Revelation 2:9
I know your works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but you are rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(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).

2:8-11 Our Lord Jesus is the First, for by him were all things made; he was before all things, with God, and is God himself. He is the Last, for he will be the Judge of all. As this First and Last, who was dead and is alive, is the believer's Brother and Friend, he must be rich in the deepest poverty, honourable amidst the lowest abasement, and happy under the heaviest tribulation, like the church of Smyrna. Many who are rich as to this world, are poor as to the next; and some who are poor outwardly, are inwardly rich; rich in faith, in good works, rich in privileges, rich in gifts, rich in hope. Where there is spiritual plenty, outward poverty may be well borne; and when God's people are made poor as to this life, for the sake of Christ and a good conscience, he makes all up to them in spiritual riches. Christ arms against coming troubles. Fear none of these things; not only forbid slavish fear, but subdue it, furnishing the soul with strength and courage. It should be to try them, not to destroy them. Observe, the sureness of the reward; I will give thee: they shall have the reward from Christ's own hand. Also, how suitable it is; a crown of life: the life worn out in his service, or laid down in his cause, shall be rewarded with a much better life, which shall be eternal. The second death is unspeakably worse than the first death, both in the agonies of it, and as it is eternal death: it is indeed awful to die, and to be always dying. If a man is kept from the second death and wrath to come, he may patiently endure whatever he meets with in this world.I know thy works - The uniform method of introducing these epistles, implying a most intimate acquaintance with all that pertained to the church. See the notes on Revelation 2:2.

And tribulation - This word is of a general signification, and probably includes all that they suffered in any form, whether from persecution, poverty, or the blasphemy of opposers.

And poverty - It would seem that this church, at that time, was eminently poor, for this is not specified in regard to any one of the others. No reason is suggested why they were particularly poor. It was not, indeed, an uncommon characteristic of early Christians (compare 1 Corinthians 1:26-28), but there might have Been some special reasons why that church was eminently so. It is, however, the only church of the seven which has survived, and perhaps in the end its poverty was no disadvantage.

But thou art rich - Not in this world's goods, but in a more important respect - in the grace and favor of God. These things are not infrequently united. Poverty is no hindrance to the favor of God, and there are some things in it which are favorable to the promotion of a right spirit toward God which are not found where there is abundant wealth. The Saviour was eminently poor, and not a few of his most devoted and useful followers have had as little of this world's goods as he had. The poor should always be cheerful and happy, if they can hear their Saviour saying unto them, "I know thy poverty - but thou art rich." However keen the feeling arising from the reflection "I am a poor man," the edge of the sorrow is taken off if the mind can be turned to a brighter image - "but thou art rich."

And I know the blasphemy - The reproaches; the harsh and bitter revilings. On the word "blasphemy," see the notes on Matthew 9:3; Matthew 26:65. The word here does not seem to refer to blasphemy against God, but to bitter reproaches against themselves. The reason of these reproaches is not stated, but it was doubtless on account of their religion.

Of them which say they are Jews - Who profess to be Jews. The idea seems to be that though they were of Jewish extraction, and professed to be Jews, they were not true Jews; they indulged in a bitterness of reproach, and a severity of language, which showed that they had not the spirit of the Jewish religion; they had nothing which became those who were under the guidance of the spirit of their own Scriptures. That would have inculcated and fostered a milder temper; and the meaning here is, that although they were of Jewish origin, they were not worthy of the name. That spirit of bitter opposition was indeed often manifested in their treatment of Christians, as it had been of the Saviour, but still it was foreign to the true nature of their religion. There were Jews in all parts of Asia Minor, and the apostles often encountered them in their journeyings, but it would seem that there was something which had particularly embittered those of Smyrna against Christianity. What this was is now unknown.

It may throw some light on the passage, however, to remark that at a somewhat later period - in the time of the martyrdom of Polycarp - the Jews of Smyrna were among the most bitter of the enemies of Christians, and among the most violent in demanding the death of Polycarp. Eusebius (Eccl. Hist. 4:15) says,. that when Polycarp was apprehended, and brought before the proconsul at Smyrna, the Jews were the most furious of all in demanding his condemnation. When the mob, after his condemnation to death, set about gathering fuel to burn him, "the Jews," says he, "being especially zealous, as was their custom - μάλιστα προθύμως, ὡς ἔθος αὐτοῖς malista prothumōs, hōs ethos autois - ran to procure fuel." And when, as the burning failed, the martyr was transfixed with weapons, the Jews urged and besought the magistrate that his body might not be given up to Christians. Possibly at the time when this epistle was directed to be sent to Smyrna, there were Jews there who manifested the same spirit which those of their countrymen did afterward, who urged on the death of Polycarp.

But are the synagogue of Satan - Deserve rather to be called the synagogue of Satan. The synagogue was a Jewish place of worship (compare the notes on Matthew 4:23), but the word originally denoted "the assembly" or "the congregation." The meaning here is plain, that though they worshipped in a synagogue, and professed to be the worshippers of God, yet they were not worthy of the name, and deserved rather to be regarded as in the service of Satan. "Satan" is the word that is properly applied to the great evil spirit, elsewhere called the devil. See the Luke 22:3 note, and Job 1:6 note.

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.

I know thy works, and tribulation: though the term know doth not necessarily signify approbation, yet, both as to the church of Ephesus and Smyrna, the particular works mentioned assure us, that God approved their patient suffering affliction for his name.

And poverty; and the poor condition (as to outward things) into which they had brought themselves, for their owning and profession of the gospel of Christ, having their estates rent from them, &c.

But thou art rich; but yet they were rich, both really in the love and favour of God, and also in the esteem of God, who accounteth them rich who abound in spiritual habits, and good works, the exercise of those habits.

And I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not: God also knows the evil speeches of his church’s enemies, whether native Jews, glorying in circumcision and the law, and that they were descended from Abraham; or false Christians, who may be here meant (called Jews by a figure; the Jews being once the only church of God).

But are the synagogue of Satan; but are indeed a collection of devils, or the children of the devil, whose works they do, continually reviling true Christians, and murdering the saints, after the manner of their father, who was a murderer from the beginning. I know thy works,.... Good works, as before in Revelation 2:2,

and tribulation; this is Christ's legacy to his people, and which lies in their way to heaven; and never was the way of any to heaven more strewed with it than was the way of the saints in this period. But Christ took notice of it, and of them in it; he knew their souls in adversity, and remarked their patience under it, and their constancy, and close adherence to him:

and poverty; which was true in a literal sense, through the spoiling of their goods, to which they were exposed for the profession of Christ: nothing is more contemptible among men than poverty, yet Christ takes notice of it, and owns his people in it; for this poverty came not by sin, but by sufferings for his sake:

but thou art rich; they were rich, in faith, and heirs of a kingdom, though poor in this world; they were rich with the riches of Christ, with the blessings of the covenant, with the graces of the Spirit, and in good works; they were kings and priests unto God, had a kingdom of grace here, and a right to the kingdom of glory hereafter; and were heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ,

And I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not; who asserted themselves to be the true Israel of God, Jews that were so inwardly, regenerate persons, or truly Christians; for the Christians, baptized persons (m), were by the Heathens called Jews; but these were not, they professed Christianity in words, but in works denied it; they were men of bad principles and practices, and both blasphemed the ways and doctrines of Christ themselves, and caused them to be blasphemed by others also; they were false Christians, nominal professors, and shunned persecution for the Gospel; who were not what they would be thought to be: these were the broachers of heresies in this period of time, in which there was a multitude of them, and which chiefly respected the doctrine of the Trinity, and the person of Christ; and they were introducers of Pagan and Jewish rites into the church, and were men of flagitious lives and conversations, and paved the way for the man of sin:

but are the synagogue of Satan: were the children of the devil, imitated him, and were influenced by him, and were the forerunners of antichrist, whose coming was after the working of Satan,

(m) Vid. Arrian. Epictet. l. 2. c. 9.

{7} 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.

(7) The proposition of praise is in this verse, and of exhortation joined with a promise, is in Re 2:10.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Revelation 2:9. τ. θλὶψιν. Altogether general.[1040] To this, affliction, imprisonment, and death (Revelation 2:10), disgrace and need, belong. If it be possible for the ΠΤΩΧΕΊΑ to be connected with the ΘΛῖΨΙς, and to originate from the fact that Christians were despoiled of their property,[1041] yet, also,[1042] that on account of their poverty the Christians were utterly helpless when their Jewish enemies possibly supported their calumnious charges before the heathen rulers with money;[1043] yet this inner connection of ΘΛῖΨΙς, ΠΤΩΧΕΊΑ, and ΒΛΑΣΦΗΜΊΑ is in no way indicated, and the simple admission is sufficient, that, besides the troubles occasioned by Jews and heathen, the Church was under the burden of poverty. To this it is immediately added parenthetically, in a consolatory antithesis: ἈΛΛᾺ ΠΛΟΎΣΙΟς ΕἸ, viz., in spiritual goods or in God.[1044] To endeavor to find here an allusion to the name Polycarp[1045] (rich in fruit), is arbitrary. In what the ΒΛΑΣΦΗΜΊΑ which Christians had to suffer consisted, can only be conjectured with any certainty if the ΛΈΓΟΝΤΕς ʼΙΟΥΔΑΊΟΥς ΕἾΝΑΙ ἙΑΥΤΟΎς,[1046] from whom they went forth,[1047] are regarded not as Christians[1048] but as actual Jews; which the wording and the historical relations, as they were still at the time of the apologists, support. The carnal pride of the Jews, and their godless zeal for the law,[1049] were already, at the time of Paul, the cause of their unbelief, and hostility to Christians which they published in false and calumnious charges, among which was the one brought of old,[1050] viz., of exciting seditions, which generally had the greater weight with the heathen,[1051] as this occurred at a time in which the Roman rulers, because of the war in Judaea, had to be doubly watchful and suspicious in all places.[1052] Even the martyrdom of Polycarp occurred with the essential participation of the Jews.[1053]

As, to the proud claim of those who boasted of the theocratic name of Jews, the judgment is added that they are not,[1054] so also what is positively said concerning their true nature, ἀλλὰ συναγωγὴ τοῦ σατανᾶ, contains a sharp opposition to the claim of being the συναγωγὴ κυρίου[1055] which essentially concurs with the former boast. But they are rather the synagogue of Satan, because they do the antichristian works of Satan,[1056] to which also belongs the βλασφημεῖν with its lies and hatred.[1057] The expression συναγωγή, which in the N. T. only once in James[1058] designates the Christian congregational assembly,—yet even there is combined not with τοῦ θεοῦ, etc., but with ὑμῶν,—has in itself a significative antithesis to the true ἐκκλησία τ. θεοῦ or τ. κυρίου. We can scarcely suppose that John could have changed the expression ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ, which was a fixed designation for the Christian Church, as it is used even of the O. T. people of God, into ἐκκλησία τοῦ σατανᾶ.[1059] There is an allusion of similar severity in Hosea,[1060] when he writes בֵּית אָוֶן instead of בֵּית־אֵל.

[1040] Cf. Revelation 1:9.

[1041] Hebrews 10:34. Primas, Beda, C. a Lap., Tirni, De Wette.

[1042] Hengstenb.

[1043] Cf. Jam 2:5 sqq. Hengstenb.

[1044] Cf. Revelation 3:18; Matthew 6:20; Luke 12:21; 1 Corinthians 1:5; 2 Corinthians 6:10.

[1045] Hengstenb.

[1046] Cf. on Revelation 2:2.

[1047] ἐκ. Winer, p. 344.

[1048] Vitr., etc.

[1049] Cf. Romans 2:28; Matthew 3:9; John 8:33; 2 Corinthians 11:22; Php 3:4 sqq.

[1050] Luke 23:2.

[1051] Cf. Acts 17:6 sqq.

[1052] Against Hengstenb.

[1053] Martyr., c. 12, 13.

[1054] Cf. Revelation 3:9.

[1055] Numbers 16:3; Numbers 20:4; Numbers 31:16.

[1056] Cf. Revelation 2:10.

[1057] John 8:41 sqq.

[1058] Revelation 2:2.

[1059] Cf. Trench, Synonymes of the N. T., § 3.

[1060] Hosea 4:15.9. thy works, and] Should be omitted.

poverty] Perhaps the effect of the persecution, Jewish converts being, as in Hebrews 10:34, deprived of their property when put out of the synagogue on their conversion. Or perhaps rather the cause of the persecution being more intense here—the Christians being people of no dignity or influence, it was safe to attack them.

but thou art rich] Contrast Revelation 3:17, and compare James 2:5.

blasphemy] Probably rather in the sense of calumny, coarse slanders against them, than blasphemy against their Lord: though of course both may have been combined, as when Christians were ridiculed as worshippers of the Crucified.

of them] We should read [coming] from them—i.e. the calumny not only uttered by them, but originating from them, and very likely received and repeated among the heathen.

which say they are jews] No doubt the persons meant are real Jews by birth as well as by profession, but are denied to be worthy of the name. It is treated as still an honourable one, implying religious privileges, as by St Paul in Romans 2:17; Romans 2:28-29; Romans 3:1. Contrast the way that “the Jews” are spoken of in St John’s Gospel—always meaning the chief priests and scribes, the persistent enemies of the Gospel. Hence is drawn an argument, that this Book could not be written by the author of the Gospel, at any rate after he had written it: though if this Book were written before the fall of Jerusalem, and the Gospel long after, the change in his point of view will be intelligible.

and are not] Better, and they are not—the relative construction is not continued, at least if we suppose the sentence to be grammatical.

the synagogue of Satan] For an instance of the same severity from the same mouth, see John 8:44. While they claimed to be, as the old Jewish Church was, “the congregation of the Lord.” Synagogue is etymologically almost equivalent to congregation, and is, as St Augustine observes, a less noble word than that used for the Christian Church, Ecclesia, a summoned assembly: for while brutes may be “gathered together,” reason (and we may add, freedom) is implied in being summoned together. But the distinction between the two words is not always maintained: Israel is called “the Church” in Acts 7:38, and the assembly of Christian Jews is called a “synagogue” in St James 2:2, and almost in Hebrews 10:25.Verse 9. - I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty. "Thy works" has been inserted here and in ver. 13 in order to make the opening of all seven epistles alike. The uncials A, C, P, and the Vulgate, Coptic, and AEthiopic Versions omit the words in each place. The Sinaiticus inserts them here and omits them in ver. 13, where they are plainly awkward in construction. Like all wealthy cities, Smyrna showed the extremes of wealth and poverty side by side. It would be among the poor that Christians would in the first instance be found, and their Christianity would lead to their spoliation; in this much of their "tribulation" would consist. But thou art rich (compare the close parallel, 2 Corinthians 6:10; 2 Corinthians 8:2; Matthew 6:20). And the blasphemy from them which say they are Jews, and they are not. We have here strong evidence of the early date of the Apocalypse. Throughout this book "Jew" is an honourable name for the worshippers of the Christ; "Gentiles," a name of reproach for those who oppose the Christ (Revelation 2:9; Revelation 3:9; Revelation 11:2, 18; Revelation 12:5; Revelation 16:19; Revelation 18:3, 23; Revelation 19:15, etc.). These persecutors of the Church of Smyrna are Jews in name, but in reality are rather Gentiles - opponents, and not worshippers of the Messiah. The view taken in the Fourth Gospel is utterly different. There "the Jews" are almost invariably the opponents of Christ; the word occurs about seventy times, and nearly always with this shade of meaning. Assume that the Gospel was written a quarter of a century later than the Apocalypse, and there is nothing strange in this. Long experience of Jewish malignity in opposing the gospel has changed the apostle's views respecting his countrymen. He has become fully convinced of the inveterate and widespread character of the national apostasy. To him "the Jews" have become synonymous with the enemies of the cross of Christ. Assume that the Apocalypse was written about the same time as the Gospel, and how shall we account for this utter difference of view in the two books? Assume that the Gospel was written long before the Apocalypse, and how shall we explain the fact that experience of Jewish hostility has turned the apostle's abhorrence of "the Jews" into such admiration that to him a Jew has become synonymous with a believer in Jesus Christ? It is remarkable that, in the 'Martyrdom of St. Polycarp,' the Jews are said to have been present in great numbers, and to have been foremost (μάλιστα Ιουδαίους προθύμως) in collecting wood with which to burn him alive. A synagogue of Satan (comp. Revelation 3:9; John 8:44). This is in marked contrast to "the synagogue of the Lord" (Numbers 16:3; Numbers 20:4; Numbers 31:16). With the exception of James 2:2, συναγωγή is, in the New Testament, always used of Jewish assemblies, never of Christian. This usage soon became habitual in the Church (see Trench, 'Synonyms of the New Testament,' p. 4). Thy works and

Omit.

Tribulation (θλῖψιν)

See on Matthew 13:21. Referring to the persecutions of Jewish and heathen oppressors. See on Smyrna, Revelation 2:8.

Poverty (πτωχείαν)

Because, like all the other early Christian churches, the majority of its members were of the poorer classes, and also, perhaps, with reference to their robbery by persecutors. See on poor, Matthew 5:3.

Rich

In faith and grace. Compare James 2:6, James 2:7; 1 Timothy 6:17, 1 Timothy 6:18; Luke 12:21; Matthew 19:21.

Blasphemy (βλασφημίαν)

See on Mark 7:22. Not primarily direct blasphemy against God, but reviling at believers.

Jews

Literally. Not Christians, as in Philippians 3:3; Romans 2:28, Romans 2:29. Actually Jews by birth, but not spiritually. The title is not given them by the Spirit, nor by the seer, but by themselves; and none would use that title except such as were Jews by birth and by religion. The enmity of the Jews against Christians is a familiar fact to all readers of the book of Acts; and it is a matter of history that their malignity was especially displayed toward the Church of Smyrna. In the circular letter addressed by the Church of Smyrna to the churches in the Christian world, it is related that Jews joined with heathen in clamoring that Polycarp should be cast to the lions or burned alive, and were foremost ὡς ἔθος αὐτοῖς (as was their wont) in bringing logs for the pile, and in the endeavor to prevent the remains of the martyr from being delivered to his Christian associates for burial.

Synagogue of Satan

For synagogue, see on assembly, James 2:2, the only passage in which the word is used for a Christian assembly. This fact goes to support the literal explanation of the term Jews. For Satan, see on Luke 10:18. For John's use of the expression the Jews, see on John 1:19. The use of the word here in an honorable sense, so different from John's custom, has been urged against his authorship of Revelation. But John here only quotes the word, and, further, employs it without the article.

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