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;
Verse 1-3:22. - The epistles to the seven Churches. Once more we have to consider rival interpretations. Of these we may safely set aside all those which make the seven letters to be pictures of successive periods in the history of the Church. On the other hand, we may safely deny that the letters are purely typical, and relate to nothing definite in history. Rather they are both historical and typical. They refer primarily to the actual condition of the several Churches in St. John's own day, and then are intended for the instruction, encouragement, and warning of the Church and the Churches throughout all time. The Catholic Church, or any one of its branches, will at any period find itself reflected in one or other of the seven Churches. For two Churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia, there is nothing but praise; for two, Sardis and Laodicea, nothing but blame; for the majority, and among them the chief Church of all, Ephesus, with Pergamum and Thyatira, praise and blame in different degrees intermingled. The student will find it instructive to place the epistles side by side in seven parallel columns, and note the elements common to each and the order in which these elements appear. These common elements are:
(1) Christ's command to the seer to write;
(2) his title, which in most cases is taken from the descriptions in Revelation 1;
(3) the praise, or blame, or both, addressed to the angel, based in all cases on intimate personal knowledge - "I know thy works;"
(4) the charge or warning, generally in connexion with Christ's coming;
(5) the promise to the victor;
(6) the call to each individual to give ear. Verses 1-7. - The epistle to the Church at Ephesus. Verse 1. - Unto the angel (see on Revelation 1:20). "The angel" seems to be the spirit of the Church personified as its responsible guardian. The Church of Ephesus. "In Ephesus" is certainly the right reading; in all seven cases it is the angel of the Church in the place that is addressed. In St. Paul's:Epistles we have "in Rome," "in Corinth," "in Colossae," "in Ephesus," "of Galatia," "of the Thessalonians." Among all the cities of the Roman province of Asia, Ephesus ranked as "first of all and greatest." It was called "the metropolis of Asia." Romans visiting Asia commonly landed first at Ephesus. Its position as a centre of commerce was magnificent. Three rivers, the Maeander, the Cayster, and the Hermes, drain Western Asia Minor, and Ephesus stood on high ground near the mouth of the central river, the Cayster, which is connected by passes with the valleys of the other two. Strabo, writing of Ephesus about the time when St. John was born, says, "Owing to its favourable situation, the city is in all other respects increasing daily, for it is the greatest place of trade of all the cities of Asia west of the Taurus." Patmos was only a day's sail from Ephesus; and it is by no means improbable that the gorgeous description of the merchandise of "Babylon" (Revelation 18:12, 13) is derived from St. John's own recollections of Ephesus. The Church of Ephesus was founded by St. Paul, about A.D. , and his Epistle to that and other Churches, now called simply "to the Ephesians," was written about A.D. . When St. Paul went to Macedonia, Timothy was left at Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3) to check the wild speculations in which some Ephesian Christians had begun to indulge. Timothy probably followed St. Paul to Rome (2 Timothy 4:9, 21), and, after his master's death, returned to Ephesus, where he is said to have suffered martyrdom at a festival in honour of the great goddess Artemis." He may have been still at Ephesus at the time when this epistle was written; and Plumptre has traced coincidences between this epistle and those of St. Paul to Timothy. According to Dorotheus of Tyro (circ. A.D. 300), he was succeeded by Gaius (Romans 16:23). In the Ignatian epistles we have Onesimus (probably not the servant of Philemon), Bishop of Ephesus. Ignatius speaks of the Ephesian Church in terms of high praise, showing that it had profited by the exhortations in this epistle. It was free from heresy, though heresy hovered around it. It was spiritually minded, and took God as its rule of life (Ignatius, 'Ephes.,' 6-8.). Write (see on Revelation 1:11; and comp. Isaiah 8:1; Isaiah 30:8; Jeremiah 30:2; Jeremiah 36:2; Habakkuk 2:2). Holdeth (κρατῶν). Stronger than "had" (ἔχων) in Revelation 1:16. This word implies holding fast and having full control over. In ver. 25 we have both verbs, and again in Revelation 3:11. A Church that had fallen from its first love (vers. 4, 5) had need to be reminded of him who "holds fast" his own; and one whose candlestick was in danger of removal had need to turn to him who is ever active (not merely is, but "walketh") "in the midst of the candlesticks," to supply them with oil when they flicker, and rekindle them when they go out. It is he, and not the apostle, who addresses them.
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:
Verse 2. - Owing to the inaccurate use of a corrupt text, the Authorized Version is here very faulty. The Revised Version is to be preferred throughout. I know thy works. This introductory "I know" appears in all seven letters. He whose eyes are "as a flame of fire" (Revelation 1:14) has perfect knowledge of his servants, and this knowledge is the basis of the praise and blame. "Works," a favourite word with St. John, and very frequent in both Gospel and Apocalypse, is used in a wide sense, including the whole of conduct (comp. John 3:19, 20; John 5:36; John 7:3, 7; John 8:39, 41, etc.; 1 John 3:8, 12 2John 11 3 John 1:10). Thy toil and patience. Explanatory of "thy works;" the Ephesians know how to toil and how to suffer patiently. They have "learned to labour and to wait." St. Ignatius says that he must be trained "in patience and long suffering" by the Ephesians ('Ephes.,' 3.). And that thou canst not bear evil men. Again St. Ignatius supplies a commentary: "Now, Onesimus of his own accord highly praiseth your orderly conduct in God, for that ye all live according to truth, and that no heresy hath a home among you; nay, ye do not so much as listen to any one, if he speak of aught else save concerning Jesus Christ in truth" ('Ephes.,' 6.). The word for "evil" (κακός), though one of the commonest in the Greek language, is rare in St. John; it occurs only here and in Revelation 16:2 (see note); John 18:23 3John 11. Didst try them which call themselves apostles, and they are not. It is incredible that this can mean St. Paul. Even allowing the prodigious assumption that the "Jewish Christianity" of St. John was opposed to the "Gentile Christianity" of St. Paul, what chance would an opponent of St. Paul have had in a Church which St. Paul founded and fostered? And had such opposition existed, could St. Polycarp, St. John's own disciple, have spoken of "the wisdom of the blessed and glorious Paul" ('Philippians,' 3.)? This mention of false apostles is doubly interesting:
(1) as a fulfilment of warnings given by St. Paul himself to the Ephesian Church (Acts 20:28-30; comp. 2 Timothy, passim);
(2) as a strong incidental mark of the date of the book. In A.D. , when contemporaries of the apostles were abundant, the claim to be an apostle might with some show of reason be made; in A.D. such a claim would be ridiculous. This Trench admits, and hence tells us that the meaning of "apostles" must not be pressed, "as though it implied a claim to have seen and been sent by the Lord Jesus," But this is just what "apostle" does imply (Acts 1:21, 22; 1 Corinthians 9:1).
And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
Verse 3. - The text followed in the Authorized Version is here very corrupt; we must read with the Revised Version, And thou hast patience (as in ver. 2), and didst bear for my Name's sake, and hast not grown weary. The last verb (κεκοπίακες) is closely akin to toil (κόπος) in ver 2. The seeming contradiction between "I know thy toil" and "thou hast not toiled" has caused confusion in the text. Yet οὐ κεκοπίακες does not mean "thou hast not toiled," but "thou hast not wearied of toil." It is all the more probable that this play of words is intentional, because "bear" (βαστάζειν) is used in two different senses in ver. 2 and ver. 3: "canst not tolerate evil men," and "didst endure suffering" (comp. John 16:12). "So is patience set over the things of God that one can obey no precept, fulfil no work well pleasing to the Lord, if estranged from it. The good of it even they who live outside it honour with the name of highest virtue... . Grand testimony this is to it, in that it incites even the vain schools of the world unto praise and glory! Or is it rather an injury,' 'in that a thing Divine is bandied about among worldly sciences (Tertullian, 'De Pat.,' 1.).
Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
Verse 4. - But I have (this) against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love. The Authorized Version unwarrantably softens the censure by inserting "somewhat;" the Greek means rather, "I have (this grave thing) against thee." In "hath aught against thee" (Matthew 5:23) and "have aught against any" (Mark 11:25), the "aught" (τι) is expressed in the Greek; here nothing is expressed. "Thy first love" is expressed very emphatically with the article repeated; "thy love, thy first one." The meaning of it is much disputed. It cannot mean "thy former gentleness towards evil men and false apostles." It may mean "thy love of the brethren," so much insisted upon in St. John's First Epistle. More probably it means "thy first love for me." Christ is here speaking as the Bridegroom, and addresses the Church of Ephesus as his bride (comp. Jeremiah 2:2-13). This thought would be familiar to the Ephesians from St. Paul's teaching (Ephesians 5:23-33). It shows strange ignorance of human frailty and of history to argue that "a generation at least must have passed away, and the thirty years from Nero to Domitian must have elapsed, ere the change here noted could come to pass." Does this writer forget the Epistle to the Galatians? In a very few years the Churches of Galatia had left their first love. The frequent and rapid lapses of Israel into idolatry show the same thing from the time when Aaron made the calf down to the Captivity. This verse is certainly no obstacle to the theory that the Apocalypse was written about A.D. .
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.
Verse 5. - The exhortation and threat are clear as trumpet notes: "Remember, repent, and return, or I will return and remove thee." A modern heathen philosophy teaches us that in this world to be happy is to forget. That is not the teaching of Christ. The past is both an encouragement and a warning to us; therefore "remember." Some have to remember heights from which they have fallen; others, depths from which they have been raised; others again, both. Cicero ('Ad. Att.,' 4:16) would remember the one and forget the other. Non recorder unde ceciderim, sed unde resurrexerim. The present imperative here shows that the remembering is to continue; on the other hand, the repentance (aor. imp.) is a thing to be done immediately, once for all. "The first works" means "the fruits of thy first love." Christ will have works, not feelings. I come to thee. There is no "quickly" in the true text; and the verb is present, not future (comp. John 14:18). The coming, of course, refers to a special visitation, not to the second advent. The removing of the candlestick is not the deposition of the bishop, but the dethroning of the Church, cancelling its claim to the kingdom, severing its union with Christ. Compare "The kingdom of God shall be taken away from you, and shall be given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (Matthew 22:43). The warning would seem to have been heeded at first, judging from the account of Ephesus in the Ignatian Epistles. But the Church has long since ceased to exist. Ephesus itself is a heap of ruins. Except thou repent. This repetition drives home the charge given above; repentance is the thing absolutely necessary, and at once. This shows that what Christ has against them cannot be a mere "somewhat" (Authorized Version in ver. 4). It is nothing less than this - that with all their discernment of evil, and zeal against it, they lacked reality. Their light still burned, but in a dull, lifeless way; their service had become mechanical.
But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Verse 6. - They are again commended for their good points. But it is possible to hate what Christ hates without loving what he loves. It is possible to hate false doctrine and lawlessness, and yet be formal and dead one's self. Who the Nicolaitans were we cannot now determine with certainty. The name Nicolaus may be intended as a Greek equivalent of Balaam, but this is by no means certain. Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria write as if the sect of Nicolaitans existed in their day. A common belief was that their founder was Nicolaus of Antioch, one of the seven deacons. Irenaeus (1:26), followed by Hippolytus ('Refut.,' 7:24), supports this view; Ignatius ('Trall.,' 9) and the Apostolic Constitutions (6:8), are against it. The Nicolaitans may have claimed him as their founder, or similarity of name may have caused confusion with a different person. The doctrine of the Nicolaitans, and that of Balaam (ver. 14), and that of the woman Jezebel (ver. 20), seem to have this much in common - a contention that the freedom of the Christian placed him above the moral Law. Neither idolatry nor sensuality could harm those who had been made free by Christ. The moral enactments of the Law had been abrogated by the gospel, no less than the ceremonial. The special mention of "the pollutions of idols" and "fornication," in the decrees of the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:20, 29), seems to show that this pernicious doctrine was already in existence in A.D. . In 2 Peter 2 and Jude 1:7-13 a similar evil is denounced. It appears in other heretical sects, especially those of Gnostic origin, e.g. Cerinthians, Cainites, Carpocratians. In this way we may explain the statement of Eusebius ('Hist. Eccl.,' 3:29), that the Nieelaitan heresy lasted only for a short time; i.e. its religious libertinism did not die out, but passed over into other sects. Note that it is "the works of the Nicolaitans," not the men themselves, that Christ hates. He loves the sinner, while he hates the sin. "It would have been well with the Church had this always been remembered" (Alford).
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.
Verse 7. - He that hath an ear, let him hear. These solemn conclusions of these epistles remind us of the conclusion of many of Christ's parables (Matthew 11:15; Matthew 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9, 23, [7:16]; Luke 8:8; Luke 14:35; not in St. John's Gospel, in which there are no parables). It is very noteworthy that, although the epistle is addressed in each case to a Church in the person of its angel, yet the concluding exhortation and promise are always addressed to the individual Christian. Each must hear for himself. His Church may perish, yet, if he overcomes, he shall live. His Church may be crowned with eternal life, yet, if he is overcome, he will lose the reward. What the Spirit saith to the Churches; not "what he saith to this Church." The contents of each epistle are for all; for each individual Christian and for the Church at large, as well as for the particular Church addressed in the epistle. The epistle in each case is not from John, who is only the instrument, but from the Son of God and from the Spirit of God (Revelation 1:4). In the first three epistles the exhortation to hearken precedes the promise to the victor; in the four last it follows the promise, and closes the epistle. Is this change of arrangement accidental or deliberate? There should be a full stop at "Churches." In the Authorized Version it looks as if "what the Spirit saith" were confined to the promise in the second half of the verse. This error was avoided by Tyndale and Cranmer. It comes from the Genevan and the Rhemish Versions. The verb to "overcome" or "conquer" (νικᾷν) is strongly characteristic of St. John. It occurs seven times in the Gospel and the First Epistle, and sixteen times in the Revelation; elsewhere only in Luke 11:22; Romans 3:4 (quotation from Psalm 51:6) and Romans 12:21; comp. especially Revelation 21:7, where, as in these epistles, it is not stated what is to be overcome. We might render, "to the victor," or "to the conqueror." The expression, "tree of life," of course comes from Genesis; we have it again in Revelation 22:2, 14. It means the tree which gives life. So also "the water of life" (Revelation 21:6) and "the bread of life" (John 6:35). In all these cases "life" is ζώη, the vital principle which man shares with God, not βίος, the life which he shares with his fellow men. The latter word occurs less than a dozen times in the New Testament; the former, which sums up the New Testament, occurs more than a hundred times. The Paradise of God. The word "Paradise" occurs only thrice in the New Testament (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4). It is of Persian origin, and signified a park or pleasure ground. In the New Testament it seems to mean the resting place of departed saints. There is strong evidence (B, versions, Cyprian, Origen) in favour of reading, "the Paradise of my God" (see notes on Revelation 3:2, 12). In considering this passage, Genesis 3:22 should be carefully compared with John 6:51. "For him who conquers" the curse which barred Adam from the tree of life will be revoked by Christ.
And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;
Verses 8-11. - The epistle to the Church at Smyrna. Verse 8. - The metropolitan, setting out from Ephesus to visit the Churches of Asia, would naturally go first to Smyrna. It ranked as one of the most beautiful cities in Asia; but its magnificence must at times have seemed poor compensation for the neglect of the architect, who, in planning the city for Antigonus and Lysimachus, omitted the drains. In time of floods the streets became open sewers. For its fidelity to Rome against Mithridates, it received exceptional privileges, but suffered heavily when Dolabella laid siege to Trebonius, one of Caesar's assassins, who had taken refuge there. When eleven cities of Asia competed for the honour of erecting a temple to Tiberius, the senate decided in favour of Smyrna. This temple was no doubt standing in St. John's time. But just as Artemis was the great goddess of the Ephesians, so Dionysus was the great god of Smyrna. Dionysus represented the mysteriously productive and intoxicating powers of nature - powers which are exhibited most abundantly in the vine, which in the neighbourhood of Smyrna is said to have borne fruit twice in a year. He was regarded as the dispenser of joy and fertility, the disperser of sorrow and care. Hence the myth of his death and resurrection, which was frequently rehearsed and acted at Smyrna - a fact which gives special point to the greeting in this epistle - "From him who became dead, and lived." The priests who presided at this celebration were presented with a crown; to which there may be allusion in the promise, "I will give thee the crown of life." Not long after the martyrdom of its first bishop, St. Polycarp, Smyrna was destroyed by an earthquake, in A.D. , and was rebuilt by Marcus Aurelius. Earthquakes, fires, and pestilences have always been common there. But in spite of such calamities, it continues to flourish. From the large proportion of Christians there, it is known among Mohammedans as "the infidel city." Christianity seems never to have been extinguished in Smyrna, which shares, with Philadelphia, the honour of receiving unmixed praise in these epistles. "Down from the apostolic times a Church has existed here, and she has repeated, with more or less boldness and distinctness, the testimony of her martyr bishop, 'I am a Christian'" (R. Vaughan). The stadium in which he suffered may still be seen there. We have already (see on Revelation 1:20) decided that "the angel" of each Church is probably not its bishop. But, even if this were the meaning, this epistle could not be addressed to St. Polycarp, if he was martyred A.D. , in the eighty-sixth year after his conversion, and the Apocalypse was written in A.D. . The First and the Last, who became (e)ge/neto) dead, and lived (see notes on Revelation 1:17, 18). As in the epistle to Ephesus, the words of the address are taken from the titles of the Christ given in the opening. It is no mythical deity, with his mock death and resurrection, but the absolutely Living One, who indeed died, and is indeed alive forevermore, that scuds this message to the suffering Church of Smyrna. In the epistle to the Church in Thyatira we have what seems to be an allusion to the worship of Apollo, similar to that to the worship of Dionysus here.
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.
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).
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.
Verse 10. - Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer. We must bring out the difference between "to be about to" (μέλλειν), in the first two clauses, and the simple future (ἔξετε) in the third; compare "I will show him how many things he must suffer for my Name's sake" (Acts 9:16). The devil, who inspires the "synagogue of Satan," is to be allowed to afflict them, as he afflicted Job. (For "behold," see note on ver. 22.) The expression, "some of you" (ἐξ ὑμῶν), is an interesting link of style between this book and the Fourth Gospel and the Second Epistle; we have a similar construction in John 1:24; John 7:40; John 16:17 2John 4. (For a warning of like import, but to the persecutors, not the persecuted, comp. Matthew 23:34.) That ye may be tried. The common meaning of πειράζειν, as distinct from δοκιμάζειν, is here conspicuous; it is "to try" with the sinister intent of causing to fail. But what is temptation on the devil's side is probation on God's side (comp. 1 Peter 4:12-14). Ten days. It is unwise to make anything either mystical or rigidly literal out of the number ten, which here is probably a round number. The question is whether the round number denotes a small (Genesis 24:55; Numbers 11:19) or a large number (Numbers 14:22; 1 Samuel 1:8; Job 19:3). The former seems probable. It is not impossible that some analogy between their case and that of the "four children" (Daniel 1:12, 15) is suggested by the ten days' probation. Be thou faithful unto death; literally, become thou faithful; show thyself to be such (γίνου πιστός). Note how completely the angel of the Church is identified with the Church. In this one verse we have complete mixture of the two modes of address: "Thou art about to suffer... some of you... ye shall have... I will give thee." "Unto death" does not merely mean "to thy life's end," but "even if fidelity involves death;" compare "becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:8). The crown of life. The Authorized Version, by ignoring the article ("a crown of life"), sadly detracts from the meaning. It is the well-known crown, the crown which is truly such, in contrast to earthly crowns, and perhaps with a special reference to the crowns given at Smyrna to the priests of Dionysus at the expiration of their year of office. The word στεφανηφόρος has been found in inscriptions at Smyrna in this connexion (comp. James 1:12, where the same phrase occurs; also 1 Corinthians 9:25; 1 Peter 5:4). Excepting Revelation 12:3; Revelation 13:1; Revelation 19:12 (where we have διάδημα), στέφανος is the regular word for "crown" in the New Testament. "Of life" is the genitive of apposition; the life is the crown, just as in "the Word of life" (1 John 1:1) the life is the Word. It is impossible to determine whether St. John has in his mind the crown of a king, of a victorious athlete, or of a triumphant warrior. The XII. Tables provided that he who had won a crown might have it placed on his head when his dead body was carried in the funeral procession. St. John, both at Rome and in the East, would have seen this ceremony, possibly in the case of a crowned priest at Smyrna. "The crown of life" would be the exact opposite of that. The narrative of the martyrdom of St. Polycarp draws to a close with these words: "Having by his patience vanquished the unjust ruler, and having thus received the crown of immortality," etc. The writer seems to have had Revelation 2:10 in his mind.
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.
Verse 11. - He that hath an ear (see on ver. 7). Shall not be hurt of the second death; more literally, shall in no wise be injured at the hands of the second death. The negative is the strongest form; the injury seems to be of the nature of a wrong, and the second death is regarded as the source of the wrong (οὐ μὴ ἀδικηθῇ ἐκ). In Revelation 20:6 "the second death" is almost personified, as here: "Over these the second death has no authority." The phrase is peculiar to this book (see Revelation 20:14 and Revelation 21:8, where it is defined to be "the lake of fire"). The corresponding phrase, "the first death," does not occur. The one is the death of the body, to which the faithful Smyrnaeans must submit; the other is the death of the soul, from which the crown of life secures them: though they die, yet shall they live, and shall in no wise die, forever (John 11:25, 26). This second death, or death of the soul, is absolute exclusion from God, who is the Source of eternal life. The expression, "the second death," seems to be borrowed from Jewish theological phraseology. (On the repetition of the article, "the death, the second (death)," see note on ver. 13.)
And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;
Verses 12-17. - The epistle to the Church at Pergamum. Verse 12. - Pergamum is the usual form both in Greek and Latin writers; "Pergamus" is very rare. And if Πέργαμος were right here, why "Pergamos" any more than "Ephesos"? The city lies north of Smyrna, in Mysia Major, or the right bank of the Caicus. Pergamum is first mentioned by Xenophon, and becomes important and magnificent under Attalus, the friend of the Romans (B.C. 241-197), and his son Eumenes (B.C. 196-159). Its library was second only to that of Alexandria; but Mark Antony took it to Egypt and gave it to Cleopatra. Parchment gets its name from Pergamum, and Galen the physician was born there. Pliny writes of "longe clarissimum Asiae Pergamum" - a description which probably has reference to its buildings. It still exists under the slightly changed name of Bergamah, or Bergma; and its ruins still tell of the magnificent public edifices which have caused it to be described as a "city of temples," and again as "a sort of union of a pagan cathedral city, a university town, and a royal residence." Its idolatrous rites were frequent and various, and the contamination which they spread is manifest from this epistle. The sharp two-edged sword (see notes on Revelation 1:16 and Revelation 2:13). How much this weapon is needed is shown by the evils protested against.
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.
Verse 13. - I know where thou dwellest. The words, "thy works and," are certainly an insertion here - both external and internal evidence are against them. Even where Satan's throne is. We must translate θρόνος "throne" here, as in Revelation 1:4; Revelation 3:21; Revelation 4:2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, etc. Throughout the Apocalypse heaven and hell are set over against one another; and as God has his throne, so also has Satan. The Authorized Version inconsistently alternates between "seat" (Revelation 11:16; Revelation 13:2; Revelation 16:10; Luke 1:52) and "throne," even in the same verse (Revelation 4:4). "The throne of Satan" has perplexed commentators. It probably refers to the infamous idolatry practised at Pergamum, which had a cluster of temples to Zeus, Apollo, Athene, Dionysus, Aphrodite, and AEsculapius. These all lay together in a beautiful grove called the Nicephorium, the pride of Pergamum, as the temple of Artemis was the pride of Ephesus. Some have thought that the mention of Satan points to the serpent, which is so prominent in the cultus of Aesculapius. But the context leads us rather to understand the abominations connected with the worship of Dionysus and Aphrodite. Others, again, think that "the throne of Satan" indicates the persecuting judgments pronounced against Christians; for Pergamum was a great judicial centre. We must be content to leave the question open. Thou holdest fast my Name. We have the same expression (κρατεῖν with the accusative) three times in this epistle and again in ver. 25 and Revelation 3:11. Just as in the literal sense κρατεῖν, with the accusative means "to seize" a man, i.e. his whole person (Matthew 14:3; Matthew 18:29; Revelation 7:1; Revelation 20:2), as distinct from laying hold of a part (Matthew 9:25; Mark 5:41), so in the figurative sense κρατεῖν with the accusative is "to hold fast" the whole of (Mark 7:3, 4, 8; 2 Thessalonians 2:15), as distinct from keeping a share in a possession common to many (Hebrews 4:14; Hebrews 6:18). On the emphatic repetition obtained by denying the opposite, "holdest fast and didst not deny," see notes on Revelation 3:8. The Greek text in what follows is a good deal confused, and cannot be determined with certainty; but the general sense is clear. In any case, "my witness, my faithful one" (Revised Version), is more accurate than "my faithful martyr" (Authorized Version). The reduplication of the article is frequent in St. John's writings, but in some cases it produces clumsiness to reproduce it in English: ὁ μάρτυς ὁ πιστός occurs here of Antipas, and in Revelation 1:5 of Christ; compare ἡ ἀγάπη ἡ πρώτη (Revelation 2:4), ὁ θάνατος ὁ δεύτερος (Revelation 2:11; Revelation 20:14; Revelation 21:8), ἡ ῤομφαία ἡ δίστομος (Revelation 2:12), τὸ μάννα τὸ κεκρυμμένον (Revelation 2:17), ὁ δεσπότης ὁ ἅγιος (Revelation 6:10), with John 4:9, 11; John 5:30; John 6:38, 42, 44, 50, 51, 58; John 6:38; 7:68; 8:16; 12:26; 14:15, 27; 15:9, 11; 17:13, 24; 18:36; 1 John 2:7 2John 13. Of Antipas nothing is known. The name is a shortened form of Antipater, as Nicomas of Nicomedes, Artemas of Artemidorus, Hermes of Hermodorus, Zenas of Zenodorus, Menas of Menodorus, Lucas of Lucanus, Domas of Demetrius; and therefore is not derived from ἀντί and πᾶς. Much mystical trifling has been expended over the name Antipas, which no doubt is the actual name of a once well-known sufferer for the truth. Probably of the Pergamene confessors, Antipas was the only one who was called upon to suffer death. The silence of Church history respecting a martyr thus honoured in Scripture is strange. Attalus, one of the chief martyrs of Lyons, was of Pergamum (Eusebius, 'Hist. Eccl.,' V. 1:17; comp. IV. 15:48). The repetition of "where Satan dwelleth" emphasizes this point, like the repetition of "repent" in ver. 5. It rather confirms the view that by "Satan's throne" is meant the judgment throne where the martyrs were condemned.
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.
Verse 14. - But I have a few things against thee. They are few in comparison with the things commended; but they are very serious; and there must be a sad want of care in the Church at Pergamum to allow such things. These corrupt teachers are alluded to in 2 Peter 2:15 and Jude 1:11. Like Balaam, they debased spiritual gifts to the vilest purposes, and thus became a σκάνδαλον, a snare or stumbling block, to ethers. Like the Nicolaitans, they held that the freedom of the gospel placed them above the moral Law, and conferred licence to commit the foulest sins. The liberty to eat meats which might have been offered to idols was made a plea for liberty to take part in idolatrous rites (1 Corinthians 8:10; Justin Martyr, 'Trypho,' 35; Irenaeus, I. 6:3), and for introducing heathen orgies into Christian ceremonies. The doctrine of these antinomian teachers was "the doctrine of Balaam," because, like him (Numbers 31:16; Josephus, 'Ant.,' 4:06. 6; Philo, 'Vita Mosis,' 1. p. 647), they prostituted their influence to the seducing of God's people into idolatry and impurity. The similarity of this doctrine with that of the Nicolaitans is obvious; but that Nicolaus (which is equivalent to "conquering the people") is intended as a translation of Balaam (which is possibly equivalent to "lord of the people") is mere conjecture. That there were two sects side by side at Pergamum is the natural meaning of this passage; and though their doctrines were alike in being autinomian in principle and licentious in result, yet there is no need to identify them. Among countless small improvements made by the Revisers, note that the remarkable word εἰδωλόθυτον, which in the Authorized Version is rendered in six different ways, is by them rendered consistently (Acts 15:29; Acts 21:25; 1 Corinthians 8:4, 10; 1 Corinthians 10:19; Revelation 2:14, 20).
So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
Verse 15. - So hast thou also some that hold. As in vers. 13 and 14 "hold" is κρατεῖν with the accusative (see notes on ver. 13). What does "also" mean? Probably, "As Israel had Balak to seduce them, and Balak had Balaam, so hast thou," etc.). Others take it, "As the Church at Ephesus has Nicolaitans, so hast thou." The reading of the Authorized Version, "which thing I hate," must certainly yield to that of the Revised Version, "in like manner," which is supported by all the best manuscripts and versions. In the Greek there is much similarity between the two readings, ΟΜΙΣΩ and ΟΜΟΙΩΣ. "In like manner" refers to the similarity between those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, and those who hold the doctrine of Balaam. It confirms the view that two sects are meant.
Repent; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
Verse 16. - Repent therefore; or else I come to thee quickly (see on ver. 5). Some take "in like manner" with this verse: "In like manner (as Ephesus) repent therefore;" but this is not probable. Repent of having allowed some members to follow the examples of Balaam and of the Nicolaitans. With the sword of my mouth (comp. Revelation 1:16 and Revelation 2:12). It is possible that there is here another allusion to Balaam. It was with a drawn sword that the angel of the Lord withstood him (Numbers 22:23), and with the sword that he was slain (Numbers 31:8; Joshua 13:22). Those who follow Balaam in his sin shall follow him in his punishment; and the Church which allows such things will have to suffer along with those who commit them (comp. 2 Thessalonians 2:8).
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.
Verse 17. - He that hath an ear (see notes on ver. 7). To him that overcometh. Again it is made clear that the individual can free himself from the corruption and condemnation of his Church. He may live in the very abode of Satan, and within hearing of damnable doctrines; yet if he overcomes the wiles of Satan, and listens to the Spirit rather than to the seducers, "he shall eat of the hidden manna which restores the spirit that the flesh pots of Egypt have weakened. He shall have the white stone of absolution, the true spiritual emancipation, which the Balaamite and Nicolaitan emancipation has counterfeited" (F.D. Maurice). "The manna, the hidden manna" (see notes on ver. 13), is differently explained: by the repetition of the article, the epithet "hidden" is made very distinct. There is probably some allusion to the manna stored up in the ark in the holy of holies (Exodus 16:33), and also to the true Bread from heaven, whose presence is now hidden from us; or the reference may be to the loss of the ark, with its contents, when Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem (2 Esdr. 10:22). There was a tradition that Jeremiah had hidden the manna, and that it would be brought to light again in the Messianic kingdom. A share in those things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, and to the heart of man never occurred (1 Corinthians 2:9), will be granted to the conqueror - a foretaste of them here, and a full participation hereafter (comp. Revelation 22:4 and 1 John 3:2). "To eat" (φαγεῖν) is an insertion into the true text borrowed from ver. 7. I will give him a white stone, and upon the stone (ἐπὶ τὴν ψῆφον) a new name written. "White" and "new," as Trench points out, are keywords in the Apocalypse; and it is natural that they should be so. White is "the livery of heaven," where white robes, white clouds, white horses, and white thrones abound (Revelation 1:14; Revelation 3:4, 5, 18; Revelation 4:4; Revelation 6:2, 11; Revelation 7:9, 13; Revelation 14:14; Revelation 19:11, 14; Revelation 20:11). And "new" is almost as frequent as "white" in the book which tells of a new heaven and a new earth, in which is the new Jerusalem; where the inhabitants have a new name, and sing a new song, and where all things are made new (Revelation 3:12; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 14:3; Revelation 21:1, 2, 5). But in spite of the familiarity and appropriateness of the two epithets, "white" and "new," a sure interpretation of the white stone with the new name upon it cannot be found. Trench's dictum, that "this book moves exclusively within the circle of sacred, that is, of Jewish imagery and symbols," and that an allusion to heathen or profane customs is inadmissible, is arbitrary and cannot be proved. As already shown, there may be references to the rites of Dionysus, to the games, and to the crown placed on the corpse of a victor. Here there may be an allusion to the white pebble of acquittal used in courts of justice, or to the lot used in elections; and the word ψῆφος favours these views. Or again, the reference may be to the tossers, or ticket, which the victor in the games received to admit him to the tables where he was fed at the public expense. Among Jewish symbols a reference to the "stone with seven eyes" (Zechariah 3:9) seems to be quite out of place. Nevertheless, Trench's explanation of the "white stone" as an allusion to the Urim and Thummim, which the high priest wore behind the square breastplate of judgment has much that is very attractive. This precious thing may well have been a diamond, for there was no diamond among the twelve stones of the breastplate. On each of these stones was written the name of a tribe; but what was written on the Urim none but the high priest knew. The usual supposition is that it was the sacred Tetragrammaton - the ineffable name of God. All this seems to fit in singularly well with the present passage. But if this explanation is to hold, "he that receiveth it" must mean he that receiveth the white stone, rather than he that receiveth the new name. The "new name" is not a fresh name for himself (Isaiah 62:2; Isaiah 65:15), but a fresh revelation of God's Name and nature, which only those who have received it can comprehend (comp. Revelation 14:1; Revelation 19:12). A variety of other explanations will be found in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible,' art. "Stones," in Alford, and elsewhere. Whatever the allusion maybe, the general sense is clear. He that overcometh shall be admitted to the heavenly holy of holies, and to a glory and knowledge incomprehensible to those who have not experienced it (1 Corinthians 2:9). He shall be made a priest unto God.
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;
Verses 18-29. - The epistle to the Church at Thyatira. The circuit now turns southwards. From Ephesus to Smyrna, and from Smyrna to Pergamum, was movement almost due north. Thyatira is on the Lycus, close to the Roman road between Pergamum and Sardis. It was refounded and named Thyatira by Seleucus Nicator, after the conquest of Persia by Alexander. It was strongly Macedonian in population; and it is worth noting that it is in Philippi, a city of Macedonia, that Lydia of Thyatira is found (Acts 16:14). An inscription in Greek and Latin shows that Vespasian restored the roads thereabouts. Three other inscriptions mention the dyers (οἱ βαφεῖς), for which Thyatira and the neighbourhood ('Iliad,' 4:141) were so famous, to which guild Lydia belonged (Acts 16:14). There is no allusion to the trade here; and modern authorities differ as to whether it survives or not at the present day. But the statement that "large quantities of scarlet cloth are sent weekly to Smyrna" (Macdonald's 'Life and Writings of St. John,' p. 187) seems to be decisive. Apollo, the sun god, was the chief deity at Thyatira, where he was worshipped under the Macedonian name of Tyrimnas. There is, perhaps, a reference by contrast to him in the epistle, in the opening description of the Son of God, and in "the morning star" to be given to "him that overcometh." A similar allusion to the worship of Dionysus was traced in the epistle to Smyrna. The modern name of the town is Ak-Hissar, "the white castle," so called from the rocky hill overhanging it, on which a fortress formerly stood. Of the nine thousand inhabitants, about three thousand are Christians, who have the trade of the place in their hands. The ancient Church of St. John the Divine has been turned into a mosque. This fourth and therefore central epistle is the longest of the seven. In some respects it is the most solemn of all. Here only is the majestic title, "the Son of God," introduced. In the introductory vision the expression used is "Son of man" (Revelation 1:13). "The Son of God," frequent in the Gospel and Epistles of St. John, occurs nowhere else in the Apocalypse. It may be suggested by Psalm 2:7, "Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee;" for Psalm 2:9 is quoted in ver. 27 (comp. also ver. 26 with Psalm 2:8). Verse 18. - Who hath his eyes like a flame (see notes on Revelation 1:14, 15).
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.
Verse 19. - I know thy works... and thy works. This glaring tautology is a mistranslation. The Revised Version is correct both in the order of the words and in the rendering. We have first the general statement, found in most of these epistles, asserting intimate personal knowledge: "I know thy works." Then we have, in two pairs, these works particularized, "thy love and faith," and "thy ministry and patience." Finally, we have the knowledge "that thy last works are more than the first." "Thy," in the central clause, belongs to all four substantives. Whatever may be thought of 1 Corinthians 13, ἀγάπη in St. John's writings must certainly be translated" love," and not "charity." Love and faith produce as their natural fruit ministry to the sick and needy and patience in enduring tribulation. Διακονία, excepting here and Hebrews 1:14, occurs only in the writings of St. Luke and of St. Paul; it is specially frequent in the Acts (Acts 1:17, 25; Acts 6:1, 4; Acts 11:29, etc.) and in 2 Corinthians (2 Corinthians 3:7, 8, 9; 2 Corinthians 4:1; 2 Corinthians 5:18, etc.). That thy last works are more than the first. With the momentous change of πλείονα for χείρονα, this looks like a reminiscence of Matthew 12:45 (comp. 2 Peter 2:20). Πλείονα probably means more in value rather than more in number; compare πλείονα σημεῖα τούτων, (John 7:31); πλείονα καρπόν (John 15:2); πλείονα θυσίαν (Hebrews 11:4). But both excellence and number may be included. In any case, the Church at Thya-tira exhibits growth in good works, which is the surest sign of life. Like Ephesus, Thyatira is both praised and blamed; but whereas Ephesus has gone back (ver. 5), Thyatira is going forwards. The two Churches are in some respects the exact opposite one of the other. In Ephesus there is much zeal for orthodoxy, but little love; in Thyatira there is much love, but a carelessness about false doctrine.
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.
Verse 20. - But I have against thee that thou sufferest. This is certainly fight. "A few things" (ὀλίγα) is an insertion in some inferior authorities. Others insert "many things" (πόλλα); the Sinaitic inserts "much" (πόλυ); while the best authorities have nothing between κατὰ σοῦ and ὅτι; and then ὅτι must be rendered "that" rather than "because." The construction is the same as in ver. 4. There is a right and a wrong suffering; and the Church in Thyatira exhibits both. The enduring of tribulation (ὑπομονή) is commended; the toleration of evil (ἀφεῖς) is rebuked. It is not said that Jezebel receives sympathy or encouragement, but merely that she is let alone; her wickedness is left unchecked, and that is sinful. For this use of ἀφίεναι, comp. John 11:48; John 12:7. It is difficult to decide between "the woman" (τὴν γυνααῖκα) and "thy wife" (τὴν γυναῖκα σοῦ), authorities being much divided; the balance seems in favour of the former. But even if "thy wife" be preferred, there is no need to understand Jezebel as indicating a distinct person. We are in the region of figures and metaphors. Perhaps all that is indicated is that the angel of the Church at Thyatira is suffering from the tolerated presence of a baneful influence, as did Ahab, "whom Jezebel his wife stirred up" (1 Kings 21:25). And if it is not certain that any individual false prophetess is signified, it is scarcely worth while to speculate as to who this individual is. Jezebel may be a person, or she may be a form of false doctrine personified. If the former, Jezebel is doubtless not her real name, but a symbolical name of reproach, and what her name and status were we have no means of knowing. In any case the error represented by the name is closely akin to that of the Nicolaitans and to "the doctrine of Balaam." Whatever differences of detail there may have been, all three made Christian liberty a plea for an antichristian licence which claimed to be above the moral Law. And she teacheth and seduceth. This is an independent statement, and must not, as in the Authorized Version, be made to depend upon "thou sufferest." For the construction τὴν γυναῖκα Ιεζαβήλ ἡ λέγουσα, compare τῆς καινῆς Ιερουσαλὴμ ἡ καταβαίνουσα (Revelation 3:12). The word for "seduce," or "lead astray" (πλανᾷν), in the active is frequent in St. John, especially in Revelation (Revelation 12:9 13:14; 19:20; 20:3, 8, 10; John 7:12; 1 John 1:8; 1 John 2:26; 1 John 3:7). A comparison of these passages will lead to the conclusion that the word implies seduction into error of a very grave kind. It is not clear whether "fornication" is to be understood literally, or, as often in the Old Testament, in the spiritual sense of idolatry. The former seems more probable. "My servants" means all Christians, as is clear from Revelation 7:3 and Revelation 22:3; it must not be limited to those in authority in the Church. (For "things sacrificed to idols," see notes on ver. 14.)
And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.
Verse 21. - Here again the Revised Version must be preferred; the Authorized Version follows a corrupt Greek text. With the construction, "I gave her time that (ἵνα) she should repent," comp. Revelation 8:3; Revelation 9:5; Revelation 12:14; Revelation 19:8; John 17:4; 1 John 3:1; 1 John 5:20. With "willeth not to repent," comp. John 6:21, 67; John 7:17; John 8:44. Jezebel "despised the riches of Christ's forbearance and long suffering, not believing that his goodness led her to repentance" (Romans 2:4). The whole passage should be compared with this (see also Ecclesiastes 8:11-13; Psalm 10:6; 2 Peter 3:3, 4, 9).
Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds.
Verse 22. - Behold! The exclamation "arrests attention, and prepares the way for something unexpected and terrible." It is one of the many differences between the Fourth Gospel and the Apocalypse, that in the former ἴδε is the dominant form, while in the latter ἰδού is the invariable form (καὶ ἴδε in Revelation 6:l, 5, 7 is a spurious addition); ἰδού is very rare in the Gospel; ἴδε is found nowhere in the Apocalypse. In the Epistles neither form occurs. I do cast her into a bed. Βάλλω, not βαλῶ, is the true reading; the future has been substituted for the present to match the futures in ver. 23. Forbearance having failed, God tries severity; and, as so often in his dealings with man, the instrument of wrong doing is made the instrument of punishment. The bed of sin becomes a bed of suffering. Compare "In the place where dogs licked the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick thy blood, even thine;" and "I will requite thee in this plat, saith the Lord" (1 Kings 21:19; 2 Kings 9:26). Βάλλω is one of many words which has become weakened in meaning in late Greek: it often means no more than "place" or "put" (John 5:7; John 12:6; John 13:2; John 18:11; John 20:25). In the passive it is rather common of being laid up in sickness (Matthew 8:6, 14; Matthew 9:2; Mark 7:30). But perhaps we should rather compare such expressions as "cast into prison, into the sea, into the fire, into Gehenna" (Matthew 18:30; Matthew 21:21; Matthew 18:8, 9). It may be doubted whether there is any significance in the fact that her sin is spoken of as πορνείνα (ver. 21), whereas those who sin with her are said μοιχεύειν. Idolatry is spoken of both as whoredom and as adultery. In the one case it is a contrast to the marriage tie between God and his faithful worshippers; in the other it is a violation of it. Jezebel anticipates the harlot of Revelation 17, as Balaam anticipates the false prophet of Revelation 13. The remarkable construction, "repent out of" (μετανοῆσαι ἐκ), is peculiar to this book (vers. 21, 22; 9:20, 21; 16:11; but in Acts 8:22 we have μετανόησον ἀπό, and in Hebrews 6:1 we have μετανοία ἀπό (compare the converse, μετανοία εἰς, Acts 20:21). "Her works" is to be preferred to "their works." Αὐτῆς might easily be changed to αὐτῶν, either accidentally, owing to the preceding ἔργων, or deliberately, because it seems strange to talk of repenting from the works of another person. But the point is that those who have become partakers in her sins have abandoned their own works for hers; and it is therefore from her works that they are bidden to repent (compare "my works" in ver. 26).
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.
Verse 23. - And her children (placed first, in emphatic distinction from those who have been seduced into temporary connexion with her) I will kill with death. With ἀποκτενῶ ἐν θανάτῳ comp. LXX. in Ezekiel 33:27 and Leviticus 20:10; and θανάτῳ τελευτάτω, Matthew 15:4 and Mark 7:10; the phrase recurs in Revelation 6:8. Those who have not merely been beguiled into sin by her, but are united to her in a permanent moral relationship (John 8:44), shall perish in some signal manner by the visitation of God. Thus we have three parties marked off:
(1) Jezebel herself, the source of all the mischief;
(2) her children, who are even such as herself;
(3) her victims, who have been led astray by her.
She and her children are to be visited with sickness and death, because they will not repent, and the others with tribulation, if they do not repent. Her doom and that of her children is certain; that of her victims may yet be averted. Moreover, the one seems to be final, the other remedial. And all the Churches shall know; literally, shall come to know, shall learn by experience. This statement seems conclusive with regard to the purpose of these epistles. Although addressed to local Churches at a particular crisis, they are for the instruction of "all the Churches" throughout the world, and throughout all time. He which searcheth the reins and the heart (comp. Romans 8:27; Psalm 7:9; Jeremiah 11:20; Jeremiah 20:12). But ἐρευνᾷν in this connexion is a New Testament word; the LXX. do not use it, but ἐτάζειν, a word which is not found in the New Testament, or δοκιμάζειν, etc. Αρευνᾷν occurs thrice in St. John's writings (John 5:39; John 7:52), and thrice elsewhere (Romans 8:27; 1 Corinthians 2:10; 1 Peter 1:11). We need not attempt to make any sharp distinction between the reins, which were believed to be the seat of the desires, and the heart, which sometimes represents the affections and sometimes the conscience. Put together they are equivalent to "the devices and desires of our own hearts." And I will give to each of you. From the angel of the Church the Lord turns abruptly to the individuals in the Church (comp. Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:6).
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.
Verse 24. - But to you I say, to the rest in Thyatira. The "and" after "I say" in the Authorized Version is a false reading, which it shares with the Vulgate and Luther: "to you" and "to the rest" are in apposition. Which know not the deep things of Satan, as they say. Two questions confront us here, and it is not possible to answer either with certainty:
(1) Who is it who say something?
(2) What is it that they say?
(1) Note that "say" (Revised Version), not "speak" (Authorized Version), is right; the Greek is λέγουσιν, not λαλοῦσιν. The nominative to "say" may be either the faithful in Thyatira, "who have not this doctrine," and who show their detestation of it by calling it "the deep things of Satan;" or the holders of this doctrine, who profess to be in the possession of profound knowledge of a mysterious kind. Of these two the former is rather tame in meaning. Moreover, we should have expected "as ye say" to harmonize with "to you I say." Therefore we may suppose that it is those who have this doctrine who are indicated in "as they say."
(2) What, then, did they say? Did they call their doctrine "deep things," which the Lord here enlarges into "deep things of Satan," in order to declare its true character? Or did they themselves call their knowledge "the deep things of Satan," which they fathomed in order to prove their mastery over them? The former seems better. It is improbable that any sect, nominally Christian, would in so many words claim special knowledge of "the deep things of Satan." Rather, he who condemns the "synagogue of Satan" (ver. 9) at Smyrna, and the "throne of Satan" (ver. 13) at Pergamum, here condemns the "deep things of Satan" at Thyatim. In any case, "deep things" is the prominent thought. It is some early form of Gnosticism that is indicated, and we know from various sources that "deep" was a favourite expression of theirs with regard to the knowledge which they professed. "The Valen-tinians have formed Eleusinian orgies, consecrated by a mighty silence, having nothing heavenly in them but their mystery. If, in good faith, you ask questions with contracted forehead and frowning brow, they say, 'It is profound'" (Tert., 'Adv. Valent.,' 1.). Similarly, Irenaeus states that they claimed to have found out the "deep things of Bythos" - "profunda Bythi adinvenisse se dicunt" (II. 22:1). Βυθός (equivalent to "depth") is the primary being or god of the Valentinian system, another name for which is Αρρητος (equivalent to "unspeakable "). Hence elsewhere, for profunda Bythi, Irenaeus uses the expression profunda Dei in speaking of these Gnostic claims (II. 22:3). Similarly, Hippolytus ('Refut.,' V. 6:1) states that the Naassenes called themselves Gnostics, saying that they alone knew the depths - τὰ βάθη γινώσκειν, which is singularly close to what we have here. Note, however; that here the true reading is τὰ βαθέα, neuter plural of the adjective βαθύς, not (as in 1 Corinthians 2:10) τὰ βάθη, plural of the substantive βάθος. See also the fragment of a letter of Valentinus, preserved in Epiphanius ('Contra Haer. adv. Valent.,' 1:31). I cast upon you none other burden. An obvious echo of the decision of the Council of Jerusalem respecting these very sins, fornication and idolatry, in reference to Christian liberty (Acts 15:28, 29), where the very same word (βάρος) is used for "burden." In Matthew 11:30; Matthew 23:4; Luke 11:46; Galatians 6:5, the word for "burden" is φορτίον, whereas βάρος is used in Matthew 20:12; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Galatians 6:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:6. Here, as in ver. 22, the true text gives βάλλω, not βαλῶ; and obviously the word should be rendered in the same way in both verses, not "cast" in one place and "put" in another. "None other" means none other than a more determined opposition to these specious abominations. Hold fast your own doctrine, and denounce the false. Others, much less probably, interpret "none other burden" than the sufferings in which they exhibit the "patience" for which they are praised (ver. 19). This gives a very poor meaning, and, moreover, breaks the connexion with what follows: they are certainly not told to hold fast their sufferings, but Christ's precepts as to faith and conduct.
But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.
Verse 25. - Howbeit. Not simply ἀλλά or δέ, but πλήν, which occurs nowhere else in St. John's writings. Although no other burden than this is imposed, yet remember what it implies. Hold fast the love, and faith, and service, and patience, and the growth in these virtues, for which thou hast been commended (ver. 19). Comp. Revelation 3:11, where a similar charge is given to the Church at Philadelphia. The Greek for "till I come" is remarkable - ἄχρις οῦ α}ν ἤξω; where the α}ν conveys a touch of indefiniteness as to the date specified - until the time whensoever I shall come. We have a similar construction in 1 Corinthians 15:25.
And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:
Verse 26. - And he that overcometh. The usual promise (vers. 7, 11, 17; Revelation 3:5, 12, 21) is here closely connected with the charge which immediately precedes. In this and in the remaining three epistles the proclamation, "He that hath an ear," etc., follows instead of preceding the promise. Keepeth my works. This is a phrase thoroughly characteristic of St. John's style; compare for this use of "keep," Revelation 1:3; Revelation 3:3, 8, 10, etc.; John 8:51, 52, 55; John 9:16; John 14:15, 21, 23, 24, etc.; 1 John 2:3, 4, 5; 1 John 3:22, 24, etc.; and for "works," in the sense of works which Christ does or approves, comp. Revelation 15:3; John 6:28, 29; John 7:3, 21; John 11:3, 4, etc. "My works" here are in marked contrast to "her works" in ver. 22. "He that overcometh, and he that keepeth" is a nominativus pendens; and such constructions are specially frequent in St. John (comp. Revelation 3:12, 21; John 6:39; John 7:38; John 15:2; John 17:2; 1 John 2:24, 27). Links of connexion between the Revelation and the Gospel or Epistles of St. John should be carefully noted. The phrase for "unto the end" (ἄχριτέλους) occurs only here and Hebrews 6:11; but comp. Hebrews 3:6, 14; 1 Corinthians 1:8. "Unto the end" (εἰς τέλος) in John 13. I probably means "to the uttermost," not "to the end of life." Authority over the nations. "Authority" is better than "power" for ἐξουσία, not merely as implying that the power is rightly held and exercised, but also to mark the parallel with "Have thou authority over ten cities" (Luke 19:17; comp. Matthew 21:23, 24, 27; Acts 9:14; Acts 26:10).
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.
Verse 27. - The verse is not a parenthesis. He shall rule them. Here; Revelation 12:5; and in Revelation 19:15, the LXX. rendering of Psalm 2:9 is adopted; ποιμανεῖς αὐτούς, "Thou shalt rule them," or more literally, "shalt shepherd them," instead of "shalt break them," which almost certainly is the meaning of the Hebrew. The Hebrew original, trhm without vowel points, may represent either tirhem or terohem; but the latter is required by what follows; "shalt dash them in pieces." Nevertheless, the gentler rendering better suits the requirements of these passages in the Apocalypse. The rule over the nations is to be strong, but it is to be loving also. To those who obey it, it will be a shepherding; only those who resist it will be dashed in pieces. Precisely the same expression is used in Revelation 7:17 of the Lamb shepherding his saints, and in John 21:16 in the charge to St. Peter to shepherd Christ's sheep. It is not easy to determine whether the "rod" (ῤἀβδοσ) is a king's sceptre, as in Hebrews 1:8, or a shepherd's staff, as m 1 Samuel 17:43; Micah 7:14; and Zechariah 11:7. As the vessels of pottery are broken to shivers. The future tense is a false reading; the insertion of "they" - "shall they be broken" - is a false rendering. Συντρίβειν, "to shatter," occurs in a literal sense in Mark 5:4 and John 19:36; and in a figurative sense in Luke 9:39 and Romans 16:20. As I also have received from my Father. The Greek is ὡς κἀγὼ εἴληφα, not καθὼς ἐγὼ ἔλαβον. He shall receive authority from me, as I also have received from my Father (comp. John 17:18; John 20:21; Luke 22:29; Acts 2:33).
And I will give him the morning star.
Verse 28. - I will give him the morning star. In Revelation 22:16 Christ himself is "the Bright and Morning Star." Therefore here he promises to give himself to him that overcometh. The morning star has ever been proverbial for brightness and beauty, and, as the harbinger of the day, is the bringer of light, life, and joy. Moreover, a star is often a sign of royalty: "There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel" (Numbers 24:17); and as such it appeared to the Wise Men (Matthew 2:2).
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.