Revelation 2


We will now look at the first of the seven churches more particularly (verses 1-7). First., let us observe that John is told to write to the angel of the church in Ephesus. The address is no longer to “the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus.” Nor is it to the saints with the bishops and deacons, as the word was to the Philippian church. Why is this? The Lord’s ways are always full of grace; but they are righteous withal, and the church was a fallen and falling thing so that He could no longer address them in His familiar love as formerly. Thus there was departure of the most serious kind from Himself, and John is directed to address, not the church, but its angel or representative. The angels spoken of in these epistles were men, and must not be confounded with the class of spiritual beings called angels.18 The apostle John is employed by the Lord to send a message to them, and it would be contrary to all the ways of God to use man as a messenger to angels in the ordinary meaning of the word. Angels often acted between God and man, but not men between Him and angels.

But, further, there is no sufficient ground to affirm that the angel here addressed, though a man, is in such an official place necessarily as a bishop or elder.19 He might have such a charge, or he might not. “The angel” always gives the thought of representation. In the Old Testament we have the angel of Jehovah, of the covenant, etc., and in Daniel we read of angels who were identified with Israel or other powers. In the New Testament we have the angels of the little children always beholding the face of their Father in heaven, which clearly means their representatives. So of Peter, in Acts 12, they said it was his angel. We may gather then that the angel here, though a man, is in some way or another the ideal responsible representative of an assembly. Hence, it could be said, “I will remove thy lamp-stand.” It would be extremely objectionable to make this a defined official place, as it would introduce not merely a novelty, but one that clashes with all that is elsewhere taught in scripture as to the assembly. But it will not be doubted that in assemblies we find, as a fact, a particular person whom the Lord specially links with the assembly as characterizing it: he is morally identified with it, and receives from the Lord either praise or condemnation according to the state of the assembly.

Here the angel is directly charged with the state of the assembly. The address being to him, and not to the assembly, put them as it were at, farther distance from the Lord. What a tale this tells of the dreadful condition into which the church had got! He could no longer address these assemblies immediately. He had spoken directly to the Corinthians even; for, guilty as they were, they had not so loved Him and then relaxed. But here the message is, “Thou hast left thy first love.” Yet, if the church were not faithful, He had a faithful servant at least in John; and he it is who in the first instance is addressed. And be it ever remembered that the church has never since recovered from that failure and place of comparative distance.20 The church, the house of God, is a complete ruin here below. And in ruin the first thing that becomes us is that we feel it before Him.

This in no way touches eternal salvation; but the certainty of salvation is abused when employed to lessen what is due to God. In fact there is never a real sense of sin before conversion; for if it could thus be, it would be accompanied with absolute despair. But after we have not conversion only but perfect peace, we can bear to look at our sin, and we can afford to judge it thoroughly. A holy angel does not know God as we ought to do — I do not say as we do, though that be true also. An angel enters into the wonders of God’s power, “hearkening unto the voice of his word.” But the depths of God come out, marvellous to say, about our sin, and in His Only-begotten, “seen of angels” indeed, but in living relationship with us.

Here the Lord presents Himself as the One “that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, that walketh in the midst of the seven golden lamp-stands” (verse 1). He speaks of Himself as having authority over all the representatives of the heavenly light, and going about among the vessels of His testimony. The representative is addressed; the assembly is none the less responsible and dealt with accordingly. He is come to investigate, to judge — not yet of course the ungodly world, but — the assembly in Ephesus. What a difference between such a sight as this, and the view we have of Him and of the church too in Ephesians 1, 2! There He is seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly places, and there too God has made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. Here He is walking in the midst of the candlesticks. His hand is needed; for none but He could meet the difficulties. But is it not solemn that He is so presented to that very church to which Paul had opened out the fulness of His heavenly grace, the fulness of their own blessing in Him? But here He is obliged, as it were, to walk and vindicate His authority, not among those who know Him not, but where His love had once been well known — alas! now forgotten and dishonoured.

Observe the general character, as has been truly remarked, of this the first address throughout all its parts. Such is Christ’s description; such too the sin; such the warning to the angel; and such the promise to the overcomer. The Lord’s position is ecclesiastical generally, holding the seven stars and walking in the midst of the seven golden lamp-stands.

“I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and that thou canst not bear evil men; and thou hast tried those that call themselves apostles and are not, and hast found them liars: and thou hast patience, and hast borne for my name’s sake and art not wearied” (verses 2, 3).21 Thus there were many things to praise. There was patience, and this is the first if not the greatest, that Paul gives of his own apostleship. More than this, nothing is more ready to break down than patience, after it has stood many a trial. But here at Ephesus there was endurance. (Compare verses 2, 3.) Again, where there is patience, there might be the tendency to pass over evil, or at least evil men. But it was not so here. They had borne for His name’s sake, but they could not bear evil persons; and they had tried those that pretended to the highest place — to be apostles, and had found them liars. And thus they had gone on and were not weary. How sweet of the Lord (in His sorrow and, if we may so say, His disappointed love) thus to begin with all that was good!

But though there was what He could praise, He had against them that they had left their first love. It is quite evident that this is nothing special, but the general spirit or principle of declension of the church at large. Indeed it is very broad: so the angels that left their first estate; so Adam; so Israel. Alas! we must add now the assembly of God, blessed and loved beyond them all. They had let slip the consciousness of the Lord’s love to them, and hence the fresh energy of their own love to Him had waned. What produced love in them was their appreciation of the Lord’s love.

Let me just remark that the word “somewhat,” in verse 4, seems to weaken the sense. It might convey the idea that the Lord had but little against them whereas, in truth, He was exceedingly grieved. Not to feel His love, not to return it consequently, was no small failure, especially where that love had once been enjoyed. But now it was faded, and what would not follow in time? “Remember, therefore, whence thou art fallen, and repent and do the first works; or else I coming unto thee, and I will remove thy lamp-stand out of its place, except thou repent.” Solemn announcement! Not only is an assembly liable to lose its place of holding up the holy light of God, but assured that so it must be if it depart from first love and repent not. It is a much easier thing to be zealous in doing than in repenting. But even this would not satisfy His heart, unless they got back to that first love which had produced their first works: otherwise the lamp-stand must be removed. The spring of grace is as gone.

I doubt, on grounds both external and internal, that “quickly” should be in ver. 5. For when He thus comes to judge the ways of His own people, can it be so said? Doubtless, when He comes, whether to fight with the Nicolaitans, or to take us to Himself, it is quickly. (Rev. 2:16; Rev. 3:11; Rev. 22:7, 12, 20.) But the Lord gives space for repentance, even if it were to Jezebel; and how much more to His beloved Ephesians?

The removal of the lamp-stand does not imply that the church might not go on apparently as before; but that it lost its place as a trustworthy witness for the Lord. Here again all is general: it would suit the Christian everywhere. Nothing makes up for distance between His people (or between the soul) and Christ. And such was the case, not merely with the assembly in Ephesus, but with the church generally, I think we may say, even then. This to my mind confirms the successional aim of “the things which are.” Outward testimony might go on, but that is not what the lord most values; though value it He does, as far as it is simple, genuine, and faithful. Still He cannot but prize most of all hearts devoted to Himself, the fruit of His own personal, self-sacrificing, perfect love. He has a spouse upon earth, whom He desires to see with no object but Himself, kept pure for Him from the world and its ways. God has called us for this. . . not only for salvation, and for a witness to Himself in godliness, though this is most true and important, but beyond all for Christ — a bride for His Son! Surely this should be our first and last and constant and dearest thought; for we are affianced to Christ. and He at least has proved the fulness and faithfulness of His love to us! But what of ours?

The effect of thus looking at Christ is that the Christian is kept in the dust, and yet always rejoicing in Him. For the sense of failure in ourselves and others would be oppressive, but that we are entitled to find our joy in One who has never failed, and who notwithstanding loves us who have given such a feeble and faltering witness for Him. Hence if we but go to Him so known, even in sorrowful confession, He will not let us part without blessing and strength. It is due to Him to own and feel our sin; but to be occupied merely with failure never gives power: Christ. must have the glory. And assuredly He who has delivered us from the wrath to come, He who can save from hell, can keep or snatch from every ditch on earth. Only let the Christian confess his sin, cleaving to Jesus; this vindicates the name of Him who comes to his succour, and then the victory is sure.

But what a comfort and how reassuring to find that, after His censure, the Lord again speaks of what He can commend! “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (verse 6). The essence of Nicolaitanism seems to have been the abuse of grace to the disregard of Christian or even moral practice. The Ephesian saints had failed in cleaving with fresh fervour to that which is good, but they had fellowship with the Lord, rejecting false pretensions, and abhorring what is evil. People often say, there is no such thing as a perfect church on earth. I would ask such what they mean by a perfect church. Will any Christian man tell me that we are not to aim at everything consistent with the holiness of God? I claim for the church just what must be allowed for every individual Christian. As there may be too many faults in the individual, so there may be in the church. But then there is this blessedness, that as there is One who dwells in the individual to guide and bless him, so the same Spirit dwells in the church, and Christ cleanses it with the washing of water by the word. It is with the assembly as with the individual, that has both the Holy Ghost, who is the power of good, and the flesh which lusts against him. As in a man the soul may be said to pervade the whole body, animating it in every part; so does the Spirit act in the church of God. When persons maintain that unholiness way be tolerated because no man is free from sin, it is Antinomianism; and I believe it to be the very principle of the Nicolaitans. Each individual is bound to be ready to meet the Lord, having nothing left to be wound up when He comes. The Lord looks for the same thing from the assembly, because there is a divine power against evil in the church as in the saint.

Then comes the promise, with the word of admonition before it, but all general, like the danger and the threat. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God” (verse 7).

As for the paradise of creation, man bid been put there anti tried by the simplest test of obedience in a single instance; but he fell. Now a new scene is opened. It is no longer the garden of Eden, but the paradise of God — “of my God,” says the Lord Jesus — not of God only, in contrast with man, but of “my God” as Jesus knew Him. Into this redemption brings us. And therein is no tree of responsibility that could bring in sorrow and death. The tree of life alone is there, which the glorified saint shall enjoy in peace. The church in Ephesus had fallen, it is true, from first love: but is anything too hard or good for the Lord? Did any feel deeply and aright the wrong that was done to His grace? If there was but one who overcame (and overcoming must be by strong faith, not mere preservation of original blessing; it is overcoming inside the church too), to him was this promise given to comfort and cheer his soul. The Lord’s (trace is just as full now. May there be no soul here who has not ears to hear: if there are any who have, may they hear and overcome!

It is all well to “hear the church” in discipline, confiding in Him who is in the midst. But when the church leaves its first love, and claims all the more loudly to be heard, taking the place of Christ or of the Spirit, pretending to teach, what then? “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.” Individual responsibility comes distinctly out now as a principle for the Christian, as in Matthew 13 for the disciple, after the proclamation in Matthew 12 of the judgment of Israel.


In the message to Ephesus we have seen departure from first standing. The next state is a different one. We have the church at Smyrna in trouble; the saints of God are suffering. They may have thought the fiery trial some strange thing that had happened to them. But, on the contrary, it is more true that the Lord is grieved with a Christian when He leaves him without trouble for righteousness or for His name’s sake. The Lord had Himself known tribulation to the utmost; but in Him it was only the trial of the good that was within, and the bringing out of His perfection. And poor as we are, we too may know trial apart from our evil. The Lord has two objects in view when He lays His hand upon a Christian in the way of chastening. it may come either because there has been something wrong, or because he is in danger of it and this is little felt by him. When David was out of tribulation, he falls into a snare. When his circumstances were full of trouble, then it was that he (inspired, of course, by the Holy Ghost) poured out those sweet strains that we read with joy to this day. The desire to get out of trial is a perilous thing for the soul. The trial may be sent to show us what we really are, or, what is better, to prove what God is for us and to us: but it may be also sent to prevent us from falling into sin. The Lord in His love thus often averts the evil which He sees and we do not. I do not doubt that there is another and a deeper character of suffering, even fellowship with the sufferings of Christ, which must not be confounded with the Lord’s faithful discipline, though sometimes it would seem the two things may be in a measure combined. In a certain sense all saints suffer row with Him, though all may not be called to suffer for Him.

In Smyrna the Lord appears to have been meeting the declension from first love that had set in, and in order to do this He sent tribulation. It is no uncommon case — thanks to His name, for He is good and faithful. In what capacity does He speak to them? “These things saith the first and the last, which was dead and is alive.” His title, first of all, is that of a divine Person as against Satan. The Spirit claims for Jesus here, what Isaiah had before challenged for Jehovah. (Isaiah 41:4.) And what was there that could not be claimed for Him? He “which was dead and is alive.” What a comfort for those who were in trial! Who is that speaks to them in their tribulation? The One who had been in the deepest of sorrow and had gone through death itself He who was the First and the Last, and who had formed all — He was the One that had died and was alive again. And this is the very One that I have to flee to in my trial. You will see thereby what a connection there is between the quickening of the dead and the comfort of those who are in trial. (Compare 2 Cor. 1-5) Jesus was God, but He was man also. He was the suffering man, and He was the triumphant man; and as such He was able to comfort them in their tribulation. What had He not gone through Himself?

“I know [thy works and] tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich,) and the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan” (verse 9). The word “Jews” here is used symbolically It was a name given to the nation that was known as God’s people, above all others, in olden time; and these symbols were taken from the Old Testament. It seems to mean persons who, taking the place of being children of God, went back to hereditary religion. On the one hand, there was this outward trouble, which the Lord allowed for their blessing and, on the other, there were those who were insisting on Jewish principles. (Phil. 3:2.) But the Lord says, “Fear not those things which thou shalt suffer.” Do not mind what persons say, or things done against you. “Behold the devil shall cast from among you into prison, that ye may be tried.” Thus, by God’s grace, the enemy himself is used as an instrument for the good of God’s people in the persecutions which he stirs up against them. There is nothing, on the other hand, whereby Satan more effectually draws aside than through a sort of quiet, easy-going, half-and-half Christianity. God grant that His children may be preserved from having two faces or characters — that the Christian may never be worldly with worldly people, and then put on the ways and words of a saint with his brethren.

It is no new thing for the Lord thus to allow the efforts and enmity of Satan for the blessing of His saints. In the case of Job we see the same thing: indeed the Lord probed his servant there far mere deeply. At each successive trial from Satan Job retained his integrity, and blessed the Lord, but the Lord showed Job himself — the very thing he needed for the full blessedness of turning away from self to the Lord. Then He showed him God, and Job’s comfort at last was as deep as his self-abasement.

Job had no idea that he thought too much of himself; but this was just what God had to show him he did. He loved to recall the time when the fruits of godliness in him drew forth the respect and esteem of men. But God showed him how evil a thing it is to be occupied with the effects of grace in himself or on others. What the enemy of God and man could not do, Job’s friends did. He could stand against the temptations of Satan, but he was provoked to folly by his friends coming to condole with him, and giving their misdirected opinions. When a person talks much about grace, not a little unjudged self is apt to be found there, we may be sure. Even Job had to be put in the furnace to find out that there was a great deal more besides grace in him. But though Satan might tempt without success, and his friends only provoke, when the Lord Himself comes in, then Job is soon thoroughly humbled. He sees himself in the light of the presence of God, and exclaims, “Mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” but the end of the Lord is as good at least as His beginning. He is ever pitiful, and of tender mercy. When Job thinks nothing of himself in the presence of God, the true stream of grace flows out, and he prays for his friends. “And the Lord turned the captivity of Job when he prayed for his friends.”

The case of Smyrna follows that of Ephesus. As already hinted, I should apply the church of Smyrna to the time when the church was called to pass through the tribulation that followed the era of the apostles — the persecutions that were inflicted on the Christians by the Roman emperors. But it is good to remember that all is measured of the Lord. “Behold, the devil shall cast [some] of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days” (verse 10). The sufferings, death for Christ’s sake, etc., of the Christians, were the few bright spots and manifestations of life in the second and beginning of the third centuries.

“Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (ver. 10). The distinction of God’s servants in glory is an important doctrine. For while it is essential to maintain that the very same grace which pardoned the thief on the cross was needed to save Paul of Tarsus, yet it would be a grand mistake to suppose that the thief will have the same reward in glory. Nevertheless we must not be afraid when the Lord says to us, “I know thy works.” For though the vessels that are to contain the blessing may not be equally large, the little cup will be as full as the big one; and filled, if I may so say, with the same materials of joy and blessing. In a glorified state there will be no such thing, of course, as a person being tried — no question of being faithful or unfaithful then. Before we get there, spiritual differences exist; and when we are there, the distinctions of Christ’s kingdom will answer to the character and measure of service here below. though the sovereignty of God must be maintained also. (Matt. 19, 20)

There follows this suited word of comfort to the faithful in Smyrna: “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death” (verse 11). Do not fear the first death; it is only a servant to usher you into the presence of God: the second death will not injure you. The Lord is like that tree of old which was cast into the waters of Marah. He went into the bitterest waters of death, which have thus been changed into sweetness and refreshing for its.


The Lord here announces Himself to the of the church in Pergamos as One armed with all-piercing power by the word of God, the two-edged sword that judges (verse 12). In the book of Revelation the sharp sword is at the command of the Lord Jesus as the instrument of judgment,. What the sword is in the hands of man, so is the word that reveals God searching out and cutting through all obstacles. This the Lord applies in power; it decides all questions that have to do with Him. There is always a great and beautiful connection between the way or title in which He presents Himself and the state of the church which He is addressing. It was because the word was no longer that which had living energy to judge in the church, that the Lord Jesus takes care to prove that it had never lost its power in His hands. As the first church shows us declension set in, even in the days of the apostle John, and Smyrna the time of persecution from the heathen, so here we have a totally different state of things. Pergamos is the scene of Satan’s flattering power or seduction, which was just what he used after the violence of persecution had spent itself. It was a more dangerous device than the second; for when set on anything that is wrong, there is nothing that more shows a case far gone and desperate than God’s giving one up to his own will without further remonstrance. “Ephraim is joined unto idols: let him alone.” In the case of Smyrna we see the clean contrary of this: the Lord was intercepting the power of Satan through persecution from without, which was used of God to hinder the growing corruption within.

Afterwards the god of this world promised Christians every worldly advantage. The emperor himself offered to become a Christian, though he put off baptism till his death-bed. There was no plainer proof how completely the church had fallen through forgetfulness of the Lord’s name, than when it accepted the emperor’s terms and the patronage of the world. Even those who were saved had entirely lost sight of what the church was, as not belonging to the world, but of heaven. The Roman empire was essentially the world’s power. The church had been called out to be the standing witness of these two things: first of the world’s ruin; and secondly of God’s love. But when we see the church shaking hands with the world all is gone, and the church slips down into the mind of this age. If the world gains in some respects, the church loses in everything; and no wonder, because it is at the cost of the will and glory of Christ.

Satan’s “throne” is the sense: in presence of it, who does not see the propriety with which the Lord presents Himself, as armed with the sharp two-edged sword? It is the same word as is used for “seat” as well as “throne” in other parts of this very book; but here it is properly a “throne,” because Satan is spoken of in respect of authority. It is obvious that all this exactly describes the state of things in Constantine’s time. Instead of being at the stake and suffering for Christ’s sake, the church was now yoked with the world in a mere profession of Christianity; for as the world did not really rise to Christ. the church must sink to the world’s level. No wonder the Lord says thereon, “Thou dwellest where Satan’s throne is.” Yet He allows all that He can, even where this miserable association was found — His assembly dwelling where Satan’s throne was. They maintained still His name, and did not deny the faith which was given to the saints; but this was all. They held fast His personal glory, and did not deny that which was revealed of Him because of flesh and blood. They believed of Him what eye had not seen — His Deity. Against this Satan’s wiles were directed, as of late he had sought to destroy those who confessed the truth. They had just come out of the great persecution in which Antipas was slain. But now the church at Pergamos, instead of suffering, was dwelling quietly in the world. Like Lot, they too had their righteous souls vexed with the ungodliness of those around.

The Lord accordingly brings forward the things of which He had to warn them. “Thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam” (verse 14). What was the leading feature we see in the son of Beor? He was led by his covetousness to try and serve the bad king of Moab by cursing the people of God. When God gave him an answer, he goes to God a second time, because his heart wanted its own way. And it is solemn to learn that if God gives you up you may get what you want. Balaam afterwards falls into even worse evil. He was indeed a man whose heart was not with God. He said some true things, but his spirit was not in them He always speaks as it were from without, as a miserable man, afar from the blessing which he saw. “I shall see him, but not now; I shall behold him, but not nigh,” etc. He goes on step by step, until he lends himself to be the corrupter through the world even of God’s chosen people.

And so it was with the church. Even the philosophers began to take up Christian truth, and in the writings of the fathers we find pretty much what we have here. What fornication is in moral things, such was their illicit commerce with the world in the things of God. There were, I doubt not, witnesses who were made very little account of, save in heaven; but one of the men who had the largest and most lasting influence of all, Augustine, was a true saint of God, and, though it may not mean much, the greatest light of the western church. He had held the name of Christ and had not denied his faith. All agree that these epistles applied primarily to the churches to which John wrote; but many do not see that they also apply to different stages of the church, and describe its various states successively.

The doctrine of the Nicolaitans22 seems an evil from within, as that of Balaam was rather from without. Such it was in principle and doctrine now. We read of their deeds in Ephesus, but this went farther and deeper. It was a corruption of grace, a turning it to licentiousness. Sanctity is the greatest snare if it be not real, yea, if it flows not from the truth; yet nothing more terrible than that grace, where it is known or at least talked of, should be abused. If we search our own hearts and ways, we shall find that it is the very thing we all tend to do. Grace has set us completely free through Him who died and rose again; and what claim has it not on our hearts? Do we not often treat God’s grace to us in the very same way that our children in their most hardened mood treat us? They then take all as a matter of right. Though creation has been brought under subjection to vanity on account of Adam’s sin, yet there is no moral evil connected with its lower forms. But in man’s case it is not so. Knowing the evil, he yet goes on in it. And even when we have got the certainty of deliverance, if the joy of it have passed away in a measure, we begin to use the Lord’s grace just to serve ourselves. This, carried out without conscience, is Nicolaitanism.

God’s grace was meant to bind us thoroughly to Himself. We might see a person fall into evil (and this, of course, is truly sorrowful in a Christian), but there is a great deal more of evil that others do not see. God gives us the opportunity of judging ourselves when no one else perhaps knows anything about it If we do not judge it, then the end here below is, that the very world may pronounce on it; and we may be sure what a vast amount of evil must have gone on in secret, when God allows one to fall so that the careless world judges one’s course as evil. But we must not be discouraged. It is just where the truth is most preached and held that Satan will invariably try to bring in the worst conduct and heresies, in order to bring shame upon the testimony of God. When a man slips from a pinnacle or height, he must have a fall so much the more terrible; as also it will be much more manifest to the world than if he had merely upset on the plain.

The Lord does not say, “I will fight against thee with the sword of my mouth,” but “against them” (ver. 16). The sword of judgment may, it is true, act in taking them away by death, as in the else of the Corinthian saints, who were judged of the Lord here below that they might not afterwards be condemned with the world. Christian discipline does not mean putting away those who are not Christians from those who are; rather it contemplates the purging out of Christians who are walking wrongly, in order to maintain the honour and holiness of the Lord in their midst. Mercy is the great motive of discipline, next to the maintaining of Christ’s character in the church. It is at the bottom of the Lord’s ways with us, and surely it should be so for its with others.

The fact of the church’s getting into the world isolated at once the faithful Christian. The church only became invisible sin. It was not God’s intention, it is not according to His heart, that it should ever be so, though I believe that all was permitted and ordered wisely. God did not make a light to be hid, but to be set on its due stand. Such was the fact now: Catholicism reigned, if you take the protracted view, which soon paved the way for Popery. But if the word penetrated him who had an ear to hear, it gave secret fellowship with Christ when the public position had become settledly false. Hence to a true-hearted saint, amid all this ruin and confusion, He says, “I will give to eat of the hidden manna” (verse 17). The manna represents Christ Himself as He came down from heaven and took a place of abasement in the world. Those who were slipping away into the world are reminded of the place which Christ took down here. The “hidden manna” refers to the use which was made of the manna for the ark: a certain portion of it was taken into the holy place as a memorial before God. The faithful are to eat not of the manna only, but of the hidden manna.

It is not merely that we shall share in and enjoy with Christ all His glory as exalted on high and as displayed before the world, but God will give us special communion with Christ as He was here below. How sweet in glory it will be, that He who will have brought us into all the enjoyment and peace of heaven is the same One we have known in all His path of sorrow and rejection in this world, with whom we have shared it ever so feebly here, feeding on Him as our portion even now! The white stone was a mark of entire acquittal. May we be thus looking forward to Christ; and may God give us to taste His own delight in His Son as He was here below in His outcast position! Along with this goes the white stone, the portion of souls faithful to Christ in a state of things like that of Pergamos, when the church and the world were enjoying themselves together. When in heaven such will enjoy the same food that sustained them here. Christ will be there more than ever to enjoy on high; and such shall have the white stone, “and on the stone a new name written, which no one knoweth save he that receiveth it” (i.e., the expression of Christ’s own secret satisfaction in the way in which you have suffered for Him and served Him below). Assuredly the heart will most prize what Christ will give between Himself and it alone — what none will know but ourselves and Himself. The Lord grant that we may be separate from every allurement which Satan offers through the world, although none should know all but Himself now. Even in glory the joy of His secret approval will not be lost but known more profoundly than ever.

Change In The Structure Of The Apocalyptic Epistles.

There is an important change of arrangement that occurs in this chapter, beginning with the epistle to Thyatira. In the first three churches the warning word (“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches”) comes before the promise; but all the four concluding churches have the promise before the call to hear. These at least will be found to be the representatives of states of the church which go down to the end.

Now there must be a reason for such a change — a sufficient reason why the Holy Ghost should uniformly adopt one arrangement in the three earlier epistles, and as uniformly depart from this and adopt another arrangement in the four last. There is nothing haphazard in the word. As everything He has done in His dealings with man, as all that He has made even in creation has its purpose impressed by Him, so is it much more with that word which develops His ways and displays His moral glory. And this is of vast practical moment to us. For remember the secret of strength is in a Spirit-taught knowledge of God and His ways in Christ. To enter into and enjoy the thoughts and feelings of God, as manifested in what He does and says in His own revelation of Himself, is that which wins and keeps, purifies and strengthens the heart of the believer. Israel did not understand His ways, and therefore never knowing His heart, they erred in their own; as it is said, “they do always err in their heart, for they have not known my ways.” Moses, on the other hand, did appreciate the heart of God, and accordingly of him it is written, that “the Lord made known His ways unto Moses.”

In the first three churches, then, the call to hear is addressed formally to the whole assembly concerned; but in the last four the change of situation appears to mark greater reserve. It seems to be intimated by this, that none is expected to hear but he who overcomes. Therefore this class is thenceforth, in a manner, singled out from the rest.23 Evil has now set in over the professing body; so that the promise is not, and could no longer be, held out in the old indiscriminate way. From this distinction we gather a remnant begins to be more and more clearly indicated.

Something analogous to this appears elsewhere. Thus in the seven parables of Matt. 13 the last three were unquestionably marked off from their predecessors, and were addressed to a higher degree of spirituality. The first four were uttered outside to the multitude, the last three to the disciples only within the house. Wherever we find in the Bible a series of parables, prophetic visions, or the like, grouped together as these are, there is commonly, not to say invariably, some such line drawn between those which commence with a general bearing and those which become more special and narrow as we approach the goal. This is strikingly true of these Apocalyptic epistles, the last four of which sever the overcomer from the unfaithful surrounding mass. In short the formation of a faithful remnant, who were at first, I suppose, only morally separate from the mass which bore the Lord’s name (now alas! untruly), becomes increasingly distinct. In the case of Thyatira the Spirit of God seems to make the principle plain and patent, as will appear presently.


The Lord Jesus introduces Himself here in His character of Son of God, followed by a description borrowed in the main from the vision which the apostle had seen in Rev. 1. “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, These things saith the Son of God that hath his eyes as a flame of fire, and his feet [are] like fine brass” (verse 18).

If we trace what the scriptures say of the Lord Jesus viewed thus, two things more particularly are seen. As Son of God, He is the source and sovereign giver of life. (John 5) The life which we by faith derive (“for he that believeth hath everlasting life”) from the Lord Jesus Christ is life, in such power, that even the bodies of such as possess it in Him will rise from the graves to a life-resurrection; while others who have it not must rise to a judgment-resurrection. (John 5:28, 29.) In the resurrection of judgment none can be saved. No Christian will appear before the judgment-seat of Christ as a criminal to be tried. All Christians will appear before it (as must all men); but the result before the world will be, in spite of loss of reward in certain cases, their glorious manifestation as justified men. But if you or I had to appear to see whether we were righteous, and so could escape condemnation, could there be one ray of hope for us? Notwithstanding there never can be, or at least there never ought to be, a doubt as to the absolute salvation of those who have life in and from the Son of God. The judgment-seat of Christ will clearly display them as justified persons. But we need not and should not wait for the judgment-seat to know that we are justified; we are dishonouring God’s grace and His Son’s work not to know it now, “whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us.” Faith is entitled by divine warrant to a full justification now and here below, according to the worth and acceptance of the Lord Jesus in God’s sight.

And this leads us to the second of the privileges alluded to, as connected with the “Son of God.” He gives liberty as well as life. “If the Son, therefore, shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36.) These are the two great aspects of blessing which characterise Jesus as the Son of God. He imparts not only life but liberty too. Not that they have always or necessarily gone together. For a man might have spiritual life and yet be in grievous bondage, as one observes too often. This is also what we read of in Rom. 7. A person who is converted has life, but may be withal the most miserable of men is re his own experience. “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” In Rom. 8 we have the answer of grace. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free [or delivered me] from the law of sin and death.” Liberty now goes with the life of the Son of God, for He is the risen Lord who died for me and discharged me from all the claims of law, and of every other thing or one which might else arrest my blessing The servant does not abide ever in the house, he might have notice to quit; but there is no such thing as the son’s leaving the house. And it is thus as sons God puts us in His house, in the place of full and holy liberty.

What a searching but blessed title this was for the Lord Jesus to take, especially if He were not only providing for the then need of the assembly in Thyatira, but picturing besides that state of departure from truth, and even the depths of Satan, which characterized the middle ages! In Ephesus, when almost all the apostles had disappeared from the world, there was decay of first love; in Smyrna, persecution from the heathen powers; then in Pergamos, the allusion is plain to the era when Christianity gained the ascendant in the world, and when consequently the church consummated and sealed the loss of her sacred and heavenly separateness upon the earth. The power of the world never gained a greater victory than when it was externally vanquished by the cross; when, by merely professing Christ’s name in baptism, all the Roman world was treated as born of God; in short, when apparently heathenism, but really Christianity, succumbed before the rising still of Christendom. In many respects it may have been a mercy for mankind, as it certainly was the greatest event in the government of the world since the flood; but who can estimate the loss for the saints, and the dishonour of their Lord, when the Christian body exchanged their place of suffering now in grace, hoping for glory with Christ at His coming, for present authority in, yea over, the world? In Thyatira we arrive at a period darker still — the natural consequences of those pleasures of sin for a season. When the empire professed the cross and arrayed it with gold, it was not only that God’s children were favoured and caressed, instead of having to wander in sheep-skins and goat-skins, or to hide in dens and caves of the earth, but inevitably their enemies were attracted, and the Balaam-state became developed, and man ran greedily after error for reward. But the Jezebel-state is worse even than that, and most significant of the bloody and idolatrous prophetess who sought to be universal mistress in the so-called dark ages, and dark indeed they were! Of this I believe the church in Thyatira to be the remarkable foreshadowing.

But the Lord loves to praise what He can, and it is in a dreary time that He is glad to be able to approve of the least good. Here in the growing darkness of the public state, there was growing devotedness among the real saints. “I know thy works, and love, and faith, and service,24 and thy patience, and thy last works [to be] more than the first” (verse 19). “And thy works” ought to be left out, and the clause following should be, “and thy last works,” etc., on ample authority. This the sense, I think, fully confirms to a spiritual mind. “But I have against thee that thou sufferest the woman [or, thy wife] Jezebel that calleth herself a prophetess; and she teacheth and deceiveth my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed to idols.” Thus there was much energy and devoted service; but withal the greatest evil threatened them or even then was at work.

When Jezebel sat as a queen in Israel all was ruin and confusion; but the Lord did not fail to raise up a suited witness for Himself It was then that we find an Elijah and an Elisha, and even another where naturally one might least expect it — in the very house where evil was paramount. There was he who gave refuge and food to the persecuted prophets of the Lord. Just as in the New Testament we hear of saints chiefly to be saluted who were of Caesar’s household, so of old there was in Obadiah, who feared the Lord greatly, over the house of Ahab, “which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up.” It was then too was found the remnant of 7000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal. I think the Lord would have said of that remnant what we have in the epistle to Thyatira — “Thy last works more than the first.” The wickedness of those who surrounded them made their faithfulness more precious to the Lord; and He praises them more, perhaps we may add, than if they had lived in a day less trying; just as, on the other Lane], He cannot but deal most sternly with evil, which is done in a day of special light and mercy. How many Ananiases and Sapphiras have there been since Pentecostal times, who have not been visited in the same open and unsparing way as when great grace was upon all! This is an encouragement to us who know ourselves to be exposed, not indeed to a storm of persecution, but to a season far more perilous. There never was a time when man thought better of himself; and this is so much the graver sin, inasmuch as the testimony of God’s truth to the contrary has been widely spread abroad. I do not deny that it is a day of no small effort anion, Christians. But “to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams;” and never has there been less subjection to the will of God than at this moment. There is much association, which sounds well, — much taking counsel together; but confederacy is one thing, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit is another and widely different thing. But the Lord says, “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.” The matter of real weight is not getting Christians together, even if they were all Christians, but together in the Lord’s way, and for the Lord’s glory as their object — the “one thing” they have to do. If but two or three are thus gathered unto His name, we have his own assurance that His power and blessing will be there, spite of all appearances to the contrary. Had we two or three thousand together, but not in immediate subjection to the Lord Jesus, we should have only shame and sorrow in the end, however it might look for awhile. If we are seeking to please men, so far we cannot be the servants of Christ.

It was then, it seems to me, when the Lord has before His eye the state of a church which might well prefigure the dark development of an after-day (when the saints should be in great bondage, and that which was altogether alien in the midst persecuting them, and His own authority null in practice), that He brings out His title of “Son of God,” whose eyes were as a flame of fire, and His feet like burnished brass. Peter of old had confessed Him to be the Christ, the Son of the living God; and thereon the Lord, immediately after pronouncing him blessed and emphatically naming him by the new name He had given, adds, “upon this rock I will build my church.” Now alas! the Lord anticipates that the professing church would lose its balance and set itself up virtually in His own place, giving out that she, the lady, “that calleth herself a prophetess,” was to be heard in matters of faith, not He, the Lord. Here then we have the assertion of His personal glory and the attributes of His all-searching and unbending judgment of men — a serious but comforting thought for His own people, who might be in the midst of this sad confusion, and the perfect provision of His wisdom to deliver them from what was setting or set in. They would need and enjoy the immutable foundation, the Son of God, and the assurance that His church built on that rock could not fail, when public appearances were against it as against Himself in Israel. They were worse than nothing in the eyes of their persecutors; they were precious in Christ. It was a severer trial than from Jews or heathens; but the Son of God was no heedless spectator of all. So too His promise (26, 27) ought to guard them from seeking a present kingdom, a so-called spiritual millennium without Christ, where they should be either free to enjoy the world or entitled to govern it as yet.

In the church at Thyatira there were faithful and loving souls, earnest too, especially in good works; but there was this plague-spot also — the sufferance of “the woman25 Jezebel.” Jezebel, as we are told here, was a false prophetess, who was teaching and deceiving Christ’s servants to commit fornication and eat idolatrous sacrifices. This was worse than the iniquity of him who loved the wages of unrighteousness, a step farther even in Balaam’s line. “And I gave her space to repent, and she is not willing to repent of her fornication. Behold, I cast her into a bed, and those that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of her works. And I will kill her children with death, and all the churches will know that I am he that searcheth the reins and hearts, and I will give to you, each one, according to your works” (verses 21-23).

What could be more shocking than the evil here foreshown! Jezebel, as all knew, was one who added violence to corruption, the counsellor of blood, the active hater of all God’s witnesses, the patroness in private and public of the idolatrous priests and prophets of Baal. And now in Thyatira was found that which intimated to the Lord’s eye the dark and cruel idolatry which was to be formally taught and imposed by a pretended infallible authority within the bosom of the professing church. Even now the actual germ could not be hid from Him whose eyes were as a flame of fire. Jezebel was there and “her children” too. It was a deep and lasting source of evil. But the judgment of her and of all that sprang from her was severe, however it might seem to linger. The Lord discerns different degrees of connection; but none should go unpunished, let Christendom decide as they might that evil must be allowed under His adored name. Repentance was absolutely refused, though the Lord had given ample space for it. “Fornication” (for such is the figure used) was both taught and practised. Long patience on His part is the sure sign, both that the object to be judged was in a thoroughly evil condition (else He comes quickly in the jealous care of true love that counts on a true answer), and that when the judgment comes, it must be definitive and unsparing. “The woman,” it has been long-remarked, symbolizes the general state, as “the man” has the place of responsible activity.

The words “a few things,” in verse 20, must disappear. It was not a little complaint, but one of unusual gravity and communication. The phrase crept in, I conceive, from verse 14, as there is otherwise resemblance enough to suggest such an assimilation to a copyist. But on a closer inspection the difference, as we have seen, is great, especially if we are to read “thy wife26 Jezebel.” The sin of fornication or adultery here is symbolical of that wicked commerce with the world, which is in the same relation to the Christian or the church, as intermarriage with a Canaanite would have been to an Israelite. To eat idol-sacrifices sets forth communion with what had a direct link with the power of Satan; for “the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to devils, and not to God;” and it is an easy thing, little as men may think it or Christians may estimate aright its enormity, to have fellowship with devils.

Besides the leading corruptress and fountain-head of the mischief, we have two classes of persons mentioned who were guilty in a positive way. There were Christ’s servants whom she deceived to illicit commerce with the world, and there were others who were the immediate offspring of Jezebel, “her children.” With each one the Lord would deal according to his works. He was the righteous Judge, and man as such must be judged, and all, saints or sinners, must be manifested before His judgment-seat. Yet it is remarkable how the Lord avoids saying that the saints will be judged. “I will give,” says He, to you, to each according to your works;” and so in Revelation 22:12, and many similar scriptures. On the one hand we are positively told that the believer shall not come into judgment (for John 5:24 means “judgment” and not “condemnation,” however certainly this is the result of it). On the other hand we know from Rev. 20:12, 13, that the wicked are to stand before the throne, and to be judged, each one according to their works. Their resurrection is one of judgment (and in effect, of condemnation) contrasted with that of the righteous, which is a life-resurrection. Thus it is certain, that if put on my trial for salvation or perdition, according as my works deserve, I must be lost, for I have sinned and have sin; yet is it equally sure that the Lord is not unrighteous to forget the work and labour of love, and so He will give to each one according to his works. Christ Himself, Christ’s love, is the only right motive for a Christian in anything; but there are rewards for those who have suffered for Christ and been cast out for righteousness’ or for His name’s sake.

The remnant comes out with great clearness in the next verse. “But to you I say, the rest (or “remnant;” omitting the words “and unto,” which have no right to be here) in Thyatira” (verse 24). Here we have a faithful few, who are called “the rest,” distinguished from the mass in Thyatira. The Lord had been speaking of His servants who had been seduced to dally with the evil of Jezebel, and of her own children, for which last class there was to be no mercy from Him. Then another class is addressed, the remnant, or “you that remain.” The corrupt exterior body goes on, and there is a remnant that the Lord now hid specially in view. He supposes them to be ignorant of what Christendom then counted knowledge, and only says, “as many as have not this doctrine, who such as) have not known the depths of Satan (as they speak), I put upon you no other burden: but that which ye have hold fast till I come” (verses 24, 25). These “depths of Satan” they had not known. They valued no knowledge which undermined the call to holiness. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and this beginning at least they cherished; and they were right. It might seem but insignificant; but they had kept clear of a great evil, and holding their little fast, they would surely have their reward when the Lord comes. There were those who suffered much for Christ, who witnessed for Him in these dark ages. Such were (if not the Albigenses) the Waldenses and others. “You, the rest in Thyatira,” I take to refer to these persecuted companies, who held tenaciously what they had from God, mainly practical piety and religious ways. They did not know much, but they were a remnant separated in conscience and suffering from the evil around them, especially from Jezebel. Their comfort lies in no promise of amendment to the church, but in a hope outside all on earth, even the kingdom and coming of Christ in person. Meanwhile they are called to overcome and keep Christ’s works unto the end.

There could not be a more admirable sketch in a few words than what we have here. And it is not a little remarkable that the book of the Revelation was much prized by these saints. Indeed this has always been more or less the case in times of persecution: not that it is the best motive; for the book is valued most when the Lord leads His people to wait for His return. But His tenderness to His sufferers in a dark day is most sweet; and what a promise! — “And he that overcometh, and he that keepeth my works until the end, I will give him authority over the nations,” etc. (verses 26, 27). What the mediaeval church arrogantly and wickedly sought, the saints then persecuted or despised are yet to possess in the coming and kingdom of their Lord, and these hopes accordingly are here brought in as their suited objects. The guilty church was not more cruel towards the true saints than ambitious of power over the world. Things ecclesiastical had got to their grossest point. But it is good to wait for the Lord’s way and time: He is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. When the earthly power has been put aside and judged, those who have suffered with Christ shall reign with Him. But He adds more than authority over the nations, and ruling them with a rod of iron . . . . as Christ also received of His Father. “And I will give him the morning star” (verse 28). Is not this blessed? not merely association with Christ in the day of His power, when the stronghold of men shall be broken to shivers like the vessels of a potter, but “gathering together unto Him” before that day. The hope abides in all its fulness, and as fresh as at the first. Christ only could so speak and act.

The sun, when it rises, summons man to his busy toil, but the morning-star shines for those only who sleep not as do others — for those who watch as children of light and of the day. We shall be with Christ doubtless when the day of glory dawns upon the world; but the morning-star is before the day, and Christ not only says, I am . . . . the bright and morning star,” but “I will give the morning-star.” He will come and receive His heavenly ones before they appear with Him in glory. May we be true to Him in the refusal of present ease, and honour, and power! May we follow Him, taking up our cross and denying ourselves daily! He will not forget us in His day, and He will give us ere it comes the morning star.

I would here add, in closing this sketch of Rev. 2, that Thyatira has a sort of transitional place, being linked with the three preceding churches as on church-ground, whatever the corruption allowed which characterized its public state. On the other hand, it is connected with the three churches which follow on the ground of truth or testimony (not regularly ecclesiastical), both as being the first of those marked by the change of position in the call to hear, and as also expressly running down to the end. The others were transient phases. This begins the more permanent states in view of the Lord’s advent. It may be noticed accordingly that the dealing after Thyatira, when threatened, falls on the angel: up to this it had been either on the candlestick, as in Ephesus, or on the evil-doers, as in Pergamos and Thyatira. Smyrna and Philadelphia have a special exemption, one in each of the two series. To the angel of the church in Sardis the word is, “I will come on thee as a thief;” when similar language was used in a former case, Christ said, “I will fight against them,” etc.; “I will cast her” and “I will kill her children,” etc. In the latter series it is a question of a separated witness in Christendom, where fidelity is everything, as with the disciples in the Gospels. Judgment must fall on the whole, though not without distinguishing the true-hearted. In this new part (with a slight exception in Sardis, which is necessary and only proves the rule) the titles of Christ are distinct from those seen in the opening vision of Rev. 1, and point to His future reign. This is seen with special emphasis in Laodicea, so that “the things that are” may vanish away thenceforth, as in fact they do.

18 Origen and Andreas adopted the latter meaning, but Epiphanius and others expressly reject it. Many moderns suppose that the term is derived from the synagogue and that it answers to the שליח צי בור and חזן הכנסח. But if this be so, the angel of the church cannot mean even a presbyter, much less the president or chief of the presbyters, as Vitringa argues, but rather what is called clerk or sexton. The New Testament term for this chazan or angel of the synagogue seems to be ὑπηρέτης, who had the care of the books, etc. (Luke 4:20.) The ruler, or ἀρχισυνάγωγος, was quite distinct; and of these there were several. (Acts 13:15.) Compare Lightfoot. (Opp. ii. pp. 279, 310.) Some on the other hand supposed that envoys may have been sent from the churches in Asia to John, that hence they were called ἄγγελοι ἐκκλησιῶν (as John’s disciples sent to the Lord were, Luke 7:24; others sent by the Lord Himself while here below, Luke 9:52, and the spies sent by Joshua, James 2:25), and that the Lord accordingly so addresses them in the messages which He commands to be written to the churches. But I prefer the idea of representatives, as most in keeping with the prophecy as a whole.

19 We know from Acts 20:17, 28, that in the church at Ephesus elders or bishops were duly appointed, as was usual at any rate in assemblies at all mature where an apostle or in apostolic delegate like Titus could visit them for the purpose. But we have no ground to believe that “angel” ever was an official title for a chief ruler. It is probable, however, that the misunderstanding of this very term may have suggested or confirmed the invention of episcopacy, which was at first congregational rather than diocesan. Ignatius so singularly harps on that dignitary even in the most reduced form of his few genuine epistles as to give the idea of one anxious to accredit a comparatively new institution. It is certain that scripture does not countenance it unless it be in this prophetic book of mysterious symbol — a precarious basis for a most important charge which is ignored in the scriptures devoted to questions of rule.

20 In this sense it is that we can understand how the churches, turning a deaf ear to these messages of Christ as they certainly did ere long, ceased to be recognized of God, and thus the strictly prophetic part, ἃ μέλλει γίνεσθαι μετὰ ταῦτα, a might apply in an inchoate or partial and protracted way ever since, while in a full and final sense there remains the absolute cutting off of the faithless Gentile profession, and the brief crisis of the latter when the prophetic portion is punctually carried out to the letter. This seems to be much confirmed by the mode employed to describe this abnormal ecclesiastical state, ἅ εἰσι, “the thing; which are,” which easily admit of indefinite prolongation. It is not the seven churches, nor the messages to them, but a phrase easily applicable both to their then condition, and to the protracted state of ruin in which we are now.

21 The common text, followed by the Authorized version, is in some respects corrupted. Their toil was known, and endurance they were not only eminent for, but they had it still. They had proved intolerant of evil persons, and especially of such as falsely claimed high ecclesiastical authority, whilst they had manifested their willingness to bear wrongs or afflictions for Christ’s sake, and in all this they were not weary. Such is the sense of the right readings and the true order. A few MSS. (16, 37, 38, 69), and versions drop οὐ before κεκοπίακας, perhaps to seem verbally consistent with κόπον in the verse before; but the evidence for what I have given seems overwhelming.

22 The true reading of verse 15 is “likewise,” instead of “which thing I hate,” which was probably copied from Rev. 2:6. The sense is, that there were such as held the Nicolaitan doctrine, as well as those who held that of Balaam.

23 It is a singular oversight that any thoughtful reader should meet the question, “To whom does the Spirit address these words?” by the answer, “To the angels of those churches,” even supposing the angels to be their “bishops,” which has been shown to be not only unfounded but contrary to the tone and object of the Revelation. It is a sorry thing to deduce either episcopacy or congregational ministry from a most solemn appeal to him that has ears to hear, when the church is being morally judged. The Spirit speaks to the churches, but the individual is made prominent even here; and this, still more strikingly viewed as following the overcomer, from and after Thyatira.

24 This is the true order.

25 The Sinai and Porphyrian uncials lend their strong support to the Paris palimpsest, with many cursives and versions, against the insertion of σοῦ, as read in Codd. A. 2, and many cursives, etc., which would require the rendering of “thy wife.”

26 But see the preceding note.