or Day of the Lord
by E.W. Bullinger
Philologos Religious Online Books
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The Apocalypse, or "The Day of the Lord"
The People on the Earth
Chaps. ii., iii.
THE EPISTLES TO THE SEVEN ASSEMBLIES.
We now come to chapters ii. and iii.: which will find their true interpretation and fulfilment when used for special instruction by the people on the Earth during the Day of the Lord; by Israel, and especially by the Remnant.
We have said enough on this point already, to make this sufficiently clear.
We shall note, in these Epistles, constant references to the condition of things as described in this book. References which cannot be explained either by Church History or tradition; but which are quite simple and clear when read in the light of future history, as prophetically recorded in the Apocalypse.
The difference between these Epistles and all other Epistles in the New Testament is so great, that one wonders how it was possible for them ever to be supposed as being addressed to the Church of God, the members of the Body of Christ! If it were not that we have all been brought up from earliest infancy to believe it, we could never have taken them as having anything in common with those addressed in either the earlier or later Pauline Epistles.
Everything is different: Circumstances, standpoint, references to the Old Testament, terminology, phraseology, scope, style: everything points to a different order of things altogether; yea, to a different Dispensation.
There is nothing in them about Christianity as such; nothing of our standing in Christ; nothing that can be taken, even by application, as referring to our present position as being in Christ; perfect, and complete in Him. Nothing about the "no condemnation," or no separation of Rom. viii. But all is warning or reproof. Promises are made only to the "overcomer," and to those who shall "endure unto the end." It is clear that those who are "blessed with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ" (Eph. i. 3) cannot be those to whom these seven Epistles are addressed. They are written to those who are under a covenant of works, and not to those who are under the covenant of grace. And those who interpret them of the church of God now must greatly lower that standing which He has given them in Christ, or else be altogether ignorant of it.
No! we keep our own truth as written to the churches by the Holy Spirit through Paul; and leave that which is equally truth written to other and different Assemblies by Christ through John. It is so very improbable that the covenant of works under which these Assemblies are addressed could co-exist, at one and the same time, with those under the covenant of grace, that we seem to be shut up to a future interpretation; when all these expressions, and references, and warnings and threatenings, and promises (of which history knows nothing), shall find their fulfilment and reach their end.
Further comments may be left to be made as we consider the words of the Epistles themselves.
First, note the structure of the seven Epistles as a whole, and the seven lessons based on the seven stages of Israel's history. This separates them into 3 and 4; the numbers into which 7 is always divided.
In the first three Epistles the references are to Israel's history, as recorded in the Old Testament, and are from the period when Israel was in the Wilderness. All Israel is included.
In the last four Epistles the references are to the period when the people were in the Land, and Israel and Judah are mentioned alternately.
THE SEVEN EPISTLES AS A WHOLE.
(chaps. ii and iii.)
X | 1 | Ephesus. Israel's Epousals.
2 | Smyrna. Israel's Testing.
3 | Pergamos. Israel's Failure.
Y | 4 | Thyatira. The Day of Israel's Kings.
5 | Sardis. Israel's Removal.
6 | Philadelphia. The Day of Judah's Kings.
7 | Laodicea. Judah's Removal.
Failure is the great subject; and the causes which led to that failure. This is the basis of the great lesson which will be needed for another time of Trial, Testing, and Tribulation; which will end, not in failure, but in glory.
This division into three and four is further marked by the injunction and the promise with which each of the seven Epistles closes.
In the first three, which refer to the Wilderness, the Promise follows the Injunction; while in the last four which refer to the Land, the order is reversed, and the Injunction follows the Promise.
We now proceed to look at each of these seven Epistles separately.
I. THE FIRST EPISTLE.EPHESUS.
Each Epistle, though the structure itself varies, is based upon the same general plan, viz.: The Introduction, consisting of Christ's command to John to write, with an appropriate attribute taken from the previous vision in chap. i. The Conclusion, consisting of Christ's command to him that hath an ear, to hear; with His promise, fulfilled in the latter portion of the book. Between these we have the subject-matter of the Epistle proper. While this general arrangement is common to all these Epistles, yet each has its own peculiar exhibition of it.
The correspondences and contrasts between the Epistles are worthy of note, forming a useful guide to their inter-relation. They show us what are the important points which we should notice; and what are the matters on which we should place special emphasis.
In short, they give us the peculiar scope of and key to each Epistle respectively; and though not essential to the reader's studies, they are worthy of his close attention.
(1) ii. 1-7.
A | c | 1-. Christ's command to write.
d | -1. Christ's attribute, i. 20.
B | e | 2-. "Thy works."
f | -2-. "And thy labour.
g | -2-. "And thy patience."
h | -2-. Non-endurance.
i | -2. Liars. Trial.
i | -2. Liars. Proof.
h | 3-. Endurance.
g | -3-. "And hast patience."
f | -3-. "And hast laboured."
e | -3-. Works. "Hast not wearied."
B | j | 4. Crimination (...). Love.
k | 5-. Warning. "Remember."
k | -5. Warning. "Repent."
| j | 6. Commendation (...). Hatred.
A | c | 7-. Christ's command to hear.
d | -7. Christ's promise. "Tree of life." (Compare xxii. 2, 14).
(I) TRANSLATION OF THE FIRST EPISTLE (ii. I-7).
ii. 1. To the angel] As we have said above, this is the Shelach Tzibbur of the Synagogue, the presiding minister. A title well understood by Jewish readers, but quite foreign to Gentile ears.
of the Assembly] As in Acts xix. 32, 39, 41. Or Synagogue. The A.V. renders the Greek Synagogue in Jas. ii. 2 "Assembly" instead of Synagogue; and in Jas. v. 14 "Church" instead of Assembly. The former passage (ii. 2) shows what the nature of the Assembly was in chap. v. 14. It was the congregation assembling in the Synagogue, and there is no reason why it should not be so taken in Rev. ii. and iii.
in* Ephesus, write] No one can put this Epistle by the side of that of Paul to the Ephesians and think for a moment that it can be the same Assembly that is addressed. It is not a matter of argument or of opinion; it is a matter of fact. Read the two Epistles, one after the other, and note the standing of grace in the one, and the standing of works in the other. It is true John wrote some years later than Paul; but though this might affect the condition of the Assembly, it could not change the ground of God's dealings. His covenant had not changed. But here, everything is changed, as we shall see. In Paul's Epistle to the Church of God in Ephesus, God speaks to those who are all of them on the highest ground of privilege and of grace. Here, there is no blessing at all, except to the overcomers.
* So all the Critical Greek Texts and R.V.
These things saith He that holdeth the seven stars in His right hand (i. 16), He that walketh in the midst of the seven lamp-stands of gold (i. 13)] Here the reference is surely to Deut. xxiii. 14, where this walking, and the object of it, are the same as in the Day of the Lord. "For the Lord thy God walketh in the midst of thy camp to deliver thee, and to give up thine enemies before thee; therefore shall thy camp be holy; that He see no unclean thing in thee, and turn away from thee." Here, Christ thus walks according to Lev. xxvi. 12. And his eye sees and exposes the unclean things in the camp of these Assemblies.
2. I know thy works] This is the principle on which the Lord will deal with the Remnant of Israel in the Day of the Lord. See Isa. ixvi. 18: "For I know their works and their thoughts: it shall come, that I will gather all nations and tongues, and they shall see My glory." The context in the previous verses (15-17) shows the nature of these "works" and the time of the Lord's dealing with them. Most of the seven Epistles begin with the statement of this fact, as to "works," from Isa. ixvi. 18.
and* labour, and thy endurance] or patience (ii. 3). This is the patience referred to in xiii. 10: "Here is the patience and faith of the saints"; xiv. 12: "Here is the patience of the saints; here are they that keep the commandments (the 'works' spoken of) of God, and the faith of Jesus." The statement in this Epistle refers to the then condition of things in the Day when the things written in this Book shall be fulfilled.
* L.T.Tr.A. WH. and RV. omit "thy."
and that thou canst not bear wicked (or, evil) men; and thou didst try those who call themselves apostles, and are not, and didst find them liars:
3. And thou hast endurance, and didst bear* for the sake of my name, and hast not wearied**
* This is the order of the words according to G.L.T.Tr.A. WH. and RV.
** So L.T.T.Tr.A. WH. and RV. has "and didst not weary."
4. Nevertheless I have this against thee, that thou hast left thy first love] This is very emphatic. Lit., it is "thy lovethy first love." What have we here but a reference to Jer. ii. 1, 2, where God commanded Jeremiah to commence his prophecy by calling this fact to their remembrance: "Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the Lord: I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness." This was the day referred to in Ezek. xvi. 8-10, etc.: the day when Jehovah set His love upon them and chose them, not because of their number, "but because the LORD loved you" (Deut. vii. 7-9). See above, under the expression in i. 5, "unto him who loveth us."
5. Remember therefore whence thou hast fallen, and repent] This is strange language if it be addressed to those who had been "blessed with all spiritual blessings, in the heavenlies, in Christ" (Eph. i. 3). Nothing could forfeit such blessings; because they are in the heavenlies, in Christ, whence none can touch them or pluck them. Nor can repentance procure them, for they are the gift of God to His church; and His gifts and calling are without repentance (Rom. xi. 29). No; the Assembly to whom such words are addressed cannot be the Assembly addressed by the Holy Spirit through Paul.
and do the first works; otherwise (Lit., but if not) I am coming to thee,* and will remove thy lamp-stand out of its place, except thou repent] He had come before, at His first Advent, seeking fruit. But He found it not. Now He is coming again, and the cry goes forth once more, "Repent "; for, He who is coming is at hand. Repentance is 'the first work.' It is the one condition of national blessing for Israel. It is the essence of the proclamation of the King and the Kingdom. The ministries of John the Baptist (Matt. iii. 2), of Christ Himself (Matt. iv. 17), and also of Peter (Acts ii. 38; iii. 39), were all stamped with this one word "Repent." This is the "first work" to be done, the first step to be taken in view of national blessing. See Lev. xxvi. 40-42. I Kings viii. 33, 35, 37. Deut. xxx. 1-3. Dan. ix. 3, 4. Zech i. 3; etc.
* Omit "quickly," L.T.Tr.A. WH. and RV.
6. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate] The Nicolaitanes are mentioned again in verse 15. History knows nothing definite of any people bearing such a name during the primitive age of Christianity. Tradition has something to say; but this is so conflicting and so uncertain, that most commentators attempt to solve the difficulty by considering the name as being symbolical (as they do that of Balaam (ii. 14, 15), and Jezebel (ii. 20). They interpret it by its etymology (...) (nikos) conqueror and (...) (laos) people. If there be anything in this, it is better to leave it to "that day," when events will make its meaning manifest.
7. He that hath an ear, let him hear] None but the Lord Jesus ever used this formula. On fourteen occasions He used it. Always, when He was speaking of the great change in the Dispensation which was about to take place. It is connected therefore with Dispensational truth. Six times (the number of man) in the Gospels He used it as the Son of Man; and eight times (the Dominical Number) in Revelation, as the risen Lord speaking from heaven: here, at the close of each of these seven Epistles, and once in chap. xiii. 9.*
* See Divine Names and Titles by the same author and publisher.
what the Spirit saith (or is saying) to the Assemblies] In Rev. xix. 10 we are told that "the testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy"; i.e., it is the prophetic testimony spoken by Christ Himself; or the testimony spoken by His servant John, or by angelic messengers concerning Him who addresses these Assemblies in this Book.
To him that overcometh] This is language wholly foreign to the Epistles written to believers by Paul. The members of Christ's Body have already overcome all "in Him." They are already "more than conquerors through him that loved us" (Rom. viii. 37). The same John speaks, in his Epistle, of those who belong to the Church of God as having already overcome (See I John ii. 13; iv. 4; v. 4, 5). Those who are addressed here will be living in the days of the Beast, in the midst of the great Tribulations and there will be those who will "endure unto the end." Of some we read "the Beast...shall make war against them, and shall overcome them and kill them" (xi. 7). Of others it is said is they overcame him (the accuser of their brethren) by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death" (xii. 11). Of others again, "It was given unto him (the Beast) to make war with the saints and to overcome them" (xiii. 7). Hence the reiteration of the final promise in xxi. 7, "he that overcometh shall inherit all things." The Revelation is full of overcoming. No less than sixteen times we have the verb (...) (nikao), to conquer, or overcome. The overcomers who are addressed at the close of each of these seven Epistles will be living in the days referred to in these passages. They will be special overcomers of a specific form of evil. They are thus prophesied of in Isa. lxvi. 5: "Hear the word of the LORD, ye that tremble at his word: Your brethren that hated you, that cast you out for my name's sake, said Let the LORD be glorified: but he shall appear to your joy, and they shall be ashamed." They are spoken of in Dan. xi. 32 as those who "do know their God, shall be strong and do exploits." In Matt. xxiv. 13, as those who "shall endure unto the end." Compare Matt. x. 22.
will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the* Paradise of God] For the promises of the seven Epistles as a whole, see [The Promises to the Seven Assemblies]. This first promise is fulfilled in xxii. 14, where the article "the tree of life" is used, and refers specially to the overcomers. The Tree mentioned in verse 2 and Ezek. xlvii. 12 is another tree or trees (without the article) intended for the healing of the nations during the millennium.
* All the Critical Texts, with RV., omit the words "midst of."
The promise, here, refers to the New Earth, when the curse will be removed, and the whole Earth be restored as the Paradise of God. To this "Paradise" Paul was caught away (2 Cor. xii. 4); and also to this "third Heaven" (and Earth).
The first was overflowed with water and perished (2 Pet. iii. 6 and Gen. i. 2).
The second Heavens and Earth are those "which are now" (2 Pet. iii. 7), and which will be purged by fire (2 Pet. iii. 10).
The third are those for which we look, even the New Heavens and the New Earth (Paradise restored) (2 Pet. iii. 13 and Rev. xxi., xxii.).
To this third heaven and Paradise was Paul caught away in vision. These John also saw; and was commissioned to write what Paul was unable to utter. This Paradise of the New Earth, which will characterize the Kingdom, was referred to by the Lord Jesus in His answer to the dying thief "Lord, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom." "Verily, I say unto thee to-day, (i.e., on this day of shame and death, beyond which thou seest by the eye of faith) thou shalt be with me in Paradise." That promise will be fulfilled to him as an overcomer. His faith overcame all his circumstances; and he marvellously believed, in spite of all the awful scenes of that day, that Jesus was "Lord," and that He would yet come in his Kingdom. To him, therefore, as an overcomer, was the promise of that future Paradise given; as here it is given to all who shall overcome by the same faith.
2. THE SECOND EPISTLE. SMYRNA.
The Second Epistle was addressed to the angel of the Assembly in Smyrna.
It is marked by a definite period of trial being mentioned, viz., "ten days," and answers to the second stage of Israel's history, which was marked by a definite period of trial"forty years." The first Epistle (Ephesus) began with a reference to the day of Israel's Espousals, and reminds those people of their "first love." The second (Smyrna), in its definite days of trial, reminds us of the definite period of forty years in the wilderness.
Its structure is as simple and clear as it is beautiful.
(2) ii. 8-11. Smyrna
(2)| a | d | 8-. Christ's command to write.
e | -8. Christ's attribute, i. 18.
b | f | 9-. Suffering.
g | -9-. Contrast (...).
f | -9-. Suffering.
g | -9. Contrast (...).
c | 10-. Encouragement. "Fear not," etc.
b | h | -10-. Suffering. "Those things"...
i | -10-. Place. (Prison). "Behold"...
h | -10-. Suffering. Trial. "That ye may be"...
i | -10-. Time. Ten days. "And ye shall"...
c | -10. Encouragement. "Be thou"...
a | d | 11-. Christ's command to assemblies to hear.
e | -11. Christ's promise. No second death. Compare xx. 6, 14.
8. And unto the angel of the Assembly in Smyrna write; These things saith the First and the Last] This, as we have already seen, is one of the Titles used in the Introduction (i. 17); as it is used in the Old Testament, of Deity. (Isa. xli. 4; xliv. 6; xlviii. 12.).
who was (lit., became) dead, and returned to life] (i. 17, 18) The verb (...) (ezesen) means more than merely to live or to be alive. (See Rom. xiv. 9. Rev. xiii. 14 (where it is used of and throws light upon the Beast being raised); xx. 4, 5). It means to live again in resurrection life. See John iv. 50. Mark xvi. 11.
9. I know* thy tribulation, and thy poverty] This is the outcome of xiii. 16, 17, for when they will not be allowed by the Beast to buy or sell, great poverty must necessarily ensue.
* L.T.Tr.A. WH. and RV. omit "thy works and". The Lord is not speaking of actions here, but of passive sufferings.
nevertheless thou art rich] Poor in one sense, yet rich in another sense.
and I know the blasphemy coming from those who say that they themselves are Jews, and they are not, but are Satan's synagogue] When have people ever professed to be Jews in order to join a Christian church? Such an anomaly was never heard of. These words alone are sufficient to prove the true Jewish character of these assemblies. Words have no meaning if this verse does not speak concerning those who, for some reason or other (perhaps in order to betray, hardly for gain or advantage), hypocritically affirmed that they were Jews when they were not.
10. Fear not the things which thou art about to suffer: lo, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days] What trial and tribulation is this, if not exactly that foretold by the Lord in Matt. x. 22? "And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake; but he that endureth to the end shall be saved." Compare Matt. xxiv. 9, 10, and John xvi. 1-4. In these passages the very trials are mentioned; and in Rev. xiii. 5-7 we see the very circumstances described, in which those who are thus addressed will be placed. In this special case the tribulation is limited to "ten days." And why not? Why should we seek to make these words mean other than what they say? In Est. iii. 13 a decree went forth that the whole nation was to be destroyed "in one day." Why should not such a decree go forth again for "ten days"? Even in our own times we read of Jews in Russia, Roumania, and elsewhere, being given over for days together to the violence of a persecuting mob. Why should not these "ten days" refer to a certain definite and limited time of trouble? Why introduce endless difficulties into this Book by always maintaining that God means something quite different from what He says? Moses Stuart is an example. He writes: "Let the reader mark well the symbolic use of number in this case; for the exact literal one will be insisted on, I trust, by no one."
His trust is vain, for we do insist on believing that God means what He says. If we are wrong in this, then we prefer to be found wrong, hereafter, in this simplicity of faith, rather than to be reproved by God for having, in preference, believed man. When God says (Gen. vii. 4): "For yet seven days and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights," God meant days, not years. See verse 10: "And it came to pass after seven days"; and see verse 12. When Joseph said, by the prophetic spirit, "The three branches are three days. Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head," he meant "days," not years; for we read: "And it came to pass the third day," etc.; see Gen. xl. 12, 13, 20. So with the wandering in the wilderness, Num. xiv. 33; "forty days" means forty days, and "forty years" means forty years. So with Jonah; and the Lord, Matt. xii. 40. So with Ezekiel, iv. 1-8.
be (lit., become) thou faithful unto death] Probably violent death is meant.
and I will give to thee the crown of life] Here we have not the standing of the church "in Christ." That standing does not depend on our faithfulness but on the faithfulness of Him who has already given us life in Himself eternal life. This life rests on no conditions but upon the unalterable gift of God in Christ. Compare the Epistle addressed "to the twelve Tribes," Jas. i. 1. The faithfulness mentioned here refers to that which is the subject of xx. 4.
1l. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the Assemblies. He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death] This is mentioned again in xx. 6, 14, and xxi. 8, as the fulfilment of this promise in those who have passed through the great Tribulation and have not worshipped the Beast nor received his mark. Those who are faithful unto death, and die of a violent death, then, for Christ's sake, are promised that they "shall not be hurt of the second death," which shall finally destroy their enemies.
Note how the titles of Christ in verse 8 ("I am He that was dead and returned to life") agree with the exhortation of verse 10 ("be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life"), and the promise of verse 11 ("shall not be hurt of the second death").
3. THE THIRD EPISTLE.PERGAMOS.
In the Epistle to the Assembly in Pergamos, the Old Testament illustrations are from a subsequent period of Israel's wilderness experiences. Balaam and Balak are used to illustrate the special circumstances of this Assembly; the counterpart of which will be found to exist in "the day of the Lord."
It is the last of the three Epistles in which the Old Testament reference is to Israel and the Wilderness period. In the first we had Israel's Espousals; in the second we had Israel's Testing and Trial; now, here, in the third, we have Israel's Failure.
This failure is very marked in the Epistle to Pergamos. The predominant tone of the Epistle is that of Crimination. Two solemn warnings are given, and a call to "Repent," with a threat of being fought against by the sword of His mouth.
This will be seen in the Epistle as we proceed; and it is clearly exhibited in the Structure:
(3) ii. 12-17. Pergamos.
(3) a | c | 12-. Christ's command to write.
d | -12. Christ's attribute. (i. 16.)
b | e | 13-. Works. General.
f | -13-. Place. (...)
e | -13-. Works. Particular.
f | -13. Place. (...)
g | 14-. Crimination. "I have against thee," &c.
h | i | -14-. Balaam. (...)
k | -14. Description. "Who taught," &c.
h | i | 15-. Nicolaitanes. (...)
k | -15. Description. "In like manner," &c.
g | 16. Warning. "Repent; or I will come," &c.
| c | 17-. Christ's command to assemblies to hear
d | -17. Christ's promise. "Manna." "New Name." (Compare vii. 13-17; xix. 12.)
ii. 12. And unto the angel of the Assembly in Pergamos, write; These things saith he who hath the sharp two-edged sword] This attribute of Christ is taken from i. 16. It is used here and in the closing threat of the Epistle (ii. 16), because the judgment upon "the error of Balaam" was executed with the sword. See Num. xxxi. 8, "Balaam also, the son of Beor, they slew with the sword " (So Josh. xiii. 22). Hence all the significant references to the "sword" in this epistle. In i. 16 the sword proceeds out of Christ's mouth, teaching them how, by the word which cometh out of His mouth, He can chastise and destroy. Hearken therefore to Him.
13. I know* where thou dwellest, even where Satan's throne is] Here we have a special reference to the scenes and circumstances of Rev. xiii. 2, where the Dragon gave the Beast "his power, and his throne, and great authority." In Rev. xvi. 10, "the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the throne of the Beast," &c. So that at that time, in the Day of the Lord, there will be a special place where Satan's throne will be set up in this world; and when he and the Beast will receive that worship which it is and has ever been his aim, all through, to obtain from mankind. This throne is evidently to be in Pergamos. Whatever foreshadowings there may have been of this in past history or in the history of the Roman Emperors, it only shows us the possibility of that, in which all believe when we speak of "history repeating itself." Pergamos was the seat of the ancient mysteries. That which has been, may be again. Just as the deeds of Antiochus Epiphanes show us how another individual will yet do entirely, what he did partially.
* L.T.Tr.A. WH. & RV. omit the words "thy works, and."
and thou holdest fast my name] in not receiving the mark of the Beast. See Rev. xi. 18 ("which fear thy name"); and compare xiii. 13-15. 2 Thes. ii. 11, 12.
and didst not deny my faith, [even]* in the days** off Antipas, my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwelleth] Here is another allusion to Satan's future special presence on the earth in the days here referred to. History knows nothing whatever about any such person named Antipas. Later tradition has a great deal to say, but its conflicting statements will not repay us for the time and trouble involved in their consideration. There will be many martyrs in those days; and here, one of them is mentioned by name. Compare and see Rev. vi. 9, 10; xiii. 10; xx. 4, when the fulfilment of the Lord's words will be understood. Matt. xxiv. 9. Mark xiii. 9. Luke xxi. 12. John xv. 20; xvi. 2. These are the days specially referred to in this Epistle. It is no new thing for prophecy to name a person long before his personal manifestation (See I Kings xiii. 2. Isa xliv. 28; xlv. 1). "The place where Satan dwelleth" (xiii. 2; xvi. 10) must be the place where persecution will rage most fiercely.
* T. omits "even." Tr. & A. put it in brackets as doubtful.
** Omit "in which."L.T.Tr. WH. See RV. marg.
14. Nevertheless I have against thee a few things, that thou hast there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication] What "the error of Balaam" (Jude 11) was may be seen from Numbers xxv. 1, &c., and xxxi. 16, &c. The whole scene has to do with idolatry of the grossest kind, where fornication will be made religion! and when religion will be turned into fornication, as it was and is in all the great heathen systems of idolatry. This was the essence of idolatry of old; and this is what is again coming on the earth. Otherwise, what mean those significant words in chap. ix. 20, 21? (See [Pergamos The Wilderness Period])
15. So hast thou also those that hold fast the teaching of the Nicolaitanes (v. 6) in like manner*]
* All the critical Greek Texts and R.V. read (...) (homoios), in like manner, instead of (...) (ho miso), which I hate.
16. Repent therefore*; otherwise I will come unto thee speedily, and will fight against them with the sword (v. 12) of my mouth] We have seen before, how foreign is such a warning and threat as addressed to the members of the Church of God to-day. On the other hand, we see the actual fulfilment of this threat in chap. xix. 11-21.
* This word is added by G.L.Tr. (A). WH. and RV.
17. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the Assemblies: To him that overcometh will I give* of the hidden manna] This promise follows in the order of Old Testament illustration. (1) To Ephesus it was the tree of life (Gen. ii.). (2) To Smyrna it was not to be hurt of the second death (Gen. iii.). Now, to Pergamos, it is the manna of Exod. xvi. 32-34. We have to remember how the false prophets and teachers were all fed at Jezebel's table (I Kings xviii. 19). So all these false teachers will be supported by the State of which the Beast will be the head. The faithful remnant of the woman's seed will be again driven into the wilderness (xii. 13-17). How beautiful therefore to be thus reminded, just here, that God can spread a table (not Jezebel's) for them in that wilderness, as He did of old (Ps. lxxviii. 19), when "man did eat angels' food, and He sent them meat to the full" (Ps. lxxviii. 24, 25). It is in this connection that the promise of the manna is given. In Ex. xvi. 34, 35 we are told that the manna was specially given "until they came to a land inhabited." Until then, God has "hidden manna" with which to support His people.
and I will give unto him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written, which none knoweth save he that receiveth it.] This new name for the new Israel is the subject of prophecy. Isa. lxii. 2 tells of the time when "Thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name" (see also Isa. lxv. 15). Rev. xix. 11-16 is the fulfilment of this promise. What that new name will be is not yet revealed, but its association with the "white stone" reminds us that as they will be "a kingdom of priests," so they will have the priestly signs as Aaron had (Ex. xxviii. 36, &c.). On the front of his mitre was a plate of gold "holy to the Lord." Here, instead of a plate of gold, they are to have a white stone, on which will be an inscription equivalent to Aaron's, with their new name: thus distinguishing them in a most emphatic way from those who will worship the Beast and receive his mark in their forehead.
Those who will be on the earth in those days will thus be divided into two opposing parties: the party of the Beast, and that of the Lamb; each having its own distinctive mark or brand.
4. THE FOURTH EPISTLE. THYATIRA.
We now come to the last four of these seven Epistles. In the first three the Old Testament references are to the period of the Wilderness. In these last four the references are to the period of the Land: and Israel and Judah are placed alternately.
Israel comes first; for, idolatry commenced in the Ten Tribes, and these were first removed from the Land. Judah followed, and was afterwards removed.
The first of these four Epistles, therefore, gives the illustration from the great apostasy of Israel under Ahab and Jezebel.
Few of us can realize what that apostasy was; or what was its character and extent. Jeroboam was the first who made Israel thus to sin, but it culminated under Ahab and Jezebel. Under these two, organized idolatry of the grossest kind became the religion of the State, as opposed to the true religion established in Jerusalem. It had its own priesthood, so numerous and powerful that the prophet Elijah was specially raised up by God to do battle against them, and warn the people against the enormity of the evil. Yet again will Elijah perform a similar duty under more awful circumstances.
The structure of this Epistle is elaborate, as were the workings of that apostasy. But it is also very clear and unmistakable.
(4) ii. 18-29. Thyatira.
(4) | a | d | 18-. Christ's command to write.
e | -18. Christ's attribute. (i. 15.)
b | f 1 | 19-. Works. (General.)
g1 | -19-. Particulars. (Love, Service, Faith, Service.)
f 2 | -19-. Works. (General.)
g2 | -19. Particulars. "And the last," &c.
c | h | 20. Jezebel.
i | 21. Her impenitence.
c | i | 22. Her punishment
h | 23. The Assemblies.
b | f 3 | 24-. Persons. (General.) "To you and to the rest," &c.
g 3 | -24-. Particulars. "As many as," &c.
f 4 | -24. Persons. (General.) "I will put upon you," &c.
g 4 | 25. Particulars. "But that which ye have," &c.
e | 26-28. Christ's promise. Power, &c. (Compare xii. 4; xix. 15; xx.4)
d | 29. Christ's command to assemblies to hear.
ii. 18. And unto the angel of the Assembly in Thyatira, write; These things saith the Son of God] Here, for the first time, the speaker is directly named; as well as distinguished by an attribute. Both speak of Divine judgment, and of the Divine power which is necessary to execute that judgment, and to perform the promises given in this Epistle.
who hath His eyes like a flame of fire] To detect all evil and alarm the evil-doers. This is the attribute of i. 14, 15; repeated in xix. 12.
and His feet like unto polished brass] This tells of coming judgment, when He will tread the wicked under his feet. Isa. lxiii. 1-6; xli. 25; xiv. 25. See also Mal. iv. 3; Dan. viii. 7, 10; and compare Micah iv 13. Dan. vii. 19. Deut. xxxiii. 25. Job xl. 18. The fulfilment of all this is seen in chap. xix. 13-15.
19. I know thy works, and thy love, and thy service, and thy faith,* and thy patient-endurance, and thy last works to be more than the first] It is a question of "works" here, as in all these Epistles; and also of patient endurance in the Tribulation.
* The order of these words varies in the MSS. G.L.T.A. WH. and RV. have "love, faith, and service." Tr. has "faith, love, and service."
20. Nevertheless I have this against thee,* that thou lettest alone** the*** woman Jezebel, she herself a prophetess, and she teacheth and deceiveth my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols] The reference here is to I Kings xvi. 30-34. All the evil is traced up to Jezebel (I Kings xxi. 25). The teaching is the same as that of Balaam, and of the Nicolaitanesonly it is more organized, and in the name of religion, and under the direct auspices of the State. Balaam was outside Israel; Jezebel is within. This is what it will be in the days of the Beast: and this is why these exhortations, teachings, and warnings are written in these Epistles. We do not comprehend them, because we are not living in those days; therefore, we cannot even apply them to ourselves. Three of the Assemblies are warned with regard to this evil. Ephesus (ii. 6); Pergamos (ii. 14, 15); and Thyatira (ii. 20). And there is everything in the Apocalypse to show that that will be the special form of evil in the coming days of Antichrist on earth. See also 2 Kings ix. 22, 30. Jer. iv. 30. Nah. iii. 4.
* G.L.T.Tr.A. WH. and RV. omit "a few things."
** (...) (apheis) instead of (...) (eas) sufferest. G.L.T.Tr.A. WH. and RV.
*** G.L. (A). WH. (marg.) RV. (marg.) read "thy wife."
21. And I gave her space in order that she might repent* and she willeth not to repent of her fornication] We must read the history in the book of Kings in order to understand this; and see and note how it is connected with persecution. See I Kings xviii. 13, 14. It may have reference to the woman of Rev. xvii. 1-4, and to the scenes then going on in the earth. Compare chap. xviii. 3 and 8-l0). Also ix. 20, 21.
* All the Texts and RV. read the verse thus.
22. Lo! I cast her into a bed, and those who are committing adultery with her (xviii. 8-10) into great tribulation (Rom. ii. 8, 9, 16), except they repent of her* works] The casting into a bed, here, is in contrast with Jezebel's being cast out of a window. And it refers to a bed of anguish and of judgment. To reward and punish "according to works" is God's principle of dealing with Israel and the world (xviii. 6); but not with the Church.
* All the critical Texts and RV. read (...) (autes) her, instead of (...) (auton) their.
23. and her children (Ps. cxxxvii. 9) will I kill with death (i.e., with pestilence); and all the assemblies shall know (or, get to know) that I am He that searcheth reins and hearts.] Compare Jer. xi. 20; xvi 10; xx. 12. I Kings viii. 59; and I Sam. xvi. 7; and see Rev. xi. 18 and xxii. 12. This is the work of "the Son of God" (v. 18). The word "death" here means pestilence, as in chap. vi. 8; xviii. 8. 2 Sam. xxiv. 13.
and will give unto you, each one, according to your works] See Jer. xi. 20; xvii. 10. Ps. vii. 9; lxii. 12.
24. But, unto you, I say,the rest* that are in Thyatira, as many as hold not this doctrine, who have not known (or, come to know) the depths of Satan, (as they say)] God has His Divine depths, I Cor. ii. 10. Rom. xi. 33. But here we have the "depths of Satan." We see some of them in Rev. xiii., but the real "depths" are in turning the basest profligacy into religion; and, under the pretence of worshipping idols (which is awful enough), to legalize and patronise the lowest of vices. Read Isa. xxviii. 14-18.
* Omit "and to," G.L.T.Tr.A. WH. and RV.
I do not* lay upon you any other burden] or prophetic message of judgment. See 2 Kings ix. 25, 26, and Isa. xiii. 1.
* L.T.Tr.A. and RV. have the present tense instead of the future.
25. Nevertheless, what ye have hold fast till I come (lit., shall have come). 26. And he that overcometh and keepeth my works] i.e., keepeth in mind, as to ponder over, and understand my judgments. See on the word "keep" chap. i. 3, and references there given.
unto the end,I will give him authority over the nations; 27. and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: as vessels of pottery are dashed in pieces: even as I also have received of my Father] This is an unmistakable reference to such Old Testament prophecies as Ps. ii. 7-9, and to the scenes that will be then current on the earth mentioned in chaps. xii. 10, and xix. 15-21.
To such straits are interpreters driven, who spiritualize the prophecies of the Old Testament, and thus rob them from those to whom they belong, that they hesitate not on most missionary platforms to quote Ps. ii. 7-9 of the spread of the gospel. But there is some inconsistency in this robbery, for while they quote and claim the words of verse 8, "Ask of me and I will give the heathen for thine inheritance," they always stop short, and do not go on to quote the words that follow"Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron: and shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel." Here is the asking and the giving spoken of in Ps. ii. 8, and in the verse before us: only here, the promise is to the Assembly in Thyatira. If this is the Church of God then here we have its mission. But though most commentators hold that Thyatira is a "church," they do not press this as the Church's mission, or "claim" this as its promise. This fact manifests the inconsistency of the popular principle of interpretation.
28. And I will give unto him the morning star] The promise is fulfilled in Rev. xxii. 16. But the prophecy is in Numbers xxiv. 17, which connects it with Israel and with the day of the Lord's judgment, "there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth."
29. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the Assemblies] See above.
5. THE FIFTH EPISTLE.SARDIS.
In this Epistle the Old Testament reference is to the period of Israel's removal from the Land. Where, as the separate kingdom of the Ten Tribes, her name is practically blotted out, as applied to the Ten Tribes.
In Deut. xxix. God declares of those who shall turn away from Him "to go and serve the gods of these nations" (v. 18), that He will "blot out his name from under heaven (v. 20).
This was fulfilled first in the case of the Ten-Tribed Kingdom of Israel. It was Jeroboam who first "made Israel to sin." He is known by this periphrasis. This is his special mark by which he was best known. In forming the Ten-Tribed Kingdom he was at once cut off from Jerusalem and the worship which God had established there. Religion of some kind must be the basis of government, so Jeroboam made his own religion: and in a yet future day the Beast will have his own universal religion; as we shall see.
A similar warning, therefore, and a similar teaching, will be needed by those who shall be living on the earth in the days of which the Apocalypse treats.
Hence we have in the epistle the reference to Israel's removal from the Land:
(5) iii. 1-6. Sardis
(5) | a | c | 1-. Christ's command to write.
d | -1-. Christ's attribute. (i. 4, 20)
b | e | -1. Crimination
f | 2-. Warning. "Be watchful."
g | -2. Reason.
f | 3-. Warning. "Remember" and "Repent."
e | -3. Threatening. "If, therefore,"
b | h | 4-. Persons. Commendation.
i | -4-. Character. "Which have not," &c.
i | -4-. Consequence. "And they shall," &c.
h | -4. Persons. Reason.
d | 5. Christ's Promise. (White raiment. Book of Life. Compare xix. 8; xiii. 8; xvii. 8; xxi. 12; xxi. 27.)
c | 6. Christ's command to hear.
iii. 1. And unto the Angel of the Assembly in Sardis write; These things saith He that hath the seven spirits of God] We submit that the Holy Spirit, as co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son, could not be properly spoken of as a possession of Christ; and placed on the same footing as the seven stars, "which are the angels of the seven assemblies."
and the seven stars] These are the angels of the seven assemblies, and are spoken of as belonging to Christ (equally with the seven spirits) to cast down, punish, remove or exalt as He will. In chap. v. 6 we read that "a Lamb stood as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God." Indeed, these seven angels of the assemblies on earth, and the seven angels (or spirits, see under i. 4, and compare in Heb. i. 7) in heaven are connected together in the clearest possible manner. When we read in this book of "the seven angels which stood before God" (viii. 2), and of the "seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are (or represent) the seven spirits of God," what are we to understand beyond this? Why are we to say that they are not what it is here said they are, and explain them as being something else? When Christ speaks of "having" these, it does not mean having them in possession as attributes, but having them in His power for use, disposal and command.
I know thy works, that thou hast a name, that thou livest, and art dead] How can such language as this be addressed to those who are in Christ today: they have "no name to live." They do live "in Christ." Their standing is not in works; neither can it in any sense be said of them "and art dead." On the contrary, they were once "dead in trespasses and sins," but they died in Christ, and are now risen in Him, and stand on resurrection ground before God in all the perfection of that standing which He has given them in Christ. No one who knows anything of the teaching of the Church or Pauline Epistles, could ever think of sacrificing that wondrous standing for the sake of a false and traditional principle of interpretation.
2. Be (lit., become) watchful, and strengthen the things that remain, that were* about to die: for I have not found thy works fulfilled] or performed.
* G.L.T.Tr.A. WH. and RV., have "were" instead of "are."
The watchfulness required here is that of Luke xxi. 34-36. Mark xiii. 34-37.
before my* God] Compare I Sam. xvi. 7. Seven times does Christ in these Epistles speak of "my" in connection with His "Father" and His "God."
* G.L.T.Tr.A. WH. and RV. add "my" here.
3. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and keep it in mind, and repent] What they heard we are told in Matt. xxiv. 14.
If, therefore, thou shalt not watch, I will come* as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee] This one passage settles, for ever, the fact that these words cannot possibly be addressed to the members of the Church of God who have "that blessed hope" of being caught up to meet the Lord in the air, or of being "called on high" as in Phil. iii. 14. We are plainly and expressly told (in I Thess. v. 2), "yourselves know perfectly that 'the Day of the Lord' so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say 'Peace and Safety'; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief." No language can be plainer than this, addressed to "the Church of the Thessalonians." Either Rev. iii. 3 refers to believers now, and we have a flat contradiction of I Thess. v. 4, or we must rightly divide the Word of truth, and say that I Thess. v. 4 is true of all the members of the Church of God; and that Rev. iii. 3 is equally true of those who shall be in these Assemblies (whatever they may be) in "the day of the Lord." That day will come "as a thief." See Matt. xxiv. 43. Luke xii. 39. 2 Pet. iii. 10. But it will come thus upon a world ("they" and "them") that looks not for Him. The Church of God will be "called on high;" made like Christ's own glorious body (Phil. iii. 14, 20, 21), and received up in Glory (I Tim. iii. 16) before the thief shall come, and before the day of the Lord shall be present (2 Thess. ii. 2). Hence we are exhorted not to be moved by reports that "the day of the Lord is now present" (R.V.). If it were otherwise we have every need to be troubled, for our hope would then have been in vain. Those who have not been caught away will indeed be troubled, for they will be in the Great Tribulation. So determined, however, are many not to have this blessed hope, or even to allow others to have it, that they would rather hold that this "great and terrible day of the Lord" is our only "hope" and (!) thus be driven to interpret the "thief" of Christ coming as a friend to fetch us away as he steals precious jewels. And this is done in the face of the opposite statement in I Thess. v. 4, that that day shall "not come as a thief" on the church; and in spite of the solemn warning to watch, so as not to suffer the thief to break into, or to break up the house (Matt. xxiv. 43). This thief is to be watched against: but Christ is to be watched for!
* Omit "upon thee" G.L.T.Tr.A. WH. and RV.
4. Nevertheless thou hast a few names* in Sardis] These names are evidently the distinguishing point in this Epistle, for we read in the next verse of names being not blotted out, and confessed.
* Omit "even," G.L.T.Tr.A. WH. and RV.
Which defiled not their garments] This is language foreign to the Church of God. It accords with a standing in the flesh as addressed to those who can wash their own robes (vii. 14) and establish a right to the tree of life (xxii. 14), and make themselves ready (xix. 7). But all this is "works" and not grace. So is the promise,
and they shall walk with me in white: because they are worthy] This promise is fulfilled in Rev. xix. 7, 8, but there is nothing like it in nature or character promised to or hoped for by the church. And as to worthiness, who of use can take that standing? No; we are altogether unworthy in ourselves, but all-worthy in Christ. But these are worthy because of their own merit. The scene contemplated here is actually described in chap. xvi. 15, and xix. 7-9. The day of the Lord is a day when men will be treated according to their deeds (Rom. ii. 5, 6). Those who have not defiled their garments, and are unspotted from the flesh (Jude 5-8) are those who have not worshipped the Beast, or received his mark, or partaken of his idolatrous obscenities.
5. He that overcometh shall thus* be arrayed in white garments; and I will not blot out his name from the book of life] How is it possible for a true believer in Christ to have his name blotted out? The teaching of Rom. viii. as to our standing in Christ is the very opposite of this. But both are true if "the word of truth" be rightly divided. Dan. xii. 1 prophesies of this "book of life," and Rev. xiii. tells us that the time for its fulfilment shall have then come.
* So L.T.Tr. WH. and RV.
and I will confess his name in the presence of my Father, and in the presence of His angels]. Here is the association of Christ, the Father, and the angels as in chap. i. 4-5. See notes above; and Matt. xvi. 27. This promise, as we have seen, refers to the later scene in the life of David, when he confesses the names of his worthy ones, just before the glory of the kingdom is set up by Solomon (2 Sam. xxiii.). Some of the names are "blotted out." The others are confessed. This is the scene alluded to here; and this is what is promised by the Lord in Matt. x. 32, Luke xii. 8 and Mark viii. 38. These words refer, as the Lord Himself explains, to the time when He comes to send the sword upon the earth (Matt. x. 33-42). To interpret this of the church of God, is to utterly destroy that standing which God has given his church in Christ. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ; and there can be no separation from the love of God in Christ. This is clear from Rom. viii.
6. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying unto the Assemblies] see above.
(6) THE SIXTH EPISTLE. PHILADELPHIA.
In these last two Epistles the Old Testament illustrations are from the period of the Kings and Kingdom of Judah; and after the removal of Israel. The one is from the days of Hezekiah; and the other is from the days of the Minor Prophets, before and after the return from Babylon, when hope of restoration was held out to the People.
Those who will be on the earth in the days to which the Apocalypse refers, will need the instruction which such illustrations will give; for they will be days when all hope of restoration from man has gone, and the People can hope only in God.
It will be a time of trial; but the promise of being kept in it is made, and the hope of being delivered out of it is given.
Those who have this promise fulfilled in them are seen in chap. vii. and xiv. and xv. caught up to God and His throne. They go into but come "out of" the Great Tribulation. They are afterwards seen standing before the throne, though not seated as the Church will be with Christ upon the throne. They will serve God and follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth. (See Rev. vii. 14-17; xiv. 1-5; xv. 1-4.)
The structure exhibits these promises. The time of trial has sifted and separated the people, and there are those now who have kept the words of this book in remembrance, to whom these promises can be made.
(6) Philadelphia (iii. 7-13)
(6) | a | c| 7-. Christ's command to write.
d | -7. Christ's attribute. i. 18
b | e | 8-. Statement. "I know," etc.
f | -8. Reason. "for thou hast," etc.
e | 9-. Statement. "Behold," etc.
f | -9. Promise. "Behold," etc.
g | 10. Statement. "Because," etc.
h | -10. Promise. "I also will keep," etc.
g | 11-. Statement. "Behold I come," etc.
h | -11. Exhortation. "Hold that fast," etc.
d | 12. Christ's promise. Pillar in Temple. New Name. New Jerusalem (xxi. 2; xxii. 4).
c | 13. Christ's command to hear.
iii. 7. Unto the angel of the Assembly in Philadelphia, write; These things saith He that is holy and He that is true] Seven attributes of Christ are here given. The seven is divided, as usual, into three and four. Three relate to what He is and hath:
- He that is holy.
- He that is true.
- He that hath the key of David.
and four relate to what He does and does not do:
- He that openeth.
- And none shut.
- That shutteth.
- And none openeth.
He that is holy] or the Holy One, is a title of Deity (Hos. xi. 9 Hab. iii. 3). It is given to Christ (Ps. xvi. 10. Acts. iii. 14). The usual form of this title in the Old Testament is "the Holy One of Israel"; but Israel is now removed, and the illustration is from Judah.
He that is true] The word here is (...) (alethinos) real, (not (...) (alethes) true), and denotes what is real and genuine in contrast to all that is merely typical. Hence it is used of God whenever the reference or contrast is to idols (either latent otherwise) in the context. (See I Thess. i. 9. Compare Jer. x. 10. 2 Chr. xv. 3. I John v. 20. Rev. xix. 11).
He that hath the key of David] We have already referred to this, as specially giving its character to this Epistle. It reminds the reader of that period of Judah's history described in Isa. xxii. Jerusalem was about to be taken, and instead of repenting, they were feasting. The Treasurer of the State "who was over the house" (Shebna), carried the key in token of his office; and he presumptuously thought he was going to retain his office and his dignity, and finally be buried in the magnificent sepulchre he had prepared for himself in the rock. But this thought was alien to the great hope given to David, which was resurrection, "even the sure mercies of (promised to) David." Shebna entered not into David's spirit, so he was removed, and another (Eliakim) took his office. The use of "the key of David" is explained in what follows, as denoting access to, and complete control over, the house and throne of David, and implies Regal dominion. Hence the word "house" (used in the prophecy Isa. xxii. 22) is omitted here, for it is the throne that is now in question (Luke i. 32), and this could be occupied only in resurrection (Jer. xxx. 9. Ezek. xxxiv. 23, 24. Acts xiii. 34, 36). It is the Kingdom that is referred to in all this, not the church. Hence we read of "the keys of the kingdom," but never of "the keys of the church." This is left for Romanists to falsely claim, and for Protestant interpreters to weakly admit. Matt. xvi. 19 is clear as to this. This key belongs to Christ, as here stated; but the opening of the kingdom, in testimony, was committed to Peter, and Peter used those keys in his ministry in Acts. i.-xii. Against that kingdom the "gates of the grave" should not prevail." If "gates" denote the entrance to the grave, then it means that death "shall not prevail"; and if "gates" (by Metonymy) denote power, then it means that the power of the grave will never keep and hold those who enter it. Christ holds the key (as stated in i. 18), and therefore He describes Himself as
He that openeth, and no one shall* shut; that shutteth and one shall** open.
* L.T.Ta.Tr.A. WH. and RV. read the future tense.
** Ta.Tr.A. read the future tense.
8. I know thy works: (behold I have set before thee an opened door] What this means is sufficiently explained by what follows. It can refer only to deliverance, as when the opened door was set before Peter (Acts xii. 10; and compare Isa. xlix. 9, 10). Their enemies shall acknowledge the Lord's protecting power. What a wrong interpretation of these words it is, to take them as referring to an open door for service, as is so universally done! Even as used by Paul in I Cor. xvi. 9 it implies deliverance from the "many adversaries"; and in 2 Cor. ii. 12 the reference is clearly to deliverance from Satan's "devices" (v. 11); in Col. iv. 3 the reference is to deliverance from his "bonds."
which no one can shut*): that thou hast a little strength, and didst keep my word] This, the one important injunction throughout, is obeyed by those who are thus addressed.
* So G.L.T.Tr.A. WH and RV.
and didst not deny my name] i.e., by receiving another "name"; even the name of the Beast. This, too, refers to another special injunction so peculiarly applicable to, and characteristic of, the coming days of the great Tribulation. (See Rev. xiii. 17; xiv. 9, 11, 12). Here is the description of those very days referred to, in this epistle.
9. Behold, I make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews, and are not, but do lie] How are these words to be explained of the Christian Church, either of these or of any other days? Why should people "say they are Jews" in order to join Christians? Why thus lie? Do we see any fulfilment of this going on around us? No! These claim to be Jews and meet in their assemblies (or synagogues), but it is "the synagogue of Satan." They claim to be "fellow-servants" (Matt. xxiv. 49). Those who will be on the earth at that time will know what these words mean better than we can know now. It is for us to believe them.
Behold, I will make them to come and bow down before thy feet, and know that I have loved thee. Is this what is prophesied of the church of God? Is this our experience? Has it ever been the experience of the Christian Church? No! trouble and persecution and trial are the lot of the church; the portion plainly foretold for it during the time of the Lord's rejection until He shall come. To be hated because He was hated; this is our portion now, from which no hope of reprieve is held out to us. But this homage spoken of here belongs to Israel by right in a yet future day. To see this we have to read only such passages as Isa. xlv. 14; xlix. 22, 23; lx. 14; lxvi. 1-4, 5, 14. We can hardly conceive it possible that, in the face of such prophecies and promises addressed to Israel, anyone could ever interpret their fulfilment in these Epistles as belonging to the church of God. Look at only one (Isa. lx. 14):
"The sons also of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee:
And all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of they feet."
The promise made to Christ will be shared in by His people Israel. See Ps. lxxii. 9; cx. 1. Phil. ii. 10. Compare Exod. xi. 8. "That I have loved thee" both the pronouns here are very emphatic and refer to chap. i. 5.
10. Because thou didst keep the word of my patience] i.e., the patient waiting or endurance which I did command. See i. 9; ii. 2, 19. These commands as to "patience" refer particularly to the waiting during and under the tribulation. If it be asked where this is, the answer is clear from chaps. xiii. 10; and xiv. 12 "Here is the patience of the saints." It is the patience of those who shall be in those scenes of judgment and looking for deliverance out of them. For thus is the promise.
I also shall keep thee out of the hour of trial, which is about to come upon the whole (habitable) world to try them that dwell on the earth] These are the scenes foretold in Zeph. i. 14-18, and by our Lord (in Luke xxi. 36). This refers to a brief, definite season (xii.-xix.); probably "the three years and a half" closing with the manifestation of the Lord Jesus in the clouds. These earth-dwellers are repeatedly mentioned in this book (see vi. 10; xi. 10; xiii. 8, 14). For the "keeping out of the hour," etc. (see Ps. xxxii. 6. Isa. xxvi. 20, 21. John xvii. 15. Ps. xxvii. 1-5). This deliverance may the "wilderness," as spoken of in chap. xii.
11. "*I come quickly: Hold fast that which thou hast, that none take thy crown] This can have no reference to the Church of God. We have no crowns to be taken and no one could take them if we had. We are in Christ; perfect and secure in Him.
* Omit "Behold," G.L.T.Tr.A. WH. and RV.
12. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the Temple of my God] Here the promise goes on to the days of Solomon, to the "temple" and the "city" (as the next Epistle to Laodicea is associated with the throne). (See iii. 21 and compare I Kings v. 5; vii. 13-22. 2 Chron. iii. 15-17.)
and he shall in no wise go forth any more: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God] The promise as to both temple and city are fulfilled in chap. xxi. 2, 3. Compare Ps. xlviii. 1, 2, 8, 9, and Ezek. xlviii. 35.
the New Jerusalem (xxi. 2, 10), which descendeth out of heaven from my God (xxi. 10) and [I will write upon him] my new name] Is. lxii. 2; lxv. 15. Inscriptions on the person are mentioned in chap. vii. 3. The worshippers of the Beast will be marked with his name, chaps. xiii. 16; xiv. 11; xix. 20; xx. 4. This promise is specifically fulfilled in chaps. xiv. 1, and xxii. 4.
13. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the Assemblies] See above.
7. THE SEVENTH EPISTLE. LAODICEA.
The Epistle to the Assembly in Laodicea is the last, as it is the most solemn, of these Epistles. All the Epistles cover, in a general way, the whole period covered by the book; but, they also mark special stages of the apostasy and of the tribulation. Laodicea marks the last stage. It is the final period immediately before chap. xix., when "the Judge standeth before the door" (verse 20. Compare James v. 9). The Old Testament illustrations are taken from the Minor Prophets, which cover the last period of the nation's history, and form the last testimony before the First Advent of Christ; because the same character will mark the period immediately preceding the Second Advent or the Day of the Lord.
The Structure is much more simple than any of the other Epistles, because the whole position at the period will be reduced to the very simple issue of allegiance to Christ or Antichrist.
(7) iii. 14-22. Laodicea
(7) | a | c | 14-. Christ's command to write.
d | -14. Christ's attribute. i. 5.
b| e | 15, 16. Crimination. (Lukewarmness.)
f | 17, 18. Warning. (Gifts.)
b | e | 19. Exhortation. (Zeal.)
f | 20. Warnings. (Graces.)
d | 21. Christ's promise. The Throne. Compare xx. 4.
a | c | 22. Christ's command to hear.
iii. 14. And unto the Angel of the Assembly in Laodicea,* write; These things saith the Amen] "Amen" is a Hebrew word (see 2 Cor. i. 20. Rom. xv. 8), expressing that which is immediately added, "faithful and true." Compare Isa. lxv. 16.
* So G.L.T.Tr.A. WH. and RV.
the faithful and true witness] See on chap. i. 5 above; and compare xix. 11 and Ps. lxxxix. 37.
the beginning of the creation of God] Reminding of the fact that by Him all things were created; and that by Him all things exist and all things consist (Col. i. 15-19). Before any created thing was formed, Elohim took created form in order to create; so that created beings might hold communion with the Creator, which they could not with God, who is "Spirit" (John iv. 24). Thus He is referred to in Prov. viii. 22-31. And thus He appeared to Adam (who was created in His image), and to the Patriarchs, and to Joshua as one who could be wrestled with and seen and spoken with. All believe that He assumed creature form specially for these appearances. It is only one step to further believe that this form was more permanent: that He took creature form in order to create, as He afterward took human form in order to redeem. (Compare the two songs of Rev. iv. 11 and v. 9.) No other view so well enables us to understand how He could be called "the Beginning of the creation of God," or explain such passages as Prov. viii. 22-31 and Col. i. 15-17, "the firstborn of every creature" who was "before all things." This is all expressed in the words of the ancient Creed. "Begotten of His Father before the world; born of the substance of his mother in the world." He is therefore the Head of Creation, the great subject of which this book treats, thus reminding us here of its beginning, as it afterwards tells of its end, and of the New Creation of the New Heaven and the New Earth.
15. I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would that thou wert cold or hot.
16. Thus, because thou art luke-warm, and neither hot nor cold,* I am about to spue thee out of my mouth] These words require no exposition. They explain with perfect clearness the condition of things among the remnant of the Jews in that day. The same result of unfaithfulness is not keeping the word and commandments of God is spoken of in Lev. xviii. 25, 28; xx. 22, where the people are told that for such disobedience, the very land should spue them out. Compare Zech. xi. 1-9, and Hos. iv. 6-7.
* So G.T.Tr.A. WH. and RV.
17. Because thou sayest] See [Laodicea The Period of Judah's Removal] where these verses are compared with Hosea ii. 5, 8, 9, and other passages from the minor prophets, which describe the very condition of things here referred to. We enlarged on this point in those pages, so as not to over-burden these running comments on the text itself.
I am rich and have become enriched] Compare Hos. xii. 8.
And have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one (Hos. ii. 11; v. 15), and the miserable (Hag. i. 6), and poor, and blind, and naked (Hos. ii. 3-10).
18. I counsel thee to buy of me] When are the members of the Church of God, or, indeed, anyone in this dispensation, where all is of grace and of gift counselled "to buy" anything of God. We have "nothing to pay" and nothing to buy with; and can show no cause nor merit why we should have the slightest favour or blessing. Compare for the Dispensation of works Is. lv. 1, 2.
gold refined in the fire (Mal. iii. 3; Hos. ii. 8; Hag. ii. 8), that thou mayest be enriched; and white garments, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness may not be made manifest] The reference here is to Jer. xiii. 25, 26, and Hosea ii. 3.
and eye-salve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see] Compare Is. lix. 10.
19. As many as I love] See Is. xliii. 4, and compare context. Also Deut. vii. 8. Hos. iii. 2; xi. 4.
I rebuke and chasten] See Hos. vii. 12; Deut. viii. 5; xxviii. 20; and Prov. iii. 12.
20. Behold, I am standing (lit., "I have taken my station") at the door, and am knocking] The call is to the Wedding Feast of chap. xix. 9, to which the parables pointed, especially Luke xii. 35-38. The servants are exhorted to be "like unto men that wait for their Lord when he shall return from the wedding; that when he cometh and knocketh they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when he cometh shall find watching. The coming is no longer spoken of as "near" he is already at the door.
To the twelve Tribes scattered abroad it is written in view of his coming "The judge standeth before the door" (Jas. v. 7, 8, 9). The nearness of the Lord as the "judge" is the warning conveyed by these words in the Epistle to the Assembly in Laodicea, and not the nearness of the Saviour in grace, or an invitation to sinners in this day of grace. Can anything be clearer than this? and can language be more incongruous as applied to any in this present dispensation.
if any one hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me] It is in connection with the knocking just referred to in Luke xii. 37 that the promise is given to the "servants" spoken of (not to the church). "Verily I say unto you that he shall gird himself and make them to sit down to meat, and he will come forth and serve them." Compare Matt. xxii. 2, 3. Luke xiv. 15; xxii. 16-18. Mark xiv. 25, and Rev. xix. 9. This is the same watching which is spoken of in verse 39 as the watching for the coming as a thief.
21. To him that overcometh will I give to take his seat with me on my throne, even as I also overcame and took my seat with my Father on His throne] This promise is seen fulfilled in xx. 4. The session of the Lord Jesus is spoken of here as past. He is now from His seat and is about to come down in judgment to avenge the blood of His martyred saints. Hence Stephen sees the same "Son of Man, standing," Acts vii. 56. Nothing proves more clearly the two thrones of which Scripture speaks. His Father's throne, on which He is now seated, and "the throne of His father David," to which Christ is the heir as David's Son and David's Lord (Luke xx. 42). Compare Ezek. xliii. 7. Ps. cxxii. 5. It is this throne which He will occupy when He comes in His glory. Luke i. 32. Acts. ii. 30 Heb. ii. 5. Matt. xxv. 31. Ps. viii. Dan. vii. and Rev. xx. 4. There is a third throne spoken of in chap. xxii. 1, 3; but that is "the throne of God and of the Lamb," and is after the Millennium. The promise in iii. 21 refers to the throne of Solomon. [See the Seventh (Laodicea)].
22. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying unto the Assemblies] Here end these seven epistles. And we feel that no one can thus read and study them without becoming convinced that they belong to another dispensation altogether; when "works" and not grace form the standing; and Israel and not the Church is the subject.
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