Ver. 1-7. To the Angel of the church of Ephesus. The great S. Timothy, who was bishop of Ephesus, died a glorious martyr about this time. But as for the admonitions and reprehensions given in these letters, we must take notice, that they are given to the faithful of each church, and not only to the bishops, as it appears by the words so often repeated. Wi.
--- Angel. This could have been no other than S. Timothy, who was then bishop of Ephesus. We must not suppose the faults, which are reproved by S. John, to belong individually to S. Timothy, but to some members of the Church. Bossuet, et alii.
--- These things, saith he, who holdeth, &c. That is, Christ, or the Angel who represented Christ, as appeareth by his titles repeated out of the last chapter.
--- And hast not failed, or fainted, in opposing the teachers of false doctrine.
--- Thou has left thy first charity, or first fervour, a common, yet a very dangerous disposition, and especially in a bishop, charged with the care of those under him.
--- Do penance . . . practise the first works, return to thy first fervour, or I will remove thy candlestick out of its place. The church of Ephesus is threatened, as in danger to lose its faith, which faith should be transplanted and received in other places. It is what God has divers times permitted, that churches flourishing in the profession of the true Christian faith should be perverted by infidelity and heresy, while the faith hath been planted in other kingdoms of the world. I need not bring instances, where candlesticks have been removed out of their places. Wi.
--- The Nicolaites were an infamous sect, who disturbed the rising Church by the superstitions and all the impurities of paganism. See S. Aug. de hæresib.
--- To him, to every one that overcometh, I will give to eat of the tree of life, (that is, eternal happiness, differently expressed in these letters) which is in the paradise of my God. It is spoke in the person of Christ, as man. Wi.
Ver. 8-11. To the Angel of the church of Smyrna. To S. Polycarp, or some bishop there before him. No reprehension is given to this bishop, or to his church, but a commendation for suffering in poverty and tribulation, when they were rich in grace. Wi.
--- Poverty. He was poor in temporal things, but rich in grace and merits.
--- Thou art blasphemed by those false teachers, who call themselves Jews and Israelites, and the chosen people of God, waiting for the coming of the Messias, but are not to be looked upon as such; having refused to own their true Messias, Jesus Christ, they are the Synagogue of Satan, the greatest enemies of the true faith.
--- You shall have tribulation ten days, which several here understand for a long time, others for a short time, ten times being used in both senses. Wi.
--- The first death is that of the body, the second of the soul. Ven. Bede.
Ver. 12-17. To the Angel of the Church of Pergamus. This Church is exhorted to do penance, and reprehended, as the seat or throne of Satan. It is only said, that the bishop lives where this satanical seat is, that he had not denied the faith, even under the persecution, when S. Antipas suffered martyrdom, of whom see Tillemont in the persecution under Domitian, tom. ii, p. 119, and note 523; and Bollandus, April 11th; though the acts themselves be not of great authority.
--- Thou hast them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaites, which is compared to that of Baalam who taught Balac to cast a scandal before the children of Israel, by which they were seduced by the women of the Moabites, and fell into the sin of fornication and idolatry. Num. xxiv. and xxxi. 16.
--- To him that overcometh, I will give the hidden manna; a happiness in heaven, which the eye hath not seen, &c.
--- And a white† stone, with a new name written, as a mark of the happiness promised to all those who shall conquer. An allusion to the custom of giving a white stone to those that were tried and acquitted, and also to persons promoted to a dignity; and a black stone to such as were found guilty. See Acts xxvi. 10. Wi.
--- This new name is the eternal recompense, unknown and despised by worldlings, but esteemed by the faithful, who know the excellence of the rewards promised by God. Calmet.
[†] V. 17. Calculum candidum, yhfon leukhn. See Acts xxvi. 10.
Ver. 18-29. To the Angel of the church of Thyatira. Here is first a commendation of their constancy in the faith, in good works, charity, patience, and ministry, which chiefly regards their bishop, whoever he was at that time. The heretics, called Alogians, who rejected the Apocalypse, (chiefly because of the clear proofs of the divinity of the Word, or Son of God) pretended that there was no church at Thyatria, when S. John is supposed to have written his Apocalypse. They have no proof of this. This same church was afterwards perverted by the Montanists. See S. Epiphan. hær. li. p. 455. Here follows a reprehension that they permitted the woman, (here called by the name of Jezabel,† as was called the wife of Achaz, who persecuted the true prophets, and protected the false ones, 3 Kings xviii.) to seduce the servants of God, to commit fornication, and eat of things offered to idols. There is no probability that this Jezabel was wife to the bishop of that church. Had this been true, the bishop would have deserved a reprehension much more severe than is here given him. Alcazar thinks that by this woman was meant some heretical sect, or the corrupt synagogue of the Jews; but interpreters commonly understand some powerful woman thereabout among the infamous Nicolaites, who by her authority and artifices, brought many to embrace that sect.
--- I give her time to do penance; and she will not, or would not repent. It is Christ who speaks as God, for who but God gives sinners time to repent?
--- Behold, I will cast her into a bed, &c. Some understand a bed of sickness, others of corporal death, others eternal torments in hell, where she, and they that sin with her, shall be in very great tribulation, unless first they do penance.
--- All the churches shall know that I am he, who searcheth the reins and hearts, which God alone can do. See Ps. vii. 10. Jer. xvii. 10. &c. It is God also who will give to every one . . according to his works. See Ps. lxi. 13. Prov. xxiv. 12. Rom. ii. 6. and in divers other places.
--- I will not put upon you any other weight, &c. That is, not the insupportable burden of the Jewish ceremonies, to which teachers of false doctrines would have you subject. Wi.
--- Whoever does not give in to this new doctrine of the Nicolaites and Gnostics, and does not approve the deep and abstruse doctrines of Satan, which they teach, shall have no new weight or punishment. Let them keep the doctrine once delivered. Calmet.
--- Yet in the faith which you have already learnt, remain steadfast, till I come.
--- To them who shall overcome, &c. I will give power over or above all nations. This shews that the saints, who are with Christ our Lord in heaven, receive power from him to preside over nations, and provinces, as patrons; and shall come with him at the end of the world to execute his will against those who have not kept his commandments. Ch.
--- End. This alludes to the day of judgment, when the faithful shall sit on thrones with Christ. And he shall inherit the morning star of perpetual bliss, that shall never set.
--- They shall triumph over all the wicked world, and under me shall rule them, as it were, with a rod of iron, being so much exalted above them.
--- As the vessel of a potter, shall all their present greatness be broken. To every such faithful servant, I will give the morning star, another expression to signify eternal light, or eternal happiness. Wi.
[†] V. 20. Mulierem Jezabel, thn gunaika Iezabhl. Dr. Wells, in his amendments to the Prot. translation, has put thy wife, and in the Greek gunaika sou, which he says is found in the Alexandrian and several other MSS. But neither the Oxford edition of 1675, nor that at Amsterdam of 1711, take notice of this reading in any one MS. As for that one MS. of Alexandria, I guess by Walton's Polyglot, that it cannot well be read in that place. And though it is likely that the author of the Syriac version may have found that reading, yet there is nothing for it in the Arabic or Ethiopic, nor in the vulgar Latin, which, as Dr. Wells himself takes notice on 1 Jo. v. 7. is more ancient than any other version or Greek MSS. And though we find uxorem tuam in S. Cyprian ad Antonianum, edit. Rig. p. 72, and in the edition of Dr. Fell, published in Amsterdam, an. 1701, p. 248, where he says in the note mark a, cui interpretationi favent illa Græca exemplaria, quæ legunt, gunaika sou, but he did not think fit to tell us where any such MSS. were to be found, nor have I heard that they have been seen by any one. It is certain S. Epiphan. did not find sou, nor think this the true reading, when in the heresy of the Alogians, by Jezabel, he understands Maximilla, Priscilla, or Quintilla, in Marcion's time.