(Apocalypse of John)
Eaton & Mains, New York
Reprinted 1988 by
Baker Book House
REVELATION OF THE LAME 1 – 11
TITLE AND SUPERSCRIPTION 1:1-3
THE Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show unto his servants, even the things which must shortly come to pass: and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John;
who bare witness of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, even of all things that he saw.
Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.
Verse 1. The first three verses of this book serve the purpose of a title and a superscription. They declare the divine source and object of the revelation, and pronounce a blessing on both reader and hearers. We are emphatically told at the outset that this is a Revelation of Jesus Christ; which means, as the context shows, a revelation made known by Jesus Christ. It is not to be explained as a genitive of the object—a revelation concerning Jesus, or belonging to him as a peculiar possession; but a genitive of the subject; for Jesus is “the faithful witness” (verse 5) who made the revelation known to John, and through him to the churches. The original source of this, as of all heavenly revelations, is God himself (____). He gave it to Jesus Christ (as John 7:16, 17, and 17:7, 8, affirm), and Jesus in turn sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John. It was designed to show unto all his servants (that is, servants of Jesus Christ), as well as unto John, the things which must shortly come to pass; and so John reckoned himself as a fellow‑servant along with all who love and worship God and keep his commandments (comp. verse 9 and 22:9). The word signified (_______) suggests that this heavenly revelation was communicated through signs and symbols, and how God sent and symbolized it is indicated in chaps. 5 – 10, where the sealed book of divine mysteries, seen on the hand of God, is taken by the Lamb, and, the seals having been all opened by him, it is given as a little book to John, and eaten by him so as to become a word of prophecy to many peoples. For his angel should here be understood as the angel of Jesus Christ, and the particular reference is to the strong angel out of whose hand John took the opened book, as recorded in chap. 10:8-10. The subject‑matter of the Apocalypse is here said to be things which must shortly come to pass. The word must (___) indicates the writer's profound conception of the divine order of the world. The God who rules earth and heaven sees the end from the beginning, determines the times and seasons (Acts 1:7), and secures unfailingly those things which are necessary to the fulfillment of his purposes in the kingdoms of men. The things thus destined to come to pass soon after the composition of this book were in substance the same as those of which Jesus discoursed on the Mount of Olives, and which are written in Matt. 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. They concerned the approaching end of that age, the overthrow of Jerusalem and with it the old covenant of Mount Sinai, and the coming of the kingdom which is to break in pieces and consume all other kingdoms, and never to be destroyed (Dan. 2:44). It was necessary that these things come to pass shortly, for Jesus had repeatedly declared that the consummation of that age and his coming in his kingdom would take place before that generation passed away (Matt. 16:28; 24:34).
Verse 2. It is next added that this servant John witnessed the word of God, and the testimony of Jesus Christ. The aorist tense here used suggests that this title and superscription were written, in the manner of a preface, after the rest of the book was completed; and for the moment John contemplates the assembly listening to the reading of the words of the prophecy. To his own mind the entire revelation lies in a definite past, and he puts on record the fact that he witnessed, that is, bore testimony to what he saw. The command of verse 19 to write what he saw was strictly obeyed, and the book of this revelation is the result, and is here spoken of as already completed. The word of God is here to be understood of this revelation, considered as a word of prophecy originating with God as stated in verse 1; and the testimony of Jesus Christ is the same word of God as made known by him who in verse 5 is called “the faithful witness.” It is the same word and testimony as in verse 9, for the sake of which John was in Patmos, and which are thought and spoken of as whatsoever things he saw (_______).
Verse 3. The mention of the reader and the hearers contemplates a public reading and a devout assembly; for the words of the prophecy are here commended as a genuine revelation from God, to be as much heeded as any book of inspired prophecy. For “the words of the prophecy of this book” (22:10) do not only furnish a series of wonderful visions, which one may profitably meditate and keep in his heart (comp. Dan. 7:28), but they are also full of command, exhortation, rebuke, and warning. And, therefore, the original readers and hearers, and those of all time, may well keep the things which are written therein. One immediate motive for observing the words herein written was that the time was at hand. These words, like those of verse 1, and chap. 22:6, 10, 12, 20, declare the imminence of the events predicted in this book. The impending ruin of Judaism and its city and temple was but a few years in the future when John wrote, and that world‑historical catastrophe was on the one hand a judging and avenging of the blood of the martyrs (chaps. 6:10; 11:18; Matt. 23:31-36), and on the other a signal that the new word of Jehovah, the gospel of the kingdom, should thenceforth proceed from Jerusalem, untrammeled by the bonds of a local cultus, and grow until the kingdoms of the world become the possession of Jehovah and his Christ.
JOHN to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace to you and peace, from him who is and who was and who is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;
and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood;
and he made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father; to him be the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.
After the superscription of verses 1-3, which is of the nature of a short preface, or, perhaps, a title-page, the writer addresses himself to the seven churches of Asia after the manner of an epistolary salutation. He calls himself simply John; in verse 9, I John, and so again in 22:8. No other John known to the early Church could have announced himself thus so well as the great apostle. "We instinctively feel," says Trench, “that for anyone else there would have been an affectation of simplicity, concealing a most real arrogance, in the very plainness of the title, in the assumption that thus to mention himself was sufficient to insure his recognition, or that he had a right to appropriate this name in so absolute a manner to himself.” The Asia in which the seven churches were located was what is commonly called “proconsular Asia,” consisting of the provinces of Mysia, Lydia, Caria, and Pbrygia. In these regions ancient tradition places the later life and ministry of the apostle John; and there appears no good reason to doubt that, after the martyrdom of his brother James, which was so "pleasing to the Jews" (Acts 12:2, 3), he left Jerusalem and repaired to the western part of Asia Minor. It is not improbable that he was the founder of most, if not all, the churches named in verse 11.
The salutation of grace to you and peace is the same as that of the Pauline epistles (see Rom. 1:7; 1st Cor. 1:3; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2), but the divine source of these mercies is immediately designated in terms peculiar to this Apocalypse. They are from the Eternal One, from the Seven Spirits, and from Jesus Christ. This mention of a trinal fountain of grace and peace should be compared with Matt. 28:19, and 2nd Cor. 13:13. The one who is and who was and who is to come is "the God " of verse 1 and “the God and Father” of verse 6, and the Seven Spirits are but an apocalyptic designation of the Spirit who speaks to the churches in chaps. 2:7, 11, 17, etc. The threefold designation of God the Father is an allusion to Exodus 3:14, where God says to Moses that his name is I AM HE WHO IS. This free appropriation and expansion of the words as a proper name may account for the violation of grammar noticeable in the Greek text (_______). He is the God who is "from eternity unto eternity" (Psalm xc, 2), the ever-living One. But the future manifestation of his being is noticeably represented by the word _______, the one who is to come, rather than _______, who is to be. For the God who is revealed in this Apocalypse is the one who comes in judgment, continually carries on his plan of world dominion, and completes his covenants of promise. The Seven Spirits are mentioned next, in order to leave the third place for the name which is also to receive a threefold designation. The Holy Spirit is appropriately given this symbolic title in allusion apparently to the apocalyptic “seven eyes of Jehovah which run to and fro through the whole earth” (Zech. 4:10; comp. Rev. 5:6). The Spirit is manifold in his gifts and operations (1st Cor. 12:4), and the words which are before his throne suggest the teaching of John 15:26, concerning "the Spirit of truth that goeth forth from the Father." The name of Jesus Christ is brought in last for the purpose of a special emphasis, and because the doxology with which the salutation closes is to be directed conspicuously to him. He is here called the faithful witness, the words being appropriated from Psalm 139:37 (38), where the seed of David is said to continue forever, established as the moon, "even a faithful witness in the sky." Christ came into the world to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37), and all the trustworthy testimony which we possess touching God and life and immortality is through him. He is also the firstfruit of the dead, and so has been "declared to be the Son of God in power" (Rom. 1:4). Paul saw the fulfillment of Psalm 2:7, in the resurrection and enthronement of Jesus (Acts 13:33), and in Col. 1:18, he employs the expression "firstborn from the dead." But in this book the apocalyptist probably uses the word firstborn as the chief representative and lord of such as live and reign with Christ in glory (chap. 20:4, 6; 22:5). He was himself dead, but he says in verse 18, "1 am alive for the ages of the ages, and I have the keys of death and of Hades." As the faithful witness he is "the truth," and as firstborn of the dead he is "the life" (comp. John 14:6). Having himself "been made perfect, he became unto all them that obey him the author of salvation eternal " (Heb. 5:9). The third title ascribed to him is Prince (or ruler) of the kings of the earth, and the manifest appropriation of the language of Psalm 2:2; 139:27, implies a recognition of him as the Messiah, the anointed king of Zion, "highest of the kings of the earth." Compare his titles, "King of kings, and Lord of lords," in chaps. 27:14, and 19:16.
The threefold designation of Jesus Christ prompts many a thought of the unspeakable riches of his grace, and naturally leads the writer to conclude his salutation with a doxology, ascribing the glory and the dominion, through all the ages to come, unto him who loves us, and loosed its from our sins in his blood. Observe that the word loves is in the present and loosed is aorist: the one pointing to the continual love which abides as a blessed experience, the other pointing back to the one great blood-atoning sacrifice for sin by which he “has perfected forever them that are sanctified” (Heb. 10:10, 14). At the beginning of the sixth verse the writer turns from the participial construction with which he began his doxology, and, after the Hebraistic manner so often noticeable in this book, proceeds: And he made us (to be) a kingdom, priests unto his God and Father. This second clause is in apposition with the first, and the sentiment is appropriated from Exodus 19:6, where God promises Israel that they shall be a peculiar treasure to him above all people, and says, "Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation." John here conceives the promise as good as fulfilled, for the revelation 6f Jesus, communicated to him and the churches, has already assured him of all this. For he has heard "great voices in heaven" saying that Jehovah and his Christ have taken possession of the kingdom of the world (chap. 11:15; comp. 1st Peter 2:9), and his saints, made like himself to be both kings and priests, rule over the nations (chap. 2:26; 3:21; v, 10). Thus the members of this kingdom all become like Melchizedek, uniting the offices of royalty and priesthood, and live and reign with Christ, unto the glory of his God and Father, who is also the God and Father of them all. Comp. John 20:17, and Rev. 21:3, 7.
APOCALYPTIC ANNOUNCEMENT 1:7, 8
Behold, he cometh with the clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they who pierced him; and all the tribes of the earth shall mourn over him. Yea, Amen.
I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.
These two verses contain, first, a solemn declaration of the great theme of the book, and second, a confirmation of it as a sure word of God. In this twofold aspect the whole announcement follows the style of Old Testament prophets who associate with their oracles the assurance that Jehovah himself is the real speaker. It was the word of Jehovah coming vividly to Ezekiel that enabled him to look into the opened heavens and see the visions of God (Ezek. 1:1, 3, 4). Amos's announcement that "Jehovah will roar out of Zion, and wither the top of Carmel" is immediately followed by "thus saith Jehovah" (Amos 1:2, 3; comp. 4:12, 13, and Joel 3:16, 17; Zeph. 1:1, 2). The language of verse 7 is in substance identical with that of Jesus in Matt. 24:30: "Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man, and then shall all the tribes of the land wail, and they shall see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and much glory." The image is repeated in Rev. 14:14, but is no more to be understood of a visible phenomenon in the world of sense than is the coming of Jehovah on a swift cloud to destroy Egyptian idolatry, as prophesied in Isaiah 19:1. The emotional style conspicuous in the words Behold, he cometh with the clouds, shows that the writer is in the element of spiritual vision, and it betrays a total misconception of apocalyptics to insist that this language can only mean that Christ is to come on a material cloud and display his bodily presence to all men in the world at one moment of time. Such a conception involves a manifest physical absurdity. The coming is to be understood as we understand Micah 1:3, 4: "Behold, Jehovah cometh forth out of his place, and he will come down and tread upon the high places of the land; and the mountains shall melt under him." So, too, in Psalm 18:9‑11, Jehovah is described as bowing the heavens and coming down, making the thick clouds a pavilion, and flying on the wings of the wind. The language of Rev. 1:7, as well as Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Mark 13:26, and Luke 21:27, is appropriated from Dan. 7:13, and in all these places alike is to be explained as apocalyptic metaphor, and the seeing him by every eye must be understood in accord with the same principle of interpretation. The great event, and all that it involves from first to last, is conceived as a crisis of ages. The words they who pierced him are from Zech. 12:10, and should here be understood, not so much of the soldiers who nailed Jesus to the cross, and pierced his side (comp. John 19:37), as of those Jews upon whom Peter charged the awful crime (Acts 2:23, 36; 5:30), and who had wantonly cried, “His blood be upon us and upon our children" (Matt. 27:25). To the high priests, scribes, and elders who mocked and smote him Jesus himself said, "Hereafter ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Matt. 26:64). The phrase all the tribes of the land is from Zech. 12:12‑14, and here as there has reference to the families of the Jewish people, not to all the nations of the earth. The mourning is that of "the great tribulation" of those days of fearful woes when Jerusalem was brought to ruin (Matt. 24:21). It is the long-continued wail of the scattered tribes who wander only to find a grave in foreign lands.
The words Yea, Amen, are best understood as spoken by the Lord himself, and in connection with verse 8. The Yea is Greek, and Amen is its Hebrew equivalent. As the writer combines Greek and Hebrew equivalents in chap. 9:11, so he introduces the statements of verse 8 by a "verily, verily," expressed in each of these two tongues. But coming as they do between the prophetic words of verse 7 and the confirming response of verse 8, they ratify both, and give assurance that all these things shall certainly come to pass. In 3:14, the faithful and true witness calls himself THE AMEN. Verse 8 is the avowed utterance of a Lord, (who is) the God, the “God and Father” of verse 6 and “the God” of verse 1, who gave this revelation to Jesus Christ to show unto his servants. This is further shown by his calling himself the one who is and who was and who is to come (comp. verse 4). He who perpetually exists sees the end from the beginning, and so can speak with definite authority and absolute knowledge of things past, present, and to come. All the glorious coming and future of his Messiah's kingdom is seen as in a moment of time, and we need not think it strange that he speaks through his prophets of some great events of that reign, which in their development will occupy centuries, as though they were the events of an hour. For he is ____________, the All-Ruler. This last word is the Greek equivalent and used in the Septuagint for “Jehovah of hosts” (_______). He calls himself also the Alpha and the Omega, which an ancient gloss has well translated "the beginning and the end." Comp. 22:13. The Eternal One is at the beginning and end of all the work of his Messiah. Like the “author and finisher of the faith " in Heb. 12:2, he is first and last in all the outgrowths of the kingdom of heaven. He created all things, and on account of his will they were created (4:11). But he does all these things in and through Christ. Hence the adorable unity, traceable in this book as elsewhere in the New Testament, of Jesus Christ and God. In verse 17 it is the one like unto the Son of man who says, "I am the first and the last."
1. THE EPISTLES TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES. 1:9 – 3:22
INTRODUCTORY CHRISTOPHANY. 1:9-20
I John, your brother and partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom and patience which are in Jesus, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.
I was in spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a great voice, as of a trumpet
11. saying, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it to the seven churches; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamum, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
And I turned to seethe voice which spake with me. And having turned I saw seven golden candlesticks;
and in the midst of the candlesticks one like unto a son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about at the breasts with a golden girdle.
And his head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
and his feet like unto burnished brass, as if it had been refined in a furnace; and his voice as the voice of many waters.
And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth proceeded a sharp two-edged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.
And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as one dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying, Fear not; I am the first and the last, and
the Living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.
Write therefore the things which thou sawest, and the things which are, and the things which shall come to pass hereafter;
the mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks are seven churches.
As introductory to the epistles to the seven churches we have first a glorious vision of the Son of man, from whom all the messages proceed. The whole passage readily divides into four parts: (1) John in Patmos (9). (2) Words of the great voice (10, 11). (3) The vision of Christ (12-16). (4) The assuring word to John (17-20).
In the expression I John, the writer imitates the style of Daniel (comp. Dan. 7:15; 8:1; 9:2; 10:2; 12:5), the only other biblical writer who employs this form of address. But he takes to himself no special authority as an apostle or a prophet. He is profoundly conscious that he is but a bond slave of Jesus (comp. 1:1) in the communication of these wonderful messages. He accordingly calls himself your brother and fellow-partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and patience in Jesus. The three words, tribulation, kingdom, and patience, have notable relation to the prophecies of this book, but we need not look for any special significance in the order of the words as here written, nor (as Alford) regard the position of kingdom between the other two words as startling. For verse 6 has already assured us that John conceives the kingdom as good as come. The tribulation is the same as that foretold by Jesus in Matt. 24:9. The kingdom, although yet to come, was already a mighty power with the disciples of Jesus. They conceived themselves, and all who with them were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, as having also "tasted the heavenly gifts and the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:5). They were risen with Christ (comp. Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1), and could be addressed as having already come to Mount Zion and the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb. 12:22). But the situation was such that they could not expect to enter into the kingdom of God without many tribulations (Acts 14:22), and must meantime run with patience the race set before them (Heb. 12:1). It is unscriptural to maintain that one cannot enter into the kingdom of God and be made a partaker in its heavenly powers, and yet speak of its glories and triumphs yet to come. One may be in tribulation and in the kingdom at one and the same time, and this very fact shows, the necessity of patience, and the propriety of placing the word patience last in this enumeration. The clause in Jesus qualifies the entire preceding part of the verse. It is only in Jesus Christ, as the personal friend and Saviour, that fraternal fellowship in the tribulation, kingdom, and patience is possible. On the fact and reason of John's being in Patmos, see above on pages 265‑268. (chap. 19 – IV John in Patmos)
Verse 10. I was in spirit—In the element of visional rapture, in which one obtains revelation of the heavenly mysteries. Comp. 4:2; 17:3; 21:10. It involved the conditions of ecstasy (______) which fell upon Peter (Acts 10:10), and in which Paul had "visions and revelations of the Lord " (2nd Cor. 12:1). Its import is seen by help of the opposite idea expressed in Acts 7:11, “When Peter was in himself” (_______): that is, when he had recovered his ordinary self-consciousness after the angelic visitation.
In the Lord's day—This expression has been usually explained as the first day of the week, the day of the Lord's resurrection, of which we read in the Epistle of Barnabas (15:9), “We observe the eighth day in cheerfulness, in which also Jesus rose from the dead." Ignatius, also, in his Epistle to the Magnesians, speaks of "no longer keeping Sabbath, but living ____________, according to the Lord's (day?), in which also our life sprung up through him and his death." But the critical reader will note that the expressions employed by Barnabas and Ignatius are not identical with this of John, and the New Testament phrase for the first day of the week is _______________, or _______ (Matt. 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1, 19; Acts 20:7; 1st Cor. 16:2). But we do have the words ____________, and ___________, as the frequent designation of the day of the Lord's coming (Acts 2:20; 1st Cor. 1:8; 5:5; 2nd Cor. 1:14; 1st Thess. 5:2; 2nd Thess. 2:2; 2nd Peter 3:10), and this is conspicuously the great theme of this book (see verse 7, and notes thereon). What remarkable difference is there between ________ and _________, that any candid writer should feel called upon to say that the one could not be used as a substitute for the other? We fail to see how any scheme of apocalyptic interpretation is affected by these words. The great subject of the book is the coming of the Lord to judge his enemies and reward his saints, and what difference could it make in the exposition whether John saw his visions on one day of the week rather than another? If he intended to say that his divine ecstasy placed him in the midst of the scenes of the great day of the Lord we do not see how he could have stated it more emphatically; but if ______________ merely denotes the day of the week on which he saw the visions, it seems to occupy too prominent a place in the sentence and to receive too much emphasis for such an incidental matter. The only other passage in the New Testament where the word occurs is 1st Cor. 11:20, in the phrase Lord's supper (_____________). Will any of those who write so dogmatically on this subject show that the same thought could not have been expressed by ______________? Compare the word in Rev. 19:9, 17. The truth is that this whole controversy over the meaning of ________ in this passage has no more importance in determining the real meaning of the Apocalypse than the question whether John were corporeally or only in spirit in the isle of Patmos for the sake of this word of God. Trench very frankly concedes that it is a mistake to suppose "that ________ was a designation of Sunday already familiar among Christians," although he thinks that "the name had probably its origin here." The plain facts are that the New Testament writers have a well-known phrase to designate the first day of the week; the phrase in question is not so used by them, and occurs nowhere else in the New Testament; but its equivalent and closest parallel, ___________, is of frequent occurrence, and everywhere means the day of the Lord's coming, not the day of his resurrection. Since, therefore, this book is not an historical narrative but a record of visions and revelations of God, we incline to regard John's being in Patmos, as well as his being in the day of the Lord, as a matter of spiritual vision, not of objective reality. In the same manner we understand Daniel's presence in Shushan and by the river Ulai (Dan. 8:2). While not denying that Daniel may have actually gone to Shushan, and John to the island Patmos, and that the latter may have seen this vision on a first day of the week, and called it the Lord's day, we think the other interpretation more in harmony with the genius of apocalyptic composition and the purpose of this book. Adopting this view, we do not, as Alford assumes, render John's language, “I was transported by the Spirit into the day of the Lord's coming.” He says nothing about “transportation” either into Patmos or into the day of the Lord. He speaks rather of his visional presence there. He says, I was in Patmos; I was in spirit (not in THE SPIRIT); I was in the Lord's day. To say that, as a matter of visional experience, he was ecstatically in the day of the Lord is as proper and as grammatical as to say that one may “find mercy with the Lord in that day” (2nd Tim. 1:18). It would no more be a violence to the language to say that one was in spirit in the wilderness than to say that he “was led in the Spirit in the wilderness” (Luke 4:1). John simply says (not that he was carried away or transported into, but rather) that he was in spirit (that is, visionally) in the Lord's day. He found himself, so to speak, (not coming or going lifted up or set down, but) in the very midst of visions of the things which were shortly to come to pass. He was visionally in that day as truly as the Lord himself is “glorified in his saints in that day” (2nd Thess. 1:10). Compare "So shall the Son of man be in his day" (Luke 17:24).
When, therefore, it is asserted by Alford that “no such rendering would ever have been thought of, nor would it now be worth even a passing mention, were it not that an apocalyptic system has been built upon it,” it is perhaps sufficient to remark that it does not appear to have been first suggested or ever pressed into notice by the exigencies of a system of interpretation; nor is it conceivable how preterist, historical, or futurist expositor can show it to be more helpful to one scheme than another. With greater sobriety and reason may it be said that the large space given to the discussion of this point is out of all proportion to its importance in any system of interpretation. Our apology for allowing it so much space in these notes is that it is well, at an early stage of our investigation of this book, to expose the dogmatic air and one-sided partisan pleading which has been the bane of much of the best literature on the Apocalypse. There is little hope of arriving at a trustworthy treatment of such a book of prophecy until men show a willingness to allow due weight to the relative claims of diverse opinions. If one is given to arrogant and reckless assertion on matters of no importance, what confidence can we have in his word or his judgment on matters of fundamental character?
I heard behind me—No occult meaning is to be sought in the words behind me, but we recognize an obvious allusion to the phrase as employed in Isaiah 30:21, and Ezek. 3:12. The great voice came from a point toward which he was not looking; it therefore served to awaken and attract the seer's attention. Many are the great voices mentioned in this book (comp. 5:2, 12; 6:10; 7:2, 10; 8:13; 10:3; 11:12, 15; 12:10; 14:7, 9, 15, 18; 16:1; 18:2; 19:1, 17; 21:3), and they all serve the art and purpose of apocalyptic representation. In most cases we are told from whom the voices proceed, but in this passage it is left indefinite. We might naturally suppose from what immediately follows that it was the voice of the Son of man, but a comparison of 4:1, and what follows there, is not in accord with such a supposition. The voice was a heavenly call, and it seemed to John great as that of a trumpet. Voices, trumpets, angels, and various visional symbols are what may be called the machinery of apocalyptics. The trumpet suggests the signal of a divine revelation or epiphany. Comp. Exodus 19:13, 16, 19; Joel 2:1; Matt. 24:31.
Verse 11. What thou seest write—So he is to be like Daniel, who wrote his dream-visions (Dan. 7:1). The writing is to take the form of a book (________), and to be what is called in verse 2 “the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” How this is related to the sealed book of chap. 5:1, and the opened book of 10:2, 8-11, will be interesting to observe in the study of those passages. The seven churches call for no extended comment here. The names are those of seven well-known cities of western Asia Minor, and in the absence of any certain information to the contrary may be supposed to have all been visited, and most of them, perhaps, founded by the writer of this Apocalypse. Those who wish for detailed information concerning Ephesus, Smyrna, and the other cities here named, should consult the large Bible dictionaries under the several names. It has been commonly assumed that these seven were the only churches existing in Proconsular Asia at the time this book was written. Such a supposition is entirely unnecessary, and probabilities are against it. Seven seems rather to have been purposely selected in view of the symbolical significance of that number. There is no more reason for assuming that John must needs have addressed all the existing churches of Proconsular Asia than those of Antioch, and Derbe, and Lystra, or even those of Corinth and Rome. He writes to whom he is commanded to write, and that is all we need know.
The attempts which some have made to determine the exact time and place of John's writing are simply a specimen of exegetical folly. Why should anyone presume to settle such a question when neither the writer himself, nor anyone in a position to know, has put on record one word concerning it? "Whether he wrote it while yet in Patinos, or after he returned to Ephesus," is of no consequence whatever to us now. (See footnote on page 267.)
Verses 12-20. The vision which John beheld when he turned to see the voice which spoke with him, may be shown in its apocalyptic setting by the following arrangement of its contents:
- Seven golden candlesticks.
- One like a Son of man.
(1) Clothed with a garment reaching to the feet.
(2) Girded with a golden girdle.
(3) Forehead white as snow.
(4) Hair white as wool.
(5) Eyes as a flame of fire.
(6) Feet like burnished brass.
(7) Voice like many waters.
- Seven stars in his hand.
- Sharp sword from his mouth.
- Countenance like the sun.
- Effect on John (prostration as one dead).
- Words of the Living One.
(1) Fear not.
(2) I am the first and the last.
(3) The Living One.
(4) Was dead but alive for the ages.
(5) Hold the keys of death and Hades.
(6) Write the visions.
(7) The mystery of the stars and candlesticks.
Such an analytical tabulation of the contents of this vision is perhaps the best comment upon it. The sevenfold forms of statement have no recondite significance that we should seek for some special mystery in each allusion, but they altogether serve to impress the grandeur of the Christophany. The seven candlesticks represent the seven churches, and the messages about to be given originate with this most godlike Son of man. What could have been more impressive than such a picture of the Living One from whom the faithful testimony and admonitions to the churches come?
It is to be noted that nearly all the details of the picture are taken from Old Testament prophets. The candlesticks recall Zechariah's candlestick, all of gold, and seven lamps thereon (Zech. 4:2). The phrase one like unto a son of man is taken from Dan. 7:13 (comp. also Ezek. 1:26). The clothing and golden girdle are to be compared with Dan. 10:5; Ezek. 9:2, 3, 11, and Isaiah 11:5. The hair like wool is from Dan. 7:9, and the flaming eyes and burnished feet from Dan. 10:6 (comp. Ezek. 1:7). The voice like the sound of many waters is appropriated from Ezek. 1:24; 43:2, and Dan. 10:6. The figure of a sword going out of his mouth is found in Isaiah 11:4; 49:2 (comp. Heb. 4:12), and the allusion to the sun shining in his strength is a reminiscence of Judge 5:31. John's prostration, mentioned in verse 17, was also like that of Ezekiel and Daniel (Ezek. 1:2 8; 3:23; Dan. 8:17); the uplifting words tear not are from Dan. 10:12, and the declaration I am the first and the last is from Isaiah 41:4; 44:6; 48:12.
All these various parts of the description constitute a composite picture, and its majesty is felt only as we contemplate it in the total impression it is designed to make. The author aims to represent this Son of man in all the glory in which Daniel beheld the "Ancient of days" (in Dan. 7:9, 10), and he freely appropriates from any Old Testament prophet whatever helps to fill up the magnificent outline. When, therefore, interpreters presume to tell us that the girdle was the symbol of his prophetic office (Glasgow), and the white hair the sign of Christ's freedom from sin (Cocceius), and his feet the apostles and ministers of his word (Glasgow), the whole effect of such procedure is to divert attention from the one great purpose of the vision. The different parts simply serve to make up a symmetrical picture. A long flowing robe appropriately has a girdle, but no mystic significance is to be sought in either. The white head and hair are not naturally suggestive of “the beauteous flaxen locks of childhood, thus representing the man Jesus in perpetual youth” (Glasgow); rather as Dan. 7:9, intimates, they suggest the ancient, the venerable and adorable. The flaming eyes may at once suggest his penetration and intelligence, and the sharp sword proceeding from his mouth reminds the biblical student of the Messiah who “shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth” (Isaiah 11:4). Some of these parts have significance when specified separately, as we shall find in some of the messages to the churches; but in this opening Christophany it is better to leave them in their composite relationship, and not weaken the grand impression they make as a whole by undue attention to details.
The keys of death and of Hades (verse 18) is an obvious figure for authority over death and the realm of the dead. This glorious Son of man is lord of the citadel, so to speak, where Death seems to reign, and he can open and close the gates at will. The gates of this fortress lead to the underworld, the realm of departed souls, and over Death and Hades alike this ever-living One has power. Hence the force of the first words of verse 19: Write therefore what things thou sawest. Because the one who placed his right hand upon John, and assured him that he was the arbiter of life and death, is the divine revealer of this Apocalypse, therefore the inspired seer may cast off his sudden fear and with holy confidence write the vision which he has just seen. The words ___________, what things are, may be understood in two ways, (1) what things they signify, that is, as explained immediately of the stars and the candlesticks, and (2) what things are now existing, as contrasted with what is to come to pass in the future. On the whole we prefer the latter. For _______ followed immediately by ____________ most naturally means things which now are as distinguished from things which are yet to be. If the writer meant to say "what things thou sawest and what they signify" would he not have used the word ___________ (as in chap. 1:1) rather than ______? As the language now stands we have the vision itself designated as past, things contemplated in the vision as present, and other things yet to follow after these (comp. 4:1).
Verse 20 gives an explanation of the mystery of the stars and the candlesticks. The word mystery here means the mystical significance or symbolical meaning of these objects of the vision. The candlesticks or lamp stands (______; comp. _____ in Zech. 4:2) are symbols of the churches. As organized bodies of Christian confessors the churches receive the light of the Lord and reflect the same so as to be the light of the world (comp. Matt. 5:14, 16; John 8:12; 9:5). But a deeper mystery seems to conceal the exact meaning of the seven stars; for, though said to be angels of the seven churches, the import of the word angels in such a definition is as difficult to determine as that of stars. We reject as unsatisfactory all those explanations which make the angels either messengers, delegates, officers, presbyters, or bishops of the churches. There is no evidence that the word angel was ever so employed in the early church, and what especially bears against this view is the fact that the addresses to the several churches are unsuitable for a mere officer, or bishop, or any one individual representative of the church. The responsible and characteristic personnel, embracing the church itself in the main body of its membership, seems to be contemplated in every address to the angel of the church designated. For this reason also we reject the notion that the guardian angel of each particular church is to be understood, for why praise or blame such an angel as personally guilty of the acts of the church itself? The old view of Andreas and Arethas that the angel of the church is the church itself seems on the whole to be the best supported, and in accord with the angel of the altar, the angel of the fire, and the angel of the waters (comp. chap. 14:18; 16:5, 7). The assumption of Alford that “as the church is an objective reality, so must the angel be, of whatever kind," is a fallacy in apocalyptic interpretation. One might as well maintain that the seals, and the trumpets, and the bowls of wrath are objective realities. That they have symbolic significance is clear, but that the angels that blow the trumpets have objective reality is as far from the truth as to say that all John's visions had objective reality. To discriminate between the symbol and the thing signified is the task of the interpreter, whose critical judgment should discern what is essentially real and what mere drapery or sign. The angels of the churches are best explained as an apocalyptic title for the churches, conceived not so much as organized bodies as in the characterizing personal elements and life which distinguish one church from another. So when the Living One says to a church, “I know thy works, thy zeal, thy patience, thy failures, thy poverty and nakedness,” the reference is to no one individual, least of all to a bishop or a guardian angel, but to the body of the church itself. Every member of a church so addressed is to feel himself intended, and to know that he personally, as well as the whole body associated with him in fellowship, is held in the right hand of him who also holds the keys of death and of Hades. That right hand can lift him up and drive away his fears (verse 17) or in righteous judgment remove his candlestick out of its place (2:5).
In passing now to study in detail the messages to the seven churches we note especially the artificial symmetry of form in which they are all cast. Besides the introductory formula, To the angel of the church write, which is the same in all the epistles, we observe three main divisions in each epistle.
1. The divine source of the message, designated by one or more of the titles of the Son of man already given in the introductory Christophany (1:12-18). The uniform beginning is, These things saith, virtually the equivalent of the prophectic “Thus saith Jebovah” (comp. Amos 1:3; 2:1; Obad. 1; Zech. 1:4; Mal. 1:2, 9).
2. The message itself, declaring the speaker's knowledge (oltda) of the works, character, and condition of the church. With this declaration of knowledge are connected words of praise or blame, admonition or encouragement, according to the condition of each particular church.
3. The promise to him that overcomes (______), associated in each case with the solemn call, He that hath an ear, let him hear what the 8pirit saith unto the churches. In the first three epistles (Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum) these words precede, but in the other four they follow the words of promise.
We also observe a notable correspondence of the contents of these three parts, and a striking fitness to each other. The characteristic titles of the Lord who speaks seem to have been chosen with reference to the character of the particular church addressed, and the kind of reward promised to the victor.
- THE CHURCH IN EPHESUS. 2:1-7.
Toiling, enduring, but fallen from her first love.
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write;
These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, he that walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks:
I know thy works, and thy toil and patience, and that thou canst not bear evil men, and didst try them which call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false;
and thou hast patience and didst bear for my name's sake, and hast not grown weary.
But I have this against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love.
Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I come to thee, and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent.
But this thou hast, that thou hatest the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. To him that overcometh, to him will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of God.
Verse 1. The message is from him who holds the stars and walks in the midst of the candlesticks (comp. 1:13, 16). In 1:16, the stars were simply had in his hand (_____), in 1:20, they were seen upon his hand, but here they are held fast or ruled (______) by his mighty hand. So, too, in 1:13, he was seen in the midst of the candlesticks, but no motion or activity was noted; here he is the one who walks in the midst of the candlesticks. He is a living and active power in the churches, conversant with all that is going on among them.
Verse 2. The contents of the message consist of three main elements (1) A commendation of the works, toil, and patience of the church, especially in the trial and conviction of false apostles. (2) Admonition and warning because of leaving their first love. (3) Their relation to the works of the Nicolaitans. As an example of the evil men, who were too heavy a burden for them to bear, mention is made of them who call themselves apostles and are not. In what particulars they claimed to be apostles, and on what grounds they were proven to be false, we are not told. Compare Paul's words in Acts 20:2 9, 30, to the Ephesian elders about the “grievous wolves,” and men of the church “speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples after them.”
The first love from which this church had fallen is to be understood of the first warm affection for Christ which it displayed. There appears to be an allusion to the imagery of Jer. 2:2, where Jehovah says of Israel, "I remember thee, the goodness of thy youth, the love of thy espousals." The notion that such a lapse from the first Christian love and zeal implies a long period after the foundation of the church is altogether untenable. The history of individual churches for nearly two thousand years has shown many an instance of deplorable leaving the first love within less than one year after a most gracious quickening. Paul's epistle to the Galatians ought to silence the partisan pleading which has alleged that this losing of first love by the Ephesians could not have taken place before the end of Nero's reign. Those Galatians, whose first love for Christ was such that they "would, if possible, have plucked out their eyes and given them to" his apostle (Gal. 4:15), fell away from that love so soon that he was obliged to write to them in sorrow, "I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel " (Gal. 1:6).
The admonition is threefold: remember, repent, and do the first works. The awakening of tender memories leads to repentance, and a genuine repentance is evinced by doing the same kind and quality of works as those which displayed the sincerity of the first warm affection. The warning that, in case of failure thus to repent, there would certainly follow a retributive removal of the candlestick itself was but the necessary announcement of him who is emphatically "the faithful witness."
The Nicolaitans are only mentioned here, as if their works were well known. Their teaching is mentioned in verse 15 in connection with that of Balaam, “who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication.” The fact that again in verse 20 “the woman Jezebel” is charged with the same evil teaching and deeds suggests that the names Nicolaitans, Balaam, and Jezebel are to be understood as symbolical, and represent different gradations of one and the same evil. The church in Ephesus is clear of the evil, and commended for hating the works of the Nicolaitans, for in this they have the mind of the Lord who also hates them. But the church in Pergamum had become complicated with the evil, and had some who held the teaching of Balaam and some who held the teaching of the Nicolaitans; that is, the church had different grades of these mischievous teachers, some being more notorious than others. In Thyatira, however, this evil was tolerated by the church, and seems to have assumed the boldness of an impious Jezebel, calling for fearful judgment from the Lord. That the Nicolaitans were no heretical sect of this name, as some of the fathers imagined, but that the name is symbolical, may be reasonably concluded from the following considerations.
(1) There is no trustworthy evidence of the existence of a sect of this name. The patristic testimonies from Irenaeus downward exhibit a notable vagueness, are in several things self-contradictory, and are evidently based on this passage of the Apocalypse which they assume to explain. They trace the supposed sect to the Nicolas of Acts 6:5 (apparently for the want of any other person of this name known to the early Church), and report various fanciful stories about the unhappy relations of Nicolas and his wife. The story grows with the lapse of time, until finally Epipbanius says that all the Gnostic sects sprung originally from this same “Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch.” It has been well observed that the patristic knowledge of this sect grew in proportion to the remoteness of the several writers from the times when this Nicolas lived!
(2) The conjunction of Balaamites and Nicolaitans in verses 14 and 15 warrants the inference that if one is a symbolical name so is the other.
(3) The name Nicolaitan. (from _____ and _____) is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Balaam, and both alike denote destroyer of the people. They correspond as closely as Abaddon and Apollyon in chap. 9:11, and the analogy of that passage in its use of a Greek and Hebrew name of like meaning tends to confirm the view here presented.
(4) But the fact that Balaamites and Jezebelites in these epistles are identical in their teachings and works, as seen by comparison of verses 14 and 20, makes it the more probable that the Nicolaitans are but another class of these same offenders. If this be true it is easy to trace the obvious gradation of the evildoers in three of these epistles. As dangerous foes of God's people they are hated in the church of Ephesus; as successors of Balaam they injure the church of Pergamum, as that ancient soothsayer injured the children of Israel (Num. 31:16). In the church of Thyatira they have become so rooted in the depths of Satan that they are tolerated as an impious harlot, who even claims to be a prophetess.
What hateful evil of the early Church, it may now be asked, is designated by these symbolic names? The answer is furnished both in verses 14 and 20. The eating of things sacrificed to idols and fornication were evils over which the early churches composed of Jews and Gentiles had no little trouble. What Paul writes in Rom. 14:15‑23; 1st Cor. 8:7-13, about eating things sacrificed to idols, and his frequent condemning allusions to fornication and other sins of uncleanness (1st Cor. 5:1; 6:13, 18; 2nd Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5; 1st Thess. 4:3‑7), is evidence of this. And the first great council of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem was convened to consider matters of this kind. There were two parties, one stickling over rites and Jewish laws, and insisting that the Gentile converts should observe circumcision and other laws of Moses (Acts 15:5), while the other contended for greater liberty, and argued that the Gentile converts ought not to be brought under the yoke of Judaism. They compromised on four things which were to be enforced as necessary to the peace and prosperity of the Church, two of which were a total abstinence from things sacrificed to idols and from fornication (Acts 15:29). The troubles over these things in churches to which Paul wrote show that the decrees of the Jerusalem council were not everywhere enforced. There were very naturally, as is always the case in such controversies, extremists on both sides. The rigid Jewish party doubtless provoked in many places, like Pergamum and Thyatira, a bold and lawless opposition which carried the liberty for which men like Paul pleaded into impious license, and commanded a following which might well have been likened to Balaam's teaching to cast a stumbling-block before Israel, and, in its worst forms, to an idolatry and presumption like that of Jezebel. Such presumptuous libertines may have given the envious Jews occasion to say that Paul's teaching of freedom from the law was responsible for these excesses. And it is notable that “Jews from Asia” excited the multitude against Paul at Jerusalem, and cried out, “This is the man that teacheth all men everywhere against the people and the law” (Acts 21:28). Such was virtually charging Paul with being a Nicolaitan (foe of the people) in the sense above explained. The charge was a vile slander against Paul, but it may have originated in confounding Paul's real doctrine with the wicked perversion of it in some of the churches of Asia.
Verse 3. The promise to him that overcometh is enforced and made quite general by the words which accompany all the promises in the seven epistles: He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. The Spirit is no other than “the seven Spirits which are before the throne” (1:4), and what this universal Spirit here says is not merely for the church of Ephesus, but for all the churches. See more on this at the close of the epistles (3:22). The victor (_______) in every case is the one who perseveres in all works, toil, patience, conflict, and suffering which the times and situation involve. He who is faithful to the truth of Christ, and maintains his cause unto the end of the struggle, is assured of glorious reward. In this first promise it is the heavenly gift of eating of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God. This is a manifest allusion to the tree of life in the garden of Eden as mentioned in Gen. 2:9; 3:22-24. The lost Paradise and its tree of life are to be restored, and these Christian victors are to eat of that heavenly fruit. In the New Testament, Paradise is the name of the heavenly abode of disembodied spirits (Luke 22:43; 2nd Cor. 12:2, 4). Compare also what is said in chap. 22:2, of the river and “the tree of life, bearing twelve fruits, yielding its fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
In studying the symmetry and inner congruity of the several parts of this first epistle of the seven we observe:
1. The propriety of designating Christ in this first epistle by the first and most conspicuous fact which arrested the eye of the seer, his position in the midst of the seven candlesticks, and his hold upon the seven stars.
2. He who holds fast, and has all power over, the seven stars takes occasion in this first address to say how thoroughly he knows all that is good and bad in the personnel of the church, and, walking in the midst of the candlesticks, and observing all that occurs among them, he will be sure to remove out of its place the candlestick whose representative stars persistently offend.
3. Paradise and the tree of life are a most fitting reward for those who, by toil and patience and doing the first works, recover and retain their first love unto the end. Such will find Paradise restored; they “wash their robes, that they may have the authority over the tree of life” (22:14).
- THE CHURCH IN SMYRNA. 2:8-11.
The martyr church.
And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write;
These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and lived again:
I know thy tribulation, and thy poverty (but thou art rich), and the blasphemy of them who say they are Jews, and they are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.
Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer: behold, the devil is about to 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 the crown of life.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
1. The message to this church comes from Him who is the first and the last, who was dead and lived. These are titles which he gave himself in 1:17, 18, when he laid his right hand upon John, and said, “Fear not.”
2. This church is noted (1) for its tribulation and poverty; (2) for the blasphemy of those who called themselves Jews, but were rather a synagogue of Satan; and (3) for encouragement in view of imprisonment and bitter trials in the near future. A part of their affliction may have been the poverty resulting from violent spoliation of their possessions (comp. Heb. 10:34), but they are cheered with the reminder that in spite of such poverty they were truly rich in heavenly treasure (comp. Matt. 5:10-12; 6:20; 2nd Cor. 6:10). The blasphemy of them who say they are Jews is to be understood of the calumnious and bitter opposition of fanatical Jews, who not only at Smyrna, but in all the provinces, were the leaders in the violent persecutions of the Christians (see Acts 13:50; 14:2, 5, 19; 17:5; 21:27; 23:12; 24:5-10; 1st Thess. 2:14-16). Even the martyrdom of Polycarp at Smyrna, a generation later, was distinguished by the fierce zeal with which the excited Jewish calumniators urged it on. Such Jews were unworthy of the name. Bitterness so malevolent is conspicuously of the devil, and hence instead of representing a synagogue of God they are appropriately called a synagogue of Satan. We may well compare “the throne of Satan” in verse 13, and “the depths of Satan” in verse 24. We should note, too, that it is the devil who is about to cast into prison some of the church of Smyrna, so that, thus early in the book, the old serpent who is called the Devil and Satan” (comp. 12:9; 20:2) appears as the great author of persecutions. The false and unworthy Jews are here his agents, as, at a later stage of the Apocalypse, other agencies appear as instigated and possessed by his infernal genius. The ten days are to be taken as a symbolical number, here indicative of a limited period of time (comp. Matt. 24:22; Dan. 1:12, 14; Gen. 24:55). The exhortation to be faithful unto death implies in this connection more than fidelity until the time of death; it involves the idea of a martyr’s death. Be thou continuously faithful even though that faithfulness subject thee to death. Compare the phrase unto death in 12:11, and Acts 22:4. Such a death leads to a crowned life beyond. Comp. James 1:12; 1st Peter 5:4; 2nd Tim. 4:8. The crown is that of both victory and royalty.
3. The single promise to this martyr church is that he that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death. It is a notable feature of all the promises to the victors, made in these seven epistles, that they anticipate by their allusions the subsequent revelations of this book; and hence the probability that the epistles to the seven churches were written after the prophet had completed the subsequent portions of his Apocalypse. The seven epistles, therefore, are of the nature of an introduction prepared after all the visions and revelations had been fully formulated by the author. The second death is next mentioned in connection with the picture of the enthroned martyrs in 20:4-6. “Over them the second death has no power.” Their martyrdom leads to heavenly life and enthronement, so that they have a blessed resurrection by reason of their fidelity unto death.
As such a resurrection is a second life, so “the lake of fire” (20:14) is the eternal perdition of the wicked after death, and so a second death. The expression second death occurs in the Targum of Onkelos and also in the Jerusalem Targum of Deut. 33:6: “Let Reuben live in eternal life, and let him not see the second death.” To say, therefore, that one shall not be hurt of the second death is equivalent to saying that with such a one “death shall be no more” (21:4).
In the symmetrical composition of this epistle we observe:
1. How appropriately these words to the martyr church come from the ever-living One, who was dead but lived. It is equivalent to the assurance of John 11:26, that “whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die.”
2. How appropriately the words fear not in verse 10 come from him who laid his right hand upon John, and spoke the words recorded in 1:17, 18.
3. How appropriate that those who are subjected to great tribulation and trial for Christ’s sake, and called to die a martyr’s death, should be assured of no harm from the second death. Though death seem for a moment to reign over them, much the more gloriously shall they reign in life through Jesus Christ (comp. Rom. 5:17). For them no second death remains, but rather the crown of life, the living and reigning with Christ a thousand years (20:4).
3. THE CHURCH IN PEEGAMUM 2:12-17.
The church near Satan’s throne.
And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write;
These things saith he that hath the sharp two-edged sword:
I know where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s throne is: and thou holdest fast my name, and didst not deny my faith, even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwelleth.
But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there some that hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication.
So hast thou also some that hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans in like manner.
Repent therefore; or else I come to thee quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. To him that overcometh, to him will I give of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and upon the stone a new name written, which no one knoweth but he that receiveth it.
1. To this church the message comes from him who has the sharp two-edged sword. In the vision of chap. 1:16, the sword was seen proceeding out of his mouth. This sharp sword is a symbol of that, “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Epb. 6:17), and which, in Heb. 4:12, is said to be “living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and skillful to judge (_____) the thoughts and intents of the heart.” It is therefore more especially a symbol of conviction and judgment (John 16:8-11). Compare the figure in Isa. 11:4; 49:2; Hosea 6:5. The Christ who speaks is therefore no other than the divine Judge and Ruler of the world.
2. The message shows (1) that this church was dwelling where the throne of Satan is; but (2) was a firm defender of the faith yet (3) had some Balaamites and Nicolaitans; and therefore (4) is admonished to repent and avert the sword of judgment. The throne of Satan is undoubtedly to be understood as some notable stronghold of Satan’s power. As another manifestation of Satan was a giving of “his power and his throne and great authority” to the beast out of the sea (13:2), so at Pergamum the great adversary of Christ had in some way established his throne. The fact that the temple and “genuine sanctuary” of Esculapius was at this place (Tacitus, Annals, 3:63) may serve at least to suggest that Pergamum was at that time a stronghold of heathenish superstition and idolatry. This fact also helps to account for the pernicious teaching of Balaam and of the Nicolaitans, which had found some adherents even in the church. To holdfast the name of Christ and not deny his faith under such circumstances were high commendation. We know from Paul’s epistles that the church of Corinth was near another throne of Satan, and some in that place were guilty of eating things sacrificed to idols and of fornication (1st Cor. 5:1; 8:1). Such an evil leaven tends to “leaven the whole lump” (1st Cor. 5:6). As Balaam and Nicolaitan are symbolic names (see above on verse 6), so we most naturally infer that Antipas is but the mystic name of some one or more faithful witnesses and martyrs of Jesus in that place. The word means against all, and may well denote a sufferer like the author of Psalm 22 (verses 12, 16), around whom the assembly of the wicked formed a circle like so many mad dogs or strong bulls of Bashan; or like another Jeremiah, who seemed at times to stand alone against a world of evil (Jer. 15:10; 20:10). Certain it is that we have no trustworthy account of any early martyr of this name, for the later legends are manifestly fabulous; like those of the origin of the Nicolaitans, they have grown out of this word in the Apocalypse, and know nothing more than is here written.
The statement of verse 14, that Balaam taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, accords with the tradition which is recorded in Josephus (Ant., 4.6.6), and is in substance warranted by what is written in Num. 31:16, compared with Num. 25:1, 2. The teaching of Balaam, as well as that of the Nicolaitans, encouraged loose complicity with idolatrous heathenism. The Balaamites and Nicolaitans, as we have shown above, are best explained as symbolical names of different degrees of the same loose libertinism and freedom with the heathen world. The admonition to repent (verse 16) is intensified by the threat which follows, and is notable for the four words come, quickly, war, sword. The whole verse is remarkable as a potent expression of solemn warning.
3. The promise that follows in verse 17 is also remarkable for its mystic allusions and the correspondence of its symbolism with the situation and conditions of the church in Pergamum. Without detailing the various opinions concerning the hidden manna, the white stone, and the new name, we simply observe that the three terms together constitute a trinity of secret gifts. Trench has well admonished us not to look in the realm of heathen customs or in pagan symbolism for our explanation, and hence not beguile ourselves with the white pebbles of the Greek ballot box or the tessara of the Olympic games. The hidden manna is an allusion to the omer of manna which was deposited as a sacred treasure in the holy of holies in connection with the tables of the law (Exod. 16:32-34). The white stone suggests either the pure golden plate on the forefront of the high priest’s miter, on which was graven HOLINESS TO JEHOVAH (Exod. 28:36-38), or the URIM AND THUMMIM, which were “put in the breastplate of judgment” and worn “upon the heart " of the high priest (Exod. 28:30). The new name is to be compared with chap. 3:12, and 19:12, where it appears to be the symbolic designation of some incommunicable secret known only to Christ and the believing soul. It implies a union and unity with Christ which only he whose life is hidden with Christ in God can know (Col. 3:3, 4). We accordingly understand the threefold allusion of manna, stone, and name as designed to enhance the thought of the real priesthood of believers (comp. 1:6), to whom “it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 13:11). These victors dwell in the secret place of the Most High; they eat even the treasured manna of the most holy place; they have direct revelations as by the sacred Urim, and they know the mysteries of the divine life and the name of their Lord, for that name is in their hearts, and they bear the image of the heavenly One (2nd Cor. 3:18).
The new name is a phrase appropriated from Isa. 62:2, and, like “new song,” “new heaven,” and “new earth,” points to the new kind and quality (______) of things which characterize the heavenly kingdom of Christ and of God. Among “the things which must shortly come to pass” (1:1) the Apocalypse gives prominence to the coming down of the “new Jerusalem” to the earth, and by that glorious coming the Lord will “make all things new” (21:5).
Among the correspondencies of this epistle notice:
1. How appropriately the one who has the sharp two-edged sword is represented as making war on evil teachers with the sword of his mouth.
2. He that holds fast the name and faith of Jesus near Satan’s throne is appropriately rewarded with the gift of knowing the hidden things of God.
3. The hidden manna, white stone, and new name suggest a bread of heaven, a prophetic priesthood, and a fellowship with Christ most inspiring to those who are beset with the snares and stumbling-blocks of a sensual libertinism. Such need and may well desire the gift of prophecy and a knowledge of “all the mysteries and all the gnosis” (1st Cor. 13:2).
4. THE CHURCH IN THYATIRA. 2:18-29.
The church burdened with Jezebel.
And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet are like unto burnished brass:
I know thy works, and thy love and faith and ministry and patience, and that thy last works are more than the first.
But I have this against thee, that thou sufferest the woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess; and she teacheth and seduceth my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.
And I gave her time that she should repent; and she willeth not to repent of her fornication.
Behold, I do cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of her works.
And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he who searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto each one of you according to your works.
But to you I say, to the rest that are in Thyatira, as many as have not this teaching, who know not the deep things of Satan, as they say; I cast upon you none other burden.
Howbeit that which ye have, hold fast till I come.
And he that overcometh, and he that keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give authority over the nations:
and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to shivers; as I also have received of my Father:
and I will give him the morning star.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.
1. Three things distinguish the author of the message to Thyatira: (1) He is called the Son of God; (2) his eyes are as a flame of fire; (3) his feet are like burnished brass (comp. 1:13-15). The title Son of God, rather than “Son of man,” as in 1:13, is designed to remind us of the anointed Son of Jehovah, whose enthronement and world-wide triumphs are celebrated in the second psalm (see especially Psalm 2:7-9). To this there is obvious reference in verse 27, where see further comment.
2. The message itself contains three principal declarations: (1) A commendation of the works, love, faith, ministry, patience, and increase (_______) of good works; (2) a statement of the teaching, acts, and doom of Jezebel; (3) a word of encouragement and exhortation to the burdened church. The chief concern of the exegete is to determine the significance of the woman Jezebel (verse 20). The reading thy wife Jezebel is now rejected from the leading editions of the Greek Testament (as Tischendorf, Tregelles, and Westcott and Hort, although the last named leaves it in the margin). The contents of the message, which show the works, love, faith, ministry, and patience of “the angel of the church” to be on the whole increasingly commendable, are utterly inconsistent with conjugal union with any woman guilty of the crimes here charged and unwilling to repent. Moreover, as the church itself is always conceived as bride or wife, the consort should be represented as a bridegroom or husband. Accordingly, to speak of the wife of a church is preposterous. The woman Jezebel is therefore not to be thought of as having conjugal relation to the church or any of its representatives.
Four things characterize this woman: (1) She calls herself a prophetess; (2) she is a seductive teacher; (3) she inculcates and practices fornication and eating things sacrificed to idols; (4) she persistently refuses to repent of her foul deeds. All these facts point to an aggravated form of “the teaching of Balaam” mentioned in verse 14. Balaam taught Balak to ensnare Israel in sensuality and idolatry, but it does not appear that he himself participated in the sins to which his evil counsels led (Num. 31:16). But Jezebel introduced and vigorously propagated Phoenician idolatry with its abominable sensuality and witchcraft among the children of Israel (1st Kings 16:31; 21:25, 26; 2nd Kings 9:22). She was “the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Zidonians,” and, according to Josephus (Apion, 1.18), her father was not only king but a priest of Astarte. Her marriage with Ahab was a turning point for evil in the history of Israel. Being the daughter of one who was both king and priest, she might naturally call herself a prophetess and feel that her mission was to teach Israel a new religious worship. As for boldness and commanding will-power Jezebel appears in Old Testament history as the embodiment of all that is terrible in the Clytemnestra of the Greek tragedians and the Lady Macbeth of Shakespeare. The woman Jezebel is, accordingly, best understood as a symbolic name for powerful heathen influences and customs which beset the church of Thyatira. These formed a controlling tendency toward the foul practices of licentious paganism which were a grievous burden to those who sought to propagate the virtues of the Gospel of Christ. The serious charge against the church of Thyatira was that it had let this woman too much alone in her seductive teaching. It was virtually tolerating a heathen prophetess and thus allowing her pernicious influences to damage many.
Verse 21. She willeth not to repent—There was a persistent willpower back of the Jezebelite leaven, which refused to forsake the customs of a fascinating heathenism and could only be overcome by the penal visitation of God. The persons guilty of the seductive teaching had time to repent, but would not heed the word of truth. They rejected the decree of Acts 15:29.
22. Cast her into a bed—Instead of the bed of sensuality she shall be forcibly cast into a bed of pain. There may be an allusion to the casting of Jezebel down under the feet of the horses (comp. 2nd Kings 9:33). The language and connection show that a severe punishment for her sins is intended, and into a similar great tribulation those who commit adultery with her are also destined to be cast, except they repent of her works.
Verse 23 proceeds in the same strain, and emphasizes the truth that divine retribution is sure to come to every one according to his works. The killing of her children with death is, perhaps, another allusion to the history of Jezebel in the slaughter of the false prophets and the house of Ahab (comp. 1st Kings 18:40; 2nd Kings 10:11, 25). But the great lesson is that all these offenders must reckon with him “who has his eyes like a flame of fire” (verse 18) and is the supreme judge of every man. The language of this verse is largely appropriated from Jer. 17:10; Psalm 7:9; 62:12.
24. To the rest. The reference here is obviously to those in Thyatira who had not accepted the libertine teaching of Jezebel; those who were willing to accept and follow the judgment of the apostles and elders touching things sacrificed to idols and fornication. The deep things of Satan has been quite generally understood as a caustic reference to the boasts of the Gnostic heretics that they knew the depths of divine mysteries. Incipient gnosticism and sorcery, as likely to show themselves in apostolic times, may naturally have pretended to such secret knowledge, and sorcerers like Simon of Samaria evidently assumed this much (Acts 8:9-11). But such pretenders would hardly have claimed to know the deep things of Satan. They assumed to know the deep things, but the writer in sarcasm adds the words of Satan, as a condemning judgment of the real nature of their mysteries. And yet he charges this claim on the pretenders by appending the words as they say. The reference in the phrase no other burden seems best explained by comparison with Acts 15:28, when the apostolic council imposes “no greater burden than those necessary things” on the Gentile churches throughout the world.
25. What ye have hold fast—That is, retain in firm grasp all the commendable qualities mentioned above in verse 19. Until I come—Which the whole trend and teaching of the book represents as an event near at hand. Comp. 3:11.
3. The promise to them that overcome in the church of Thyatira is exceptional in its adding to the usual words, he that overcometh, the words and he that keepeth unto the end my works. The conjunction and which introduces the words of promise is also exceptional, and so links the promise to the exhortation of verse 25 as to show that keeping my works (contrast her works, verse 22) unto the end is equivalent to “holding fast what ye have until I come.” The promise itself includes three things, (1) authority over the nations, (2) ruling them with a rod of iron, and (3) the gift of the morning star. The first two are allusions to the Messianic ideals of the second psalm, especially verses 7-9. The morning star is, according to 22:16, a title of Jesus himself, and there is no more impropriety in his saying that he will give himself as a bright life than that he will give his spirit to others. He is the morning star of a new era in the history of humanity, and all who, filled with his light and wisdom, let their light shine, become like him the light of the world (Matt. 5:14-16; comp. John 8:12; 12:46). The promise therefore in substance means that they who overcome shall be identified with the Lord in his kingdom and glory. They shall reign with him and shall be like him. Comp. Rom. 5:17; 8:17; 2nd Tim. 2:12; Col. 3:4; 1st John 3:2. This same ideal of triumph and glory appears again in Rev. 3:21; 12:5; 20:4. Comp. also Matt. 19:28, and Luke 22:29, 30.
We observe among the notable correspondencies of this message to Thyatira:
1. How appropriately the title “Son of God” stands at the head of a letter in which occur such direct allusions to the enthroned Messiah as portrayed in Psalm 2:7, 12.
2. “He who has eyes like a flame of fire” is a judge who will thoroughly “search the reins and hearts.”
3. “His feet like burnished brass” suggest the terrible power with which he will tread down “in death” the impudent Jezebel and her children who do not “repent of her works” (comp. 2nd Kings 9:33).
4. He who triumphs over the guile and tyranny of such a Jezebel may well reign in authority with the Messianic Son of God, and become himself a “morning star.”
5. THE CHURCH IN SARDIS. 3:1-6.
The nominal but dead church.
And to 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 a name that thou livest, and thou art dead.
Be thou watchful, and stablish the things that remain, which were ready to die: for I have found no works of thine perfected before my God.
Remember therefore how thou hast received and didst hear; and keep it, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
But thou hast a few names in Sardis which did not defile their garments: and they shall walk with me in white; for they are worthy.
He that overcometh shall thus be arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.
1. The message to this church is from him who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. These seven Spirits are the same which in 1:4, are said to be “before the throne;” in 4:5, they appear as “seven lamps of fire burning before the throne,” and in 5:6, as “seven eyes sent forth into all the earth.” These are all so many different apocalyptic conceptions of the one Holy Spirit, proceeding from God and Christ, whose operations are defined profoundly in John 16:7-14. The Christ possesses this sevenfold Spirit in all fullness (John 3:34; Col. 1:19), and hence all spiritual life and activity in the churches must proceed from this divine source. He accordingly has also the seven stars. Comp. 1:16. Holding them in his right hand, he searches them through and through as by the light of so many lamps of fire and with the intelligence of so many watchful eyes. Nothing, therefore, in the personnel of the churches can escape his gaze and his judgment. Comp. note on 1:20.
2. The message itself is a notable mixture of severe judgment, warning, exhortation, and promise. The church is charged w1th being (1) nominally alive but really dead; (2) some remaining things (______) were about to die; (3) no works complete before God; (4) nevertheless, there were a few who had kept undefiled, and are pronounced worthy to walk with Christ in white. (5) The others are admonished (a) to be watchful, (b) to establish what good remains, (c) to remember how they had received and heard and keep it and repent. (6) In their failure to watch, the Lord will come as a thief in an unexpected hour. This last admonition is to be compared with chap. 16:15, and Matt. 24:43, 44; 1st Thess. 5:2; 2nd Peter 3:10. In the how (_____) of verse 3 we note a vivid reminder of the hearty and joyful manner of their first reception of the Gospel, as contrasted with the spiritual deadness of their present condition (comp. 1st Thess. 1:5-10; Gal. 4:13-15). A notable failure to go on to perfection results in spiritual stagnation. The gravest charge, perhaps, against the church of Sardis is, I have found no works of thine perfected before my God. Nothing had been brought to completion (______). There was such an apathy that any strong conflict with the irreligious world was impossible. There is no trouble at Sardis with Nicolaitans, Balaamites, or Jezebelites; the church itself is but another world.
3. The promise to him that overcometh is threefold: (1) He shall be arrayed in white garments, (2) his name shall not be blotted out of the book of life, and (3) his name shall be confessed by Jesus before his Father and the angels. The white garments indicate that they are found worthy and “meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (Col. 1:12; comp. Matt. 13:43), and to enter upon the blessedness of heavenly life. The book of life is a familiar biblical figure (comp. Exod. 32:32; Psalm 69:28; Dan. 12:1; Luke 10:20; Phil. 4:3; Heb. 12:23), and the words of this promise are to be compared with the mention of “the Lamb's book of life” in Rev. 8:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27. The pure and good in the sight of God are conceived as having their names enrolled in a book, like a registry of citizens kept by the proper magistrate. From such rolls the names of deceased citizens are erased. The apocalyptist conceives the names of the true living citizens of heaven as “written in the book of life from the foundation of the world” (xvii, 8). The words I will in no wise blot his name out are analogous with “shall not be hurt of the second death” in 2:11, and both passages are to be compared with 20:14, 15. The confession of his name before my Father and before his angels is a thought appropriated from Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26. “If any man serve me, him will the Father honor” (John 12:26). Comp. Rom. 2:10; 8:17.
The correspondencies between the different parts of this epistle to Sardis are numerous and suggestive:
1. It is appropriate that a dead and dying church should be addressed by him who has the seven Spirits of God. Those lamps of fire (comp.4:5) illumine the regions of death-shade, and have power to revive the dying and the dead.
2. He who holds the seven stars must needs be cognizant of everything about them, and knows alike the names of the dead, the dying, and the worthy, for the powers of his Spirit are as manifold as the stars.
3. Those who in the midst of such contagion of death keep their garments undefiled (compare “wash their robes” in 22:14) are fittingly rewarded with white garments and closest fellowship with Christ in heaven.
4. He who has a name to live while he is dead will find no registry of his name in heaven; but he who is bold to confess the name of Jesus before men will have his own name confessed by Jesus before God and the angels of heaven (comp. Matt. 10:32).
6. THE CHURCH IN PHILADELPHIA. 3:7-13.
The faithful and stable church.
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write;
These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and none shall shut, and that shutteth, and none openeth:
I know thy works (behold, I have set before thee a door opened, which none can shut), that thou hast little power, and didst keep my word, and didst not deny my name.
Behold, I give of the synagogue of Satan, of them who say they are Jews, and they are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.
Because thou didst keep the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial, that hour which is to come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown.
He that overcometh, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out thence no more: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God, and mine own new name.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches
1. The source of this message is (1) he that is holy, (2) he that is true, (3) he that has the key of David. These titles are not found in the Christophany of chap. 1, but the holy and the true occur again in 6:10 (compare “faithful and true” in 19:11), and the key of David correlates with “Root of David” in 5:5, and “root and offspring of David” in 22:16. The latter part of the verse is appropriated from Isa. 22:22, and designates Jesus as the Messiah, the true son and successor of David, who holds the key as the symbol of power and authority. The true house of David is perpetuated in the new kingdom of God, and “the King of the ages” (15:3), who is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (19:16), not only inherits “the throne of his father David,” but is also destined to “reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:32, 33). He accordingly holds “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 16:19), and has all authority over its administration. His opening and shutting are final and decisive. For, as Trench well observes, “Christ has not so committed the keys of the kingdom of heaven, with the power of binding, and loosing, to any other, but that he still retains the highest administration of them in his own hands.”
2. The contents of the epistle to this church are notable for the absence of anything like rebuke or blame. The Lord seems to have found nothing against this church, the only one of the seven to receive such honor. (1) It is first of all distinguished for having set before it an opened door. The Lord has thus made use of the key of David just referred to, and opened a door of opportunity for that faithful church to make converts to the new kingdom of God. For the figure of an opened door compare Acts 14:27; 1st Cor. 16:9; Col. 4:3. This great and effectual door no enemy of the truth was to close up. (2) Another fact to be noticed is the statement, thou hast little power. This is best explained as equivalent to 1st Cor. 1:26-28. This church made no show of “many wise after the flesh, many mighty, many noble;” it was not what the world would call a strong and influential church. But (3) its real strength consisted in keeping the word of Jesus, and in such faithful adherence to the truth that, when put to test, this church never denied the name of its Lord. (4) As a consequence and reward of such unwavering confession the Lord will bring some of their Jewish enemies to worship before thy feet and to know that I have loved thee. Thus shall be fulfilled in them the prophetic promise of Isa. 49:23; 60:14; 43:4. The synagogue of Satan has been already mentioned in connection with the church of Smyrna (2:9), but in that case it was only presented as a persecuting power; here some of that synagogue are made to come and worship along with the faithful servants of him who has the key of David. This shows further what a door is opened at Philadelphia, and how Satanic foes are made to come through it and acknowledge and worship Jesus Christ as Lord. Those who thus come and worship meet the condition imposed in Matt. 23:39.
Verses 10 and 11 contain a most encouraging word of promise and of exhortation. Because thou didst keep the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial. We best understand the word of my patience as the word which reveals and inculcates the patience of Christ, namely, the Gospel itself. To keep that word is to abide steadfast in the same meekness and patience which were exemplified in the Lord himself; and to be kept from the hour of trial is, not to be exempted from affliction and temptation, but to be saved from failure in that hour; not to be taken out of the world, but kept from the evil (John 17:15). That hour which is to come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth, is the same as the “great tribulation” spoken of by Jesus in Matt. 24:21, 29; Mark 13:19. In the midst of enemies and bitter persecution the disciples were counseled by the Lord to stand firm and true, and he assured them that not a hair of their heads should perish, but that in patience they should win their souls (Luke 21:18, 19). These of Philadelphia are given substantially the same assurance, and are exhorted to holdfast the good confession and noble record they had already made, so that no one might take their crown; that is, get the better of them in good deeds and so obtain a crown of glory which might have been their own. Comp. Col. 2:18. Here we have a foreglimpse of them who come out of the great tribulation (7:14).
3. The promise to the victor is worthy of special study. (1) I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. (2) He shall go out thence no more. (3) I will write upon him (a) the name of my God, (b) the name of the city of my God, and (c) mine own new name. All this indicates that such steadfast confessors as in Philadelphia kept the word of Jesus and did not deny his name are to be builded into the living temple of God. With little change of imagery this promise is substantially like that of our Lord to Peter when, by revelation of God the Father, he confessed his name: “Thou art Peter, and upon this petra I will build my church” (Matt. 16:18). That promise was from him who held the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and could give authority to open and to shut. Zechariah’s Messianic prophecy declared not only that “the man whose name is Branch” should “build the temple of Jehovah,” but also that they who were afar off should come and “build in the temple of Jehovah” (Zech. 6:12, 13, 15). The temple of God is that “habitation of God through the Spirit,” that “household of God,” of which we read in Eph. 2:19-22; 1st Cor. 3:16. It is the church of the new dispensation conceived under the figure of a building. It is misleading to dispute, as some have here done, whether the reference in this promise is to the Church militant or the glorified Church in heaven; for the apocalyptist does not distinguish these two conditions of the temple, but thinks of it only as God’s building for time and eternity. Those who are made pillars therein are to remain so, and go out thence no more. We cannot here anticipate the symbolism of the temple of God as measured off for preservation in 11:1, and, after the sounding of the seventh trumpet, opened in the heaven (11:19); nor does the statement of 21:22, that the new Jerusalem contains no temple but the Almighty and the Lamb, conflict with the imagery of this promise to the church of Philadelphia; for, as Alford well says, “that glorious city is all temple, and Christ’s victorious ones are its living stones and pillars.” That the temple of God and the new Jerusalem are essentially one is inferred from the threefold name which the victors are to have written upon them, namely, of God, of the new Jerusalem, and mine own new name. This threefold inscription makes them citizens of heaven (comp. Phil. 3:20), and those who stand with the Lamb on Mount Zion (14:1) and serve God and the Lamb forever (22:4) have his name written upon their foreheads. The new name here mentioned is to be compared with 2:17, and 19:12, and suggests the deep mysteries of the kingdom of God, which are hidden from the wise and understanding, but graciously revealed to babes (Matt. 11:25).
In the inner correlations of this epistle we observe:
1. How appropriately the words of comfort and encouragement to a steadfast church come from him “who is holy and true.”
2. He who holds the key of David speaks naturally of “a door opened” and of pillars fixed in “the temple of my God.”
3. He who denies not the name of Jesus shall bear his “own new name.”
4. The church before which is set an opened door may well bear the name of “the new Jerusalem which cometh down out of heaven,” and whose gates of pearl are never closed (21:25).
7. THE CHURCH IN LAODICEA. 3:14-22.
The lukewarm and self-conceited church.
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write;
These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God:
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth.
Because thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked:
I counsel thee to buy of me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich; and white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest; and eyesalve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see.
As many as I love, I reprove and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
Behold, 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 with me.
He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.
1. The threefold title here is (1) the Amen, (2) the faithful and true witness, and (3) the beginning of the creation of God. The first occurs in 1:7, and is a frequent word in John’s gospel (John 1:51; 3:3; 10:1); the second is found in part in 1:5, and the third has its parallel in Col. 1:15. The first two are in substance one, and serve to attest the trustworthy character of what is written. Compare the statement of 22:6, “These words are faithful and true.” The words beginning of the creation of God are another way of saying that Christ is the Alpha, “the first,” as he is represented in 1:8, 18. He is the beginning as well as the end, the first as well as the last. While the language, considered by itself alone, may be construed to mean, as the Arians teach, that Christ is himself a creature, such an interpretation is inconsistent with the constant teaching of this book, which so identifies God and the Lamb that what is predicated of one is also attributed to the other. Jesus Christ is subordinate to the Father, but not a creation of his power, for every created thing in heaven and earth is represented as worshiping him (5:13). It is appropriate that titles which appear in the introduction of the book (1:5, 7, 8), and are repeated again at the close (22:6, 13), should stand at the head of this last of the seven epistles to the churches.
2. The message to this church contains no word of commendation, but charges two offenses: (1) Thou art neither cold nor hot; (2) Thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing. The lukewarmness which constitutes the first offense is a condition of spiritual indifference and indecision. Such a moral state is worse than hostile coldness, for there is more hope of winning such an open-faced sinner to Christ than one who has tasted some benefits of grace and then settled down into a feelingless indifference. If one is not hot (______), that is, glowing with fervent love for Christ, it were better for him to be cold than to be void of all keen spiritual sensibility. Hence the significance of the words I would thou wert cold or hot. The imagery is from different conditions of water. Water either cold or hot may be pleasant to the taste, but that which is lukewarm produces nausea, and one spews it out of his mouth in loathing and disgust. But spiritual insensibility begets pride and self-conceit. This lukewarm church boasts of acquired riches and of having no sense of need. In this respect it resembled Ephraim. (Hosea 12:8), and the Corinthians to whom Paul wrote in a strain of holy irony (1st Cor. 4:8). This fact shows up still more clearly the fearful evil of indecision and unconcern about one’s relation to God. Such a one imagines himself rich, when in fact he is of all men the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked. In view of this, their true condition, the counsel (________) which now follows is especially telling. Those who say they are rich and have need of nothing are in perishing need of some good counsel, and it here comes in the form of searching rebuke and condescending advice from the Lord. What they need is a supply (1) of the true riches (comp. Luke 12:21; 1st Cor. 1:5); (2) of white garments to cover their spiritual nakedness, and (3) of eyesalve that they may truly see. In their apathy and self-conceit the Laodiceans had become really miserable and poor and blind and naked, and the only power sufficient to supply their wants was the Christ who was and is the beginning of the creation of God. Those needy ones must come to him and buy, for though his mercies are without money or price the arrogant and self-conceited must needs pay the heaviest of all prices—the humiliation and surrender of themselves. They must renounce their self‑conceit and pride, and be made to feel that they are indeed poor and needy. When they acquire such a spirit they may obtain the pure gold refined by fire (comp. 1st Peter 1:7), and be clothed in the white garments of a living and active righteousness (Col. 3:10), and receive that divine anointing which removes the blindness of one’s spiritual vision and teaches him all things (1st John 2:11, 27).
Verses 19, 20. I love . . . reprove . . . chasten—The three things go together. Comp. Job 5:17; Psalm 94:12; Prov. 3:12; Heb. 12:6. This statement in connection with the other things said to the lukewarm and self-conceited church shows how much the faithful and true Witness loves and yearns to save those who show indifference toward him. It becomes still more conspicuous by the touching figure of the next verse: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. To those who ought to be the suppliants, and to be themselves doing what is enjoined in Matt. 7:7, he who was with God in the creation of the world approaches as a seeker and knocks for admission to their hearts. I will come in—Comp. John 14:23.
3. The promise to the victor is quite analogous to that in the epistle to the church in Thyatira (2:26, 27). They who overcome are to be associated with Christ on his throne. Having suffered with him, and triumphed through his grace, they shall also reign with him (comp. 2nd Tim. 2:12; Rom. 5:17; 8:17; Col. 3:4). And thus will be answered the prayer of Jesus in John 17:22-24. The resurrection, ascension, and enthronement of Jesus Christ are the last and highest ideals of triumph which the church may share. It is, accordingly, appropriate that this promise should come last in the manifold promises made to the seven churches.
The correspondencies of thought noticeable in this last of the seven epistles are the following:
1. He who is the Amen appropriately appeals to such as are false and self-deceived.
2. The faithful and true Witness imparts appropriate counsel, and fails not to expose the self-delusion of those who are really blind and naked.
3. He who is the first (as well as the last), and at the very beginning of the creation of God, appropriately concludes the promises to such as overcome with the final glory of reigning in triumph with Christ and God.
4. It is most encouraging counsel to know that the love which faithfully reproves and chastens is able to refine and clothe and enlighten the miserable and poor and blind and naked so as to make them meet to sit in the very throne of God.
At the conclusion of our notes on these seven epistles we record the following observations:
1. We find so much that is truly conspicuous and commanding in these messages that it seems like carrying interpretation too far into fanciful conjectures when we seek for deeper mysteries than those to which we have called attention. The notion that we have in these seven epistles a prophetic outline of seven chronological periods of Church history traceable through the Christian centuries may be safely discarded as the fiction of extremists, whose great error consists in spending more effort to discover what may possibly be made out of a sacred writer’s words than to make sure of that which the scope and language most naturally require.
2. But it may be admitted that as the seven Spirits before the throne represent the one holy universal Spirit of God, so the seven churches represent in good measure the universal Church of Jesus Christ, and the conditions of life, labor, patience, trial, and hope are in substance such as may be seen somewhere in the Church of all time.
3. As the entire Apocalypse has much in common with our Lord’s eschatological discourse in the synoptic gospels, so we notice in the personal addresses and appeals to the seven churches much that corresponds in substance to that which Jesus addressed personally to his disciples (for example, Matt. 24:9, 11-13, 21, 42-51). The whole book has a purpose of comforting and encouraging the church of that first period—the apostolic age.
4. These epistles are so full of references to things which follow in subsequent portions of the Apocalypse that we may well believe they were not completed in their present form until the rest of the book was written. They appear on close analysis to be of the nature of a preface or introduction to the Revelation, but too thoroughly interwoven with its ideas and method to be attributed to a different authorship. If the interpretation we give of John’s Revelation is correct there is no sufficient ground or reason for supposing that the book was constructed by combining two or more different apocalypses.
Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia, in loco.
There is much sound sense in the following words of Glasgow: "Those who stickle for a personal coming to Jerusalem in the future are only waiting in weak faith for what stronger faith would teach them that we have already; as the apostate Jews have lingered on for eighteen centuries waiting for the Messiah, not believing that he did indeed come. Personal presence in Jerusalem would not be presence to the saints in all the world. Corporeal visibility to men in the present life is a dream, altogether unsanctioned in the New Testament, and calculated from age to age to involve feeble believers in disappointment."—The Apocalypse, Translated and Expounded, p. 126. Edinburgh, 1872.
In Origen's Commentaries on John, tomus 10:20 (Migne, Greek Patrol., vol. 14, col. 372), where he discourses on John 2:19, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up," he makes the statement, ________________________________: the whole home of Israel shall be raised up in the great Lord's (day). Here certainly _________ does not mean the first day of the week. But in the Teaching of the Apostles, 14:1, the day of meeting to break bread is called ___________.
So Düsterdieck: "The angel of the church appears as the living unity of the one organism of the church, which, as it were, in mass clings to the Lord."
Hence the angel of a church is not to be explained as an "ideal reality," or an abstraction of thought, or a personification of the spirit of a community. The word angel here, as in analogous passages cited, is a mere apocalyptic title, a symbolical appellative; but it denotes something that is real and conspicuous in each church addressed. “The angel of the church,” says Gebhardt, “represents it as a unity, an organized moral person, a living whole, in which one member depends upon and affects the others, in which a definite spirit reigns, and by which one church is distinguished from another.”—Doctrine of the Apocalypse, p. 39.
Balaam may be from __, not, or __, to destroy, and __, people. If explained as not the people, it would still suggest hostility to the people, as a foe and an alien. Either derivation sufficiently meets the demands of nominal symbolism.
The assertion of Winer (N. T. G‑ram. _ 16) and others that ______ is a contraction from _______ is of no force in discussing a word which occurs nowhere else in the New Testament, and which both the context and the usage of this Apocalypse suggest as a symbolical name. The word is certainly not necessarily a contraction, and, if designed as a mystic name, it expresses appropriately the idea of one or few against many.