B.—EARTH-PICTURE OF THE CHURCH; OR THE REAL, EARTHLY WORLD-PICTURE OF THE SEVEN CHURCHES. THE SEVEN EPISTLES TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES
1. The Metropolis. [Ephesus.]
1Unto the angel of the church of [in] Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth [ins. fast] the seven stars in his right hand, who [he that] walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; 2I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience [endurance], and how [that] thou canst not bear them which [that] are evil: and thou hast tried [didst try] them which [who] say they are apostles, 3and [ins. they] are not, and hast found [didst find] them liars: and hast borne [endurance], and hast patience [didst bear], and [om., and] for my name’s sake hast 4labored [om. hast labored], and hast not fainted [become weary]. Nevertheless [But] I have somewhat [om. somewhat] against thee, because [that] thou hast left thy first love. 5Remember therefore from [om. from] whence [Lange: from what height] thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else [but if not] I will [om. will] come unto [Lange: upon] thee quickly [om. quickly], and will remove thy candlestick out of his [its] place, except thou repent. 6But this thou hast [Lange: retainest], that thou hatest the deeds [works] of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh [conquereth] will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of [om. the midst of] the paradise of [Lange: my] God.
2.The Martyr-Church persecuted by Judaism. Smyrna
8And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was [who became—
] dead [Lange: the First of the martyrs], and is alive [revived]; 9I know thy works and [ins. thy] tribulation, and [ins. thy] poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know [om. I know] the blasphemy of them which [thy calumny from those who] say they are Jews [Lange: and the calumny of those who say they are (true) Jews], and are not, but are [om. are] the 10[a] synagogue of Satan. Fear none of [or not] those things [Lange: nothing of that] which thou shalt [art about to] suffer: behold, the devil shall [is about to] cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation [Lange: a tribulation of] ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a [the] crown of life. 11He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh [conquereth] shall not be hurt of [injured by] the second death.
3. The Martyr-Church persecuted by Heathenism. Pergamus
12And to the angel of the church in Pergamus write; These things saith he which hath the sharp [ins. two-edged] sword with two edges [om. with two edges]; 13I know thy works, and [om. thy works and] where thou dwellest, even [om. even] where Satan’s seat [throne] is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied [didst not deny] my faith, even in those [the] days wherein [in which] Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth. 14But I have a few things against thee, because [that] thou hast there them that hold [ins. fast] the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block [Lange: a means of infatuation] before the children [sons] of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols [Lange: idol sacrifices], and to commit fornication. 15So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans [ins. in like manner],16which thing I hate [om. which thing I hate]. Repent [ins. therefore]; or else [but if not] I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight [war] against them with the sword of my mouth. 17He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh [conquereth] will I give [ins. to him] to eat [om. to eat] of the hidden manna, and will give [ins. to] him a white stone, and in [on] the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving [except] he that receiveth it.
4.The Church stained by Idolatry. Thyatira
18And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto [as] a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass [to chalcolibanus—(Lange: as white-glowing molten copper)]. 19I know thy works, and [ins. the] charity [love], and service, and faith [the faith, and the service], and thy [the] patience, [endurance of thee;] and thy works; [om. and thy works;] and the [thy] last [ins. works] to be [are] more than the first. [Lange: thy love and thy faith, thy zeal in service and thy endurance in suffering 20(and how); thy last works are more than the first]. Notwithstanding [But] I have a few things [om. a few things] against thee, because [that] thou sufferest [
] that woman [thy wife or Lange: the woman] Jezebel, which [who] calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce [and she teacheth and seduceth—Lange: and teacheth (applies herself to teaching) and seduceth] my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols [Lange: idol-sacrifices]. 21And I gave her space to [time that she might] repent of her fornication [om. of her fornication]; and [Lange: but] she repented not [om. repented not—ins. willeth 22not to repent of her fornication]. Behold I will [om. will] cast her into a bed, and them that [those who] commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their [her (
)] deeds [works]. 23And I will kill [slay] her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which [who] searcheth the [om. the] reins and hearts: and [Lange, and that] I will give unto every one of you [to you, to each,] according to your works. 24But unto you I say, and unto [om. and unto] the rest in Thyatira, as many as have not this doctrine [teaching] [Lange: these doctrines] and [om. and] which [such as] have not known the depths of Satan, as they speak [say]; I will [or om. will] put upon you none [cast not upon you any] other burden. 25But that which ye have already [om. already], hold fast till [until] I [ins. shall] come [Lange: until I come]. 26And he that overcometh [conquereth], and [ins. he that] keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: 27And he shall rule [shepherdize] them with a rod of iron [an iron rod]; as the vessels of a potter shall [om. shall] they be broken to shivers [are shattered or he shattereth]: even [om. even] as I [ins. also have35] received of my Father. 28And I will give 29[ins. to] him the morning star. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
5.*The Church for the most part Spiritually Dead. Sardis
1And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast 2a name that thou livest, and [ins. thou] art dead. Be watchful [Become thou watching], and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready [which were about] to die: for I have not found thy works [or any works of thine] perfect [completed] 3before [ins. my] God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard [heardest] and hold fast [keep], and repent. If therefore thou shalt [dost] not watch, I will come on [upon] thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. [ins. But]4Thou hast a few names even [om. even] in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for 5[because] they are worthy. He that overcometh [conquereth], the same shall [or om. the same, and ins. thus (after shall)] be clothed in white raiment [garments]; and I will not blot [wipe] out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. 6He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
6.The Tried Church. Philadelphia
7And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy [the holy One], he that is true [the true One], he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth [shall shut]; and [ins. he] shutteth and no man openeth [shall open]; 8I know thy works: behold, I have set [given] before thee an open door [a door opened], and [which] no man can [is able to] shut it [om. it]: for [Lange: For] thou hast a little strength, and [Lange: ins. yet] hast kept [didst keep] my word, and hast not denied [didst not deny] my name. 9Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which [who] say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them [Lange: om. them] to come [that they shall come] and [ins. shall] worship [Lange: fall down] before thy feet, and to [om. to—ins. shall] know that I have loved thee. 10Because thou hast kept [didst keep] the word of my patience [endurance], I also will keep thee from [Lange: through] the hour of temptation, which shall [is about to] come upon all [om. all] the [ins. whole] world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. 11Behold, [om. Behold,] I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. 12Him that overcometh [conquereth] will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and [ins. out of it] he shall [ins. nevermore] go no more [om. no more] out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is [om. which is—ins. the] new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of [from] heaven from my God: [,] and I will write upon him [om. Iwill write upon him] my new name. 13He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
7.*The Lukewarm Church nigh unto Reprobation. Laodicea
14And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans [in Laodicea] write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning [Lange: principle] of the creation of God; 15I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot [Lange: warm]: I [om. I] would [ins. that] thou wert cold or hot [Lange: 16warm]. So then [Lange: However] because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot [Lange: warm], I will [am about to] spew thee out of my mouth. 17Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods [Lange: yea, I have become exceedingly rich], and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable [the wretched and pitiable one], and poor, and blind, and naked: 18I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in [burnt from (Lange: purified by)] the fire, that thou mayest be [become] rich; and white raiment [garments], that thou mayest be clothed [cover thyself], and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear [may not become manifest]; and [ins. eyesalve to] anoint thine eyes with eyesalve [om. with eyesalve] that thou mayest see. 19[ins. I, (Lange: (do thus).] As [as] many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. 20Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he 21with me. To him [om. To him—ins. He] that overcometh [conquereth] will I grant [I will give (ins.) to him] to sit with me in [on] my throne, even as I also overcame [conquered], and am [om. am] set [sat] down with my Father in [on] his throne. 22He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
general remarks on the seven epistles.
In the use of the sacred number seven throughout the Apocalypse, we must note the indications of a distinction between four and three. Düsterdieck remarks (p. 21) that in the case of the seals and trumpets, the quaternary takes the precedence (this is additionally marked in the case of the four riders by the parenthesis of the four beasts; and in the vision of the trumpets, by the fact that the last three are designated as the three woes), and the trinary follows; in the seven churches and the vials, on the other hand, a three precedes the four. In the case of the vials, Düsterdieck, not groundlessly, regards the thought that we have presented as indicated by the interlocution of Rev_16:5-7; though the vials, in respect of their effects, may also be perfectly well divided into four and three. The first three epistles, according to this commentator (and Bengel, Ewald, De Wette and others, p. 141), are distinguished from the last by the form of the conclusion. In the first three epistles, the admonition: he that hath an ear, etc., is followed by the final promise (Rev_2:7; Rev_2:11; Rev_2:17), whilst in the last four, such a promise precedes the admonition (Rev_2:29; Rev_3:6; Rev_3:13; Rev_3:22). This variation is, we admit, well worthy of notice; yet the inner marks of the churches favor the distinction of four (mixed forms) and three (perfectly distinct forms). The fundamental forms of the individual epistles have been presented by Bengel, as follows (Hengstenb. I. p. 157): The plan of the seven epistles is the same in all. For in each we find: 1. An order to write to an angel of a church. 2. A glorious title of Jesus Christ [“taken for the most part from the imagery of the preceding vision.” Alford.—E. R. C.]. 3. An address to the angel of the church: wherein is contained a. a testimonial to the mixed, the bad or the good condition of the angel; an admonition to repentance or perseverance; b. an announcement of what is to come to pass, referring chiefly to the coming of the Lord. 4. A promise to him that conquereth, together with the word of awakening: he that hath an ear, etc.
“The titles put forth by the Lord at the beginning of each letter are most illustrious, as is also indicated by the words: these things saith—the Supreme Majesty,—like the Old Testament: thus saith the Lord.”
“The address in each epistle consists principally of plain and perspicuous expressions. In the promise, on the other hand, the Spirit deals more in figurative expressions. In the address, the Lord Jesus speaks principally and primarily to the churches then existing in Asia Minor, especially and particularly to their angels. The promise speaks in the third person of those who conquer—both in those first times and also in the ages after them.”
“Amongst the seven angels of the seven churches there were two, the one at Ephesus and the one at Pergamus, in a mixed state; and two, those at Sardis and Laodicea, were extremely corrupt. Not only the latter two, whose whole condition was bad, Rev_3:3; Rev_3:19, but also the former, who were defective in some particular respect, Rev_2:5; Rev_2:16, are recommended to repent. And so at Thyatira the adherents of Jezebel are admonished to repentance—the woman herself willing not to repent, and the angel of the church having no need of repentance so far as he himself is concerned, Rev_2:21-22. The condition of two of the angels, those at Smyrna and Philadelphia, was good; hence they needed no admonition to repentance, and are only encouraged to persevere. There is no mixed or good or bad state whose pattern might not be found here, as well as apt and salutary doctrine therefor. Though a man were as dead as the angel of the church at Sardis, or as flourishing as the one at Philadelphia and the aged Apostle John himself, this book suiteth his case, and the Lord Jesus hath somewhat to say to him therein.”
“In the seven epistles there are twelve promises. In the third, fourth, and sixth, there is a two-fold promise, and in the fifth a three-fold promise; each one of the promises being distinguished by a particular expression: I will give. I will not blot out, I will confess, I will write.—The promise to him that overcometh [conquereth] is declaratory, sometimes of the enjoyment of the most precious boons, sometimes of immunity from the extremest misery. The one is included in the other, and when a part of the blessedness and glory of the victor is expressed, the whole should be understood, Rev_21:7. That part is particularly expressed which relates to the virtues and deeds referred to in the address.—Some things contained in these promises are not again expressly mentioned in the Revelation; as, for instance, the manna, the confession of the victor’s name, the name of the New Jerusalem written upon the victor, the sitting upon Christ’s throne. Some things bear a resemblance to what is afterwards declared concerning Christ Himself; viz. the secret name, Rev_19:12; the shepherdizing of the nations, Rev_19:15; the Morning Star, Rev_22:16. Some things are expressly mentioned again in their proper place; as the tree of life, Rev_22:2; immunity from the second death, Rev_20:6; the name in the book of life, Rev_20:12; Rev_21:27; the abiding in the temple of God, Rev_7:15; the name of God and of the Lamb on the righteous, Rev_14:1; Rev_22:4.” Bengel.
The fundamental idea of all the seven epistles is the fundamental idea of the Apocalypse itself—the Coming of the Lord. The arrangement is the epistolary form in apocalyptic sublimity: superscription, substance, conclusion. The superscriptions have the common form of Christ’s self-designation, with the prophetic announcement:
(Amo_1:3, etc.); they present the various attributes of His majestic appearance as described in Revelation 1. The distribution of the attributes harmonizes with the churches. For Ephesus, the metropolis: the seven stars and seven candlesticks. For Smyrna, the martyr church, He that was dead and is alive again. For Pergamus, where Satan’s seat is: the sharp, two-edged sword. For Thyatira, where the spirit of fanaticism is rampant: the eyes as flames of fire, and the feet like a glowing stream of molten metal. For dead Sardis: the Possessor of the Seven Spirits (of life) and the seven stars. For faithful Philadelphia: the Possessor of the keys of David, the Opener of a door to the church. For Laodicea, as for Ephesus, a more general designation of Christ, yet under the name of the Amen, Who certainly fulfills His threats. The attributes also correspond with the commendations, admonitions, and threats, i.e., with the criticisms and the promises. In the criticisms, praise and blame are sometimes united; and where praise predominates (as in the case of the first four churches), the first place is given to it; where censure predominates, it has the first place (Sardis). So in one case we find praise exclusively (Philadelphia), and, in another, only censure (Laodicea). The promises are always promises of entire blessedness in concrete terms, such as are appropriate to the condition, conduct, and conflict of the church. Ebrard remarks that the first four promises are taken from consecutive items of Old Testament history (Paradise, death, manna, David); the last three relate to the final establishment of the Kingdom (p. 157). The epistle proper is grounded upon the Lord’s complete knowledge of the state of the church (
, etc.). This is followed by a portraiture of the church and the award of praise and blame; next follows the prognosis, the prediction of good or danger; finally, the application: admonition, threat, consolation. The conclusion is a specific conditional promise, accompanied by the exhortation to hear the words of the Spirit; amid constant reference to the Coming of the Lord.
[See an exceedingly able and interesting article on “The Seven Churches of the Apocalypse,” in Schaff’s History of the Apostolic Church, p. 427 sqq.—E. R. C.]
First Epistle. Ephesus
Rev_2:1. Ephesus was the metropolis of proconsular Asia; not merely in a political, but also in an ecclesiastical sense. It is placed at the head of the seven churches as the actual see of John, Hengstenberg remarks; a proposition which is groundlessly denied by Düsterdieck. On Ephesus, see Winer, Das Wörterbuch für das Christliche Volk, and Books of Travel. [Conybeare and Howson’s Life and Epistles of St. Paul, Schaff’s History of the Apostolic Church, Kitto’s Bib. Cyc., etc.—E. R. C.] At the present day, the only remains of this once pleasant city are some ruins and the village of Ajosoluck. The church was founded by Paul (Act_18:19; Act_19:1). On its Pauline period, see the Commentaries on Ephesians and 1 Timothy. Because Timothy was the head of this church for a time, Alcasar, Cornelius à Lapide, and others, have regarded him as the angel of the church. This opinion was held even in opposition to the traditional notion, according to which John was the successor of Timothy.
That holdeth [fast].—
, stronger than
, Rev_1:16. Düsterdieck thinks it involves the idea of Christ’s ability to cast the stars out of His hand. [The idea is that of holding with power, comp. Joh_10:28.—E. R. C.] We must distinguish, however, between stars and candlesticks (Rev_2:5, Rev_3:1). The stars, perhaps, are “graven in His hand.”
resembles the passage Rev_1:13.” It is a stronger expression, however. [The idea presented seems to be that of one who walks about to trim the lamps. According to the opinion of Sir Isaac Newton. E. R. C.] Ebrard justly refers this more general designation of Christ, in respect of His relation to the churches, to the metropolitan character of Ephesus. Düsterdieck does not recognize this reference.
Rev_2:2. [I know=
.—Knowledge concerning, not approval, is indicated by this term; the same word is used in reference to the church of Laodicea, Rev_3:15. The commendation spoken of below is to be gathered from the context and not from this term.—E. R. C.]—Thy works.—With reference to Rev_2:4, it may seem a strange thing that He should begin with a commendation of the works of the church. Yet they are commendable, though not exactly heroic deeds against false teachers, as Hengstenberg maintains. The active zeal of the church may have formed a contrast to the heathen mysticalness and moonstruck character of the city. The form of the works branches first into labor or toil, and perseverance or endurance. It is thus [as perseverance or endurance] that we translate
in this place, since the word cannot be a mere repetition in Rev_2:3. [“This word
, signifying, as it does, not merely labor, but labor unto weariness, may suggest some solemn reflection to every one who at all affects to be working for his Lord, and as under his great Task-Master’s eye. This is what Christ looks for, this is what Christ praises in His servants.” Trench.—“
form the active and passive sides of the energizing Christian life. The omission of the
, serves to bind the two together in one. They are epexegetic, in fact, of
; cf. 1Co_15:58,” etc. Alford.—E. R. C.]—With this zeal in the life of the Church, a healthy polemical system corresponds, which may also be divided into two forms. In the first place, the church cannot bear bad men—this means, of course, in the domain and mask of religion—and, secondly, it even dares, by means of a Christian proving of spirits, to unmask men giving themselves out as apostles, and to show them to be liars. False teachers, manifestly, are meant [see Act_20:29-30]; men assuming to possess apostolic authority, whether they appeared in the guise of inspired persons, or as Judaizing traditionalists. According to Düsterdieck, this saying would be meaningless after the destruction of Jerusalem. It is well known, however, that in all ages of the Church persons have appeared who have laid claim to apostolical authority. Düsterdieck thinks that these men were tried by their works pre-eminently; but false apostles should be pre-eminently, though not exclusively, tried by their doctrine. [Comp. 1Jn_4:1-3.—E. R. C.]
Rev_2:3. And that thou hast patience [endurance].—Here follows the third commendation of the church, for its good conduct under suffering; this also is exhibited under two aspects—suffering in general, for Christ’s name’s sake, and steadfast endurance under these sufferings. [There can be little doubt that the alteration of the text in this passage is due to an apparent inconsistency between
ïἶäá ôὰí êüðïí óïõ
(see Textual and Grammatical). There is a world-wide distinction between being weary in the flesh (a mark of faithfulness in working) and being wearied in spirit (a mark of faithlessness), which, doubtless, the Apostle designed to indicate, and which the alterers failed to grasp.—E. R. C.]
Rev_2:4. [I have against thee.—The unauthorized introduction of somewhat into the E. V. weakens the force of the rebuke—which, as it came from the mouth of Jesus, was unqualified. Trench well remarks: “It is indeed not a ‘somewhat,’ which the Lord has against the Ephesian Church; it threatens to grow to be an ‘every thing;’ for, see the verse following, and comp. 1Co_13:1-3.”—E. R. C.]—That thou hast left thy first love.—This reproach is a contrast and counterpoise to all previous praise, almost outweighing it, in fact. Some of the different interpretations of this first love are characteristic. The two following are antithetic in their nature: Calovius understands the words as signifying a watchful zeal for the purity of the word of God (i.e., doctrine), while Eichhorn, on the other hand, thinks that the church is charged with a want of clemency in the judgment of the false teachers. Grotius understands the passage as referring to a defective care for the poor. Ebrard thinks it indicates a diminution, not of love to Christ, but of Christian brotherly love. Düsterdieck will not allow that the words bear a comparative meaning, but maintains that the first love was actually lost. If it were completely lost, as love, the church’s Christianity were at an end. What Düsterdieck means, however, is the maiden form of love, with reference to Züllig, Hengstenberg, and Jer_2:2. But the Spirit of Revelation cannot have intended to say that the first bridal or blossom-like form of development of Christian life must be permanent. Neither can brotherly love be called the first love, in comparison with love to Christ; nor can we suppose it possible for the former to vanish whilst the latter remained. Least of all is it assumable, after the commendations bestowed, that the church was lacking in its care for the poor. According to the presentation of the contrast in the epistle, there was, manifestly, in proportion to a flourishing outside show of churchly life, an incipient lack of inwardness and fervor—i.e., a lack of true divine knowledge, of habitual prayerfulness, warmth, contemplativeness; in a word, just those traits began to be lacking whose deficiency became more and more perceptible, not before the destruction of Jerusalem, but toward the end of the first century. Such a deficiency may be connected with a morbid prosecution of Christian works; as, for instance, is the case in our own time, even in evangelical circles. In a time when three important Lutheran ecclesiastical schools no longer sound the depths of the Lutheran doctrine of justification, and the religious expectation of the speedy coming of the Lord is almost universally exchanged for a chronological error, we have a practical illustration of what it is to have left the first love. [The words seem scarce to require a comment. The obvious reference is to the loss of that glowing, all-absorbing love to Jesus, as a personal Saviour, which at the first constrained them to devoted service (comp. Eph_3:16-19; Eph_4:15-16). This view is borne out by the following verse, where the decay of love is followed by the decay of works of righteousness. See also Jer_2:2 sqq.—E. R. C.]
Rev_2:5. Whence thou art fallen.—From what a height of ideal Christian life (comp. the writings of the Apostles and the works of the apostolic fathers).
And repent.—In reference to this fall, inward reflection is needed—a new internalization of Christian character. And thus, do the first works does not mean, do yet more outward works, but, do the living inward works on which all sound Christianity rests. [The reference doubtless was to both inward and outward works—to the internal works of love and faith, and to the bringing forth of fruits meet for repentance in the outward life. The “first works” do not mean more ritual observances, yet they do include such outward works as are described, Eph_4:17, to the end of the Epistle.—E. R. C.]
But if not.—The magnitude of the threatened punishment shows that the internal condition of the church is exceedingly bad. The grand trouble is that it is travelling a downward road. If the inward life be once neglected, and replaced or covered up by an external zeal for works, the false movement, if not corrected by repentance, goes on to spiritual death. This fact is demonstrated by the history of the mediæval Church, and by that of the modern evangelical awakening. [Not only was the internal condition of the church bad, but also the external. It is to be feared that many Protestants confound externality with mere externality, and so lose sight of vital truth. True religion has an outside as well as Pharisaism—an outside which differs from the latter not only in that it is more scriptural, but also in that it is broader, more complete. It may be indeed narrower in a merely ritual direction, but, in all other respects, it is more extensive. It should ever be remembered that our Lord exhorted, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works,” Mat_5:16, and that the Apostle Paul presented it as one of the characteristics of true Christians that they are “zealous of good works,” Tit_2:14. The Pharisees, in losing internal piety, narrowed the field of external religion; they placed it altogether in ceremonial observances; in tithing mint, anise, and cummin (which was a duty) and in other uncommanded rites, and ignored the weightier matters of the law, Mat_23:23. They omitted not merely the internal graces of judgment, mercy, and faith, but the actions proceeding from these graces. The mark of a decaying church is not an external zeal for works, but a zeal for works in a contracted, often an uncommanded field, whilst the broad surrounding territory of Christian duty is left uncultivated. This, doubtless, was the condition of the Ephesian church.—E. R. C.]
I come upon thee.—Properly, unto thee (
of Rev_2:3 is similar. Both forms are expressive of the unexpectedness of the coming.)
Will remove thy candlestick.—Since the church is also itself called the candlestick (Rev_1:20), the following explanation readily suggests itself: efficiam, ut ecclesia esse desinas (Aret.); or, if the angel be regarded as the bishop: I will take from thee thy church, thy position (Zeger)—the ordinary expression for which, however, would be: I will remove thee. The interpretations of Grotius and Ewald are also inadequate. But since the candlestick is here distinguished from the church, it doubtless denotes the Christian quality of the church, consisting, according to the Christian saying, of light and life. History teaches us what becomes of the dead body in the case of such a removal of the soul. This passage suggests a reference to the perfect desolation of Ephesus, as compared with Smyrna and Philadelphia.
Rev_2:6. But this thou hast.—Properly, doubtless: thou still retainest. The sign of hope presented in Rev_2:3 is again and more distinctly set forth. Hate cannot be resolved into disapprove (as De Wette interprets); it is, however, to be referred to the works of the Nicolaitans—not to them personally (Lyra). The dogmata lying at the foundation of the works, are doubtless also intended, though not exclusively, as Calovius supposes.
Nicolaitans.—A sectarian tendency in the Apostolic Church, on which comp. Church history and the Encyclopædias. It is obvious from the epistles themselves—1. That they form a contrast to “the Jews” in Smyrna and at Philadelphia [ch. Rev_2:9], Rev_3:9; and, on the other hand, 2. That they are akin to, and, in practice, even identical with, the Balaamites at Pergamus, Rev_2:14, and the school of Jezebel at Thyatira, Rev_2:20. We distinguish three opinions in regard to the Nicolaitans: 1. The Catholic tradition representing the deacon Nicolas, Act_6:5, as the founder of the sect; 2. The correction proceeding from Clement of Alexandria, stating that from a misunderstanding of an utterance of Nicolas, the doctrine that the lusts of the flesh must be indulged had been derived; 3. The assumption, since Heumann, that the term Nicolaitans is a symbolical expression; in support of this hypothesis it is alleged that the Greek word Nicolas means conqueror of the people; the Hebrew Balaam, devourer of the people; the two, in symbolical unity, signifying religious seducers of the people (analogous is the Antichrist Armillus,
[desolator, ravager of the people]). From the Epistle of Jude, Rev_2:11 (comp. 2Pe_2:15), we see that the name of Balaam had previously been symbolically employed in reference to antinomistic corrupters of the people. The apocalyptic symbolism might take advantage of this fact, freely translating the name. In this case, however, the Apocalyptist would most probably have made one name suffice him; and so the tradition of the misuse of the name of Nicolas does not seem to be altogether unfounded. It is possible that one and the same antinomianism branched into three forms: 1. A doctrinal form (Nicolaitans); 2. A worldly-wise form (Balaamites); 3. A spiritualistic form (Jezebel).
“The Nicolaitans are, undoubtedly, not identical (Hengstenberg) with the
mentioned in Rev_2:2; yet they certainly do belong to those bad people.” (Düsterdieck.) On the confusion of opinions, see the last-named commentator. The reference of the false apostles [Rev_2:2] to “the Apostle of the Gentiles and his adherents,” is presumptuous and even audacious.
Rev_2:7. He that hath an ear, i.e., the organ of hearing; here in a spiritual sense. The singular is more significant, our plural [Luther’s version has Ohren, ears] more popular and emphatic. [Let him hear.—Hear in the sense of heed, as in Mat_18:15-17; Mat_13:18 (comp. with 15).—E. R. C.]
The Spirit.—The Holy Spirit, as the Spirit of Christ and the inspiration of the Prophet. Düsterdieck justly gives prominence to the fact that John’s personality is in no way abrogated, but glorified, by his ascription of what is said, to the Spirit.
To him that overcometh [conquereth].—The same exhortation at the close of all the seven epistles denotes the victory of a steadfast life of faith over the temptations and trials indicated, and over all adverse things in general. [It also implies that the Christian life, throughout the entire period covered by the seven epistles, is to be one of conflict. It pre-supposes the warfare and the preparation of Eph_6:10-20.—E. R. C.]
Will I give.—The give is emphatic, meaning—not bestow a portion—but grant power, authorize.
Of the tree of life.—A reference to the new Paradise (see chaps. 21, 22). To eat of the trees of life, the heavenly-earthly antitypes of the tree of life in the first Paradise. An emphatic promise of eternal life, of the enjoyment of eternal nourishment to eternal rejuvenation. Since the lack of the first love is a lack of life, the promise of heavenly life is a fitting one.
In the paradise of [My] God.—(Joh_20:17). The word My has been objected to (see the Textual Notes) probably because it was thought to militate against the Divinity of Christ. But even in glory, Christ can call the God Who, as the Faithful One, will so transcendently abide by His faithfulness, His God, in order to denote the infinite certainty of infinite promise. [Similar expressions occur, Joh_20:17; Eph_1:17; Rev_3:12. As the Fons Deitatis, the Begetter, the First Person of the Trinity is at once the God and the Father of the Divine Son.—E. R. C.]
Second Epistle. Smyrna
Rev_2:8. Of the church in Smyrna.—This city is situated on a harbor of the Ægean sea, and is flourishing even to this day. See the Real-Encyclopædias and Books of Travel. Letters of Ignatius, Polycarp, Church Histories.
“Many, particularly Catholic exegetes, etc., also Calovius and Hengstenberg, have regarded Polycarp as the angel of Smyrna.” [Altered from Düsterdieck.—Tr.] This assumption is based upon the false theory in regard to the angel.
[These things saith the first and the last, etc.—“Being addressed, as this epistle is, to the Church exposed, and hereafter to be still more exposed, to the fiercest blasts of persecution, it is graciously ordered that all the attributes which Christ here claims for Himself should be such as would encourage and support His servants in their trial and distress.” Trench.—E. R. C.]
Who became dead.—This self-designation of Christ harmonizes with the martyr-state of the church. [And revived.—“The words (both clauses of this designation) seem to point to the promises in Rev_2:10-11.” Alford.—E. R. C.]
Rev_2:9. Thy tribulation.—This has reference to sufferings from persecution—shame and distress—extending even to imprisonment and death (Rev_2:10 sqq.)
And poverty.—It is more probable that this has reference to the spoiling of the church’s goods (Heb_10:34, Primas and others), than to the helplessness of originally poor persons, in contrast to rich Jews, able to bribe the government (Hengstenberg).
But thou art rich.—In heavenly goods (Rev_3:18; Eph_1:3; Mat_6:20, [Rev_5:11-12], etc.) Soul-elevating contrast. (
And (I know) thy calumny.—This calumny, as addressed to heathen, might be an accusation of riotousness and sedition (Act_17:6); as addressed to Jews or Jewish Christians, it might be an accusation of apostasy from the Law or from Ebionite Christianity. It is a query whether real Jews are intended here (most commentators), or Judaizing Christians (Vitringa and others). The two readily made common cause, however, in taking offence at the free development of Christianity, and the Prophet might reproach them both with not being genuine Jews, i.e., believers on the Messiah (comp. the Epistle of James). Hence, even if the Apocalyptist were speaking of real Jews, he would take the word in a higher, symbolical sense; we would remark in this connection, that, in the Gospel of John, on the other hand, the word Jews denotes, in the historical sense, Judaizers. Rev_3:9, however, seems to be more in favor of the supposition that Jewish Christians are intended. Though it cannot be denied that, in many cases, the Jews incited the heathen to the persecution of Christians, we cannot suppose (with Düsterdieck) that, at the beginning of the Jewish war, the Jews, who were almost all insurrectionists, could have accused the Christians, who were peaceable citizens, of anything like insurrection or sedition.
A synagogue of Satan.—Cutting oxymoron. Not a synagogue of the Lord (Num_16:3 and elsewhere), but the extreme opposite of that. As Antichristian adversaries of the church’s Christianity (see Jam_2:2). Düsterdieck recalls Hos_4:15 : Bethel a Bethaven. [Alford referring to Trench: New Testament Synonyms, § 1, thus writes: “He (Trench) brings out there how
, the nobler word, was chosen by our Lord and His Apostles for the assembly of the called in Christ, while
, which is only once found (Jam_2:2) of a Christian assembly (and there, as Düsterd. notes, not with
, but with
) was gradually abandoned entirely to the Jews, so that in this, the last book of the Canon, such an expression as this can be used. See also his Comm. on the Epistles to the Seven Churches.” It is to be observed that
was not gradually abandoned, but was at once relinquished. As a term relinquished by the true Israel, it might be applied to an assembly either of those clinging to Judaism, or of an heretical Christian sect.—E. R. C.]
Rev_2:10. Fear none of those things whichthou shalt suffer.—The prison is indicative of persecutions on the part of the magistracy, which, however, in persecuting, is unwittingly the devil’s servant (see Revelation 12). Düsterdieck: “The meaning of the name (
, slanderer) should not be emphasized here (contrary to Züllig and Hengstenberg); otherwise we should expect to find
, in Rev_2:9, and
. in Rev_2:10.” Still, the idea of the adversary (Satan) takes precedence of the idea of the slanderer (devil), and the incarceration of the pious is a practical slander.
[Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, i. e., through his influence upon the minds of magistrates, as he influenced the Sabeans and Chaldeans against Job (Rev_1:15; Rev_1:17). This passage agrees with other Scriptures, in teaching not merely the personality of the devil (Satan), but also that his permitted power over the world and members of the Church, though weakened, is still continued. Comp. Luk_22:31; 1Th_2:18, 2Th_2:9; Eph_6:11-12; 1Pe_5:8, etc.—E. R. C.]
That ye may be tried.—Though temptation on the part of the devil is at the same time a testing or proving on the part of God, here the devil’s tempting to apostasy is intended. Three terms for the devil are presented here, therefore: enemy, accuser, tempter.
Tribulation ten days.—The numeral is not to be taken literally (Grot.), and denotes neither a long time (a Lapide and others), nor a short time (De Wette and others, [Alford, Trench]), but a divinely meted, periodical world-time, according, however, with the minor measure of the worldly life of Smyrna—numbered days; i. e., the period of the expiration of the old world-time in Smyrna; which period, if we regard it as thus meted and modified by days, may undoubtedly appear a short time. Interpretations: 1. Ten days are equivalent to ten years. The persecutions under Domitian or Decius. 2. The ten persecutions of the Christians (Ebrard). This time of persecution must be distinguished from the universal time of tribulation of the Church, Rev_13:5 (42 months=1260 days, Rev_11:3; Rev_12:6=3½ times, Rev_12:14).
Be thou faithful.—
is significant—pointing to a long and perilous way.
Unto death.—The faithfulness must be the faithfulness of the martyr, who is ready even for death; a faithfulness exceeding the persecutions. This exhortation may be beautifully generalized thus: be faithful until death. [The two ideas of unto and until death are conjoined. Be faithful, though faithfulness lead to death; be faithful until you die.—E. R. C.]
The crown of life.—1Pe_5:4.
. Düsterdieck: Genit. apposit. See, in opposition to this, the Lange Comm. on Jam_1:12, p. 47 [Am. Ed.]. “The summum of life as life’s prize of honor.” Genitive of appertinency, therefore. Various interpretations: Züllig: The royal crown of the faithful. Hengstenberg, figuratively: The most precious thing. Düsterdieck, correctly: The figure of the victor’s crown, taken from the competitive games. [The question here is as to whether the
spoken of is the diadem of the king, or the wreath of the victor. In favor of the latter interpretation may be urged that the term is
, and the further fact, that the promise is to the victor. This, at first glance, may seem to settle the question. It will not be denied that, according to strict classical usage,
represents the crown of the king, and
that of the conqueror in the Grecian games. It should be remembered, however, that at this very time the crown of the Roman Emperors was the
—(See Elliot, Hor. Apoc., Vol. I., p. 136 sq.), the symbol at once of victory and dominion. The question is as to the force of the term in the New Testament.
occurs but three times, Rev_12:3; Rev_13:1; Rev_19:2; the word everywhere else translated crown is
. In 1Co_9:25 and 2Ti_2:5, there is, manifestly, reference to the wreath of the victor; but, on the other hand, the crown placed on the head of Jesus in mockery of His claim to be a King, was styled
, Mat_27:29, etc.; (see also Rev_4:4; Rev_4:10; Rev_6:2; Rev_14:14, where the crown of the ruler is referred to). A consideration of these Scriptures establishes the conclusion that, in the New Testament, this term, like the English crown, is used to designate both the diadem and the wreath. This conclusion is confirmed by the well-known fact concerning the Roman Emperors above alluded to. From this point of view there can be little doubt that the
of the glorified saints are the symbols at once of their victory in the contest of earth, and of their authority as kings in the Kingdom of Heaven.—E. R. C.]
Rev_2:11. He that overcometh [conquereth].—The promise corresponds with the address and charge. Overcoming is here the concrete victory over temptation in the persecutions announced; a victory founded, as it necessarily must be, upon a general victory over evil.—To such a victor, invulnerableness against the second death is assured.
The second death.—A designation of damnation (Rev_20:6; Rev_20:14; Rev_21:8), with reference to Jewish Theology (see Düsterdieck, De Wette, Wetstein, Buxtorf). This, therefore, is indirectly the surest promise of eternal life. The more certain the first death seems to be, the more surely will the one assailed by it receive an entrance into that free realm, where all is imperishable and unfading, where death is a thing of the past. [See the Excursus on Hades, p. 364.—E. R. C.]
third epistle. pergamus
Rev_2:12. Pergamus or Pergamum in Mysia; formerly a royal residence; later, a principal city of Roman Asia. This was the city of Æsculapius, as Ephesus was that of Diana. It is now called Bergamo. There are many ruinous remains of the old city. See the Lexicons and Books of Travel.
The sharp, two-edged sword.—Here, too, the attribute of Christ corresponds with the situation of Pergamus; see Rev_2:16. The sharp sword is, however, not an instrument of external penal judgments, but the organ of the Spirit’s judgments (see Eph_6:17; Joh_16:8). It was an hypothesis of Lyra, that the epistle was addressed to a bishop named Carpus.
Rev_2:13. Satan’s throne.—The same idea is made prominent at the end of the verse: where Satan dwelleth.—Double recognition is made of the church’s faithfulness, on account of the perils of the place in which it is tested. Interpretations of the term throne of Satan: 1. Worship of Æsculapius, whose symbol was the serpent (=devil, Grotius, and others). 2. Acme of idolatry (Andreas and others). 3. Dwelling-place of heathen and Nicolaitans (Calovius and others). 4. Extreme of persecutions (Ewald and others). 5. Museum of Pergamus (Zornius). Pergamus being the seat of the supreme court, it was natural that it should be the central point of persecution (Ebrard). Düsterdieck also mentions this supposition, without giving it its due weight. It has reference, indeed, to a later period of the first century, when persecutions began to be judicial. [Trench judiciously remarks: “All which we can securely conclude from this language is, that from one cause or another, these causes being now unknown, Pergamum enjoyed the bad pre-eminence of being the headquarters in these parts of the opposition to Christ and His Gospel. Why it should have thus deserved the name of ‘Satan’s throne,’ so emphatically repeated a second time at the end of this verse, ‘where Satan dwelleth,’ must remain one of the unsolved riddles of these Epistles.”—E. R. C.]
And thou holdest fast My name.—Revelation and knowledge of the essence and governance of Christ. Düsterdieck, on the other hand, in accordance with a widely diffused and inevident interpretation: The true objective Person of Christ, together with its riches and glory. The same expositor denies that confession is intended, as De Wette maintains. The church has already given proof of this, its holding fast of the name of Jesus, in a time of tribulation and martyrdom, when it was tempted to deny and would not.
My faith;i. e., belief in Christ, resting upon His faithfulness. Objective genitive; Rev_14:12, and other passages. Comp. Rom_3:25-26. [This interpretation is not required by the construction.
may be regarded as having been used concretely, as in Judges 3, etc., and the genitive as that of the source.—E. R. C.]
In which Antipas.—We follow the reading
, supported by Cod. B. and adopted by Griesbach. This reading has been objected to, probably on the ground that the church generally was faithful. Accordingly,
has been omitted—a proceeding which gave rise to still greater difficulties, on which comp. Düsterdieck (p. 158). Again, an explanatory
has been prefixed to
. On the plays upon the word Antipas, comp. Düsterdieck (
, against all: Anti-papa, or
= Athanasianism; Pergamus = Alexandria). De Wette: “A certain Antipas (Antipater) must have suffered martyrdom in Pergamus some time previously.” The later martyrologies announce that in the time of Domitian, Antipas, bishop of Pergamus, was killed by being placed in an iron image of a bull, heated red-hot. Tertullian mentions the martyr Antipas, taking the name, most probably, from our passage. Eusebius (Hist. eccles. vi. 15) cites three other martyrs of Pergamus. Hengstenberg conjectures that the symbolical name, against all (Saskerides), denotes Timothy. Ebrard ironically expatiates upon this view (p. 174). Consistent symbolical interpretation may lead to attempts at the interpretation of names; but consistent symbolical interpretation does not demand that the names of the seven cities should also be interpreted.
Rev_2:14. A few things against thee.—We must not regard this as a litote and understand the opposite to what is said (Heinrich).
Thou hast there them.—Members of the church are intended, but not the whole church. It has not completely purified itself from these people; has been negligent in church discipline.
Who hold the doctrine of Balaam.—Persistently hold it fast,
. The combination of the history of Balaam, Num_22:25 sqq, and the story of the avenging war of Israel against Midian, Rev 31, served for a foundation to a Jewish tradition to the effect that Balaam taught Balak how, by the institution of idolatrous sacrificial feasts, he might entice the Israelites to fornication and thus corrupt them. It was a doctrine, not in the sense of a system, but as a maxim. And whilst Balaam hoped for outward gain, and the Nicolaitans, on the other hand, were following an Antinomian principle, we find, together with the coincidence of the two names, a certain difference which we have previously pointed out.
[To cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat idol offerings.—“There are two words which claim here special consideration,
, a later form of
. … and
… occur only, I believe, in the Sacred Scriptures, the Septuagint and the New Testament, and in such writings as are immediately dependent upon these (see Suicer, S. V.); being almost always in them employed in a tropical sense; Jdt_5:1, Lev_19:14, are exceptions.
is properly a trap (joined ofte