Each of the seven epistles in this and the third chapter, commences
with, "I know thy works." Each contains a promise from Christ, "To him
that overcometh." Each ends with, "He that hath an ear, let him hear
what the Spirit saith unto the churches." The title of our Lord in each
case accords with the nature of the address, and is mainly taken from
the imagery of the vision,
Each address has a threat or a promise, and most of the addresses have
both. Their order seems to be ecclesiastical, civil, and geographical:
Ephesus first, as being the Asiatic metropolis (termed "the light of
Asia," and "first city of Asia"), the nearest to Patmos, where John
received the epistle to the seven churches, and also as being that
Church with which John was especially connected; then the churches on
the west coast of Asia; then those in the interior. Smyrna and
Philadelphia alone receive unmixed praise. Sardis and Laodicea receive
almost solely censure. In Ephesus, Pergamos, and Thyatira, there are
some things to praise, others to condemn, the latter element
preponderating in one case (Ephesus), the former in the two others
(Pergamos and Thyatira). Thus the main characteristics of the different
states of different churches, in all times and places, are portrayed,
and they are suitably encouraged or warned.
1. Ephesus--famed for the temple of Diana, one of the seven
wonders of the world. For three years Paul labored there. He
subsequently ordained Timothy superintending overseer or bishop there:
probably his charge was but of a temporary nature. John, towards the
close of his life, took it as the center from which he superintended
holdeth--Greek, "holdeth fast," as in
Joh 10:28, 29.
The title of Christ here as "holding fast the seven stars (from
only that, for having is substituted holding fast in His
grasp), and walking in the midst of the seven candlesticks," accords
with the beginning of His address to the seven churches
representing the universal Church. Walking expresses His
unwearied activity in the Church, guarding her from internal and
external evils, as the high priest moved to and fro in the
2. I know thy works--expressing His omniscience. Not merely "thy
professions, desires, good resolutions"
thy labour--Two oldest manuscripts omit "thy"; one supports it.
The Greek means "labor unto weariness."
bear--evil men are a burden which the Ephesian
Church regarded as intolerable. We are to "bear (the same
one another's burdens" in the case of weak brethren; but not to
bear false brethren.
tried--by experiment; not the Greek for "test," as
The apostolical churches had the miraculous gift of discerning
wherein Paul presciently warned the Ephesian elders of the
coming false teachers, as also in writing to Timothy at Ephesus.
TERTULLIAN [On Baptism, 17], and
JEROME [On Illustrious Men, in Lucca 7],
record of John, that when a writing, professing to be a canonical
history of the acts of Paul, had been composed by a presbyter of
Ephesus, John convicted the author and condemned the work. So on one
occasion he would not remain under the same roof with Cerinthus the
say they are apostles--probably Judaizers.
IGNATIUS [Epistle to the Ephesians, 6],
says subsequently, "Onesimus praises exceedingly your good discipline
that no heresy dwells among you"; and [Epistle to the Ephesians,
9], "Ye did not permit those having evil doctrine to sow their seed
among you, but closed your ears."
3. borne . . . patience--The oldest manuscripts
transpose these words. Then translate as Greek, "persevering
endurance . . . borne." "Thou hast borne" My reproach, but
"thou canst not bear the evil"
A beautiful antithesis.
and . . . hast laboured, and hast not fainted--The two
oldest manuscripts and oldest versions read, "and . . . hast
not labored," omitting "and hast fainted." The difficulty which
transcribers by English Version reading tried to obviate, was
the seeming contradiction, "I know thy labor . . . and
thou hast not labored." But what is meant is, "Thou hast not
been wearied out with labor."
4. somewhat . . . because--Translate, "I have against
thee (this) that," &c. It is not a mere somewhat"; it is
everything. How characteristic of our gracious Lord, that He puts
foremost all He can find to approve, and only after this notes the
left thy first love--to Christ. Compare
"cast off their first faith." See the Ephesians' first love,
This epistle was written under Domitian, when thirty years had elapsed
since Paul had written his Epistle to them. Their warmth of love had
given place to a lifeless orthodoxy. Compare Paul's view of faith so
called without love,
5. whence--from what a height.
do the first works--the works which flowed from thy
first love. Not merely "feel thy first feelings," but do works
flowing from the same principle as formerly, "faith which worketh by
I will come--Greek, "I am coming" in special judgment on
quickly--omitted in two oldest manuscripts, Vulgate and
Coptic versions: supported by one oldest manuscript.
remove thy candlestick out of his place--I will take away the
Church from Ephesus and remove it elsewhere. "It is removal of the
candlestick, not extinction of the candle, which is threatened here;
judgment for some, but that very judgment the occasion of mercy for
others. So it has been. The seat of the Church has been changed, but
the Church itself survives. What the East has lost, the West has
gained. One who lately visited Ephesus found only three Christians
there, and these so ignorant as scarcely to have heard the names of St.
Paul or St. John" [TRENCH].
6. But--How graciously, after necessary censure, He returns to
praise for our consolation, and as an example to us, that we
would show, when we reprove, we have more pleasure in praising than in
hatest the deeds--We should hate men's evil deeds, not
hate the men themselves.
Heresies, 1.26.3] and TERTULLIAN
[Prescription against Heretics, 46] make these followers of
Nicolas, one of the seven (honorably mentioned,
Ac 6:3, 5).
They (CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA
[Miscellanies, 2.20 3.4] and EPIPHANIUS
[Heresies, 25]) evidently confound the latter Gnostic
Nicolaitanes, or followers of one Nicolaos, with those of Revelation.
MICHAELIS' view is probable: Nicolaos
(conqueror of the people) is the Greek version of Balaam,
from Hebrew "Belang Am," "Destroyer of the people."
Revelation abounds in such duplicate Hebrew and Greek
names: as Apollyon, Abaddon: Devil, Satan: Yea (Greek,
"Nai"), Amen. The name, like other names, Egypt, Babylon, Sodom,
is symbolic. Compare
Re 2:14, 15,
which shows the true sense of Nicolaitanes; they are not a sect, but
professing Christians who, like Balaam of old. tried to introduce into
the Church a false freedom, that is, licentiousness; this was a
reaction in the opposite direction from Judaism, the first danger to
the Church combated in the council of Jerusalem, and by Paul in the
Epistle to Galatians. These symbolical Nicolaitanes, or followers of
Balaam, abused Paul's doctrine of the grace of God into a plea for
(2Pe 2:15, 16, 19;
Jude 4, 11
who both describe the same sort of seducers as followers of
Balaam). The difficulty that they should appropriate a name
branded with infamy in Scripture is met by TRENCH:
The Antinomian Gnostics were so opposed to John as a Judaizing apostle
that they would assume as a name of chiefest honor one which John
branded with dishonor.
7. He that hath an ear--This clause precedes the promise in the
first three addresses, succeeds it in the last four. Thus the promises
are enclosed on both sides with the precept urging the deepest
attention as to the most momentous truths. Every man "hath an ear"
naturally, but he alone will be able to hear spiritually to whom God
has given "the hearing ear"; whose "ear God hath wakened" and "opened."
Compare "Faith, the ears of the soul" [CLEMENT OF
the Spirit saith--What Christ saith, the Spirit
saith; so one are the Second and Third Persons.
unto the churches--not merely to the particular, but to the
overcometh--In John's Gospel
and First Epistle
(1Jo 2:13, 14; 5:4, 5)
an object follows, namely, "the world," "the wicked one." Here, where
the final issue is spoken of, the conqueror is named absolutely.
Paul uses a similar image
(1Co 9:24, 25;
but not the same as John's phrase, except
will I give--as the Judge. The tree of life in Paradise, lost by
the fall, is restored by the Redeemer. Allusions to it occur in
Pr 3:18; 11:30; 13:12; 15:4,
Re 22:2, 14;
It is interesting to note how closely these introductory addresses are
linked to the body of Revelation. Thus, the tree of life here,
deliverance from the second death
Re 20:14; 21:8;
the new name
power over the nations, with
the morning star
the white raiment
Re 4:4; 16:15;
the name in the book of life
Re 13:8; 20:15;
the new Jerusalem and its citizenship
give . . . tree of life--The thing promised
corresponds to the kind of faithfulness manifested. They who refrain
from Nicolaitane indulgences
(Re 2:14, 15),
shall eat of meat infinitely superior, namely, the fruit of the tree of
life, and the hidden manna
in the midst of the paradise--The oldest manuscripts omit "the
midst of." In
these words are appropriate, for there were other trees in the
garden, but not in the midst of it. Here the tree of life
is simply in the paradise, for no other tree is mentioned in it;
the tree of life is "in the midst of the street of Jerusalem";
from this the clause was inserted here. Paradise (a Persian, or
else Semitic word), originally used of any garden of delight; then
specially of Eden; then the temporary abode of separate souls in bliss;
then "the Paradise of God," the third heaven, the immediate
presence of God.
One oldest manuscript, with Vulgate, Syriac, and Coptic,
and CYPRIAN, read, "MY God,"
So Christ calls God, "My God and your God"
God is our God, in virtue of being peculiarly Christ's
God. The main bliss of Paradise is that it is the Paradise of
God; God Himself dwelling there
8. Smyrna--in Ionia, a little to the north of Ephesus. POLYCARP, martyred in A.D. 168,
eighty-six years after his conversion, was bishop, and probably "the
angel of the Church in Smyrna" meant here. The allusions to
persecutions and faithfulness unto death accord with this view.
IGNATIUS [The Martyrdom of Ignatius 3], on
his way to martyrdom in Rome, wrote to POLYCARP,
then (A.D. 108) bishop of Smyrna; if his bishopric
commenced ten or twelve years earlier, the dates will harmonize.
TERTULLIAN [The Prescription against
Heretics, 32], and IR