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Revelation 3

Hampton's Commentary on Selected BooksHampton's Commentary

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Verses 1-6

To the Dead Church

On a plateau at the foot of Mount Timolous, in a fertile valley, at the intersection of several roads, stood the city of Sardis. It was 35 miles southeast of Thyatira. Three sides of the plateau were perpendicular cliffs, so the inhabitants thought they only had to defend one side. The church in Sardis had a name with men, but not with God ( 1Sa_16:7 ). She had a reputation of life, vigor and great spiritual strength. It likely was a large church and it may be that people of the community wanted to join in the growth. No false doctrine was taught in Sardis and no untruth had taken root, but there was a heartless holding of truth. Her outward appearance was deceptive because it hid a spiritual graveyard. Christ knew of her works. Men thought of her works as beautiful clothes, but the Lord saw them as grave clothes disguising a corpse ( Mat_15:7-8 ; 1Ti_5:6 ). Mat_8:22 tells us Jesus said for the spiritually dead to bury the physically dead ( Rev_3:1 ; compare Eph_2:1 ).

Sardis' overconfidence over an easy defense had led to defeat in 549 and 218 B. C., when she left the cliffs unguarded. How appropriate that an overconfident church should be told by its Lord to be watchful ( Mar_13:35-37 ). Their lamp was growing dim and, if they did not act quickly, it would soon go out. They needed to fire up the spark to reignite the whole. Someone has said there is not enough fire in a Sunday morning Christian to light a candle. Those is Sardis needed to pump the bellows to rekindle the fire for the embers were ready to die ( Eph_5:14-16 ). God had not found their works filled full, or perfect. They were an empty shell that God wanted filled with his purpose ( Rev_3:2 ; Mat_23:27-28 ).

Verse 3 To put life back in a dead church, the Lord would urge them to remember, or we might say, to look back on a long glorious history as a challenge to do the Lord's will again. Most people obey the Lord's commands with great excitement and at that reception truly rejoice. ( Act_2:41 ; Act_8:39 ; Act_16:33-34 ) Recalling that joy and the relief one feels when released from sin should prick the conscience and rekindle the desire. They needed to hold fast to the word or else we will drift. ( Heb_2:1-3 ) Also, they were instructed to repent, or lay down their inactivity and dead spirituality. ( 2Co_7:10 ) Again, they are told to watch because the Lord was going to come unannounced and unexpected by some. ( Mat_24:43 )

Verse 4 Hendriksen points us to the Lord's knowing the faithful by name. Even in a church of corpses, God sees the live souls. Those who do God's will are not lost in a dead crowd. ( Gen_6:5-8 ; Gen_19:15-16 ; 1Ki_19:10 ; 1Ki_19:18 ) Our sins are washed in Jesus' blood. ( Isa_1:18 ; Heb_9:22 ; Eph_1:7 ; Rev_7:14 ) Because they had kept their spiritual garments clean ( 1Jn_1:7 ), they would be clothed in the garments of purity in heaven ( Isa_61:10 ; Rev_19:8 )

Verse 5 When people die on earth, their names are removed from the voting rolls. It appears that Israel had a book of the living and the dead had their names removed. ( Isa_4:3 ; Eze_13:9 ; Neh_12:22 f; Psa_69:28 ; Rev_20:11-15 ) Sardis had a lot of names on the "church roll" who would not be written on the pages of God's book of life. Those who keep on overcoming will also hear their names confessed by the Lord before the Father. ( Mat_10:32 ; Luk_13:24-27 )

Verse 6 As always, a blessing is pronounced upon those who hear and heed the words of the letter.

Verses 7-13

To The Enduring Church

Verse 7 Twenty-eight miles southeast of Sardis was the town of Philadelphia. It was located in a very fertile but dangerously volcanic area. The city was founded by Attalus II who was nicknamed the brother-lover. He was reported to be dead in a battle so his brother was persuaded to assume the throne. When the king returned, his brother stepped down so he could rule again. The region was known for its earthquakes and this city was almost totally destroyed by one in 17 A. D. Isa_22:22 describes Eliakim, the faithful steward of Hezekiah the king. He was given the key to the palace so that no man could enter into the royal palace or presence without him saying it was allowable. Thus, there was only one way to the throne. How appropriate that Jesus should be described as the one having the key of David. ( Joh_14:1-6 ; Act_4:12 ; 1Co_3:11 ) As an indication of Jesus' authority, he says, "he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth." Mat_28:18 ; Eph_1:22-23 ; Rev_1:18 )

Verse 8 The city of Philadelphia was established to spread the Greek culture to the region round about it. The language that had once been native to this area was dropped by this city and the Greek language adopted. Now, Jesus wants the church to be as mission minded as the city had been. A door of opportunity was before them in spreading the gospel. ( 1Co_16:8-9 ; 2Co_2:12 ; Col_4:3-4 ) The Lord tells the church she has a little strength, which may indicate her need to grow. Growth is possible and victory can be ours. ( Rom_8:31 ; Php_4:13 ) If we keep the word, we can use the door to teach others of God's saving message. ( Rom_1:16-17 ) They had not denied the name of Jesus.

Verse 9 The true Jews, God's nation, in the Christian age are members of the Lord's church. ( Rom_2:28-29 ; 1Pe_2:9 ; Php_3:3 ) When the Jews rejected Jesus as God's Son, they ceased being God's people. Thus, they "say they are Jews, and are not." Instead of their synagogue being devoted to God, it was now dedicated to Satan, God's adversary who encourages people to rebel against God and commit sin. We know Jesus has all authority and all will have to yield to it in worship one day. ( Php_2:9-11 ) This may be what Christ refers to as worship of the church as God's true Israel by the so-called Jews.

Verse 10 They had patiently endured, just as Christ had endured. ( 2Th_3:5 marginal reading) Because of their endurance, Jesus promised to keep, or protect, in the hour of trial soon to come upon all the earth, which must describe world-wide persecution. They had held to them and he would hold to them.

Verse 11 The word "quickly" can be translated suddenly or unexpectedly. If the end of time is in view, this is the meaning here. However, this verse could be talking about one of the Lord's providential comings to protect his people and judge their enemies.

Verse 12 In a city that had known devastating earthquakes, how reassuring to think the one who overcomes will be a pillar that, once in place, would to out no more, or always stand. To identify the owner and the one honor is given to be this dwelling place of God, there are names written on its pillars. God's name will be on them because they are his people, children. Also, the name of heaven, or new Jerusalem, will be on them because they are citizens of it. Finally, the Savior's new name because we are saved by his blood.

Verse 13 Again, the importance of heeding the words of the letter is used to close it out.

Verses 14-22

To The Lukewarm Church

Verse 14 Laodicea was 40 miles southeast of Philadelphia. It was in a fertile valley at the junction of several major trade routes. It was a wealthy city famous for much gold, because it was a banking center, its black wooled sheep and fine garments made from that wool, and an eye powder which was used to help weak and failing eyes. There was an earthquake that destroyed the city in A. D. 60. The people were proud to say they rebuilt without any aid from Rome. Jesus is described as the "Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God." Within these words, we find supported, truthful statements coming from the very creator of all the things we know of. ( Col_1:16-17 ; Joh_1:1-3 ) He had made these people, knew what they were really like and would testify as to the true state of affairs.

Verse 15 There were warm springs nearby, at Hierapolis. The word "hot" is translated "zealous" is some places and means a boiling water. The hot springs were valued for medicine and treatment of various aches. Beneath the city of Laodicea, at Colossae, one could find nice, cold drinking water. The hot springs from Hierapolis flow over the plateau and become lukewarm by the time they spill over a cliff next to Laodicea. Such water was not good for medicine or drink, thus it was useless. The church in Laodicea was, like the water outside of the city, useless. Jesus wished they were either refreshing or aided in healing. It should be noted that some have taken the position that Jesus would rather they were unconverted sinners than lukewarm Christians and cite Heb_4:4-6 and 2Pe_2:20 . God abhors those who take no stand an try to deceive others, while in fact only deceiving themselves.

Verse 16 When one gets tepid water in his mouth, he is inclined to pit out, or more literally vomit forth. This was the Lord's reaction to a useless church. Hendricksen says, "Christ does not really say: 'I will spew thee out of my mouth', but 'I am about to spew thee out of my mouth'. The Lord is still waiting."

Verse 17 They were self-sufficient. Just as the city did not need the help of Rome to rebuild in A. D. 60, the church did not see the need for God. They saw themselves as rich and getting richer, therefore needing not one thing from anyone. In fact, their spiritual condition was one of a man "enduring toils and troubles; afflicted, wretched," according to Thayer. They were also pitiable, that is, when others looked at the church they turned their heads because of the pathetic sight they had seen. The word "poor" here suggests one out on the streets begging. Their vision had been clouded over by smoke so they could not see these things. In a city with an eye powder used in the treatment of ophthalmia, they were so near-sighted they could not see their condition. They were without spiritual clothes in a city known for its garment industry.

Verse 18 Though they were spiritually destitute, the Lord will not force them to change but counsels them to change as a loving brother or friend might. They did not need physical riches but needed the riches of the knowledge of God ( Mat_13:44-46 ; Col_2:1-3 ) and a faith proven in the crucible of trials. ( 1Pe_1:7 ) White raiment would depict the holiness and purity which comes from the cleansing blood of the lamb. ( Rev_1:5 ; Rev_7:14 ; Act_22:16 ) They also needed their spiritual eyes opened so they could look into the mirror of God's word and see their faults. ( Jam_1:25 ) Christians should not be as concerned with outward appearance as they are with inward. ( 2Co_4:18 )

Verse 19 Despite their problems and the very stern language the Lord has used, they should be assured he still loved them. ( Heb_12:7-11 ) The word "zealous" comes from the same root word as the word "hot" in verse 15. The Lord wanted them to turn aside from sin so he would not have to spew them out.

Verse 20 The Lord wanted to be let into the door of every Christian's heart. He would not give up but continued to seek an entrance. He kept on knocking on the door of individual Christian's heart and kept calling for an entrance so he could change the church. To hear the Lord's voice, one must heed and obey. The word "sup" causes us to think of dining with the Savior at his table. Here is a church out of fellowship with its Lord.

Verse 21 Jesus has overcome the tomb and is now seated with God on his throne and is reigning. ( Act_2:32-36 ; Heb_1:3 ) Just as he overcame and began to reign, the Christian who overcomes will reign with Christ in glory.

Verse 22 We need to listen to these words and obey.

Bibliographical Information
Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on Revelation 3". "Hampton's Commentary on Selected Books". 2014.