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how thou canst not bear them
which are evil ; and thou hast
face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men, for I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God;” Acts xx. 24– 27. From these facts it will be seen that Ephesus was a conspicuous place in the early history of the church, both for the labors of some of the most eminent Christians, and for the hatred and violence of the enemies of Christianity. A Christian church was formed there very soon after the conversion of Paul, before which event the gospel had been scarcely preached to the Gentiles at all. The apostle John is also said to have resided, at some period of his life, in this city. "I Angel of the church. — The word angel is quite often misunderstood. In the minds of Christians it stands almost exclusively for a class of beings higher in nature than men. That it sometimes signifies superhuman intelligences is true; but not always. “Angel is a name not of nature, but of office,” says Austin, in Leigh's Crit. Sacra. It ofttimes signifies a human messenger, legate, or agent. — (Parkhurst.) See Matt. xi. 10, where the Greek word is translated messenger. See also Mark i. 2. In Luke vii. 24, we read of the “messengers of John,” i. e. angels of John, for the Greek is the same. A similar instance is found, Luke ix. 52. The word angel is used for any messenger whatsoever. The apostles were angels. Inanimate objects are sometimes called angels in the style of the Scriptures. The winds, the flames, scourges, wicked men, armies, when regarded as being sent of God for any purpose, are spoken of by the sacred writers as angels or messengers. It was, therefore, strictly accordant with the style of the rest of the Scriptures, to speak of the bishop, or head of a church, as its angel. Paul tells the Galatians that they received him “as an angel of God;” Gal. iv. 14. These remarks are sufficient for our purpose
in this place. But we shall have somewhat to say on the angelology of the Apocalypse, when we come to the fourth chapter. John introduces angels of all grades, and for all purposes, into his sublime descriptions. This, however, is not the place to classify them. It is sufficient to note here, that by the angel of the church at Ephesus was meant the bishop, or head of that church; and an epistle to that church was well addressed to the principal officer. T These things saith he. —John gives his authority. He does not speak by permission, but utters the instructions of another, by command. He who held the seven stars was Jesus. “He had in his right hand seven stars;” i. 16. “In the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man;” 13. It was Jesus who bade John write to the angel, or principal spiritual head of the church at Ephesus. 2. I knon, thy norks. – The Son of man, in the first place, speaks of those acts of the church which he could approve. I know thy works; I know what thou hast done, and all that thou hast done. Thou hast been measurably faithful; thy spiritual taste and sense have been somewhat preserved; thou canst not bear them which are evil; thou canst not endure false apostles; thou hast proved this, for there have been deceivers with thee, endeavoring to lead thee away, claiming to be apostles, and thou hast tried them and found them liars. That the churches of Asia, and other places in the vicinity, were troubled by false apostles in Paul's day, is evident from some of his epistles. These false apostles gloried and boasted about themselves. He mentioned those boasters, and said, “Such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be
tried them which say they are apostles, and are not; and hast found them liars :
3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast labored, and hast not fainted.
4 Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee
transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works;” 2 Cor. xi. 13–15. The same author had occasion, also, to mention these false apostles in his epistle to the Galatians; i. 6–9; iii. 1; vi. 12, 13. 3. And hast borne. —That is, “Thou hast endured well the trials through which thou hast been called to pass; all that thine ene, lies have been able to do has not driven thee from the profession of my name. Thou hast borne thy trials with patience, without murmuring against God, without complaining of thy hard lot; and, for my name's sake, for thy regard to me and my cause, thou hast labored and hast not fainted.” This is certainly in a strain of commendation. We are to reflect that this church was placed in the very focus of idolatry, and had peculiar difficulties to endure on this account. Although, therefore, some fault is subsequently found, yet, upon the whole, the character which is attributed to it is honorable. 4. Nevertheless, I have somen'hat against thee. — But notwithstanding these things I have said in thy favor, all is not right with thee. I am obliged to mention one great fault, viz., “thou hast left thy first love.” It is not necessary to infer from what is here said, that this church had formerly had a stronger love than other churches. Neither are we to think that their love to Christ was entirely gone. For if the latter were true, how shall we account for their faith, and patience, and endurance of persecution for Christ's name 2 All we can suppose
this to mean is, that the ardor of their love had lessened, not that their regard for Christ and his cause was entirely gone. Christianity was as good as ever, and as worthy as ever to be loved. It was a great fault in them to permit their attachment to Christ to cool in any degree. They are not accused of not having any love, but merely of having left “their first love.” The love they bore to Christianity was not the love they had when they were first brought to the knowledge of the truth. Our Lord himself prophesied that the love of some would wax cold, when afflictions and trials came upon them. “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake. And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold;” Matt. xxiv. 9–12. The evident meaning is, that they would lose their first love. Jesus required of men supreme love. He was not in such haste to gain converts that he would take them on any conditions. He required men to love him and his cause with all their heart, might, mind, and strength; Matt. xxii. 37–40. He said, on a certain occasion when he saw great multitudes following him, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife and children, and brethren and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple;” Luke xiv. 25, 26. The meaning here we understand to
quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.
be, they were to love Christ and his cause above all things, – above the dearest relatives, yea, above life itself. They must be willing to lay down their lives for the cause of Christ, if need be. The same doctrine is expressed in different phraseology in Matthew. “He that loveth father or mother more than me, is mot worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me;” x. 37. It will be seen, then, that in the primitive age of the church, disciples were required to love Christ with a perfect love. If they had such a love, they would have no fear. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear : because fear hath torment. He that feareth, is not made perfect in love;” 1 John iv. 18. The church at Ephesus in the first place had perfect love, but the fervency of it abated. They were not steadfast in their affection, and they left their first love. How many churches are there, even in this day, and in our own happy land, who do not even retain so high a standing as is here ascribed to the church at Ephesus! How many have left their first love! How many are obliged to say, “What peaceful hours I once enjoyed How sweet their memory still But they have left an aching void The world can never fill.” 5. From nihence thou art fallen. — This shows that the “somewhat ” which the Son of man had against this church was no trifling matter. Although it was not absolutely death, yet it would lead to that, if not counteracted. It was a fallen state; it was a state in which it would not do for them to remain. Their first love was the true love, and it should have been cherished. They were called on to remember whence they had fallen; to look back to their first condition as Christians; to sigh for that state
again; to repent of their fall, and to do their first works, – the works which marked their early course. This was very important. T Will remove thy candlestick. — This figure is borrowed from the preceding chapter. The revelator had seen one like unto the Son of man in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; i. 13; and we are told that these seven candlesticks were the emblems of the seven churches; 20. The removal of the candlestick, therefore, seems to be put for the final death and extinguishment of the church. Its light should expire. It should no longer hold its place among its sister churches. We are told that this rebuke of the Lord Jesus had the desired effect. We should judge this from Paul's epistie to them. The testimony of Ignatius is to the same effect, given immediately before his martyrdom, and some years after the Apocalypse was written. He states that when other Asiatic churches were becoming corrupt, that of Ephesus was flourishing in a pure faith and practice. — (Epis. ad Ep. sec. 9; Euseb. Hist. Eccl. lib. iii. 26; iv. 7.) This church continued for some ages in high account among the churches of Christendom ; but in time gradually sank into that corruption of doctrine, which has darkened all the churches of that region. Since the desolation of the coast of Asia Minor by Turkish tyranny in the 14th century, Ephesus has become little better than a heap of ruins. 6. Hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes. – The faults and good deeds of this church were both freely named. Although they had permitted the fervor of their first love to abate, yet there was one thing they had cherished, viz., hatred of the deeds of the Nicolaitanes. There is some doubt what this name is derived from. The sect itself unquestionably existed in
7. He that hath an ear, let
him hear what the Spirit saith
the days when the Apocalypse was written; but who they were named for is a harder matter to determine. Some writers suppose they were the followers of “Nicholas, a proselyte of Antioch,” mentioned in Acts vi. 5. It is thought, with how much reason we cannot determine, that he fell into certain evil practices and errors, which were embraced by those who bore his name. The sect unquestionably was impure. Irenaeus alleged against them that they held to a community of women, and were guilty of eating things offered to idols. Too much credit, however, should not be given to the charges which some of the fathers bring against the heretics. If we go not at all beyond the divine record, we can say with certainty, that they were a sect which existed in the revelator's day, and that their deeds were, and ought to have been, detestable in the sight of good Christians. The words “which I also hate,” prove that their deeds were probably even more heinous in the sight of the Son of man than in the sight of the partially apostatized church of Ephesus. 7. He that hath an ear. — The signification is, he that hath a disposition to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. There were some who did not desire to hear. To hear, in the language of the Scriptures, is to “give ear,” to “incline the ear.” Some would not hear, and their ears were said to be “uncircumcised ;” Jer. vi. 10. Stephen referred to this in his address to the rebellious Jews, on the day of his martyrdom. He seems almost to quote from Jeremiah : “Ye stiff-necked, and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye;” Acts vii. 51. A deaf ear is an ear that cannot hear, or will not; but an open ear is one that is ready to hear; Isa. xlviii. 8. He that hath an ear to hear, that is, an open ear, or a disposition to
listen, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches. This refers to the whole communication of the Spirit to the churches; not to that which precedes only, nor to that which succeeds only. All of it was worthy of attention. T To him that overcometh. — This phraseology is peculiarly like the apostle John. He used the word overcometh for Christian perseverance and triumph. He learned it of his Master; John xvi. 33. For John's use, see 1 Epis. ii. 13, 14; iv. 4; v. 4, 5; and Apoc. ii. 7, 11, 17, 26; iii. 5, 12, 21. No New Testament writer is distinguished for this phraseology like John. The use of such language shows that the duty of the Christian, especially in the days of the revelator, was considered a contest. He was engaged in a struggle with enemies. This was true of all the Christian churches in the beginning. Paul said to these Ephesians, “Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places;” vi. 11, 12. He represents them as engaged in a contest, or struggle; and he tells them that with the shield of faith they shall be able to “quench all the fiery darts of the wicked ;” 16. "I Tree of life. — This was the reward. “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life.” The metaphor doubtless is drawn from the account of Eden, in the book of Genesis, where we first read of “the tree of life.” “And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil;” Gen. unto the churches; To him that
overcometh will I give to eat of
ii. 8, 9; see also 22, 24. Solomon employs the metaphor repeatedly in the book of Proverbs; iii. 18; xi. 30; xiii. 12; xv. 4. In the New Testament we read nowhere of the “tree of life” except in the Apocalypse. TI In the midst of the paradise of God. —This is an exact copy from the description of the garden of Eden in Genesis, where we read that the tree of life was in the midst of the garden. In describing the New Jerusalem, John says, “In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations;” xxii. 2. Again, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city;” 14. To eat of the tree of life was the reward of overcoming in the Christian warfare. The whole is metaphorical; and describes the rich blessings of the gospel. The tree of life is said to be in the midst of the paradise of God, or New Jerusalem. He who fell away from the purity of the gospel, could not, of course, eat of the fruit of this tree; but those who maintained their devotedness to God and his truth, enjoyed continually its fruit. This is the same as the fruit of the Spirit; Gal. v. 22, 23. None could partake of this fruit, except such as overcame the world. The lesson taught is, that he who would enjoy the full advantages of Christianity, or, in other words, “eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God,” must be faithful at all times, and thus overcome the world. Paradise. — This is the only instance of this word in the Apocalypse. It occurs in two other places in the New Testament, viz., Luke xxiii. 43; and 2 Cor. xii. 4. It is a very ancient word, and is neither of Hebrew nor Greek origin, but Persian.
It signified originally, a beautiful garden, park, or inclosure. In the Septuagint, the word is used to signify the garden of Eden. In the Saviour's time the Jews had it in common use to signify the state of departed souls, — a region in hades, the state of the dead. It is another name for what is called “Abraham’s bosom.” That it belonged to hades is evident from the following facts: It is said that Christ, at his death, went to hades, or hell, that is, the state of the dead. At his resurrection he was said to leave that state or place. Peter applied to him the prophecy, “Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption;” Acts i. 27. When our Lord was on the cross, and the dying thief o perhaps that Christ would eliver himself from his enemies, and establish his kingdom on earth) said to him, “Lord, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom,” Jesus replied, and cut off all the thief's hopes of deliverance, that they were both on that day to die. “To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise;” to-day shall we both enter the state of the dead. What Peter called hades, or hell, Jesus called paradise. The Jews believed in distinctions in the conditions of men in that state; but there is no proof that our Lord meant to recognize those distinctions. When he spoke of “Abraham's bosom,” Luke xvi. 22, it is not to be supposed he referred to the immortal state, but to the communion which the true believer had with the faith of Abraham; and it is to be understood as parallel with the words, “Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven;" Matt. viii. 11; Luke xiii. 28, 29. The whole figure is designed to show this one thing only, that believers sat down to the same gospel feast of which the patriarchs by faith partook. This was a strong argu