced the Son of God; this title of personal and divine relationship is not used in any other part of the Apocalypse.
THE DIVINE SPEAKER.
18. “ These things says the Son of God. ” The humanity of the Lord and His relation to the race are conveyed in the title “Son of Man.” The Deity of the Lord and His relation to God are intimated in the title “Son of God.” His glory and relation to the churches as beheld by John was as “Son of Man” (Revelation 1:13 ). Why, then, is this divine title “Son of God” introduced, and only here? The answer is at hand. Thyatira historically covers the Dark or Middle Ages, and pictures in brief terms and symbols the popish system, the worst bearing the Christian name that has ever disgraced the earth. In popery every true thought of the Church is lost. True, she boasts loudly of unity, but it is a unity enforced when and where she can by the potent arguments of the faggot, the fire, and the dungeon as unlike divine unity effected by the Holy Ghost (1 Corinthians 12:13 ) as light is to darkness. Popery shuts out Christ completely as Head of His Body, the Church, and as Administrator of the House of God. Hence the introduction of this title in the opening words of the address. Not Peter, but Christ, the Son of the living God, is the Church’s foundation (Matthew 16:16-40.16.18 ). Peter, too, is made the administrator of the Church instead of Christ. But the Lord never gives up His rights, and just when and where it were most needful to insist on His divine prerogative as Son of God it is done. If the Church has been drifting from bad to worse, so much the more need to insist on the divine glory and relationship of our Lord. If that goes, then truly all is lost. The title “Son of God” is in no wise a dispensational one; a title, moreover, which was given to Him on His entrance into this world as Man (Psalms 2:1-19.2.12 ; Acts 13:33 , omit the word “again”).
HIS EYES AND FEET.
18. “ He that hath His eyes as a flame of fire and His feet like fine brass. ” This is part of the detailed description of the glorified Son of Man previously beheld (Revelation 1:14-66.1.15 ). Here, however, these two attributes of stern sovereignty are exercised by the Son of God. It is well to remember that He to Whom all judgment is committed, and Who will infallibly execute His own judgment, is not only Man (John 5:22 ; John 5:27 ), but He is God as well. He who wields the sceptre is divine as well as human. His eyes as “a flame of fire” refer to His moral intolerance of evil. He will search out sin and discover it however hidden. Who or what can escape those eyes as a flame of fire? “His feet as fine brass.” What His eyes discover, that His feet shall tread upon. Unbending judicial action, inflexible justice, is symbolised by the “feet like fine brass.” Every systematised form of evil bearing the Christian name (v. 23) must be destroyed. The mountains of Edom in the last days afford an awful example of divine vengeance and of the application of the striking symbol here employed (Isaiah 63:1-23.63.6 ). When the Lord comes in Person to make good His sovereign right over the whole scene under Heaven His feet are likened to “pillars of fire” (Revelation 10:1-66.10.2 ), a slight change in the wording of the imagery, implying the immovable, steadfast purpose and act of the Lord in the stern assertion of His universal rights. “Fire” is the expressive symbol of judgment, whether upon Christ, the sacrifice (Lev. l), or upon the wicked (Mark 9:43 ; Luke 16:24 ; 2 Thessalonians 1:8 ).
A WARM COMMENDATION.
Revelation 2:19 . “ I know thy works, and love, and faith, and service, and thine endurance, and thy last works (to be) more than the first. ” Words of strong and stern rebuke are preceded by the warmest commendation accorded to any of the assemblies. “I know thy works” occurs in each address in our English Bibles. But in the Revised and critical editions of the Holy Scriptures the words are omitted in the epistles to Smyrna and Pergamos. The state of these assemblies precluded the idea of “works,” the former being characterised by suffering, the latter by fidelity. The generic term “works” occurs twice in course of this commendation. The angel at Ephesus had declined in love, whereas the angel at Thyatira had increased in works. The darker the night the more devoted and zealous were the godly company; their “last works more than the first” more numerous, more pure, and more elevated in character as the fruit of faith. But this Church is also commended for its love, *Our translators here, and notably in 1 Corinthians 13:1-46.13.13 , have followed Wycliffe, A.D. 1380, in rendering the Greek word agapa by “charity,” instead of love , its only equivalent. In this he followed the Vulgate or Latin version of the Scriptures. The illustrious English Reformer, “The Morning Star of the Reformation,” was not acquainted with the original tongues in which the Scriptures were written, but was an accomplished Latin scholar. Tyndale, who had carefully studied the Greek Testament of the learned Erasmus, published in A.D. 1516, gave to the English-speaking people the first printed New Testament in their own tongue. This was in A.D. 1526, nearly 150 years after Wycliffe’s edition of the Scriptures. Tyndale rejected “charity” and rightly translated love . Cranmer followed suit. In Wycliffe’s time and for long afterwards, the words charity and alms exactly represented our modern English words love and charity . The word alms is falling into disuse, charity being regarded as its equivalent. faith, service, and endurance, four practical features of Christian life. Love, the first (Galatians 5:22 ) and greatest of the Christian graces (1 Corinthians 13:13 ), heads the list. Thyatira, too, alone amongst the seven is commended for its “love” and “service.” This latter would, we judge, embrace ministry in its widest sense both of a spiritual and temporal character.
A GRAVE INDICTMENT.
Revelation 2:20 . “ But I have against thee that thou permittest the woman Jezebel, she who calls herself prophetess, and she teaches and leads astray My servants to commit fornication and eat of idol sacrifices. ” The Authorised Version reads, “I have a few things against thee,” but in the Revised Version and others we read, “I have against thee.” The Lord had a grave indictment against the angel. The Church in its representatives was permitting an evil in its midst of a more serious character than any that had yet appeared. In other words the papacy is in the forefront of this address. The supremacy of the Roman See is simply the development in full of the dispute amongst the disciples “who was the greatest” (Mark 9:33-41.9.34 , R.V.). *The historical development of the papacy from the fourth century, when the claim of supremacy was first advanced, to the eighth, when universal sovereignty, spiritual and temporal, was demanded, is ably traced in “The Rise of the Papal Power.” by Hussey. That the general state of the Church in the Middle Ages is represented by Thyatira seems self-evident.
HISTORICAL ORDER OF THE CHURCHES.
In the successional order of the churches attention is drawn to certain broadly marked features and distinctive epochs which lie open to every student of ecclesiastical history. The historian may furnish details, sometimes interesting, more often dreary, but the principles and broad characteristics of Church history, of which details are but the outcome and development, are plainly written down in chapters two and three of the Apocalypse. Decay of first love closed up the first century, of which Ephesus was the representative. Then persecution raged with greater or less intensity at intermittent periods for more than two centuries, of which Smyrna was the sorrowful witness. Next, and in historical order, we are brought to the era of Constantine, when the emperor ruined the Church with his gold and honours. This sad event is of fourth century notoriety, and was exhibited in Pergamos. Succeeding history shows the development of the papal system from the first claim of authority and supremacy in the council of Sardica, A.D. 347, till the seventh century, when its arrogant, pretentious claims clashed with the titles, honours, and worship due exclusively to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Then from the eighth century till the dawn of the Reformation the universal claim of the papacy over the kingdoms of the earth, and the souls and bodies of men, yea, as possessing even the keys of Paradise itself, was carried out as far as possible by force and fraud. The claim of universal sovereignty has never been withdrawn, and awaits another day for its enforcement. This, then, is the awful picture presented in Thyatira. The Reformation of the sixteenth century broke the yoke of the papacy and secured a measure of freedom for Europe. Luther with an open Bible was more than a match for the Pope, aided and abetted by the most potent monarch of his time. The blow then dealt at the papacy was not a deadly one, it is slowly but surely recovering from it. The Reformation and Protestantism are before us as prominent features in the epistle to Sardis. But another Reformation was needed, one of vital and practical Christianity. This was effected in the energy of the Spirit of God at the commencement of last century. Finally, the state neither hot nor cold; Christless, yet boasting of its wealth and supremacy; self-satisfied, too, is the main characteristic of the Church to-day. The cross outside and inside her buildings, with Christ outside at the door knocking for individuals to open is Laodicea. The Church refuses to hear His voice or own His authority.
JEZEBEL, OR THE PAPACY.
Jezebel was a woman, a queen, an idolater, a persecutor, and the virtual ruler and director of the government of Israel. Ahab was but a puppet in her hands (1 Kings 18:1-11.18.46 ; 1 Kings 19:1-11.19.21 ; 1 Kings 20:1-11.20.43 ; 1 Kings 21:1-11.21.29 ). All this and more is the Jezebel of the Apocalypse. Combining in herself these and other features of the popish system (Revelation 17:1-66.17.18 ; Revelation 18:1-66.18.24 ), she arrogantly assumes the title “prophetess.” She professes to teach with authority. Combined with teaching she can employ all the arts and seductions of minds specially trained to effect her fell purpose. *The Jesuit is the real power behind the Pope. The ruling principle of the Jesuit lies in this, that the end justifies the means. Morality, honour, principle are sacrificed in order to effect this end. “The Jesuits spend the night in hatching plots, and the day in running about to execute them.” Wyllie . “Hear Mother Church” is the cry of every Romanist. “The Church cannot err in faith and morals,” and it must be understood that by “the Church” is meant the papacy pure and simple. Her teachings and seductions, however contrary to Scripture and repellent to human understanding, must be accepted as authoritative and infallible. This is a dogma with Rome. She cannot err, therefore she cannot progress. It is thus that Rome and ignorance, Rome and superstition, Rome and no mind must necessarily, as history abundantly testifies, go together. Rome dreads the light and fears the Bible. “The Church teaches,” says the Romanist. “The Church’s mission is to evangelise,” says the Protestant. Both are wrong. Teaching and preaching are not gifts conferred upon the Church, nor is it responsible to do either. The Church is taught, but does not teach. Both teaching and preaching are the exercise of gift by individual servants of the Lord (Ephesians 4:8-49.4.12 ).
She leads “astray My servants.” This the Jezebel of modern days has done. She has turned the great mass of professing Christians (here designated “My servants,” as bearing that name and character) from Christ to Mary; from Christ the one Mediator and Intercessor (1 Timothy 2:5 ; Romans 8:34 ) to the dead; from Christ to the Pope; from the one offering of eternal value to the sacrifice of the mass; from the Word of God and its certainty to the traditions of men which all are uncertain; and, in general, from Christianity to christianised paganism. Is not the indictment a grave and true one?
Where does this wide departure from truth lead to? What is the natural result to those led astray? The end of popish error, of intrigue, of blasphemous teachings, of wicked practices, and undying hatred to all outside her communion is to get her adherents and dupes “to commit fornication and eat of idol sacrifices” FORNICATION and IDOLATRY. These were the two great Pergamos errors, only here seen in a more settled and intensified form. It will also be noticed that in Pergamos the evils are stated in inverse order idolatry and fornication (v. 14). These two satanic evils were taught and practised in the Church itself. There may have been in the Thyatiran assembly an actual counterpart to the impious Jezebel of old, who led in these very evils unchecked by the angel. But these heinous sins must be understood in a broad and comprehensive sense, and in keeping with the thought repeatedly pressed in this Exposition, viz., descriptive of the general condition of the Church as a whole at a given time. Those terrible evils were the characteristics of the medieval Church.
Fornication, employed as a symbol here and elsewhere, signifies for those professing the Name of the Lord, illicit intercourse with the world. What was commenced by Constantine was consummated in the papacy. *The term “Popery” and “Papacy” are not equivalent terms. The former is the embodiment of doctrine and religious rite and ceremony; the latter signifies the whole system sacred and secular from its root to its utmost branch. The assumption of combined temporal and spiritual power, both universal in their range, was the masterpiece of the papacy. Kingdoms were bestowed, crowns given, and principalities conferred according to the will of one styling himself “The vicar of Jesus Christ, the successor of Peter, the anointed of the Lord, the God of Pharaoh, short of God, beyond man, less than God, greater than man, who judges all men, and is judged by no man.” *Innocent III., who ascended the pontifical chair in the early part of the twelfth century. A cruel and relentless persecutor The unholy union of the Church with the world was as a system perfected in the papacy. It is spiritual fornication.
Participation in idol worship next follows, and is necessarily coupled with the former evil. Idolatry in the Church seems paradoxical, nevertheless it is true. We deliberately assert that the Romish Church and the Greek Church are systems of baptised paganism, and to some extent the Anglican Church is involved in the charge. Most of their doctrines, holy days, rites, ceremonies, vestments, titles, are heathen in their origin. The pagans refused to adopt Christian worship and doctrine, and so the Church more evil adopted pagan customs, giving them Christian names. *All this is fully inquired into and proved beyond doubt in that remarkable book, “The Two Babylons,” by Hyslop. See also “The Mystic Cities of Scripture,” “Zion and Babylon,” and “Mosheim’s Ecclesiastical History,” Vols. 1 and 2, English edition of 1845. If the simple Church polity of the New Testament is compared with the unspiritual, mechanical worship and order in the Roman, Eastern, and Anglican churches, the reader may be surprised to learn that there is scarcely one point of agreement. But are the orthodox churches free from the taint of idolatry? Have they not more or less borrowed from Rome? Protestantism is not necessarily Christianity. The severance from the papacy by the churches of the Reformation was not as complete as it ought to have been. Numerous Romish practices and doctrines of pagan origin are yet retained in the Reformed churches. All mere forms of worship and doctrinal creeds not of direct Scripture authority draw the heart and eye from Christ; other objects are substituted, and that is idolatry.
TIME FOR REPENTANCE.
Revelation 2:21 . “ And I gave her time that she should repent, and she will not repent of her fornication. ” Rome yet exists. In principle she is unchanged. She is slowly but surely recovering her strength and somewhat of her ancient prestige. Jezebel, i.e. , the papacy, reigned as queen for more than a thousand years, but repented not. Yet another period of grace from the Reformation till now 300 years and the papacy is unchanged wicked as ever, persecuting as ever, filthy as ever, idolatrous as ever. The Lord “gave her time to repent,” but there has been no repentance. The Jezebel of the last 1300 years and more is the Apocalyptic Babylon of prophecy. Read her character and doings in Revelation 17:1-66.17.18 ; Revelation 18:1-66.18.24 , and you will see that instead of repentance her character is blacker and her deeds are darker than in the past. How good the Lord is to grant such abundant mercy, such lengthened delay to induce repentance, though they be unavailing! The divine verdict is recorded, “She will not repent of her fornication.” It is not she cannot repent, but she will not. Popery is utterly corrupt. Her character is fixed, so too is her doom.
JEZEBEL, HER ADHERENTS AND CHILDREN.
Revelation 2:22 . “ Behold, I cast her into a bed, and those that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and her children will I kill with death. ” Here are three parties threatened with judgment: (1) Jezebel; (2) those having intercourse with her; (3) her children. We have been already told that Jezebel will not repent, so her judgment is certain; those, too, who traffic with her are threatened unless they repent of “ her works.” Her children persons and systems who are born of Rome, who have imbibed her principles and teachings, are unconditionally threatened with death.
“Behold, I cast her into a bed.” The word “bed” is evidently used in sharp contrast to the bed of the harlot with its illicit pleasure. It will be a bed of affliction. “Those that commit adultery with her.” This is the first and only instance of the word “adultery” in the Apocalypse. Those who have tampered with the evil, who have defiled themselves by association with Jezebel, are the class here referred to an increasing company in our times, a company born of the false spirit of toleration and of indifference to evil. Her children killed “with death ” is a singular expression, and seems to denote the intensity of the Lord’s judgment. This finds its answer in Revelation 17:1-66.17.18 ; Revelation 18:1-66.18.24 of the Apocalypse. Such is the character and doom of the papacy, and of all directly and remotely connected with it. There are varying degrees of guilt, but the main point to seize upon is that God judges evil according to the measure of each one’s responsible connection with it.
A LESSON AND A PROMISE.
Revelation 2:23 . “ And all the churches shall know that I am He that searches (the) reins and (the) hearts: and I will give to you each according to your works. ” The practical effect of the Lord’s exposure of evil in Christendom and of its judgment is that the churches shall know that Christ searches the reins and hearts. Hidden evil is brought to light, and Christ is owned as the divine Searcher of the secret thoughts and hidden deeds of men. This was the sole prerogative of Jehovah in Old Testament times (Jeremiah 17:10 ), and the churches are to learn the lesson, or rather know that Christ, with whom they have to do, exercises this solemn function. Omniscience belongs to Him.
But while systems, professedly good or bad, shall be judged, there is also an individual judgment of each one’s works. Neither the believer’s person nor his sins shall come into judgment (John 5:24 ; Hebrews 10:17 ), but the works of each one shall be examined in light of that day, and blame or praise awarded by the Lord accordingly. The Lord shall pass righteous judgment on the works of each one bearing His Name. How needful to know this in view of the general toleration of evil and laxity of morals now so prevalent.
THE REST OR UNDEFILED.
Revelation 2:24-66.2.25 . “ But to you I say, the rest (who) are in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I do not cast upon you any other burden: but what ye have hold fast till I come. ” The medieval Church was not wholly corrupt. The Albigenses and Waldenses in the thirteenth century stood aloof from the “mother of harlots.” They with others constituted a noble band of witnesses against the corruptions of Rome. They were sound in the faith. Theirs, too, was no mere negative testimony. They boldly denounced the errors and heresies of the papal system. They were, as a rule, simple, unlettered peasants and hardy mountaineers, ignorant of the depths of evil, here termed in common parlance “the depths of Satan.” The Lord would not add to their burdens; no fresh development of truth is taught them. What they had they were not to surrender, but “hold fast.” There was no expectation held out of a reform, nor even an amelioration of the existing state of things. There could be no restoration of the Church; hence the eyes and hearts of the “rest,” or remnant, are directed not backward but onward, “till I come.” The Coming of the Lord is the goal of hope. A return to the pristine condition of the Church is deemed impossible. What then is the resource of the faithful? How long is their suffering, witnessing character to be maintained? “Till I come.” That is the promised moment of deliverance.
Revelation 2:26-66.2.27 . “ And he that overcomes, and he that keeps unto the end My works, to him will I give authority over the nations, and he shall shepherd them with an iron rod; as vessels of pottery are they broken in pieces, as I also have received from My Father. ” It is not enough to deny Jezebel, her doctrines and works, but “he that keeps unto the end My works” is crowned. The chaplet of victory is placed on the brow of the one who perseveres in the path of faithfulness to the end. Death or the Coming of the Lord is that end. “My works” are evidently in contrast to the works of Jezebel (v. 23). “ Her works” were unholy. “ His works” are holy.
The large, grand, and public character of the promise exceeds anything we have yet had, namely, “authority over the nations.” This very thing has ever been the goal of papal ambition. Metaphorically and literally the Pope has placed his foot on the neck of kings, and in the coming brief day of satanic rule (Revelation 12:1-66.12.17 ; Revelation 13:1-66.13.18 ; Revelation 14:1-66.14.20 ; Revelation 15:1-66.15.8 ; Revelation 16:1-66.16.21 ; Revelation 17:1-66.17.18 ; Revelation 18:1-66.18.24 ; Revelation 19:1-66.19.21 ) the woman will ride the beast and command for a season the forces and authority of the revived western power with a completeness and breadth of authority never before witnessed. But the authority is usurped, the reign brief, and the instruments of her tyranny become the agents of her destruction (Revelation 17:16-66.17.17 ).
The authority of the saints over the nations is coextensive with that exercised by Christ, and for the lengthened period of 1000 years. The overcomer shall rule, or shepherd, the angry and rebellious nations with an iron rod. Their will shall be broken, their pride humbled, their glory laid in the dust like the crumbling to pieces of brittle vessels.
Revelation 2:27 . “ As I also have received from My Father, ” It is deeply interesting to notice that the grant of authority over the nations is made over to Christ alone (Psalms 2:1-19.2.12 ), but the same unlimited authority and dominion is assured to the conqueror who presses on till the end. The public place and portion of the Son are to be shared with the overcomers. The very words in which the Father gives the nations, the heathen, and the earth to its utmost limits to His Son are used by the Lord to endow His overcoming people with their public portion (compare v. 27 with Psalms 2:9 ).
Revelation 2:28 . “ And I will give to him the morning star. ” We have had association with Christ in His kingdom and glory, but now another and even richer promise is addressed to the overcomer: “I will give to him the morning star,” a personal interest in Christ Himself. In His character as “Sun of Righteousness” to Israel He heals His people and brings in blessing, but in His character as the “Bright and Morning Star” He appears before the sun rises to His own alone. The former in connection with the Church (Revelation 22:16 ); the latter in connection with Israel (Malachi 4:2 ). The Lord then is coming to bring in a day of gladness for Israel and the world. The Sun will scatter the clouds and earth will rejoice, but the first faint streak of light which shall pierce through the gloom and darkness which have wrapped themselves round this dreary scene will be seen and rejoiced in by each overcomer, and then in company with Him we make our triumphal entry into the wide domain of His and our inheritance (compare v. 28; 22: 16, with Malachi 4:2 ).
THE CALL TO HEAR.
Revelation 2:29 . “ He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. ” In this epistle the Spirit has been speaking in solemn tones. The character and doom of the papacy have been sketched by a divine pen. The Spirit has been speaking to the churches. The call to hear in the preceding epistle is placed before the address to the overcomer. Here, and subsequently, the call to hear is placed after the address to the conqueror. Why so? In the first three churches the public body was ostensibly owned of God as His, and might “hear.” In the last four churches the professing body is treated as incapable of repentance, and hence those alone who hear and respond to the Spirit’s call constitute the overcoming company.
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Scott, Walter. "Commentary on Revelation 2". "Scott's Commentary on Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany