Commentary on Revelation (covers all chapters from 1 thru 22, including Introduction)
Copyright © 2019 by Steve Sewell, Theology First. All Rights Reserved
Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
City of Pergamum: Modern day Bergama, Turkey
Only place mentioned in the Bible.
Pergamos was a city in the southern part of Mysia, the capital of a kingdom of that name, and afterward of the Roman province of Asia Propria. It was on the bank of the river Caicus, which is formed by the union of two branches meeting thirty or forty miles above its mouth, and watering a valley not exceeded in beauty and fertility by any in the world. The city of Pergamos stood about twenty miles from the sea. It was on the northern bank of the river, at the base and on the declivity of two high and steep mountains. About two centuries before the Christian era, Pergamos became the residence of the celebrated kings of the family of Attals, and a seat of literature and the arts. King Eumenes, the second of the name, greatly beautified the town, and so increased the number of volumes in the library that they amounted to 200,000. This library remained at Pergamos after the kingdom of the Artali had lost its independence, until Antony removed it to Egypt, and presented it to Queen Cleopatra (Pliny, Hist. Nat. 3:2). It is an old tradition, that, as the papyrus plant had not begun to be exported from Egypt (Kitto), or as Ptolemy refused to sell it to Eumenes (Prof. Stuart), sheep and goat skins, prepared for the purpose, were used for manuscripts; and as the art of preparing them was brought to perfection at Pergamos, they, from that circumstance, obtained the name of “pergamena” ( περγαμηνή pergamēnē) or “parchment.”
The last king of Pergamos bequeathed his treasures to the Romans, who took possession of the kingdom also, and created it into a province by the name of Asia Propria. Under the Romans, it retained that authority over the cities of Asia which it had acquired under the successors of Attalus. The present name of the place is Bergamos, and it is of considerable importance, containing a population of about 14,000, of whom about 3000 are Greeks, 300 Armenians, and the rest Turks. Macfarlane describes the approach to the town as very beautiful: “The approach to this ancient and decayed city was as impressive as well might be. After crossing the Caicus, I saw, looking over three vast tumuli, or sepulchral barrows, similar to those on the plains of Troy, the Turkish city of Pergamos, with its tall minarets, and its taller cypresses, situated on the lower declivities and at the foot of the Acropolis, whose bold gray brow was crowned by the rugged walls of a barbarous castle, the usurper of the site of a magnificent Greek temple. The town consists, for the most part, of small and mean wooden houses, among which appear the remains of early Christian churches. None of these churches have any scriptural or apocalyptic interest connected with them, having been erected several centuries after the ministry of the apostles, and when Christianity was not an humble and despised creed, but the adopted religion of a vast empire.
The pagan temples have fared worse than these Christian churches. The fanes of Jupiter and Diana, of Aesculapius and Venus, are prostrate in the dust; and where they have not been carried away by the Turks, to be cut up into tombstones or to pound into mortar, the Corinthian and Ionic columns, the splendid capitals, the cornices and the pediments, all in the highest ornament, are thrown into unsightly heaps” (“Visit to the Seven Apocalyptic Churches,” 1832. Compare “Missionary Herald” for 1839, pp. 228-230). The engraving represents the ruins of one of the ancient churches in Pergamos.
- They hold fast the name of Christ
- Did not deny His (the) faith
- Antipas remained a faithful witness for Christ in death
- They have some who hold the teaching of Balaam
- They have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans
- They’re to repent or Jesus will come to them quickly and make war with them with the sword of His mouth.
- To them who overcome will eat of the hidden manna
- To them who overcome will be given a white stone with a new name written on it.
Revelation 2:12-17 — (Pergamum)
(Rev 2:12) – 12 And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These things saith he that hath the sharp two-edged sword:
“to the angel of the church in Pergamum”
To the lead pastor (overseer/elder) of this church.
The Apostle John was to write what Jesus revealed to him, which is what we have in this book.
“These things saith he that hath the sharp two-edged sword”
(see also Rev 19:15,21)
Jesus speaks with a “sharp two-edged sword,” the kind of sword that only comes from God Himself, indicating His Deity (Eph 6:17; He 4:12).
(see commentary on Rev 1:16)
This sword, of course, is only symbolic. A literal sword does not come out of the mouth of Jesus, but is symbolic of His words and how they cut sharply and deeply and both ways. I believe in the present context and the overall context of this book, its meant to convey judgment. Thus what we see here is a sword of judgment.
However, the word (sword) of Christ for the Christian applies more broadly. His word convicts of us our sins and leads us down the path of truth and holiness. His word instructs us on how to live the Christian life.
Also, a sword is to be used as a weapon against the enemy. For the Christian, our enemies are sin and the devil and those who oppose Christ and His truth. Our enemies are the things that would rob us of our joy and weaken our faith, which means that the sword (word) of Christ is to be used against sin in our lives and against the temptations and deceptions that come from Satan:
(Matt 4:1; Matt 13:39; Jn 8:44; Acts 26:18; 1 Cor 7:5; 1 Cor 15:26; 2 Cor 2:11; Eph 6:11; 2 Ti 2:26; He 2:14; Ja 4:7; 1 Pe 5:8-9; Rev 12:12)
We’re also to use the sword (word) of Christ for encouragement against the enemies of fear and discouragement, which weakens our faith in God.
In the case of the unbeliever, their primary enemy and main concern is spiritual death, caused by sin. The sword of Christ is the truth that gives life to those who receive it. They need to overcome death through the plan and message of salvation that God has provided through His Son.
Therefore, we’re reminded that the mightiest weapon in the universe is the Word of Christ. There is no enemy or weapon strong enough to defeat Christ and His word. Thus as we go through persecution and suffering for the name of Christ, we’re to keep these things in mind. As we go through Revelation, His word is to be an encouragement to us as His followers.
For unbelievers who read this book, they should be in fear of what they read. However, they should also realize that faith in Christ eliminates that fear, and that eternal joy awaits those who put their trust in Him as Lord and Savior.
So we see here that Christ is providing a reminder to the Pergamum Christians that they’re to keep their eyes on Him who wields the mightiest weapon in the universe on their behalf.
(Rev 2:13) – 13 I know where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s throne is; and thou holdest fast my name, and didst not deny my faith, even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwelleth.
These are meant to be comforting words to the Christian. It brings comfort to our hearts knowing that Jesus knows what we may be facing or going through in life. Jesus is compassionate and understands our trials. Thus it serves as a reminder that we’re not alone in our trials.
“where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s throne is”
Jesus knew where the Pergamum Christians were dwelling, and He was letting them know that He understood what they were dealing with.
“Where Satan’s throne is”
“where Satan dwelleth”
Generally, I believe “Satan’s throne” refers to the whole world, for he is the “ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).
More specifically, in context, this phrase probably indicates that these Christians lived in a place where there was unusual evil and persecution. Thus the temptations and trials that they had to endure were also unusual. Hence, Jesus was letting them know that He understood how difficult it was for them to live there as His followers.
I believe that a greater reward awaits those who remain faithful in the midst of situations that are far more difficult than what other Christians have to deal with. Jesus sees the difference. This should bring great encouragement to Christians today who live in countries where Christianity is outlawed and where persecution is severe.
While the above interpretation is certainly valid, I believe Jesus may have had something even more specific in mind when he referred to “Satan’s throne” and “where Satan dwells.” In Rev 2:9 and Rev 3:9, Jesus refers to the Jews as a “synagogue of Satan,” which is a reference to the unbelieving Jews. A synagogue was a meeting place for the Jews for the primary purpose of instruction in the Law. However, in their rejection of their Messiah (Christ), they were blind to the truth of their own writings.
While it’s true that Satan rules on the throne of every false belief system in the world, I believe a specific reference to his enthronement upon the false beliefs of the Jews would be significant, because the Christian faith of the New Covenant has its roots in the Old Testament Scriptures of the Jews. The Old Testament always has Christ and His Church in view. However, the Jews (in general) and their leaders rejected (in unbelief) their own Messiah that their own writings prophesied.
Therefore, the Jewish religion of the unbelieving Jews is in a category all by itself, completely separate from all other religions of the world. It’s characterized by something that no other religion can claim, and that is the truth. However, it’s the truth that they don’t recognize. While the Jews had (have) the truth, they didn’t (and don’t) understand the truth, which points to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Christian faith.
With that background, we can see that Satan’s desire has been fulfilled as he rules over the same people that God Himself did — up to the time of Christ. Satan always wanted to take God’s place. So we see Satan ruling over the Jews in blinding them to their own writings that God Himself gave to them. The nation of Israel were the people of God (Jud 20:2; Jer 23:2; Lu 1:68; Ro 11:1), but in their unbelief and rejection of Jesus as their Messiah, they became the people of Satan (Jn 8:37-44).
Therefore, Satan now reigns upon the throne where God once reigned. However, it’s not that Satan triumphed over God, but that God stepped aside and allowed Satan to assume rulership over this people and nation. God continued His rule over His true (redemptive) people through His Son, who is Head of the Church. Israel has its fulfillment and continuation in Christ and His Church, while the unbelieving nation of Israel has been set aside — which was visualized by the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. That was the outward sign that God has rejected the nation of Israel, and is now focused on His Son – the one true Jew – and those who are in Him. The Church is spiritual Israel in Christ. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev 17:14; 19:16), and He rules over the people of His Kingdom — which are the members of His Church (Col 1:13).
Therefore, while all religions are blinded and ruled by Satan, I believe he takes special pride in the fact that he now rules the very same people that God once referred to as “His people.” No longer does God refer to Israel as “His people,” for the true people of God are those who are in Christ, His Son. His Church is the New Israel of the New Covenant.
With this understanding, it’s easy to see why Jesus would refer to Pergamum as the place where “Satan’s throne is.” It must have been a city where there was an abundance of unbelieving Jews who were creating havoc for Christians — which is what they did in those days. The Apostle Paul (as Saul) himself is a good example of that, before he came to faith in Christ. The Jews were the enemies of Christ. For sure, Pergamum was a place of pagan worship, but that doesn’t mean that there couldn’t have been a strong community of Jews there as well.
If Jesus is indeed referring to the unbelieving Jews in this passage, does this suggest anything else as it relates to the book of Revelation? I believe it does. The strong language that Jesus uses in regard to the Jews in the midst of the seven churches (the Church), is highly indicative that we should not expect to see a separate focus on the nation of Israel or on its temple in the remainder of Revelation — except as individual Jews come to faith in Christ as everyone else. There’s simply no harmony between the condemning description of “where Satan’s throne is” and a plan of God for the people that this phrase refers to (ethnic Israel) — yet to be fulfilled, as Dispensationalism teaches.
Introductions are meant to be a lead-in (what to expect) for the rest of a book, and the discussion about the seven churches of Asia serves as the introduction to this book. I believe it helps to confirm the biblical teaching that God does not have a plan for the nation of Israel that is separate from the Church, In other words, referring to the future salvation of the ethnic people of Israel and the associated millennial kingdom — as Dispensational Premillennialism teaches.
“and thou holdest fast my name, and didst not deny my faith”
“my faith” = “your faith in me” (NET, CSB, NIV, NRSV, LEB)
Whether Jesus was referring to a place of unusual persecution and evil or to the unbelieving Jews or to the world in general, Jesus commended the Pergamum Christians for their faithfulness in the midst of “Satan’s throne.” They “held fast His name.” That is, they “didn’t deny His name,” but continued to identify themselves with Christ and His name.
“even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you”
No one knows who this person was, only that he was faithful in death for the name of Christ.
What an honor to be mentioned by name by the Lord Himself! So great an honor that he is still recognized for his martyrdom for Christ 2000 years later! Jesus sees our life, He understands our trials. And He takes special note of those who endure in their faith in the midst of those trials. That should be an encouragement to every Christian not to give up, but to remain faithful throughout our lives.
(Rev 2:14) – 14 But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there some that hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication.
“But I have a few things against thee”
Even though the Pergamum Christians were enduring for Christ in the midst of persecution, there were, nevertheless, some things that Jesus was not pleased with. This tells us that Christ requires faithfulness in every area of our lives. It’s not enough to be faithful in one area but not in all the other areas. I think some Christians have the idea that if “I’m mostly faithful, God won’t mind too much if I slack off a little in this area over here.” But that’s a notion not taught in the Bible. As followers of Christ, He is to have our full allegiance.
“because thou hast there some that hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit fornication.”
(see 2 Pe 2:15; Jude 1:11)
Albert Barnes provides a thorough explanation of this “teaching of Balaam.” I will quote it in its entirety (bold mine):
Because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam – It is not necessary to suppose that they professedly held to the same opinion as Balaam, or openly taught the same doctrines. The meaning is, that they taught substantially the same doctrine which Balaam did, and deserved to be classed with him. What that doctrine was is stated in the subsequent part of the verse.
Who taught Balac to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel – The word “stumbling-block” properly means anything over which one falls or stumbles, and then anything over which anyone may fall into sin, or which becomes the occasion of one‘s falling into sin. The meaning here is, that it was through the instructions of Balaam that Balak learned the way by which the Israelites might be led into sin, and might thus bring upon themselves the divine malediction. The main circumstances in the case were these:
(1) Balak, king of Moab, when the children of Israel approached his borders, felt that he could not contend successfully against so great a host, for his people were dispirited and disheartened at their numbers,Numbers 22:3-4.
(2) in these circumstances he resolved to send for one who had a distinguished reputation as a prophet, that he might “curse” that people, or might utter a malediction over them, in order, at the same time, to ensure their destruction, and to inspirit his own people in making war on them: in accordance with a prevalent opinion of ancient times, that prophets had the power of blighting anything by their curse. Compare the notes on Job 3:8. For this purpose he sent messengers to Balaam to invite him to come and perform this service, Numbers 22:5-6.
(3) Balaam professed to be a prophet of the Lord, and it was obviously proper that he should inquire of the Lord whether he should comply with this request. He did so, and was positively forbidden to go, Numbers 22:12.
(4) when the answer of Balaam was reported to Balak, he supposed that he might be prevailed to come by the offer of rewards, and he sent more distinguished messengers with an offer of ample honor if he would come, Numbers 22:15-17.
(5) Balaam was evidently strongly inclined to go, but, in accordance with his character as a prophet, he said that if Balak would give him his house full of silver and gold he could do no more, and say no more, than the Lord permitted, and he proposed again to consult the Lord, to see if he could obtain permission to go with the messengers of Balak. He obtained permission, but with the express injunction that he was only to utter what God should say; and when he came to Balak, notwithstanding his own manifest desire to comply with the wish of Balak, and notwithstanding all the offers which Balak made to him to induce him to do the contrary, he only continued to bless the Hebrew people, until, in disgust and indignation, Balak sent him away again to his own land, Numbers 24:10 ff.
(6) Balaam returned to his own house, but evidently with a desire still to gratify Balak. Being forbidden to curse the people of Israel; having been overruled in all his purposes to do it; having been, contrary to his own desires, constrained to bless them when he was himself more than willing to curse them; and having still a desire to comply with the wishes of the King of Moab, he cast about for some way in which the object might yet he accomplished – that is, in which the curse of God might in fact rest upon the Hebrew people, and they might become exposed to the divine displeasure. To do this, no way occurred so plausible, and that had such probability of success, as to lead them into idolatry, and into the sinful and corrupt practices connected with idolatry. It was, therefore, resolved to make use of the charms of the females of Moab, that through their influence the Hebrews might be drawn into licentiousness. This was done. The abominations of idolatry spread through the camp of Israel; licentiousness everywhere prevailed, and God sent a plague upon them to punish them, Numbers 25:1 ff. That also this was planned and instigated by Balaam is apparent from Numbers 31:16; “Behold these (women) caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord, in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.” The attitude of Balaam‘s mind in the matter was this:
I. He had a strong desire to do what he knew was wrong, and which was forbidden expressly by God.
II. He was restrained by internal checks and remonstrances, and prevented from doing what he wished to do.
III. He cast about for some way in which he might do it, notwithstanding these internal checks and remonstrances, and finally accomplished the same thing in fact, though in form different from that which he had first prepared. This is not an unfair description of what often occurs in the plans and purposes of a wicked man. The meaning in the passage before us is, that in the church at Pergamos there were those who taught, substantially, the same thing that Balaam did; that is, the tendency of whose teaching was to lead people into idolatry, and the ordinary accompaniment of idolatry – licentiousness.
To eat things sacrificed unto idols – Balaam taught the Hebrews to do this – perhaps in some way securing their attendance on the riotous and gluttonous feasts of idolatry celebrated among the people among whom they sojourned. Such feasts were commonly held in idol temples, and they usually led to scenes of dissipation and corruption. By plausibly teaching that there could be no harm in eating what had been offered in sacrifice – since an idol was nothing, and the flesh of animals offered in sacrifice was the same as if slaughtered for some other purpose, it would seem that these teachers at Pergamos had induced professing Christians to attend on those feasts – thus lending their countenance to idolatry, and exposing themselves to all the corruption and licentiousness that commonly attended such celebrations. See the banefulness of thus eating the meat offered in sacrifice to idols considered in the notes on Acts 15:20.
I want to add to what Barnes says by going into a little more detail about this issue of “eating things sacrificed to idols.” To some there appears to be a conflict between what Paul taught about eating food sacrificed to idols, and what Jesus says about it here. They see Paul authorizing the eating of food sacrificed to idols, but see Jesus condemning it here. However, there is no conflict.
What Paul taught was that there was nothing wrong for devoted Christians to eat food that was sacrificed to idols that was now being sold in the markets (1 Cor 10:25). What Jesus was talking about here in this passage, was the idol worship and sexual immorality that was associated with the eating of foods being sacrificed to those idols. Specifically, He was referring to the idol-worshipping feasts of pagans where this was going on.
Therefore, Jesus was condemning the Pergamum church for allowing some to lead members of their assembly to these evil idol-worshipping celebrations, where they apparently ended up becoming participants in sexual immorality and eating the food that was being sacrificed to those idols.
To elaborate further on this subject, in 1 Corinthians chapters 8 and 10 (read both chapters), Paul reveals that while there is nothing sinful about eating food sacrificed to idols that was being sold in the markets – because there is only one true God (1 Cor 8:8:4-6) – there were some who ate food sacrificed to idols as pagans before they came to faith in Christ (1 Cor 8:7). Thus it was an issue for them to eat food sacrificed to idols as Christians because of their former practice. They couldn’t do it with a clear conscience because of the evil association that it had for them before, even though they were permitted to do so. For them, it was a sin to partake.
Paul taught that what makes eating food sacrificed to idols sinful was the worship of those idols that was a part of it. It was not the actual eating of foods sacrificed to idols that was wrong but the worship of those idols that went along with it (1 Cor 10:7,14,18,20).
Paul also mentions the sexual immorality that was involved with eating food sacrificed to idols (1 Cor 10:7-8). Accordingly, what we see being described here by both Jesus and Paul was the idolatrous feasts that people participated in, where they gathered to worship idols, which was characterized by both eating food that was sacrificed to those idols and sexual immorality.
It would have been wrong for Christians in pagan societies to attend those idol-worshiping celebrations even if they were not participating in them. Those feasts were for the purpose of worshiping idols, which was characterized by sexual immorality and eating food that was sacrificed to those idols. Thus Christians were to stay clear of those things. Where there is worshiping of and sacrificing to demons going on, it’s no place for a follower of Christ to be. We’re to separate ourselves from those things, to come out from among them, because there is no fellowship between light and darkness – as Paul taught in 1 Cor 10:20,21 and 2 Cor 6:14-18.
(Rev 2:15) – 15 So hast thou also some that hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans in like manner.
(see commentary on Rev 2:6)
So hast thou also them … – That is, there are those among you who hold those doctrines. The meaning here may be, either that, in addition to those who held the doctrine of Balaam, they had also another class who held the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes; or that the Nicolaitanes held the same doctrine, and taught the same thing as Balaam. If but one class is referred to, and it is meant that the Nicolaitanes held the doctrines of Balaam, then we know what constituted their teaching; if two classes of false teachers are referred to, then we have no means of knowing what was the uniqueness of the teaching of the Nicolaitanes. The more natural and obvious construction, it seems to me, is to suppose that the speaker means to say that the Nicolaitanes taught the same things which Balaam did – to wit, that they led the people into corrupt and licentious practices. This interpretation seems to be demanded by the proper use of the word “so” – οὕτως houtōs- meaning, “in this manner on this wise, thus”; and usually referring to what precedes. If this be the correct interpretation, then we have, in fact, a description of what the Nicolaitanes held, agreeing with all the accounts given of them by the ancient fathers. See the notes on Revelation 2:6. If this is so, also, then it is clear that the same kind of doctrines was held at Smyrna, at Pergamos, and at Thyatira Revelation 2:20, though mentioned in somewhat different forms. It is not quite certain, however, that this is the correct interpretation, or that the writer does not mean to say that, in addition to those who held the doctrine of Balaam, they had also another class of errorists who held the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes.
Which thing I hate – So the common Greek text – ὅ μισῶ ho misōBut the best-supported reading, and the one adopted by Griesbach, Tittmann, and Hahn, is ὁμοίως homoiōs- “in like manner”; that is, “as Balak retained a false prophet who misled the Hebrews, so thou retainest those who teach things like to those which Balaam taught.”
(Rev 2:16) – 16 Repent therefore; or else I come to thee quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth.
“Repent” (turn away)
Jesus commands them to repent of their sin of allowing the false teaching and evil that is among them. For the most part, they were a faithful church, but there were some who had infiltrated their assembly and leading members astray, and they were allowing it.
As then, so now, we’re to keep our assemblies pure of false teachers, especially those who teach a doctrine that leads others into evil behavior contrary to the life and character of Christ.
I’m not aware of any kind of teaching today that resembles the teaching of Balaam or of the Nicolaitans, but I am aware false teaching (teachers) that results from or is characterized by the following:
— Shallow teaching, rather than expository, verse by verse teaching.
— Avoids teaching on doctrine, and focuses on “felt needs.”
— Worldly approach to ministry
— Church ministry that is designed for the unsaved, rather than a place of worship and learning for believers.
— Prosperity teaching
— Man-centered teaching: A “positive,” feel-good type of teaching that places the focus on the individual rather than on God (“what God can do for me”). Sin is not a topic of discussion. The gospel message is watered down.
— Contemplative prayer
— False representations of spiritual gifts (includes false prophets)
— Emergent church movement
— Homosexuals in church leadership
— Open theism
— Fruitless “salvation”
These are a few examples of the most prominent false teaching in the Church today that comes to mind.
“or else I come to thee quickly”
I believe Jesus means that He will come to them quickly in judging this church for allowing such evil. What form of judgment, we don’t know. Closing the doors of the church is certainly one possibility. But the message here is that we need to keep our assemblies and teaching pure, or there will be a price to pay of some sort. Use of the word “quickly” implies that false teaching and sinful lifestyles need to be dealt with and removed with haste. We’re not to linger in dealing with false teaching and sin and evil in our assemblies.
“and I will make war against them with the sword of my mouth”
In judging this church (making war with them), I believe Jesus’ principal targets would be the afore-mentioned false teachers and those who follow them — but certainly the whole assembly is in view here, for the whole church is guilty for allowing it to go on. The leaders are ultimately responsible. As goes the leaders, so goes the people. A sober warning to pastors and elders.
Jesus would fulfill His word with the “sword of His mouth.” That is, He would speak His Word, and it would be done. It’s quite possible that Jesus uses His angel-servants – as He sees fit – in carrying out His judgments against His churches. He gives the order, and the judgment is carried out by them. I believe if we were given eyes to see, we would be amazed at the involvement of angels in our lives and in our assemblies.
But whether Jesus uses angels or moves against a particular church directly, He will judge as the situation requires. That should move us all to live and carry out ministry in the fear of the Lord.
(Rev 2:17) – 17 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. To him that overcometh, to him will I give of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and upon the stone a new name written, which no one knoweth but he that receiveth it.
“He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches”
(see commentary on Rev 2:7)
“To him that overcometh”
In other words, to those who remain faithful — particularly in regard to the false teaching and evil in their midst. In view here are both those who are guilty or it, and those find themselves in the midst of it because of bad leadership.
“to him will I give of the hidden manna”
The following passages provide the meaning of this promise:
(Exodus 16:33-35) – 31 And the house of Israel called the name thereof Manna: and it was like coriander seed, white; and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. 32 And Moses said, This is the thing which Jehovah hath commanded, Let an omerful of it be kept throughout your generations, that they may see the bread wherewith I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you forth from the land of Egypt. 33 And Moses said unto Aaron, Take a pot, and put an omerful of manna therein, and lay it up before Jehovah, to be kept throughout your generations. 34 As Jehovah commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept. 35 And the children of Israel did eat the manna forty years, until they came to a land inhabited; they did eat the manna, until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan.
(Hebrews 9:1-5) – 1 Now even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service, and its sanctuary, a sanctuary of this world. 2 For there was a tabernacle prepared, the first, wherein were the candlestick, and the table, and the showbread; which is called the Holy place. 3 And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holy of holies; 4 having a golden altar of incense, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was a golden pot holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; 5 and above it cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy-seat; of which things we cannot now speak severally.
(Psalm 78:23-24) – 23 Yet he commanded the skies above, And opened the doors of heaven; 24 And he rained down manna upon them to eat, And gave them food from heaven.
(John 6:48-51) – 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which cometh down out of heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: yea and the bread which I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.
Manna was food that God provided for the children of Israel to sustain them during their forty years in the wilderness. As a memorial of God’s grace and faithfulness of His provision, they were instructed to put a sample of this manna in a jar to be kept throughout their generations. A sample was also put in “the Testimony,” the “Ark of the Covenant” (Ex 16:33-34; He 9:4).
This manna was a type of Christ, who is the “true bread out of Heaven” (Jn 6:32). Just as the manna from Heaven was given to the children of Israel to give them life (physical), so was Jesus, the true bread (manna) from Heaven, given to the world to give them life (spiritual, everlasting life).
Where Jesus refers to this manna as “hidden,” it’s probably a reference to the sample that was put inside the Ark of the Covenant. Since manna pointed to our life in Christ, I believe the placing of this manna in the Ark pointed to our security in Christ, for it was first put into a “golden pot” and then put into the Ark (Divine protection).
Paul also refers to our life that is “hidden” in Christ:
(Colossians 3:1-4) – 1 If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. 3 For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also with him be manifested in glory.
Therefore, Just as the manna sustained the people of Israel, so does Jesus sustain us — forever and ever. In other words, what Jesus is referring to is our security in Him. Those who “overcome,” those who remain faithful, will be assured of life everlasting in Christ. The fruit of true salvation is faithfulness.
“and I will give him a white stone, and upon the stone a new name written”
I believe the “stone” is symbolic of Christ Himself, as the following verses indicate:
(Ge 49:24; 1 Sa 2.2; 2 Sa 22:47; 2 Sa 23:3; Is 30:29; Ro 9:33; 1 Cor 10:4; 1 Pe 2:8)
As to this stone being “white,” we can be confident that this is symbolic of our sins being washed away in the “blood of the lamb” (Rev 7:9-14; Rev 19:14).
Therefore, this “white stone” is symbolic of being cleansed of all of our sins in Christ, and that it’s assured to those who “overcome” in faithfulness.
I believe this “new name” is referring to the prophecy given in Isaiah 62:2. That whole chapter is about what Israel would become in Christ, which is the Church — the New Israel of the New Covenant. Therefore, this new name identifies us with Christ – who is Head of the Church (Eph 5:23) – and fulfills this prophecy in Isaiah. We’re also called “Christians” (Acts 11:26), which is a brand new name for God’s people in Christ.
“which no one knoweth but he that receiveth it”
In light of the meaning of this “new name,” and since we are all one in Christ (Eph 2:14-16), I believe this statement should be understood in that context. In other words, our identification in Christ as His people is not known by anyone else, except by those who belong to Christ, as His elect people.
Also consider the fact that a name does not always refer to our given name, but to what we are known for. For example, when someone says “he has a bad name in this town,” he’s referring to the reputation of that person. Thus he’s known for something that characterizes that person in the eyes of others. Likewise, we as Christians are known for the One we represent, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.