Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The epistle to the Church of Ephesus, commending their labor and patience, Rev 2:1-3. And, reprehending their having left their first love, exhorting them to repent, with the promise of the tree of life, Rev 2:4-7. The epistle to the Church of Smyrna, commending their piety, and promising them support in their tribulation, Rev 2:8-11. The epistle to the Church of Pergamos, commending their steadfastness in the heavenly doctrine, Rev 2:12, Rev 2:13. And reprehending their laxity in ecclesiastical discipline, in tolerating heretical teachers in the Church, Rev 2:14, Rev 2:15. The apostle exhorts them to repent, with the promise of the white stone and a new name, Rev 2:16, Rev 2:17. The epistle to the Church of Thyatira, with a commendation of their charity, faith, and patience, Rev 2:18, Rev 2:19. Reprehending their toleration of Jezebel, the false prophetess, who is threatened with grievous punishment, Rev 2:20-23. Particular exhortations and promises to this Church, Rev 2:24-29.
I must here advertise my readers,
1. That I do not perceive any metaphorical or allegorical meaning in the epistles to these Churches.
2. I consider the Churches as real; and that their spiritual state is here really and literally pointed out; and that they have no reference to the state of the Church of Christ in all ages of the world, as has been imagined; and that the notion of what has been termed the Ephesian state, the Smyrnian state, the Pergamenian state, the Thyatirian state, etc., etc., is unfounded, absurd, and dangerous; and such expositions should not be entertained by any who wish to arrive at a sober and rational knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.
3. I consider the angel of the Church as signifying the messenger, the pastor, sent by Christ and his apostles to teach and edify that Church.
4. I consider what is spoken to this angel as spoken to the whole Church; and that it is not his particular state that is described, but the states of the people in general under his care.
The Epistle to the Church at Ephesus
Unto the angel of the Church of Ephesus - By αγγελος, angel, we are to understand the messenger or person sent by God to preside over this Church; and to him the epistle is directed, not as pointing out his state, but the state of the Church under his care. Angel of the Church here answers exactly to that officer of the synagogue among the Jews called שליח ציבור sheliach tsibbur, the messenger of the Church, whose business it was to read, pray, and teach in the synagogue. The Church at Ephesus is first addressed, as being the place where John chiefly resided; and the city itself was the metropolis of that part of Asia. The angel or bishop at this time was most probably Timothy, who presided over that Church before St. John took up his residence there, and who is supposed to have continued in that office till a.d. 97, and to have been martyred a short time before St. John's return from Patmos.
Holdeth the seven stars - Who particularly preserves, and guides, and upholds, not only the ministers of those seven Churches, but all the genuine ministers of his Gospel, in all ages and places.
Walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks - Is the supreme Bishop and Head, not only of those Churches, but of all the Churches or congregations of his people throughout the world.
I know thy works - For the eyes of the Lord are throughout the earth, beholding the evil and the good; and, being omnipresent, all things are continually open and naked before him. It is worthy of remark, that whatsoever is praiseworthy in any of these Churches is first mentioned; thereby intimating that God is more intent on finding out the good than the evil in any person or Church; and that those who wish to reform such as have fallen or are not making sufficient advances in the Divine life, should take occasion, from the good which yet remains, to encourage them to set out afresh for the kingdom of heaven. The fallen or backsliding who have any tenderness of conscience left are easily discouraged, and are apt to think that there is no seed left from which any harvest can be reasonably expected. Let such be told that there is still a seed of godliness remaining, and that it requires only watching and strengthening the things which remain, by prompt application to God through Christ, in order to bring them back to the full enjoyment of all they have lost, and to renew them in the spirit of their mind. Ministers continually harping on Ye are dead, ye are dead; there is little or no Christianity among you, etc., etc., are a contagion in a Church, and spread desolation and death wheresoever they go. It is far better to say, in such cases, "Ye have lost ground, but ye have not lost all your ground; ye might have been much farther advanced, but through mercy ye are still in the way. The Spirit of God is grieved by you, but it is evident he has not forsaken you. Ye have not walked in the light as ye should, but your candlestick is not yet removed, and still the light shines. Ye have not much zeal, but ye have a little. In short, God still strives with you, still loves you, still waits to be gracious to you; take courage, set out afresh, come to God through Christ; believe, love, obey, and you will soon find days more blessed than you have ever yet experienced." Exhortations and encouragements of this kind are sure to produce the most blessed effects; and under such the work of God infallibly revives.
And thy labor - He knew their works in general. Though they had left their first love, yet still they had so much love as excited them to labor, and enabled them to bear persecution patiently, and to keep the faith; for they could not tolerate evil men, and they had put fictitious apostles to the test, and had found them to be liars, pretending a Divine commission while they had none, and teaching false doctrines as if they were the truths of God.
And hast borne - The same things mentioned in the preceding verse, but in an inverted order, the particular reason of which does not appear; perhaps it was intended to show more forcibly to this Church that there was no good which they had done, nor evil which they had suffered, that was forgotten before God.
And hast not fainted - They must therefore have had a considerable portion of this love remaining, else they could not have thus acted.
Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee - The clause should be read, according to the Greek, thus: But I have against thee that thou hast left thy first love. They did not retain that strong and ardent affection for God and sacred things which they had when first brought to the knowledge of the truth, and justified by faith in Christ.
Remember - Consider the state of grace in which you once stood; the happiness, love, and joy which you felt when ye received remission of sins; the zeal ye had for God's glory and the salvation of mankind; your willing, obedient spirit, your cheerful self-denial, your fervor in private prayer, your detachment from the world, and your heavenly-mindedness. Remember - consider, all these.
Whence thou art fallen - Fallen from all those blessed dispositions and gracious feelings already mentioned. Or, remember what a loss you have sustained; for so εκπιπτειν is frequently used by the best Greek writers.
Repent - Be deeply humbled before God for having so carelessly guarded the Divine treasure.
Do the first works - Resume your former zeal and diligence; watch, fast, pray, reprove sin, carefully attend all the ordinances of God, walk as in his sight, and rest not till you have recovered all your lost ground, and got back the evidence of your acceptance with your Maker.
I will come unto thee quickly - In the way of judgment.
And will remove thy candlestick - Take away my ordinances, remove your ministers, and send you a famine of the word. As there is here an allusion to the candlestick in the tabernacle and temple, which could not be removed without suspending the whole Levitical service, so the threatening here intimates that, if they did not repent, etc., he would unchurch them; they should no longer have a pastor, no longer have the word and sacraments, and no longer have the presence of the Lord Jesus.
The deeds of the Nicolaitanes - These were, as is commonly supposed, a sect of the Gnostics, who taught the most impure doctrines, and followed the most impure practices. They are also supposed to have derived their origin from Nicolas, one of the seven deacons mentioned Act 6:5 (note). The Nicolaitanes taught the community of wives, that adultery and fornication were things indifferent, that eating meats offered to idols was quite lawful; and mixed several pagan rites with the Christian ceremonies. Augustine, Irenaeus, Clemens Alexandrinus, and Tertullian, have spoken largely concerning them. See more in my preface to 2d Peter, where are several particulars concerning these heretics.
He that hath an ear - Let every intelligent person, and every Christian man, attend carefully to what the Holy Spirit, in this and the following epistles, says to the Churches. See the note on Mat 11:15, where the same form of speech occurs.
To him that overcometh - To him who continues steadfast in the faith, and uncorrupt in his life; who faithfully confesses Jesus, and neither imbibes the doctrines nor is led away by the error of the wicked; will I give to eat of the tree of life. As he who conquered his enemies had, generally, not only great honor, but also a reward; so here a great reward is promised τῳ νικωντι, to the conqueror: and as in the Grecian games, to which there may be an allusion, the conqueror was crowned with the leaves of some tree; here it is promised that they should eat of the fruit of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God; that is, that they should have a happy and glorious immortality. There is also here an allusion to Gen 2:9, where it is said, God made the tree of life to grow out of the midst of the garden; and it is very likely that by eating the fruit of this tree the immortality of Adam was secured, and on this it was made dependent. When Adam transgressed, he was expelled from this garden, and no more permitted to eat of the tree of life; hence he became necessarily mortal. This tree, in all its sacramental effects, is secured and restored to man by the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. The tree of life is frequently spoken of by the rabbins; and by it they generally mean the immortality of the soul, and a final state of blessedness. See many examples in Schoettgen. They talk also of a celestial and terrestrial paradise. The former, they say, "is for the reception of the souls of the just perfect; and differs as much from the earthly paradise as light from darkness."
The Epistle to the Church at Smyrna
Unto the angel - This was probably the famous Polycarp. See below.
These things saith the first and the last - He who is eternal; from whom all things come, and to whom all things must return. Which was dead, for the redemption of the world; and is alive to die no more for ever, his glorified humanity being enthroned at the Father's right hand.
I know thy works - As he had spoken to the preceding Church, so he speaks to this: I know all that ye have done, and all that ye have suffered. The tribulation here mentioned must mean persecution, either from the Jews, the heathens, or from the heretics, who, because of their flesh-pampering doctrines might have had many partisans at Smyrna.
And poverty - Stripped probably of all their temporal possessions, because of their attachment to the Gospel.
But thou art rich - Rich in faith, and heir of the kingdom of Christ.
The blasphemy of them which say they are Jews - There were persons there who professed Judaism, and had a synagogue in the place, and professed to worship the true God; but they had no genuine religion, and they served the devil rather than God. They applied a sacred name to an unholy thing: and this is one meaning of the word blasphemy in this book.
Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer - This may be addressed particularly to Polycarp, if he was at that time the bishop of this Church. He had much to suffer; and was at last burnt alive at Smyrna, about the year of our Lord 166. We have a very ancient account of his martyrdom, which has been translated by Cave, and is worthy of the reader's perusal. That account states that the Jews were particularly active in this martyrdom, and brought the fagots, etc., by which he was consumed. Such persons must indeed have been of the synagogue of Satan.
Ten days - As the days in this book are what is commonly called prophetic days, each answering to a year, the ten years of tribulation may denote ten years of persecution; and this was precisely the duration of the persecution under Diocletian, during which all the Asiatic Churches were grievously afflicted. Others understand the expression as implying frequency and abundance, as it does in other parts of Scripture. Gen 31:7, Gen 31:41 : Thou hast changed my wages Ten Times; i.e. thou hast frequently changed my wages Num 14:22 : Those men have tempted me now these Ten Times; i.e. they have frequently and grievously tempted and sinned against me. Neh 4:12 : The Jews that dwelt by them came and said unto us Ten Times, i.e. they were frequently coming and informing us, that our adversaries intended to attack us, Job 19:3; These Ten Times have ye reproached me; i.e. ye have loaded me with continual reproaches. Dan 1:20 : In all matters of wisdom, he found them Ten Times better than all the magicians; i.e. the king frequently consulted Daniel and his companions, and found them more abundantly informed and wise than all his counsellors.
Some think the shortness of the affliction is here intended, and that the ten days are to be understood as in Terence, Heaut., Act v., scen. 1, ver. 36, Decem dierum vis mi est familia. "I have enjoyed my family but a short time."
Be thou faithful unto death - Be firm, hold fast the faith, confess Christ to the last, and at all hazards, and thou shalt have a crown of life - thou shalt be crowned with life, have an eternal happy existence, though thou suffer a temporal death. It is said of Polycarp that when brought before the judge, and commanded to abjure and blaspheme Christ, he firmly answered, "Eighty and six years have I served him, and he never did me wrong, how then can I blaspheme my king who hath saved me?" He was then adjudged to the flames, and suffered cheerfully for Christ his Lord and Master.
He that overcometh - The conqueror who has stood firm in every trial, and vanquished all his adversaries.
Shall not be hurt of the second death - That is, an eternal separation from God and the glory of his power; as what we commonly mean by final perdition. This is another rabbinical mode of speech in very frequent use, and by it they understand the punishment of hell in a future life.
The Epistle to the Church at Pergamos
The angel of the Church in Pergamos - See the description of this place, Rev 1:11.
Which hath the sharp sword - See on Rev 1:16 (note). The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, cuts every way; it convinces of sin, righteousness, and judgment; pierces between the joints and the marrow, divides between the soul and spirit, dissects the whole mind, and exhibits a regular anatomy of the soul. It not only reproves and exposes sin, but it slays the ungodly, pointing out and determining the punishment they shall endure. Jesus has the sword with the two edges, because he is the Savior of sinners, and the Judge of quick and dead.
Where Satan's seat is - Ὁπου ὁ θρονος του Σατανα· Where Satan has his throne - where he reigns as king, and is universally obeyed. It was a maxim among the Jews, that where the law of God was not studied, there Satan dwelt; but he was obliged to leave the place where a synagogue or academy was established.
Thou holdest fast my name - Notwithstanding that the profession of Christianity exposed this Church to the bitterest persecution, they held fast the name of Christian, which they had received from Jesus Christ, and did not deny his faith; for when brought to the trial they openly professed themselves disciples and followers of their Lord and Master.
Antipas was my faithful martyr - Who this Antipas was we cannot tell. We only know that he was a Christian, and probably bore some office in the Church, and became illustrious by his martyrdom in the cause of Christ. There is a work extant called The Acts of Antipas, which makes him bishop of Pergamos, and states that he was put to death by being enclosed in a burning brazen bull. But this story confutes itself, as the Romans, under whose government Pergamos then was, never put any person to death in this way. It is supposed that he was murdered by some mob, who chose this way to vindicate the honor of their god Aesculapius, in opposition to the claims of our Lord Jesus.
I have a few things against thee - Their good deeds are first carefully sought out and commended; what was wrong in them is touched with a gentle but effectual hand.
The followers of Balaam, the Nicolaitanes, and the Gnostics, were probably all the same kind of persons; but see on Rev 2:6 (note). What the doctrine of Balaam was, see the notes on Num 24:1 (note) through Num 25:18; and Numbers 31:1-54 (note). It appears that there were some then in the Church at Pergamos who held eating things offered to idols in honor of those idols, and fornication, indifferent things. They associated with idolaters in the heathen temples, and partook with them in their religious festivals.
The doctrine of the Nicolaitanes - See on Rev 2:6 (note).
Will fight against them with the sword of my mouth - See on Rev 2:12 (note). He now speaks for their edification and salvation; but if they do not repent, he will shortly declare those judgments which shall unavoidably fall upon them.
The hidden manna - It was a constant tradition of the Jews that the ark of the covenant, the tables of stone, Aaron's rod, the holy anointing oil, and the pot of manna, were hidden by King Josiah when Jerusalem was taken by the Chaldeans; and that these shall all be restored in the days of the Messiah. This manna was hidden, but Christ promises to give it to him that is conqueror. Jesus is the ark, the oil, the rod, the testimony, and the manna. He who is partaker of his grace has all those things in their spiritual meaning and perfection.
And will give him a white stone -
I. It is supposed that by the white stone is meant pardon or acquittance, and the evidence of it; and that there is an allusion here to the custom observed by judges in ancient times, who were accustomed to give their suffrages by white and black pebbles; those who gave the former were for absolving the culprit, those who gave the latter were for his condemnation. This is mentioned by Ovid, Metam. lib. xv., ver. 41:
Mos erat antiquus, niveis atrisque lapillis,
His damnare reos, illis absolvere culpa.
Nunc quoque sic lata est sententia tristis.
"A custom was of old, and still remains,
Which life or death by suffrages ordains:
White stones and black within an urn are cast,
The first absolve, but fate is in the last."
II. Others suppose there is an allusion here to conquerors in the public games, who were not only conducted with great pomp into the city to which they belonged, but had a white stone given to them, with their name inscribed on it; which badge entitled them, during their whole life, to be maintained at the public expense. See Pind., Olymp. vii. 159, and the Scholia there; and see the collections in Wetstein, and Rosenmuller's note. These were called tesserae among the Romans, and of these there were several kinds.
1. Tesserae conviviales, which answered exactly to our cards of invitation, or tickets of admission to a public feast or banquet; when the person invited produced his tessera he was admitted. The mention of the hidden manna here may seem to intimate that there is a reference to these convivial tesserae, whether given to the victor in the public games, entitling him to be fed at the public expense, or to a particular friend, inviting him to a family meal or to a public banquet.
2. There were tesserae inscribed with different kinds of things, such as provisions, garments, gold or silver vessels, horses, mares, slaves, etc. These were sometimes thrown by the Roman emperors among the crowd in the theatres, and he that could snatched one; and on producing it he received that, the name of which was inscribed on it. But from Dio Cassius it appears that those tesserae were small wooden balls, whereas the tesserae in general were square, whence they had their name, as having four sides, angles, or corners. Illi τεσσαρην , vel τεσσαραν, vocabant figuram quamvis quadratam, quae quatuor angulos haberet; and these were made of stone, marble, bone, or ivory, lead, brass, or other metal. See Pitiscus.
3. Tesserae frumentariae, or tickets to receive grain in the public distributions of corn; the name of the person who was to receive, and the quantum of grain; being both inscribed on this badge or ticket. Those who did not need this public provision for themselves were permitted to sell their ticket, and the bearer was entitled to the quantum of grain mentioned on it.
4. But the most remarkable of these instruments were the tesserae hospitales, which were given as badges of friendship and alliance, and on which some device was engraved, as a testimony that a contract of friendship had been made between the parties. A small oblong square piece of wood, bone, stone, or ivory, was taken and divided into two equal parts, on which each of the parties wrote his own name, and then interchanged it with the other. This was carefully preserved, and handed down even to posterity in the same family; and by producing this when they traveled, it gave a mutual claim to the bearers of kind reception and hospitable entertainment at each other's houses.
It is to this custom that Plautus refers in his Poenulus, act. v., scen. 2, ver. 80, in the interview between Agorastocles, and his unknown uncle Hanno.
Hanno. - O mi popularis, salve!
Agorastocles. - Et tu edepol, quisquis es. Et si quid opus est, quaeso, die atque impera, Popularitatis caussa.
Han. - Habeo gratiam. Verum ego hic hospitium habeo: Antidamae filium Quaero; commonstra, si novisti, Agorastoclem. Ecquem adolescentem tu hic novisti Agorastoclem?
Agor. - Siquidem tu Antidamarchi quaeris adoptatitium, Ego sum ipsus, quem tu quaeris.
Han. - Hem! quid ego audio?
Agor. - Antidamae gnatum me esse.
Han. - si ita est, tesseram Conferre si vis hospitalem, eccam adtuli.
Agor. - Agedum huc ostende; est par probe: nam habeo domi.
Han. - O mi hospes, salve multum! nam mihi tuus pater, Pater tuus ergo, hospes Antidamas fuit. Haec mihi hospitalis tessera cum illo fuit.
Agor. - Ergo hic apud me hospitium tibi praebebitur. Nam haud repudio hospitium, neque Carthaginem: Inde sum oriundus.
Han. - Di dent tibi omnes quae velis.
Hanno. - Hail, my countryman!
Agorastocles. - I hail thee also, in the name of Pollux, whosoever thou art. And if thou have need of any thing, speak, I beseech thee; and thou shalt obtain what thou askest, for civility's sake.
Hanno - I thank thee, but I have a lodging here; I seek the son of Antidamas. Tell me if thou knowest Agorastocles. Dost thou know in this place the young Agorastocles?
Agorastocles - If thou seek the adopted son of Antidamarchus, I am the person whom thou seekest.
Hanno - Ha! What do I hear?
Agorastocles - Thou hearest that I am the son of Antidamas.
Hanno - If it be so, compare, if thou pleasest, the hospitable tessera; here it is, I have brought it with me.
Agorastocles - Come then, reach it hither: it is the exact counterpart; I have the other at home.
Hanno - O my friend, I am very glad to see thee, for thy father was my friend; therefore Antidamas thy father was my guest. I divided this hospitable tessera with him.
Agorastocles - Therefore, a lodging shall be provided for thee with me; I reverence hospitality, and I love Carthage, where I was born.
Hanno - May all the gods grant thee whatsoever thou wishest!
The tessera taken in this sense, seems to have been a kind of tally; and the two parts were compared together to ascertain the truth. Now it is very probable that St. John may allude to this; for on this mode of interpretation every part of the verse is consistent.
1. The word ψηφος does not necessarily signify a stone of any kind, but a suffrage, sentence, decisive vote; and in this place seems answerable to the tessera. The tessera which Hanno had, he tells us in his Punic language, was inscribed with the image or name of his god. "Sigillum hospitii mei est tabula sculpta, conjus sculptura est Deus meus. This is the interpretation of the Punic words at the beginning of the above 5th act of the Poenulus, as given by Bochart.
2. The person who held it had a right to entertainment in the house of him who originally gave it; for it was in reference to this that the friendly contract was made.
3. The names of the contracting persons, or some device, were written on the tessera, which commemorated the friendly contract; and as the parts were interchanged, none could know that name or device, or the reason of the contract, but he who received it.
4. This, when produced, gave the bearer a right to the offices of hospitality; he was accommodated with food, lodging, etc., as far as these were necessary; and to this the eating of the hidden manna may refer.
But what does this mean in the language of Christ?
1. That the person is taken into an intimate state of friendship with him.
2. That this contract is witnessed to the party by some especial token, sign, or seal, to which he may have recourse to support his claim, and identify his person. This is probably what is elsewhere called the earnest of the Spirit; see the note on Eph 1:14, and the places there referred to. He then who has received and retains the witness of the Spirit that he is adopted into the heavenly family, may humbly claim, in virtue of it, his support of the bread and water of life; the hidden manna - every grace of the Spirit of God; and the tree of life - immortality, or the final glorification of his body and soul throughout eternity.
3. By this state of grace into which he is brought he acquires a new name, the name of child of God; the earnest of the Spirit, the tessera, which he has received, shows him this new name.
4. And this name of child of God no man can know or understand, but he who has received the tessera or Divine witness.
5. As his Friend and Redeemer may be found everywhere, because he fills the heavens and the earth, everywhere he may, on retaining this tessera, claim direction, succor, support, grace, and glory; and therefore the privileges of him who overcometh are the greatest and most glorious that can be imagined.
For a farther account of the tessera of the ancients, as well as for engravings of several, see Graevii Thesaur.; Pitisci Lexic.; and Poleni Supplement; and the authors to whom these writers refer.
The Epistle to the Church at Thyatira
These things saith the Son of God - See the notes on Rev 1:14-15 (note).
I know thy works - And of these he first sets forth their charity, την αγαπην, their love to God and each other; and particularly to the poor and distressed: and hence followed their faith, την πιστιν, their fidelity, to the grace they had received; and service, την διακονιαν, and ministration; properly pious and benevolent service to widows, orphans, and the poor in general.
And thy patience - Την ὑπομονην σου· Thy perseverance under afflictions and persecutions, and thy continuance in well-doing. I put faith before service according to the general consent of the best MSS. and versions.
Thy works - The continued labor of love, and thorough obedience.
The last to be more than the first - They not only retained what they had received at first, but grew in grace, and in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. This is a rare thing in most Christian Churches: they generally lose the power of religion, and rest in the forms of worship; and it requires a powerful revival to bring them to such a state that their last works shall be more than their first.
That woman Jezebel - There is an allusion here to the history of Ahab and Jezebel, as given in 2 Kings 9:1-10:36; and although we do not know who this Jezebel was, yet from the allusion we may take it for granted she was a woman of power and influence in Thyatira, who corrupted the true religion, and harassed the followers of God in that city, as Jezebel did in Israel. Instead of that woman Jezebel, την γυναικα Ιεζαβηλ, many excellent MSS., and almost all the ancient versions, read την γυναικα σου Ιεζαβηλ, Thy Wife Jezebel; which intimates, indeed asserts, that this bad woman was the wife of the bishop of the Church, and his criminality in suffering her was therefore the greater. This reading Griesbach has received into the text. She called herself a prophetess, i.e., set up for a teacher; taught the Christians that fornication, and eating things offered to idols, were matters of indifference, and thus they were seduced from the truth. But it is probable that by fornication here is meant idolatry merely, which is often its meaning in the Scriptures. It is too gross to suppose that the wife of the bishop of this Church could teach fornication literally. The messenger or bishop of this Church, probably her husband, suffered this: he had power to have cast her and her party out of the Church, or, as his wife, to have restrained her; but he did not do it, and thus she had every opportunity of seducing the faithful. This is what Christ had against the messenger of this Church.
I gave her space to repent - "This alludes to the history of Jezebel. God first sent Elijah to Ahab to pronounce a severe judgment upon him; upon which Ahab showed tokens of repentance, and so God put off his punishment. By these means the like punishment pronounced against Jezebel was also put off. Thus God gave her time to repent, which she did not, but instead of that seduced her sons to the same sins. See 1 Kings 21:1-29. According to the Mosaical law, the punishment of idolatrous seducers was not to be delayed at all, but God sometimes showed mercy; and now much more under the Christian dispensation, though that mercy is often abused, and thus produces the contrary effect, as in the case of this Jezebel. See Ecc 8:11.
Behold, I will cast her into a bed - "This again alludes to the same history. Ahaziah, son of Ahab and Jezebel, by his mother's ill instruction and example, followed her ways. God punished him by making him fall down, as is supposed, from the top of the terrace over his house, and so to be bedridden for a long time under great anguish, designing thereby to give him time to repent; but when, instead of that, he sent to consult Baalzebub, Elijah was sent to pronounce a final doom against his impenitence. Thus the son of Jezebel, who had committed idolatry with and by her advice, was long cast into the bed of affliction, and not repenting, died: in the same manner his brother Jehoram succeeded likewise. All this while Jezebel had time and warning enough to repent; and though she did not prevail with Jehoram to continue in the idolatrous worship of Baal, yet she persisted in her own way, notwithstanding God's warnings. The sacred writer, therefore, here threatens the Gnostic Jezebel to make that wherein she delighteth, as adulterers in the bed of lust, to be the very place, occasion, and instrument, of her greatest torment. So in Isaiah, the bed is made a symbol of tribulation, and anguish of body and mind. See Isa 28:20; Job 33:19.
And I will kill her children with death - "That is, I will certainly destroy her offspring and memory, and thereby ruin her designs. Jezebel's two sons, being both kings were both slain; and after that, all the seventy sons of Ahab; (Kg2 10:1); in all which the hand of God was very visible. In the same manner God predicts the destruction of the heretics and heresies referred to; see Rev 2:16. It should seem by the expression, I am he which searcheth the reins and the hearts, that these heretics lurked about, and sowed their pernicious doctrines secretly. But our Savior tells them that it was in vain, for he had power to bring their deeds to light, having that Divine power of searching into the Evilly and affections of men; and hereby he would show both them and us that he is, according to his title, The Son of God; and hath such eyes to pry into their actions, that, like a fire, they will search into every thing, and burn up the chaff which cannot stand his trial; so that the depths of Satan, mentioned in the next verse, to which this alludes, (Christ assuming here this title purposely) shall avail nothing to those who think by their secret craft to undermine the Christian religion; he will not only bring to light, but baffle all their evil intentions. See Rev 17:9.
But unto you I say, and unto the rest - "But unto the rest, etc. This is the reading of the Complutensian, and seems preferable to the common one, as it evidently shows that the rest of the epistle wholly concerns the faithful, who have not received the former doctrine of error. I will put upon you none other burden is a commendation of the sound part of the Church, that they have no need of any new exhortation or charge to be given them, no new advice but to persevere as usual. See Rom 15:14, Rom 15:15. The expression of burden is taken from the history of Ahab, Kg2 9:25 : The Lord laid this burden on him; a word often used by the prophets to signify a prophecy threatening heavy things to be suffered. See on Isa 13:1 (note), and Num 4:19 (note)." See Dodd's Notes.
It is worthy of remark that the Gnostics called their doctrine the depths of God, and the depths of Bythos, intimating that they contained the most profound secrets of Divine wisdom. Christ here calls them the depths of Satan, being master pieces of his subtlety. Perhaps they thought them to be of God, while all the time they were deceived by the devil.
That which ye have - That is, the pure doctrine of the Gospel, hold fast till I come - till I come to execute the judgments which I have threatened.
Power over the nations - Every witness of Christ has power to confute and confound all the false doctrines and maxims of the nations of the world, for Christianity shall at last rule over all; the kingdom of Christ will come, and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ.
He shall rule them with a rod of iron - He shall restrain vice by the strictest administration of justice; and those who finally despise the word and rebel shall be broken and destroyed, so as never more to be able to make head against the truth. This seems to refer to the heathen world; and perhaps Constantine the Great may be intended, who, when he overcame Licinius, became the instrument in God's hand of destroying idolatry over the whole Roman empire; and it was so effectually broken as to be ever after like the fragments of an earthen vessel, of no use in themselves, and incapable of being ever united to any good purpose.
And I will give him the morning star - He shall have the brightest and most glorious empire, next to that of Christ himself. And it is certain that the Roman empire under Constantine the Great was the brightest emblem of the latter day glory which has ever yet been exhibited to the world. It is well known that sun, moon, and stars are emblems, in prophetic language, of empires, kingdoms, and states. And as the morning star is that which immediately precedes the rising of the sun, it probably here intends an empire which should usher in the universal sway of the kingdom of Christ.
Ever since the time of Constantine the light of true religion has been increasingly diffused, and is shining more and more unto the perfect day.
He that hath an ear - Let every Christian pay the strictest regard to these predictions of Christ; and let them have a suitable influence on his heart and life.