It might be easiest to start with today’s last reading and examine first the context.
As each of the four churches are addressed, John makes it clear that it is not he himself that is passing on the message but he whom he has just heard and seen in chapter 1.
Rev 1:11 Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.
Rev 1:12 And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks;
Rev 1:13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.
Rev 1:14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
Rev 1:15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.
Rev 1:16 And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.
Rev 1:17 And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last:
Rev 1:18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
Rev 1:19 Write the things which thou hast seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter;
Rev 1:20 The mystery of the seven stars which thou sawest in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches.
To the Church in Ephesus
Rev 2:1 Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
Here are the other three:
Rev 2:8 And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive;
Rev 2:12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges;
Rev 2:18 And unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire, and his feet are like fine brass;
As we continue in the words to the Church in Ephesus, remember the message that Paul spoke years before to them:
Act 20:29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
Act 20:30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
Act 20:31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
Notice in verse 6 and 15 twice the Nicolaitans are named specifically, as well as the doctrine of Balaam and Jezebel. One need to know their Old Testament History to understand these references. See the John Gill commentary below after the text.
Rev 2:2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
Rev 2:3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name’s sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
Rev 2:4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
Rev 2:5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
Rev 2:6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Rev 2:7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.
Rev 2:14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
Rev 2:15 So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate.
Rev 2:20 Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols.
Rev 2:21 And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not.
Gill writes about what might be called today the open and liberal practices, Jesus Christ noted in these churches and their predecessors in life of Israel. Gill draws parallels to false teaching up to in his own time in the 18th century, and we might well think about where we see this in our day.
Rev 2:29 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
Revelation 2:6 Gill
But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans,…. Though these Christians had left their first love, yet they bore an hatred to the filthy and impure practices of some men, who were called “Nicolaitans”; who committed fornication, adultery, and all uncleanness, and had their wives in common, and also ate things offered to idols; who were so called, as some think (c), from Nicolas of Antioch, one of the seven deacons in Act 6:5; though as to Nicolas himself, it is said (d), that he lived with his own lawful married wife, and no other, and that his daughters continued virgins all their days, and his son incorrupt; and that these men, so called, only shrouded themselves under his name, and abused a saying or action of his, or both, to patronize their wicked deeds: he had used to advise παραχρησθαι τη σαρκι, by which he meant a restraining of all carnal and unlawful lusts; but these men interpreted it of an indulgence in them, and so gave themselves up to all uncleanness; and whereas, he having a beautiful wife, and being charged with jealousy, in order to clear himself of it, he brought her forth, and gave free liberty to any person to marry her as would; which indiscreet action of his these men chose to understand as allowing of community of wives. Dr. Lightfoot conjectures, that these Nicolaitans were not called so from any man, but from the word נכילה, “Nicolah”, “let us eat”, which they often used to encourage each other to eat things offered to idols. However this be, it is certain that there were such a set of men, whose deeds were hateful; but neither their principles nor their practices obtained much in this period of time, though they afterwards did; see Rev 2:15. Professors of the Christian religion in general abhorred such impure notions and deeds, as they were by Christ:
which also I hate; all sin is hateful to Christ, being contrary to his nature, to his will, and to his Gospel; and whatever is hateful to him should be to his people; and where grace is, sin will be hateful, both in themselves and others; and men’s deeds may be hated when their persons are not; and hatred of sin is taken notice of by Christ, with a commendation,
(c) Vid. Irenaeum adv. Haeres, l. 1. c. 27. & Tertull. de Praescript. Haeret. c. 46, 47. (d) Clement. Alex. Strom. l. 3. p. 436. & Euseb, Hist. Eccl. l. 2. c. 29.
Acts 6:5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:
So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans,…. These impure heretics sprung up in the time of the apostolic church, but their doctrines were not received, and their deeds were hated, see Rev 2:6. This seems to design the doctrines of the church of Rome, which in this period took place; which forbid marriage to the priests, and recommended celibacy and virginity to others also; which were the source of all uncleanness and abominable lusts; for which pardons and indulgences were given, and, in process of time, brothel houses were set up, and licensed and encouraged by authority,
Which thing I hate; the doctrine of these men, as well as their deeds.
But I have a few things against thee,…. The members of this church before their open separation from the apostasy; who still continued in the communion of the corrupt church of Rome, though they remonstrated against the errors and evil practices that crept in; and so were a stumbling block, and a snare to others to join in their idolatry and superstition:
because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel,
to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication: which latter was in order to the former: the instruction Balaam gave to Balak, which is here called his doctrine, was, that Balak should get some of the most beautiful women in his kingdom to ply the men of Israel, and draw them into uncleanness, and so to idolatry; by which means, God being angry with them, he might get an advantage over them: that the Israelites did commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab, and eat things sacrificed to idols, and bowed down to Baal Peor, is certain, Num 25:1; but that this was brought about through the counsel of Balaam is not so plainly expressed, though it is hinted at in Num 31:15; but the Jewish writers are very express about this matter. Jonathan ben Uzziel, one of their Targumists on Num 24:14, has these words of Balaam,
“Come, and I will counsel thee, (speaking to Balak,) go and set up inns, and place in them whorish women, to sell food and drink at a low price: and this people will come and eat and drink, and be drunken, and will lie with them, and deny their God; and they will be quickly delivered into thine hands, and many of them shall fall.
This now was the stumbling block he taught Balak to lay before them. And elsewhere (g) it is said,
“that Balaam, the wicked, gave counsel to Balak, the son of Zippor, to cause the Israelites to fall by the sword; he said to him, the God of this people hates whoredom, cause thy daughters to commit whoredom with them, and ye shall rule over them.
And then they go on to relate how they built shops, and placed an old woman without, and a young woman within; and when the Israelites came to buy, how well they used them, and what familiarity they admitted them to; how they made them drink of Ammonitish wine, which inclined to lust and when the signified their desire, oblige them to worship Baal Peor, and renounce the law of Moses. Both Philo (h) and Josephus (i) speak of this counsel of Balaam, much to the same purpose. The Samaritan Chronicle says (k) that this counsel pleased the king, and he sent into the camp of Israel, on a sabbath day, twenty four thousand young women, by whom the Israelites were so seduced, that they did everything they desired them, which was just the number of those that were slain, Num 25:9. By Balaam may be meant the pope of Rome, for that name signifies, “the lord of the people”; and is very appropriate to him, who in this interval took upon him to be universal bishop, and lorded it over both church and state, in a most haughty and tyrannical manner; and the Balaamites were those who submitted to his power and authority, and received his doctrines; and by Balak, king of Moab, may be intended the secular powers, the emperors, kings, and princes of the earth, who were instructed by the popes of Rome, to draw their subjects into idolatry, which is spiritual fornication, to eat the breaden God, to worship the host, images, and saints departed; and which proved a snare, and a stumbling to some of this church, as to the Israelites of old, to do the same things,
(g) T. Hieros. Sanhedrin, fol. 28. 4. & Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 106. 1. Bemidbar Rabba, sect. 20. fol. 229. 1. Yalkut, par. 1. fol. 244. 3, 4. & par. 2. fol. 76. 4. (h) De Vita Mosis, l. 7. p. 647, 648. (i) Antiqu. l. 4. c. 6. sect. 6, 7, 8, 9. (k) Apud Hottinger. Exercit. Antimorin. p. 109.
Notwithstanding, I have a few things against thee,…. By way of complaint; so the Arabic version renders it, “I have a certain complaint against thee”. The impartiality of Christ may be observed in taking notice of the bad deeds, as well as of the good ones of his people, and his tenderness in representing them as few; and these things he had against them not in a judicial way to their condemnation, but in a providential way, in order to chastise them for them, for their good; and they are as follow:
because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel; or “thy wife Jezebel”, as the Complutensian edition and Syriac version read; the name of King Ahab’s wife, who seduced him, in the Hebrew language is “Izebel”, but is read by the Septuagint in 1Ki 16:31, Jezebel, as here; and by Josephus (a) Jezabela; she had her name from זבל, “Zebel”, “dung”, to which Elijah has reference in 2Ki 9:37; the Ethiopic version calls her “Elzabel”. By her is meant the apostate church of Rome, comparable to Jezebel, the wife of Ahab; as she was the daughter of an Heathen, so is Rome Papal the daughter of Rome Pagan; and as she was the wife of Ahab, and therefore a queen, so the whore of Babylon calls herself; and as Jezebel was famous for her paintings, so the church of Rome for her pretensions to religion and holiness, and for the gaudiness of her worship; and as she was remarkable for her idolatry, whoredoms, witchcrafts, and cruel persecution of the prophets of the Lord, and for murder, and innocent blood she shed; so the church of Rome, for her idolatrous worship of images, for her whoredoms, both in a literal and spiritual sense, and for the witchcrafts, magic, and devilish arts many of her popes have been addicted to, and especially for her barbarities and cruelties exercised upon the true professors of Christ, and for the blood of the martyrs, with which she has been drunk; and as Jezebel stirred up Ahab against good and faithful men, is has this church stirred up the secular powers, emperors, kings, and princes, against the true followers of Christ: and the end of both of them is much alike; as scarce anything was left of Jezebel, so Babylon the great, the mother of harlots, shall be cast into the sea, and be found no more at all: compare 2Ki 9:7 with Rev 17:1,
which calleth herself a prophetess; as perhaps Jezebel might do, since she was such a favourer of the prophets of Baal, and so familiarly conversed with them, and kept them, even a hundred of them, at her table: and certain it is, that the antitype of her pretends to an infallible interpretation of the Scriptures, and to have a bulk of unwritten traditions; and which interpretations and traditions are to be regarded as an infallible rule of faith and practice. Now what is complained of in the true members and followers of Christ is, that they suffered this woman
to teach; when it was insufferable for a woman to teach, and especially such a strumpet:
and to seduce my servants to commit fornication; to deceive such who called themselves the servants of Christ, and draw them into the commission of spiritual fornication, which is idolatry; as the idolatrous worship of the Mass, and of images and saints departed:
and to eat things sacrificed unto idols; as Balaam, or the pope, before had done, Rev 2:14. This may have respect to the latter part of this period, when the eyes of many began to be opened to see these false doctrines and idolatrous practices, and yet had not courage enough to oppose them as they should,
(a) Antiqu. l. 8. c. 13. sect. 1. 4, 7.