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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Revelation 2

 

 

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Verse 1

Revelation 2:1. The first church addressed is that of Ephesus, the city in which St. John himself is reported, according to the unanimous tradition of Christian antiquity, to have spent the closing period of his life. Yet, even if we adopt the later date for the composition of the Apocalypse, we can hardly suppose that we are to find in this circumstance the reason why Ephesus is first mentioned. It is more reasonable to think that the importance of that church in itself, together, it may be, with the special particulars of its internal condition, determined the place which is now assigned to it Ephesus was the most influential city of Asia Minor, the meeting-place of Eastern and Western thought, renowned not only for its commercial relations, but for that magnificent temple of Diana which was looked upon as one of the wonders of the world (Acts 19:27). St. Paul showed his sense of its importance by spending in it no less than three years of his busy life, and by using it as one of the great centres of his missionary labours. The angel of the church, that is, as we have seen, not its bishop or presiding pastor, but the church itself viewed as the appointed interpreter and messenger of Christ’s purposes to the world, is now addressed by St. John.

First of all we have a description of Him from whom the message comes, taken from the description already given of Him in chap. 1, and more especially from Revelation 2:13; Revelation 2:16. There is a peculiar fitness in the selection for the first Epistle of these, the obviously prominent characteristics of the Lord as He is brought before us in that chapter; but there is nothing to lead us to think that the Church at Ephesus, viewed by itself, is more representative of the universal Church than any other of the seven. Two points of difference between the description of the Redeemer here and in chap. 1 are worthy of notice:—(1) The substitution of the word holdeth fast for the word ‘hath’ of the latter (Revelation 2:16). The first of these words is much stronger than the second, and denotes to retain firmly in the grasp (comp. chaps. Revelation 2:25, Revelation 3:11). It is therefore employed in the present instance with peculiar propriety, when the aim of the Seer is to set forth not so much the glory of the Lord Himself, as the power with which He retains His people under H is care, so that, even when decay has begun to mark them, they shall not be allowed finally to perish (John 10:28). (2) The word walketh for the simple being or standing of chap. Revelation 1:13, in order to indicate not merely that Christ’s people surround and worship Him, but that He is engaged in observing and protecting them. Not one of their backslid ings or errors escapes His notice: they have no weakness which He will not strengthen, no want which He will not supply.


Verses 1-7

Reserving any remarks to be made upon the general structure of the Epistles to the seven churches of Asia, and upon their relation to one another, we only notice at present their position in the Apocalypse as a whole. The two chapters containing them form the second great section of the book, and their aim is to set before us a representation of that Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose struggle and victory it is the main object of the apostle to describe. We have already seen that the seven churches here spoken of represent the one universal Church. The Epistles addressed to them constitute the introduction of that Church upon the field of history. The great Head of the Church has been brought before us in chap. 1; and now we have the Church herself. We must learn to know her in her calling and her condition before we can understand her fortunes.


Verse 2

Revelation 2:2. The address to the Church follows, embracing Revelation 2:2-6. The first part of it, extending to the close of Revelation 2:3, seems to contain seven points of commendation:—(1) I know thy works, and thy toil and patience. By the word ‘know’ we are to understand not approbation, but simply experimental knowledge; and by ‘works,’ not hero-deeds, but simply the whole tone and conduct of the church’s life, together with the outward manifestation of what she was. These works are then resolved into two parts; ‘toil,’ which is more than labour in the service of the Lord; and ‘patience,’ which is more than the passive virtue commonly represented by that word. The meaning would be better expressed by ‘endurance,’—the strong, firm, and manly bearing of all suffering inflicted by a hostile world for the sake of Christ—(2) And that thou canst not bear evil men. The ‘evil men’ referred to are a different class from those spoken of in the following clause, and they are thought of as a burden too heavy to be borne. The Ephesian church had a holy impatience of those who, by their evil deeds, brought disgrace upon the Christian name, and she is commended for it.—(3) And thou didst try them that call themselves apostles. These persons had made a special claim to be apostles (comp. 2 Corinthians 11:13), even in all probability disowning St. John himself. But the Ephesian Christians had ‘tried,’ and in trying had discovered their false pretensions. The Greek word here used for ‘try’ is different from that found in 1 John 4:1, where we read, ‘Believe not every spirit, but prove (not, as in the Authorised Version, ‘try’) the spirits, whether they are of God.’ A distinction has been drawn between the two, the latter being referred to faith and doctrine, the former to works; and the distinction has been thought to find support in Revelation 2:6. But the false teachers there spoken of are not the same as those mentioned in the clause before us. The distinction seems rather to lie in this, that ‘try’ expresses simply the trial, with the superadded thought of disinclination to the persons tried; that ‘prove’ expresses the bringing forth of solid worth by trial (comp. 1 Corinthians 16:3; 2 Corinthians 8:8; 1 Timothy 3:10; 1 Peter 1:7). Here, therefore, ‘prove’ could not be used. The Ephesian church knew what these deceivers would show themselves to be, and turned from them with the instinct of the Christian heart before it put them to a formal proof.

And they are not, not as in the Authorised Version with the omission of the word ‘they.’ The addition of the clause, when compared with 1 John 3:1, affords an interesting illustration of the style of the apostle, for ‘and such we are’ ought there to be inserted in the text (comp also chap. Revelation 3:9).—(4) And didst find them false (comp. chap. Revelation 3:9; 1 John 1:6).

There is no evidence to show that false teachers such as these could have existed only in the very earliest period of the Christian Church, that they cannot be assigned to the closing years of the first century, and that the Apocalypse must there-fore have been written before the destruction of Jerusalem. The words of St. Paul to the Ephesian Presbyters in Acts 20:29 lead rather to the belief that the manifestation there spoken of would not take place until at least most of the apostles had been removed from this earthly scene.


Verse 3

Revelation 2:3. (5) And thou hast patience. The ‘patience’ spoken of is the stedfast endurance already mentioned in Revelation 2:2, but the possession of the grace is enhanced by the use of the verb ‘have’—thou hast it, it is thine.—(6) And thou didst bear because of my name. They had not borne with evil men (Revelation 2:2); and yet, in not bearing them, in rejecting them, and in the struggle which was involved in doing so, they had had something to bear; they had borne the burden laid upon them because of the ‘name’ of Jesus, because of that revelation of the grace and love of God which had been given them in Him (comp. on John 14:13-14).—(7) And thou hast not grown weary. For the use of the word ‘grow weary,’ comp. John 4:6. In Revelation 2:2 they had been commended for their ‘toil;’ but now a step is taken in advance, they had not ‘grown weary’ in it. How hard the duty, and how high the grace!

Such are the seven points in which the Ephesian church is commended; and, if we are right in considering them as seven, it will follow that the fourth, ‘didst find them false,’ is the leading one of the seven; or, in other words, that the chief point of commendation in the state of the Christians at Ephesus is their instinctive discernment and rejection of false teachers, and their zeal for the true doctrine of Christ as handed down by His commissioned and inspired apostles. Around this all else that in their case was worthy of commendation centred. Here was the ‘toil’ that never wearied, the ‘endurance’ that never failed, the ‘bearing’ of that bitter cross which consisted, as it did so largely in the case of our Lord, in contending against the ‘grievous wolves’ that had entered into God’s heritage, and were snatching and scattering the sheep (John 10:12). The first ‘work’ of Christ, to maintain God’s true revelation of Himself against selfish error, appears in the Ephesian church.


Verse 4

Revelation 2:4. Commendation has been bestowed; the deserved blame that had been incurred now follows: Nevertheless I have against thee that thou didst let go thy first love. The Authorised Version is here materially injured by the insertion of the word ‘somewhat,’ to which there is nothing in the original to correspond. The declension was a serious and not a slight one,—the letting go the ‘kindness of her youth,’ the ‘love of her espousals’ (Jeremiah 2:2), the love with which the church had met her Lord ‘in the day of His espousals, and in the day of the gladness of His heart’ (Song of Solomon 3:11). Nothing but the love of the bride can satisfy the Bridegroom; all zeal for His honour, if He is to value it, must flow from love, and love must feed its flame. There is no contradiction between the state now described and that in Revelation 2:2-3. Nor is there any need to think that these latter verses apply only to the ‘angel’ as if he were a distinct personality, while this verse applies to the church at large. The history of the Christian Church has been too full of zeal without love to justify any doubt as to the verisimilitude of the picture. Let the times immediately subsequent to the successful struggle against Arianism, and again to the Reformation in Germany, testify to the fact.


Verse 5

Revelation 2:5. The exhortation to the church now follows in three parts:—(1) Remember therefore from whence thou hast fallen; her first condition being regarded as a height; (2) and repent, by contrasting thy present with thy former state; (3) and do the first works; for it is the duty of the church to ‘abide’ in Christ: ‘Even as the Father hath loved Me,’ says Jesus Himself, ‘I also have loved you; abide ye in My love’ (John 15:9). ‘Works’ are here to be understood in that widest sense of the word peculiar to St. John. The Lord does not bid His Church act as if acting were everything and feeling nothing. Feeling is rather the thing mainly thought of. There was no want of action: what was needed was the love which alone makes action valuable (cp. 1 Corinthians 13).

or else I come unto thee; not the final judgment, or the Second Coming of the Lord; for, in that case, we should hardly have had the words ‘unto thee’ attached to the warning, but a special coming in judgment, an earnest and symbol of the great Coming at the last.

And will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent. The removal of the church’s candlestick denotes removal from her high standing and privileges in the sanctuary of God. There is nothing here of what has been described as simply ‘the removal of the candlestick, not the extinction of the candle; judgment for some, but that very judgment the occasion of mercy for others.’ The word ‘move’ is in the Apocalypse a word of judgment (cp. chap. Revelation 6:14), and there is no thought of anything else in the warning given. Surely also, it may be remarked in passing, the warning distinctly shows us that the ‘angel’ of the church cannot possibly be its bishop. ‘Thy candlestick!’ where is the Church spoken of as if she belonged to any of her office-bearers? She is always the Church of Christ. Contrast with ‘thy candlestick’ ‘My sheep,’ ‘My lambs’ (John 21:15-17).


Verse 6

Revelation 2:6. The Lord cannot leave them without a fresh word of commendation. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Who the persons thus referred to were we shall best learn at Revelation 2:15. In the meantime it is enough to say that we have here more than a mere repetition of what had been said already at Revelation 2:2; and that the last words, ‘which I also hate,’ appear to be added partly at least for the sake of bringing out the fact that, notwithstanding the declension of the Ephesian Christians, there was still one point on which their Lord and they were similarly minded.


Verse 7

Revelation 2:7. A promise is to be added to the main body of the Epistle, but before it is given we have a general exhortation to men to listen. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. These words are found in all the seven Epistles, but with a different position in some of them as compared with others. In the first three they occur in the body of the letter, immediately before the promise to him that over-cometh: in the last four they are introduced at the end. No student of the Apocalypse will doubt that this difference is designed, and that although he may be unable to say what the design is. In the case of the seals, the trumpets, and the bowls, we meet the same division of seven into its constituent parts three and four, only that in each of these the line of demarcation is at the close of the first four, not, as in the present instance, at the close of the first three. Nor does it seem difficult to understand this division, for four is the number of the earth, and the judgments relating to it are thus naturally four. It is not so easy to see why in the seven Epistles the number three should take precedence. Perhaps it may be because three is the number or God; and because, by the arrangement adopted, the Divine aspect of the Church in her existence considered in itself is brought out with a force which would otherwise have been wanting (see closing remarks on chap. 3). Jewish feeling, so much appealed to by numbers and their arrangement, may have been alive to this in a manner mat we can hardly understand. Whether the above explanation be satisfactory or not, the fact itself is both interesting and important. It throws light upon the measure of artificiality which appears in the structure of the Apocalypse, and is thus a help in its interpretation.

To him that overcometh. The expression is a characteristic one with St. John. It occurs in each of the seven Epistles, as also in chap. Revelation 21:7. In chap. Revelation 3:21 it is used of Christ Himself (cp. also Revelation 12:11; John 16:33; 1 John 2:13; 1 John 5:4-5).

I will give to him to eat out of the tree of fife, which is in the paradise of God. For the tree of life cp. chap. Revelation 22:2; Revelation 14:19. What victorious believers eat is out or the tree of life, not something that grows upon it, its branches, or leaves, or flowers, or fruit. The particular preposition used in the original carries us to the thought of what is most intimately connected with the tree, to the thought of its very heart and substance. For the idea of eating, op. John 6:51. The question is naturally asked, What are we to understand by this ‘tree of life’? and different answers have been given. By some it is supposed to be the Gospel, by others the Holy Spirit; while several of the later commentators on this book suppose it to be that eternal life, with all the means of sustaining it, which comes from Christ. The true answer seems to be that it is Christ Himself. Nor is it any reply to this to say that in chap. Revelation 22:2 we have not one tree but many, for the tree of life there spoken of is really one; or that the Giver must be different from the gift, for the highest gift of the Lord is the Incarnate Lord Himself, ‘in whom,’ says St. Paul, ‘dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily’ (Colossians 2:9); ‘in’ whom, says St. John, ‘is life,’ and ‘out of’ whom His people have received their life and ‘grace for grace’ (John 1:16). (Cp. on Revelation 2:28.) At the same time this view is confirmed by the use of the preposition ‘out of.’ Who but the Lord Jesus Christ is that fulness ‘out of’ which all believers eat and live?

There may be a correspondence intended between the promise of ‘eating’ and the victory over the Nicolaitans, one of whose characteristics was that they ‘ate things sacrificed to idols’ (Revelation 2:14). Those who cat of the table of devils cannot cat of the Lord’s table (1 Corinthians 10:21). They must share the exclusion from the tree of life of fallen Adam and his fallen seed. But the faithful who, like the Second Adam, and in His might, refuse the devil’s dainties (Psalms 16:4; Matthew 4:3), obtain in deepest truth the privilege from which our first parent was excluded (Genesis 3:24).


Verse 8

Revelation 2:8. The second church addressed is that of Smyrna, a city situated a little to the north of Ephesus, and in the same province of Asia Minor. Smyrna was one of the most prosperous and wealthy cities of Asia, lying in the midst of a rich and fertile region, and enjoying peculiar facilities for commerce. Its main worship was that of Bacchus, and, as a natural consequence, drunkenness and immorality were extremely prevalent.

Again the epistle opens with a description of Him from whom it is sent. The description is taken from chap. Revelation 1:17-18. For the rendering, rose to life, which we have adopted here, comp. chap. Revelation 13:14 and John 5:21. The substance of the Epistle follows.


Verse 9

Revelation 2:9. The first words of the address to the church, as given in the Authorised Version, ‘I know thy works,’ are to be omitted both here and in Revelation 2:13, the salutation to the church at Pergamos. They are found in all the other Epistles, and we may be assured, therefore, that their omission in these two places is designed. We shall venture to offer what seems the most probable explanation in the general remarks on the Epistles as a whole at the close of chap. 3. Three features of the condition of the church at Smyrna are noticed:—(1) I know thy tribulation. The word ‘tribulation’ is to be understood in the general sense of affliction, suffering, but with a special reference to persecution brought upon believers for stedfastness in their Master’s cause (comp. John 16:33); (2) And thy poverty (but thou art rich). Like all the churches of that early time, the church at Smyrna was composed of members for the most part poor. ‘Not many rich, not many noble, were called.’ But in the possession of a better inheritance it was ‘rich,’—‘rich in faith, and an heir of the kingdom which the Lord promised to them that love Him’ (James 2:5); (3) And the blasphemy of them which say that they themselves are Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. The ‘blasphemy’ referred to probably includes not simply reviling against Christians, but against their Lord. Then, as now, the Jews were notorious for the fierceness of their language against Christ, to whom they did not hesitate to apply every epithet of contempt and hatred (comp. 1 Corinthians 12:3; James 2:7).

The most interesting inquiry here has relation to the meaning of the word ‘Jews.’ Before endeavouring to answer it, it is of importance to observe that the word is not directly employed either by the Lord or by the Seer in His name. The persecutors and blasphemers referred to used it of themselves. They said that they were Jews. But none would so use the term except such as really were Jews alike by birth and by religion; while, in so using it, they intended to assert that they were the true people of God, and that Christians had no title to the place which they were endeavouring to claim as His. It is now denied by the Author of the Epistle that the term had any proper application to them. Had they been truly Jews, Jews in any proper sense of the word, they would have taken up an altogether different attitude towards Christ and Christianity from that which they actually occupied. They would have seen that in the faith of Jesus the purpose of their own Mosaic economy was fulfilled; and they would have cast in their lot with the Christian Church. They did not do so. Instead of believing in Jesus, they were everywhere the chief stirrers up of hatred and persecution against His followers (Acts 14:19; Acts 17:5; Acts 17:13, etc.). How could they be Jews? The Jews at least worshipped God, and assembled in His synagogue to study the Law and the Prophets; of these blasphemers it could only be said that they were a synagogue of Satan. It is not denied that the word ‘Jews’ is thus used here in an honourable sense; and, accordingly, it has often been urged that we have in this a proof that the Author of the Apocalypse cannot have been also the Author of the fourth Gospel, inasmuch as in the latter those named ‘the Jews’ are the embodiment of everything that is most hard and stubborn and devilish. Two answers may be given to the charge:—(1) St. John does not originate the word, he only quotes it; and (2) the expression is not the same as that used in the Gospel,—there ‘the Jews,’ here ‘Jews.’

It may be noticed in passing, that when we compare the use of the word ‘synagogue’ in the verse before us with its use in James 2:2, where it is applied to the Christian congregation, it seems not unnatural to think that we are dealing with a point of time much later than that at which St. James is writing. That mixing of Jews and Christians in the same congregation, which had marked the dawn of the Church’s history, had come to an end. A complete separation had taken place between the adherents of the old and the new faith. Christians were a ‘church,’ the Jews alone met in ‘synagogue.’


Verse 10

Revelation 2:10. An exhortation not to fear the things which it was about to suffer. Fresh persecution was immediately to arise. The children of God are not comforted amidst their troubles by the assurance that these are about to pass away. It may often happen, on the contrary, that one wave of tribulation shall only be followed by another. Strength and comfort are to be found in other thoughts. The tribulation to be expected is then further specified. It shall proceed from the devil, a name of Satan chosen with a reference to the calumnies and slanders previously alluded to. Under that name he is ‘the accuser of the brethren’ (Revelation 12:10; comp. Job 12; Zechariah 3:1-2). But the devil is not only to slander them. He is about, it is said, to cast some of you into prison, prevailing upon the heathen powers, ever ready to listen to accusations against the Christians, to visit them with this punishment. Further, he is to do this in order that ye may be tried. It is not that they may be ‘proved.’ God proves His people. Satan tries them; and this trial shall come from his hands, to be the means, if possible, of effecting his Satanic purposes. Their tribulation, they are told, shall be one of ten days (comp. Daniel 1:12).

By these words we are neither to understand ten literal days, nor ten years, nor ten separate persecutions stretching over an indefinite period of time. Like all the other numbers in the Apocalypse, the number is symbolical. It denotes completeness, yet not the Divine fulness of the number seven. They are to have tribulation frequent, oft repeated, lasting, it may be, as long as life itself, yet alter all extending only to this present scene, the course of which may be best marked by ‘days’ that are ‘few and evil’ (Genesis 47:9; Job 8:9; Psalms 90:12; comp. 1 Peter 1:6).

Be thou faithful unto death, that is, not merely during the whole of life, but even to the extremity, if necessary, of meeting death.

And I will give thee the crown of life, that is, the crown which consists in ‘life’ (comp. 2 Timothy 4:8),—in life corresponding to the life of Him of whom we have been told in Revelation 2:8 that He ‘rose to life.’ This last consideration ought alone to be sufficient to determine whether we have here the crown of a king or that of a victor in the games. It is not the latter, but the former (comp. chaps, Revelation 4:4, Revelation 5:10), the crown of the Lord Himself (chap. Revelation 14:14; comp. Psalms 21:3-4). The use of the word stephanos, not diadema, seems to flow from the fact that the crown spoken of is not the mere emblem of royalty, but of royalty reached through severe contests and glorious victories,—its garland crown. ‘So should desert in arms be crowned.’

In addition to this, however, we may well include the thought of the Hebrew crown of joy, the crown with which Solomon was crowned ‘in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart’ (Song of Solomon 3:11). Yet there, too, we must remember there is the thought that Solomon had won his bride.


Verse 11

Revelation 2:11. For the first clause of this verse, comp. what has been said on Revelation 2:7.

He that over-cometh shall in no wise be hurt of the second death. For the ‘second death,’ comp. chaps. Revelation 20:6; Revelation 20:14, Revelation 21:8, the only other passages where the expression occurs. It is in obvious contrast with the ‘life’ of Revelation 2:8; Revelation 2:10. The expression is taken from the Jewish theology, and denotes the death that follows judgment.

The distinguishing feature of the Epistle to Smyrna seems to be the rise of persecution against the followers of Jesus, and their faithfulness in meeting it; while in the next Epistle, that to Pergamos, we shall see persecution in all its fury culminating. If so, we have the very progress once indicated by our Lord Himself in His last discourse to His disciples, ‘Every branch that beareth fruit, He cleanseth it, that it may bear more fruit’ (John 15:2). The lessons taught to the church at Symrna may well have been present to the soul of Polycarp, Bishop of that see, in his hour of agony, and may have powerfully contributed to sustain that glorious martyr, who was so eminently ‘faithful unto death.’


Verse 12

Revelation 2:12. The third church addressed is that of Pergamos, now generally written Pergamum, a city which, in every thing except commerce, rivalled the most celebrated cities of Asia at the time. Without in any degree attempting to trace its history, which in no way concerns us here, it may simply be remarked that in the apostolic age Pergamos was especially noted for its worship of AEsculapius the god of medicine. With the genuine pursuit of medicine, however, there was then mixed up a great variety of other inquiries, which, dealing with the secret springs of life, and with drugs, philters, and potions, whose methods of operation no one could explain, invested the healing art with an air of impenetrable mystery. Licentiousness and wickedness of every kind were the inevitable result. Add to all this the temptations of wealth, learning, and art, together with an apparently indiscriminate worship of many deities, and we need not be surprised that Satan had at Pergamos an almost peculiar seat, and that what the Old Testament condemns under the name of witchcraft—or attempts to traffic with any spirit, however evil, in order to obtain knowledge or gratify desire—was more than ordinarily prevalent among the inhabitants of the city.

Again, as before, we meet first of all a description of Him from whom the Epistle comes. It is taken from chap. Revelation 1:16. Two only of the three characteristics there mentioned of the sword are here referred to, but it will be observed that the third meets us in Revelation 2:16,—an illustration of that style of the Apocalypse which leads it to scatter its details of the same object in different parts of the book, so that we have often to bring them together from great distances before we learn to know the object as a whole.


Verse 13

Revelation 2:13. As in the Epistle to Smyrna, the words ‘thy works’ do not belong to the true text Three particulars in the state of the church are noted;—(1) Its outward position. It dwelt where Satan’s throne is. The word used is not ‘seat,’ but distinctly and intentionally ‘throne’ (comp. Psalms 94:20), the purpose of the writer being to contrast the throne of Satan with the throne of God, of which it is the evil and mocking counterpart, and thus to point with peculiar emphasis to the temptations and dangers which the Christians of Pergamos had to encounter. Very different opinions have been entertained with regard to the reasons which may have determined the Lord of the Church to describe Pergamos by this language. Some have traced it to the circumstance that the chief worship of the place was that of AEsculapius, and that the symbol of that divinity was a serpent. The explanation is fanciful. Others have attributed it to the idea that Pergamos was more given over to idolatry than other cities. There is no proof that such was the case. Others, again, have sought an explanation in the fact that Pergamos was under the Roman power, and that thus, representing the heathen persecutors of the Church, it might be said with more than ordinary force to hold the throne of Satan. This explanation also fails, for Satan is in the Apocalypse distinguished from the world-power. The true explanation seems to be that of one of the oldest commentators on the Apocalypse, that in Pergamos persecution first culminated, reaching even to the shedding of Christian blood. In Revelation 2:10 Satan had persecuted to the point of imprisonment; here he kills; and the repetition of the closing words of the verse, where Satan dwelleth, in immediate connection with the putting of Antipas to death, is obviously designed to associate the thought of Satan’s dwelling-place with the thought of this last extremity of his rage. In a city, where science itself was the very pillar of witchcraft and idolatry, Satan had been enabled to put forth against the bodies of the Christians every evil which envy at their souls’ escape from him suggested. He had been permitted even to reign over their bodily life; for, whereas he had once been commanded to spare the life of Job, he had now succeeded in putting Antipas to death. Even in such a city, however, the church had been found faithful, for it is said to it, (2) Thou boldest fast My name. The word ‘name’ is used here, as elsewhere in the writings of St. John, for the fulness of that revelation of the Father which is given in the Son; and the use of the verb ‘hold fast’ instead of the simple ‘have,’ may be determined, as in chap, Revelation 3:11, by the peculiar difficulties of the situation in which the church was placed. At the same time, it is the answer of faith to the ‘holding fast’ predicated of Jesus in Revelation 2:1.—(3) And didst not deny my faith, not the confession of Christ’s faith, but faith of which Jesus was Himself the direct object and the substance. The mention of this faith is made still more emphatic by the fact that it had been maintained even in days when persecution reached to death. Who the Antipas spoken of was it is impossible to say, any notice of him in the martyrologies being founded on this passage. There is even a high probability, when we consider the general structure of the Apocalypse, that there was no such person. The name may be symbolical, although it is at once to be allowed that every attempt hitherto made to point out its symbolical signification has failed.


Verse 14

Revelation 2:14. The defects of the church are next alluded to. There were in Pergamos some that held fast the teaching of Balaam. Comp. Numbers 25; Numbers 31:16. The sins next mentioned are in all probability to be literally understood. It is to be observed that these teachers of erroneous doctrine, these seducers to grievous sin, were not merely inhabitants of the city; they were members of the church.—Thou hast are the words employed.


Verse 15

Revelation 2:15. So thou also hast some that hold fast the teaching of the Nicolaitans in like manner. The chief point of inquiry connected with these words is, whether they introduce a second group of erroneous teachers, or whether they constitute a second description of the Balaamites already mentioned. Various considerations may be urged in favour of the latter view:—(1) Of the Nicolaitans as a separate sect nothing is known. Some of the early fathers derived the name from Nicolas, one of the seven deacons mentioned in Acts 6:5, and supposed that a sect, of which they knew nothing more than they found in this passage, had sprung from him. But the tradition varied; it is in itself in the highest degree improbable; and we may safely regard it as a mere conjecture intended to explain the apparent meaning of the words before us. (2) In Revelation 2:20-24 this same sect is obviously compared to Jezebel, a mystical name, making it probable that the name used here is also mystical. (3) The position of the word ‘also’ in the verse is to be noticed. It is to be closely connected with ‘thou,’ not ‘thou hast also,’ etc., as if a second class of false teachers were about to be spoken of, but ‘thou also hast,’ etc.: the ancient church had its Balaamites, thou hast thy Nicolaitans. (4) The addition of the words ‘in like manner’ is important, showing, as they do, that the second class of false teachers is really identical with the first. In these circumstances, it becomes a highly probable supposition that the word Nicolaitans is a rough translation into Greek of the Hebrew term Balaamites, destroyers or conquerors of the people. Nor is there force in the objection, even if well founded, that such a derivation is not etymologically correct. The popular instinct, so strong amongst the Jews, which took delight in noting similarities of sound, did not concern itself about scientific etymology. Similarity of sound was enough. Nor does there seem cause to be perplexed by the use in the compound Greek word of a verb signifying to conquer rather than to destroy. Evil is ever in the writings of St. John the counterpart of good. Christ is constantly the Overcomer, the Conqueror; and in like manner His enemies are the would-be conquerors, the would-be overcomers of His people. We are thus led to the conclusion that these Nicolaitans are no sect distinct from the followers of Balaam. They are a mystical name for those who in the church at Pergamos imitated the example and the errors of that false prophet of the Old Testament; and we have another illustration of the manner in which St. John delights to give double pictures of one thing (comp. chaps, Revelation 1:20, Revelation 2:14-15).


Verse 16

Revelation 2:16. The exhortation follows. Repent therefore, as in Revelation 2:5 to Ephesus, or else I come onto thee quickly. Comp. on Revelation 2:5, but note that the word ‘quickly’ is now added, although the coming is still special, not general. We have again an illustration of that climactic style of address which appears in these Epistles when they are considered as a whole.—Ana will make war against them with the sword of my month. The Lord will come to war against the Nicolaitans, not against the church. Against His Church, even in her declension, He cannot war. Her threatened punishment (and is it not enough?) is, that the Lord will make war upon His enemies without her; and that, not taking part in His struggle, she shall lose her part in His victory. It is difficult to say whether in the sword spoken of there may be any allusion to the sword of the angel in Numbers 22:23; but such an idea is not improbable.


Verse 17

Revelation 2:17. The promise contained in this verse has always occasioned much difficulty to interpreters. It consists of three parts:—(1) To him that overcometh, to him will I give of the hidden manna. The allusion may perhaps be to the pot of manna which was laid up in the innermost sanctuary of the Tabernacle (Exodus 16:33), for we see from chap. Revelation 11:19 that the imagery of the ark within which the manna was stored was familiar to St. John. Such an allusion, however, is at the best indirect, for the manna laid up in the ark was not for food, but in memory of food once enjoyed. It seems better, therefore, to place the emphasis on the thought of the manna itself, that bread from heaven by which Israel was nourished in the wilderness, and which is now replaced in the Christian Church by ‘the bread which cometh down out of heaven, that any one may eat thereof, and not die’ (John 6:50). This ‘living bread’ is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who is now ‘hidden,’ but will at length be revealed to the perfect satisfaction and joy of them that wait for Him. It is no valid objection to this view that Christ gives the manna, for He gives Himself, and will give Himself to be the nourishment as well as the reward of His people in the world to come, when He shall be revealed to them as He is (1 John 3:2). The contrast between not eating the meats offered to idols and eating this heavenly banquet may be noticed in passing.—(2) And I will give him a white stone. The tendency of the Apocalypse to group its particulars into threes seems to require the separation of this clause from the next following, and to demand that it be considered in itself, and not as simply subordinate to the ‘new name.’ In determining the meaning of the ‘white stone,’ it will be well to bear in mind that in the Apocalypse ‘white’ is not a mere dull white, but a glistering colour, not even necessarily while, and that we must seek for the foundation of the figure in Jewish not in Gentile customs, and in Scripture rather than in rabbinical traditions. We shall thus have to dismiss the idea that it refers to the white pebble of the ballot-box, or to any one of the three following tablets, that given to the victor in the games and having certain privileges attached to it, that which entitled the receiver to the liberal hospitality of the giver, or that which admitted the stranger to the enjoyment of the idol feast. Rejecting these, we may also reject the supposition that the white stone has no more importance than as a medium for the name written on it. Nor does it seem easy to accept the explanation, although more legitimate than any of the above, that it was the Urim which the high priest bore within the breastplate of judgment (Exodus 28:30); for the stone thus referred to was probably a diamond, and we cannot easily conceive that the name here spoken of could be inscribed on such a stone.

In these circumstances, what appears by much the more likely interpretation is that which supposes that we have an allusion to the plate of gold worn on the forehead of the high priest, with the words inscribed on it, Holiness to the Lord. What seems almost condusive upon this point is, that we learn from other passages of this book that it was upon the forehead that the peculiar mark of the child of God was borne (Revelation 3:12, Revelation 7:3; Revelation 14:1, Revelation 22:4; cp. also chap. Revelation 9:4); and we have already had occasion to speak of the importance of that law of interpretation which, in the Apocalypse, leads to the Winging of different passages together for the sake of complementing and completing one another. In adopting this view, however, it ought to be observed that we are not to think of this ‘stone’ either as a plate of gold or as a precious stone, supposed by the Seer to be beaten out for the sake of receiving the inscription. Except in the present passage, the word occurs only once in the New Testament, when St. Paul says, ‘I gave my vote against them’ (Acts 26:10). It thus came to denote (derived, it may be, originally from the customs of heathenism) that by which a verdict of either condemnation or acquittal was pronounced, even by Jewish lips. Here, therefore, this underlying idea of acquittal is the prominent idea of the word. Those referred to receive a stone, an ordinary stone of acquittal, but glistering with heavenly brightness, and bearing upon it the motto or legend spoken of in the next clause.—(3) And upon the stone a new name written, which no one knoweth saving he that receiveth it. What name is this? Not the Lord’s name, for even in chap. Revelation 19:11-13, urged in favour of such a view, the name is given, but the new name bestowed upon the believer, and descriptive of his position, his character, and his joy as an inhabitant of the New Jerusalem. We are not to think that the word ‘knoweth’ is used in the sense of outward knowledge, such as that given by reading or translation. It expresses the inward knowledge referred to in John 4:32 (see note there), the knowledge of experience, the blessedness found in the service of their Lord by those who live through Him, and which the world cannot comprehend. The world may read the name of the believer, just as there seems no cause to doubt that the name here spoken of might be read, but it cannot understand its meaning. These things God reveals by His Spirit to His own (cp. 1 Corinthians 2:9-10). We are thus again led to the conclusion that the ‘new name’ is neither a name of God nor of Christ, nor of the believer considered as a separate individual. It is a name which speaks of the believer’s glorious condition when he is united to the Son and, in Him, to the Father. Before passing from this Epistle, it may be well to notice the correspondence between the reward thus spoken of and that holding fast of the ‘name’ of Christ which had been mentioned in Revelation 2:13. As, too, the tree of life was promised to the Christian of Ephesus who should overcome that temptation to false knowledge to which our first parents in Eden yielded, so, when the Christian of Pergamos is not led astray by the error of the new Balaamites, and when he refuses to partake of the offerings of the dead which he might have had from them (Psalms 106:28), he shall receive manna, of which, in its rich nourishment and invigorating properties, the manna of Israel was but the faintest type (John 6:32).


Verse 18

Revelation 2:18. The fourth church addressed is that of Thyatira, a city finely situated in a rich and well-watered district of Asia Minor, at no great distance from Pergamos, but possessing none of the political importance of the latter. It is interesting to notice in connection with Acts 16:14, though it does not concern us at present, that Thyatira was famous for its purple or scarlet dyes. The sun-god was the leading object of worship to the heathen inhabitants of the city; and it has been thought that there is thus a peculiar propriety in the light in which Jesus presents Himself to its church, as One whose ‘eyes are as a flame of fire.’ For the description now given of Himself by the great Head of the Church, cp. chap. Revelation 1:14-15. The most remarkable part of it is that in which He designates Himself the Son of God. It was as One ‘like unto a Son of man’ that He had been beheld by the Seer in chap. Revelation 1:13, although that description was in no degree intended to exclude the thought of His essential Divinity. He was really the Son of God like unto a son of man. Now, however, the Divine aspect of His person is brought prominently forward, yet not simply because in this Epistle He is to speak of executing judgment, for He both executes judgment in other Epistles, and He does so as Son of man (John 5:27; see note there), but because Divine Sonship is part of that constitution of His person upon which it becomes the Church constantly to dwell. Perhaps also the distinct phase of the Church upon which we enter in the second group of these Epistles may explain the prominence given to the thought of the ‘Son of God.’ She has been hitherto regarded in what she is. She is now to be looked at in her struggle with the world (see remarks at close of the seven Epistles); let her learn that ‘God is on her side.’


Verse 19

Revelation 2:19. The words I know thy works, which had been omitted from the second and third Epistles, are resumed in the fourth, and they meet us in each of the four Epistles of the second group. The general term ‘works’ is next

specialized into four parts, or two groups of two members each, the members of the first group corresponding to those of the second. Love shows itself in Ministry; Faith in Patience or endurance. But more than this. Thyatira’s last works are more than the first. Not that ‘ministry’ and ‘patience’ are greater than ‘love’ and ‘faith,’ or that they alone deserve the designation ‘works.’ That term is as applicable to the latter as to the former. The fact commended is that there is progress in them all. The path of the church has been as the morning light shining unto the perfect day. She has not fallen back like Ephesus; she has advanced.


Verse 20

Revelation 2:20. What is praiseworthy in the church has been spoken of. The Lord now passes to that in which it failed. Again a division into four parts meets us:—(1) That thou sufferest thy wife Jezebel. We adopt this reading as every way preferable to the reading, ‘that woman Jezebel,’ given in both the Authorised and Revised Versions. The external evidence in its favour is at least equal to that for the common reading. The internal is much superior; and it is almost impossible to doubt that the misinterpretation which supposed the ‘Angel’ to be the Bishop of the church, and which therefore recoiled from the idea that the Bishop’s wife could have been a person of the kind here described, formed the chief reason why it was set aside for that commonly adopted. Let us have distinctly impressed upon us that the ‘Angel’ of Thyatira is the church of that city, and let us remember that the peculiar aggravation of the sin of Ahab in the Old Testament was that ‘he did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up’ (1 Kings 21:25); and we shall at once feel how much more in keeping with the force and vigour of the whole Apocalypse, as well as of the present passage, is the reading ‘thy wife’ than the reading ‘that woman.’ The very head and front of the church’s sin was, not that it merely tolerated false teaching and sinful practices in its midst, but that it had allied itself with them. Many, no doubt, had remained pure (Revelation 2:24), but the church as a whole was guilty. The Jezebel of the Old Testament, whose story lies at the bottom of the apostle’s language, was a heathen both by birth and training; and Ahab’s marriage with her was the first instance of the marriage with a heathen princess of a king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Thus had Thyatira sinned, had entered for the sake of worldly honour into alliance with the world, and was still continuing the sinful tie. The sentence, ‘thou sufferest thy wife Jezebel,’ it must be noticed, is complete in itself, ‘thou toleratest,’ ‘thou lettest alone’ (comp. John 11:48; John 12:7; and for the story of Jezebel, 1 Kings 16, 18, 19, 21; 2 Kings 9). Most commentators admit that the name Jezebel is to be understood symbolically; but they are not agreed whether, as so used, it refers to a single person,—a false female teacher,—or a heretical party within the church. The latter opinion is by much the more probable of the two, although we have before us not so much a regularly constituted party, as separate persons who were themselves addicted to the sins described, and who were endeavouring at the same time to seduce others. In Jeremiah 4:30 we have a similar description of the degeneracy of the Church. The persons thus pointed at were, it must be further noticed, within the Church. They had drawn their erroneous views and sinful practices, it is true, from heathenism, as Jezebel was the daughter of a heathen king, but they were not themselves heathen. They were professing members of the Christian community, for this Jezebel calleth herself a prophetess, not a false prophetess, but one with a divine commission.—(2) And she teacheth, etc. The sins into which the persons alluded to sought to betray the church are now mentioned. They are the sins already spoken of in the case of Pergamos; yet there is at the same time an important distinction. At Pergamos the evil came from an outward source, Balaam; at Thyatira from an inward source, Jezebel. The former was a Gentile Prophet; the latter was the wife of the King of Israel. Mark the progress.


Verse 21

Revelation 2:21. (3) And I gave her time that she should repent. It is intended by the use of the word ‘time’ here, that we should fix our thoughts upon the delay of the Son of God in executing His righteous judgments (comp. chap. Revelation 10:6). All along punishment was deserved, but He withheld His hand that His goodness might lead the evil-doers to repentance.—(4) She willeth not to repent of her fornication. The delay was in vain. The hearts of these transgressors was set in them to do evil. They ‘willed’ not to repent. The expression is remarkable and characteristic (comp. on John 5:6; John 6:21).


Verse 22

Revelation 2:22. Behold, I do cast her into a bed, etc. The bed is not one of lust, but of sickness and sorrow (comp. Psalms 41:3).

And them that commit adultery with her. We are not to understand that she is the adulteress with whom sin is committed, but that, as she is an adulteress, so they along with her are also adulterers and adulteresses.—Except they repent out of her works. The contrast of ‘they’ and ‘her’ in these words is worthy of notice, showing as it does the close identification of the followers of Jezebel with herself (comp. John 9:4, and note there).


Verse 23

Revelation 2:23. And I will kill her children with death. Those thus named ‘her children’ are generally distinguished from the persons formerly mentioned either as her ‘proper adherents,’ in contrast with ‘those who encouraged her,’ or as the ‘less forward,’ ‘the deceived,’ in contrast with the deceivers. There seems no ground for either view. The latter destroys the force of the word ‘children’ (comp. John 1:12), the former that of the previous clause. The truth is that the two classes are the same: they are in both cases those who partake of her spirit, and who follow her example. It will be observed that the fate of the historical Jezebel is repeated in those who imitate her. As Ahab’s queen was cast out of the window, so this Jezebel is to be cast into affliction. As Ahab’s sons were slain, so the spiritual progeny of this Jezebel shall be killed.

And all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts. ‘All the churches,’ an indication of the universal reference of these Epistles. And the ‘churches,’ not the world, shall ‘know,’ shall have inward knowledge and experience of the fact (comp. ‘knoweth’ in Revelation 2:17). The wicked are not in the Lord’s thought, ‘for God’s judgments are far above out of their sight, but all who ponder these things and lay them to heart’ (Trench).

And I will give unto each one of you according to your works. The clause is peculiarly important when taken along with that immediately preceding it. The Lord tries the ‘reins and hearts,’ the most inward parts of men. From these the ‘works’ of men cannot be separated. His ‘works’ are the whole of man. The inward manifests itself in the outward: the value of the outward is dependent upon the inward.


Verse 24

Revelation 2:24. But unto you I say, the rest that are in Thyatira. The apostle turns from the church at large to that smaller section of it which had resisted the influences of the false teachers symbolized by Jezebel. They have not this teaching; that is, they have it not as their possession, they do not make it their own. Nor have they known the depths of Satan. The word ‘depths’ was a favourite one at the time with those who pretended to a profounder knowledge of the truth, whether of God or Satan, than could be gained through the authorised teachers of the Christian Church, and who seem not unfrequently to have associated with their religious speculations lives of shameless and unrestrained licentiousness. The prevalent idea is, that these persons spoke only of ‘the depths’ or of ‘the depths of God,’ and that in bitter irony the Lord of the Church either adds here the words ‘of Satan,’ or substitutes the name of Satan for the name of God. Such suppositions are perhaps unnecessary. We may have before us a trace of that Gnostic sect known as the Ophites, a name derived from the Greek word for a serpent, the emblem of Satan. That sect entertained a profound reverence for Satan, looking upon him as the benefactor, not the destroyer of man, while the ultimate result of their religious system was that they converted Satan into God and evil into good. The heresy was one of a most disastrous character; and yet in some of its forms it attained a widespread influence in the early Church, more especially in that district of Asia Minor which embraced the seven churches of the Apocalypse. No wonder that we find it alluded to as it is here!

I cast upon you none other burden. It is difficult to determine what precise ‘burden’ is thus alluded to, whether the sufferings of one kind or another which the faithful remnant of the church was enduring, or the Christian obligations under which it lay to avoid the sins and errors encouraged by the Nicolaitans. This latter view has been thought to find confirmation in the decree of Acts 15:28-29, where language very similar to that now before us is employed. By such an interpretation, however, the Christian life itself would be represented as a ‘burden;’ while, at the same time, the use of the word ‘cast’ is unsuitable to the thought of Christian precepts. The circumstances of the case must determine the meaning. The church at Thyatira ‘suffered’ Jezebel. The ‘burden’ of that part of it which remained true to its Lord was that this was done. Jezebel ought to have been put away: the alliance with the world ought to have been broken. The struggle to effect this, one maintained not against the world, but against brethren in a common faith, was so great that the Lord of the Church would lay upon those engaged in it ‘no other burden’ (comp. on chap. Revelation 2:1).


Verse 25

Revelation 2:25. But what ye have hold fast until I shall have come. It is important to notice the change of expression in the original for the ‘coming’ spoken of. Twice already in this chapter (Revelation 2:5; Revelation 2:16) have we read of a coming of the Lord, but on each of these two occasions it was closely associated with, and limited by, the words ‘unto thee.’ These ‘comings’ therefore referred not so much to the final coming as to special judgments in which it was foreshadowed: this refers rather to that in which all special judgments culminate, the Second and final Coming. Again we see another trace of the climactic nature of these Epistles.


Verse 26

Revelation 2:26. And he that overcometh. We come now to the promise contained in this Epistle for the faithful, and it will be observed that for the first time it is not preceded by the call to him ‘that hath ears to hear.’ That call in the four last Epistles of the seven is reserved for the close (comp. on Revelation 2:7).

And he that keepeth my works unto the end. The construction of the original shows that this description is distinct from the preceding. Attention ought to be directed to the expression ‘My works,’ commentators appearing to miss their force. They are not simply the works which Jesus commands, but those which He does,—a fresh illustration of that close identification of Jesus with His people which marks the writings of St. John. We meet the opposite identification, that of Jezebel and her followers, in Revelation 2:22.

To him will I give authority over the nations. By the ‘nations’ we are not to understand the nations as such, but the nations as opposed to the true Israel of God, and as alienated from God,—properly the Gentiles. The allusion is to Psalms 2:8-9; and the believer shall not merely have power, but rightful power, authority, over them.


Verse 27

Revelation 2:27. And as a shepherd he shall tend them with a sceptre of iron. The figure has nothing to do, as so often supposed, with the Homeric title, ‘Shepherd of the people.’ Jesus as King is Shepherd of His own; but He is also Shepherd of His enemies, though in a different way. Hence the ‘iron sceptre,’ for the instrument alluded to is not a rod or shepherd’s crook, but a king’s sceptre (comp. chaps. Revelation 12:5, Revelation 19:15).

The fact that it is of iron brings out the judgment involved.

As vessels of the potter are they broken to shivers, words which cannot be interpreted as expressing ‘a judgment behind which purposes of grace are concealed,’ ‘a threat of love.’ Whether grace may one day be revealed even for those upon whom the judgments spoken of descend, we are not told. Actual facts proved that behind the words, ‘in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die,’ such purposes of grace lay: but they were not contained in the words; nor are they here.

As I received of my Father. Again we have the privileges of Christ’s people closely identified with those which He Himself enjoys. He receives of the Father, and what He receives He makes theirs.

It must be noticed that, like all the promises of these Epistles, this promise belongs to the future, not to the present life. The reader, too, will not fail to mark the correspondence between it and the description of the Lord in Revelation 2:18, as well as that between it and the particular trials of this church. A heathen element in Thyatira was threatening to destroy the life of God’s people there. They have given them the assurance of the coming of a time when that element shall be crushed beneath their feet.


Verse 28

Revelation 2:28. And I will give him the morning star. Very various opinions have been entertained with regard to the meaning of this ‘star.’ It has been supposed to be the devil, or the king of Babylon, or the glorified body, or the heavenly glory, or the earnest of the sovereignty of light over darkness. We must gather the meaning from the Apocalypse itself; and from chap. Revelation 22:16 we shall be led to the belief that the morning star is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is ‘the bright and morning star,’ and He gives Himself to His people, that in Him they may find their victory and joy. There is a peculiar propriety in the mention of this reward for the Church at the moment when she is thought of as set on high over all her enemies. When she is secretly nourished in the Tabernacle of God she is a candlestick: when she has met and conquered the world she is a star,—the Lord Himself being in the first instance both the one and the other. With this idea of the morning star no thought of bringing in those who have rejected Jesus ought to be combined. Whether or not they shall be brought in lies in the secret purposes of God unrevealed to us (comp. on Revelation 2:27).


Verse 29

Revelation 2:29. Comp. on Revelation 2:7.

In the church at Thyatira we seem to pass for the first time to the Church considered in her widest aspect and as brought into positive relations with the powers of the heathen world. These powers have penetrated within her, and she has in part yielded to their influence. God’s people have allied themselves with a heathen princess, and she has tempted them to sin. The first Epistle of the second group thus corresponds to the first of the first group, although with a difference in harmony with the general nature of the two groups as wholes. In the first Epistle of the first group the evil is wholly from within; the church has forsaken her first love. In the first Epistle of the second group the evil enters from without; the world tempts, and the church yields, at least in part, to the temptation in order that she may have a share in the world’s glory. In the one case she has forgotten Him who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, and whose love never fails: in the other the power of the present and the seen has led too many of her members to break their covenant with Him who is the Son of God, whose kingdom is not of this world, and whose rewards are future and unseen.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Revelation 2:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/revelation-2.html. 1879-90.

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Tuesday, January 28th, 2020
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