Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible
The Epistle to the Church at Sardis
The contents of the epistle to the church at Sardis Revelation 3:1-6 are:
(1)The usual salutation to the angel of the church, Revelation 3:1.(2)the usual reference to the attributes of the Saviour - those referred to here being that he had the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars, Revelation 3:1. (3)the assurance that he knew their works, Revelation 3:1. (4)the statement of the uniqueness of the church, or what he saw in it - that it had a name to live and was dead, Revelation 3:1. (5)asolemn direction to the members of the church, arising from their character and circumstances, to be watchful, and to strengthen the things which remained, but which were ready to die; to remember what they had received, and to hold fast what had been communicated to them, and to repent of all their sins, Revelation 3:2-3. (6)athreat that if they did not do this, he would come suddenly upon them, at an hour which they could not anticipate, Revelation 3:3. (7)acommendation of the church as far as it could be done, for there were still a few among them who had not defiled their garments, and a promise that they should walk before him in white, Revelation 3:4. (8)apromise, as usual, to him that should be victorious. The promise here is, that he should walk before him in white; that his name should not be blotted out of the book of life; that he should be acknowledged before the Father, and before the angels, Revelation 3:5. (9)the usual call on all persons to hear what the Spirit said to the churches.
Sardis was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, one of the provinces of Asia Minor, and was situated at the foot of Mount Tmolus, in a fine plain watered by the river Pactolus, famous for its golden sands. It was the capital where the celebrated Croesus, proverbial for his wealth, reigned. It was taken by Cyrus (548 bc), when Croesus was king, and was at that time one of the most splendid and opulent cities of the East. It subsequently passed into the hands of the Romans, and under them sank rapidly in wealth and importance. In the time of Tiberius it was destroyed by an earthquake, but was rebuilt by order of the emperor. The inhabitants of Sardis bore an ill repute among the ancients for their voluptuous modes of life. Perhaps there may be an allusion to this fact in the words which are used in the address to the church there: “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments.”Successive earthquakes, and the ravages of the Saracens and the Turks, have reduced this once-celebrated city to a heap of ruins, though exhibiting still many remains of former splendor. The name of the village which now occupies the place of this ancient capital is Sart. It is a miserable village, comprising only a few wretched cottages, occupied by Turks and Greeks. There are ruins of the theater, the stadium, and of some ancient churches. The most remarkable of the ruins are two pillars supposed to have belonged to the temple of Cybele; and if so, they are among the most ancient in the world, the temple of Cybele having been built only three hundred years after that of Solomon. The Acropolis serves well to define the site of the city. Several travelers have recently visited the remains of Sardis, and its appearance will be indicated by a few extracts from their writings. Arundell, in his “Discoveries in Asia Minor,” says: “If I were asked what impresses the mind most strongly in beholding Sardis, I should say its indescribable solitude, like the darkness of Egypt - darkness that could be felt. So the deep solitude of the spot, once the ‹lady of kingdoms,‘ produces a corresponding feeling of desolate abandonment in the mind, which can never be forgotten.” John Hartley, in regard to these ruins, remarks: “The ruins are, with one exception, more entirely gone to decay than those of most of the ancient cities which we have visited. No Christians reside on the spot: two Greeks only work in a mill here, and a few wretched Turkish huts are scattered among the ruins. We saw the churches of John and the Virgin, the theater, and the building styled the Palace of Croesus; but the most striking object at Sardis is the temple of Cybele. I was filled with wonder and awe at beholding the two stupendous columns of this edifice, which are still remaining: they are silent but impressive witnesses of the power and splendor of antiquity.” The impression produced on the mind is vividly described in the following language of a recent traveler, who lodged there for a night: “Every object was as distinct as in a northern twilight; the snowy summit of the mountain (Tmolus), the long sweep of the valley, and the flashing current of the river (Pactolus). I strolled along toward the banks of the Pactolus, and seated myself by the side of the half-exhausted stream. “There are few individuals who cannot trace on the map of their memory some moments of overpowering emotion, and some scene, which, once dwelt upon, has become its own painter, and left behind it a memorial that time could not efface. I can readily sympathize with the feelings of him who wept at the base of the pyramids; nor were my own less powerful, on that night when I sat beneath the sky of Asia to gaze upon the ruins of Sardis, from the banks of the golden-sanded Pactolus. Beside me were the cliffs of the Acropolis, which, centuries before, the hardy Median scaled, while leading on the conquering Persians, whose tents had covered the very spot on which I was reclining. Before me were the vestiges of what had been the palace of the gorgeous Croesus; within its walls were once congregated the wisest of mankind, Thales, Cleobulus, and Solon. It was here that the wretched father mourned alone the mangled corse of his beloved Atys; it was here that the same humiliated monarch wept at the feet of the Persian boy who wrung from him his kingdom. Far in the distance were the gigantic “tumuli” of the Lydian monarchs, Candaules, Halyattys, and Gyges; and around them were spread those very plains once trodden by the countless hosts of Xerxes, when hurrying on to find a sepulchre at Marathon. “There were more varied and more vivid remembrances associated with the sight of Sardis than could possibly be attached to any other spot of earth; but all were mingled with a feeling of disgust at the littleness of human glory. All - all had passed away! There were before me the fanes of a dead religion, the tombs of forgotten monarchs, and the palm-tree that waved in the banquet-hall of kings; while the feeling of desolation was doubly heightened by the calm sweet sky above me, which, in its unfading brightness, shone as purely now as when it beamed upon the golden dreams of Croesus” (Emerson‘s “Letters from the Aegean,” p. 113ff). The present appearance of the ruins is shown by the engraving in this volume.
And unto the angel of the church in Sardis - notes on Revelation 1:20.
These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God - See the notes on Revelation 1:4. If the phrase, “the seven Spirits of God,” as there supposed, refers to the Holy Spirit, there is great propriety in saying of the Saviour, that he has that Spirit, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit is represented as sent forth by him into the world, John 15:26-27; John 16:7, John 16:13-14. It was one of the highest characteristics that could be given of the Saviour to say, that the Holy Spirit was his to send forth into the world, and that that great Agent, on whose gracious influences all were dependent for the possession of true religion, could be given or withheld by him at his pleasure.
And the seven stars - See the notes on Revelation 1:16. These represented the angels of the seven churches (notes on Revelation 1:20); and the idea which the Saviour would seem to intend to convey here is, that he had entire control over the ministers of the churches, and could keep or remove them at pleasure.
I know thy works - See the notes on Revelation 2:2.
That thou hast a name that thou livest - Thou dost profess attachment to me and my cause. The word “life” is a word that is commonly employed, in the New Testament, to denote religion, in contradistinction from the natural state of man, which is described as death in sin. By the profession of religion they expressed the purpose to live unto God, and for another world; they professed to have true, spiritual life.
And art dead - That is, spiritually. This is equivalent to saying that their profession was merely in name; and yet this must be understood comparatively, for there were some even in Sardis who truly lived unto God, Revelation 3:4. The meaning is, that in general, the profession of religion among them was a mere name. The Saviour does not, as in the case of the churches of Ephesus and Thyatira, specify any prevailing form of error or false doctrine; but it would seem that here it was a simple waist of religion.
Be watchful - Be wakeful; be attentive and earnest - in contradistinction from the drowsy condition of the church.
Strengthen the things which remain - The true piety that still lives and lingers among you. Whatever there was of religion among them, it was of importance to strengthen it, that the love of the Saviour might not become wholly extinct. An important duty in a low and languishing state of religion is, to “strengthen the things that still survive.” It is to cultivate all the graces which do exist; to nourish all the love of truth which may linger in the church; and to confirm, by warm exhortation, and by a reference to the gracious promises of God‘s word, the few who may be endeavoring to do their duty, and who, amidst many discouragements, are aiming to be faithful to the Saviour. In the lowest state of religion in a church there may be a few, perhaps quite obscure and of humble rank, who are mourning over the desolations of Zion, and who are sighing for better times. All such it is the duty of the ministers of religion to comfort and encourage; for it is in their hearts that piety may be kept alive in the church - it is through them that it may be hoped religion may yet be revived. In the apparent hopelessness of doing much good to others, good may always be done to the cause itself by preserving and strengthening what there may be of life among those few, amidst the general desolation and death. It is much to preserve life in grain sown in a field through the long and dreary winter, when all seems to be dead - for it will burst forth, with new life and beauty, in the spring. When the body is prostrate with disease, and life just lingers, and death seems to be coming on, it is much to preserve the little strength that remains; much to keep the healthful parts from being invaded, that there may be strength yet to recover.
That are ready to die - That seem just ready to become extinct. So, sometimes, in a plant, there seems to be but the least conceivable life remaining, and it appears that it must die. So, when we are sick, there seems to be but the feeblest glimmering of life, and it is apparently just ready to go out. So, when a fire dies away, there seems but a spark remaining, and it is just ready to become extinct. And thus, in religion in the soul - religion in a church - religion in a community - it often seems as if it were just about to go out forever.
For I have not found thy works perfect before God - I have not found them complete or full. They come short of what is required. Of what church, of what individual Christian, is not this true? Whom might not the Saviour approach with the same language? It was true, however, in a marked and eminent sense, of the church at Sardis.
Remember therefore how thou hast received - This may refer either to some uniqueness in the manner in which the gospel was conveyed to them - as, By the labors of the apostles, and by the remarkable effusions of the Holy Spirit; or to the ardor and love with which they embraced it; or to the greatness of the favors and privileges conferred on them; or to their own understanding of what the gospel required, when they were converted. It is not possible to determined in which sense the language is used; but the general idea is plain, that there was something marked and unusual in the way in which they had been led to embrace the gospel, and that it was highly proper in these circumstances to look back to the days when they gave themselves to Christ. It is always well for Christians to call to remembrance the “day of their espousals,” and their views and feelings when they gave their hearts to the Saviour, and to compare those views with their present condition, especially if their conversion was marked by anything unusual.
And heard - How thou didst hear the gospel in former times; that is, with what earnestness and attention thou didst embrace it. This would rather seem to imply that the reference in the whole passage is to the fact that they embraced the gospel with great ardor and zeal.
And hold fast -
(1)Hold fast the truths which thou didst then receive;(2)hold fast what remains of true religion among you.
And repent - Repent in regard to all that in which you have departed from your views and feelings when you embraced the gospel.
If therefore thou shalt not watch - The speaker evidently supposed that it was possible that they would not regard the warning; that they would presume that they would be safe if they refused to give heed to it, or, that by mere inattention and indifference they might suffer the warning to pass by unheeded. Similar results have been so common in the world as to make such a supposition not improbable, and to make proper, in other cases as well as that, the solemn threatening that he would come suddenly upon them.
I will come on thee as a thief - In a sudden and unexpected manner. See the notes on 1 Thessalonians 5:2.
And ye shall not know what hour I will come upon thee - You shall not know beforehand; you shall have no warning of my immediate approach. This is often the way in which God comes to people in his heavy judgments. Long beforehand, he admonishes us, indeed, of what must be the consequences of a course of sin, and warns us to turn from it; but when sinners refuse to attend to his warning, and still walk in the way of evil, he comes suddenly, and cuts them down. Every man who is warned of the evil of his course, and who refuses or neglects to repent, has reason to believe that God will come suddenly in his wrath, and call him to his bar, Proverbs 29:1. No such man can presume on impunity; no one who is warned of his guilt and danger can feel that he is for one moment safe. No one can have any basis of calculation that he will be spared; no one can flatter himself with any probable anticipation that he will have time to repent when God comes to take him away. Benevolence has done its appropriate work in warning him - how can the Great Judge of all be to blame, if he comes then, and suddenly cuts the sinner off?
Thou hast a few names even in Sardis - See the analysis of the chapter. The word “names” here is equivalent to “persons”; and the idea is, that even in a place so depraved, and where religion had so much declined, there were a few persons who had kept themselves free from the general contamination. In most cases, when error and sin prevail, there may be found a few who are worthy of the divine commendation; a few who show that true religion may exist even when the mass are evil. Compare the notes on Romans 11:4.
Which have not defiled their garments - Compare the notes on Jude 1:23. The meaning is, that they had not defiled themselves by coming in contact with the profane and the polluted; or, in other words, they had kept themselves free from the prevailing corruption. They were like persons clothed in white walking in the midst of the defiled, yet keeping their raiment from being soiled.
And they shall walk with me in white - White is the emblem of innocence, and is hence appropriately represented as the color of the raiment of the heavenly inhabitants. The persons here referred to had kept their garments uncontaminated on the earth, and as an appropriate reward it is said that they would appear in white raiment in heaven. Compare Revelation 7:9; Revelation 19:8.
For they are worthy - They have shown themselves worthy to be regarded as followers of the Lamb; or, they have a character that is suited for heaven. The declaration is not that they have any claim to heaven on the ground of their own merit, or that it will be in virtue of their own works that they will be received there; but that there is a fitness or propriety that they should thus appear in heaven. We are all personally unworthy to be admitted to heaven, but we may evince such a character as to show that, according to the arrangements of grace, it is fit and proper that we should be received there. We have the character to which God has promised eternal life.
He that overcometh - See the notes on Revelation 2:7.
The same shall be clothed in white raiment - Whosoever he may be that shall overcome sin and the temptations of this world, shall be admitted to this glorious reward. The promise is made not only to those in Sardis who should be victorious, but to all in every age and every land. The hope that is thus held out before us, is that of appearing with the Redeemer in his kingdom, clad in robes expressive of holiness and joy.
And I will not blot out his name out of the book of life - The book which contains the names of those who are to live with him forever. The names of his people are thus represented as enrolled in a book which he keeps - a register of those who are to live forever. The phrase “book of life” frequently occurs in the Bible, representing this idea. See the notes on Philemon 4:3. Compare Revelation 15:3; Revelation 20:12, Revelation 20:15; Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:19. The expression “I will not blot out” means, that the names would be found there on the great day of final account, and would be found there forever. It may be remarked, that as no one can have access to that book but he who keeps it, there is the most positive assurance that it will never be done, and the salvation of the redeemed will be, therefore, secure. And let it be remembered that the period is coming when it will be felt to be a higher honor to have the name enrolled in that book than in the books of heraldry - in the most splendid catalogue of princes, poets, warriors, nobles, or statesmen that the world has produced.
But I will confess his name, - I will acknowledge him to be my follower. See the notes on Matthew 10:32.
He that hath an ear - See the notes on Revelation 2:7.
The Epistle to the Church in Philadelphia
This epistle Revelation 3:7-13 comprises the following subjects:
(1)The usual address to the angel of the church, Revelation 3:7.(2)the reference to some attribute or characteristic of the speaker, Revelation 3:7. He here addresses the church as one who is holy and true; as he who has the key of David, and who can shut and no one can open, and open and no one can shut. The representation is that of one who occupies a royal palace, and who can admit or exclude anyone whom he pleases. The reference to such a palace is continued through the epistle. (3)the usual declaration that he knows their works, and that he has found that they had strength, though but a little, and had kept his word, Revelation 3:8. (4)adeclaration that he would constrain some who professed that they were Jews, but who were of the synagogue of Satan, to come and humble themselves before them, Revelation 3:9. (5)the particular promise to that church. He would keep them in the hour of temptation that was coming to try all that dwelt upon the earth, Revelation 3:10. (6)the command addressed to them as to the other churches. He solemnly enjoins it on them to see that no one should take their crown, or deprive them of the reward which he would give to his faithful followers, Revelation 3:11. (7)ageneral promise, in view of the circumstances in Philadelphia, to all who should overcome, Revelation 3:12. They would be made a pillar in the temple of God, and go no more out. They would have written on themselves the name of his God, and the name of the holy city - showing that they were inhabitants of the heavenly world. (8)the usual call on all to attend to what was said to the churches, Revelation 3:13.
Philadelphia stood about 25 miles south-cast from Sardis, in the plain of Hermus, and about midway between the river of that name and the termination of Mount Tmolus. It was the second city in Lydia, and was built by King Attalus Philadelphus, from whom it received its name. In the year 133 b.c. the place passed, with the country in the vicinity, under the dominion of the Romans. The site is reported by Strabo to be liable to earthquakes, but it continued to be a place of importance down to the Byzantine age; and, of all the towns in Asia Minor, it withstood the Turks the longest. It was taken by Bajazat, 1392 a.d. “It still exists as a Turkish town, under the name of Allah Shehr, ‹City of God,‘ that is, the ‹High Town.‘ It covers a considerable extent of ground, running up the slopes of four hills, or rather of one hill with four flat summits. The country, as viewed from these hills, is extremely magnificent - gardens and vineyards lying at the back and sides of the town, and before it one of the most beautiful and extensive plains of Asia. The missionaries Fisk and Parsons were informed by the Greek bishop that the town contained 3,000 houses, of which he assigned 250 to the Greeks, and the rest to the Turks (the mid-19th century). On the same authority it is stated that there are five churches in the town, besides twenty others which were too old or too small for use. Six minarets, indicating as many mosques, are seen in the town, and one of these mosques is believed by the native Christians to have been the church in which assembled the primitive Christians addressed in the Apocalypse. There are few ruins; but in one part are four pillars, which are supposed to have been columns of a church.One solitary pillar has been often noticed, as reminding beholders of the remarkable words in the Apocalypse - ‹Him that overcometh I will make a pillar in the temple of my God‘” (Kitto‘s Encyclopedia. See also the Missionary Herald for 1821, p. 253; 1839, pp. 210-212). The town is the seat of a Greek archbishop, with about twenty inferior clergy. The streets are narrow, and are described as remarkably filthy. The engraving in this volume will give a representation of the town as it now appears.
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia - See the notes on Revelation 1:20.
These things saith he that is holy - This refers undoubtedly to the Lord Jesus. The appellation holy, or the holy one, is one that befits him, and is not infrequently given to him in the New Testament, Luke 1:35; Acts 2:27; Acts 3:14. It is not only an appellation appropriate to the Saviour, but well adapted to be employed when he is addressing the churches. Our impression of what is said to us will often depend much on our idea of the character of him who addresses us, and solemnity and thoughtfulness always become us when we are addressed by a holy Redeemer.
He that is true - Another characteristic of the Saviour well suited to be referred to when he addresses people. It is a characteristic often ascribed to him in the New Testament (John 1:9, John 1:14, John 1:17; John 8:40, John 8:45; John 14:6; John 18:37; 1 John 5:20), and one which is eminently adapted to impress the mind with solemn thought in view of the fact that he is to pronounce on our character, and to determine our destiny.
He that hath the key of David - This expression is manifestly taken from Isaiah 22:22, “And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder.” See the passage explained in the notes on that place. As used by Isaiah, the phrase is applied to Eliakim; and it is not to be inferred, because the language here is applied to the Lord Jesus, that originally it had any such reference. “The application of the same terms,” says Prof. Alexander on Isaiah 22:22, “to Peter Matthew 16:19, and to Christ himself Revelation 3:7, does not prove that they here refer to either, or that Eliakim was a type of Christ, but merely that the same words admit of different applications.” The language is what properly denotes authority or control - as when one has the key of a house, and has unlimited access to it; and the meaning here is, that as David is represented as the king of Israel residing in a palace, so he who had the key to that palace had regal authority.
He that openeth, and no man shutteth, - He has free and unrestrained access to the house; the power of admitting anyone, or of excluding anyone. Applied here to the Saviour, as king in Zion, this means that in his kingdom he has the absolute control in regard to tire admission or exclusion of anyone. He can prescribe the terms; he can invite whom he chooses; he can exclude those whom he judges should not be admitted. A reference to this absolute control was every way proper when he was addressing a church, and is every way proper for us to reflect on when we think of the subject of our personal salvation.
I know thy works - See the notes on Revelation 2:2.
Behold, I have set before thee an open door - Referring to his authority as stated in Revelation 3:7. The “open door” here evidently refers to the enjoyment of some privilege or honor; and, so far as the language is concerned, it may refer to any one of the following things - either:
(1)the ability to do good - represented as the “opening of the door.” Compare Acts 14:27; 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3.(2)the privilege of access to the heavenly palace; that is, that they had an abundant opportunity of securing their salvation, the door being never closed against them by day or by night. Compare Revelation 21:25. Or. (3)it may mean that they had before them an open way of egress from danger and persecution.
This latter Prof. Stuart supposes to be the true meaning; and argues this because it is immediately specified that those Jewish persecutors would be made to humble themselves, and that the church would but lightly experience the troubles which were coming upon the world around them. But the more natural interpretation of the phrase “an open door” is that it refers to access to a thing rather than egress from a thing; that we may come to what we desire to approach, rather than escape from what we dread. There is no objection, it seems to me, to the supposition that the language may be used here in the largest sense - as denoting that, in regard to the church at Philadelphia, there was no restraint. He had given them the most unlimited privileges. The temple of salvation was thrown open to them; the celestial city was accessible; the whole world was before them as a field of usefulness, and anywhere, and everywhere, they might do good, and at all times they might have access to the kingdom of God.
And no man can shut it - No one has the power of preventing this, for he who has control over all things concedes these privileges to you.
For then hast a little strength - This would imply that they had not great vigor, but still that, notwithstanding there were so many obstacles to their doing good, and so many temptations to evil, there still remained with them some degree of energy. They were not wholly dead; and as long as that was the case, the door was still open for them to do good. The words “little strength” may refer either to the smallness of the number - meaning that they were few; or it may refer to the spiritual life and energy of the church - meaning that, though feeble, their vital energy was not wholly gone. The more natural interpretation seems to be to refer it to the latter; and the sense is, that although they had not the highest degree of energy, or had not all that the Saviour desired they should have, they were not wholly dead. The Saviour saw among them the evidences of spiritual life; and in view of that he says he had set before them an open door, and there was abundant opportunity to employ all the energy and zeal which they had. It may be remarked that the same thing is true now; that wherever there is any vitality in a church, the Saviour will furnish ample opportunity that it may be employed in his service.
And hast not denied my name - When Christians were brought before pagan magistrates in times of persecution, they were required to renounce the name of Christ, and to disown him in a public manner. It is possible that, amidst the persecutions that raged in the early times, the members of the church at Philadelphia had been summoned to such a trial, and they had stood the trial firmly. It would seem from the following verse, that the efforts which had been made to induce them to renounce the name of Christ had been made by those who professed to be Jews, though they evinced the spirit of Satan. If so, then the attempt was probably to convince them that Jesus was not the Christ. This attempt would be made in all places where there were Jews.
Behold, I will make - Greek, “I give” - δίδωμι didōmithat is, I will arrange matters so that this shall occur. The word implies that he had power to do this, and consequently proves that he has power over the heart of man, and Call secure such a result as he chooses. Them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews - Who profess to be Jews, but are really of the synagogue of Satan. See the notes on Revelation 2:9. The meaning is, that, though they were of Jewish extraction, and boasted much of being Jews, yet they were really under the influence of Satan, and their assemblages deserved to be called his “synagogue.” And are not, but do lie - It is a false profession altogether. Compare notes on 1 John 1:6. Behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet - The word rendered “worship” here, means, properly, to full prostrate; and then to do homage, or to worship in the proper sense, as this was commonly done by falling prostrate. See the notes on Matthew 2:2. So far as the word is concerned, it may refer either to spiritual homage, that is, the worship of God; or it may mean respect as shown to superiors. If it is used here in the sense of divine worship properly so called, it means that they would be constrained to come and worship “before them,” or in their very presence; if it is used in the more general signification, it means that they would be constrained to show them honor and respect. The latter is the probable meaning; that is, that they would be constrained to acknowledge that they were the children of God, or that God regarded them with his favor. It does not mean necessarily that they would themselves be converted to Christ, but that, as they had been accustomed to revile and oppose those who were true Christians, they would be constrained to come and render them the respect due to those who were sincerely endeavoring to serve their Maker. The truth taught here is, that it is in the power of the Lord Jesus so to turn the hearts of all the enemies of religion that they shall be brought to show respect to it; so to incline the minds of all people that they shall honor the church, or be at least outwardly its friends. Such homage the world shall yet be constrained to pay to it. And to know that I have loved thee - This explains what he had just said, and shows that he means that the enemies of his church will yet be constrained to acknowledge that it enjoys the smiles of God, and that instead of being persecuted and reviled, it should be respected and loved.
Them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews - Who profess to be Jews, but are really of the synagogue of Satan. See the notes on Revelation 2:9. The meaning is, that, though they were of Jewish extraction, and boasted much of being Jews, yet they were really under the influence of Satan, and their assemblages deserved to be called his “synagogue.”
And are not, but do lie - It is a false profession altogether. Compare notes on 1 John 1:6.
Behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet - The word rendered “worship” here, means, properly, to full prostrate; and then to do homage, or to worship in the proper sense, as this was commonly done by falling prostrate. See the notes on Matthew 2:2. So far as the word is concerned, it may refer either to spiritual homage, that is, the worship of God; or it may mean respect as shown to superiors. If it is used here in the sense of divine worship properly so called, it means that they would be constrained to come and worship “before them,” or in their very presence; if it is used in the more general signification, it means that they would be constrained to show them honor and respect. The latter is the probable meaning; that is, that they would be constrained to acknowledge that they were the children of God, or that God regarded them with his favor. It does not mean necessarily that they would themselves be converted to Christ, but that, as they had been accustomed to revile and oppose those who were true Christians, they would be constrained to come and render them the respect due to those who were sincerely endeavoring to serve their Maker. The truth taught here is, that it is in the power of the Lord Jesus so to turn the hearts of all the enemies of religion that they shall be brought to show respect to it; so to incline the minds of all people that they shall honor the church, or be at least outwardly its friends. Such homage the world shall yet be constrained to pay to it.
And to know that I have loved thee - This explains what he had just said, and shows that he means that the enemies of his church will yet be constrained to acknowledge that it enjoys the smiles of God, and that instead of being persecuted and reviled, it should be respected and loved.
Because thou hast kept the word of my patience - My word commanding or enjoining patience; that is, thou hast manifested the patience which I require. They had shown this in the trials which they had experienced; he promises now, that in return he will keep them in the future trials that shall come upon the world. One of the highest rewards of patience in one trial is the grace that God gives us to bear another. The fact that we have been patient and submis sive may be regarded as proof that he will give us grace that we may be patient and submissive in the trials that are to come. God does not leave those who have shown that they will not leave him.
I also will keep thee - That is, I will so keep you that you shall not sink under the trials which will prove a severe temptation to many. This does not mean that they would be actually kept from calamity of all kinds, but that they would be kept from the temptation of apostasy in calamity. He would give them grace to bear up under trials with a Christian spirit, and in such a manner that their salvation should not be endangered.
From the hour of temptation - The season; the time; the period of temptation. You shall be no kept that what will prove to be a time of temptation to so many, shall not endanger your salvation. Though others fall, you shall not; though you may be afflicted with others, yet you shall have grace to sustain you.
Which shall come upon all the world - The phrase used here - “all the world” - may either denote the whole world; or the whole Roman empire; or a large district of country; or the land of Judaea. See the notes on Luke 2:1. Here, perhaps, all that is implied is, that the trial would be very extensive or general - so much so as to embrace the world, as the word was understood by those to whom the epistle was addressed. It need not be supposed that the whole world literally was included in it, or even all the Roman empire, but what was the world to them - the region which they would embrace in that term. If there were some far-spreading calamity in the country where they resided, it would probably be all that would be fairly embraced in the meaning of the word. It is not known to what trial the speaker refers. It may have been some form of persecution, or it may have been some calamity by disease, earthquake, or famine that was to occur. Tacitus (see Wetstein, in loco) mentions an earthquake that sank twelve cities in Asia Minor, in one night, by which, among others, Philadelphia was deeply affected; and ‹it is possible that there may have been reference here to that overwhelming calamity. But nothing can be determined with certainty in regard to this.
To try them that dwell upon the earth - To test their character. It would rather seem from this that the affliction was some form of persecution as adapted to test the fidelity of those who were affected by it. The persecutions in the Roman empire would furnish abundant occasions for such a trial.
Behold, I come quickly - That is, in the trials referred to. Compare the notes on Revelation 1:1, Revelation 1:11, Revelation 1:16.
Hold that fast which thou hast - That is, whatever of truth and piety you now possess. See the notes on Revelation 3:3.
That no man take thy crown - The crown of life appointed for all who are true believers. See the notes on 2 Timothy 4:8. The truth which is taught bore is, that by negligence or unfaithfulness in duty we may be deprived of the glory which we might have obtained if we had been faithful to our God and Saviour. We need to be on our constant guard, that, in a world of temptation, where the enemies of truth abound, we may not be robbed of the crown that we might have worn forever. Compare notes on 2 John 1:8.
Him that overcometh - See the notes on Revelation 2:7.
Will make a pillar in the temple of my God - See the introductory remarks to this epistle. The promised reward of faithfulness here is, that he who was victorious would be honored as if he were a pillar or column in the temple of God. Such a pillar or column was partly for ornament, and partly for support; and the idea here is, that in that temple he would contribute to its beauty and the justness of its proportions, and would see the same time be honored as if he were a pillar which was necessary for the support of the temple. It is not uncommon in the New Testament to represent the church as a temple, and Christians as parts of it. See 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Peter 2:5.
And he shall go no more out - He shall be permanent as a part of that spiritual temple. The idea of “going out” does not properly belong to a pillar; but the speaker here has in his mind the man, though represented as a column. The description of some parts would be applicable more directly to a pillar; in others more properly to a man. Compare John 6:37; John 10:28-29; 1 John 2:19, for an illustration of the sentiment here. The main truth here is, that if we reach heaven, our happiness will be secure forever. We shall have the most absolute certainty that the welfare of the soul will no more be perilled; that we shall never be in danger of falling into temptation; that no artful foe shall ever have power to alienate our affections from God; that we shall never die. Though we may change our place, and may roam from world to world until we shall have surveyed all the wonders of creation, yet we shall never “go out of the temple of God.” Compare the notes on John 14:2. When we reach the heavenly world our conflicts will be over, our doubts at an end. As soon as we cross the threshold we shall be greeted with the assurance, “he shall go no more out forever.” That is to be our eternal abode, and whatever of joy, or felicity, or glory, that bright world can furnish, is to be ours. Happy moment I when, emerging from a world of danger and of doubt, the soul shall settle down into the calmness and peace of that state where there is the assurance of God himself that that world of bliss is to be its eternal abode!
And I will write upon him the name of my God - Considered as a pillar or column in the temple. The name of God would be conspicuously recorded on it to show that he belonged to God. The allusion is to a public edifice, on the columns of which the names of distinguished and honored persons were recorded; that is, where there is a public testimonial of the respect in which one whose name was thus recorded was held. The honor thus conferred on him “who should overcome” would be as great as if the name of that God whom he served, and whose favor and friendship he enjoyed, were inscribed on him in some conspicuous manner. The meaning is, that he would be known and recognized as belonging to God; the God of the Redeemer himself - indicated by the phrase, “the name of my God.”
And the name of the city of my God - That is, indicating that he belongs to that city, or that the New Jerusalem is the city of his habitation. The idea would seem to be, that in this world, and in. all worlds wherever he goes and wherever he abides, he will be recognized as belonging to that holy city; as enjoying the rights and immunities of such a citizen.
Which is New Jerusalem - Jerusalem was the place where the temple was reared, and where the worship of God was celebrated. It thus came to be synonymous with the church - the dwelling-place of God on earth.
Which cometh down out of heaven from my God - See this explained in the notes on Revelation 21:2 ff. Of course this must be a figurative representation, but the idea is plain. It is:
(1)that the church is, in accordance with settled Scripture language, represented as a city - the abode of God on earth.(2)that is, instead of being built here, or having an earthly origin, it has its origin in heaven.
It is as if it had been constructed there, and then sent down to earth ready formed. The type, the form, the whole structure is heavenly. It is a departure from all proper laws of interpretation to explain this literally, as if a city should be actually let down from heaven; and equally so to infer from this passage, and the others of similar import in this book, that a city will be literally reared for the residence of the saints. If the passage proves anything on either of these points, it is, that a great and splendid city, such as that described in Revelation 2:17. The reward, therefore, promised here is, that he who, by persevering fidelity, showed that he was a real friend of the Saviour, would be honored with a permanent abode in the holy city of his habitation, In the church redeemed and triumphant he would have a perpetual dwelling; and wherever he should be, there would be given him sure pledges that he belonged to him, and was recognized as a citizen of the heavenly world. To no higher honor could any man aspire; and yet that is an honor to which the most humble and lowly may attain by faith in the Son of God.
The Epistle to the Church at Laodicea
The contents of the epistle to the church at Laodicea Revelation 3:14-22 are as follows:
(1)The usual salutation to the angel of the church, Revelation 3:14,(2)The reference to the attributes of the speaker - the one here referred to being that he was the “Amen,” “the faithful and true witness,” and “the beginning of the creation of God,” Revelation 3:14. (3)the claim that he knew all their works, Revelation 3:15. (4)the characteristic of the church: it was “lukewarm” - neither “cold nor hot,” Revelation 3:15. (5)the punishment threatened, that he would “spue them out of his mouth,” Revelation 3:16. (6)asolemn reproof of their self-confidence, of their ignorance of themselves, an of their pride, when they were in fact poor, and blind, and naked; and a solemn counsel to them to apply to him for those things which would make them truly rich - which would cover up the shame of their nakedness, and which would give them clear spiritual vision, Revelation 3:17-18. (7)acommand to repent, in view of the fact that he rebukes and chastens those whom he loves. (8)an assurance that an opportunity is still offered for repentance, represented by his standing at the door and praying for admittance, Revelation 3:20. (9)apromise to him that should be victorious - in this case, that he should sit down with him on his throne, Revelation 3:21; and, (10)the usual call on those who had ears to hear, to attend to what the Spirit said to the churches.
Laodicea was situated in the southern part of Phrygia, near the junction of the small rivers Asopus and Carpus, on a plain washed at its edges by each. It was about 40 miles from Ephesus, and not far from Colosse and Hierapolis. In the time of Strabo it was a large city; but the frequency of earthquakes, to which this district has been always liable, demolished, long since, a large part of the city, and destroyed many of the inhabitants, and the place was abandoned, and now lies in ruins. It is now a deserted place, called by the Turks Eski-hissar, or Old Castle. From its ruins, ‹which are numerous, consisting of the remains of temples, theaters, etc., it seems to have been situated on six or seven hills, taking up a large space of ground. The whole rising ground on which the city stood is one vast tumulus of ruins, abandoned entirely to the owl and the fox. Col. Leake says, “There are few ancient sites more likely than Laodicea to preserve many curious remains of antiquity beneath the surface of the soil; its opulence, and the earthquakes to which it was subject, rendering it probable that valuable works of art were there buried beneath the ruins of the public and private edifices.”The neighboring village contains some 50 or 60 people, among whom, on a visit of a recent traveler there, there were only two nominal Christians (circa the mid-19th century). “The name of Christianity,” says Emerson (p. 101), “is forgotten, and the only sounds that disturb the silence of its desertion are the tones of the Muezzin, whose voice from the distant village (Eski-hissar) proclaims the ascendency of Muhammed. Laodicea is even more solitary than Ephesus; for the latter has the prospect of the rolling sea or of a whitening sail to enliven its decay; while the former sits in widowed loneliness, its walls are grass-grown, its temples desolate, its very name has perished.” A thunderstorm gathered on the mountains at a distance while this traveler was examining the ruins of Laodicea. He returned to Eski-hissar, and waited until the fury of the storm had abated, but set off on his journey again before it had entirely ceased to blow and to rain. “We preferred,” says he, “hastening on, to a further delay in that melancholy spot, where everything whispered desolation, and where the very wind that swept impetuously through the valley sounded like the fiendish laugh of time exulting over the destruction of man and his proudest monuments.” See Prof. Stuart, vol. ii. pp. 44,45; Kitto‘s Encyclopedia; “Smith‘s Journey to the Seven Churches,” 1671; Leake, Arundell, Hartley, MacFarlane, Pococke, etc. The engraving in this vol. will furnish a representation of the ruins of Laodicea.
And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write - See the notes on Revelation 1:20.
These things saith the Amen - Referring, as is the case in every epistle, to some attribute of the speaker adapted to impress their minds, or to give special force to what he was about to say to that particular church. Laodicea was characterized by lukewarmness, and the reference to the fact that he who was about to address them was the “Amen” - that is, was characterized by the simple earnestness and sincerity denoted by that word - was eminently suited to make an impression on the minds of such a people. The word “Amen” means “true,” “certain,” “faithful”; and, as used here, it means that he to whom it is applied is eminently true and faithful. What he affirms is true; what he promises or threatens is certain. Himself characterized by sincerity and truth (notes on 2 Corinthians 1:20), he can look with approbation only on the same thing in others: and hence he looks with displeasure on the lukewarmness which, from its very nature, always approximates insincerity. This was an attribute, therefore, every way appropriate to be referred to in addressing a lukewarm church.
The faithful and true witness - This is presenting the idea implied in the word “Amen” in a more complete form, but substantially the same thing is referred to. He is a witness for God and his truth, and he can approve of nothing which the God of truth would not approve. See the notes on Revelation 1:5.
The beginning of the creation of God - This expression is a very important one in regard to the rank and dignity of the Saviour, and, like all similar expressions respecting him, its meaning has been much controverted. Compare the notes on Colossians 1:15. The phrase used here is susceptible, properly, of only one of the following significations, namely, either:
(a)that he was the beginning of the creation in the sense that he caused the universe to begin to exist - that is, that he was the author of all things; or.(b)that he was the first created being; or. (c)that he holds the primacy over all, and is at the head of the universe.
It is not necessary to examine any other proposed interpretations, for the only other senses supposed to be conveyed by the words, that he is the beginning of the creation in the sense I that he rose from the dead as the first-fruits of them that sleep, or that he is the head of the spiritual creation of God, axe so foreign to the natural meaning of the words as to need no special refutation. As to the three significations suggested above, it may be observed, that the first one - that he is the author of the creation, and in that sense the beginning - though expressing a scriptural doctrine John 1:3; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16, is not in accordance with the proper meaning of the word used here - ἀρχὴ archēThe word properly refers to the “commencement” of a thing, not its “authorship,” and denotes properly primacy in time, and primacy in rank, but not primacy in the sense of causing anything to exist. The two ideas which run through the word as it is used in the New Testament are those just suggested. For the former - primacy in regard to time - that is properly the commencement of a thing, see the following passages where the word occurs: Matthew 19:4, Matthew 19:8; Matthew 24:8, Matthew 24:21; Mark 1:1; Mark 10:6; Mark 13:8, Mark 13:19; Luke 1:2; John 1:1-2; John 2:11; John 6:64; John 8:25, John 8:44; John 15:27; John 16:4; Acts 11:15; 1 John 1:1; 1 John 2:7, 1 John 2:13-14, 1 John 2:24; 1 John 3:8, 1 John 3:11; 2 John 1:5-6. For the latter signification, primacy of rank or authority, see the following places: Luke 12:11; Luke 20:20; Romans 8:38; 1 Corinthians 15:24; Ephesians 1:21; Ephesians 3:10; Ephesians 6:12; Colossians 1:16, Colossians 1:18; Colossians 2:10, Colossians 2:15; Titus 3:1. The word is not, therefore, found in the sense of authorship, as denoting that one is the beginning of anything in the sense that he caused it to have an existence. As to the second of the significations suggested, that it means that he was the first created being, it may be observed:(a) that this is not a necessary signification of the phrase, since no one can show that this is the only proper meaning which could be given to the words, and therefore the phrase cannot be adduced to prove that he is himself a created being. If it were demonstrated from other sources that Christ was, in fact, a created being, and the first that God had made, it cannot be denied that this language would appropriately express that fact. But it cannot be made out from the mere use of the language here; and as the language is susceptible of other interpretations, it cannot be employed to prove that Christ is a created being. (b) Such an interpretation would be at variance with all those passages which speak of him as uncreated and eternal; which ascribe divine attributes to him; which speak of him as himself the Creator of all things. Compare John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2, Hebrews 1:6, Hebrews 1:8, Hebrews 1:10-12. The third signification, therefore, remains, that he is “the beginning of the creation of God,” in the sense that he is the head or prince of the creation; that is, that he presides over it so far as the purposes of redemption are to be accomplished, and so far as is necessary for those purposes. This is:
(1)in accordance with the meaning of the word, Luke 12:11; Luke 20:20, et al. ut supra; and,(2)in accordance with the uniform statements respecting the Redeemer, that “all power is given unto him in heaven and in earth” Matthew 28:18; that God has “given him power over all flesh” John 17:2; that all things are “put under his feet” the. John 2:8; 1 Corinthians 15:27); that he is exalted over all things, Ephesians 1:20-22. Having this rank, it was proper that he should speak with authority to the church at Laodicea.
I know thy works - notes on Revelation 2:2.
That thou art neither cold nor hot - The word “cold” here would seem to denote the state where there was no pretension to religion; where everything was utterly lifeless and dead. The language is obviously figurative, but it is such as is often employed, when we speak of one as being cold toward another, as having a cold or icy heart, etc. The word “hot” would denote, of course, the opposite - warm and zealous in their love and service. The very words that we are constrained to use when speaking on this subject - such words as ardent (that is, hot or burning); fervid (that is, very hot, burning, boiling) - show how necessary it is to use such words, and how common it is. The state indicated here, therefore, would be that in which there was a profession of religion, but no warm-hearted piety; in which there was not, on the one hand, open and honest opposition to him, and, on the other, such warm-hearted and honest love as he had a right to look for among his professed friends; in which there was a profession of that religion which ought to warm the heart with love, and fill the soul with zeal in the cause of the Redeemer; but where the only result, in fact, was deadness and indifference to him and his cause. Among those who made no profession he had reason to expect nothing but coldness; among those who made a profession he had a right to expect the glow of a warm affection; but he found nothing but indifference.
I would thou wert cold or hot - That is, I would prefer either of those states to what now exists. Anything better than this condition, where love is professed, but where it does not exist; where vows have been assumed which are not fulfilled. Why he would prefer that they should be “hot” is clear enough; but why would he prefer a state of utter coldness - a state where there was no profession of real love? To this question the following answers may be given:(1) Such a state of open and professed coldness or indifference is more honest. There is no disguise; no concealment; no pretence. We know where one in this state “may be found”; we know with whom we are dealing; we know what to expect. Sad as the state is, it is at least honest; and we are so made that we all prefer such a character to one where professions are made which are never to be realized - to a state of insincerity and hypocrisy. (2) such a state is more honorable. It is a more elevated condition of mind, and marks a higher character. Of a man who is false to his engagements, who makes professions and promises never to be realized, we can make nothing. There is essential meanness in such a character, and there is nothing in it which we can respect. But in the character of the man who is openly and avowedly opposed to anything; who takes his stand, and is earnest and zealous in his course, though it be wrong, there are traits which may be, under a better direction, elements of true greatness and magnanimity. In the character of Saul of Tarsus there were always the elements of true greatness; in that of Judas Iscariot there were never. The one was capable of becoming one of the noblest men that has ever lived on the earth; the other, even under the personal teaching of the Redeemer for years, was nothing but a traitor - a man of essential meanness. (3) there is more hope of conversion and salvation in such a case. There could always have been a ground of hope that Saul would be converted and saved, even when “breathing out threatening and slaughter”; of Judas, when numbered among the professed disciples of the Saviour, there was no hope. The most hopeless of all persons, in regard to salvation, are those who are members of the church without any true religion; who have made a profession without any evidence of personal piety; who are content with a name to live. This is so, because: (a) the essential character of anyone who will allow himself to do this is eminently unfavorable to true religion. There is a lack of that thorough honesty and sincerity which is so necessary for true conversion to God. He who is content to profess to be what he really is not, is riot a man on whom the truths of Christianity are likely to make an impression. (b) Such a mall never applies the truth to himself. Truth that is addressed to impenitent sinners he does not apply to himself, of course; for he does not rank himself in that class of persons. Truth addressed to hypocrites he will not apply to himself; for no one, however insincere and hollow he may be, chooses to act on the presumption that he is himself a hypocrite, or so as to leave others to suppose that he regards himself as such. The means of grace adapted to save a sinner, as such, he will not use; for he is in the church, and chooses to regard himself as safe. Efforts made to reclaim him he will resist; for he will regard it as proof of a meddlesome spirit, and an uncharitable judging in others, if they consider him to be anything different from what he professes to be. What right have they to go back of his profession, and assume that he is insincere? As a consequence, there are probably fewer persons by far converted of those who come into the church without any religion, than of any other class of persons of similar number; and the most hopeless of all conditions, in respect to conversion and salvation, is when one enters the church deceived. (c) It may be presumed that, for these reasons, God himself will make less direct effort to convert and save such persons. As there are fewer appeals that can be brought to bear on them; as there is less in their character that is noble, and that can be depended on in promoting the salvation of a soul; and as there is special guilt in hypocrisy, it may be presumed that God will more frequently leave such persons to their chosen course, than he will those who make no professions of religion. Comp, Psalm 109:17-18; Jeremiah 7:16; Jeremiah 11:14; Jeremiah 14:11; Isaiah 1:15; Hosea 4:17.
So then because thou art lukewarm I will spue thee out of my mouth - Referring, perhaps, to the well-known fact that tepid water tends to produce sickness at the stomach, and an inclination to vomit. The image is intensely strong, and denotes deep disgust and loathing at the indifference which prevailed in the church at Laodicea. The idea is, that they would be utterly rejected and cast off as a church - a threatening of which there has been an abundant fulfillment in subsequent times. It may be remarked, also, that what was threatened to that church may be expected to occur to all churches, if they are in the same condition; and that all professing Christians, and Christian churches, that are lukewarm, have special reason to dread the indignation of the Saviour.
Because thou sayest, I am rich - So far as the language here is concerned, this may refer either to riches literally, or to spiritual riches; that is, to a boast of having religion enough. Prof. Stuart supposes that it refers to the former, and so do Wetstein, Vitringa, and others. Doddridge, Rosenmuller, and others, understand it in the latter sense. There is no doubt that there was much wealth in Laodicea, and that, as a people, they prided themselves on their riches. See the authorities in Wetstein on Colossians 2:1, and Vitringa, p. 160. It is not easy to determine which is the true sense; but may it not have been that there was an allusion to both, and that, in every respect, they boasted that they had enough? May it not have been so much the characteristic of that people to boast of their wealth, that they carried the spirit into everything, and manifested it even in regard to religion? Is it not true that they who have much of this world‘s goods, when they make a profession of religion, are very apt to suppose that they are well off in everything, and to feel self-complacent and happy? And is not the possession of much wealth by an individual Christian, or a Christian church, likely to produce just the lukewarmness which it is said existed in the church at Laodicea? If we thus understand it, there will be an accordance with the well-known fact that Laodicea was distinguished for its riches, and, at the same time, with another fact, so common as to be almost universal, that the possession of great wealth tends to make a professed Christian self-complacent and satisfied in every respect; to make him feel that, although he may not have much religion, yet he is on the whole well off; and to produce, in religion, a state of just such lukewarmness as the Saviour here says was loathsome and odious.
And increased with goods - πεπλουτηκα peploutēka- “am enriched.” This is only a more emphatic and intensive way of saying the same thing. It has no reference to the kind of riches referred to, but merely denotes the confident manner in which they affirmed that they were rich. And have need of nothing - Still an emphatic and intensive way of saying that they were rich. In all respects their needs were satisfied; they had enough of everything. They felt, therefore, no stimulus to effort; they sat down in contentment, self-complacency, and indifference. It is almost unavoidable that those who are rich in this world‘s goods should feel that they have need of nothing. There is no more common illusion among people than the feeling that if one has wealth he has everything; that there is no want of his nature which cannot be satisfied with that; and that he may now sit down in contentment and ease. Hence, the almost universal desire to be rich; hence the common feeling among those who are rich that there is no occasion for solicitude or care for anything else. Compare Luke 12:19. And knowest not - There is no just impression in regard to the real poverty and wretchedness of your condition. That thou art wretched - The word “wretched” we now use to denote the actual consciousness of being miserable, as applicable to one who is sunk into deep distress or affliction. The word here, however, refers rather, to the condition itself than to the consciousness of that condition, for it is said that they did not know it. Their state was, in fact, a miserable state, and was suited to produce actual distress if they had had any just sense of it, though they thought that it was otherwise. And miserable - This word has, with us now, a similar signification; but the term used here - ἐληινὸς elēinos- rather means a pitiable state than one actually felt to be so. The meaning is, that their condition was one that was suited to excite pity or compassion; not that they were actually miserable. Compare the notes on 1 Corinthians 15:19. And poor - Notwithstanding all their boast of having enough. They really had not what was necessary to meet the actual needs of their nature, and, therefore, they were poor. Their worldly property could not meet the needs of their souls; and, with all their pretensions to piety, they had not religion enough to meet the necessities of their nature when calamities should come, or when death should approach; and they were, therefore, in the strictest sense of the term, poor. And blind - That is, in a spiritual respect. They did not see the reality of their condition; they had no just views of themselves, of the character of God, of the way of salvation. This seems to be said in connection with the boast which they made in their own minds - that they had everything; that they wanted nothing. One of the great blessings of life is clearness of vision, and their boast that they had everything must have included that; but the speaker here says that they lacked that indispensable thing to completeness of character and to full enjoyment. With all their boasting, they were actually blind - and how could one who was in that state say that he “had need of nothing?” And naked - Of course, spiritually. Salvation is often represented as a garment Matthew 22:11-12; Revelation 6:11; Revelation 7:9, Revelation 7:13-14; and the declaration here is equivalent to saying that they had no religion. They had nothing to cover the nakedness of the soul, and in respect to the real needs of their nature they were like one who had no clothing in reference to cold, and heat, and storms, and to the shame of nakedness. How could such an one be regarded as rich? We may learn from this instructive verse:
And have need of nothing - Still an emphatic and intensive way of saying that they were rich. In all respects their needs were satisfied; they had enough of everything. They felt, therefore, no stimulus to effort; they sat down in contentment, self-complacency, and indifference. It is almost unavoidable that those who are rich in this world‘s goods should feel that they have need of nothing. There is no more common illusion among people than the feeling that if one has wealth he has everything; that there is no want of his nature which cannot be satisfied with that; and that he may now sit down in contentment and ease. Hence, the almost universal desire to be rich; hence the common feeling among those who are rich that there is no occasion for solicitude or care for anything else. Compare Luke 12:19.
And knowest not - There is no just impression in regard to the real poverty and wretchedness of your condition.
That thou art wretched - The word “wretched” we now use to denote the actual consciousness of being miserable, as applicable to one who is sunk into deep distress or affliction. The word here, however, refers rather, to the condition itself than to the consciousness of that condition, for it is said that they did not know it. Their state was, in fact, a miserable state, and was suited to produce actual distress if they had had any just sense of it, though they thought that it was otherwise.
And miserable - This word has, with us now, a similar signification; but the term used here - ἐληινὸς elēinos- rather means a pitiable state than one actually felt to be so. The meaning is, that their condition was one that was suited to excite pity or compassion; not that they were actually miserable. Compare the notes on 1 Corinthians 15:19. And poor - Notwithstanding all their boast of having enough. They really had not what was necessary to meet the actual needs of their nature, and, therefore, they were poor. Their worldly property could not meet the needs of their souls; and, with all their pretensions to piety, they had not religion enough to meet the necessities of their nature when calamities should come, or when death should approach; and they were, therefore, in the strictest sense of the term, poor. And blind - That is, in a spiritual respect. They did not see the reality of their condition; they had no just views of themselves, of the character of God, of the way of salvation. This seems to be said in connection with the boast which they made in their own minds - that they had everything; that they wanted nothing. One of the great blessings of life is clearness of vision, and their boast that they had everything must have included that; but the speaker here says that they lacked that indispensable thing to completeness of character and to full enjoyment. With all their boasting, they were actually blind - and how could one who was in that state say that he “had need of nothing?” And naked - Of course, spiritually. Salvation is often represented as a garment Matthew 22:11-12; Revelation 6:11; Revelation 7:9, Revelation 7:13-14; and the declaration here is equivalent to saying that they had no religion. They had nothing to cover the nakedness of the soul, and in respect to the real needs of their nature they were like one who had no clothing in reference to cold, and heat, and storms, and to the shame of nakedness. How could such an one be regarded as rich? We may learn from this instructive verse:
And poor - Notwithstanding all their boast of having enough. They really had not what was necessary to meet the actual needs of their nature, and, therefore, they were poor. Their worldly property could not meet the needs of their souls; and, with all their pretensions to piety, they had not religion enough to meet the necessities of their nature when calamities should come, or when death should approach; and they were, therefore, in the strictest sense of the term, poor.
And blind - That is, in a spiritual respect. They did not see the reality of their condition; they had no just views of themselves, of the character of God, of the way of salvation. This seems to be said in connection with the boast which they made in their own minds - that they had everything; that they wanted nothing. One of the great blessings of life is clearness of vision, and their boast that they had everything must have included that; but the speaker here says that they lacked that indispensable thing to completeness of character and to full enjoyment. With all their boasting, they were actually blind - and how could one who was in that state say that he “had need of nothing?”
And naked - Of course, spiritually. Salvation is often represented as a garment Matthew 22:11-12; Revelation 6:11; Revelation 7:9, Revelation 7:13-14; and the declaration here is equivalent to saying that they had no religion. They had nothing to cover the nakedness of the soul, and in respect to the real needs of their nature they were like one who had no clothing in reference to cold, and heat, and storms, and to the shame of nakedness. How could such an one be regarded as rich? We may learn from this instructive verse:(1) That people may think themselves to be rich, and yet, in fact, be miserably poor. They may have the wealth of this world in abundance, and yet have nothing that really will meet their needs in disappointment, bereavement, sickness, death; the needs of their never-dying soul; their needs in eternity. What had the “rich fool,” as he is commonly termed, in the parable, when he came to die? Luke 12:16 ff. What had “Dives,” as he is commonly termed, to meet the needs of his nature when he went down to hell? Luke 16:19 ff.
I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire - Pure gold; such as has been subjected to the action of heat to purify it from dross. See the notes on 1 Peter 1:7. Gold here is emblematic of religion - as being the most precious of the metals, and the most valued by human beings. They professed to be rich, but were not; and he counsels them to obtain from him what would make them truly rich.
That thou mayest be rich - In the true and proper sense of the word. With true religion; with the favor and friendship of the Redeemer, they would have all that they really needed, and would never be in want.
And white raiment - The emblem of purity and salvation. See the notes on Revelation 3:4. This is said in reference to the fact Revelation 3:17 that they were then naked.
That thou mayest be clothed - With the garments of salvation. This refers, also, to true religion, meaning that what the Redeemer furnishes will answer the same purpose in respect to the soul which clothing does in reference to the body. Of course it cannot be understood literally, nor should the language be pressed too closely, as if there was too strict a resemblance.
And that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear - We clothe the body as well for decency as for protection against cold, and storm, and heat. The soul is to be clothed that the “shame” of its sinfulness may not be exhibited, and that it may not be offensive and repellent in the sight.
And anoint thine eyes with eye-salve - In allusion to the fact that they were blind, Revelation 3:17. The word “eye-salve” - κολλούριον kollourion- occurs no where else in the New Testament. It is a diminutive from κολλύρα kollura- collyra - a coarse bread or cake, and means properly a small cake or cracknel. It is applied to eye-salve as resembling such a cake, and refers to a medicament prepared for sore or weak eyes. It was compounded of various substances supposed to have a healing quality. See Wetstein, in loco. The reference here is to a spiritual healing - meaning that, ill respect to their spiritual vision, what he would furnish would produce the same effect as the collyrium or eye-salve would in diseased eyes. The idea is, that the grace of the gospel enables people who were before blind to see clearly the character of God, the beauty of the way of salvation, the loveliness of the person and work of Christ, etc. See the notes on Ephesians 1:18.
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten - Of course, only on the supposition that they deserve it. The meaning is, that it is a proof of love on his part, if his professed friends go astray, to recall them by admonitions and by trials. So a father calls back his children who are disobedient; and there is no higher proof of his love than when, with great pain to himself, he administers such chastisement as shall save his child. See the sentiment here expressed fully explained in the notes on Hebrews 12:6. The language is taken from Proverbs 3:12.
Be zealous therefore, and repent - Be earnest, strenuous, ardent in your purpose to exercise true repentance, and to turn from the error of your ways. Lose no time; spare no labor, that you may obtain such a state of mind that it shall not be necessary to bring upon you the severe discipline which always comes on those who continue lukewarm in religion. The truth taught here is, that when the professed followers of Christ have become lukewarm in his service, they should lose no time in returning to him, anti seeking his favor again. As sure as he has any true love for them, if this is not done he will bring upon them some heavy calamity, alike to rebuke them for their errors, and to recover them to himself.
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock - Intimating that, though they had erred, the way of repentance and hope was not closed against them. He was still willing to be gracious, though their conduct had been such as to be loathsome, Revelation 3:16. To see the real force of this language, we must remember how disgusting and offensive their conduct had been to him. And yet he was willing, notwithstanding this, to receive them to his favor; nay more, he stood and pled with them that he might be received with the hospitality that would be shown to a friend or stranger. The language here is so plain that it scarcely needs explanation. It is taken from an act when we approach a dwelling, and, by a well-understood sign - knocking - announce our presence, and ask for admission. The act of knocking implies two things:
(a)that we desire admittance; and,(b)that we recognize the right of him who dwells in the house to open the door to us or not, as he shall please.
We would not obtrude upon him; we would not force his door; and if, after we are sure that we are heard, we are not admitted, we turn quietly away. Both of these things are implied here by the language used by the Saviour when he approaches man as represented under the image of knocking at the door: that he desires to be admitted to our friendship; and that he recognizes our freedom in the matter. He does not obtrude himself upon us, nor does he employ force to find admission to the heart. If admitted, he comes and dwells with us; if rejected, he turns quietly away - perhaps to return and knock again, perhaps never to come back. The language used here, also, may be understood as applicable to all persons, and to all the methods by which the Saviour seeks to come into the heart of a sinner. It would properly refer to anything which would announce his presence: his word; his Spirit; the solemn events of his providence; the invitations of his gospel. In these and in other methods he comes to man; and the manner in which these invitations ought to be estimated would be seen by supposing that he came to us personally and solicited our friendship, and proposed to be our Redeemer. It may be added here, that this expression proves that the attempt at reconciliation begins with the Saviour. It is not that the sinner goes out to meet him, or to seek for him; it is that the Saviour presents himself at the door of the heart, as if he were desirous to enjoy the friendship of man. This is in accordance with the uniform language of the New Testament, that “God so loved the world as to give his only-begotten Son”; that “Christ came to seek and to save the lost”; that the Saviour says, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden,” etc. Salvation, in the Scriptures, is never represented as originated by man.
If any man hear my voice - Perhaps referring to a custom then prevailing, that he who knocked spake, in order to let it be known who it was. This might be demanded in the night Luke 11:5, or when there was apprehension of danger, and it may have been the custom when John wrote. The language here, in accordance with the uniform usage in the Scriptures (compare Isaiah 55:1; John 7:37; Revelation 22:17), is universal, and proves that the invitations of the gospel are made, and are to be made, not to a part only, but fully and freely to all people; for, although this originally had reference to the members of the church in Laodicea, yet the language chosen seems to have been of design so universal ( ἐάν τις ean tis) as to be applicable to every human being; and anyone, of any age and in any land, would be authorized to apply this to himself, and, under the protection of this invitation, to come to the Saviour, and to plead this promise as one that fairly included himself. It may be observed further, that this also recognizes the freedom of man. It is submitted to him whether he will hear the voice of the Redeemer or not; and whether he will open the door and admit him or not. He speaks loud enough, and distinctly enough, to be heard, but he does not force the door if it is not voluntarily opened. And open the door - As one would when a stranger or friend stood and knocked. The meaning here is simply, if anyone will admit me; that is, receive me as a friend. The act of receiving him is as voluntary on our part as it is when we rise and open the door to one who knocks. It may be added: (1)that this is an easy thing. Nothing is more easy than to open the door when one knocks; and so everywhere in the Scriptures it is represented as an easy thing, if the heart is willing, to secure the salvation of the soul. We invite him who knocks at the door to come in. We always assume, unless there is reason to suspect the contrary, that he applies for peaceful and friendly purposes. We deem it the height of rudeness to let one stand and knock long; or to let him go away with no friendly invitation to enter our dwelling. Yet how different does the sinner treat the Saviour! How long does he suffer him to knock at the door of his heart, with no invitation to enter - no act of common civility such as that with which he would greet even a stranger! And with how much coolness and indifference does he see him turn away - perhaps to come back no more, and with no desire that he ever should return! I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me - This is an image denoting intimacy and friendship. Supper, with the ancients, was the principal social meal; and the idea here is, that between the Saviour and those who would receive him there would be the intimacy which subsists between those who sit down to a friendly meal together. In all countries and times, to eat together, to break bread together, has been the symbol of friendship, and this the Saviour promises here. The truths, then, which are taught in this verse, are: (1)that the invitation of the gospel is made to all - “if any man hear my voice”;
And open the door - As one would when a stranger or friend stood and knocked. The meaning here is simply, if anyone will admit me; that is, receive me as a friend. The act of receiving him is as voluntary on our part as it is when we rise and open the door to one who knocks. It may be added:
(1)that this is an easy thing. Nothing is more easy than to open the door when one knocks; and so everywhere in the Scriptures it is represented as an easy thing, if the heart is willing, to secure the salvation of the soul.(2)this is a reasonable thing.
We invite him who knocks at the door to come in. We always assume, unless there is reason to suspect the contrary, that he applies for peaceful and friendly purposes. We deem it the height of rudeness to let one stand and knock long; or to let him go away with no friendly invitation to enter our dwelling. Yet how different does the sinner treat the Saviour! How long does he suffer him to knock at the door of his heart, with no invitation to enter - no act of common civility such as that with which he would greet even a stranger! And with how much coolness and indifference does he see him turn away - perhaps to come back no more, and with no desire that he ever should return!
I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me - This is an image denoting intimacy and friendship. Supper, with the ancients, was the principal social meal; and the idea here is, that between the Saviour and those who would receive him there would be the intimacy which subsists between those who sit down to a friendly meal together. In all countries and times, to eat together, to break bread together, has been the symbol of friendship, and this the Saviour promises here. The truths, then, which are taught in this verse, are:
(1)that the invitation of the gospel is made to all - “if any man hear my voice”;(2)that the movement toward reconciliation and friendship is originated by the Saviour - “behold, I stand at the door and knock”;
To him that overcometh - See the notes on Revelation 2:7.
Will I grant to sit with me in my throne - That is, they will share his honors and his triumphs. See the notes on Revelation 2:26-27; compare the notes on Romans 8:17.
Even as I also overcame - As I gained a victory over the world, and over the power of the tempter. As the reward of this, he is exalted to the throne of the universe Philemon 2:6-11, and in these honors, achieved by their great and glorious Head, all the redeemed will share.
And am set down with my Father in his throne - Compare the notes on Philemon 2:6-11. That is, he has dominion over the universe. All things are put under his feet, and in the strictest unison and with perfect harmony he is united with the Father in administering the affairs of all worlds. The dominion of the Father is that of the Son - that of the Son is that of the Father; for they are one. See the notes on John 5:19; compare the Ephesians 1:20-22 notes; 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 notes.
He that hath an ear - See the notes on Revelation 2:7.This closes the epistolary part of this book, and the “visions” properly commence with the next chapter. Two remarks may be made in the conclusion of this exposition: (1) The first relates to the truthfulness of the predictions in these epistles. is an illustration of that truthfulness, and of the present correspondence of the condition of those churches with what the Saviour said to John they would be, the following striking passage may be introduced from Mr. Gibbon. It occurs in his description of the conquests of the Turks (“Decline and Fall,” iv. 260,261). “Two Turkish chieftains, Sarukhan and Aidin left their names to their conquests, and their conquests to their posterity. The captivity or ruin of the seven churches of Asia was consummated; and the barbarous lords of Ionia and Lydia still trample on the monuments of classic and Christian antiquity. In the loss of Ephesus, the Christians deplored the fall of the first angel, the extinction of the first candlestick of the Revelations: the desolation is complete; and the temple of Diana, or the church of Mary, will equally elude the search of the curious traveler. The circus and three stately theaters of Laodicea are now populated with wolves and foxes; Sardis is reduced to a miserable village; the God of Muhammed, without a rival or a son, is invoked in the mosques of Thyatira and Pergamos; and the populousness of Smyrna is supported by the foreign trade of Franks and Armenians. Philadelphia alone has been saved by prophecy or courage. At a distance from the sea, forgotten by the emperors, encompassed on all sides by the Turks, her valiant citizens defended their religion and freedom above fourscore years, and at length capitulated with the proudest of the Ottomans. Among the Greek colonies and churches of Asia, Philadelphia is still erect, a column in a scene of ruins; a pleasing example that the paths of honor and safety may sometimes be the same.” (2) the second remark relates to the applicability of these important truths to us. There is perhaps no part of the New Testament more searching than these brief epistles to the seven churches; and though those to whom they were addressed have long since passed away, and the churches have long since become extinct; though darkness, error, and desolation have come over the places where these churches once stood, yet the principles laid down in these epistles still live, and they are full of admonition to Christians in all ages and all lands. It is a consideration of as much importance to us as it was to these churches, that the Saviour now knows our works; that he sees in the church, and in any individual, all that there is to commend and all that there is to reprove; that he has power to reward or punish now as he had then; that the same rules in apportioning rewards and punishments will still be acted on; that he who overcomes the temptations of the world will find an appropriate reward; that those who live in sin must meet with the proper recompense, and that those who are lukewarm in his service will be spurned with unutterable loathing. His rebukes are awful; but his promises are full of tenderness and kindness. While they who have embraced error, and they who are living in sin, have occasion to tremble before him, they who are endeavoring to perform their duty may find in these epistles enough to cheer their hearts, and to animate them with the hope of final victory, and of the most ample and glorious reward.
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