This week in the Endnotes, I have been posting detail, references, and pictures, where I could find them, about the seven churches to whom the letters were addressed. This week it was Laodicea, Philadelphia, and Smyrna, with a discussion on what was meant by the phrase, ‘the synagogue of Satan.’
I had said that I wasn’t sure if anyone knew what John meant when he referred to the Synagogue of Satan in the letter to the church at Smyrna (Rev 2, pg. 12 in the book). But, it turns out someone no less than Isaac Newton had an opinion on the matter:
“The authority of Emperors, Kings, and Princes, is human. The authority of Councils, Synods, Bishops, and Presbyters, is human. The authority of the Prophets is divine, and comprehends the sum of religion, reckoning Moses and the Apostles among the Prophets; and if an Angel from Heaven preach any other gospel, than what they have delivered, let him be accursed. Their writings contain the covenant between God and his people, with instructions for keeping this covenant; instances of God’s judgments upon them that break it: and predictions of things to come. While the people of God keep the covenant, they continue to be his people: when they break it they cease to be his people or church, and become the Synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not. And no power on earth is authorized to alter this covenant.”
Isaac Newton, Observations upon the Prophecies of Daniel, and the Apocalypse of St. John, Chapter 1, published 1733.
One was about the Doctrine of Balaam … what was it? I suggest it was a form of antinomianism, and related to the Nicolaitans:
“[The doctrine of Balaam] is stated in the subsequent part of the verse: ‘Who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel.’ … 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 attitude of Balaam’s mind in the matter was this: i. He had a strong desire to do that which he knew was wrong, and 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 in what often occurs in the plans and purposes of a wicked man.”
Albert Barnes, Notes on … Revelation, pp. 75-76.
Christine’s note: Barnes makes a cogent case that Balaam’s sin was in obeying the letter of the law while violating the spirit of it.
“Compare Re 2:14, 15, which shows the true sense of Nicolaitanes; they are not a sect, but professing Christians who, like Balaam of old, tried to introduce into the Church a false freedom, that is, licentiousness; …”
Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown, Commentary, Revelation 2:6.
Today I worked on endnotes which illustrate the culture of Ancient Rome into which the Early Church was born, and in which John lived at the time he received the vision. Understanding their culture which is so different from our own, helps make better sense not only of Revelation chapters 2 and 3, the letters to the seven churches, but all of the New Testament.