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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Revelation 2

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-29

Epistle the first.

Revelation 2:1. The angel of the church of Ephesus, or the messenger of Christ; for the apostles, and apostolic men, while they remained in any church, were always regarded as the chief pastors, and as having the first powers of discipline. Hence John rebuked Diotrephes, and Paul threatened the disturbers of Corinth with a rod. John in like manner, as the apostle of the Lord, regarded his pastoral trusts, as general superintendent and bishop of all the churches of western Asia, though the seven principal ones only are named.

I have read Mr. Smith’s small volume of the Greek churches. He visited them in 1671, with all goodness of heart, and the portrait he draws of their poverty, ignorance, and diminished state, is most affecting. What a phenomenon, that they have subsisted at all among the cruel Turks. He found in their rubrics our hymn, “Therefore with angels and archangels we sing.” His tour was from Ephesus to Smyrna, forty six miles northwest; from Smyrna to Pergamos, sixty four; from Pergamos to Thyatira, forty eight; from Thyatira to Sardis, thirty three; from Sardis to Philadelphia, twenty seven; and from Philadelphia to Laodicea, about forty two.

These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand. In all the seven addresses the Lord assumes aspects conformably to the moral state of all the churches. And all the names and titles that earth and heaven can give, belong to him as Lord of all.

Revelation 2:2. I know thy works. I search the heart. I know how commendable thy works are in all suffering virtues, and in all active piety. Thou hast tried the judaizing and heretical teachers, who say they are apostles, or messengers of the churches, and are not. Thou hast required the grand tests, as in 1 John 4., whether they believe in the godhead of Christ; whether by that faith they are born of God; whether they have laboured in word and doctrine, and whether they have suffered for Christ? The false teachers prudently avoided the cross.

Revelation 2:5. I will — remove thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent. This most eventful city was burned by Erostrates the night Alexander was born; and after being plundered by Pompey, rose under the Roman government to be the glory of Asia minor. But it was pillaged by the Persians in the third century, and by the Scythians, and lastly by the Turks. It is now a poor village, to record its ancient splendour: the glory of this world passeth away.

Revelation 2:6. Thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes. The character of this sect is thus reported by some of the ancients. That Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch, Acts 6:5, had a very beautiful wife, whom he repudiated through jealousy; and that though he himself lived in continence, yet a sect arose which sheltered their enormities under his name, and by the weight of his example.

Revelation 2:7. He that hath an ear, let him hear. I will restore a paradise to his soul.

Epistle the second.

Revelation 2:8. The angel of the church in Smyrna. This city has now stolen away the glory of Ephesus, and risen to be third in rank in the Turkish empire, though eight times, says Boiste, ruined by earthquakes.

Revelation 2:9. I know the blasphemy of those who say they are jews, and converted to the christian faith. When the elders of the church in Smyrna wrote the narrative of the martyrdom of their beloved pastor and father, Polycarp, they observed, that the jews made themselves very prominent in bringing fire-wood to burn him. Eleven other martyrs from Thyatira suffered with him.

Revelation 2:10-11. Fear none of those things — The devil, the murderer who instigates his children to imitate their father, shall cast some of you into prison, and ye shall have tribulation ten days. The storms shall be short; or if we understand the words as predictive of the ten Roman persecutions, two of which were now past, still the time is limited. God for his elect’s sake can shorten the evil days. The crown of life is before you, as it was before the eyes of Paul. 2 Timothy 4:8.

Epistle the third.

Revelation 2:12-13. Pergamos. The existence of a church in this place is a wonder: yet about fifteen christian families still subsist there. By Satan’s seat, we understand a scale of deep depravity from the rulers towards the poor, and vices reigning in all the circles of society, Hence the martyrdom of Antipas, while striving against the wickedness of the age, is a high mark of his fidelity to God.

Revelation 2:14. Balaam, or lord of the people, a surname probably given him on account of his popularity. Thus Balaam’s children, even in the church of Christ, allured unwary souls to gentile feasts.

Revelation 2:17. To him that overcometh, and holds fast the faith in so wicked a place, I will give a triple crown of glory; namely, the hidden manna, of which see in the sixteenth of Exodus; and a white stone, in the full blaze of justifying and sanctifying grace; and a new name, which the world do not know, for the good shepherd calls his sheep by a new name, which the enemies cannot learn.

Epistle the fourth.

Revelation 2:18. To the angel of the church in Thyatira write; these things saith the Son of God. This relative appellation which bespeaks our Lord’s full participation in the divine nature, is frequently mentioned in scripture to show his essential and original dignity. Psalms 2:7. Matthew 3:17; Matthew 16:16; Matthew 17:5. Acts 13:33. This also coincides with his revealed name, the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. Christ, in this epistle, reäppears, as in the vision of Revelation 1:14, and as he was seen by the Hebrew prophet. Ezekiel 1, 4, 9.

Boiste describes this city of Anatolia, as situate on the river Hermus, in a plain of eighteen miles broad, and interspersed with plantations of cotton, and in a high state of agriculture. The inhabitants are estimated at thirty thousand, one third of which are christians. The Turks call it Akissar, from its castle being built of white marble. It is thirty two miles south-east of Smyrna. Dr. More gives a history of the name of this city, out of Stephanus Byzantius. Thyatira, a city of Lydia, was first called Pelopea, and then Semiramis; but Seleucus, the son of Nicanor when at war with Lysimachus, on hearing that he had a daughter newly born, called it Thygatira, that is, a daughter.

Revelation 2:19. I know thy works. This is named a second time in this verse, which is equivalent to an emphatic word of consolation. I have seen thy conflicts, thy sorrows, and grief of heart, for some who glory in their shame; and yet thou hast been too remiss in using the knife of excision, for all deadly sins require the two-edged sword; and he who uses it not, in driving away adulterers and fornicators from the church, and all their beguiling defences of vice, shall have the sword unsheathed against himself, as against Balaam, and Jezebel in ancient time.

Revelation 2:20. I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel. Some consider this woman as representing the character of the synagogue; some consider her as the bishop’s wife, a prophetess profane in morals. Others suppose her to be some woman of noble family and great influence, at the head of the Nicolaitanes, who mixed themselves with the church. Here is a case, a sad case of some baptized christians, who feasted profanely, and repeated the sins of Baal-peor, and of Jezebel. 1 Kings 16:31. Numbers 25:1; Numbers 25:5.

Revelation 2:21. I gave her a space. Wickliffe reads, “I gaf to her tyme to repent.”

Revelation 2:25. That which ye have, of truth and of holiness, hold fast till I come. St. Paul often repeats his confidence in the stability of the churches that were well instructed in the knowledge of Christ. But especially hold fast the active and the passive graces of faith and patience, for these are followed with the great rewards here subjoined.

Revelation 2:26-29. He that overcometh — to him will I give power over the nations. He shall reign, because Christ reigns. Psalms 2:9-12. I will give him the morning star. Christ is himself the light of the world, and the day- star that shall arise in the believer’s heart. He shall ever behold, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord; and finally see his throne in open vision, with transforming ecstasy and infinite delight.

REFLECTIONS.

How solemn for a minister to receive a letter from the Lord by St. John. How impressive and edifying to read it in the church. Here the Lord assumes attributes corresponding with the moral state of the churches addressed, as will be seen by collating them. “I know thy works.” This is the declaration of our incarnate and omniscient God to all the churches, which marks its importance. Hence our best reply is silence, tears, and reformation.

God in judging begins with what is praiseworthy, as zeal. “Thou canst not bear them that are evil,” that live in sin, and make a show of religion, or profess to be religious people, and yet improperly associate with sinners. To try false ministers is also commendable. The sheep must not be put under the care of wolves, but under pastors that love them as their own souls; for the watchman’s life is pledged for the safety of the people. Hence men who seek themselves should be superseded from the sanctuary. The sufferings, the patience, and the courageous risk of life in this pastor, (and by the pastor, all the elders and the people are implied, as appears from many expressions in these seven epistles) are all recorded to his praise. But he had a sixth virtue which deserves notice; he “had laboured, and had not fainted.” Ah, how many faint under discouragements.

Yet as the venerable and wide-spreading oak, which has seen generations pass away, begins to decay at the heart, when no such decay is visible, except to the woodman who sees some branches on the tree devoid of leaves, whence he infers a decay begun at the heart; so there was one fault at Ephesus which God was the first to see: a decay of the “first love.” That love to God, to his people, and to his word, a fruit of divine love shed abroad in the heart; that love which is simple and ingenuous, liberal and beauteous as the flower when first blown, was now on the wane.

We have here also the required and speedy remedy. “Repent and do thy first works.” Go back christian to seek thy roll, which has been suffered to drop from thy bosom. A return to all our first works of piety and faith alone can ensure a return to our first love. A young convert loves the saints without knowing their defects; and an old pilgrim should not love the less because charity presumes on repentance, and because Christ still loves his people.

Next we have the punishment of degeneracy, on the condition of no repentance. “I will remove thy candlestick.” Look, lukewarm soul, on Asia, and see the mosque of Mahomed where once the towers of Zion raised their heads; look, and see the miserable remains of christianity now half paganised, and tremble for thyself, and for thy people. If we keep love in the heart, glory is sure to follow on the sanctuary.

The church in Smyrna suffered from poverty, and from persecution; but she was rich in wisdom and grace, having Polycarp, as is supposed, now for her angel. She suffered much also from vagabond jewish teachers, who blasphemed the name of Christ. 1 Timothy 1:14. This church is next fore-armed and forewarned against future persecutions; but to avoid pointed offence, and to lead the people to trust, the time is fixed for ten days or years, or ten persecutions, or an indefinite time. But the crown is promised to the faithful soul. Perseverance has its conditions, and the crown of life and righteousness, and glory are the rewards. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.” These words being seven times repeated, and a common epiphonema, imply, as in our Saviour’s parables, Matthew 13:9, that there is a mystery in them, and he that can reach the depths of the well will find water.

Christ addresses the church of Pergamos with a sharp sword, because there were gnostics in the church, and there were persecutors to chastise. As Balaam was killed with the sword, and twenty three thousand perished, so the wicked should again fall. Ministers may bear with defects, but deadly sins must be pursued with the sword of discipline. If St. Carpum now was there, he dwelt where Satan had his seat of idolatry and of gnostic uncleanness. Now, to hold fast the name, the truth, and profession of Christ in such a city, a city which had martyred Antipas, discovered a high degree of holiness and courage. Yet this man had too much lenity to the maintainers of immoral doctrines which defended pagan impurity, quite revolting to the christian code; though he himself hated the Nicolaitane doctrines, as it would seem. Men who hold those notions cannot be retained in the church. But while others basely fall, and lose their crown, the victorious soul is promised the hidden manna which was preserved in a golden pot in the ark of the covenant. He shall live of the hidden sweetness of God’s word, shall receive the white stone of absolution, not the black one of condemnation, which the judges dropped into the box when a criminal was found guilty. Besides, the white stone was used also in electing men to office, whereas the majority of black stones was a negative. Let us strive that this glory may be ours.

Come hither, thou man of knowledge, of pride and independence, a modern gnostic; thou who sayest, I may visit that house. I may have my glass, my idol, my bosom sin; yea, and heaven too, for heaven knows the frailties of man. But pause a moment. Perhaps these depths of Satan reach within a step of the dire abyss. See the twenty three thousand who perished with pestilence, and all Jezebel’s house, and thousands more cut off with the sword. See all the males of David’s house, except Joash, slain for adhering to her cause.

Christ addresses the church at Thyatira in the grandeur of God, and in the fiery characters of a Judge, because they suffered the Nicolaitanes (perhaps a branch of Simon Magus’s sect of gnostic’s, which Eusebius says, continued to the time he wrote) to infect and dishonour them. These licentious people often crept unawares into the church, as their founder did at Samaria. But here the woman was a sort of head of that sect, and was notorious for spiritual adultery with the idols of the gentiles, and for carnal impurity in their feasts. This woman, affecting to be a prophetess, as Simon was a prophet, seduced the unwary, for frail humanity is fond of the marvellous. We have next the probation of this woman. I gave her a space to repent. So God bore with the old world; and so he suffers long and has patience, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

The punishment of this woman and her sect is next marked, when the day of grace for repentance expires; when it is said to the sinner, as to Babylon, “thy day is come.” Then God makes bare his arm. Some one of a wicked circle or club is often made a fearful example of disease and punishment to the terror of a neighbourhood. They who have known the depths of Satan must know the elevations of justice; and if the punishment on the body fail of effect, then a bed of fire becomes the portion of incorrigible sinners. But while the wicked are captivated with the basest of apostate passions, a sceptre is given to the saints to conquer and to rule: they shall rule the nations in Christ, as members in him who is the head of the body. And while the wicked are lost in darkness, God will give the faithful the morning star of divine knowledge, and the brighter dawnings of eternal day. This is the day star which shall arise in our hearts.

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Revelation 2:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/revelation-2.html. 1835.

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