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Bible Commentaries

Wallace's Commentary on the Book of Revelation

Revelation 3

Verse 1

The letter to the church at Sardis--3:1-6.

1. “Saith he that hath the seven spirits, and the seven stars”--3:1.

In Jesus Christ there is the uniting of these symbols of the spirits and the stars. The office of a spirit is to testify or teach; and the function of a star is to shine. It is a dual symbol which apparently refers to the uniting of the spirit of Christ in each church with the spirit of the congregation itself, that is, in the testimony of the truth, and having it shine as stars, as affirmed of God’s servants in Dan_12:3 .

2. “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead"-- 3:1.

The history of the city of Sardis had been one of splendour, but it was generally known at this time to be in a state of decadence and decay. The Lord used this condition of the city to impress the spiritual state of the church-- they had a name like the city in which they were situated, but they were spiritually dead. The religious history of Sardis, like the civil, was in the past.

Verse 2

3. “I have not found thy works perfect before God"-- 3:2.

There were no works in this church completed; they were works begun but not finished; their deeds were mere fragments of service, partial and imperfect, or incomplete. They were exhorted to “strengthen the things which remained, that are ready to die”--that is, the waning works that yet existed would soon wither and perish if not invigorated and revived. This was a stern letter to Sardis, for they were their own enemies. There were no enemies of false doctrine mentioned; their danger lay in their state of spiritual decadence.

Verse 3

4. “I will come upon thee as a thief"--3:3.

The Lord would come as a thief, not as a robber. The robber comes in violence, but the thief comes in the night of sleep. This warning compares to that of Paul in 1 Thessalonians_5:1-28 :1-2 , and applies to the manner, not to the time, of his coming. While they reposed in their spiritual slumber, the events depicted would unexpectedly overwhelm them. The warning was a picture of their own spiritual state of unpreparedness. It was not a reference to the time of his advent, but it did refer to his coming in the events of judgment, and his coming as a thief meant that they were not alert and ready.

Verse 4

5. “Thou has a few names even in Sardis . . . that are worthy”--3:4.

The statement that there were a few even in Sardis is a commentary on the condition of the city, as mentioned, and the like condition in the church. Notwithstanding the moral and civic state of the city of Sardis and the spiritual declension of the church, there was even yet a nucleus of faithful members.

The garment is the symbol of character, or the vestures of righteousness with which Christians must be clothed. The word “defiled” means contaminated. The term white denotes purity. The word pure means unalloyed, and is inherent; but defilement is contamination from without. There were a few in the Sardis church who had maintained an unalloyed state before Christ, and were undefiled by the degenerate and decadent outside surroundings. This teaches that moral qualities are essential to doctrinal recognition and spiritual acceptance by God and Christ.

Verses 5-6

6. “I will not blot out his name out of the book of life"-- 3:5.

This book of life is an allusion to a registry for worthy citizens, but the names of the deceased citizens are erased. This meant exclusion. But there were a few names in Sardis that would not be blotted out of the book of life. It clearly indicates that the names of the unworthy would be blotted out; but a name cannot be blotted out of the book of life, if it had never been recorded in it; so here is positive proof for the possibility of apostasy.

Verses 7-8

The letter to the church at Philadelphia--3:7-13.

1. “He that hath the key of David”--3:7.

The word key conveys the meaning of authority, control and possession. In Isaiah’s prophecy of the One who should possess the house of David, in Isa_22:22 , the prophet said: “And the key of the house of David I will lay upon his shoulders; so he shall open, and none shall shut, and he shall shut, and none shall open.” The Lord’s statement to the church at Philadelphia was a direct reference to this prophecy, which was fulfilled in him. The key of David was “laid upon his shoulder,” which means the burden of government, and in Isa_9:6-7 , the prophet said: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice even for ever.” This prophecy gives the reason why Jesus Christ said to the Philadelphians that he had the key of David, for he possessed the throne of David, and its government was upon his shoulder, with the authority to order it and establish it.

Furthering this point reference should be made to the word of the angel to Mary in Luk_1:31-33 - “And behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.” There is no difference in the terms, the house of Jacob, the house of David, and the throne of David, and they were all spiritually possessed by Jesus Christ.

The words of the apostles of Christ add testimony to the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ now possesses the house of David and occupies the throne of David.

Quoting from second psalm, in Act_13:33-34 , Paul declared that God had fulfilled the promise in giving to them “the sure mercies of David.” The quotation reads: “God hath fulfilled the same unto their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. And as concerning that he raised him from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David.”

At the gathering of the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, the apostle James, in Act_15:13-17 , quoted the prophecy of Amos_9:1-15 :1 l-15, that the Christ would come to “build again the tabernacle of David . . . and set it up . . . that the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles upon whom my name is called.” If the remnant of the Jewish world and all the Gentiles could then seek after God, it follows that Christ had set up the spiritual tabernacle of David.

Added to these prophecies, and their declared fulfillment, is the declaration of the apostle Peter on Pentecost, in Act_2:29-33 , that the prophecies of David, that God would raise up one to sit on his throne, were fulfilled in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Peter declared that the prophecies meant that “he (God) would raise up Christ to sit on his (David’s) throne,” and that “he seeing this before (foreseeing the fulfillment) spake of the resurrection of Christ.” Peter then concluded, “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we are all witnesses. Therefore being by the right of God exalted, he hath shed forth this which ye now see and hear.”

Summing it up, Jesus Christ has the throne of David, the tabernacle of David, the house of David, the sure mercies (or blessings) of David, and the key of David, in every spiritual sense of these terms, and there are no other prophecies or promises concerning David and Christ to be fulfilled. These passages teach that the house of David was perpetuated in the kingdom of Christ--his Church. It follows that the theory of the future return of Christ to occupy David’s throne in an earthly millennium is the figment of theological fancy, imagination and error.

2. “He that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth”--3:7-8.

Again, this is a reference to Isa_22:22 , and to the Philadelphians Jesus Chrfst applied the words no man shutteth to the promise that all the persecutors put together, persecutions combined, could not shut their door-a door which the Lord had opened. When the door of any institution is closed, it is out of business; but the persecutors could not close the door of the Philadelphian church. “I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it." Like “the great door” which had been opened to Paul, which he mentioned in three epistles-- 1Co_16:9 ; 2Co_2:12 and Col_4:3 --which opposition to him could not close; so in the midst the eventful period of persecution God had set before them an open door which Nero could not shut. Persecution could not destroy that to which Christ had the key, and not having committed this key to any man, no man could open or shut this door.

Verse 9

3. “I will make them to come and worship before thy feet”- -3:9.

This statement refers to the Judaizers, who were of “the synagogue of Satan,” and who in claiming to be Jews were false pretenders in that they were not true Jews in the Lord’s sight. “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh, but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not men, but of God.” ( Rom_2:28-29 ) These outward Jews had been the chief enemies of the church, and had instigated the persecutions against Christians, who were God’s Jews inwardly (spiritually); but these false Jews, the enemies of Christ, would go down in defeat by the persecutions which they themselves had instigated; and in the metaphor of verse 9, they would bow before the Cause upheld by the Philadelphian church. It meant that Judaism would be crushed, and would kneel before the door which no man could shut.

Verses 10-11

4. “I will also keep thee from the hour of temptation (trial), which shall come upon all the world”--3:10-11.

This promise was made to the Philadelphians in divine reciprocation of their having “kept the word” of Christ. They were not promised exemption from trial, but preservation through the period of trial.

The world in Rev_3:10 meant the empire. The hour of trial was the persecution period: in Mat_24:29 , the tribulation; in Rom_16:20 , the bruising of Satan; in 1Co_7:26 , the present distress; in Heb_10:25 , the day approaching; in Jam_5:8 , the coming of the Lord draweth nigh; in 1Pe_4:7 , the end of all things at hand; in 1Jn_2:18 , the last time --and in Revelation, the hour of trial, all pointing to the impending events attending the end of the Jewish system and state.

The Lord’s statement in Mat_24:1-51 was the forecast of the siege of Jerusalem; because of “the present distress,” in Corinthians Paul dispensed advice concerning certain jeopardies involved in marriage; in Heb_10:1-39 they were exhorted not to forsake (meaning to abandon, renounce) their first day of the week assembling because of these threats of persecution (as the context of verses 25 through 39 indicates), and to exhort each other, as the day of persecution approached, not to so renounce and abandon the new covenant; in Jam_5:1-20 , the declaration that the coming of Christ was nigh could not have referred to the return of Christ, for it did not occur therefore it was not nigh--it referred to the Lord’s coming in these approaching events concerning which all of the apostles were exhorting the members of all the churches in every place; and John, in his epistle mentioned “the last time” in reference to the state of the Jews and of their nation; in the apocalypse he symbolized it as “the hour of trial,” and assured the Philadelphians that the Lord would “come quickly,” in the judgments and rewards that he had repeatedly promised to render.

The foregoing running summary of the expressions in the epistles of the New Testament to these impending events constitutes cumulative proof that the visions of Revelation related to the persecution period of the early church.

Verses 12-13

5. “To him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out”--3:12.

This is undoubtedly a reference to the demolition of the old temple. But the reward promised the Philadelphians for their faithfulness was a residence in the new temple, the spiritual temple, which could never be destroyed; out of which they would never be compelled to go, as in the case of the Jews in the destruction of the old temple of Jerusalem. The church is here conceived as a new building; and in this new temple of God the overcomers of the persecutions would be pillars; that is, to uphold the indestructible Cause of Him who had the key of David. The pillar supports the structure. When Samson pulled down the pillars supporting Dagon’s temple, the whole structure collapsed. The faithful constituents in the new building of God would be the supporting pillars to uphold the Cause which would triumph over all persecutions of this approaching “hour of trial.”

The statement of the latter part of verse 12, referring to the “new Jerusalem,” with a new name, simply means that the old Jerusalem, and all for which it stood, would be gone. As stated in chapter 21 of the apocalypse, the old things would pass away, and “behold, I will make all things new.” This new temple would not be the restoration of the old house nor the reconstitutions of its ordinances. The emblem of the new name is used to distinguish a new institution, the church, from Judaism completely. It would not be a new dispensation of old ordinances: “The old things are passed away, behold all things are new.”

The promise to the members of the church at Philadelphia was that in the spiritual temple of the new Jerusalem, in contrast with the old temple of the apostate Jerusalem, the Lord established them as permanent elements of the redeemed society of his church, which nothing could destroy. These principles prevail in the church today, and should ever be a source of strength and encouragement to all of its members.

Verse 14

The letter to the church at Laodicea.--3:14-22.

1. “These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God"--3:14.

The God of Amen means the God of truth, as stated in Deu_7:9 : “Know ye therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations.” The repeated expression the faithful and true witness, refers to the things of the apocalypse -the absolute certainty of all the announcements made by his angels and agents in all of the visions.

The reminder that he is the beginning of the creation of God is the same in substance as that he is Alpha and Omega, meaning that he is the beginning as well as the end, the first as well as the last. It carries the same affirmation as in Joh_1:3 , “all things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made.” It means that in the beginning with God he was the active principle in creation, and is the Lord over all creation by primogeniture right--that is, the exclusive right of inheritance belonging to the firstborn. This right possessed by Jesus Christ is also affirmed by Paul in Hebrews_1:1-14 :1-2 : “God . . . hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds . . . being made so much better than the angels, as he hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.” In priority of existence, having been the agent of all creation, he is Lord of the new creation, the whole spiritual realm.

Verses 15-16

2. “Thou art neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot”--3:15-16.

While outward rejection may, in some sense, appear to be preferable to cold profession, it does not seem in harmony with the grace of redemption to make this passage mean that God would rather these Laodiceans had never accepted the gospel at first. The purpose of the comparison is to rebuke lukewarmness, which produces nausea. It means that fervency is a condition of fidelity. Fervent heat ( 2Pe_3:10 ) means intense heat; and fervent water is boiling water; and in Rom_12:10 , Paul admonishes the members of the body to be “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.”

The Lord’s aversion to the state of lukewarmness is expressed in the warning I will spew thee out of my mouth. The advocates of the absolute and unconditional security of the believer have appropriated the words of Paul in Eph_1:13 , that the believer is “sealed with that holy Spirit,” to their dogma of the impossibility of apostasy, by claiming that a sealed believer cannot get out. Aside from the fallacy of the argument itself, the Lord’s statement to the Laodiceans explains how an unfaithful believer does get out--he is spewed out, by the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

Verses 17-19

3. “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing”--3:17-19.

Based on this statement the Lord said: I counsel thee. He informed them, with words of severity, that they were wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked-- which, without any other words to be added, simply meant that they were in utter spiritual destitution. He recommended, in their own dialect of merchandising, that they buy of him a gold of greater value than their material wealth; and the white raiment of righteousness to clothe their nakedness; so that the shame of thy nakedness does not appear: as yet, their nakedness had not been exposed; it was within their membership. This note of judgment was a warning of the divine exposure of their spiritual nakedness.

To correct their state of spiritual blindness the Lord admonished them to anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see -- to get rid of their self-deception. This figurative language, of course, cannot be literally applied. The eyesalve meant spiritual enlightenment, as in Psa_19:8 : “The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” The gold which the Lord persuaded them to buy meant the raiment of righteousness, as in 1Pe_5:5 : “Be clothed with humility”; and Rev_7:14 : “These are they . . . which washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

These are strong analogies employed by the Lord counselling the Laodiceans to seek the true riches. There were no charges of the evils of error which existed in some of the churches. The Laodiceans professed the truths of the gospel, but with a materialistic apathy which rendered them unconscious of being out of communion with Christ. To assure them of divine love and concern for their restoration, Jesus said: As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. The severity of his rebuke was not rejection but a sign of love which seeks to prevent their condition reaching that stage. The mandate, Be zealous and repent, meant the zeal of repentance itself; that it could not be performed in the apathy and passivity of their present attitude. In Mat_12:41 , Jesus said that the people of Nineveh “repented at the preaching of Jonah,” but in referring to that event in the book of Jonah, it reads: “When God saw their works.” That is evidently the meaning of the zeal of repentance. It cannot be performed in nonchalance.

Verse 20

4. “Behold I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me"--3:20.

Here is the note of deep affection in the metaphor of the common meal, which the ancients regarded as a manifestation of fraternal confidence. The old term sup here signifies spiritual communion, which the Lord offered to restore with the Laodiceans. In common parlance today the word fellowship is in vogue.

The remedial import of this high light in the Lord’s persuasions to Laodicea, is that reconciliation begins with Jesus Christ. He reverses here the order of Mat_7:7 : “Knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Here the Lord himself knocks, asking that they open unto him. The people of old accompanied their knocking with addressing those inside, in order that they might know who was knocking, and thus whether to open. Jesus here announces himself as the One seeking admission; but he does not force entrance. Here the truth of free moral agency incidentally appears--man can receive or reject divine overtures.

Verse 21

5. “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne”--3:21.

Here is the constructive figure of a sitting court to which the faithful would be given admission to sit with Christ in his throne, to be associated with Christ in his spiritual rule. In chapter 2:26 this rule is said to be with “a rod of iron,” which, as previously stated, means the invincible power of the truth, or gospel of Christ. In 1Ti_2:11-12 , the apostle taught Timothy that this rule is in process now, and that reigning with Christ is concurrent with living with him.

This enthronization with Christ simply stated means that as Christians are governed by the rule of Christ, in this compliance with his teaching they become a part of his government. The immediate imagery of this passage therefore is, that the faithful victors over the persecutions, having exemplified obedience to his rule, are seated with Christ the Conqueror in his ruling throne. This picture is culminated in the throne scene of the martyrs Rev_20:4 , as shown in the commentary on the verses of that chapter.

Verse 22

6. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches”--3:22.

What the Spirit said to these seven churches has spiritual application to all churches. The lessons may be summed up as follows:

One : the Ephesian church was commended for an outward work and labour and patience, but were censured for having left their first love. By comparison with the Thessalonians--who were said ( 1Th_1:3 ) to have had "a work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope” --it appears that the missing qualities in the church at Ephesus were faith, or fidelity, in works; and love, or de THE votion, in labour; and hope, or expectation, in patience.

Theirs was an external work, a servile labour, and an impassive hope. They had rejected false teachers and were doctrinally sound; they abhorred the libertine practices of Nicolaitanism, and were maintaining moral rectitude. But the Lord issued the irrevocable directive for immediate resolution to restore the missing qualities, under the pain of the withdrawal of divine presence.

Two : The church at Smyrna had attained congregational perfection, for which they received divine approval, but no assurance for the suspension of suffering was given to them; rather, they were exhorted to maintain the same degree of faithfulness in martyrdom that they had manifested in life, and their vouchsafed reward would be the inestimable crown of life.

Three : the church at Pergamos had theoretically rejected all forms of idolatry and pagan sensuality, but the harboring of libertines and idolaters within their membership would expose them to the Lord’s declaration of war against these heathenisms within the borders of the church,

Four : The church at Thyatira had been constant in the possession and practice of the virtues of charity, and service, and patience and works; but the purity of these qualities had been somewhat tinctured by their tolerance of certain wicked influences among them; nevertheless with divine approval of their constancy, they were exhorted to cling to the things that had been approved, with the promise of the Lord’s presence in the time of tribulation.

Five : the church at Sardis was reproved for the declension of spiritual life and were upbraided for general decadence; but they were extended probation under a mandate for rehabilitation.

Six : The par-excellent church at Philadelphia was the object of full divine approval, in nothing blameworthy, and was given the Lord’s guarantee of preservation and deliverance from the imminent period of tribulation, the reward for their devoted loyalty to his Word, and faithful allegiance to his Name.

Seven : The church at Laodicea was the object of stern rebuke for their failure to evaluate the true riches, and their blindness to their own spiritual deficiencies, and were threatened with expulsion from all communion with Christ, if they further rejected his overtures; but he would extend to them opportunity to open their hearts to his entrance, and he would accept them in mutual communion and fellowship.

This concludes the visional prologue, and with the fourth chapter the general apocalypse begins.

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Bibliographical Information
Wallace, Foy E. "Commentary on Revelation 3". "Wallace's Commentary on the Book of Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/foy/revelation-3.html. 1966.