Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;II.
(1) Unto the angel of the church of (literally, in) Ephesus.—On the word “angel,” see Note on Revelation 1:20, and Excursus A. Adopting the view that the angel represents the chief pastor or bishop of the Church, it would be interesting to know who was its presiding minister at this time; but this must be deternined by another question, viz., the date of the Apocalypse. Accepting the earlier date—i.e., the reign of Nero, or (with Gebhardt) of Galba—the angel is no other than Timothy. Some striking coincidences favour this view. Labour, work, endurance, are what St. Paul acknowledges in Timothy, and which he exhorts him to cultivate more and more (2Timothy 2:6; 2Timothy 2:15; 2Timothy 4:5). Again, against false teachers he warns him (1Timothy 1:7). Further, there is “a latent tone of anxiety” in the Epistles to Timothy. The nature with which he had to do was emotional even to tears, ascetic, devout; but there was in it a tendency to lack of energy and sustained enthusiasm. “He urges him to stand up, to rekindle the grace of God, just as here there is a hint of a first love left.” (See Prof. Plumptre, Ep. to Seven Churches.)
Ephesus.—The chief city of Ionia, and at this time the most important city in Asia. It possessed advantages commercial, geographical, and ecclesiastical, and, in addition, great Christian privileges. It was a wealthy focus for trade; it reached out one hand to the East, while with the other it grasped Greek culture. Its magnificent temple was one of the seven wonders of the world; the skill of Praxiteles had contributed to its beauty. The fragments of its richly-sculptured columns, now to be seen in the British Museum, will convey some idea of its gigantic proportions and splendid decorations. But the religious tone induced by its pagan worship was of the lowest order. Degrading superstitions were upheld by a mercenary priesthood; the commercial instinct and the fanatical spirit had joined hands in support of a soul-enslaving creed, and in defence of a sanctuary which none but those devoid of taste could contemplate without admiration. But its spiritual opportunities were proportioned to its needs. It had been the scene of three years’ labour of St. Paul (Acts 20:31), of the captivating and convincing eloquence of Apollos (Acts 18:24), of the persistent labours of Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:26); Tychicus, the beloved and faithful, had been minister there (Ephesians 6:21); Timothy was its chief pastor.
These things saith he. . . .—The titles by which Christ is described at the opening of the seven epistles are mainly drawn from Revelation 1. The vision is found to supply features appropriate to the needs of the several churches. The message comes in this epistle from One who “holdeth” firmly in His grasp (a stronger word than “He that hath” of Revelation 1:16), and walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks. The Church at Ephesus needed to remember their Lord as such. The first love had gone out of their religion; there was a tendency to fall into a mechanical faith, strong against heresy, but tolerant of conventionalism. Their temptations did not arise from the prevalence of error, or the bitterness of persecution, but from a disposition to fall backward and again do the dead works of the past. There was not so much need to take heed unto their doctrine, but there was great need that they should take heed unto themselves (1Timothy 4:16). But when there is danger because earnestness in the holy cause is dying out, and the very decorum of religion has become a snare, what more fitting than to be reminded of Him whose hand can strengthen and uphold them, and who walks among the candlesticks, to supply them with the oil of fresh love? (Comp. Zechariah 4:2-3; Matthew 25:3-4.)
I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:(2) I know thy works.—This phrase is probably common to all the epistles. See, however, Note on Revelation 2:9. It expresses the way in which all actions are naked and open before the eyes—those flame-like eyes (Revelation 1:14)—of Him with whom we have to do (Psalm 11:4-5; Psalm 139:11-12; Hebrews 4:13). The veneer of a formal faith might impose on the world, but it would not escape His scrutiny (Acts 1:24). He knows, too, and lovingly accepts, the unmarked and unrequited acts of true love (Matthew 10:42; Matthew 26:13), and appreciates, amid all its failures, genuine loyalty to Him (John 21:17).
And thy labour (or, toil), and thy patience.—The same things which St. Paul had pressed on Timothy (2Timothy 2:25-26). The first word signifies labour carried on unto weariness. The “patience” is more than passive endurance; it is, as Archbishop Trench says, a beautiful word, expressing the brave and persistent endurance of the Christian. But though thus possessed of endurance, He commends them that they could not endure evil men. In one sense, the lingering of this grace among them is the green leaf betokening better things; they have not lost the power of hating evil. (Comp. Romans 12:9.) No man loves God truly who cannot hate evil (Psalm 101:3).
And thou hast tried (literally, didst try) them . . . and hast found them liars.—St. Paul had warned the Ephesian elders of the appearance of false teachers (Acts 20:28-31). Zeal for pure doctrine characterised the Ephesian Church. It is commended by Ignatius in his epistle (ad Ep. 6). The false apostles here spoken of are not, I think, to be identified with the Nicolaitanes of Revelation 2:6; that verse is introduced as a further ground of commendation, mitigating the censure of Revelation 2:4-5. The claims to be considered apostles, which the Ephesian Church had disposed of, affords additional evidence of the early date of the Apocalypse. Such a claim could hardly have been put forward at a later date. But at the earlier periods such troublers of the Church were only too common (2Corinthians 2:17; 2Corinthians 11:14-15; Galatians 1:7; Galatians 2:4; Philippians 3:2-3).
And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.(3) And hast borne.—This verse needs some change to bring it into harmony with the best MSS. It should stand, And hast (or, hadst) patience, and didst bear for My name’s sake, and didst not weary. In this last word there is a recurrence to the word (kopos) translated labour or toil in Revelation 2:2. They had toiled on to very weariness without wearying of their toil (Galatians 6:9), just as they could not bear the evil and yet had borne reproaches for Christ’s sake. “There is toil, and patience, and abhorrence of evil, and discernment, and again patience, and endurance, and unwearied exertion. What can be wanting here?” (Dr. Vaughan.)
Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.(4) Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee.—Better, I have against thee that thou didst let go. This is the fault, and it is no trifle which is blamed, as the word “somewhat” (which is not to be found in the original) might be taken to imply; for the decay of love is the decay of that without which all other graces are as nothing (1Corinthians 13:1-3), since “all religion is summed up in one word, Love. God asks this; we cannot give more; He cannot take less” (Norman Macleod, Life, i., p. 324). Great as the fault is, it is the fault which Love alone would have detected. “Can any one more touchingly rebuke than by commencing, ‘Thou no longer lovest me enough?’” It is the regretful cry of the heavenly Bridegroom, recalling the early days of His Bride’s love, the kindness of her youth, the love of her espousals (Jeremiah 2:2. Comp. Hosea 2:15). It is impossible not to see some reference in this to the language of St. Paul (which must have been familiar to the Ephesian Christians) in Ephesians 5:23-33, where human love is made a type of the divine.
Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.(5) Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, . . . and do the first works.—It is argued that we have here evidence that the later, or Domitian, date of the Apocalypse is the true one, since it describes a fall in spiritual life which might have occurred in thirty years, but would hardly have taken place in the few years—ten at the utmost—which elapsed between the visit of St. Paul (Acts 20:29-30) and the reign of Nero. But greater changes than a decay of this kind have passed over communities in equally short periods. We have seen nations pass from imperialism to republicanism, from the fever-heat of radicalism to the lethargy of conservatism, in shorter space. Has not the past decade shown marvellously rapid movements in the Church of our own land! The change, moreover, in the Ephesian Church was not so great as the advocates of the later apocalyptic date would describe. There is at present little outward sign of decay; they have resisted evil and false teachers; they have shown toil and endurance; but the great Searcher of hearts detects the almost imperceptible symptoms of an incipient decay. He alone can tell the moment when love of truth is passing into a noisy, Pharisaic zealotism; when men are “settling down into a lower state of spiritual life than that which they once aimed at and once knew.” Such a backsliding is “gentle, unmarked, unnoticed in its course.” Further, it must not be forgotten that the Apostle did express his presentiments of coming danger, and specially warned the elders (Acts 20:28) to take heed unto themselves; and in his Epistle (Ephesians 6:24) he gives in his closing words the covert caution that their love to Christ should be j an incorruptible, unchanging love: “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruption” (“sincerity,” English version). The advice now given is, “Repent, and do the first works.” The advice is three-fold: remember, repent, reform. Remember the love of the past peaceful hours. “How sweet their memory still!” “There are ever goads,” says Archbishop Trench, “in the memory of a better and a nobler past, goading him who has taken up with meaner things and lower, and urging him to make what he has lost once more his own.” (Comp. Luke 15:17, and Hebrews 10:32.) So Ulysses urges his crew to further exertions.
“Call to mind from whence ye sprung:
Ye were not formed to live as brutes,
But virtue to pursue and knowledge high.”
Remember, but also repent, and repent in true practical fashion; for Love will recognise no repentance but that which is confirmed in the doing of the first works. It must be a repentance whereby we forsake sin. “Christ does not say, ‘Feel thy first feelings,’ but, ‘Do the first works.’” “An ounce of reality,” says a modern novelist, “is worth a pound of romance.”
Or else I will come . . .—Better, Or else I am coming unto (or, for thee, in a way which concerns) thee, and (omit “quickly,” which is wanting in the oldest MSS.) will remove thy candlestick out of its place, unless thou shalt have repented—i.e., unless the change shall have come before the day of visitation. The “now they are hid from thine eyes,” is not yet spoken for Ephesus.
But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.(6) But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds (better, works) of the Nicolaitanes.—The Nicolaitanes were, as has been expressed, the Antinomians of the Asiatic Church. The life and conduct were little thought of, and the faith professed was everything. Some have thought that they were a sect who derived their name, under some colourable pretext, from Nicolas the Proselyte; others hold that the name is purely symbolical, signifying “destroyer of the people,” and that it is no more than the Greek form of Balaam. (See Notes on Revelation 2:14-15, below.) The existence of a sect called Nicolaitanes in the second century is attested by Irenæus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.(7) He that hath an ear . . .—Or. Let him that hath an ear, hear. These words—an echo from the Gospels—recur in all the seven epistles. In the first three, however, they are placed before the promise; in the remaining four they follow it. The heart which is hardened is the precursor of the ear that is deaf (Jeremiah 6:10, and John 12:37-40). The “spiritual truth” needs a spiritual organ for its discernment. These are truths, then, only heard
“When the soul seeks to hear; when all is hushed,
And the heart listens.”—Coleridge, Reflection.
To him that overcometh (or, conquereth) will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.—The reference to conquering is a prominent feature of St. John’s other writings. The word—used but once in the three Gospels (Luke 11:22), and but once by St. Paul (Romans 12:21)—is found in John 16:33; 1John 2:13-14; 1John 5:4-5; and occurs in all these epistles to the churches. The promise of the tree of life is appropriate (1) to the virtue commended: those who had not indulged in the license of Nicolaitanes shall eat of the tree of life; (2) to the special weakness of the Ephesians: to those who had fallen, and lost the paradise of first loving communion and fellowship with God (comp. Genesis 3:8, and 1John 1:3), is held out the promise of a restored paradise and participation in the tree of life. (Comp. Revelation 22:2; Revelation 22:14; Genesis 3:22.) This boon of immortality is the gift of Christ—I will give. It is tasted in knowledge of God and of His Son (John 17:3); it is enjoyed in their presence (Revelation 22:3-4).
And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;(8) Smyrna, the modern Ismir, now possessing a population of about 150,000. Its mercantile prosperity may be measured by its trade. In 1852 the export trade amounted to £1,766,653—about half of this being with England. The imports in the same year were £1,357,339. It has always been considered one of the most beautiful cities in Asia. It was situated in the ancient province of Ionia, a little north of Ephesus—next it, as Archbishop Trench says, in natural order, and also in spiritual. Its position was favourable for commerce. In olden times, as now, it commanded the trade of the Levant, besides being the natural outlet for the produce of the Hermus valley. The neighbourhood was peculiarly fertile; the vines are said to have been so productive as to have yielded two crops. There are indications that intemperance was very prevalent among the inhabitants. Servility and flattery may be added, for the people of Smyrna seem to have been astutely fickle, and to have been keen in preserving the patronage of the ruling powers. In one of their temples the inscription declared Nero to be “the Saviour of the whole human race.” The city was specially famed for its worship of Dionysos. Games and mysteries were held yearly in his honour. Its public buildings were handsome, and its streets regular. One of its edifices used as a museum proclaimed, in its consecration to Homer, that Smyrna contested with six or seven other cities the honour of being the birthplace of the poet.
The angel of the church in Smyrna.—We have no means of determining certainly who was the person here addressed. Many who accept the Domitian date of the Apocalypse argue that Polycarp was at this time the bishop or presiding minister at Smyrna. Even on the supposition that this is the true date, it seems exceedingly doubtful that this was the case. It can only be true on the supposition that the episcopate of Polycarp extended over sixty years. Polycarp was martyred A.D. 156. We know from Ignatius, who addresses him in A.D. 108 as Bishop of Smyrna, that his ministry lasted nearly fifty years. It seems too much to assume that his episcopate commenced eight or ten years before. Of course, if we adopt the earlier date of the Apocalypse, the Epistle must have been written before Polycarp’s conversion—probably before his birth. But though we are thus constrained to reject the identification which we would willingly adopt, it is well to remember that Polycarp is the living example of the language of the epistle, and that, as Professor Plumptre has said, “In his long conflict for the faith, his stedfast endurance, his estimate of the fire that can never be quenched, we find a character on which the promise to him that overcometh had been indelibly stamped.”
The first and the last, which was dead, and is alive.—Or better, who became dead, and lived again. From Revelation 1:17-18, we have selected the title most fitted to console a church whose trial was persecution. In all vicissitudes, the unchanging One (Hebrews 7:3; Hebrews 13:8), who had truly tasted death, and conquered it even in seeming to fail, was their Saviour and King. Some have seen in these words, “dead and lived again,” an allusion to the story of the death and return to life of Dionysos—a legend, of course, familiar to Smyrna.
I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.(9) I know thy works.—Some would omit the word “works;” but the phrase “I know thy works” is admitted to be genuine in five out of the seven epistles; and it certainly seems natural to conclude that it was intended to be common to all, and to remind the Christian communities that whatever their state it was known to Him whose eyes were as a flame of fire. “We go from one hour to another, from one day and year to another, and what is once fairly past in our doing and omitting and suffering is scarcely regarded by us any more; it is like water that has flowed away. But into the omniscience of Christ all things are taken up” (Bengel).
Tribulation.—If persecution brought upon them poverty, it was the means also of unfolding to view their possession of the “true riches;” they were rich in honour, in that they were counted worthy to suffer; they would also grow rich in the graces which sufferings bring (Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4).
Blasphemy.—They had to endure reviling as well as tribulation and poverty; and, harder still, to hear some who blasphemed that worthy name by which they were called.
Jews.—The Jews were foremost in this. “It was in the synagogue that they heard words which reproached them as Nazarenes, Galileans, Christians, Disciples of the Crucified” (Plumptre). Comp. James 2:7. It is interesting to notice that this characteristic hostility of the Jews was illustrated in the martyrdom of Polycarp. The Jews, “as was their wont,” were foremost in bringing logs for the pile.
Synagogue of Satan.—The word “synagogue” is only once used to describe the Christian assembly (James 2:2); and even there it is called “your synagogue,” not the “synagogue of God.” In all other instances the “word is abandoned by the Jews.” With the “synagogue of Satan” here, compare “the throne of Satan” (Revelation 2:13), “the depths of Satan” (Revelation 2:24).
Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.(10) Fear none of those things.—Though Christ proclaimed His yoke to be easy, He also said that His followers must expect tribulation (John 16:33). He never conceals the difficulties or dangers of His service. (See Matthew 10:16-31; Acts 9:16.) So here He proclaims, “Behold, the devil shall cast some. . . .”
The devil.—The LXX. translation gives this name to Satan, regarding him as the “accuser.” (See Job 1:6; Zechariah 3:1-2; and comp. Revelation 12:10, where he is described as the “accuser of the brethren.”)
Tried.—On the part of the adversary, the intention was that they might be tempted from their allegiance to Christ. The real effect would be that they who endured would come forth tested and approved. The suffering would be for “ten days.” This is variously explained. Some think it applies to the periods of persecution; others understand it to mean a long persecution of ten years; others take it literally; others again view it as expressing completeness: the test would be thorough. The exhortation, “Be thou faithful (even) unto death,” seems to favour this last; while the mention of “ten days” was, perhaps, designed to remind them that the period of trial was limited by Him who knew what they could bear, and would be but a little while when compared with the life with which they would be crowned.
A crown of life.—Rather, the crown of life. A crown was given to the priest who presided at the Dionysian Mysteries, which were celebrated with great pomp at Smyrna. A crown was also given at the Olympian Games, which were held at Smyrna. If there is any allusion to either of these, the latter would be the most natural. Some hold, however, the crown—though the word is Stephanos, not diadema—is rather that of royalty than of victory. It is interesting to note that the narrative which tells of the death of Polycarp closes with words which it is difficult not to believe to be an allusion to this promise—“By his patience he overcame the unrighteous ruler, and received the crown of immortality” (Smyrn. Ep.).
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.(11) He that overcometh (or conquereth) shall not be hurt.—The words used are precise, and give certainty to the promise.
The second death.—This phrase is a new one in Bible language. It is said that Jews were familiar with it through its use in the Chaldee Paraphrase. It clearly points to a death which is other than that of the body; it stands in contrast with the crown of life. The expressions of Revelation 20:14; Revelation 21:8, exclude the idea that a cessation of conscious existence is intended. The life of the spirit is the knowledge of God (John 17:3); the death of the spirit, or the second death, is the decay or paralysis of the powers by which such a knowledge was possible, and the experience of the awfulness of a life which is “without God.”
And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;(12) Pergamos.—Unlike Ephesus and Smyrna, Pergamos was not distinguished as a commercial city. Its importance was due to other causes. A striking coneshaped hill rose from the plain which bordered the northern banks of the Caicus. The hill was considered sacred. Its value as a strong natural fortress was early recognised, and it was used as a keep and treasury where local chieftains deposited their wealth. Its greatness as a city dated from Eumenes II., who was given by the Romans a large surrounding territory, and who fixed Pergamos as his royal residence. Under his auspices a splendid city—rich in public buildings, temples, art galleries, and with a library which rivalled that of Alexandria—rose into being. It has been described as a city of temples, “a sort of union of a pagan cathedral city, an university town, and a royal residence.” It retained its splendour even after it passed by bequest to the Roman Republic, and was declared by Pliny to be a city unrivalled in the province of Asia.
I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan's seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.(13) I know thy works.—Here, as in Revelation 2:9, some MSS. omit “thy works,” and read, “I know where thou dwellest—even where Satan’s seat is.” The word is translated elsewhere “throne,” and should be here, “Where the throne of Satan is.” But why should this pre-eminence in evil be assigned to Pergamos? The answer is difficult. Some leave it unsolved, saying that in the absence of any historical notice, it must remain one of the unsolved riddles of these epistles. Prof. Plumptre suggests that the general character of the city, its worship and customs, in addition to the persecutions which the Christians had encountered, may well account for the description. Æsculapius was worshipped as the “Preserver,” or “Saviour.” The symbol of the serpent must have been conspicuous among the objects of adoration in his temple. Curious arts were practised; lying wonders were claimed; persecution had extended to death. Such evil in such a city may have led to its being regarded as the very head-quarters of the enemy.
Hast not denied.—Better, Thou didst not deny My faith in the days in which Antipas My faithful witness, was slain, &c.
Antipas.—Short for Antipater. (Comp. Lucas and Silas, short for Lucanus and Silvanus.) Nothing is known of Antipas. There are later traditions respecting him, but these are probably fancy-drawn.
But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.(14) But I have a few things against thee.—The word “few” is not to be taken as though the ground of rebuke was a trifling one. The little leaven might leaven the whole lump; and those who had been brave unto death in the days of persecution had been less temptation-proof against more seductive influences. The church tolerated without remonstrance men holding [the word is the same as that used in commendation (Revelation 2:13), “Thou holdest (fast) My name”] “the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling-block before the sons of Israel; (namely) to eat things sacrified to idols, and to commit fornication.” Israel could not be cursed, but they might be made to bring a curse upon themselves by yielding to sin; so the counsel of Balaam was to tempt them through the women of Midian, and “Behold, these caused the children of Israel to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord” (Numbers 31:16). A similar temptation was endangering the Pergamene Church.
So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.(15) So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes—i.e., thou, as well as those of old, hast such teachers. There is little doubt that this is the connection between the verses, but opinions are divided whether we are on this account to identify the Balaamites with the Nicolaitanes, and to suppose that both names point to the same sect. The simplest meaning of the passage seems to be that the temptation to which the Israelites were exposed, is used to illustrate the temptations of the Pergamene Church, through the teaching of the Nicolaitanes. Both temptations lead in the same Antinomian direction. Such a tendency was early seen (comp. Romans 6:4; Galatians 5:13; Jude 1:4), and is not extinct now. “Is there not,” writes Dr. Vaughan, “a vague, unavowed, unrealised idea that the Atonement has made sin less fatal, that even sin indulged and persisted in, may yet not work death?” To such and all who countenance them the warning is, “Repent; but if not, I am coming for thee, and will war with thee (note the change of person and number) with (literally, in—i.e., armed with) the sword of My mouth.”
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.(17) To him that overcometh.—The promise should run thus:—To him that conquereth will I give of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and upon the stone a new name graven, which no man knoweth, but he who receiveth it. On this promise we may notice (1) that it is appropriate: those who refused to indulge the fleshly appetite are promised gratifications far higher, and hidden from the gaze of sense; (2) the allusions are not all easy to understand. That to the manna is indeed obvious. Israel ate manna in the wilderness, and died; the Father gives the true bread from heaven that a man may eat thereof and not die. The Son is that Bread of Life. He that eateth Him, even he shall live by Him (John 6:35; John 6:48; John 6:57)—live, even though like Antipas he die; for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of things which he possesses, but in the moral qualities which go to make up his character; and spiritual gifts are the food of these moral qualities, and these gifts are through Christ. But the promise is of hidden manna. Is the allusion to the pot of manna which had been laid up in the ark? There is no doubt that the Jews long cherished the belief that the ark and sacred treasures of the Temple had not perished. There was a fondly-held tradition that they had been buried by Jeremiah in a safe and secret spot on “the mountain where Moses climbed and saw the heritage of God, until the time that God shall gather His people again together, and show them His mercy” (2 Maccabees 2:4; 2 Maccabees 2:7). This “hidden manna,” so longed for by an afflicted race, may have suggested the use of the word “hidden”; but the sacred writer would become anxious to bring out the spiritual truth that the fountains of Christian life are hidden (Colossians 3:3), the world knoweth us not. Like the fire in the Interpreter’s house, men may try to quench it, but a hidden hand pours in secretly the food of the fuel. More difficult is the meaning of the white stone, graven with the new name. Some see in it an allusion to the Urim and Thummim; and therefore take it to indicate the “priestly dignity of the victorious Christian.” In favour of this, it may be noted that it gives unity to the blessing. Manna and the precious stones worn by the high-priest are both wilderness and Jewish illustrations. Against it, however, must be set the fact that the word here rendered “stone” is never so applied, a different word being used both in the LXX. and in this book to denote a precious stone. Another suggestion, which is, perhaps, less encumbered with difficulty, is that the reference is to the stone or pebble of friendship, called tessera hospitalis, graven with some legend or device; and which gave to its possessor a claim of hospitality from him who gave it. Some such tickets admitted those invited into the heathen temples on festival days, when the meat which had been offered as a sacrifice formed part of the feast. The stone is called white; but the word does not imply that it is a stone of white colour, but that it is shining, glistering white. On the stone is graven a new name. The giving of new names is not uncommon in the Bible: for example, Abraham, Israel, Boanerges, Peter. The new name expressed the step which had been taken into a higher, truer life, and the change of heart and the elevation of character consequent upon it. Such are known in the world by their daily life, their business, their character; they are known above by the place they hold, and the work (the real character of which is quite unknown to the world) they are doing in the great war against evil. No man knoweth the characteristics of the growth of the character, the spiritual conflict in which the work is done, and the features of that change which has been, and is being wrought, except he who experiences the love, the grace, and the tribulation by which his spirit-life has grown.
And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass;(18) Thyatira was situated between Pergamos and Sardis, a little off the main road which connected these two cities. It was a Macedonian colony, founded by Alexander the Great after the overthrow of the Persian empire. The Macedonian colonists appear to have introduced the worship of Apollo, honoured as the Sun-god, under the name of Tyrimnas. It has been thought by some that the description here given of Christ—“the eyes of flame”—was selected in allusion to this worship of the Sun-god, under the form of some dazzlingly ornamented image. Certainly close commercial intercourse connected the daughter colony with its mother city. There seem to have been various mercantile guilds in the colony—bakers, potters, tanners, weavers, and dyers. The dye-trade was, perhaps, the most important. Lydia, the seller of purple, was in all likelihood connected with the guild of dyers; and her appearance in Philippi is an illustration of the trade relations of Macedonia and Thyatira. To her the Christian community at Thyatira may have owed its beginning. “She who had gone forth for a while, to buy and sell, and get gain, when she returned home may have brought home with her richer merchandise than any she had looked to obtain” (Trench). The population was of a mixed character, and included, besides Asiatics, Macedonians, Italians, and Chaldeans. The message which is sent to the Christians dwelling among them is from “the Son of God.” This is noteworthy, when we remember how persistently the other term, “Son of Man,” is used throughout the Book of Revelation, and that here only is the phrase “Son of God” used; but it suits, as does the whole description, the message which breathes the language of sovereignty and righteous sternness. The “eyes of flame” will search the reins and the hearts (Revelation 2:23); the “feet of fine brass” will tread down the enemies, and smooth the path before them, who will have power over the nations.
I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first.(19) Thy works, and charity.—In the words of commendation we find two pairs. We have the Christian community commended for charity and service, the outward ministrations which manifest the inner principle of love; their labour of love, or their work and love (Hebrews 6:10) in general. In the second pair, faith and patience; the patience is the token of the faith (Romans 2:7; Hebrews 11:27).
And the last . . .—Read, and thy last works more than the first. Besides their faith and love, they are commended for their progress in good works—the last are more than the first.
Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.(20) A few things.—The Sinaitic MS. has “I have much against thee; but the reading, I have against thee that thou lettest alone, &c., is to be preferred.
Jezebel.—Some adopt the reading, “thy wife Jezebel.” From these words it has been thought that there was some personal influence at work for evil in Thyatira. Whether in the household of the “angel” or not is at least doubtful. The sin alleged against her is the same for which the Nicolaitanes are condemned—fornication, and the eating of things sacrificed to idols. If the above view be right, the leader of the exorcists is a woman—regarded by her followers as a prophetess, as one with a real message from God; but viewed by the Lord of the churches as a very Jezebel, teaching and seducing the servants of God. For letting her alone, for being timid, paying too much deference to her spiritual pretensions, for failing to see and to show that the so-called “deep things” of these teachers were depths of Satan, the chief minister is rebuked. A large number of respectable critics regard Jezebel as a name applied to a faction, not as belonging to an individual. It seems best to view the name as symbolical, always remembering that the Jezebel spirit of proud, self-constituted authority, vaunting claims of superior holiness, or higher knowledge, linked with a disregard of—and perhaps a proud contempt for—“legalism,” and followed by open immorality, has again and again run riot in the churches of God.
And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.(21) And I gave her space.—Read, And I gave her time to repent, and she will not (or, is not willing to) repent of her fornication, or, to repent out of—i.e., so as to forsake her fornication. Here, as before, we are reminded that true repentance is a repentance whereby we forsake sin. (Comp. Revelation 2:5; Revelation 3:2.)
Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.(22) I will cast her into a bed.—The chamber of voluptuousness will become the chamber of sickness. The spot of the sin shall be the scene of punishment. (Comp. 1Kings 21:19.)
And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.(23) Her children.—This is to be understood of her followers. The so-called prophetess led the way in looseness of morals, under the pretence of some deeper knowledge. She had her associates and their disciples; the evil and the evil consequences would grow; the disciples outrun their teachers, and more than tribulation—death—is their penalty.
But unto you I say, and unto the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine, and which have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak; I will put upon you none other burden.(24) But unto you I say (omit “and unto”) the rest, &c.
The depths.—Or, the deep things. These teachers, as was the case with the Gnostics, professed to have a deeper insight into mysteries, the deep things of God. They may have garnished their speech with this very phrase, borrowed—in sound though not in sense—from 1Corinthians 2:10, and may have even boasted of their knowledge of Satan. But such knowledge was purchased too dearly. Better off were they who were simple concerning evil; they have a burden, but it is not the burden of judicial tribulation: it is the burden only of resisting the evils of those troublers of the Church. The allusion may be to the decree of Acts 15:28; the same word for “burden” is used. They must not abandon their duty of witnessing for purity, and so for Christ; this burden they must take up, and hold fast till He come.
And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:(26, 27) Power (or, authority) over the nations: and he shall rule them (or, shepherd them) with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers.—The promise is of authority (“the might of right, not the right of might”) to share in the shepherd-like sovereignty of the anointed King. (Comp. the Messianic prophecy of Psalms 2) Those who refused to stoop to the customs around them, and to gain influence by crushing or ignoring their convictions—those who, like their Master, refused to win power by doing homage to wrong (Matthew 4:8-10), would share the nobler sway which He now established. Wherever the Church has illegitimately grasped at power, she has lost it. “The wretched power which she had wrenched and stolen from the nations has been turned against her; she has been obliged to crouch to them, and beg their help, and they have justly spurned her. She has chosen to exalt herself like Lucifer, and she has fallen like Lucifer. If she had trusted her Lord, He would have given her the morning star. She would have derived from Him what she claimed independently of Him. She would have dispensed light to the world.”
And I will give him the morning star.(28) The morning star.—The pledge of the coming day, both for the waiting witnesses, and for the ungodly, who loved darkness because their deeds were evil: the earnest of the sovereignty of light over darkness, when the children of the day would be manifest, and shine as the stars for ever and ever (Daniel 12:3).