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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament
Revelation 3

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-6

Revelation 3:1-6. The message to Sardis. The title of the speaker (drawn from Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:16; Revelation 1:20), as general as in the similar letter to Ephesus, has no special bearing on the subsequent address, unless an antithesis be implied between the plenitude of the divine spirit and the deadness of a church which had the name or credit of being “alive”. The sweeping verdict of Revelation 3:1 upon the formalism of the local church—which had lapsed from its pristine vitality, just as the township of S. had by this time declined from its old historical prestige—is modified by the recognition of better elements not yet too far gone in decay to be recovered (2) and of a goodly nucleus of members. The metaphor is paralleled by a Jewish estimate of orthodoxy (Kidd. 71 b) which dubbed Mesene as “dead,” Media as “ill,” Elymais as “in extremis,” and the strict inhabitants of the Ghetto between the Tigris and the Euphrates as “healthy”.


Verse 2

Revelation 3:2. ἔμελλον, epistol. impf.— σου ἔργα, “any works of thine”. Judged from the Divine standpoint ( ἐνωπ. θ.), no matter how satisfactory is the verdict of outsiders upon her or of her own complacency, her condition is decadent.


Verse 3

Revelation 3:3. Memory again the lever for repentance (as at Revelation 2:5); εἴληφας aoristic pf. (cf. Revelation 5:7, Burton 88) rather than pf. of existing result (Weiss, Bs.); πῶς = our colloquial “how” (practically equivalent to “that”). The melancholy feature about contemporary indifference at S. was that it had a fine beginning behind it: yet this very circumstance afforded hopeful ground for an appeal. καὶ τήρει (the primitive deposit of the faith) καὶ (to secure this steadfast adherence) μετανόησον (aor., sharp and decisive act of repentance). As Revelation 3:4 (compared with Revelation 3:2) implies, positive stains were visible in the local church no less than sins of mere omission. Sardis and Laodicea, which apparently were the only members of this group untroubled by outside persecution or inward error, were the least satisfactory of all the seven, ἐὰν οὖν μὴ γρηγορήσῃς, although the need is so desperate (cf. below on Revelation 16:15). The sudden and signal visitation of punishment threatened in the following words (for ὥραν in acc. cf. Moult, i. 63, Abbott’s Diat. 2013) is left vaguely impressive. It may be that (as in Judges 1:4; Judges 1:18, and 2 Peter) local libertinism meant a slackening of belief in the second Advent.


Verse 4

Revelation 3:4. ὀλ. ὀν. “quasi paucos nominatos, i.e., bonos qui nominatione digni sunt” (cf. the use of πρίσωπα = persons or individuals, in Clem. Rom. and Ignat.). ἐμόλ. (cf. Fragment of Uncanonical Gospel, Oxyrhyn. 2 cent. A.D., line 16 μεμολυμμένος ἐπάτησας, κ. τ. λ.) the sullied garment an emblem of moral stains, including but not identical with that of πορνεύειν (Revelation 14:4, cf. Sirach 22:1-2). The language reflects that of the votive inscriptions in Asia Minor, where soiled clothes disqualified the worshipper and dishonoured the god. Moral purity qualifies for spiritual communion (note the dramatic contrast of this ἄξιοι [cf. on Revelation 2:16] with that of Revelation 16:6); the apocalyptic beatitude is: blessed are the pure in life, for they shall join God (see on Revelation 14:14, Revelation 19:8). Note here only in the seven messages an eschatological promise unintroduced by the phrase νικῶν, although Revelation 3:5 really repeats the same idea, οὕτως = “as being victor” (i.e., accordingly). The idea of heavenly raiment is distinctively Persian (Brandt, 575, 580; Lüken, 122), but permeates Jewish eschatology from Enoch (lxii. 15, 16, the elect clothed after the resurrection in eternal “garments of glory”) down to Slav. En. xxii. 8; 4 Ezra 2:39, 45 (cf. Herm. Sim. viii. 2) and Asc. Isa. iv. 16 (garments = spiritual bodies in which the saints are vested at the last day, stored up in seventh heaven; cf. 8:26, 9:24 f., uidi stolas multas et thronos et coronas jacentes). περιβαλεῖται κ. τ. λ., like Joshua (Zechariah 3:3 f.); or (as others suggest) like priests acquitted before the Sanhedrin, who were robed in white. In the Apoc., as in En. lxxxv.–xc., white is the colour of righteousness, associated with innocence (and joy? Ecclesiastes 9:8), just as black with evil. In Apoc. Pet. 5, the dwellers in Paradise are clothed in ἔνδυμα ἀγγέλων φωτινῶν, whilst the angels who (Revelation 3:6) chastise the wicked are robed in black. All such metaphors reflect the primitive notion that clothing somehow could form almost a part of a man’s personality, corresponding to his identity and character (E. Bi. 1140, 1141), rather than the Roman custom of assuming a white toga uirilis to mark entrance upon manhood’s privileges (“uitae liberioris iter,” Ovid).— τῆς βίβλου τῆς ζωῆς, this favourite symbol of the Apocalypse which goes back even to pre-exilic Judaism (Isaiah 4:3, cf. Exodus 32:32 f., etc.; for the Babylonian background, cf. Jeremias, 69 f.), had through the influence of Dan. (Revelation 12:1) a great vogue in apocalyptic dreams as an apt image no longer of a share in the temporal felicity of God’s reign but of personal salvation. For a name to be erased from the book of life (one’s deeds not corresponding, upon scrutiny, to one’s position; cf. Revelation 20:12, Jub. xxxvi. 10) meant condemnation, or exclusion from the heavenly kingdom. To have one’s name retained (“and never will I blot out,” etc.) on the list of heavenly citizens was by this time a current metaphor for eternal fellowship with God and his people, and (by a natural inference drawn in Revelation 13:8) for predestination, the belief in which formed then as always a vivid inspiration in distress and conflict. For the erasure of names from the civic register, consequent upon their owner’s condemnation, cf. Dio Chrys. xxxi. 336 c, ὅταν δημοσίᾳ τινὰ δέῃ τῶν πολιτῶν ἀποθανεῖν ἐπʼ ἀδικήματι, πρότερον τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἐξαλείφεται; Xen. Hell. ii. 3, 51, and Arist. Pac. 1180. Also Dittenberger’s Sylloge inscript. Graec.2 43920 (iv. B.C.) ὃς δʼ ἂν δόξηι μὴ ὢν φράτηρ ἐσαχθῆναι, ἐξαλειψάτο τὸ ὄνομα αὐτο͂ ἱερεύς, and Orientis Græci Inscr. Sel. 218129 (iii. B.C.) ἐξαλείψαντας τὸ ὄνομα τὸ ἐκείνου. The special comfort of this verse is intelligible when one reads the prayer offered in contemporary Jewish worship (cf. Shmone-Esreh xii. Palest, recension): “for apostates let there be no hope, may the kingdom of the haughty quickly collapse in our days, and may the Nazarenes and the Minim suddenly perish, may they be blotted out of the book of Life and not enrolled along with the righteous”.

The message to Sardis, the most vehement of the seven, has some interesting resemblances to that addrtssed to Ephesus; cf. Revelation 2:1 = Revelation 3:1, Revelation 2:5 ( μνημ.) = Revelation 3:3, Revelation 2:5 (visitation) = Revelation 3:5, Revelation 2:6= Revelation 3:4. The hope described in Revelation 3:5 is burlesqued by Lucian (Peregr. xl.) who describes his pseudo-Christian hero as seen after death περιπατοῦντα ἐν λευκῇ ἐσθῆτι, φαιδρόν κοτίνῳ τε ἐστεμμένον. The metaphorical references to raiment gain point in view of the local trade in woollen goods and dyed stuffs.


Verse 7

Revelation 3:7. ἐν φ. Less than twenty years later an equally favourable account of the local church was given by Ignatius (ad Phil. 3, 5, 10). ἅγιος κ. τ. λ., Jesus is a messiah indeed, one deserving that honoured name and realising its meaning. The favourite Johannine term ἀληθινός (=“true,” in the wider sense of “genuine,” opposed to unreal rather than to untruthtul, cf. Justin’s Dial. xcvi., Athen. vi. 253 100: no pseudo-messiah, as local Jews asserted, cf. 8 c and 9) is here grouped with ἅγιος (i.e., not merely = legitimately messianic as in John 10:36, Clem. Rom. xxiii. 5, but freed from creaturely weakness and imperfection, his nature in intimate touch with the divine fulness, Issel: der Begriff der Heiligkeit im N.T., 1887, pp. 70, 110, R. J. 305), as in Revelation 3:14, Revelation 19:11, Revelation 21:5, Revelation 22:6 with πιστός, and in Revelation 15:3, Revelation 16:7, Revelation 19:2 with δίκαιος. Slightly otherwise, Apoc. Bar. lxvii. 7: “He is true, so that he shall do you good and not evil,” and below at Revelation 16:7 (though this sense might suit here also, as an amplification of ἅγιος). κλεῖν κ. τ. λ. (based on Isaiah 22:22) the messiah, as Davidic scion, possesses the absolute power of admission to and exclusion from the divine realm. This part of the title (cf. Job 12:14, ἐὰν κλείσῃ κατὰ ἀνθρώπων τίς ἀνοίξει;) alludes to what immediately follows as well as to the arrogant claim mentioned in Revelation 3:9. Christ alone, the heavenly κλειδοῦχος, has the right to excommunicate. Compare Savonarola’s brave reply to the bishop of Vasona who had pronounced his sentence of degradation (separo te ab ecclesia militante atque triumphante):—Militante, non triumphante: hoc enim tuum non est.


Verses 7-13

Revelation 3:7-13. The message to Philadelphia.


Verse 8

Revelation 3:8. οἶδάἔργα as in the case of Smyrna implying unqualified approval. The reward of this steadfastness (8 c, 10) is threefold: (a) security in their relation to God (8 b), through the love of Christ for them (9); (b) ultimate triumph over their foes (9), and (c) deliverance in the final crisis (10). The open door, here as in Paul (for the ethnic use of the term on sepulchres cf. C. B. P., ii. 395) is usually taken to denote facilities for preaching and advancing the faith among outsiders, in which case the sense would be that the extension of the gospel depends upon, as it forms a high reward of, open confession and a decided stand for Christ. But in view of a passage written by Ignatius to this very church (ad Philad. 3, where Christ himself is termed θύρα τοῦ πατρὸς, διʼ ἧς εἰσέρχονται the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, ͅ καὶ ἐκκλησία) and of Clem. Rom. xlviii. (where the gate of righteousness is described as open in Christ), the phrase is better connected with Christ himself, not with any good opening for Christian activity. He makes access to God through himself sure; despite trials and temptations (Revelation 3:8-10) his church’s standing is guaranteed by his authority (as in John 10:7; John 10:9, Christ θύρα τῶν προβάτων). θύρα here is the open heart of God for man; in Revelation 3:20, man’s open heart for God. Jesus, then, equipped with the O.T. attributes of divine authority, assures the church how futile are such excommunications as the Jews were levelling against them. The latter have nothing to do with the conditions of the kingdom. Faith in Jesus constitutes a relation to God which cannot either be impaired or rivalled. Only, the perseverance of the saints is needed; an assured position with God depends not merely on Christ’s will and power but on Christian loyalty as the coefficient of grace. The church at 2 Peter is not blamed for the slenderness of her equipment, which evidently is due to causes outside her control. She is praised for having made good use of the slight resources she possessed (cf. Mark 14:8). Otherwise, though less well, a full stop might be placed after αὐτήν, and ὅτιτὸ ὄνομα μου taken as the reason for the promise ἰδοὺσε, just as in Revelation 3:10 ὅτιμου is followed by κἀγὼγῆς.— αὐτήν, pleonastic use of pron. after relative, a Semitic idiom with Greek affinities (Vit. ii. 138, Thumb 128, Blass § 50, 4) confined to Apoc. (exc. cit. fr. LXX, Acts 15:17) in N.T. In Enoch (xxxviii. 2, and passim) to deny the Lord of Spirits is the capital crime,’ as opposed to “believing in his name’.


Verse 9

Revelation 3:9. διδῶ ἐκ (partit. gen., the construction being dropped and resumed in a rather harsh anacolouthon, ἵνα κ. τ. λ.). The absence of ἐκ before λεγ. does not prevent it from being interpreted as in apposition to συναγωγῆς rather than as directly dependent on διδῶ. On the forms of δίδωμι in Apocalypse see Jannaris’ Hist. Gk. Gramm. 996, 51; the wide usage of the verb is carried on through the LXX from the equally extended employment of the Hebrew equivalent in the later stages of O.T. literature. The Jewish synagogue is denounced as Satanic, owing to its persecuting habits (Satan being regarded as the final source of persecution as of error, cf. above Revelation 3:8 and on Revelation 2:9). Ignatius corroborates the malign activity of Jews at Philadelphia, who were in the habit of molesting the church (ad Philad. 6); he also refers them to the malicious cunning of Satan. Apparently Judaizing tendencies were rife among Christians of Gentile birth at Philadelphia. As in writing to Smyrna, the prophet thereforeclaimed the ancestral title “Jew” for the Christian church. Faith in Christ, not mere nationality, constituted true Judaism; the succession had passed to Christianity. The prominence assigned to this phase of polemic is characteristic of the eriod, though already presaged by Paul (in Romans 9:6-7; Romans 2:28-29). The supercilious contempt of these churchmen for all Christian dissenters from Judaism was to be changed one day into humble respect. The former would find out their grievous mistake when it was too late. καὶ προσκυνήσουσιν, κ. τ. λ., in the spirit and realistic language of post-exilic Judaism (see reff.), denoting abject submission and homage before the glory of the church in the future messianic reign (slightly otherwise in 1 Corinthians 14:25). What they fondly expected from the Gentiles, they were themselves to render to Christians—such would be the grim irony of providence. Compare with what follows, the earlier expectation of Jub. i. 25: “and they shall all be called children of the living God, and every angel and spirit will know, yea they will know that these are my children, and that I love them”. καὶ γμῶσιν, κ. τ. λ., still Isaianic in colouring (from Isaiah 43:4, Isaiah 49:23). Christ’s love to his church ( ἠγ. = “I have loved”) will be proved by her triumphant survival of perils. Her final position, when the conditions of earth are reversed, will throw light upon the divine affection which underlay her previous perseverance, and which meantime is a secret save to those who experience it. The promise of dominion over the Jews here corresponds to that of authority over the Gentiles in Revelation 2:26-27, except that the latter is definitely eschatological. The Jews tardily awaken to the privileges of the church as to the claims of Jesus (see on Revelation 1:7). Probably they scoffed at the claim of the Philadelphian Christians to be objects of the true God’s love. The answer is that faith in Jesus means a revelation of Divine love (the revelation of it), apart from which no Christian life can be accounted for.


Verse 10

Revelation 3:10. The position of μου shows that it belongs not to τὸν λόγον τῆς ὑπομονῆς as a whole, but to ὑπομονῆς (2 Thessalonians 3:5). The precise sense therefore is not “my word about patience” (i.e., my counsel of patience as the supreme virtue of these latter days, so Weiss, Bousset, etc.), but “the word, or the preaching, of that patience which refers to me” (i.e., the patient endurance with which, amid present trials, Christ is to be served; so Alford, Spitta, Holtzm.). See Psalms 38 (39), 8: καὶ νῦν τίς ὑπομονή μου; οὐχὶ κύριος; The second reason for praising the Philadelphian Christians is their loyal patience under persecution, as well as the loyal confession of Christ (Revelation 3:8) which had possibly brought on that persecution. κἀγὼ κ. τ. λ. (“I in turn”; cf. similar connection in John 17:6-8), a reproduction of the saying preserved in Luke 21:36. The imminent period τοῦ πειρασμοῦ refers to the broken days which, in eschatological schemes, were to herald messiah’s return. Later on, this period is specifically defined as a time of seduction to imperial worship (cf. Revelation 13:14-17, Revelation 7:2, with Daniel 7:1, LXX). The Philadelphian Christians will not only triumph over the contempt and intrigues of their Jewish foes but also over the wider pagan trial (which is also a temptation), inasmuch as their devotion, already manifested in face of Jewish malice, will serve to carry them through the storm of Roman persecution. The reward of loyalty is in fact fresh power to be loyal on a higher level: “the wages of going on, and ever to be”. This seems better than to take the world-wide trial as the final attempt (Revelation 8:13, Revelation 11:10, etc.) to induce repentance in men or to punish them, from which the P. Christians (cf. Revelation 7:1-8, and Ps. Sol. 13:4–10, 15:6, 7) would be exempt; but it is impossible from the grammar and difficult from the sense, to decide whether τηρεῖν ἐκ means successful endurance (pregnant sense as in John 17:15) or absolute immunity (cf. 2 Peter 2:9), safe emergence from the trial or escape from it entirely (thanks to the timely advent of Christ, Revelation 3:11). Note the fine double sense of τηρεῖν: unsparing devotion is spared at least some forms of distress and disturbance. It is like Luther’s paradox that when a man learns to say with Christ, “The cross, the cross,” there is no cross. Rabbinic piety (Sanh. 98 b) expected exemption from the tribulation of the latter days only for those who were absorbed in good works and in sacred studies.


Verse 11

Revelation 3:11. “You have not long to wait and suffer now”; a fresh motive for tenacity of purpose. Compare with what follows the tradition of R. Simon (in Tract. Shabb. bab. 88 a) that on the occasion of Exodus 24:7, the Israelites were each crowned with two crowns by 600,000 angels—one when they said we will do, the other when they said we will be obedient; but on the occasion of Exodus 33:6 these crowns were snatched off by 1,200,000 devils. In the last day, at the messianic age, God restores these crowns (according to Isaiah 35:10). The sense is not altered if ἵνασου (like Luke 12:20) is taken as a vivid form of the passive “lest thou be deprived of thy crown” (cf. Colossians 2:18 with 2 Timothy 4:8), forfeiting it through misconduct.


Verse 12

Revelation 3:12. The reward of steadfastness here is a stable relation to God and absolute (trebly verified) assurance of eternal life, permanence ἐν τῷ ναῷ (verbally inconsistent with Revelation 21:22) τοῦ θεοῦ μου (four times in this verse). From Strabo (xii. 868(905) τε φιλαδελφίαοὐδὲ τοὺς τοίχους ἔχει πιστούς, ἀλλὰ καθʼ ἡμέραν τρόπον τινὰ σαλεύονται καὶ διΐστανται: xiii. 936 B., πόλις φιλ. σεισμῶν πλήρής· οὐ γὰρ διαλείπουσιν οἱ τοῖχοι διϊστάμενοι, καὶ ἄλλοτʼ ἄλλο μέρος τῆς πόλεως κακοπαθῶν, κ. τ. λ.) we learn that the city was liable to frequent and severe earthquakes, one of which had produced such ruin a while ago (Tac Ann. ii. 47) that the citizens had to be exempted from Imperial taxation and assisted to repair their buildings. These local circumstances (cf. Juv. vi. 411; Dio Cass. lxviii. 25; Renan, 335) lend colour to this promise, which would also appeal to citizens of a city whose numerous festivals and temples are said to have won for it the sobriquet of “a miniature Athens” (E. Bi. 3692). The promise is alluded to in Ep. Lugd., where God’s grace is said to have “delivered the weak and set them up as στύλους ἑδραίους able by means of their patience to stand all angry onsets of the evil one,” and Attalus of Pergamos is termed a στύλον καὶ ἑδραίωμα of the local Christians. Permanent communion with God is further expressed in terms of the widespread ethnic belief that to be ignorant of a god’s name meant inability to worship him, whereas to know that name implied the power of entering into fellowship with him. “Just as writing a name on temple-walls puts the owner of the name in continual union with the deity of the temple, so for early man the knowledge, invocation and vain repetition of the deity’s name constitutes in itself an actual, if mystic, union with the deity named” (Jevons’ Introd. Hist. Religion, 1896, p. 245; cf. Jastrow, p. 173). καὶ γράψω, κ. τ. λ., inscriptions upon pillars being a common feature of Oriental architecture, cf. Cooke’s North Semitic Inscriptions, p. 266, names on pillars; also Reitzenstein’s Poimandres, 20. The provincial priest of the Imperial cultus erected his statue in the temple at the close of his year’s official reign, inscribing on it his own name and his father’s, his place of birth and year of office. Hence some of the mysterious imagery of this verse, applied to Christians as priests of God in the next world. This is more probable than to suspect an allusion to what was written on the high priest’s forehead (Exodus 28:36, cf. Revelation 7:3; Revelation 14:1; Revelation 17:5; Revelation 22:4). Pillars were also, of course, sculptured now and then in human shape. For the first (a) of the three names, cf. Baba Bathra, 75, 2: R. Samuel ait R. Jochanan dixisse tres appellari nomine Dei, justos (Isaiah 43:7), Messiam (Jeremiah 23:6), Hierosolyma (Ezekiel 48:35); also Targ. Jerus. on Exod. xxviii. 30, quisquis memorat illud nomen sanctum [i.e., τετραγράμματον] in hora necessitatis, eripitur, et occulta reteguntur. Where a name was equivalent in one sense to personality and character, to have a divine name conferred on one or revealed to one was equivalent to being endowed with divine power. The divine “hidden name” (Asc. Isa. i. 7 Jewish: “as the Lord liveth whose name has not been sent into this world,” cf. Revelation 8:7) was (according to En. lxix. 14f.) known to Michael, and had talismanic power over dæmons. Perhaps an allusion to this also underlies the apocalyptic promise, the talismanic metaphor implying that God grants to the victorious Christian inviolable safety against evil spirits (cf. Romans 8:38-39). The second (b) name denotes (cf. Isaiah 56:5, Ezekiel 48:35) that the bearer belongs not merely to God but to the heavenly city and society of God. Since rabbinic speculation was sure that Abraham had the privilege of knowing the mysterious new name for Jerusalem in the next world, John claims this for the average and honest Christian. On the connexion between the divine name and the temple, see 3 Maccabees 2:9; 3 Maccabees 2:14, Judith 9:8, etc. The third (c) “my own new name” (Revelation 19:12) is reflected in Asc. Isa. ix. 5 (the Son of God, et nomen eius non potes audire donec de carne exibis); it denotes some esoteric, incommunicable, pre-existent (LXX of Psalms 71:17, En. lxix. 26, cf. R. J. 249, 344) title, the knowledge of which meant power to invoke and obtain help from its bearer. The whole imagery (as in Revelation 2:17, Revelation 19:12) is drawn from the primitive superstition that God’s name. like a man’s name, must be kept secret, lest if known it might be used to the disadvantage of the bearer (Frazer’s Golden Bough, 2nd ed. i. 443 f.). The close tie between the name and the personality in ancient life lent the former a secret virtue. Especially in Egyptian and in Roman belief, to learn a god’s name meant to share his power, and often “the art of the magician consisted in obtaining from the gods a revelation of their sacred names”. The point made by the prophet here is that the Christian God bestows freely upon his people the privilege of invoking his aid successfully, and of entering into his secret nature; also, perhaps, of security in the mysterious future across death. See the famous ch. 125. of E. B. D. where the successive doors will not allow Nu to pass till he tells them their names (cf. chapters cxli. f.). Ignatius tells the Philadelphians (obviously referring to this passage, ad Phil. 6) that people unsound upon the truth of Jesus Christ are to him στῆλαι καὶ τάφοι νεκρῶν, ἐφʼ οἶς γέγραπται μόνον ὀνόματα ἀνθρώπων. The μόνον is emphatic. In the survival of 2 Peter during the later conquests which left the other six towns of the Apocalypse more or less ruined, Gibbon (ch. 64.) irrelevantly finds “a pleasing example that the paths of honour and safety may sometimes be the same”.


Verse 14

Revelation 3:14. Jesus is the Amen because he guarantees the truth of any statement, and the execution of any promise, made by himself. He is consequently the faithful and true witness, whose counsel and rebuke (Revelation 3:18-19) however surprising and unwelcome, are therefore to be laid to heart as authoritative. A faithful witness is one who can be trusted never to misrepresent his message, by exaggeration or suppression, ( ἀληθινός practically = ἀληθής as often, since a real witness is naturally a truthful and competent one) his veracity extending not only to his character but to the contents of his message. In point of sincerity and unerring insight (as opposed to “false” in both senses of the term), Jesus is the supreme moral critic; the church is the supreme object of his criticism. He is also absolutely trustworthy, and therefore his promises are to be believed (Revelation 3:20-21), or rather God’s promises are assured and realised to men through him (cf. π. καὶ . in 2 Maccabees 2:11). Compare the fine Assyrian hymn of Ishtar (Jastrow, p. 343): “Fear not the mind which speaks to thee comes with speech from me, withholding nothing.… Is there any utterance of mine that I addressed to thee, upon which thou couldst not rely?” (also, Eurip. Ion 1537). The resemblance of ἀρχή κ. τ. λ., to a passage in Colossians is noteworthy as occurring in an open letter to the neighbouring church of Laodicea (Philonic passages in Grill, pp. 106–110). Here the phrase denotes “the active source or principle of God’s universe or Creation” ( ἀρχή, as in Greek philosophy and Jewish wisdom-literature, = αἰτία origin), which is practically Paul’s idea and that of John 1:3 (“the Logos idea without the name Logos,” Beyschlag). This title of “incipient cause” implies a position of priority to everything created; he is the first in the sense that he is neither creator (a prerogative of God in the Apocalypse), nor created, but creative. It forms the most explicit allusion to the pre-existence of Jesus in the Apocalypse, where he is usually regarded as a divine being whose heavenly power and position are the outcome of his earthly suffering and resurrection: John ascribes to him here (not at Revelation 12:5, as Baldensperger, 85, thinks) that pre-existence which, in more or less vital forms, had been predicated of the messiah in Jewish apocalyptic (cf. En. xlviii.). This pre-existence of messiah is an extension of the principle of determinism; God foreordained the salvation itself as well as its historical hour. See the Egyptian hymn: “He is the primeval one, and existed when as yet nothing existed; whatever is, He made it after He was. He is the father of beginnings.… God is the truth, He lives by Truth, He lives upon Truth, He is the king of Truth.” The evidence for the pre-existence of messiah in Jewish Christian literature is examined by Dr. G. A. Barton, Journ. Bibl. Lit. 1902, pp. 78–91. Cf. Introd. § 6.


Verses 14-22

Revelation 3:14-22. The message for Laodicea, where a church existed by 60 A.D. (Colossians 4:16).


Verse 15

Revelation 3:15. The moral nausea roused by tepid religion. It is best to be warm, and energetic; but even a frank repudiation of religion is at least more promising from an ethical standpoint (Arist. Nik. Eth. vii. 2–10) than a half-and-half attachment, complacently oblivious of any shortcoming. The outsider may be convinced and won over; there is hope of him, for he is under no illusion as to his real relation to the faith. But what can be done with people who are nominal Christians, unable to recognise that they need repentance and that Jesus is really outside their lives (Revelation 3:20)? Cf. Dante’s Inferno, iii. 30 f. For such homely metaphors and their effectiveness, compare the criticism of Longinus in περὶ ὕψους (xxxi.): “Sometimes a plain expression like this tells more forcibly than elegant language; being drawn from common life, it is at once recognised, whilst its very familiarity renders it all the more convincing”. The spirit of the verse resembles that which pervaded Christ’s denunciation of the religious authorities in his day for their ὑπόκρισις, and his more hopeful expectations with regard to the harlots and taxgatherers (Ecce Homo, ch. xiii.); the former condition of religious life was to Jesus a sickening feature in the situation. Just as spiritual death, in the case of the Sardis Christians, meant a lost vitality, so in the case of Laodicea lukewarmness implies that a condition of religious warmth once existed. “He who was never fervent can never be lukewarm.” In his analysis of this state (Growth in Holiness, ch. xxv.), Faber points out not only that its correlative is a serene unconsciousness and unconcern (cf. Revelation 3:17 b), but that one symptom is a complacent attention to what has been achieved (cf. 17 a) rather than sensitiveness to what is left undone, with “a quiet intentional appreciation of other things over God” (cf. Revelation 3:20), which is all the more mischievous that it is not open wickedness.


Verse 16

Revelation 3:16. The divine disgust at lukewarm religion. Christ, says the prophet, is sick of the lukewarm: as the purpose ( μέλλω) of rejection does not exclude the possibility of a change upon the part of the church which shall render the execution of the purpose needless, advice to repent immediately follows upon the threat. The latter is unconditional only in form. Exclusion from God’s life forms one side of the penalty, humiliating exposure before men the other (18).


Verse 17

Revelation 3:17. Priding herself not merely on the fact but (as is implied) on the means by which it had been secured (viz., personal skill, merit) and finally on the independent self-reliant position thus attained: a profuse certificate of merit, selfassigned. To conceit and self-deception the prophet wrathfully ascribes the religious indifference at Laodicea. “No one,” says Philo (Fragm. p. 649, Mang.), “is enriched by secular things, even though he possessed all the mines in the world; the witless are all paupers.” The reference is to spiritual possessions and advantages. It is irrelevant to connect the saying with the material wealth and resources of Laodicea, as exemplified in the fact that it was rebuilt by its citizens after the earthquake in 60–61 A.D. without help from the imperial authorities (Tacit. Ann. xiv. 27). For one thing, the incident is too far back; for another, the Apocalypse is concerned not with the cities but with the Christian churches. Such an allusion may have been in the writer’s mind, especially if the church included in its membership prosperous and influential citizens, since complacency and self-satisfaction are fostered by material comfort. “If wealthily then happily,” in Laodicea as in Padua. Still, these weeds spring from other soils as well. An inefficient ministry (cf. Colossians 4:17) and absence of persecution or of special difficulties at Laodicea probably helped to account for the church’s languid state. As John suggests, the church which is truly rich in spiritual and moral qualities does not plume itself upon them (Revelation 2:9). οὐκ οἶδας, cf. the echo of this in Oxyrhynchite Logia, i. 3: τυφλοί εἰσιν τῇ καρδίᾳ αὐτῶν καὶ οὐ βλέπ[ ουσιν, πτωχοὶ καὶ οὐκ οἴδασιν τ] ὴν πτωχιαν (?), where blindness and poverty and unconsciousness of both occur. σύ, emphatic; ἐλεεινός, “needing pity” rather than (as Daniel 9:23; Daniel 10:11, LXX) “finding pity”; ταλ. (cf. with Revelation 3:19, Sap. iii. 11: σοφίαν γὰρ καὶ παιδείαν ἐξουθενῶν ταλαίπωρος), only here and Romans 7:24 in N. T., two passages representing the extremes of misery—unconscious and conscious. κ. τ. λ. = “the embodiment of”.


Verse 18

Revelation 3:18. The counsel is conveyed in the dialect of the local situation. ἀγοράσαι in the poor man’s market (Isaiah 55:1, cf. Matthew 6:19-20), significant words as addressed to the financial centre of the district. “From me,” is emphatic; the real life is due to man’s relation with Christ, not to independent efforts upon his own part. Local Christians needed to be made sensitive to their need of Christ; in Laodicea evidently, as in Bunyan’s Mansoul, Mr. Desires-awake dwelt in a very mean cottage. “Refined” = genuine and fresh, as opposed to counterfeit and traditional (cf. Plato, Rep. iii. 413 e, 416 e). For παιδεία wrought upon the people of God by a divine Davidic king whose words are πεπυρωμένα ὑπὲρ χρυσίον τίμιον, see Ps. Sol. 17:47, 48.— ἱμάτια. Laodicea was a famous manufacturing centre, whose trade largely consisted of tunics and cloth for garments. The allusion is (cf. below, on Revelation 3:20 and Revelation 16:15) to careless Christians caught off their guard by the suddenness of the second advent. κολλούριον or κολλύριον (cf. the account of a blind soldier’s cure by a god [Aesculapius?] who bade him κολλύριον συντρῖψαι, Dittenberger’s Sylloge Inscript. Graec. 807, 15 f.), an eye-salve for tender eyes: an allusion to the “Phrygian powder” used by oculists of the famous medical school at Laodicea (C. B. P. i. 52). To the Christian Jesus supplies that enlightenment which the Jews found in the law (Psalms 19:8); “uerba legis corona sunt capitis, collyrium oculis” (Tract. Siphra fol. 143, 2); “uerba legis corona sunt capitis, torques collo, collyrium oculis” (Vajikra R., fol. 156, 1). True self-knowledge can be gained only by the help of Christ, i.e., in the present case mediated by Christian prophecy. Like Victor., Lightfoot (Colossians, p. 44) interprets this allusion by the light of Ephesians 1:8, Colossians 1:27, as a rebuke to the vaunted intellectual resources of the Church; but there is no need thus to narrow the reference. It is to be observed that John does not threaten Laodicea with the loss of material wealth (cf. Pirke Aboth, cited above on Revelation 2:9) in order to have her spiritual life revived.


Verse 19

Revelation 3:19. The prophet now relents a little; the church has still a chance of righting herself. Such a reproof as he has given in Christ’s name, and the discipline it involves ( παιδεύω, wider than ἐλ.) are really evidence of affection, not of antipathy or rejection. This is the method of God at least ( ἐγώ, emphatic; “whatever others do”), with whom censure does not mean hostility. φιλῶ, the substitution of this synonym (contrast Hebrews 12:6) for the LXX ἀγαπᾷ is remarkable in view of the latter term’s usage in the Apocalypse; the other variation ἐλέγχω καὶ παιδεύω ( ἐλ. (907), παιδ. (908) (909), LXX) is probably ornate rather than a duplicate. The love of Christ for his people is mentioned in the Apocalypse only here (with a reminiscence if not a quotation of O.T.), in Revelation 1:5, and in Revelation 3:9 (incidentally). In the latter passage, the divine love sustains and safeguards those who are loyal; here it inflicts painful wounds upon the unworthy, to regain their loyalty. ζήλευε (pres.) = a habit, μετανόησον (aor.) = a definite change once for all. The connexion ( οὖν) seems to be: let the foregoing rebuke open your eyes at once to the need of repentance, and also to the fact that it is really love on my part which prompts me thus to expose and to chastise you; such a sense of my loving concern, as well as of your own plight, should kindle an eager heat of indignation (2 Corinthians 8:11, ἀλλα ζῆλον) gathering into a flame of repentance that will burn up indifference and inconsistency (cf. Weinel, 188 f.). The urgent need of immediate repentance rests not only on the special character of the temptation to which the local Christians were succumbing (“It is a great grace to find out that we are lukewarm, but we are lost if we do not act with vigour. It is like going to sleep in the snow, almost a pleasant, tingling feeling at the first, and then—lost forever,” Faber), but on the fact that this warning was their last chance.


Verse 20

Revelation 3:20. The language recalls Song of Solomon 5:2 ( φωνὴ ἀδελφιδοῦ μου κρούει ἐπὶ τὴν θύραν· ἄνοιξον μοι, for contemporary evidence of the allegorical use of Canticles see Gunkel’s note on 4 Esdras. 5:20 f. and Bacher’s Agada d. Tannaiten, i. 109, 285 f. 425, etc.) interpreted in the eschatological sense ( γινώσκετε ὅτι ἐγγύς ἐστιν ἐπὶ θύραις Mark 13:29 = Matthew 24:33) of the logion in Luke 12:35-38 upon the servants watching for their Lord, ἵνα ἐλθόντος καὶ κρούσαντος εὐθέως ἀνοίξωσιν αὐτῷ (whereupon, as here, he grants them intimate fellowship with himself and takes the lead in the matter). To eat with a person meant, for an Oriental, close confidence and affection. Hence future bliss (cf. En. lxii. 14) was regularly conceived to be a feast (cf. Dalman i. § 1, (910). 4 a and Volz 331), or, as in Luke 22:29-30 and here (cf. Revelation 3:21), feasting and authority. This tells against the otherwise attractive hypothesis that the words merely refer to a present repentance on the part of the church or of some individuals in it (so e.g. de Wette, Alf., Weiss, Simcox, Scott), as if Christ sought to be no longer an outsider but a welcome inmate of the heart (cf. Ruskin’s Sesame and Lilies, § 95). The context (cf. 18 and 21), a comparison of Revelation 16:15 (which may even have originally lain close to Revelation 3:20), and the words of James 5:9 ( ἰδοὺ κριτὴς πρὸ τῶν θυρῶν ἕστηκεν) corroborate the eschatological interpretation (so e.g. Düsterdieck, Pfleid., Bousset, Forbes, Baljon, Swete, Holtzmann), which makes this the last call of Christ to the church when he arrives on the last day, though here Christ stands at the door not as a judge but as a friend. Hence no reference is made to the fate of those who will not attend to him. In Revelation 2:5; Revelation 2:16, ἔρχομαι σοι need not perhaps be eschatological, since the coming is conditional and special, but ἔρχομαι by itself (Revelation 3:11) and ἥξω (Revelation 2:25) must be, while Revelation 3:3 probably is also, in view of the context and the thief-simile. The imminent threat of Revelation 3:16 is thus balanced by the urgency of Revelation 3:20. For the eschatological ἰδού cf. Revelation 1:7, Revelation 16:15, Revelation 21:3, Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:12. φωνῆς, implying that the voice is well-known. To pay attention to it, in spite of self-engrossment and distraction, is one proof of the moral alertness ( ζήλευε) which means repentance. For the metaphorical contrast (reflecting the eternal paradox of grace) between the enthroned Christ of 21 and the appealing Christ of 20, cf. the remarkable passage in Sap. 9:4; 9:6 f., 10 f., where wisdom shares God’s throne and descends to toil among men; also Seneca’s Epp. lxi. (quemadmodum radii solis contingunt quidem terram, sed ibi sunt unde mittuntur; sic animus magnus et sacer conüersatur quidem nobiscum, sed haeret origini suae [Revelation 5:6]: illinc pendet, illuc spectat ac nititur, nostris tanquam melior interest). By self-restraint, moderation, and patience, with regard to possessions, a man will be some day a worthy partner of the divine feast, says Epictetus (Enchir. xv.): “but if you touch none of the dishes set before you and actually scorn them, τότε οὐ μόνον ἔσει συμπότης θεῶν ἀλλὰ καὶ συνάρχων.


Verse 21

Revelation 3:21. δώσω κ. τ. λ., To share Christ’s royal power and judicial dignity it a reward proffered in the gospels, but Jesus there (cf. Mark 10:40) disclaimed this prerogative. God’s throne is Christ’s, as in Revelation 22:1. νικῶν = the moral purity and sensitiveness (cf. Revelation 3:18 and on Revelation 2:7) which succeeds in responding to the divine appeal. The schema of God, Christ, and the individual Christian (cf. on Revelation 2:27) is characteristically Johannine (f. John 15:9 f., John 17:19 f., John 20:21), though here as in Revelation 3:20 (contrast John 14:23) the eschatological emphasis makes the parallel one of diction rather than of thought.

The scope and warmth of the promises to Laodicea seem rather out of place in view of the church’s poor religion, but here as elsewhere the prophet is writing as much for the churches in general as for the particular community. He speaks ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις. This consideration, together with the close sequence of thought in Revelation 3:19-21 forbids any attempt to delete Revelation 3:20-21 as a later editorial addition (Wellhausen) or to regard Revelation 3:20 (Revelation 3:21) as an epilogue to the seven letters (Vitringa, Alford, Ramsay) rather than as an integral part of the Laodicean epistle. Such a detachment would be a gratuitous breach of symmetry. But, while these closing sentences are not a sort of climax which gathers up the menaces of 2–3., Revelation 3:21 (with its throne-reference) anticipates the following visions (Revelation 3:4-5.). To the prophet the real value and significance of Christ’s life were focussed in his sacrificial death and in the rights and privileges which he secured thereby for those on whose behalf he had suffered and triumphed. This idea, already suggested in Revelation 1:5-6; Revelation 1:17-18, forms the central theme of the next oracle.

The ἐκκλησίαι now pass out of sight till the visions are over. During the latter it is the ἅγιοι who are usually in evidence, until the collective term πόλις is employed in the final vision (cf. Revelation 3:12). John knows nothing of any catholic ἐκκλησία. To him the ἐκκλησίαι are so many local communities who share a common faith and expect a common destiny; they are, as Kattenbusch observes, colonies of heaven, and heaven is their mother-country. Partly owing to O.T. associations, partly perhaps on account of the feeling that an ἐκκλησία (in the popular Greek sense of the term) implied a city, John eschews this term. He also ignores the authority of any officials; the religious situation depends upon the prophets, who are in direct touch with God and through whom the Spirit of God controls and guides the saints. Their words are God’s words; they can speak and write with an authority which enables them to say, Thus saith the Spirit. Only, while in the contemporary literature of Christianity the prophetic outlook embraces either the need of organisation in order to meet the case of churches which are scattered over a wide area and exposed to the vagaries of unauthorised leaders (Pastoral Epistles and Ignatius), or contention among the office-bearers themselves (a sure sign of the end, Asc. Isa. iii. 20f.), John’s apocalypse stands severely apart from either interest.

NOTE on Revelation 1:9 to Revelation 3:22. We have no data to show whether the seven letters or addresses ever existed in separate form, or whether they were written before or after the rest of the visions. All evidence for such hypotheses consists of quasi-reasons or precarious hypotheses based on some a priori theory of the book’s composition. The great probability is that they never had any rôle of their own apart from this book, but were written for their present position. As the Roman emperors addressed letters to the Asiatic cities or corporations (the inscriptions mention at least six to Ephesus, seven to Pergamos, three to Smyrna, etc.), so Jesus, the true Lord of the Asiatic churches, is represented as sending communications to them (cf. Deissmann’s Licht vom Osten, pp. 274 f.). The dicit or λέγει with which the Imperial messages open corresponds to the more biblical τάδε λέγει of Revelation 2:1, etc. Each of the apocalyptic communications follows a fairly general scheme, although in the latter four the appeal for attention follows (instead of preceding) the mystic promise, while the imperative repent occurs only in the first, third, fifth, and seventh, the other churches receiving praise rather than censure. This artificial or symmetrical arrangement, which may be traced in or read into other details, is as characteristic of the whole apocalypse as is the style which—when the difference of topic is taken into account—cannot be said to exhibit peculiarities of diction, syntax, or vocabulary sufficient to justify the relegation of the seven letters to a separate source. Even if written by another hand or originally composed as a separate piece, they must have been worked over so thoroughly by the final editor and fitted so aptly into the general scheme of the whole Apocalypse (cf. e.g. Revelation 2:7 = Revelation 22:2; Revelation 22:14; Revelation 22:19; Revelation 2:11 = Revelation 20:6; Revelation 2:17 = Revelation 19:12; Revelation 2:26 = Revelation 20:4; Revelation 2:28 = Revelation 22:16; Revelation 3:5 = Revelation 7:9; Revelation 7:13; Revelation 3:5 = Revelation 13:8, Revelation 20:15; Revelation 3:12 = Revelation 21:10, Revelation 22:14; Revelation 3:21 = Revelation 4:4; Revelation 3:20 = Revelation 19:9; etc.), that it is no longer possible to disentangle them (or their nucleus). The special traits in the conception of Christ are mainly due to the fact that the writer is dealing here almost exclusively with the inner relation of Jesus to the churches. They are seldom, if ever, more realistic or closer to the messianic categories of the age than is elsewhere the case throughout the apocalypse; and if the marjoram of Judaism or (as we might more correctly say) of human nature is not wholly transmuted into the honey of Christian charity—which is scarcely surprising under the circumstances—yet the moral and mental stature of the writer appears when he is set beside so powerful a counsellor in some respects as the later Ignatius. Here John is at his full height. He combines moral discipline and moral enthusiasm in his injunctions. He sees the central things and urges them upon the churches, with a singular power of tenderness and sarcasm, insight and foresight, vehemence and reproach, undaunted faithfulness in rebuke and a generous readiness to mark what he thinks are the merits as well as the failings and perils of the communities. The needs of the latter appear to have been twofold. One, of which they were fully conscious, was outward. The other, to which they were not entirely alive, was inward. The former is met by an assurance that the stress of persecution in the present and in the immediate future was under God’s control, unavoidable and yet endurable. The latter is met by the answer of discipline and careful correction; the demand for purity and loyalty in view of secret errors and vices is reiterated with a keen sagacity. In every case, the motives of fear, shame, noblesse oblige, and the like, are crowned by an appeal to spiritual ambition and longing, the closing note of each epistle thus striking the keynote of what follows throughout the whole Apocalypse. In form, as well as in content, the seven letters are the most definitely Christian part of the book.

The scene now changes. Christ in authority over his churches, and the churches with their angels, pass away; a fresh and ampler tableau of the vision opens (cf. on Revelation 1:19), ushering in the future (Revelation 6:1 to Revelation 22:5), which—as disclosed by God through Christ (Revelation 1:1)—is prefaced by a solemn exhibition of God’s supremacy and Christ’s indispensable position in revelation. In Apoc. Bar. xxiv. 2 the seer is told that on the day of judgment he and his companions are to see “the long-suffering of the Most High which has been throughout all generations, who has been long-suffering towards all those born that sin and are righteous.” He then seeks an answer to the question, “But what will happen to our enemies I know not, and when Thou wilt visit Thy works (i.e., for judgment)”? This is precisely the course of thought (first inner mercies and then outward judgments) in Revelation 2-3, 4 f.; although in the former John sees in this life already God’s great patience towards his people, The prophet is now admitted to the heavenly conclave where (by an adaptation of the rabbinic notion) God reveals, or at least prepares, his purposes before executing them. Chapter 4 and chapter 5 are counterparts; in the former God the Creator, with his praise from heavenly beings, is the central figure: in the latter the interest is focussed upon Christ the redeemer, with his praise from the human and natural creation as well. Chapter 5 further leads over into the first series of events (the seven seals, 6–8) which herald the dénouement. Henceforth Jesus is represented as the Lamb, acting but never speaking, until in the epilogue (Revelation 22:6-21) the author reverts to the Christological standpoint of 1–3. Neither this nor any other feature, however, is sufficient to prove that 4–5 represent a Jewish source edited by a Christian; the whole piece is Christian and homogeneous (Sabatier, Schön, Bousset, Pfleiderer, Wellhausen). Chapter 4 is a preliminary description of the heavenly court: God’s ruddy throne with a green nimbus being surrounded by a senate of πρεσβύτεροι and mysterious ζῷα. Seven torches burn before the throne, beside a crystal ocean, while from it issue flashes and peals accompanied by a ceaseless liturgy of adoration from the πρεσβύτεροι and the ζῷα, who worship with a rhythmic emotion of awe.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 3:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/revelation-3.html. 1897-1910.

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