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I. EPHESUS. The Church of former faith and power, but present decline, Revelation 2:1-7.
1. Ephesus The messenger who bore this epistle to Ephesus would have a sea route through the blue AEgean, of sixty miles, a brief trip for a modern steamer. Of the great and noble city into whose harbor he arrives we have given some account in our notes on Paul’s visiting the city and founding the Church, in Acts 19:1. Paul came down upon the city from the interior high-lands; our messenger approaches it, reversely, from the sea. How Paul here found a few believers in John the Baptist, preached in the school of Tyrannus, encountered Diana of the Ephesians, and founded the Ephesian Church, we have duly noted in that chapter. How afterwards Paul, returning from his final missionary tour, called the elders of Ephesus to a last interview with himself at Miletus, (see our map,) we have noted on Acts 20:17-38. Paul’s warning to the elders should be read before reading this epistle to this same Ephesus. Next we have the epistles of Paul to Timothy at Ephesus, and we see Timothy either briefly or permanently at that city. John arrived there probably soon after the commencement of the Roman war against the Jews, or after the fall of Jerusalem, and was banished to the rocky isle of Patmos by the Emperor Domitian. And now this epistle of Christ to Ephesus gives us the last glance at the Church and city furnished us in the New Testament. After that we must go to history for a knowledge of their destinies.
Historically, Ephesus had ever maintained an eminence among the cities of Ionia. In the earliest times, before their conquest by the Persians, Ephesus was head of the confederacy of twelve cities. Under the Romans, while the other cities tended to decline, its favourable commercial position, and the munificence of its Roman rulers, rendered it the emporium of Asia Minor. The Bishop of Ephesus, in later times, was a Metropolitan and a Patriarch. But when, in 1308, it submitted to the Turk, its inhabitants were transported to Tyraeum and there massacred.
Write Mohammed wrote, or at least claimed to have written, his own Koran; but Jesus Christ dictates to another to write. It is not recorded that he ever wrote, except mysteriously, upon the pavement. His majestic words, uttered as by the voice of many waters, and penned by his apostle, were, doubtless, received at that apostle’s Ephesus as virtually written by Christ’s own hand. To none but these seven Churches did Christ ever address a written epistle, yet in these seven Churches are we all represented. What he wrote to them he writes to us.
Was one copy of each single epistle carried to each single church, or was the whole Apocalypse carried to the whole in a single volume or roll? We think that the whole first three chapters are one Christophanic Apocalypse; but as each epistle was truly for all the seven, (and really for us all,) and as the title and introductory parts preface all the epistles as a unit, we may believe that the whole first three chapters were, either in separate copies or in one common circular for each in succession, sent round to the whole circuit of Churches in the order in which they are named. Each Church could then transcribe its own copy, with the common understanding that this body of epistles was the harbinger of a further and great Apocalypse, with which it was to be a unit, and which was soon to be received from their own great apostle, now in Patmos. When, after the death of the savage Domitian, John and the other banished Christians were returned to their homes by the Emperor Nerva, Domitian’s successor, John resumed his apostolic circuit around the seven Churches, and may have reduced the Apocalypse to a unit, so that no separated copies survived.
These things The two clauses by which the divine Speaker describes himself here, are taken from St. John’s description of his person, Revelation 1:13; Revelation 1:16. They describe his authority over the Churches, and are beautifully appropriate to the metropolitan Church of Ephesus, the Church of St. John’s own residence.
Holdeth Is here a different word from had, in Revelation 1:16, and a stronger, signifying graspeth, or holdeth fast. It asserts strongly this power and possession, as if each Church were a gem in his grasp and at his disposal. None can pluck them from his hand, (John 10:28,) and it is his to exalt them to heaven or cast them down to hell, according to their faithfulness or apostasy. When, therefore, these letters patent came from Christ at Patmos, with what earnestness did both he that readeth to the congregation and they that hear within the congregation, listen to the words of this prophecy! Revelation 1:3.
Walketh In St. John’s description, Revelation 1:13, he is apparently standing, but here he walketh. He walketh in the midst of the… golden candlesticks, to watch the strength or fulness of their blaze, to supply the oil of grace, to trim their dead wicks, and to remove them when their lustre, in spite of his every care, persistently dies away. These seven Lydian Churches, lying on the soil of Asia as their names lie on our little map, know that the glorious Lord is walking around their circuit that he is even present while they listen to his golden letters.
2. Epistles successively to the seven Churches, Revelation 2:1 to Revelation 3:22. The seven epistles to the Churches of Asia have been interpreted by a few commentators as a symbolical representation of the varying conditions of the Church through a chronological succession of periods. Thus Vitringa made them typify the history of the Church from its first founding down to his own time. But the failure to make out a due correspondence between the supposed representation and its fulfilments has been so evident, that even Elliott rejects that mode of interpretation. Nevertheless, that these Churches are typical of the varying spiritual conditions of the Churches of the world is evident from the symbolic seven, and from the variety of pictures presented, in which every Church may find its own traits, with its proper warnings and promises. These epistles are a permanent book for the Church. That this was a very early opinion in the Church is clearly indicated by these remarkable words in the Muratorian fragment, a document of the second century: “For although John in the Apocalypse writes to the seven Churches, nevertheless he speaks to all.” Hence Bengel, in his later days, earnestly commended these epistles to the solemn study of ministers and people; and Alford and Wordsworth notice, with profound regret, that the Anglican Church has placed no lessons from the Apocalypse in her ritual for the congregation.
The seven epistles are constructed on a striking and remarkably uniform type. Each one may be divided into three parts.
I. The divine SELF-ANNUNCIATION of the Speaker.
1. It is introduced in every epistle with the formula, Unto… the Church of… write.
2. It then begins with, These things saith. 3. He who saith, namely, Christ, is then specified by one or more of those glorious titles ascribed to him either in John’s personal delineation of the Christophany, or Christ’s annunciation of himself in the previous chapter.
II. A CHARACTERIZATION; namely, of the particular Church, solemnly reprehending its faults or graciously commending its excellences.
1. The characterization is introduced with, I know thy works.
2. A specification of traits, usually beginning with those that are good, with commendation, and then qualifying with adverse points, with reproof.
3. Of the seven, Smyrna and Philadelphia are in the most commendable condition; Ephesus and Pergamos are characterized with mingled approval and reproof; Sardis and Laodicea with almost unmingled reproof and warning.
III. A RETRIBUTIVE CONCLUSION; namely, of promise or threatening.
1. The retributive part in the first three epistles is preceded by the warning clause, He that hath an ear, etc.; in the last four epistles it is succeeded and terminated by that warning clause. Similar, the clause concerning him that overcometh, is in the first three placed first; in the last three last.
2. The promise or threat is generally anticipatively borrowed from the closing three chapters of the Apocalypse; mostly, the promises are from the description of the new state of Revelation 22:0.
Each epistle presents the Speaker in most divine majesty, criticises the Church with profound discrimination, and pronounces sentence with most solemn authority.
2. I know His omniscient eyes… as a flame of fire, (Revelation 1:14,) blaze into the deepest recesses of their hearts and into all the deeds of their daily life.
Thy As the epistles are addressed each to the angel, it is remarkable how uniformly throughout the second person singular thy, thou, and thee are used. It might at first seem as if the missives from Patmos passed over the heads of the congregation and hit the angel only. Yet we think that no such misconception took place. The letters were to the Churches, (Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:11,) and each Church in its unity knew that the angel and the Church were so one that his fault was their fault, his excellence theirs. And it was no divergency to address plurally you and the rest, as in Revelation 2:24. If the bishops were here addressed, it is certain that bishops were first appointed as the bulwarks of the faith, to preserve the pure, unmingled apostolic tradition, to guard the books of the growing canon of the New Testament, and to repel the entrance of errors and demoralizations. Hence to the bishop belonged a high responsibility. He was praised or blamed as his Church was faultless or faulty. With a similar charge in the second person singular does St. Paul address Timothy. He must see that the true gospel tradition be preserved against all heresies. (1 Timothy 5:1-20, where see our notes.) He is responsible for the trial and suitableness of the elders, and for their careful ordination, 1 Timothy 5:17-22. And we may add, that in the narrative given by St.
Clement of St. John and the young man of Ephesus, the apostle holds the bishop to the same sharp responsibility, in the second person singular, as he exhibits here.
Thy works Both good and bad, both external and internal, of the hand and of the heart. But it is of the good he first speaks, namely, labour or activity, and patience or firm persistence passively.
Canst not bear Carry as a burden. They had both a holy patience and a holy impatience.
Tried them… apostles Who claimed to be commissioned by Christ to dictate doctrines to the Church, and so to be apostles. The Ephesians had ample means for trying by the then extant gospels of the four evangelists, by St. Paul’s warnings in Acts xx, and in his epistle to their own Church and to other Churches.
Liars One of St. John’s severe terms, arising from his deep conception of the evil of falsifying Christianity at its fountain, and so sending down a false religion to the future ages.
3. Hast borne with even those whom thou canst not bear. A contradiction in terms, a truth in facts.
4. Nevertheless The turning point from commendation to reproof.
Somewhat Not in the Greek, which would read, I have against thee that thou hast left, etc.
First love The glow of holy life at their first conversion (Acts 19:0,) and so beautifully recognised in Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians. Hengstenberg remarks, “That first love we see still flourishing so long as Paul’s connexion with the Ephesians lasts.”
5. Remember A calling to remembrance the days when his heart was rich with his first divine love, is often the first inspiring impulse for the backslider to return.
First works For that early love was not a mere emotion ending where it begun, within the feeling, but put itself forth in works.
I will come Greek present tense, I come, or, am coming; but remove is in the future, showing that the present of come implies vividness of conception. The come does not designate the second advent, for which parousia is the unequivocal word, as noted in 2 Peter 3:4. This coming is the interposition of Christ to remove the Church of Ephesus. This removal some interpreters apply to the transfer of the primary episcopate elsewhere. Others, to the transfer of the Christian Church from east to west, from Asia to Europe. We can easily imagine how the necessity of uttering this threat to his own Ephesus should touch the heart of St. John.
6. But An added mitigation of the rebuke, and a directing how to avoid the removal.
Hatest the deeds The Ephesians hated better than they loved. Severe pietists hate sinners often more than they love goodness. They abhor antichrist more than they love Christ. And these are in danger of mixing an impure passion with their moral antagonism, which may produce a fall from Christian love. After having warned his Ephesians of this danger, our seer reiterates the rightness of their abhorrence of the corruptionists, assuring them of Christ’s authentication therein.
Nicolaitans The professed followers of Nicolas, one of the first seven deacons of Jerusalem, as we have noted on Acts 6:5. The earliest authorities are decisive on this point. Says Irenaeus: “The Nicolaitans also have Nicolaus as their master, one of the first seven who were ordained to the deaconship by the apostles.” Tertullian: “Another heretic emerged Nicolaus. He was one of the seven deacons mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles.” Later, and so less trustworthy, authorities exculpate Nicolas, under excuse either that he was misunderstood by his followers or that they claimed his authority falsely, or that it was another Nicolas, a bishop of Samaria, who was their real founder. As we have said in our note above quoted, the sexual licentiousness of the sect was based upon a philosophical maxim, namely, that all evil resides in matter. From this principle two opposite inferences could be drawn, and two opposing sects be formed. 1. It could be affirmed that all material indulgence must be avoided, and thence would arise asceticism, with its rejection of meats, monasticism, enforced celibacy, self-flagellation, and denial of the real corporeity of Christ. 2. It could, on the other hand, be affirmed that all material sins could be indulged, and yet the spirit be pure, and thence would arise the most unrestrained inebriety and debauchery. It was this last sect which our Lord gives over to a holy and divine hate. See our note on Acts 6:5; Acts 8:9-12; Romans 14:1-6; 2 Thessalonians 2:7. Well might the true heart hate the deeds of this sect, for it would have buried Christianity in base licentiousness. But while the Christian would hate their deeds, he would earnestly wish to save the men.
7. Hath an ear This summons to every human ear to listen, preludes the glorious promise to the conqueror in the battle of faith through which Ephesus is struggling. Let every ear hear, for there can be no more thrilling announcement than this. It is seven times uttered; each utterance connected with the closing promise; the first thrice preceding the final promise, the other four times succeeding it, until in the last it gives a ringing close to the seven epistles.
The Spirit saith For the utterance of the Son is with the concurrent inspiration of the Spirit.
Unto the Churches For what he saith to one he saith for all; and what he saith for the Churches he saith for every individual ear in the Churches.
To him that overcometh The seven promises are each made to the conqueror in the struggle, suggested by the characterization preceding. The Christian life is a battle, and the crown awaits the victor. Wordsworth attempts, with little success, to show that the seven promises succeed each other in ascending degrees. They are: 1. To eat of the tree of life in paradise. 2. Exemption from second death. 3. The secret white stone with the secret name. 4. Rule with Christ over the nations. 5. The white raiment, the name unblotted from the book of life, and confessed before God and angels. 6. To be a pillar in the temple of my God. 7. To be co-assessor on the throne.
Will I give the privilege to eat of… tree… paradise This refers to Revelation 22:2, which is not (as Wordsworth) in the spirit world, but in the paradise merged in the eternal heaven, and, therefore, is the highest final award. See notes on 1 Thessalonians 4:17.
II. SMYRNA. The poor in wealth, but rich in faith and works, Revelation 2:8-11.
8. Smyrna From Ephesus, proceeding northward in a straight line, a journey of forty miles would bring our messenger, or rather, we may say, our apostle, on his circuit to Smyrna. He might have gone by sea; but the modern traveller every now and then falls upon traces of the old Roman road from Ephesus to Smyrna. Smyrna was first founded, or at least planned, by Alexander the Great, in consequence of a dream soon after the battle of Granicus. During the vicissitudes of conquest by
Persian, Grecian, and Roman, Smyrna was renowned for the easy servility with which she flattered every new master. Her most admirable harbour, in modern times has secured her pre-eminent prosperity. She is the ordinary point from which the European traveller starts for the interior. Being thus the seaport of Asia Minor, Smyrna is the most modernized of all the seven. “Along the seashore,” says Svoboda, “is a row of houses among which are seen some flagstaffs of all the foreign consuls, and projecting on the water are a number of cafes. The civilized Turks, Greeks, and Armenians have adopted European manners and dress. The European quarter, which extends all along the seashore to the Point, is the most handsome in appearance, with the finest houses, and is beautifully situated. The Turkish and Jewish quarters, which are the poorest, lie on the slope of Mount Pagus.” Two lines of railway have been constructed during the last few years; the one running to Ephesus and Aidin, (Tralles,) and the other to Magnesia and Cassaba, a distance of sixty miles. The climate and scenery are among the finest in the world, and the soil productive, but badly cultivated. Herodotus was not mistaken when he wrote in his book, (1. s. 142,) “These Ionians, to whom the Panionium belongs, have built their cities under the finest climate in the world with which we are acquainted.” The principal merchants, after our own fashion, reside in suburban villages connected with town by railways. Of the founding of Christianity in that place the New Testament gives us no account, and its growth at the writing of this epistle is an indication of the late date of the Apocalypse. Smyrna is celebrated in early Christian history as the place of the episcopate and martyrdom of Polycarp, the pupil of St. John, the teacher of Irenaeus, who, according to both Irenaeus and Tertullian, was ordained by St. John to the episcopate. He may have been the very angel here addressed by St. John. He was martyred in A.D. 168, and at his death declared that he had served a faithful Lord for eighty-six years, bringing the year of his conversion at A.D. 82. But this epistle was probably written thirteen years after that conversion, namely, in A.D. 95. Polycarp might have been bishop within thirteen years after his conversion, and so may have been the angel of this epistle. We seem to see in the high spiritual tone and martyr air of the epistle some indication of Saint Polycarp. The tomb of Polycarp, overshadowed by a cypress tree, is still shown.
Dead… is alive Repeated from the Christophanic self-annunciation of Revelation 1:11-20. It strikingly corresponds with the entire address to this martyr Church. It told the suffering Christian that he was a follower of a martyred Lord, and that holy martyrdom was a gate to a glorious resurrection. The phrase and is alive must not be lowered into and is alive again. It is not that (as Trench supposes) vixit is equivalent to re-vixit. See our note on Revelation 20:5. The meaning is, that such death is no interruption to the true life. The death of the body is only phenomenal; it leaves in continuity that blessed, immortal, true life that comes from Christ.
The large buildings on the reader’s right are barracks for the soldiery. The castle is seen on the heights above the city. The consular residence, with their flags, on the left.
9. But thou art rich The parenthetic words, flung in as if to correct his own language. Their poverty, like their death, was only phenomenal. Their death was truly an immortal life, and their poverty an infinite treasure. Doubtless their poverty and their death came from the same cause the oppression of their persecutors. Among all the commendations to the seven, perhaps this, but thou art rich, is the brightest stroke. It was the consolation for their deepest sorrow, and it was of all joys their highest joy.
Note that here it was tribulation and poverty on one side, and blasphemy on the other; blasphemy alike against the Lord and against his followers.
Say they are Jews And, doubtless, were Jews by descent from Abraham, but not in character. They are unnatural sons of their natural father, since they rejected the Messiah whom Abraham foresaw and predicted. One of the most interesting remains of early Christian literature is a letter written by this Church of Smyrna to the Church at Philomelum as a circular to be sent the round of sister Churches. It relates that after Polycarp was apprehended and condemned to death by fire: “This, then, was done with greater speed than it was spoken, the whole multitude instantly gathering together wood and fagots out of the workshops and booths; the Jews especially, according to their custom, assisting them in doing it.” After his death the governor was dissuaded from giving his remains to his friends under pretence that he refused lest, forsaking Him who was crucified, they should begin to worship Polycarp. “This he did at the suggestion of the Jews, who also watched us that we should not take him out of the fire, not considering that it is impossible for us either to forsake Christ, who suffered for the salvation of all such as shall be saved throughout the world, or to worship any other.”
The synagogue of Satan How truly they deserved this severe title the previous narrative shows. So hostile were the Jews to the Christians of this first age, that the term synagogue is seldom applied to a Christian Church, the general Church preferring the classic term ecclesia. Trench finely remarks, “As we have here ‘the synagogue of Satan,’ so, presently, ‘the throne of Satan,’ (Revelation 2:13,) and then, lastly, ‘the depths of Satan,’ (Revelation 2:24;) the synagogue of Satan, representing the Jewish antagonism to the Church; the throne of Satan, the heathen; and the depths of Satan, the heretical.”
10. Fear none Literally, (Greek,) Fear not what things thou art about to suffer. And this fear not cheers them with three facts: their persecution will be limited to a few, some: to a brief time, ten days: and will be followed by a crown of life. The word some is, indeed, not expressed by the Greek, but is necessarily implied: the Church would not be exterminated: it is not exterminated yet.
Ten days Literally, thou shalt have a persecution of ten days. A variety of unnecessary symbolical interpretations have been given to the ten days. They have been interpreted to predict “the ten persecutions,” which history has been rather strained to make out in order to fulfil that meaning of the text. But if ten general persecutions could be made out, still this text only predicts locally, and for Smyrna alone. Others find a parallelism with the ten commandments; and others, applying the “year-day” principle, find ten years. But the purpose of the whole verse is to express a consoling limitation of the time, as some of you limits the number. Ten days, as a brief round number, occurs in Genesis 24:55; Numbers 11:19; Daniel 1:12.
Unto death Even a martyr’s death. The words do not mean during thy life, but to the extremest suffering, even of death.
Crown of life The glorious antithesis of death. Says Trench: “This ‘crown of life,’ always remaining essentially the same, is not the less designated by a rich variety of images. Here, and with St. James, (James 1:12,) it is a ‘ crown of life;’ with St. Paul, a ‘crown of righteousness,’ (2 Timothy 4:8;) with St. Peter, a ‘crown of glory,’ (1 Peter 5:4;) with Isaiah, a ‘crown of beauty;’ with which compare diadem of beauty; ( Wis 5:7 ;) in the martyrdom of Polycarp, a ‘crown of incorruption;’ with Ignatius, a ‘crown of conflict.’” A crown of life, is life or immortality itself, as a bestowed and crowning endowment.
11. Not be hurt of… second death However he may suffer the death of martyrdom, his crown of life exalted him far above the second death. The promise corresponds, also, with the self announcement in Revelation 2:8. The second death, in Revelation 20:15, is defined as the being cast into the “lake of fire.” Neither term second death nor lake of fire is used in any scripture outside the Apocalypse. Gehenna, a figure drawn from the valley of Hinnom at Jerusalem, used by our Lord, and used in the New Testament twelve times, comes most nearly to the same conception. Both Gehenna and second death are terms introduced into Jewish biblicism by the Targumists, the Hebrew paraphrastic translators of the Old Testament.
How the term second death was understood at Smyrna may be inferred from certain passages from the above quoted letter from the Smyrnean Church. Thus, when the proconsul threatened Polycarp with death by fire, the latter replied, “Thou threatenest me with the fire that burns for an hour and in a little time is extinguished; for thou knowest not the fire of the future judgment, and of the eternal punishment that is reserved for the ungodly.” Of the other martyrs the Church says, “Even the fire of their persecutors seemed cold unto them, for they had before their eyes the prospect of escaping that which is eternal and unquenchable.”
III. PERGAMOS. The martyr Church, yet too tolerant of licentious heresy, Revelation 2:12-17.
12. Pergamos Sixty miles northeast from Smyrna, would bring our apostle on his circuit to Pergamos, (more correct form of the word, Pergamum,) once the celebrated capital of a small kingdom ruled by a succession of noble monarchs. It was the seat of the temple of Esculapius, and once the possessor of a library of 200,000 volumes, collected by one of its kings, but afterwards added to the Alexandrian library in Egypt. But whatever its ancient intellectual or moral fame, it seems to have been in the time of the Apocalypse the headquarters of antichristianity, where the only martyr by John commemorated suffered death. In the other epistles the Churches are rebuked, in this the city is anathematized.
13. And where thou dwellest A touch of sympathy and palliation for shortcomings.
Satan’s seat is No contemporary history exists to tell us what rendered Pergamos the home of the Satanic throne; for throne the word seat should have been rendered. Wordsworth notes, that the emblem of Esculapius was the serpent, who is represented on the Pergamene medals as “Pergameus Deus,” the Pergamene god; and this temple may have been the seat of Satan. Great numbers resorted to the Esculapian shrine for cures; and the cures were supposed to be effected by the miraculous power of the god. Hence it appears quite a probability that this temple, like that of Diana at Ephesus, was the source of violent persecution to the Church, rendering the city the stronghold of a violent pagan fanaticism.
The terms holdest fast, hast not denied, are delightful endorsements of the patience of the Church in that trying hour.
Even What heightens the firmness.
Antipas Is said by Eusebius to have been slain, in a tumult, by the Esculapian priests. He is supposed to have been bishop of Pergamos, and to have been martyred in the time of Domitian. The Greek Church dedicates April 11 as his day. Hengstenberg, by a preposterous etymology, makes Antipas mean “against all,” giving the last syllable its Greek meaning of all. This meaning of the whole name he likens to antichrist, against Christ, and anticosmos, against the world. To this Alford objects, that Antipas is a contraction of Antipater, and so cannot bear such a meaning. (See our biography of Luke, prefixed to his Gospel.) Trench, however, as absurd as Hengstenberg, while not accepting his meaning of Antipas, condemns Alford’s objection, averting that Antipas has all the rights of a word however formed. But surely if Antipas is merely a shortened form of Antipater, (meaning, instead of a father, pro-father,) the last syllable cannot mean all. When it is maintained by some that Antipas is an allegorical. and not a real character, because Balaam and Jezebel are here used allegorically, we reply that neither designates an unreal person in this book.
14. Doctrine of Balaam The teachings of Balaam and of the Nicolaitans, had each a very different historical origin and doctrinal basis. The former is Shemitic, the latter is Aryan; the former came from Phoenicia, the latter from India. Baal-Peor, the god of Balaam and the Moabites, was no other than the Phoenician god Baal, with Peor added to designate the local name of his Moabite worship. Baal was held by the glowing sensuality of the Phoenicians to be the sun-god, the fire-god; thence the god of all sexual generation in nature, vegetable, animal, human. The taurus, bull, was his animal representative, the type of vigorous generative power. His image for worship was the phallus. In the religious theory the sexual impulse was a holy sensation, the temple was a consecrated brothel, the priestess was a harlot, and the rites were debauchery; not only made decent and respectable, but sacred and religious by this most satanic of systems. As counterpart this same Baal, as fire-god, was Moloch, the representative of the destructive power of the element of heat. Human victims were made sacrifices to this form of the god, by “passing through the fire,” fully proving the serious earnestness of the belief of the people in both forms of deity and both systems of rites. Ashtaroth (Greek form, Astarte) was the feminine side of the same worship, to which the lustful Venus was in later ages the Roman parallel. It was the most seductive of religions, and haunted Israel through his whole history, requiring all the energy of prophets and priests, and of pious kings, to repel its inroads and preserve the nation true to its holy mission. The failure was at last complete, and brought on the captivity. Pictures of the ruin wrought by Israel’s adoption of this double system of sensuality and cruelty of Baal and Moloch abound in the sacred history, but as specimen passages, 2 Kings 17:6-33, and Hosea 4:12-14, may be read. In the Apocalyptic age, some of the more sensual traits of this system passed to the Roman mythology, (see our vol. iv, p. 9,) and its ideas would often be adopted by mystical sensualists who loved to veil base indulgences with religious sanctions. In our own day sexual promiscuity is sometimes blended with religious pretences, but more usually under the authority of physiology and race developments. The existence of the doctrine of Balaam at Pergamos seemed to be rather in intimate proximity with the Church than within it. The Church was responsible, not so much for sharing in it, as for too little energy of opposition to it.
Stumblingblock Note on Matthew 18:7.
Idols… fornication It was this union of sacrificial feasting with regularly established and expected debaucheries, which we at this day can hardly understand, that rendered it dangerous for the Christian to attend a feast or to eat of sacrificial meat. It was by this route that sexuality would have a short cut into a primitive Church. So it was in Corinth. 1 Corinthians 5:1.
15. So hast thou also Observe that the Nicolaitans are different from, and additional to, the holders of the teachings of Balaam, and not identical. They very much agreed in the ultimate of licentiousness they reached, but from different historical and doctrinal starting points. The doctrines of Balaam were a remnant of the old Canaanite or Phoenician Baalism, and were Shemitic; that of the Nicolaitans was Aryan, derived from India, and based on the dogma of the residence of all evil in matter. See notes on Acts 6:5, Jude 1:11, and Introduction to John’s Epistles. The active existence of these heretics at the time of the writing of this book proves it later than the reign of Nero.
16. Thee… them His visitation would be to the Church and its bishops, his fight would be with the sensualists.
Sword of my mouth The blessed weapon of moral warfare and providential destruction. Observe the threatening corresponds with the sword of the self-assertion in Revelation 2:12.
17. Hidden manna For him who spurns the meat of idol sacrifices there is reserved a divine food, the hidden manna. Not merely secret, but hidden, laid up and deposited away from human gaze. So God commanded Moses, Exodus 16:32-34, to deposit a memorial manna, “and lay it up before the Lord to be kept for your generations.” According to Hebrews 9:4, the manna was deposited in a pot enclosed in the ark of the covenant, within the holy of holies. Our Saviour denominates himself the “bread,” figured by the manna, (John 6:48-50,) of which our sacramental bread is the symbol. But the depositing the memorial manna by Moses in the holy of holies, (the symbol of the highest heavens,) figures Christ in his ascended and resurrected state. Hebrews 9:24. It is our risen Lord, then, who is our hidden manna, our immortalizing food. Parallel to this is the fruit of the tree of life, the aliment of a heavenly immortality, whose vitality and vitalizing power are derived from Christ. See note on Revelation 22:0.
A white stone Of all interpretations of this image, that of Trench is both most beautiful and most satisfactory. The white stone is the oracular urim, (it was probably a diamond,) in the breast-plate of the High-priest, bearing the incommunicable name. And as every glorified Christian becomes a high-priest, so to every one is given the diamond urim. This stone, as white, represents the purity of heaven. Nay more, it is not merely the pale dim white, (Latin, albus,) but the lustrous, radiating white, (Latin, candidus,) of which the diamond gives a sample, and so symbolizes even the glory of heaven. So, white are the hairs of the Son of God, Revelation 1:14; and white raiment, Revelation 3:5; white robes, Revelation 7:9; a white cloud Revelation 14:14; white horses, Revelation 19:8; Revelation 19:14; great white throne, Revelation 20:1.
The Greek word for stone here, ψηφος , meaning a pebble or smooth sea-worn stone, was used before the invention of the paper ballot for the decision of alternative questions, as the election of a candidate to office, or the acquittal of an accused person; which was by a “white stone” in opposition to a black. Hence it was used in some kinds of divination to decide a future event, which may have suggested its use here for the urim, by which the will of Jehovah was ascertained; though Trench does not notice that point. The use of the word to designate so precious a stone as the diamond, is, perhaps, sustained by the fact, that in later Greek it is used by Callimachus to denote the gem of a finger-ring.
How far it is made sure that the urim was a diamond is not so clear. The breastplate of the high priest (see note, Matthew 26:3) was studded with twelve precious stones, on which were inscribed the names of the twelve tribes. The urim was, very probably, an additional stone, most precious of all, and so a diamond, or at least some stone of high value and radiant clearness. Its highest value, however, was, that it was officially borne upon the heart of the high priest in his highest functions, and that it was a medium of communion with Jehovah. The white stone bestowed upon the apocalyptic conqueror, that is, upon every triumphant Christian, is token that he is high priest, and his intercommunion with God is glorious. And all this is confirmed by the remarkable fact that both the hidden manna and the white stone of the urim being in the holy of holies, were accessible to the high priest alone.
If we reject this identification of the white stone as too ingenious, or for other reasons, we may fall back upon Hengstenberg’s view, that the white stone is merely the appropriate basis or surface for bearing the gracious inscription of the divine witness of our sonship of God. And we may also add the view of Grotius and others, that the white stone is an entrance-ticket into the gates of heaven, with God’s own signature upon it.
He that receiveth it It means the stone, and not the name; the name is not that of the receiver, but that of the divine donor. And nothing can be wiser than Bengel’s reply to him that asks, What is that name? “Wouldst thou know what sort of a name thou wouldst receive? Overcome! Otherwise, thou askest vainly. But overcoming thou wilt soon read that name upon the white stone.” That name is not a word, but a power.
IV. THYATIRA. The working Church, yet too careless of Christian truth and purity, Revelation 2:18-28.
18. Thyatira From the renowned capital, Pergamos, to the still more renowned Sardis, our apostle would find a strait south-eastern Roman road: he would be obliged to turn a little aside to the east to the lesser town of Thyatira. When Alexander the Great drove the Persian power out of Ionia, he and his successors planted therein a number of cities, filling them with inhabitants from his own Macedonia. Of these cities one was Thyatira. This city was filled with a number of industrial classes or guilds, namely: bakers, potters, weavers, tanners, dyers, etc. Hence “Lydia of Thyatira” was found at Philippi, Macedonia, by Paul, and she became the first European Christian convert. She was “a seller of purple,” probably the cloth, the “imperial purple,” not the dye alone. She was, doubtless, a Macedonian by descent, a Lydian by birth, a Philippian by residence. She bore the name of her native province, for Lydia was no doubt her proper name. Altogether Luke’s narrative places her as a graceful figure in early Christian history. How vivid the contrast between Lydia of Thyatira and Jezebel of Thyatira! It is curious to note that the American missionary, Brewer, in 1831, found the guild of dyers still working at the occupation in Thyatira. It was never a great city, but a thrifty manufacturing town. The modern town is said by Svoboda ( The Seven Churches of Asia, 1869) to contain 15,000 inhabitants, of whom two thirds are Turks, one third Greek Christians, with a few Armenians. He adds, “The whole trade is in the hands of the Christian population, as it generally is throughout the East, the Christians comprising the most industrious and intelligent part of the population.”
Son of God St. John had identified him as son of man in remembrance of the human humiliation in which he once had known him, he here identifies himself as that same son in his glorification. The promises at close of this epistle are taken from the second psalm, in which that sonship is described in its power.
Eyes… feet Quoted from St. John’s picture of him, Revelation 1:14-15. The eyes are alluded to in searcheth, Revelation 2:23.
19. Thy works Works are here generic, and include the four qualities that follow, namely, charity, service, faith, patience. They are both works internal and works external. Charity is here love both to God and man.
Faith By the true reading this occurs next after charity. It implies the true believing faith by which a man is justified, a perseverance in which is fidelity.
Service The quality by which the faithful Christian serves the well-being of his fellow beings.
Patience The persistence and consistency with which he perseveres in those works.
And The semicolon should precede this and, and the clause should read, “and thy last works are more than the first.” The blessed reverse of the declension of Ephesus, Revelation 2:4. The Church was abounding and advancing in graces of heart and activity of life.
20. That woman Though Alford rather approves the reading, thy wife, (meaning the wife of the pastor or bishop,) Tischendorf and Trench reject it. This reading may have arisen from the words, “Jezebel, his wife,” 1 Kings 21:25.
Jezebel Was the true female counterpart of Balaam, both being great patrons of the same system of idolotrous sensualism, the fiery Molochism of the Tyrian sun-god. He seduced Israel on his first entrance to the promised land; she, more fatally, centuries after, won the kingdom of Israel to a still more fatal form of the same apostasy. She was the daughter of Ethbaal, king of Tyre and priest of Astarte. She became the wife of Ahab, king of Israel, and not only imported the voluptuous rites of the Tyrian religion, but gave it a complete ascendency over the religion of Jehovah in Jehovah’s own land. A contempt for the gloomy and narrow scruples of the true Israelite was diffused; it became aristocratic to be dissolute; temples were abundantly erected for the seductive rites, until but 7,000 adherents of Jehovah were alone known to Jehovah himself in the fallen nation. The overthrow and tragic end of Jezebel we need not here rehearse. Her antitype in spirit and influence was now found in the little Church of Thyatira, a libertine woman of great talent seducing the people by sensual doctrines, and leading them into most atrocious practices. There is not the slightest demand or excuse for giving any allegorical sense to these plain facts. The remark of Alford, that the emblematical name of Jezebel, given to this woman, leads “us into the regions of symbolism,” is over-strained. If we were to brand a modern traitor with the name of Judas, that would not at all imply that his treasonable character and acts were allegorical, or his person an unreality. And we have specimens of even female lecturers at the present day denouncing the institution of marriage, and propagating a theory of unsanctified sensualism, aiding us to understand both the Tyrian and the Thyatirian Jezebel. She claimed to be a prophetess, as Balaam was a prophet. That is, she assumed to be a religious doctrinary.
My servants As Balaam’s influence seduced Israel of old.
Fornication Eating of things sacrificed unto idols.
21. I gave her space The Church tolerated her from negligence, but Christ allowed her space in mercy. Yet she had been living on probation.
Repented not It would seem that the space for repentance hardly now existed; yet there is a saving clause at the close of the next verse.
22. Behold A challenge of attention to this threatened judgment; a judgment so clear and palpable as to strike all the Churches, Revelation 2:23.
Cast her into a bed Her bed of adulteries shall be exchanged for a bed of tribulation; a figurative bed of penalty for the literal bed of sin.
23. Her children Not her partisans and followers, for they are threatened their due in the last verse; but her literal brood, who are worthy of death for the sins both which they have learned from her and have freely practised.
With death As a direct penal infliction, a capital punishment. It shall not be a natural decease.
All the Churches The seven and their sister Churches: for Alford’s opinion, that it means “all the Churches in the world,” and gives “an oecumenical character to these messages,” seems to be inadmissible. “The Churches” were to know this by the plainly palpable judicial character of the known penalties endured by these culprits; but those facts, as they were, have never been presented to “all the Churches in the world.” We have, indeed, no proof that any special tribulation was suffered by these individuals. They may have repented under influence of this message.
Reins Literally, the kidneys; the lower parts of the back, where the workings of anxious emotions are recognised. Reins and hearts are often associated in Scripture, Psalms 7:9; Psalms 26:2; Jeremiah 11:20. The searching them is named as an attribute of omniscience. And here the declaration is, that he whose eyes are like unto a flame of fire, fully knows all the dark secrets of these votaries of hidden sensual sin.
Works The doubt whether Jezebel was guilty of actual deeds of sin, expressed by Stuart and others, seems fully contradicted by such terms as seduce, her fornication, commit adultery, deeds, works. To resolve all these plain terms of active perpetration into figures signifying “doctrines,” would render it difficult to find any terms which might not be figured out of their literal meaning. If these words do not express actual deeds, what terms can?
24. Unto you… the rest The and being omitted as spurious, you, and the rest, mean the same class, namely, the part of the Church pure from Jezebel.
Depths… speak To boast of their depth was a trait of the Gnostics. Says Tertullian, “Put an inquiry to them in good faith, and with grave face and lofty brow they will answer, It is deep!” Says Irenaeus, “Really blind, they profess themselves to have attained the depths of the abyss.” And Eusebius says of the Simonians: “Those deeper secrets, of which they say that he who hears them for the first time would be astonished and confounded, are indeed full of folly and madness. They are such things that a decent person cannot write of them, nor open his lips about them, on account of their horrid filthiness and obscenity.”
As they speak Or rather, say, or, as they call them. To whom does this they refer? Some reply, the Christians; but there is nothing that fixes the reference to them; and more probably it was the Gnostics who talked about the depths. It may be that the they say, has for its object the term the depths, while the phrase of Satan is flung in sarcastically by the Lord himself, to characterize their depths. It might then be printed thus: have not known “the depths” of Satan! as they say. Or the whole phrase, more probably, may be in the mouth of the Gnostics themselves, unequivocally professing that they do know the very depths of Satan. Their satanic bravado of licentiousness justifies this rendering. Eusebius says, (b. 4, c. 7,) that they went so far as to say, “that the basest deeds should be perpetrated by those who would attain to a perfect insight into their secret doctrine.” See our note on 2 Thessalonians 2:7.
None other burden Seems to be a remarkable quotation from the apostolic decree, Acts 15:28, where the abstaining from licentious sacrificial feasts are the very burden, or Christian obligation, imposed upon them. Purity from these Gnostic depths is the only injunction he now presses upon them.
25. But Closely following upon the last words. That purity is theirs now, only hold it fast.
Till I come Till the hour when your final account with me shall be settled.
We have elsewhere remarked, (1 Corinthians 15:23,) that while the Greek word parousia always designated, unequivocally and solely, Christ’s second advent, yet the words come and coming often refer to other interpositions and spiritual presences. The hour of death is never spoken of as such a coming. (See our note, John 14:3.) Yet perseverance to the end of our probation is perseverance even to the judgment day. Note on Matthew 24:13. So, (Revelation 2:10,) faithfulness unto death is faithfulness unto the final reward. And (Revelation 2:11) overcoming in life is verbally connected, instantaneously, with the eternal deliverance. The two things the probation and the reward, the life passed and the coming to judgment are connected as antecedent and consequent, irrespective of time. The intermediate time is dropped out of thought, and the close of life and the commencement of the eternal state are joined in unbroken connection. For the Thyatirans to hold fast until their closing hour, was to hold fast till I come. So next verse.
26. Unto the end Of his life trial.
Power over the nations Identification with the Son of God, who is heir of all the promises of the second psalm.
27. Rule them with a rod of iron In the Hebrew (Psalms 2:9) the promise is, “Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron.” But the Septuagint translators render the Hebrew word for “break,” by a word signifying to superintend them as a shepherd, or briefly, for want of better English, to shepherd them. This was a mistake founded on the sameness of the consonants of the two different Hebrew words. That graceful mistake the heavenly speaker here accepts, and, in accordance with the milder spirit of the gospel dispensation, authorizes it. His sceptre (for so the word rod here imports) is a shepherd’s crook, and yet its iron power, its absolute authority, still remains. What the nature of this power over the nations is, and what the overcomer’s share in it, may be learned from our notes on Matthew 19:28; 1 Corinthians 6:2; Revelation 19:11-21; Revelation 20:4.
28. Give him the morning star The beautiful announcer that the night is past and the day is come. This blessed token shall be given to the overcomer as he passes through every crisis of the long contest. Its promise cheers the living warrior here on the field; and when he comes unto the end it will beam with its assurance that “eternity dawns, and the kingdom is his.” And when he comes to the new heavens and new earth, (Revelation 22:1,) he will find that the morning star, so given him, was no other than Jesus himself. See Revelation 22:16.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Revelation 2". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29