Rev 2:17 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 hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.
let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches
See commentary on Revelation 2:7.
See Who is the Overcomer?
The manna is set in direct contrast to the things sacrificed to idols. The church was eating earthly pagan food, but the overcomer is promised heavenly food from above.
When Israel was in the wilderness, God supernaturally provided manna for their food. Manna was something like white coriander seed and tasted like wafers made of honey (Ex. Ex. 16:31; Num. Num. 11:7). The manna was provided for a period of forty years (Ex. Ex. 16:35) until Israel crossed the Jordan (Jos. Jos. 5:12). Manna provided life in a barren wilderness and is even called “angel’s food” (Ps. Ps. 78:23-25).
In an intentional comparison between Himself and the feeding of Israel in the wilderness, Jesus fed the multitude (John John 6:1-14). Afterwards, Jesus taught the significance of the event, which was not found in the miracle itself, but in what it signified:
“Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.” And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John John 6:31-35) Jesus is the true manna which gives eternal life. The manna in the wilderness sustained the Israelites for a time, but they still died in the wilderness:
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” (John John 6:48-51) The overcomer has faith in Christ and is a partaker of His flesh given on our behalf. Thus he has eternal life:
“As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” (John John 6:57-58) This manna is said to be hidden. Ex. 16:32-34; cf. Heb. Heb. 9:4). This manna, as being thus laid up in the Holy Place, obtained the name of ‘hidden.’ ”1
The allusion is ultimately traceable to Ex. Ex. 16:32-34, where the Lord commanded a sample of manna to be preserved as a memorial for future generations. Tradition was quick to explain its subsequent disappearance. It was taken to have been originally kept in the ark of the covenant (cf. Heb. Heb. 9:4), and on the destruction of Solomon’s temple Jeremiah, according to 2 Macc. Heb. 2:4-7, was warned to take the tabernacle, the ark and its contents to Sinai and there hide them underground. There they would remain until the coming of the Messiah, when Jeremiah would reappear and deposit them in the new Messianic temple in Jerusalem. A variant in 2 Baruch 6:7-10, ascribing their concealment to an angel, is almost contemporary with the Revelation. neither of these passages mentions manna, but its inclusion in this tradition is inferred from Heb. Heb. 9:4 and explicit in the Rabbinic sources (so Yoma 52b).2 Christ Himself may be considered hidden manna, being no longer visible since His ascension:
Life eternal commences on this side of the grave, and not first on the other; and here in the wilderness Christ is the bread from heaven, the bread of God, the true manna, of which those that eat shall never die (John John 6:31-33, John 6:48-51). Nay, more than this; since his Ascension he is in some sort a “hidden manna” for them now.3
The fact that the manna is described as “hidden,” points to the mystery of eternal life, a mystery that is only perceived through faith. The hidden (or secret) manna seems to be the bread of life which is a secret from all who have not experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ.4 Eating the manna may also be an allusion to participation in the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. Rev. 19:9+).5 Bullinger sees a literal fulfillment in the nourishment of Israel in the future wilderness (Rev. Rev. 12:14+).6
From the perspective of the saints at Pergamum, the hidden manna was a reminder of God’s provision in spite of deprivation. “The person leaving the state church might be deprived of his job and welfare. But in spite of what he may be deprived of, God will provide his sustenance.”7
In understanding the white stone, we meet with a tendency of many interpreters to derive an understanding of scriptural imagery from pagan cultural practices.8 See Searching for Meaning in all the Wrong Places.
A number of alternative interpretations have been offered for the meaning of the white stone.
- Token of Innocence – A white pebble was placed in a ballot box by a Greek judge pronouncing a sentence of acquittal (a black pebble indicating condemnation). Stone is ψῆφον [psēphon] : Acts 26:10.”9 Acts 26:10 uses the same Greek word for ‘vote,’ then we can advance a strong case that the white stone may well represent a vote of innocence. It then depicts the believer’s new character and symbolically denotes the purity which flows from the cleansing from sin that takes place at conversion.”10 “This white stone is absolution from the guilt of sin, alluding to the ancient custom of giving a white stone to those acquitted on trial and a black stone to those condemned.”11
- Token of Privilege – A tessera (also called ψῆφος [psēphos] ) was given at Olympic games to the victor with subsequent attendant social privileges. Allusion has been seen to yet another kind of tessera, one supposedly given to a gladiator at his discharge from the arena, exempting him from the obligation to risk his life again there. Many such tokens survive. They take the form of elongated rectangular tablets of bone bearing the name of a man, the letters ‘SP’, and the day and year, often incised in sequence on the four faces.12
- Token of Initiation – A token of initiation into the cult of Asklepios. “Roman examples were sometimes dated on the first of January, a day said to have been a festival of Asklepios. None of the known specimens is from Pergamum, but the importance of the Asklepios cult there . . . lends a strong circumstantial appeal to the theory.”13
- Good Omen – Reflecting the practice of a person who placed a white or black pebble for each happy or unhappy day into an urn. At his death, the colors were totaled to rate the happiness of his life.
- High Priest’s Headdress – Ex. 28:36-37). The words inscribed on it were ‘Holiness to the Lord.’ According to this interpretation the overcomer will wear a headdress with a precious stone, on which shall be engraved the new name which belongs to the new Lord of the new kingdom, a name equivalent in value to that of Jehovah under the Old Testament, which no one but the high priest knew how to utter.”14
- High Priest’s Breastplate – Ex. 28:17-21). Another problem is that while the priest’s breastplate had twelve stones, Revelation Rev. 2:17+ mentions only one stone.”15
- Urim and Thummim – Trench supposes the white stone may be a diamond, the same stone which is the Urim and Thummim.16 “The stone is white or ‘bright,’ the Greek term λευκό [leuko] can refer either to the color white (traditional here) or to an object that is bright or shining, either from itself or from an outside source of illumination.”17 Rev. 3:12+, ‘I will write upon him My new name’): some new revelation of Himself which shall hereafter be imparted to His people, and which they alone are capable of receiving. The connection with the ‘hidden manna’ will thus be clear, as none save the high priest had access to the ‘manna hidden’ in the sanctuary.”18 Ex. 28:30; Num. Num. 27:21; Deu. Deu. 33:8; 1S. 1S. 28:6). This suggestion seems possible for several reasons. (a) The promised stone in Revelation Rev. 2:17+ could be white in the sense that it will have a whitish glisten. If Urim means lights, then it too could have had a whitish appearance. (b) Any engraving on the Urim was known only to the priest. This corresponds with the name written on the promised stone known only by the person who receives it. (c) Since the hidden manna Christ promised in the same verse is analogous to the Old Testament manna, the white stone could also be analogous to an Old Testament stone. It appears then that if Christ intended His audience to see an analogy between His white stone and the Urim, His reward would be experiencing God’s will fully.”19 Lev. 8:8). . . . [This was ] were worn by the high priest when he would enter into the holy place into the presence of the Lord. He alone could then have access to the ark of the covenant wherein reposed the hidden manna.”20
- Stone Tablets of the Law – Rev. 2:14-23+). As the overcomer received and honored the Word disclosing God’s Person and will, Christ assures [him] that he is to receive the ultimate disclosure of God’s Person and will. His symbol for this is the “white stone.” ’ This view is also possible for several reasons. (a) It is consistent in seeing both the manna and the stone as imageries from the same era in Israel’s history. (b) It fits with other rewards in Revelation Rev. 2:1+ which also reach back to the Old Testament (e.g., the tree of life [Rev. Rev. 2:7+], from Genesis Gen. 2:1 and Gen. 3:1; the crown of life, not the second death [Rev. Rev. 2:10-11+], going back also to Genesis Gen. 2:1 and Gen. 3:1; the rod of authority and the morning star [Rev. Rev. 2:26-28+], from Psalm Ps. 2:1 and Numbers Num. 24:1). (c) The idea of what ‘God had written’ (Rev. Rev. 2:17+) is also emphasized with regard to the stones of the Law (Ex. Ex. 32:15-16). (d) The Lord made His name prominent and repeated it in writing on the stones of the Law, as in Exodus Ex. 20:1. (e) This view also suits the context of Revelation Rev. 2:1+. Standing against the sin-darkening environment, the overcomer honors the value of God’s moral law associated with His will (Rev. Rev. 2:14-15+; cf. Rev. Rev. 2:20-23+). So Christ will honor him with the ultimate enjoyment that relates to knowing and doing God’s will.”21
We believe it is inappropriate to base the interpretation of symbols within the book of Revelation upon pagan, non-Jewish cultural practices . The Bible is an inspired Jewish book (Rom. Rom. 3:2; Rom. 9:4), so we should not expect to find our answers in practices or beliefs which are considered blasphemous by God. When we apply the Golden Rule of Interpretation, we compare Scripture with Scripture to gain an understanding of the text. If this premise is true, and we believe it is, then it rules out all but the last four views as being contenders for understanding the white stone.
Of the last four views, we believe the last two views are most likely connected with this passage.
The white stone does not stand alone in our text for on the stone there will be a new name written. Observe several characteristics concerning this passage: (1) the gift given is a stone; (2) the stone is white; (3) the stone is written upon; (4) the writing conveys a name. We believe these factors connect the stone with the Stone Tablets of the Law given to Moses and upon which was recorded God’s moral law, the Ten Commandments (Ex. Ex. 20:1-17; Ex. 24:12; Ex. 34:2, Ex. 34:29). Throughout Scripture, names convey the character of the one bearing the name. It is no coincidence that when God met with Moses for the second time to write the tablets of the law, He proclaimed His character (Ex. Ex. 34:6-7). The record of the law written on stone is a reflection of God’s character.
As for the white aspect of the stone, we note the command given to Joshua when the law was renewed prior to crossing the Jordan:
And it shall be, on the day when you cross over the Jordan to the land which the LORD your God is giving you, that you shall set up for yourselves large stones, and whitewash them with lime. You shall write on them all the words of this law, when you have crossed over, that you may enter the land which the LORD your God is giving you, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey,’ just as the LORD God of your fathers promised you. Therefore it shall be, when you have crossed over the Jordan, that on Mount Ebal you shall set up these stones, which I command you today, and you shall whitewash them with lime. And there you shall build an altar to the LORD your God, an altar of stones; you shall not use an iron tool on them. You shall build with whole stones the altar of the LORD your God, and offer burnt offerings on it to the LORD your God. You shall offer peace offerings, and shall eat there, and rejoice before the LORD your God. And you shall write very plainly on the stones all the words of this law. (Deu. Deu. 27:2-8) [emphasis added] This command was later fulfilled by Joshua (Jos. Jos. 8:32). The written law upon the tablets of stone was a picture of how one day God would write the law upon tablets of flesh:
You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (2Cor. 2Cor. 2:2) The white stone may be a memorial to the law in that it records a new name which expresses the character of God to which the believer is being conformed (Rom. Rom. 8:29; 1Cor. 1Cor. 15:49; 2Cor. 2Cor. 3:18; Php. Php. 3:21; Col. Col. 3:10).
new name written
There are two possibilities concerning this new name. Either it is a new name given to the overcomer or it is the new name of God given to the overcomer in the church at Philadelphia (Rev. Rev. 3:12+).
This may indicate one or more of three main ideas. First, the name might be a new name Christ will give to each believer. It will be appropriately different for each overcomer and no one except the one who receives it will know the name. Second, the name might be the same for all believers. It will be known to all victors (all believers) just as the things of God are known (in different degree) to all believers (1Jn. 1Jn. 2:20, 1Jn. 2:27; 1Cor. 1Cor. 2:15-16). This view also fits with the Lord’s promises in Isaiah that He will give to His people—all of them in common—a “new name” (Isa. Isa. 62:2; cf. Isa. 56:5; Isa. 65:15). Third, the name might be that of God the Father or of Christ Himself, a common heritage for all overcomers. In favor of this view is the parallel passage in Revelation Rev. 3:12+, which says the name Christ will give is God’s own name. (Further support is in Revelation Rev. 14:1+ and Rev. 22:4+, which refer to God’s name on the foreheads of the 144,000 and all believers in the New Jerusalem.) This name could be a name of God that He deems appropriate for His own as an expression of the fact that they belong to Him (cf. Isa. Isa. 56:5; Isa. 62:2; Isa. 65:15). Also, as already noted, the white stone may allude to the stones of the Law on which God wrote His name (Ex. Ex. 20:1).22 The name is new: Mat. 9:17 where contrasting terms occur together, kainos being second, applied to wineskins which were not brand new (as was the wine), but simply not having been used before, unused. See the use of kainos at John John 13:34.”23
Isaiah described how God would give a name to those who follow after Him—even to those who were not Jews:
Even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the LORD, to serve Him, and to love the name of the LORD, to be His servants-everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant—even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices Will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations. The Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, yet I will gather to him Others besides those who are gathered to him. (Isa. Isa. 56:5-8) Whether the name is that of God or a new name given the believer, it describes the new character and inheritance of the believer (2Cor. 2Cor. 5:17; Eph. Eph. 4:24) who has been adopted into the family of God. “The new name is the name of adoption: adopted persons took the name of the family into which they were adopted.”24
no one knows except him
The name is secret—known only to the one who receives the stone. Full disclosure of the things of God is reserved for those who share intimacy with Him, who know Him and are known by Him. This pattern is seen in the great revelation given to those who had an especially close relationship with God such as Moses, Daniel, and John (Ps. Ps. 25:14; Mtt. Mat. 11:27). God spoke to Moses “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. Ex. 33:11). Daniel was “greatly beloved” of God (Dan. Dan. 9:23; Dan. 10:11, Dan. 10:19). John was the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (John John 13:23; John 20:2; John 21:7, John 21:20).
The name is unknown, as is Jesus’ new name (Rev. Rev. 3:12+; Rev. Rev. 19:12+). This recalls the mysterious, but unrevealed name attending the Angel of the Lord and Son of God throughout Scripture. The name is hinted at, but never revealed: when Jacob wrestled with the Angel and was named Israel (Gen. Gen. 32:29); when the Angel announced the birth of Samson to his parents (Jdg. Jdg. 13:6, Jdg. 13:18); in the question concerning the Son of God (Pr. Pr. 30:4); and in God’s new name to be written on the overcomer (Rev. Rev. 3:12+).
Him may refer to the category of all overcomers—that the new name of God is only known to believers. If it refers to the individual, then it would seem to imply that a different name is revealed to each overcomer.25 If the latter, then the name may be that given to the individual overcomer, or perhaps a different name revealing one of the many facets of God’s character is given to each.
The one who knows the name is the one who receives the stone. “It refers not to the name, but to the stone (containing the name).”26
1 Richard Chenevix Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1861), 124.
2 Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1989), 94-95.
3 Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia, 125.
4 Monty S. Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John (Dallas, TX: 3E Ministries, 1987), Rev. 2:17.
5 “Eating the ‘hidden manna’ is but another way of picturing what can also be represented as the joyous boon of feasting at the Messianic banquet (cf. Rev. Rev. 19:9+).”—James E. Rosscup, “The Overcomer of the Apocalypse,” in Grace Theological Journal, vol. 3 no. 1 (Grace Seminary, Spring 1982), 279.
8 Interpreters frequently look to pagan sources when they mistakenly believe Scripture offers no clues: “The ‘white stone’ (Rev. Rev. 2:17+) has no precedent in the Old Testament.”—Merrill C. Tenney, Interpreting Revelation (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1957), 190.
9 Mills, Revelations: An Exegetical Study of the Revelation to John, Rev. 2:17.
11 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible : Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996, c1991), Rev. 2:17.
13 Ibid., 100.
16 Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia, 132.
18 A. R. Fausset, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 1877), Rev. 2:17.
25 “Clearly the new name is the recipient’s own name, a new one, reflecting his status as belonging to Christ. This is verified in its being a secret name given to the man himself.”—Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 1-7 (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1992), 202.
26 Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches in Asia, Rev. 2:17.