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the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna, write; These
ment to present to a Jew. As the Christians at Ephesus, who labored and struggled in the Christian contest, and overcame, were admitted to the richest privileges of the gospel, to an intimate communion with God, they were supposed to have arrived at that state to which Adam, in the garden, was forbidden to go. He had a right to every tree of the garden but two, viz., the “tree of knowledge,” and the “tree of life.” By partaking of the former, he violated his Maker's command; and lest he should partake of the latter, and live forever, he was expelled from the garden; Gen. iii. 22–24. Now it was declared of the faithful Christians, that they had everlasting life; John iii. 36; v. 24; 1 John iii. 14. The unbeliever remained in death. He had not partaken of the “tree of life.” John dwells much on this fact, that the believer had everlasting life. “For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world;” John vi. 33. Again, “I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever;” Idem. 48–51. Adam and Eve, as we have shown, were refused that intimate communion with God signified by eating of “the tree of life.” John, who sought to seize on almost every glowing and striking metaphor of the Old Testament, took up this one of the “tree of life in the midst of the paradise of God;” and wishing to exalt the faithful Christian, in his description, to the highest degree of bliss, he carries him where Adam was not permitted to go, and lets him eat of that tree whose fruit Adam did not taste. But, as we have said, the whole is metaphorical, and describes
in a gorgeous and enchanting manner, the bliss which the faithful Christian had in his soul.
EPISTLE TO THE CHURCH AT SMYRNA.
8. Smyrna. – We will look first at its present condition. Smyrna was the place still known by that name. It is an ancient and celebrated city and seaport of Asia Minor, the greatest emporium of Western Asia, on the west side of the Meles, a stream which, although of small dimensions, has acquired an immortality of renown, at the bottom of a gulf of its own name. The whole seven of the churches mentioned in the Apocalypse were in the western part of Asia Minor, and lay within a circle of about one hundred and fifty miles in diameter. There is not one within whose precincts the trumpet of the gospel now gives so distinct and certain a sound. While in this city Mohammed is acknowledged in twenty mosques, and Jews assemble in several synagogues, the faith of the Messiah is taught in an Armenian, five Greek, and two Roman Catholic churches, and in two Protestant chapels, one connected with the English, the other with the Dutch consulate. — See Elliott’s Travels. It was a very ancient city. Christianity flourished there early ; but the place is mentioned in Scripture only in Rev. i. 11, and ii. 8. The famous Polycarp was one of its earliest, if not, in fact, its earliest bishop. It is believed by some he was appointed by John, the author of the Apocalypse, with whom he was in part contemporary. He suffered martyrdom here at a very advanced age, in consequence of his devotion to the Christian religion. He had reason to expect it from the warnings, given to the church at Smyrna in the Apocalypse. This church sent her bishops to the councils of the Christian church
things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive ;
9 I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich,) and I know the
for many centuries; but sunk under the common catastrophe of maritime Asia in the 14th century. Having continued a mart for European traffic, it is to this day a city of considerable population, and contains people of many nations. TI The angel of the church. — This officer has been described under ii. 1. The word angel is usually understood to signify a heavenly messenger, a superhuman being. Some have thought, therefore, it were better to translate the Greek word by messenger here. But Dr. Campbell has shown that messenger would render the expression ambiguous, if not improper. The messenger of societies (in like manner as of individuals) is one sent by them, not to them. In this, and some other instances, the Greek angelos is to be understood as denoting a minister, or servant employed in any charge of importance and dignity, though not a message. It would, therefore, be no deviation from what is included in the Hellenistic sense of the word, if in all the cases in which we read of the angel of the church it were rendered president. * The first and the last. — The same glorious personage addressed the angel of the church in Smyrna who had addressed the angel of the church at Ephesus, only different titles are employed. — See i. 17, 18. It was evidently the Son of man, whose death and resurrection were both referred to. How must that church have been impressed with the words, coming, as they did, from such a source — how much must they have been comforted by them in view of the persecutions by which they were threatened. 9. I knon, thy norks. – Jesus knew their works, as he did those of the Ephesian church; ii. 2. He knew all that they had done. Their zeal, their remissness, their fidelity;
in fact, whatever they had felt, or had done, was all known to him. Their tribulations, all that they had suffered, was known to him. Their poverty was known to him. They were not rich in this world's goods ; but there was a very important sense in which they were rich. They were “rich toward God;” Luke xii. 21. The poor may be “rich in faith ;” Jas. ii. 5. A man who believes in Christ, and who does his duty faithfully at all times, is rich, whatever his worldly condition may be. Take Moses as an example. He was rich toward God. He “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt : for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward;” Heb. xi. 24–26. Ts I know the blasphemy. — The Son of man, after having stated that he knew the works of the church, proceeds to say that he knew the works of their enemies also. He knew the blasphemy of the false Jews. Blasphemy is the worst kind of evil speaking. It is railing against God. The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was the attributing of the miracles of Jesus, which were performed by the agency of that Spirit, to Beelzebub ; See Mark iii. 29, 30. It was the Jews who committed this sin, though we know not that it is the sin which is specially referred to in the verse before us. T Which say they are Jen's. – These were probably Jews in the outward sense, for there were many in Smyrna; but they were not Jews in the true sense. They kept up the worship of the synagogue, but it was so polluted, that the syn. agogue was called the synagogue of Satan. They are not all Israel, who
blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan.
10 Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer. Be
|hold, the devil shall cast some
are of Israel; Rom. ix. 6; neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children; 7. Nathanael was an Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile; John i. 47. St. Paul says, “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh : but he is a Jew which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God;” Rom. ii. 28, 29. The Jews in Smyrna were Jews by birth and profession, but they were not what Jews ought to have been. They were banded together in the service of Satan, and hence were said to be “the synagogue of Satan,” as Christians are said to be the house, or church, of the living God. They were the instigators in all persecutions against the Christians. They stirred up the people of heathen cities against the primitive preachers of Christianity. In the most of cases, where we read of the persecutions of the apostles, we find that the Jews were the instigators and ringleaders in the matter. Nevertheless, they were very punctual in their observance of the rites of the synagogue. It was a strange mixture of synagogue service with the service of Satan; they were, therefore, called the “synagogue of Satan.” 10. Fear none of those things. – The Lord Jesus refers to the sufferings that were about to come upon Christians. These wicked Jews, the synagogue of Satan, it was well known would persecute them. The Jews had been the persecutors of the Christians from the time the gospel was first preached; and after the death of the Lord Jesus, when the apostles, under the great commission, went out to preach the gospel in all the world, they were met and buffeted by the
Jews. The Jews were scattered throughout all cities; and, as has been said, were the instigators and ringleaders in all persecutions. See 2 Thess. ii. 14, 15; and especially Acts xvii. 5, 6, 7, 8, 13. They had always been instrumental in casting the Christians into prison. They imprisoned Peter and John ; Acts v. 18, 19, 21. Saul, before his conversion, was a zealous Pharisee, and assisted in haling the Christians to prison; Acts viii. 3; xxvi. 10. The severity of the Roman officers towards the Christians was greatly pleasing to the Jews; Acts xii. 3, 4. T The devil shall cast. — And what devil was this which should cast the Christians into prison, other than the Jews, the synagogue of Satan, who had been mentioned in the preceding verse? The word diabolos, here rendered devil, signifies accuser, slanderer. It is put for any adversary; and is of. ten used metaphorically in the New Testament. The heathens believed in a principal leader among their spirits of darkness; and their notions on this subject, especially after the return from the Babylonish captivity, infected the Jews. The metaphors of the Apocalypse, in some cases, are drawn from these opinions; not to recognize the opinions as true, any more than Isaiah meant to acknowledge the heathen notions of hades to be true, in his sublime apostrophe to the king of Babylon; xiv. 9 et seq. Dr. Macknight, in treating on the parable of Dives and Lazarus, says, “If from these resemblances it is thought the parable is formed on the Grecian mythology, it will not at all follow that our Lord approved of n-hat the common people thought or spake concerning those matters, agreeably to the notions and language of the Greeks. In parabolical discourses, provided the doctrines inculcated are
of you into prison, that ye may
be tried; and ye shall have
strictly true, the terms in which they are inculcated may be such as are most familiar to the ears of the vulgar, and the images made use of such as they are best acquainted with.”— (Par, and Com. on Luke xvi.) The principle of interpretation which Dr. Macknight here lays down is evidently sound; and we shall have occasion to refer to it again in the course of this work. The word diabolos is often put for a human adversary in the New Testament, and is sometimes used as a metaphor for a ruling, persecuting power. Let the following facts be considered : — Jesus called Judas, diabolos, a devil. “Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?” John vi. 70. Wicked people are called the children of the devil, in the same sense that the poor and sorrowful are called the children of sorrow and want. Thus Elymas was the child of the devil; Acts xiii. 10. The word diabolos is put for the opponents of the Christian religion in the days of Christ and his apostles. Hence, when Paul exhorted the Ephesians to “put on the whole armor of God, that they might be able to stand against the wiles of diabolos,” he explained immediately his meaning, by saying, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual nickedness in high places;” Eph. vi. 11, 12. Paul exhorted the wives of Christians to be grave, not (to devils, but sober, faithful in all things; 1 Tim. iii. 11. The translators of the common version have rendered the word here, not devils, but slanderers. The word devil signifies a wicked human being. Hence Paul says in another place, speaking of the prevalence of wickedness, that “men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural
affection, truce-breakers, Devils (diaboloi ;)” 2 Tim. iii. 3. In the common version it is translated false accusers ; and in Titus ii. 3, the word diaboloi is translated, not devils, but false accusers. We have said before, that the opposers of the early Christians were called the devil. So in the verse before us : “Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer; behold, THE DEVIL shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days.” Now this is Ho Diabolos, THE DEVIL; and this is the designation given by the revelator to the leading persecutors of the church. So the great dragon, that old serpent, called the devil and Satan, is nothing more than exalted human wicked power, — the exalted enemies of the church; and when that devil is chained in the bottomless pit, it represents the restraining of that power. — See Rev. xii. 9, 12; xx. 2, 10. From the whole, it seems evident, that by the devil is intended the leading persecuting power; or, as Paul hath it, the persecuting principalities and powers, and the spiritual wickedness in high places; Eph. vi. 11, 12. In what other sense can we understand the word devil in the case before us? He cast the Christians into prison 2 Did not the leading persecuting power do this? It may be said, in reply, truly the Jews, the persecuting power, were the devil's agents. He tempted them to do it; and for that reason he is said to do it. To this, we reply: We learn from St. James, that when men are tempted, they are not to ascribe the temptation to anything beyond themselves. “Every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed;” Jas. i. 14. If men will have due guard over their own appetites and passions, they need not, according to St. James, fear any other source of temptation. Lust bringeth forth sin, and sin bringeth forth death. I That ye may be tried.
tribulation ten days. Be thou
faithful unto death, and I will
—That is, proved, whether ye are able to endure affliction. The Christians were referred to the prophets as examples of patience in the midst of affliction; James v. 10. The church in Smyrna was, by God's permission, to suffer much affliction. God allowed this to try them, as gold is tried by being melted in the furnace. Job said, “When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold;” xxiii. 10. See also Dan. xii. 10; Zech. xiii. 9. “The fire shall try every man's work, of what sort it is;” 1 Cor. iii. 13. Peter speaks of this rial, in his epistle to the strangers scattered through the provinces of Asia Minor. “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise, and honor, and glory, at the appearing of Jesus Christ;” 1 Epis. i. 7; iv. 12. See also Rev. iii. 10. T Ten days. — That exactly ten days are here meant, we should not suppose would be contended for by any one. The word days is used indefinitely in the Scriptures, and numbers are certainly so used in the Apocalypse. We understand by this phrase, “You shall have a brief season of tribulation.” Ten seems to be put for a small number. “And her brother and her mother said, Let the damsel abide with us a few days, at the least ten; after that she shall go;” Gen. xxiv. 55. The evident import of the phrase is, a short time. See Daniel i. 12–15. *I Unto death. — But notwithstanding the time was short, it might result in death. The early Christians were frequently called on to suffer death for the cause of Christ; but neither life nor death could separate them from the love of God; Rom, viii. 38, 39. Paul says, the apostles, as it were, were appointed to death; 1 Cor. iv. 9. T Cronn of life. — To encourage the members of the church at Smyrna to be “faithful unto death,” the revelator promises them that they shall be
rewarded with a “crown of life.” It is an interesting question, what is intended by the “crown of life?” The expression occurs twice only in the Scriptures, viz., in James i. 12, and in the passage before us. By carefully consulting the Scriptures, it will be seen that the figure of the crown is used to signify dignity, honor, glory. When Job was stripped of his glory, he said, “He hath taken the crown from my head;” Job xix. 9. Solomon says, Wisdom shall “give to thy head an ornament of grace; a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee; Prov. iv. 9. Here the crown was the glory which Wisdom conferred. So “a virtuous woman is a crown to her husband,” (Prov. xii. 4,) i. e., she confers dignity and honor upon him. See also xiv. 18, “The prudent are crowned with knowledge,” and xvi. 31, “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.” No one will think of looking exclusively to the immortal state to find the cronyn mentioned in these instances. In the Grecian games, from which Paul drew his figure of the crown, (see 1 Cor. ix. 25,) the victor was crowned with flowers or foliage. This was a corruptible crown, i. e., it would fade away; but the Christian's crown is incorruptible, and fadeth not away. Now, what is the Christian's crown 2 It is his Christian virtues and graces; for it is these surely which are his honor, dignity and glory; and such things can never fade. And where does the Christian have this crown 2 —Answer : Wherever he is found faithful. His faithfulness is a crown of glory to him. Paul had his crown in this life, as every other good man has. He said to the Philippians, ye are “my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved;” iv. 1. He asked the Thessalonians, on one occasion, what his crown was; and let us look well to the answer: “For what is our hope, or joy, or