Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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APOCALYPSE - Chapter 2

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Apocalypse 2

Supplemental Commentary:

I.  THE SEVEN LETTERS  1, 9 -- 3, 22 (continued)

2. The Letters  2, 1 -- 3, 22

2, 1-7:  To the Church at Ephesus.  Ephesus at this time was the chief city of Ionia, the most important city in the province of Asia.  It was a trading center, and also a center of Greek culture.  Its magnificent temple was one of the wonders of the world.  St. Paul had labored there; Apollos had preached there; Tychicus had met Paul there; Timothy had been its bishop.

The titles given Christ here, as at the opening of each of the seven letters, are drawn mainly from the vision of 1.  Christ is present personally in Ephesus; He is the supreme bishop, and holds in His hands not only the angel of Ephesus, but the angels of all the churches.  The angel and the community merit praise because of their work against false doctrines and pseudo-prophets.  But, thou hast left thy first love: they had become weary and were in danger of falling into a mechanical faith.  I will move thy lamp-stand: i.e., remove or degrade or destroy their church.  Nothing now remains of Ephesus but a few huts.  The tree of life: an image of that heavenly bread by which souls participate in the life of God.  It is not exclusively the Holy Eucharist.

2, 8-11:  To the Church at Smyrna.  Smyrna is now a large city with important commercial connections, located in the ancient province of Ionia, a little north of Ephesus.  In olden times it commanded the trade of the Levant.  In Roman times it was perhaps the  most brilliant and splendid of the cities of Asia.  It was famed for its worship of Dionysos and noted for its pagan temples.  In one of these an inscription called Nero "the savior of the whole human race."  Homer is said to have been born there; and Polycarp was martyred there during a popular outburst in which the Jews played a prominent part.

The church at Smyrna has had an honorable history.  The letter sent to it is more uniformly laudatory than those sent to the other churches.  It had kept the faith apparently through continual suffering.  It was poor and oppressed, and not exposed to the dangers of riches.  The Jews were hostile, and few of them adopted Christianity; but they were not really Jews, but a synagogue of Satan.  The title, the First and the Last, is most fitting in view of this persecution; for in all persecution, Christ, who had tasted and overcome death, is their Savior and King.  He praises their fortitude.  They are rich spiritually.  Ten days: i.e., the persecution will be short, and they that are faithful until death will receive the crown of victory.  Shall not be hurt by the second death: they shall not lose their souls, the death which admits of no resurrection.

2, 12-17:  To the Church at Pergamum.  Pergamum, or Pergamos, was a famous city of Mysia, about fifteen miles up the Caicus valley, and three miles north of the river.  It was a little north of Smyrna.  It lay apart from the great lines of commerce and was noted for its pagan ritual and was known as the chief center of the imperial worship.  It was the birthplace of the physician Galen.  It was celebrated for its invention and manufacture of parchment.  Behind the city rose a high conical hill covered with pagan temples.  In contrast to the "throne of God" this appeared to John as the throne of Satan.  There especially was the cult of the Emperor, which menaced the very existence of the Church, for refusal to take part in it was treason.

The sharp two-edged sword: the irresistible power of the divine word.  Cf. Heb. 4, 12.  This is the weapon with which Christ will subdue His enemies; with it He cuts off the diseased members of His Church.  Christ praises the community for its steadfastness; their persecution has claimed at least one martyr, Antipas.  Balaamites and Nicolaites taught the people to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit fornication.  An end must be put to these scandals or Christ will intervene quickly with the sword of His mouth.  The hidden manna: cf. John 6, 35.48.57.  He who eats the meat sacrificed to idols shall die.  A new name: this expresses the change in the soul of the victor, a change depending on grace which only the soul of the victor can know.

2, 18-29:  To the Church at Thyatria.  This city was located between Pergamum and Sardis, and a little off the main road which connected these two cities.  It was both important and wealthy.  It was the holy city of the god Apollo Tyrimnaios.  During the Roman period there seem to have been various mercantile guilds in the city, membership in which was a most important matter of every tradesman.  The Christians objected to these guilds for two reasons: they were placed under the patronage of a pagan god; and their common banquets were celebrated with a revelry that was not conducive to morality.  The dye trade was prominent, and Lydia, the seller of purple at Philippi, was perhaps connected with it (Acts 16, 14).

Son of God: this title is noteworthy, since "Son of Man" is used persistently throughout the Book.  It fists the message, which breathes the language of sovereignty and omniscience.  Christ knows that their works and charity, their faith, patience and ministrations are good, and He praises them for their progress in good works.  A Jezebel: one who seduces the servants of God to the crime of the Nicolaites.  Christ gives her time to repent but she will not, and a great tribulation will come upon her and upon her disciples.  Depths of Satan: the pagan mysteries.  The morning star: Christ Himself.


Confraternity Bible:

To the Church at Ephesus  1* "To the angel of the church at Ephesus write: Thus says he who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lamp-stands: 2 I know thy works and thy labor and thy patience, and that thou canst not bear evil men; but hast tried them who say they are apostles and are not, and hast found them false.  3 And thou hast patience and hast endured for my name, and hast not grown weary.

4 "But I have this against thee, that thou hast left thy first love.  5 Remember therefore whence thou hast fallen, and repent and do the former works; or else I will come to thee, and will move thy lamp-stand out of its place, unless thou repentest.  6 But this thou hast: thou hatest the works of the Nicolaites, which I also hate.

7 "He who has an ear, let  him hear what the Spirit says to the churches: He who overcomes I will permit to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God.

To the Church at Smyrna  8 "And to the angel of the church at Smyrna write: Thus says the First and the Last, who was dead and is alive: 9 I know thy tribulation and thy poverty, but thou art rich; and that thou art slandered by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.  10* Fear none of those things that thou art about to suffer.  Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days.  Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life.

11* "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches:  He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.

To the Church at Pergamum  12 "And to the angel of the church at Pergamum write: Thus says he who has the sharp two-edged sword: 13 I know where thou dwellest, where the throne of Satan is: and thou holdest fast my name and didst not disown my faith, even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was slain among you where Satan dwells.

14 "But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, that they might eat and commit fornication.  15 So thou hast also some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaites.  16 In like manner repent, or else I will come to thee quickly, and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.

17 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches: To him who overcomes, I will give the hidden manna, and I will give him a white pebble, and upon the pebble a new name written, which no one knows except him who receives it.

To the Church of Thyatira  18 "And to the angel of the church at Thyatira write: Thus says the Son of God, who has eyes like to a flame of fire, and whose feet are like fine brass: 19 I know thy works, thy faith, thy love, thy ministry, thy patience and thy last works, which are more numerous than the former.

20 "But I have against thee that thou sufferest the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach, and to seduce my servants, to commit fornication, and to eat of things sacrificed to idols.  21 And I gave her time that she might repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality.  22 Behold, I will cast her upon a bed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.  23 And her children I will strike with death, and all the churches shall know that I am he who searches desires and hearts, and I will give to each of you according to your works.

"But to you I say, 24* to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not hold this teaching and do not know the depths of Satan, as they call them, I will not put upon you any other burden.  25 But that which you have, hold fast till I come.  26 And to him who overcomes, and who keeps my works unto the end, I will give authority over nations.  27 And he shall rule them with a rod of iron, and like the potter's vessel they shall be dashed to pieces, 28 as I also have received from my Father; and I will give him the morning star.

29 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
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*

1: Angel: the guardian angel of the church, or the bishop of the church.  If St. John addresses the bishops, he regards them as the incarnation of their respective churches.

10: Ten days: the period of trial would be limited.

11: Second death: a death which is other than the death of the body, i.e., the final condemnation of sinners.

24: Depths of Satan: these teachers call their science the deep secrets of God, but Christ calls it the deep secrets of Satan.