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What is commanded to be written to the angels (that is, the ministers) of the churches of Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira: and what is commended, or found wanting in them.
Anno Domini 96.
Revelation 2:1.— The second and third chapters contain the seven epistles to the seven churches of Asia; which are particularly addressed, because, as is commonly believed, they were under St. John's immediate inspection. He constituted bishops over them. He resided much at Ephesus, which is therefore named the first of the seven. The main subjects too of this book are comprised in sevens; seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven vials; as seven was also a mystical number throughout the Old Testament. There are likewise in these epistles several innate characters, which are peculiar to the church of that age, and cannot be so fully applied to the church of any other age: They have, therefore, rather a literal, than a mystical meaning; but, notwithstanding this, they contain most excellent spiritual and moral preceptsandexhortations,commendations and reproofs, promises and threatenings, which may be of infinite use to the church in all ages. The form and order of the parts is nearly the same in all the epistles—First, a command to write; then some character and attributes of the speaker, taken from the vision in the first chapter, and appropriated to the matter of each epistle; then commendations or reproofs, with suitable promises or threatenings; and then, in all, the same conclusion, He that hath an ear, let him hear, &c.
The first epistle is addressed to the church of Ephesus, as it was the metropolis of the Lybian Asia, the place of St. John's principal residence, and one of the most celebrated cities in Asia: but though once so magnificent and glorious, it is now become a mean village, with scarcely a single family of Christians dwelling in it. So strongly has the denunciation in Rev 2:5 been fulfilled! See Acts 19:1.
Unto the angel—of Ephesus— That is, the bishop, or presiding officer of the church. There was an officer of the synagogue, who had the name of angel; and, from his office of overlooking the reader of the law, he was called episcopus, or bis
Revelation 2:2. I know thy works, &c.— Our Saviour having begun with telling the angel, that He holds the seven stars in his right hand, (that is, "directs the angels or bishops of the seven churches,") and that He walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, or lamp-sconces; that is, views, considers, protects, and governs them; it is no wonder that he should know here, and in every one of the rest, what is done therein!
Revelation 2:3. And hast borne,— "And I know thou hast sustained, with exemplary fortitude, the trouble they have given thee; and hast exercised invincible patience under all thy sufferings and trials in my cause; and thou hast laboured constantly and tenaciously for my name's sake, and to establish the faith of my people; and hast not fainted under thy toils or tribulations."
Revelation 2:4. Thou hast left thy first love.— Not quite forsaken, but remitted and relaxed the former love and zeal; which is condemned, and for which they are dreadfully threatened; because the angel and his church, notwithstanding their zeal against the false apostles, by giving way to them at last, or from other causes, had, in a measure, forsaken their first love which they bore to the Lord Jesus. It is very plain, that these epistles, though inscribed to the governors of the churches, are directed to the churches themselves, as represented by them, just as the Jewish church was represented by Joshua their high-priest, Zechariah 3:1. But it is not improbable, that where some of the churches are blamed, there might be in their ministers some faults, correspondent to those charged upon the society; and particularly that the zeal of this minister of Ephesus might be declining.
Revelation 2:5. Will remove thy candlestick out of his place,— As this threatening is addressed to the church of Ephesus, though much better than some other churches, it is reasonable to believe, that, like other denunciations, it was also intended to awaken the rest. It intimates how terrible a thing it would be to have the gospel taken away from them: and indeed it has been executed upon them all in a very awful manner; for, ruined and overthrown by heresies and divisions within, and by the arms of the Saracens from without, Mahometanism prevails throughout those countries, which were once the glory of Christendom; their churches turned into mosques, and their worship into superstition.
Revelation 2:6. The deeds of the Nicolaitans,— Some have thought that these heretics derive their name from Nicolas, one of the seven deacons; but that name was so common among the Jews, that no stress can be laid on an argument drawn from thence. The substance of what ancient writers say concerning them is, that they taught the lawfulness of lewdness, and idolatroussacrifices, esteeming those things indifferent in their own nature; and that their practices were suitable to such principles. See Revelation 2:14-66.2.15. 1 John 1:3; 1 John 1:10.
Revelation 2:7. He that hath an ear, &c.— See on Matthew 11:15. By him that overcometh, is here meant, him who lives in the spirit of holiness, who, through grace, conquers everyevil temper, and publicly confesses the name of Jesus Christbefore his enemies to the end, and even unto martyrdom, if called thereunto. The word which we render to give, implies, throughout this book, a power granted to act or do something very remarkable, which depended not before upon, and was not in the power of the receiver. The phrase Ξυλον ζωης, the word, or tree of life, is a Hebraism, to signify animmortal tree,and symbolically, immortality itself. So wisdom is said to be a tree of life,Pro 3:18 that is, bringing to man long life and immortality; and Pro 11:30 the fruit of the righteous is said to be a tree of life; that is, "Immortality is the reward or effect of his following wisdom." See ch. Revelation 22:2.
Revelation 2:8. Unto the angel of the church in Smyrna— Smyrna was the nearest city to Ephesus, and for that reason probably was addressed in the second place. The town now remaining is situated on lower ground than the ancient city, and lies about 45 miles north of Ephesus. It is calledby the Turks Esmir, and is celebrated, not so much for the splendour and pomp of the buildings, as for the number, wealth, and commerce of the inhabitants. The Turks have herein fifteen mosques, and the Jews several synagogues. Among these enemies of the Christians, the Christian religion exists, though in a small degree. Smyrna still retains the dignity of a metropolis. Frequent plagues and earthquakes are the great calamities of the place; but the Christians are here more considerable, and in better condition, than in any other of the seven churches. As our Saviour was about to foretel of the angel's sufferings and death, he here gives himself that title which shews that he also suffered, and died, and rose again; as if he should say, "Thou and others are like to suffer for my name's sake; but have a good courage; for in my death and resurrection I have given you an earnest of a glorious resurrection, to crown your sufferings and death."
Revelation 2:9. And poverty (but thou art rich); &c.— "I know the humble opinion thou hast of thyself, and thy poverty in temporal respects; but thou art rich in grace, and in all its genuine effects, and art daily laying up for thyself an increasing treasure in heaven." With respect to the next clause, we may observe, that it is folly and hypocrisy for any one now to call himself a Jew, if he mean by that to signify that he is one of the chosen people of God, and a true worshipper; seeing that real Christians are now that people, the true and spiritual Israel, and consequently the only people who have a right to the written promises of God, and the privileges of the true worshippers in the visible church. The blasphemy, therefore, of these pretended Jews consisted in this, that they lied against God, by pretending to worship him truly: for his will being now to be worshipped through and with his Son, to worship him wilfully otherwise, is to worship him in vain,—to be guilty of a lie against God. It appears from the history of those times, that the Jews were then great enemies to the Christians; and in Smyrna more particularly, perhaps, than any where else, at least in any of these churches. It should seem therefore by this, that Polycarp, who is generally thought to be the bishop here addressed, and his flock, did already, and would hereafter, meet with great vexation from these men. If they were as vexatious and malicious at this time as they were at that of his martyrdom, they were the most bitter and cruel enemies he ever had; incensing the Heathens against him, and shewing themselves the most forward persecutors. The epistle of his church, which gives an account of his martyrdom, takes notice of it; for we read, that "the Jews especially, as is their custom, shewed their forwardness in contributing to it." We may just observe further, that the Jews of those times, being, if not the tormentors, yet the principal accusers of the Christians before the Pagans, did thus the work of Satan, who, according to his name, is the accuser of the brethren. In this sense they were of the synagogue, or secret council of Satan.
Revelation 2:10. Fear none of those things, &c.— This chiefly concerns Polycarp, the angel, who is here comforted, and foretold of his future sufferings; but it does not exclude the rest of his flock, who are comprised under the shepherd. His constancy in martyrdom proves that he followed this advice. The next clause concerns chiefly the members of his church; and the event was suitable: for many of them were cast into prison, tormented, exhibited upon the theatre, and thrown to the lions; and the persecution ceased not till Polycarp had, by his death, put an end to it; "who, by his martyrdom, stopped the persecution, putting, as it were, a seal over it," as they express it in the account of his martyrdom. The ten days signify ten years, according to the usual stile of prophecy; and the greater persecution which the Christian church ever endured, was that under Diocletian, which lasted ten years, and grievously afflicted all the Asiatic, and indeed all the eastern churches. This character can apply to none of the other general persecutions; for none of them lasted so long as ten years. As the commendatory and reproving parts of these epistles exhibit the present state of the churches, so the promissory and threatening parts foretel something of their future condition; and in this sense, and no other, can these epistles be said to be prophetical. It is added, Be thou faithful unto death, &c. Faithful here signifies brave, constant, and patient: our religion being a warfare, words from war are used to express what concerns it. See 2 Timothy 4:7. Polycarp fully answered their expectation, when, being solicited to apostatize, he said thus: "Eighty-six years have I served him, and he never wronged me: how then can I blaspheme my King, who hath saved me?" Therefore, as soon as he entered the stadium, there came a voice to comfort him, saying, "Be strong, O Polycarp, and shew thyself a man." That the primitive martyrs had miraculous comfortsand assistances of the Holy Ghost, is fully proved by Mr. Dodwell, Cyprian, Dissert. 12: sect. 42. The crown, as a symbol of reward and encouragement for constancy, is suitable to the notion of martyrdom, as a fight or combat for victory. It implies likewise, that this reward shall partly consist of power and dominion over others; therefore these martyr conquerors are to reign with Christ, ch. Revelation 20:4.
Revelation 2:11. Shall not be hurt of the second death.— This is in pursuance of the title, Revelation 2:8. For Christ having power over death and hell, and having raised himself, he has of course power to raise the martyrs: and then it is plain that the second death shall have no power over them. Memorable to this purpose is the saying of an ancient emir, in the times of the last crusade, who, asking of certain captive Christians, by his interpreters, whether they believed in Jesus Christ? and the captives replying that they did so believe, "Then," said the emir, "take comfort; for since he died for you, and was able to rise again, he is also well able to save you."
Revelation 2:12. To the angel of the church in Pergamos— Pergamos, formerly the metropolis of the Hellespontic Mysia, and the seat of the Attalick kings, is, by the Turks, with some little variation, still called Bergamo, and has its situation about 64 miles to the north of Smyrna. Here are good buildings, but more ruins: The place is almost wholly occupied by the Turks, very few families of Christians being left, whose state is very deplorable. Here is only one church remaining, dedicated to St. Theodorus: and that the name of Christ is not wholly lost and forgotten in Pergamos, is owing to the care of the metropolitan of Smyrna, who continually sends a minister to perform the sacred offices. The cathedral church of St. John is buried in its own ruins, its angel or bishop removed, and its fair pillars adorn the graves of its destroyers, the Turks, who are estimated to be two or three thousand souls in number. Its other fine church, called Santa Sophia, is turned into a mosque, and daily profaned with the blasphemies of Mahomet. There are not, in the whole town, above a dozen or fifteen families of Christians, who till the ground to gain their bread, and live in the most abject and sordid service. There is the less reason to wonder at the wretched condition of this church, when we consider that it was the very throne of Satan, Rev 2:13 that they ran greedily after the error of Balaam, Rev 2:14 and that they held the impure doctrine of the Nicolaitans. It was denounced to them to repent, or else Christ would come unto them quickly, and fight against them, Rev 2:16 as the event proves that he has done.
Revelation 2:13. Even where Satan's seat is:— Satan's throne; the place where he has great power. It is probable, that the Heathens were there particularly furious against the Christians. Now, where there are persecutions, there Satan dwelleth and reigneth. See ch. Revelation 12:10. The church of Pergamos, to incite them to future fidelity and a holy conduct, is here commended for things which they had done; for having courageouslymaintained their faith in the time of persecution, which is here pointed at by a particular instance; namely, when Antipas suffered martyrdom. It is likely that many of that church suffered then, andthat Antipas their bishop, by his death, put an end to the persecution, as Polycarp did afterwards.
Revelation 2:14. The doctrine of Balaam,— As Balaam has the same signification in Hebrew which Nicolas has in Greek, and both signify "conquerors of the people," (which name might probably have been given to Balaam, on account of the influence which he had in the place where he lived;) it seems most likely that the peculiar doctrines of Balaam and of the Nicolaitans were the same; or the latter might be more strenuous in justifying and propagating their doctrine, and acting upon it. As if he said, "Balaam taught Balak to lay a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, and thou hast also those who hold the doctrine of the Balaamites." See Numbers 31:15-4.31.16. Jude, Revelation 2:11.
Revelation 2:16. Will fight against them— He does not say that he will fight against the church, but the Nicolaitans; therefore repent, that is, "Be wise, and separate yourselves from those seducers, or else you shall be involved in their damnation, as Balaam was in the destruction of the Midianites." In the last phrase, with the sword of my mouth, the metaphor or allegory is still carried on, and the symbols suit the title of our Saviour in the beginning of the epistle, Rev 2:12 and further allude to the sword whereby the angel of God would have hindered Balaam in his intended journe
Revelation 2:17. Will I give to eat of the hidden manna,— Hereby the reward of him that conquers in the combat for Christ is described. As Balaam went on in his error through the greediness of gain, so here Christ promises, by way of antidote, the true riches to him, who shall, in the strength of grace, resist and conquer all internal and external temptations to idolatry and vice, notwithstanding the counsel of these Balaamites. According to the notion of the ancients, and especially the Hebrews, temporal riches consist in meats and drink, in having plenty of the fruits of the earth, and much cattle, with all things necessary and convenient to human life. The hidden manna is the unknown meat; the riches well preserved in heaven. It is incorruptible food, the treasure not subject to theft or decay; and that is immortal life, not to be taken away by any means, when once bestowed upon the faithful saint; the necessary sustenance of life being here put for the life itself. As therefore David, upon the undertaking the combat with Goliath, had riches promised him, and accordingly ate at the king's table; so Christ promises to his champion heavenly riches; and the accomplishment of these promises is set forth in ch. Revelation 22:1-66.22.2, &c. It is called hidden manna: now, of the manna that fell, some was designed for common use, and some was laid up in the ark as a memorial. That which was common was corruptible, and they who ate thereof died, even though it were bread that came down from heaven; see John 6:32.; but that which was laid up and hidden in the ark, remained miraculouslyto future generations. It is God alone who keeps, and consequently gives the true bread from heaven; and that is such manna as was hidden in the ark, incorruptible food, whereof they who perseveringly partake shall never hunger, but shall be immortal. This hidden manna is therefore the symbol of immortality; but an immortality consisting of such a life, and means to preserve it, as are wonderful and transcendant, beyond our present imagination. See ch. Revelation 19:12. The next expression makes up an hendyades, that is, two phrases joined by a conjunction to express one thing, as thus, I will give him a new name, written upon a white stone; for the stone is only given for the sake of the new name written upon it. A white stone is either the same, or at least equivalent to tables of stone, upon which the decalogue is said to have been written. Stone, and that too whitened, was the first and most ancient matter used to write upon. See Deuteronomy 27:2-5.27.3. A new name signifies the same thing as freedom, and a change of condition. New names were given upon change of condition. Abram and Sarai received new names from God; our Saviour changed Simon's name for Peter, and Christians take a new name at baptism. The expressions, according to our stile and notions, amount to this, "I will give him a new diploma, or character, to enfranchise him, and thereby grant him new privileges, change his condition, and make him immortal. He shall attain to that immoral life, whose glories and felicities no man can fully conceive, and none shall fully conceive but those who enjoy it;" for so much is implied in the expression immediately following. It is here to be observed further, that our Saviour's joining the manna to the new name, that is, riches, or maintenance, to liberty, is according to the principles of the Mosaical law, by which no servant was to be set at liberty without some liberal provision, to set him up at first for himself: so that the master was not only to give him liberty, but also some goods or maintenance;—manna, with his new name. What we have given above, appears to be a rational interpretation of the difficult passage before us: there have been several others offered, and the reader may think it an omission if we do not mention that of Dr. Ward, in whose opinion (Dissert. 59.) this expression of a white stone, &c. alludes to an ancient custom among the Romans, bywhich theycultivated and preserved a lasting friendship between particular persons or families. The method of doing this was usually by a small piece of bone or ivory, and sometimes of stone, shaped in the form of an oblong square, which they called a tessera. This they divided lengthwise, into two equal parts, upon each of which one of the parties wrote his name, and interchanged it with the other. And by producing this when they travelled, it gave a mutual claim, to the contracting parties and their descendants, of reception and kind treatment at each other's houses; for which reason it was called the hospitable tessera. Hence came the proverbial expression of breaking the hospitable tessera, which was applied to those who violated their engagements. But our translators, by rendering it a white stone, seem to have confounded it with the calculus, or small globular stone, which was made use of in balloting, and on other occasions. The original words do not specify the manner or form, but only the use of it, as the Greek glossaries abundantly prove. By this allusion, therefore, the promise made to the church of Pergamos seems to be to this purpose, That the faithful among them should hereafter be acknowledged by Christ, and received into a state of perpetual favour and friendship; and to this sense the following words very well agree, which describe this stone, or tessera, as having in it a new name written, which no man knoweth, saving he that receiveth it. For, as the name in the Roman tessera was not that of the person who wrote it, but of his friend who possessed it; so it was known only to the possessor, who, doubtless, kept it both privately, and with great care, that no other person might enjoy the benefitof it, which was designed only for himself and his family.
Revelation 2:18. Church in Thyatira— Thyatira was situated at a distance of about 48 miles to the south-east of Pergamos. See Acts 16:14. At present the city is called by the Turks Akhisar, or "The white castle," from the great quantities of white marble there. Only one ancient edifice is left standing; the rest, even the churches, are so destroyed, that no vestiges of them are to be found. The principal inhabitants are Turks, who have here eight mosques, while not so much as one Christian church is still remaining. So terribly have the divine judgments been poured upon this church for its abominations!
Revelation 2:19. I know thy works, &c.— "I know and approve thy works of piety, which are many, and which, I am well apprised, are the effects of ardent love to me; and I am well-acquainted with the service thou art performing for my cause and interest, and with thy faith and thy patience; and that, with respect to thy works, the last are more, greater, and better than the first. Very far art thou from that declining state of religion, of which I have had reason elsewhere to complain."
Revelation 2:20. Because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel,— Because thou sufferest thy wife Jezebel, is the Complutensian reading, which is more allusive to the symbol drawn from the history of Ahab, whose wife seduced him, than the common reading. Ahab is condemned above all other kings of Israel for doing ill, or, as it is said, for selling himself to do evil: he made himself a slave to this purpose, by suffering his wife Jezebel to do infinite mischief in introducing idolatry. By which it is plain, that the fault of the angel of this church was,that although he did his duty in all other respects, and rather increased in faith and diligence, yet he had suffered some to creep into the church, into his bosom, and there to sow the tares of the pernicious doctrine of the Gnostics, who arehere represented by the symbol of Jezebel, with the college of false prophets about her, whom she maintained to introduce idolatry in Israel, and corrupt the doctrine of God's laws by little and little: and whereas the former kings of Israel had chiefly been guilty of schism, she caused her husband and thewhole nation to fall into idolatry insensibly. It has been thought by many learned writers, that there was in this church some great and powerful woman, who, having been corrupted herself, (as it was the practice of the Gnostics to insinuate themselves into the favour of women,) did afterwards harbour and encourage those false prophets, whereby they had opportunities to seduce the faithful, which the governor of this church did not endeavour to hinder as he ought. She called herself a prophetess; and it is well known that the Gnostics, from their very first appearing, using arts and sorceries, found means to give potions to seduce women, and thereby throw them into fits like prophetic extasies; in which, being prepossessed with fancies and enthusiastic doctrines, they delivered strange conceits to deceive both themselves and others. The committing fornication, and eating things sacrificed to idols, went together; for in Canaan, the remnant of the idolatrous nations, deprived of their laws, erected tippling-houses; hence the harlots frequented such houses, and worshipping still their gods secretly, sacrificed to them, and then invited the Israelites to eat and drink with them, and to commit iniquity. See Proverbs 7:6; Proverbs 7:27. Thus they communicated in idolatry. See chap. Revelation 12:8.
Revelation 2:21. And I gave her space— And I gave her time. This alludes to the history of Jezebel. God first sent Elijah to Ahab to pronounce a severe judgment upon him; upon which Ahab shewed tokens of repentance, and so God put off his punishment. By these means the like punishment pronounced against Jezebel was also put off. Thus God gave her time to repent, which she did not; but, instead of that, seduced her sons to the same sins. See 1 Kings 21:23-11.21.29. According to the Mosaical law, the punishment of idolatrous seducers was not to be delayed at all; but God sometimes shewed mercy; and now much more under the Christian dispensation, though that mercy often produces the contrary effects, as in this Jezebel. See Ecclesiastes 8:1
Revelation 2:22. Behold, I will cast her into a bed,— This again alludes to the same history. Ahaziah, son of Ahab and Jezebel, by his mother's ill instruction and example, followed her ways; and God punished him, by making him, or permitting him to fall down, as is supposed, from the top of the terrace over his house, and so to be bed-ridden for a long time under great anguish, designing thereby to give him time to repent; but when, instead of that, he sent to consult Baalzebub, 2 Kings 1:2-12.1.3. Elijah was sent to pronounce a final doom against his impenitence. Thus the son of Jezebel, who had committed idolatry with, and by her advice, was long cast into the bed of affliction, and, not repenting, died; and Jehoram his brother succeeded him. All this while Jezebel had time and warning enough to repent; and though she could not prevail with Jehoram to continue in the idolatrous worship of Baal, yet she persisted in her own way, notwithstanding God's warning. The sacred writer, therefore, here threatens the Gnostic Jezebel to make that wherein she delighteth, as adulterers in the bed of lust, to be the very place, occasion, and instrument of her greatest torment. So in Isaiah, the bed is made a symbol of tribulation, and anguish of body and mind. See Isaiah 28:20. Job 38:19.
Revelation 2:23. And I will kill her children with death;— That is, "I will certainly destroy her offspring and memory, and thereby ruin her designs." Jezebel's two sons, being both kings, were both slain; and, after that, all the seventy sons of Ahab, 2Ki 10:1 in all which the hand of God was very visible. In the same manner God predicts here the destruction of the heretics and heretics referred to. See Revelation 2:16. It should seem by the expression, I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts, that these heretics lurked about, and sowed their pernicious doctrines secretly. But our Saviour tells themthat it was in vain; for he had power to bring their deeds to light, having that divine power of searching into the wills and affections of men; and hereby he would shew both them and us, that he is, according to his title, The Son of God, and hath such eyes to pry into their actions, that, like a fire, they will search into every thing, and burn up the chaff which cannot stand his trial: so that the depths of Satan, mentioned in the next verse, to which this alludes, (Christ assuming here this title on purpose,) shall avail nothing to those who think, by their secret craft, to undermine the Christian religion. He will not only bring to light, but baffle all their evil intentions. See ch. Revelation 17:9.
Revelation 2:24. I will put upon you none other burden.— This is a commendation of the sound part of the church, that there is no new exhortation or charge to be given them; no new advice, but to persevere as usual. See Romans 15:14-45.15.15. The expression of burden is taken from the history of Ahab, 2 Kings 9:25. The Lord laid this burden on him: a word often used by the prophets to signify a prophecy threatening heavy things to be suffered. See on Isa 13:1 and Numbers 4:19.
Revelation 2:25. Till I come.— That is, either in judgment upon these corrupters, or at the great consummation of all things. See the next verse.
Revelation 2:26. Will I give power over the nations:— This is suitable to the title of the Lord Jesus in the beginning of this Epistle, where he calls himself the Son of God, which implies the possession of regal and universal power; and that the Jews so understood it, is plain from Joh 1:49 which passage, as well as our Saviour's promise here, plainly allude to the second Psalm. Wherefore our Saviour, after this promise, shews that it is in the same manner that he will give power, as he received it of his Father; who, by declaring him his Son, declared him his Heir in universal power and dominion. How he means that this promise shall be accomplished, is fully shewn, chap. Rev 20:4 and Revelation 21:7.
Revelation 2:27. And he shall rule them with a rod of iron;— "Obtain an absolute dominion over them, either by conversion, or else by destruction." See Psalms 2:9. Lamentations 4:2.
Revelation 2:28. And I will give him the morning star.— This is one of Christ's titles, ch. Rev 22:16 which he takes upon him, to signify that he is the first Prince of the resurrection; and so this is as much as if he had said, "I will give him power to be the morning-star, even as I am myself." A star, in the symbolical language, signifies a king, prince, or ruler. But our adorable Saviour is both a Star and a Sun. See Malachi 4:2. We maymark the opposition between the threatening to the idolatrous Jezebel, and the reward promised to the saints. She was the first destroyed and extirpated out of memoryfor her sin. The martyrs and faithful confessors shall bethe first glorified and rewarded for their constancy in the faith. Again, we may observe the gradual increase of this reward; first, to have power over the nations,—to conquer; then, to rule them; next, to subdue all opposition, and destroy all enemies; and, lastly, to rule and reign, quietly, even before the rest of the saints.
Inferences.—Let the ministers of Christ rejoice, that they are as stars in the right-hand of their Redeemer. "Support them, O Lord, by thy almighty power, and guide all their motions by thine infinite wisdom." Let all the churches of Christ remember, that he walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks; may they be pure gold; may their lamps shine with unsullied lustre, that their Father may be glorified, and their Saviour delighted with the survey.
He sees our labour, our patience, our fidelity, and our zeal. May he see that we cannot bear those who would corrupt our religion, without exerting ourselves to silence their false pretensions, and to guard the churches, to which we are related, especially from the venom they might diffuse over them! In all these respects, may we daily approve ourselves to him in a more perfect manner! But, alas! does he not perceive in many of us, what he complained so early of in the church of Ephesus; that we have lost our first love, and that much of that zeal with which we set out in religion, is declined? If so, let us take the alarm; for dreadful indeed would it be, to have our candlestick removed out of its place; to have the gospel and all its privileges taken away from us. To prevent this awful judgment, let us recollect from whence we are fallen; if we are indeed in a backsliding and declining state; and humbly and heartily repent, and vigorously exert ourselves against the enemies of our salvation; that overcoming the difficulties of this howling wilderness, we may be received to the enjoyments of the heavenly country; and when we can no longer share in the bounties of Providence in this inferior state, be feasted with the fruit of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
Again, let us direct our eyes to that glorious person, who is the First and the Last; and who, though it may appear incompatible with that divine title, was once dead, and is alive again; and since he is awfully represented as with a sharp sword going out of his mouth, let us be greatly concerned, that we do not incur his displeasure by our irregular conduct, lest he smite, or even destroy us. Let us observe and imitate what he commends in some of the churches whom he addresses; their humility in being sensible of their poverty, when enriched by his grace; their patience, their diligence, and the resolution with which they retained the honour of his name, notwithstanding the throne of Satan was in the midst of them, and the rage of persecution had destroyed Antipas before their eyes; that blessed, that triumphant hero, whose fidelity and constancy his divine Saviour commemorates with approbation, and even with satisfaction and pleasure. Who would not be ambitious of dying in the same manner, were it ever so severe and terrible, to be thus honoured and celebrated by our Lord Jesus Christ, or any of his faithful apostles? Let us not be terrified at the apprehension of what we may suffer from the malice of Satan, and by his instruments, even though not merely imprisonment, but death itself, were to await us. It is only for a limited time that he can occasion tribulation to any of the faithful people of God; and our blessed Lord will never be unmindful of that gracious promise, Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. O! let us by faith survey that innumerable company, who, though they have fallen by the stroke of the first death, have been, and shall for ever be, unhurt by the second,—that blessed society who are encircled with immortal crowns, which their triumphant Leader, whom they followed with such undaunted fortitude, has bestowed upon them; who, though they partake no longer of the bread that perisheth, nor are feasted with earthly viands, are yet eating of the hidden manna; who have received the white stone, in token of their absolution; and while the names and memory of many of them have sunk into oblivion, and the honours attending others are of little consequence, they are known in the heavenly regions by a new name, conferred as a mark of favour and distinction by the King of kings and Lord of lords. We are drawing on to the completion of that blessed hope. And that we may not be disappointed, may we, by divine grace, be preserved from the artifices of those who call themselves the people of God, while they are indeed of the synagogue of Satan, and from whatever, like the doctrine of Balaam, would ensnare our consciences, and defile our souls!
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The first epistle is directed to the angel of the church of Ephesus. We have,
1. The preface, informing us who dictated what the apostle wrote, even that glorious Personage that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, and who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. Note; The Lord Jesus is he who makes his ministers bright stars: he gives them purity of doctrine and holiness of life, and enables them to shine to his own glory. May we each be upheld by his almighty arms, and be fed with oil from the living source, shining brighter and stronger till we come to the eternal temple above.
2. The contents.
[1.] The epistle contains matter of great commendation. I know and approve thy works, and thy labour, as a minister of zeal, and the works of the church in general, as exemplary; and thy patience under persecutions; and how thou canst not bear them which are evil, abhorring their principles and practices, and removing them from communion with you: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not; and hast found them liars, detecting their impostures, and demonstrating the falsehood of their pretended commission from Christ: and hast borne many conflicts, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured with fidelity, and hast not fainted. Note; They who are put in trust with the ministry, may expect many trials. They have need of peculiar faith and patience, that they may persevere in their labours, and not faint.
[2.] We have a needful rebuke and admonition. Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love, and grown colder of late in affection to me and my ways. And such a backsliding in heart the Lord Jesus observes, and cannot but be highly displeased with. Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent. Note; (1.) They who are fallen, should remember how much they have lost, and with grief and shame consider their ways, conscious of their danger of eternal loss. (2.) They who truly repent, will return to their first works, and then they will return again to a sense of the divine grace and love. (3.) The churches that neglect Christ's admonitions, may expect to be visited with his judgments.
[3.] A word of encouragement is added. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate; their idolatrous, vicious, and impure principles and practices. Note; True Christians will maintain a holy hatred to all the ways of sin.
3. The conclusion. Where we have, (1.) A solemn call to attention. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. Note; The scriptures are of general use for all ages; and what was written of old, was written for our instruction, as well as for those to whom it was more immediately addressed. (2.) A gracious promise. To him that overcometh, and perseveres unto the end, manfully fighting under my banners against sin, Satan, and the world, will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God; admitting him to all the blessings and happiness of the celestial paradise, infinitely surpassing that from which Adam for his transgression was rejected. Note; In Christ Jesus, and by his grace, we may be advanced to much higher glories than even man in innocence enjoyed.
2nd, The form of the second epistle is similar. We have,
1. The preface, to the church of Smyrna. These things saith the First and the Last, the Creator and Judge of all, the Origin and End of all things; who was dead, and is alive, who was delivered for our offences to make the one great atonement, and is raised again for our justification.
2. The contents. (1.) Their commendation. I know thy works, and tribulation, how zealously thou hast laboured, and how much thou hast suffered; and thy poverty (but thou art rich); for whatever the faithful lose for Christ, and the gospel's sake, shall procure them much more substantial treasures in a better world. And I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan, who, while they pretended a peculiar covenant-title to God's favour, were, in fact, Satan's emissaries, and the bitter enemies of the spiritual Israel. (2.) Warning is given them of approaching trials. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer, so as to be terrified from the path of duty: behold, the devil, by cruel persecutors his instruments, shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried, and your faith and constancy proved in the furnace of affliction; and ye shall have tribulation ten days,—that is, for so many years. (See the Annotations.) Note; God's people need not fear the malice of their most envenomed persecutors. If he be for them, no matter who may be against them. (3.) An encouraging promise is added. Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life; and then, though it be won by martyrdom, our gain will be unspeakably great.
3. The conclusion. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; what encouragements there are to fidelity, and how watchful God is over his believing people: He that overcometh in the holy warfare, and is finally victorious over his spiritual foes, shall not be hurt of the second death, has nothing to fear, has every thing to hope for in eternity.
3rdly, We have in the third epistle, as before,
1. The preface, to the angel of the church of Pergamos. These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; the sword of his word and his providences, to defend the faithful, and cut off all enemies and apostates.
2. The contents. (1.) Notice is taken of their perilous situation. I know thy works, and behold with satisfaction whatever is excellent among you; and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is, environed with enemies: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, amid the fire of hottest persecution, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth, and manifests his bloody rage against my loyal subjects. Note; Steady fidelity in perilous days, is doubly commendable. (2.) A reproof is given them for what was amiss. But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication. Some such seducing teachers were among them, who inculcated the lawfulness of eating idol-sacrifices, and of fornication. So hast thou also them that held the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate; and countenance their impure and abominable practices. Note; God hates all impurity; and they who make light of fornication, will feel the heavy wrath of an offended God, which it provokes. (3.) They are warned to repent. Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly in judgment, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth: and no sword is so fatal to the body as the denunciations of his wrath are to the guilty soul. Note; By speedy repentance alone we can prevent the threatened judgments. And not only must we cleanse our hearts from the love of sin, but separate ourselves from all communion with scandalous offenders, lest we become by connivance partakers of their guilt and ruin.
3. The conclusion. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches: To him that overcometh, faithful in the arduous conflict, will I give to eat of the hidden manna, feeding him with the abundant grace and consolations of my Spirit and my gospel in this world, and in the world to come with the joys of heaven: and will give him a white stone, absolving him from all his iniquities; and in the stone a new name written, the name of a child of God and heir of glory, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.
4thly, The fourth epistle is directed to the angel of the church of Thyatira.
1. The preface describes the Son of God, who dictates to the sacred penman. These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, infinite in wisdom and knowledge, discerning the secrets of all hearts; and his feet are like fine brass, almighty to support his faithful people amidst every danger, and to tread his enemies and theirs into the dust.
2. We have the contents. [1.] They are highly commended. I know thy works, and am pleased with them; and thy charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first; that in all divine graces and good conversation thou art increasing with the increase of God, growing more exemplary and eminent. Note; It is well for us when he who knoweth our hearts, bears witness that our last works are more than the first. [2.] They are reproved for what was blameable among them. Notwithstanding, I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess (probably some woman of eminence among them, who pretended to inspiration, and had her abetters, and followers,) to teach, and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols, perverting their souls, and leading them to corporal and spiritual idolatries and impurities. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication, and she repented not; therefore behold swift vengeance shall overtake her and her adherents: I will cast her into a bed of languishing and misery, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation; the partakers of her sins shall partake of her plagues, except they repent of their deeds, and prevent the threatened judgments: and I will kill her children with death, as surely as the sons of Ahab perished by the sword of Jehu: and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts, and can discover every hidden principle and secret of the soul, distinguishing the hypocrite from the faithful; and I will give unto every one of you according to your works. Note; (1.) They who abuse the patience of God, and harden themselves in sin, instead of repenting of their iniquities, will bring aggravated guilt and ruin upon their souls. (2.) God's omniscience cannot be deceived, nor his justice eluded; the faithless professor will be detected and sentenced at his impartial tribunal. [3.] He encourages the faithful among them. But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, As many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, abhorring all such impure principles and practices, which impostors influenced by deep Satanical subtilty, seek to inculcate, I will put upon you none other burden, nor add any farther injunctions or restraints than those revealed in my word. But that which have already, the doctrines and precepts of the gospel which you have embraced, hold fast till I come, to take you to my eternal rest, and deliver you from all your temptations for ever. Note; (1.) The Lord knows how to separate between the precious and the vile, and will secure his faithful people amidst all the arts of deceivers. (2.) They who would meet Christ with comfort at his coming, must hold fast his truth in principle and practice, and never be moved away from the hope of the gospel.
3. The conclusion. And he that overcometh and keepeth my works unto the end, patiently and faithfully persevering in the profession and practice of the gospel, to him will I give power over the nations, when he shall sit with me on my throne at the great day; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, breaking in pieces all the wicked of the earth; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers; even as I received, in my office-capacity, a kingdom of my Father: he shall share my glory, and reign with me for ever; and I will give him the morning-star, so that he shall shine bright in the eternal glory as the stars for ever and ever. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. Lord, open thou mine ears, and make me earnestly take heed to the things that are spoken!
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Revelation 2". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany