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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 2 - Verse 1

 

CHAPTER II

 

ANALYSIS OF THE CHAPTER

This chapter comprises four of the seven epistles addressed to the seven churches: those addressed to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, and Thyatira. A particular view of the contents of the epistles will be more appropriate as they come separately to be considered, than in this place. There are some general remarks in regard to their structure, however, which may be properly made here.

(1.) They all begin with a reference to some of the attributes of the Saviour, in general some attribute that had been noted in the first chapter; and while they are all adapted to make a deep impression on the mind, perhaps each one was selected in such a way as to have a special propriety in reference to each particular church. Thus in the address to the church at Ephesus (Re 2:1) the allusion is to the fact that he who speaks to them "holds the seven stars in his right hand, and walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;" in the epistle to the church at Smyrna, (Re 2:8,) it is he who "is the first and the last, who was dead and is alive;" in the epistle to the church at Pergamos, (Re 2:12,) it is he "which hath the sharp sword with the two edges;" in the epistle to the church at Thyatira, (Re 2:18,) it is "the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet like fine brass;" in the epistle to the church at Sardis, (Re 3:1,) it is he who "hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars;" in the epistle to the church at Philadelphia, (Re 3:7,) it is "he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth;" in the epistle to the church at Laodicea, (Re 3:14,) it is he who is the "Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God."

(2.) These introductions are followed with the formula, "I know thy works." The peculiar characteristics then of each church are referred to, with a sentiment of approbation or disapprobation expressed in regard to their conduct. Of two of the churches, that at Smyrna, (Re 2:9,) and that at Philadelphia, (Re 3:10,) he expresses his enure approbation; to the churches of Sardis, (Re 3:3,) and Laodicea, (Re 3:15-18,) he administers a decided rebuke; to the churches of Ephesus, (Re 2:3-6,) Pergamos, (Re 2:13-16,) and Thyatira, (Re 2:19,20,24,25, ) he intermingles praise and rebuke, for he saw much to commend, but at the same time not a little that was reprehensible. In all cases, however, the approbation precedes the blame: showing that he was more disposed to find that which was good than that which was evil.

(3.) After the statement of their characteristics, there follows in each case, counsel, advice, admonition, or promises, such as their circumstances demanded—encouragement in trial, and injunctions to put away their sins. The admonitions are addressed to the churches as if Christ were at hand, and would ere long come and sit in judgment on them and their deeds.

(4.) There is a solemn admonition to hear what the Spirit has to say to the churches. This is in each case expressed in the same manner, "He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches," Re 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22.

These admonitions were designed to call the attention of the churches to these things, and at the same time they seem designed to show that they were not intended for them alone. They are addressed to any one who "has an ear," and therefore had some principles of general application to others, and to which all should attend who were disposed to learn the will of the Redeemer. What was addressed to one church, at any time, would be equally applicable to all churches in the same circumstances; what was adapted to rebuke, elevate, or comfort Christians in any one age or land, would be adapted to be useful to Christians of all ages and lands.

(5.) There then is, either following or preceding that call on all the churches to hear, some promise or assurance designed to encourage the church, and urge it forward in the discharge of duty, or in enduring trial. This is found in each one of the epistles, though not always in the same relative position.

 

THE EPISTLE TO THE CHURCH AT EPHESUS

The contents of the epistle to the church at Ephesus—the first addressed—are these:

(1.) The attribute of the Saviour referred to is, that he "holds the stars in his right hand, and walks in the midst of the golden candlesticks," Re 2:1.

(2.) He commends them for their patience, and for their opposition to those who are evil, and for their zeal and fidelity in carefully examining into the character of some who claimed to be apostles, but who were in fact impostors; for their perseverance in bearing up under trial, and not fainting in his cause, and for their opposition to the Nicolaitanes, whom he says he hates, Re 2:2,3,6.

 

(3.) He reproves them for having left their first love to him, Re 2:4.

(4.) He admonishes them to remember whence they had fallen, to repent, and to do their first works, Re 2:5.

(5.) He threatens them that if they do not repent he will come and remove the candlestick out of its place, Re 2:5; and

(6.) he assures them and all others that whosoever overcomes, he will "give him to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God," Re 2:7.

Verse 1. Unto the angel. The minister; the presiding presbyter; the bishop—in the primitive sense of the word bishop—denoting one who had the spiritual charge of a congregation. See Barnes on "Re 1:20".

 

Of the church. Not of the churches of Ephesus, but of the one church of that city. There is no evidence that the word is used in a collective sense to denote a group of churches, like a diocese; nor is there any evidence that there was such a group of churches in Ephesus, or that there was more than one church in that city. It is probable that all who were Christians there were regarded as members of one church—though for convenience they may have met for worship in different places. Thus there was one church in Corinth, (1 Co 1:1) one church in Thessalonica, (1 Th 1:1,) etc.

Of Ephesus. On the situation of Ephesus, see Barnes "Ac 18:19, and the Introduction to the Notes on the Epistle to the Ephesians. It was the capital of Ionia; was one of the twelve Ionian cities of Asia Minor in the Mythic times, and was said to have been founded by the Amazons. It was situated on the river Cayster, not far from the Icarian Sea, between Smyrna and Miletus. It was one of the most considerable cities of Asia Minor, and while, about the epoch when Christianity was introduced, other cities declined, Ephesus rose more and more. It owed its prosperity, in part, to the favour of its governors, for Lysimachus named the city Arsinbe, in honour of his second wife, and Attalus Philadelphus furnished it with splendid wharves and docks. Under the Romans it was the capital not only of Ionia, but of the entire province of Asia, and bore the honourable title of the first and greatest metropolis of Asia. John is supposed to have resided in this city, and to have preached the gospel there for many years; and on this account perhaps it was, as well as on account of the relative importance of the city, that the first epistle of the seven was addressed to that church. On the present condition of the ruins of Ephesus, see Barnes on "Re 2:5".

We have no means whatever of ascertaining the size of the church when John wrote the book of Revelation. From the fact, however, that Paul, as is supposed, (see Introduction to the Epistle to the Ephesians,) laboured there for about three years; that there was a body of "elders" who presided over the church there, (Ac 20:1) and that the apostle John seems to have spent a considerable part of his life there in preaching the gospel, it may be presumed that there was a large and flourishing church in that city. The epistle before us shows also that it was characterized by distinguished piety.

These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand. See Barnes "Re 1:16".

The object here seems to be to turn the attention of the church in Ephesus to some attribute of the Saviour which deserved their special regard, or which constituted a special reason for attending to what he said. To do this, the attention is directed in this case to the fact that he held the seven stars—emblematic of the ministers of the churches—in his hand, and that he walked in the midst of the lamp-bearers—representing the churches themselves, intimating that they were dependent on him; that he had power to continue or remove the ministry, and that it was by his presence only that those lamp-bearers would continue to give light. The absolute control over the ministry, and the fact that he walked amidst the churches, and that his presence was necessary to their perpetuity and their welfare, seem to be the principal ideas implied in this representation. These truths he would impress on their minds in order that they might feel how easy it would be for him to punish any disobedience, and in order that they might do what was necessary to secure his continual presence among them. These views seem to be sanctioned by the character of the punishment threatened, (Re 2:5,) "that he would remove the candlestick representing their church out of its place." See Barnes "Re 2:5".

 

Who walketh in the midst, etc. In chapter Re 1:13, he is represented simply as being seen amidst the golden candlesticks, See Barnes on "Re 1:13".

Here there is the additional idea of his "walking" in the midst of them, implying perhaps constant and vigilant supervision. He went from one to another, as one who inspects and surveys what is under his care; perhaps also with the idea that he went among them as a friend to bless them.

{a} "that holdeth" Re 1:16,20

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