Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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;
Re 2:1-29. Epistles to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira.
Each of the seven epistles in this and the third chapter, commences with, "I know thy works." Each contains a promise from Christ, "To him that overcometh." Each ends with, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." The title of our Lord in each case accords with the nature of the address, and is mainly taken from the imagery of the vision, Re 1:12-16. Each address has a threat or a promise, and most of the addresses have both. Their order seems to be ecclesiastical, civil, and geographical: Ephesus first, as being the Asiatic metropolis (termed "the light of Asia," and "first city of Asia"), the nearest to Patmos, where John received the epistle to the seven churches, and also as being that Church with which John was especially connected; then the churches on the west coast of Asia; then those in the interior. Smyrna and Philadelphia alone receive unmixed praise. Sardis and Laodicea receive almost solely censure. In Ephesus, Pergamos, and Thyatira, there are some things to praise, others to condemn, the latter element preponderating in one case (Ephesus), the former in the two others (Pergamos and Thyatira). Thus the main characteristics of the different states of different churches, in all times and places, are portrayed, and they are suitably encouraged or warned.
1. Ephesus—famed for the temple of Diana, one of the seven wonders of the world. For three years Paul labored there. He subsequently ordained Timothy superintending overseer or bishop there: probably his charge was but of a temporary nature. John, towards the close of his life, took it as the center from which he superintended the province.
holdeth—Greek, "holdeth fast," as in Re 2:25; Re 3:11; compare Joh 10:28, 29. The title of Christ here as "holding fast the seven stars (from Re 1:16: only that, for having is substituted holding fast in His grasp), and walking in the midst of the seven candlesticks," accords with the beginning of His address to the seven churches representing the universal Church. Walking expresses His unwearied activity in the Church, guarding her from internal and external evils, as the high priest moved to and fro in the sanctuary.
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—expressing His omniscience. Not merely "thy professions, desires, good resolutions" (Re 14:13, end).
thy labour—Two oldest manuscripts omit "thy"; one supports it. The Greek means "labor unto weariness."
bear—evil men are a burden which the Ephesian Church regarded as intolerable. We are to "bear (the same Greek, Ga 6:2) one another's burdens" in the case of weak brethren; but not to bear false brethren.
tried—by experiment; not the Greek for "test," as 1Jo 4:1. The apostolical churches had the miraculous gift of discerning spirits. Compare Ac 20:28-30, wherein Paul presciently warned the Ephesian elders of the coming false teachers, as also in writing to Timothy at Ephesus. Tertullian [On Baptism, 17], and Jerome [On Illustrious Men, in Lucca 7], record of John, that when a writing, professing to be a canonical history of the acts of Paul, had been composed by a presbyter of Ephesus, John convicted the author and condemned the work. So on one occasion he would not remain under the same roof with Cerinthus the heretic.
say they are apostles—probably Judaizers. Ignatius [Epistle to the Ephesians, 6], says subsequently, "Onesimus praises exceedingly your good discipline that no heresy dwells among you"; and [Epistle to the Ephesians, 9], "Ye did not permit those having evil doctrine to sow their seed among you, but closed your ears."
And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
3. borne … patience—The oldest manuscripts transpose these words. Then translate as Greek, "persevering endurance … borne." "Thou hast borne" My reproach, but "thou canst not bear the evil" (Re 2:2). A beautiful antithesis.
and … hast laboured, and hast not fainted—The two oldest manuscripts and oldest versions read, "and … hast not labored," omitting "and hast fainted." The difficulty which transcribers by English Version reading tried to obviate, was the seeming contradiction, "I know thy labor … and thou hast not labored." But what is meant is, "Thou hast not been wearied out with labor."
Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
4. somewhat … because—Translate, "I have against thee (this) that," &c. It is not a mere somewhat"; it is everything. How characteristic of our gracious Lord, that He puts foremost all He can find to approve, and only after this notes the shortcomings!
left thy first love—to Christ. Compare 1Ti 5:12, "cast off their first faith." See the Ephesians' first love, Eph 1:15. This epistle was written under Domitian, when thirty years had elapsed since Paul had written his Epistle to them. Their warmth of love had given place to a lifeless orthodoxy. Compare Paul's view of faith so called without love, 1Co 13:2.
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. whence—from what a height.
do the first works—the works which flowed from thy first love. Not merely "feel thy first feelings," but do works flowing from the same principle as formerly, "faith which worketh by love."
I will come—Greek, "I am coming" in special judgment on thee.
quickly—omitted in two oldest manuscripts, Vulgate and Coptic versions: supported by one oldest manuscript.
remove thy candlestick out of his place—I will take away the Church from Ephesus and remove it elsewhere. "It is removal of the candlestick, not extinction of the candle, which is threatened here; judgment for some, but that very judgment the occasion of mercy for others. So it has been. The seat of the Church has been changed, but the Church itself survives. What the East has lost, the West has gained. One who lately visited Ephesus found only three Christians there, and these so ignorant as scarcely to have heard the names of St. Paul or St. John" [Trench].
But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
6. But—How graciously, after necessary censure, He returns to praise for our consolation, and as an example to us, that we would show, when we reprove, we have more pleasure in praising than in fault-finding.
hatest the deeds—We should hate men's evil deeds, not hate the men themselves.
Nicolaitanes—Irenæus [Against Heresies, 1.26.3] and Tertullian [Prescription against Heretics, 46] make these followers of Nicolas, one of the seven (honorably mentioned, Ac 6:3, 5). They (Clement of Alexandria [Miscellanies, 2.20 3.4] and Epiphanius [Heresies, 25]) evidently confound the latter Gnostic Nicolaitanes, or followers of one Nicolaos, with those of Revelation. Michaelis' view is probable: Nicolaos (conqueror of the people) is the Greek version of Balaam, from Hebrew "Belang Am," "Destroyer of the people." Revelation abounds in such duplicate Hebrew and Greek names: as Apollyon, Abaddon: Devil, Satan: Yea (Greek, "Nai"), Amen. The name, like other names, Egypt, Babylon, Sodom, is symbolic. Compare Re 2:14, 15, which shows the true sense of Nicolaitanes; they are not a sect, but professing Christians who, like Balaam of old. tried to introduce into the Church a false freedom, that is, licentiousness; this was a reaction in the opposite direction from Judaism, the first danger to the Church combated in the council of Jerusalem, and by Paul in the Epistle to Galatians. These symbolical Nicolaitanes, or followers of Balaam, abused Paul's doctrine of the grace of God into a plea for lasciviousness (2Pe 2:15, 16, 19; Jude 4, 11 who both describe the same sort of seducers as followers of Balaam). The difficulty that they should appropriate a name branded with infamy in Scripture is met by Trench: The Antinomian Gnostics were so opposed to John as a Judaizing apostle that they would assume as a name of chiefest honor one which John branded with dishonor.
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—This clause precedes the promise in the first three addresses, succeeds it in the last four. Thus the promises are enclosed on both sides with the precept urging the deepest attention as to the most momentous truths. Every man "hath an ear" naturally, but he alone will be able to hear spiritually to whom God has given "the hearing ear"; whose "ear God hath wakened" and "opened." Compare "Faith, the ears of the soul" [Clement of Alexandria].
the Spirit saith—What Christ saith, the Spirit saith; so one are the Second and Third Persons.
unto the churches—not merely to the particular, but to the universal Church.
overcometh—In John's Gospel (Joh 16:33) and First Epistle (1Jo 2:13, 14; 5:4, 5) an object follows, namely, "the world," "the wicked one." Here, where the final issue is spoken of, the conqueror is named absolutely. Paul uses a similar image (1Co 9:24, 25; 2Ti 2:5; but not the same as John's phrase, except Ro 12:21).
will I give—as the Judge. The tree of life in Paradise, lost by the fall, is restored by the Redeemer. Allusions to it occur in Pr 3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4, and prophetically, Re 22:2, 14; Eze 47:12; compare Joh 6:51. It is interesting to note how closely these introductory addresses are linked to the body of Revelation. Thus, the tree of life here, with Re 22:1; deliverance from the second death (Re 2:11), with Re 20:14; 21:8; the new name (Re 2:17), with Re 14:1; power over the nations, with Re 20:4; the morning star (Re 2:28), with Re 22:16; the white raiment (Re 3:5), with Re 4:4; 16:15; the name in the book of life (Re 3:5), with Re 13:8; 20:15; the new Jerusalem and its citizenship (Re 3:12), with Re 21:10.
give … tree of life—The thing promised corresponds to the kind of faithfulness manifested. They who refrain from Nicolaitane indulgences (Re 2:6) and idol-meats (Re 2:14, 15), shall eat of meat infinitely superior, namely, the fruit of the tree of life, and the hidden manna (Re 2:17).
in the midst of the paradise—The oldest manuscripts omit "the midst of." In Ge 2:9 these words are appropriate, for there were other trees in the garden, but not in the midst of it. Here the tree of life is simply in the paradise, for no other tree is mentioned in it; in Re 22:2 the tree of life is "in the midst of the street of Jerusalem"; from this the clause was inserted here. Paradise (a Persian, or else Semitic word), originally used of any garden of delight; then specially of Eden; then the temporary abode of separate souls in bliss; then "the Paradise of God," the third heaven, the immediate presence of God.
of God—(Eze 28:13). One oldest manuscript, with Vulgate, Syriac, and Coptic, and Cyprian, read, "MY God," as in Re 3:12. So Christ calls God, "My God and your God" (Joh 20:17; compare Eph 1:17). God is our God, in virtue of being peculiarly Christ's God. The main bliss of Paradise is that it is the Paradise of God; God Himself dwelling there (Re 21:3).
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—in Ionia, a little to the north of Ephesus. Polycarp, martyred in A.D. 168, eighty-six years after his conversion, was bishop, and probably "the angel of the Church in Smyrna" meant here. The allusions to persecutions and faithfulness unto death accord with this view. Ignatius [The Martyrdom of Ignatius 3], on his way to martyrdom in Rome, wrote to Polycarp, then (A.D. 108) bishop of Smyrna; if his bishopric commenced ten or twelve years earlier, the dates will harmonize. Tertullian [The Prescription against Heretics, 32], and Irenæus, who had talked with Polycarp in youth, tell us Polycarp was consecrated bishop of Smyrna by St. John.
the first … the last … was dead … is alive—The attributes of Christ most calculated to comfort the Church of Smyrna under its persecutions; resumed from Re 1:17, 18. As death was to Him but the gate to life eternal, so it is to be to them (Re 2:10, 11).
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. thy works, and—omitted in two oldest manuscripts, Vulgate, and Coptic. Supported by one oldest manuscript.
tribulation—owing to persecution.
poverty—owing to "the spoiling of their goods."
but thou art rich—in grace. Contrast Laodicea, rich in the world's eyes and her own, poor before God. "There are both poor rich-men, and rich poor-men in God's sight" [Trench].
blasphemy of them—blasphemous calumny of thee on the part of (or arising from) them.
say they are Jews, and are not—Jews by national descent, but not spiritually of "the true circumcision." The Jews blaspheme Christ as "the hanged one." As elsewhere, so at Smyrna they bitterly opposed Christianity; and at Polycarp's martyrdom they joined the heathens in clamoring for his being cast to the lions; and when there was an obstacle to this, for his being burnt alive; and with their own hands they carried logs for the pile.
synagogue of Satan—Only once is the term "synagogue" in the New Testament used of the Christian assembly, and that by the apostle who longest maintained the union of the Church and Jewish Synagogue. As the Jews more and more opposed Christianity, and it more and more rooted itself in the Gentile world, the term "synagogue" was left altogether to the former, and Christians appropriated exclusively the honorable term "Church"; contrast an earlier time when the Jewish theocracy is called "the Church in the wilderness." Compare Nu 16:3; 20:4, "congregation of the Lord." Even in Jas 2:2 it is "your (not the Lord's) assembly." The Jews, who might have been "the Church of God," had now, by their opposition and unbelief, become the synagogue of Satan. So "the throne of Satan" (Re 2:13) represents the heathens' opposition to Christianity; "the depths of Satan" (Re 2:24), the opposition of heretics.
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, &c.—the oldest manuscripts read, "Fear not those things," &c. "The Captain of our salvation never keeps back what those who faithfully witness for Him may have to bear for His name's sake; never entices recruits by the promise they shall find all things easy and pleasant there" [Trench].
devil—"the accuser." He acted, through Jewish accusers against Christ and His people. The conflict of the latter was not with mere flesh and blood, but with the rulers of the darkness of this world.
tried—with temptation by "the devil." The same event is often both a temptation from the devil, and a trial from God—God sifting and winnowing the man to separate his chaff from his wheat, the devil sifting him in the hope that nothing but chaff will be found in him [Trench].
ten days—not the ten persecutions from Nero to Diocletian. Lyra explains ten years on the year-day principle. The shortness of the duration of the persecution is evidently made the ground of consolation. The time of trial shall be short, the duration of your joy shall be for ever. Compare the use of "ten days" for a short time, Ge 24:55; Nu 11:19. Ten is the number of the world powers hostile to the Church; compare the ten horns of the beast, Re 13:1.
unto death—so as even to endure death for My sake.
crown of life—Jas 1:12; 2Ti 4:8, "crown of righteousness"; 1Pe 5:4, "crown of glory." The crown is the garland, the mark of a conqueror, or of one rejoicing, or at a feast; but diadem is the mark of a KING.
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. shall not be hurt—Greek, "shall not by any means (or possibly) be hurt."
the second death—"the lake of fire." "The death in life of the lost, as contrasted with the life in death of the saved" [Trench]. The phrase "the second death" is peculiar to the Apocalypse. What matter about the first death, which sooner or later must pass over us, if we escape the second death? "It seems that they who die that death shall be hurt by it; whereas, if it were annihilation, and so a conclusion of their torments, it would be no way hurtful, but highly beneficial to them. But the living torments are the second death" [Bishop Pearson]. "The life of the damned is death" [Augustine]. Smyrna (meaning myrrh) yielded its sweet perfume in being bruised even to death. Myrrh was used in embalming dead bodies (Joh 19:39); was an ingredient in the holy anointing oil (Ex 30:23); a perfume of the heavenly Bridegroom (Ps 45:8), and of the bride (So 3:6). "Affliction, like it, is bitter for the time being, but salutary; preserving the elect from corruption, and seasoning them for immortality, and gives scope for the exercise of the fragrantly breathing Christian virtues" [Vitringa]. Polycarp's noble words to his heathen judges who wished him to recant, are well known: "Fourscore and six years have I served the Lord, and He never wronged me, how then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour?" Smyrna's faithfulness is rewarded by its candlestick not having been removed out of its place (Re 2:5); Christianity has never wholly left it; whence the Turks call it, "Infidel Smyrna."
And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;
12. Trench prefers writing Pergamus, or rather, Pergamum, on the river Caicus. It was capital of Attalus the Second's kingdom, which was bequeathed by him to the Romans, 133 B.C. Famous for its library, founded by Eumenes (197-159), and destroyed by Caliph Omar. Parchment, that is, Pergamena charta, was here discovered for book purposes. Also famous for the magnificent temple of Æsculapius, the healing god [Tacitus, Annals, 3.63].
he which hath the sharp sword with two edges—appropriate to His address having a twofold bearing, a searching power so as to convict and convert some (Re 2:13, 17), and to convict and condemn to punishment others (Re 2:14-16, especially Re 2:16; compare also see on Re 1:16).
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—Two oldest manuscripts omit this clause; one oldest manuscript retains it.
Satan's seat—rather as the Greek is translated all through Revelation, "throne." Satan, in impious mimicry of God's heavenly throne, sets up his earthly throne (Re 4:2). Æsculapius was worshipped there under the serpent form; and Satan, the old serpent, as the instigator (compare Re 2:10) of fanatical devotees of Æsculapius, and, through them, of the supreme magistracy at Pergamos, persecuted one of the Lord's people (Antipas) even to death. Thus, this address is an anticipatory preface to Re 12:1-17; Note: "throne … the dragon, Satan … war with her seed," Re 12:5, 9, 17.
even in those days—Two oldest manuscripts omit "even"; two retain it.
wherein—Two oldest manuscripts omit this (then translate, "in the days of Antipas, My faithful witness," or "martyr"); two retain it. Two oldest manuscripts read, "My witness, MY faithful one"; two read as English Version. Antipas is another form for Antipater. Simeon Metaphrastes has a palpably legendary story, unknown to the early Fathers, that Antipas, in Domitian's reign, was shut up in a red-hot brazen bull, and ended his life in thanksgivings and prayers. Hengstenberg makes the name, like other apocalyptic names, symbolical, meaning one standing out "against all" for Christ's sake.
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. few—in comparison of the many tokens of thy faithfulness.
hold the doctrine of Balaam—"the teaching of Balaam," namely, that which he "taught Balak." Compare "the counsel of Balaam," Nu 31:16. "Balak" is dative in the Greek, whence Bengel translates, "taught (the Moabites) for (that is, to please) Balak." But though in Numbers it is not expressly said he taught Balak, yet there is nothing said inconsistent with his having done so; and Josephus [Antiquities,4. 6. 6], says he did so. The dative case is a Hebraism for the accusative case.
children—Greek, "sons of Israel."
stumbling-block—literally, that part of a trap on which the bait was laid, and which, when touched, caused the trap to close on its prey; then any entanglement to the foot [Trench].
eat things sacrificed unto idols—the act common to the Israelites of old, and the Nicolaitanes in John's day; he does not add what was peculiar to the Israelites, namely, that they sacrificed to idols. The temptation to eat idol-meats was a peculiarly strong one to the Gentile converts. For not to do so involved almost a withdrawal from partaking of any social meal with the heathen around. For idol-meats, after a part had been offered in sacrifice, were nearly sure to be on the heathen entertainer's table; so much so, that the Greek "to kill" (thuein) meant originally "to sacrifice." Hence arose the decree of the council of Jerusalem forbidding to eat such meats; subsequently some at Corinth ate unscrupulously and knowingly of such meats, on the ground that the idol is nothing; others needlessly tortured themselves with scruples, lest unknowingly they should eat of them when they got meat from the market or in a heathen friend's house. Paul handles the question in 1Co 8:1-13; 10:25-33.
fornication—often connected with idolatry.
So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
15. thou—emphatic: "So THOU also hast," As Balak and the Moabites of old had Balaam and his followers literally, so hast thou also them that hold the same Balaamite or Nicolaitane doctrine spiritually or symbolically. Literal eating of idol-meats and fornication in Pergamos were accompanied by spiritual idolatry and fornication. So Trench explains. But I prefer taking it, "THOU also," as well as Ephesus ("in like manner" as Ephesus; see below the oldest reading), hast … Nicolaitanes, with this important difference, Ephesus, as a Church, hates them and casts them out, but thou "hast them," namely, in the Church.
doctrine—teaching (see on Re 2:6): namely, to tempt God's people to idolatry.
which thing I hate—It is sin not to hate what God hates. The Ephesian Church (Re 2:6) had this point of superiority to Pergamos. But the three oldest manuscripts, and Vulgate and Syriac, read instead of "which I hate," "IN LIKE MANNER."
Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
16. The three oldest manuscripts read, "Repent, therefore." Not only the Nicolaitanes, but the whole Church of Pergamos is called on to repent of not having hated the Nicolaitane teaching and practice. Contrast Paul, Ac 20:26.
I will come—I am coming.
fight against them—Greek, "war with them"; with the Nicolaitanes primarily; but including also chastisement of the whole Church at Pergamos: compare "unto THEE."
with the sword of my mouth—resumed from Re 1:16, but with an allusion to the drawn sword with which the angel of the Lord confronted Balaam on his way to curse Israel: an earnest of the sword by which he and the seduced Israelites fell at last. The spiritual Balaamites of John's day are to be smitten with the Lord's spiritual sword, the word or "rod of His 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 eat—omitted in the three oldest manuscripts.
the hidden manna—the heavenly food of Israel, in contrast to the idol-meats (Re 2:14). A pot of manna was laid up in the holy place "before the testimony." The allusion is here to this: probably also to the Lord's discourse (Joh 6:31-35). Translate, "the manna which is hidden." As the manna hidden in the sanctuary was by divine power preserved from corruption, so Christ in His incorruptible body has passed into the heavens, and is hidden there until the time of His appearing. Christ Himself is the manna "hidden" from the world, but revealed to the believer, so that he has already a foretaste of His preciousness. Compare as to Christ's own hidden food on earth, Joh 4:32, 34, and Job 23:12. The full manifestation shall be at His coming. Believers are now hidden, even as their meat is hidden. As the manna in the sanctuary, unlike the other manna, was incorruptible, so the spiritual feast offered to all who reject the world's dainties for Christ is everlasting: an incorruptible body and life for ever in Christ at the resurrection.
white stone … new name … no man knoweth saving he—Trench's explanation seems best. White is the color and livery of heaven. "New" implies something altogether renewed and heavenly. The white stone is a glistening diamond, the Urim borne by the high priest within the choschen or breastplate of judgment, with the twelve tribes' names on the twelve precious stones, next the heart. The word Urim means "light," answering to the color white. None but the high priest knew the name written upon it, probably the incommunicable name of God, "Jehovah." The high priest consulted it in some divinely appointed way to get direction from God when needful. The "new name" is Christ's (compare Re 3:12, "I will write upon him My new name"): some new revelation of Himself which shall hereafter be imparted to His people, and which they alone are capable of receiving. The connection with the "hidden manna" will thus be clear, as none save the high priest had access to the "manna hidden" in the sanctuary. Believers, as spiritual priests unto God, shall enjoy the heavenly antitypes to the hidden manna and the Urim stone. What they had peculiarly to contend against at Pergamos was the temptation to idol-meats, and fornication, put in their way by Balaamites. As Phinehas was rewarded with "an everlasting priesthood" for his zeal against these very sins to which the Old Testament Balaam seduced Israel; so the heavenly high priesthood is the reward promised here to those zealous against the New Testament Balaamites tempting Christ's people to the same sins.
receiveth it—namely, "the stone"; not "the new name"; see above. The "name that no man knew but Christ Himself," He shall hereafter reveal to His people.
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—in Lydia, south of Pergamos. Lydia, the purple-seller of this city, having been converted at Philippi, a Macedonian city (with which Thyatira, as being a Macedonian colony, had naturally much intercourse), was probably the instrument of first carrying the Gospel to her native town. John follows the geographical order here, for Thyatira lay a little to the left of the road from Pergamos to Sardis [Strabo, 13:4].
Son of God … eyes like … fire … feet … like fine brass—or "glowing brass" (see on Re 1:14,15, whence this description is resumed). Again His attributes accord with His address. The title "Son of God," is from Ps 2:7, 9, which is referred to in Re 2:27. The attribute, "eyes like a flame," &c., answers to Re 2:23, "I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts." The attribute, "feet like … brass," answers to Re 2:27, "as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers," He treading them to pieces with His strong feet.
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. The oldest manuscripts transpose the English Version order, and read, "faith and service." The four are subordinate to "thy works"; thus, "I know thy works, even the love and the faith (these two forming one pair, as 'faith works by love,' Ga 5:6), and the service (ministration to the suffering members of the Church, and to all in spiritual or temporal need), and the endurance of (that is, shown by) thee (this pronoun belongs to all four)." As love is inward, so service is its outward manifestation. Similarly, faith and persevering endurance, or "patient continuance (the same Greek as here, Ro 2:7) in well-doing," are connected.
and thy works; and the last—Omit the second "and," with the three oldest manuscripts and the ancient versions; translate, "And (I know) thy works which are last (to be) more in number than the first"; realizing 1Th 4:1; the converse of Mt 12:45; 2Pe 2:20. Instead of retrograding from "the first works" and "first love," as Ephesus, Thyatira's last works exceeded her first (Re 2:4, 5).
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—omitted in the three oldest manuscripts. Translate then, "I have against thee that," &c.
sufferest—The three oldest manuscripts read, "lettest alone."
that woman—Two oldest manuscripts read, "THY wife"; two omit it. Vulgate and most ancient versions read as English Version. The symbolical Jezebel was to the Church of Thyatira what Jezebel, Ahab's "wife," was to him. Some self-styled prophetess (or as the feminine in Hebrew is often used collectively to express a multitude, a set of false prophets), as closely attached to the Church of Thyatira as a wife is to a husband, and as powerfully influencing for evil that Church as Jezebel did Ahab. As Balaam, in Israel's early history, so Jezebel, daughter of Eth-baal, king of Sidon (1Ki 16:31, formerly priest of Astarte, and murderer of his predecessor on the throne, Josephus [Against Apion, 1.18]), was the great seducer to idolatry in Israel's later history. Like her father, she was swift to shed blood. Wholly given to Baal worship, like Eth-baal, whose name expresses his idolatry, she, with her strong will, seduced the weak Ahab and Israel beyond the calf-worship (which was a worship of the true God under the cherub-ox form, that is, a violation of the second commandment) to that of Baal (a violation of the first commandment also). She seems to have been herself a priestess and prophetess of Baal. Compare 2Ki 9:22, 30, "whoredoms of … Jezebel and her witchcrafts" (impurity was part of the worship of the Ph�nician Astarte, or Venus). Her spiritual counterpart at Thyatira lured God's "servants" by pretended utterances of inspiration to the same libertinism, fornication, and eating of idol-meats, as the Balaamites and Nicolaitanes (Re 2:6, 14, 15). By a false spiritualism these seducers led their victims into the grossest carnality, as though things done in the flesh were outside the true man, and were, therefore, indifferent. "The deeper the Church penetrated into heathenism, the more she herself became heathenish; this prepares us for the expressions 'harlot' and 'Babylon,' applied to her afterwards" [Auberlen].
to teach and to seduce—The three oldest manuscripts read, "and she teaches and seduces," or "deceives." "Thyatira was just the reverse of Ephesus. There, much zeal for orthodoxy, but little love; here, activity of faith and love, but insufficient zeal for godly discipline and doctrine, a patience of error even where there was not a participation in it" [Trench].
And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.
21. space—Greek, "time."
of her fornication … she repented not—The three oldest manuscripts read, "and she willeth not to repent of (literally, 'out of,' that is, so as to come out of) her fornication." Here there is a transition from literal to spiritual fornication, as appears from Re 2:22. The idea arose from Jehovah's covenant relation to the Old Testament Church being regarded as a marriage, any transgression against which was, therefore, harlotry, fornication, or adultery.
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. Behold—calling attention to her awful doom to come.
I will—Greek present, "I cast her."
a bed—The place of her sin shall be the place of her punishment. The bed of her sin shall be her bed of sickness and anguish. Perhaps a pestilence was about to be sent. Or the bed of the grave, and of the hell beyond, where the worm dieth not.
them that commit adultery with her—spiritually; including both the eating of idol-meats and fornication. "With her," in the Greek, implies participation with her in her adulteries, namely, by suffering her (Re 2:20), or letting her alone, and so virtually encouraging her. Her punishment is distinct from theirs; she is to be cast into a bed, and her children to be killed; while those who make themselves partakers of her sin by tolerating her, are to be cast into great tribulation.
except they repent—Greek aorist, "repent" at once; shall have repented by the time limited in My purpose.
their deeds—Two of the oldest manuscripts and most ancient versions read "her." Thus, God's true servants, who by connivance, are incurring the guilt of her deeds, are distinguished from her. One oldest manuscript, Andreas, and Cyprian, support "their."
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—(Isa 57:3; Eze 23:45, 47). Her proper adherents; not those who suffer her, but those who are begotten of her. A distinct class from the last in Re 2:22 (compare Note, see on Re 2:22), whose sin was less direct, being that only of connivance.
kill … with death—Compare the disaster that overtook the literal Jezebel's votaries of Baal, and Ahab's sons, 1Ki 18:40; 2Ki 10:6, 7, 24, 25. Kill with death is a Hebraism for slay with most sure and awful death; so "dying thou shalt die" (Ge 2:17). Not "die the common death of men" (Nu 16:29).
all the churches shall know—implying that these addresses are designed for the catholic Church of all ages and places. So palpably shall God's hand be seen in the judgment on Thyatira, that the whole Church shall recognize it as God's doing.
I am he—the "I" is strongly emphatical: "that it is I am He who," &c.
searcheth … hearts—God's peculiar attribute is given to Christ. The "reins" are the seat of the desires; the "heart," that of the thoughts. The Greek for "searcheth" expresses an accurate following up of all tracks and windings.
unto every one of you—literally, "unto you, to each."
according to your works—to be judged not according to the mere act as it appears to man, but with reference to the motive, faith and love being the only motives which God recognizes as sound.
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. you … and … the rest—The three oldest manuscripts omit "and"; translate then, "Unto you, the rest."
as many as have not—not only do not hold, but are free from contact with.
and which—The oldest manuscripts omit "and"; translate, "whosoever."
the depths—These false prophets boasted peculiarly of their knowledge of mysteries and the deep things of God; pretensions subsequently expressed by their arrogant title, Gnostics ("full of knowledge"). The Spirit here declares their so-called "depths," (namely, of knowledge of divine things) to be really "depths of Satan"; just as in Re 2:9, He says, instead of "the synagogue of God," "the synagogue of Satan." Hengstenberg thinks the teachers themselves professed to fathom the depths of Satan, giving loose rein to fleshly lusts, without being hurt thereby. They who thus think to fight Satan with his own weapons always find him more than a match for them. The words, "as they speak," that is, "as they call them," coming after not only "depths," but "depths of Satan," seem to favor this latter view; otherwise I should prefer the former, in which case, "as they speak," or "call them," must refer to "depths" only, not also "depths of Satan." The original sin of Adam was a desire to know EVIL as well as good, so in Hengstenberg's view, those who professed to know "the depths of Satan." It is the prerogative of God alone to know evil fully, without being hurt or defiled by it.
I will put—Two oldest manuscripts have "I put," or "cast." One oldest manuscript reads as English Version.
none other burden—save abstinence from, and protestation against, these abominations; no "depths" beyond your reach, such as they teach, no new doctrine, but the old faith and rule of practice once for all delivered to the saints. Exaggerating and perfecting Paul's doctrine of grace without the law as the source of justification and sanctification, these false prophets rejected the law as a rule of life, as though it were an intolerable "burden." But it is a "light" burden. In Ac 15:28, 29, the very term "burden," as here, is used of abstinence from fornication and idol-meats; to this the Lord here refers.
But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.
25. that which ye have already—(Jude 3, end).
hold fast—do not let go from your grasp, however false teachers may wish to wrest it from you.
till I come—when your conflict with evil will be at an end. The Greek implies uncertainty as to when He shall come.
And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
26. And—implying the close connection of the promise to the conqueror that follows, with the preceding exhortation, Re 2:25.
and keepeth—Greek, "and he that keepeth." Compare the same word in the passage already alluded to by the Lord, Ac 15:28, 29, end.
my works—in contrast to "her (English Version, 'their') works" (Re 2:22). The works which I command and which are the fruit of My Spirit.
unto the end—(Mt 24:13). The image is perhaps from the race, wherein it is not enough to enter the lists, but the runner must persevere to the end.
give power—Greek, "authority."
over the nations—at Christ's coming the saints shall possess the kingdom "under the whole heaven"; therefore over this earth; compare Lu 19:17, "have thou authority [the same word as here] over ten cities."
And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father.
27. From Ps 2:8, 9.
rule—literally, "rule as a shepherd." In Ps 2:9 it is, "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron." The Septuagint, pointing the Hebrew word differently, read as Revelation here. The English Version of Ps 2:9 is doubtless right, as the parallel word, "dash in pieces," proves. But the Spirit in this case sanctions the additional thought as true, that the Lord shall mingle mercy to some, with judgment on others; beginning by destroying His Antichristian foes, He shall reign in love over the rest. "Christ shall rule them with a scepter of iron, to make them capable of being ruled with a scepter of gold; severity first, that grace may come after" (Trench, who thinks we ought to translate "SCEPTER" for "rod," as in Heb 1:8). "Shepherd" is used in Jer 6:3, of hostile rulers; so also in Zec 11:16. As severity here is the primary thought, "rule as a shepherd" seems to me to be used thus: He who would have shepherded them with a pastoral rod, shall, because of their hardened unbelief, shepherd them with a rod of iron.
shall they be broken—So one oldest manuscript, Vulgate, Syriac, and Coptic Versions read. But two oldest manuscripts, read, "as the vessels of a potter are broken to shivers." A potter's vessel dashed to pieces, because of its failing to answer the design of the maker, is the image to depict God's sovereign power to give reprobates to destruction, not by caprice, but in the exercise of His righteous judgment. The saints shall be in Christ's victorious "armies" when He shall inflict the last decisive blow, and afterwards shall reign with Him. Having by faith "overcome the world," they shall also rule the world.
even as I—"as I also have received of (from) My Father," namely, in Ps 2:7-9. Jesus had refused to receive the kingdom without the cross at Satan's hands; He would receive it from none but the Father, who had appointed the cross as the path to the crown. As the Father has given the authority to Me over the heathen and uttermost parts of the earth, so I impart a share of it to My victorious disciple.
And I will give him the morning star.
28. the morning star—that is, I will give unto him Myself, who am "the morning star" (Re 22:16); so that reflecting My perfect brightness, he shall shine like Me, the morning star, and share My kingly glory (of which a star is the symbol, Nu 21:17; Mt 2:2). Compare Re 2:17, "I will give him … the hidden manna," that is, Myself, who am that manna (Joh 6:31-33).
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.