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Introduction to the Seven Epistles
Now follow the seven epistles, for which all after the three first verses has been only of an introductory and preparatory nature. The blessed Paul marks it in 1 Corinthians 14:25 as one of the most important purposes of prophecy to make manifest the secrets of the heart. Scripture declares salvation only to those who form the true church of the Lord, who live in the Spirit. But along with the promise the admonition always goes hand in hand, and always the more disposed the false seed are to appropriate to themselves what belongs only to the true. To Isaias, for example, the commission was given in the second part of his prophecies to comfort the people of God, by announcing the approaching manifestation of the Lord. But with the announcement of salvation the call to repent, and the admonition to be faithful, is constantly combined; comp. for example, Isaiah 50:1, “Thus saith the Lord, Keep ye judgment and do justice, for my salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed;” Isaiah 58:1, “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sin.” In the New Testament also, the proclamation of God’s judgment on the world, and his glorification of the church, goes hand in hand with urgent admonitions to the members of the latter to get themselves ready for the Lord’s coming, so that it may prove to them a blessing and not a curse. “Watch ye therefore, and pray always,” says our Lord in Luke 21:36, “that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.” And Peter in his second epistle, 2 Peter 3:11, says, “Seeing that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness.” So also John, speaking of the Christian hope, declares that whoever has it, “purifies himself even as Christ is pure.” Here, John is going to show to the servants of Christ what must shortly come to pass, ch. Revelation 1:1, he is going to reveal to them the salvation that Christ has purposed to bring to his suffering church, avenging her of her enemies, and raising her from the dust to sit upon the throne of his glory. But before he is equipped by Christ for the fulfilment of this calling, which he accomplishes from the beginning of ch. 4 to the end of the book, he must prepare those committed to him for the purpose of Christ—not, as Bengel thinks, for receiving the Revelation, but for the great events of the future themselves. He must dissipate the idea, that the name of Christians forms the wall of separation between them and the world, call forth the spiritual state of things which alone can render the coming of the Lord salutary, awaken the slothful and unfaithful to repentance, admonish the faithful and diligent to a steady perseverance and continuance to the end; comp. Revelation 2:5; Revelation 2:10; Revelation 2:16; Revelation 2:25; Revelation 3:11; Revelation 3:19.
In respect to the plan of the epistles Bengel gives a series of excellent remarks, which we deem it right to communicate in his own words.” The conception of the seven epistles is throughout similar. For in each one there Isaiah , 1. A command to write to an angel of a church. 2. A glorious title of Jesus Christ. 3. An address to the angel of the church; wherein is contained (1) a testimony regarding its present mixed, or good, or bad condition; (2) an admonition to repentance or to stedfastness; (3) an announcement of what is to take place, for the most part of the coming of the Lord. 4. A promise to those that overcome, together with the awakening words, he that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.”
The address in each epistle is couched in plainer language, while in the promise Christ speaks more in a flowery style. In the address the Lord Jesus Christ speaks primarily and immediately to the churches in Asia then existing, and more especially to the angels of them; the promise speaks in the third person of those who then and also in future times should overcome.
“Of the seven angels of the seven churches there were two, those at Ephesus and Pergamos, in a mixed state, and two, those at Sardis and Laodicea, in a very corrupt one. Not only those whose state was bad, but also those with whom there was a lack, are exhorted to repent, as are likewise the followers of Jezebel at Thyatira, since she herself would not repent, and the angel there did not need for himself to repent. Two, those at Smyrna and Philadelphia, were in a very healthful condition, and on that account were not called to exercise repentance, but were only admonished to be stedfast. There is no mixed, or good, or bad state, of which we have not here a pattern, and profitable, salutary instruction provided for it. Whether one may be so dead as the angel of the church at Sardis, or may stand so well as that at Philadelphia, and the aged apostle John himself, this book is still fitted to be serviceable to him, and the Lord Jesus has something in it to say to him.
“In the seven epistles there are twelve promises. In the third, fourth, and sixth, there is a double promise, and in the fifth a threefold one, which are distinguished from each other by a special word: I will give, I will not blot out, I will confess, I will write.
In the promise for those that overcome, sometimes the enjoyment of the highest good, sometimes freedom from the greatest troubles is held forth. The one is included in the other, and when some one part of blessedness and glory is expressed, the whole is thereby to be understood (ch. Revelation 21:7). That part is particularly expressed which has reference to the virtues and deeds mentioned in the preceding address. In these promises notice is taken of various things, which are not again referred to in the Revelation, as the manna, the confession of the name, the inscribed name of the New Jerusalem, the sitting upon the throne. Some things carry a resemblance to what is afterwards found in the representations given of Christ, in particular, the secret name, ch. Revelation 19:12, the heritage of the nations, ch. Revelation 19:15, the morning star, ch. Revelation 22:16. Other things, again, occur afterwards in their own place, as the tree of life, ch. Revelation 22:2, freedom from the second death, ch. Revelation 20:6, the name in the book of life, ch. Revelation 20:12, Revelation 21:27, remaining in the temple of God, ch. Revelation 7:15, the name of God and of the Lamb on the righteous, ch. Revelation 14:1, Revelation 22:4.”
What is said of the churches in praise or blame is completed in the number three. The Refrain: “Who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches,” has ten words, divided by three and seven, and the latter again by the three and four. The seven number of the epistles is divided by the three and four. For, in the three first, the call “Who has an ear,” &c., stands before the closing promise, while in the four last it follows after the other. Then, in the four last epistles, the closing promise itself has a peculiar construction: He that overcomes I give to him. [Note: Bengel: “In the four latter promises ὁ? νικῶ?ν , as if it had the distinctive Hebr. accent, is marked with the greatest emphasis; in the three former τῶ?ͅ? νικῶ?ντι (as an equivalent for which in the second we have ὁ? νικῶ?ν without οὐ?͂?τος ) there is H closer union with the following verb.”] This division must have a quite definite ground, and has already been noticed under Revelation 1:11. Elsewhere also, in the seals, the trumpets, and the vials, the seven is divided by the four and three.
In his latter days Bengel strongly recommended to those about him the careful meditation of the apocalyptic epistles. He said, “There was scarcely any thing that was so much fitted to affect and purify us.”
Revelation 3:1. And to the angel of the church at Sardis write: These things saith he who has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars: I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. In regard to the seven Spirits of God, or the powers of the Spirit working in creation, see on ch. Revelation 1:4. In the description given of the person of Christ in ch. 1, from which usually the predicates in the beginning of the epistles are borrowed, the seven Spirits are not expressly mentioned. But from the feeling, that every thing which is the Father’s is also Christ’s, with which John shews himself to have been so deeply penetrated in the Apocalypse as well as in the Gospel, there might have been a recurring to ch. Revelation 1:4; comp. ch. Revelation 5:6. According to the parallel passage, the seven Spirits are not mentioned in respect to the communicating of the spiritual powers of life (Bengel), nor in respect to omniscient and heart-searching knowledge (Vitringa, Züllig, De Wette), but in respect to the unconditional and unlimited power to punish and reward. The predicate: who has the seven Spirits of God, forms the foundation for what is said in Revelation 3:3, “I will come upon you.” Just because Christ has the seven Spirits of God, he has also the seven stars. No one can deliver the rulers of the church, imaged by them, out of his hand, if they should fall under his displeasure, as is the case here; nor can any one hurt them, if they are the objects of his love. From the mouth of such an one, the words, “I know thy works,” must convey a dreadful sound; for the roar of words must be followed by the destructive lightning of deeds. The seven stars, which were already mentioned in ch. Revelation 2:1, could only return here in a subordinate relation to the seven Spirits of God; as the possessor of the latter, Christ could only be designated once in the commencement of the epistles. Bengel: “These seven stars have already been repeated from the first chapter in ch. Revelation 2:1; and since nothing else is repeated a second time from the first chapter in the second and third, this is an indication, that the seven stars are here introduced only incidentally, as they are subordinate to the seven Spirits of God.”—“The description of this overseer,” remarks Bengel, “is short and abrupt, but in a single little word much that is of an unpleasant nature is comprised.” The name is here, not the accidental proper name, but the significant name of office; as appears alone from the circumstance, that by the angel not a single individual is denoted, but the whole presiding body of the church. Such a body in the church of Christ has by its very position a name that it lives; for Christ has already called them to become alive, and much more is the name of life inseparable from the pastoral office in a Christian church. Yet it is with some probability that Bengel, after the example of Hip. a Lapide, supposes some allusion to be here made to the proper name of the person, who formed the centre of the presiding body at Sardis: “There are in Greek and in other languages also many names, which are derived from life, such as Zosinus, Vitalis, etc. Very likely the angel of this church had a fine name of this sort, and from it the Lord takes occasion to admonish him of the opposite nature of his condition.” But anyhow this passage is admirably fitted to awaken in us a sacred shudder at what is merely nominal. As Bengel remarks, “In Scripture a name, which is unaccompanied by deed, is often disowned and laid aside, Ruth 1:20, Jeremiah 20:3. And it is remarkable, that the Revelation suffers no false names, ch. Revelation 2:2; Revelation 2:9. The Lord everywhere in it looks to the bottom of things, and before his eyes all that is mere appearance, falsehood, and conceit must vanish away.”
To be dead, says Cocceius justly, is to be devoid of faith and love. For these are the principles and the manifestations of spiritual life. In the symbolical character of the Old Testament, defilement through dead bodies appears as the worst, because death is the wages of sin; whence also it is the most exact image of the God-deserted state—see my work on Egypt and the Books of Moses, p. 184. On this account our Lord himself speaks in Matthew 8:22 of the spiritually dead; and his making some alive from the state of death had respect to the same thing. It was an image of what he was going to do on the spiritually dead. Paul especially speaks often of spiritual death, Romans 6:13, Ephesians 2:1, Ephesians 2:5, 1 Timothy 5:6, Hebrews 6:1, Hebrews 9:14. Spiritual death is to Christ, who is life itself, an object of horror. We must not, however, suppose that it had fully taken possession of the angel at Sardis. In the words “thou art dead,” it is only intimated, that death had already got the ascendant of the life. According to the more exact account in Revelation 3:2, the angel and a great part of the church was near death—otherwise, the punishment and the admonition to repent would be unsuitable. For, it is impossible that those who have sunk into the condition of spiritual death, after having been alive, can be renewed again to repentance, Hebrews 6:6. And in that case there should no longer have been any church and any angel at all.
The Epistle to the Angel of the Church in Sardis (Ch. Revelation 3:1-6 )
The angel at Sardis has a name, that he lives, and is dead. After being solemnly called to repent, the Lord addresses himself to the few living Christians, who still remained there. Those who in such circumstances were sorely tried, are exhorted to be faithful, in consideration of the glorious recompense which awaited them.
Revelation 3:2. Be wakeful, and strengthen the rest that is ready to die; for I have not found thy works complete before my God. “Death and sleep,” remarks Bengel, “are in natural things like one another, and in spiritual they are almost one. It is the commencement of true salvation to a soul when it is awakened from its sleep of death.” In Eph. also, Ephesians 5:14, sleep and death are conjoined with each other. The “be wakeful” here implies more than the “awake” there. It calls them to be awake, and to remain awake. The γρηγορωῖ?ν is not to awake, but to keep awake, to watch, the opposite of a state of sleeping, 1 Thessalonians 5:10. “Watch, therefore, because ye know not at what hour your Lord comes,” the Lord had said to his disciples ( Matthew 24:42, Matthew 25:13). “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation,” he had also said to John and the two other disciples who stood nearest to him ( Matthew 26:41). That John here, as Peter in 1 Peter 5:8, refers to that word, is clear from Revelation 3:3. The rest, besides the angel or the overseers, are the members of the church, or the laity, who not less than the overseers were in danger of death. Allusion is made to Ezekiel 34:4, “The weak have ye not strengthened, and the sick have ye not healed; the wounded have ye not bound, the wandering have ye not fetched, and the lost ye have not sought.” There, too, it is the rulers of the church who are addressed. Their careless keeping of the Lord’s flock is complained of. A testimony is furnished by this also, that the overseers of the church are to be understood by the angel, and that these are to be carefully distinguished from the church itself. Through the special allusion here made to Ezekiel, the whole lamentation raised by him over the bad shepherds is applied to the angel. Intentionally the verb is taken from the first member of the representation, primarily applicable to the neglect of the shepherds, and the object from the last. [Note: The ἃ? ἔ?μελλον ἀ?ποθανεῖ?ν does notcorrespond to נהלות but to אבדת , as Vitringa supposes.] In this manner is the entire representation appropriated. From the original passage also has the neuter been adopted: the rest. There the feminine is used, referring to the sheep. The LXX. also have rendered the feminines by neuters.
The works, by which at last every thing is to be determined, Matthew 7:21, John 14:21. The complete, full (comp. made full in John 17:13, 1 John 1:4, 2 John 1:12), forms the contrast to the deficiency, under which the works laboured, though more in respect to their soul, the impelling motives, than to their external appearance. The expression: before my God, implies that they were still not justified, however they might appear pure before the eyes of men, and their own slumbering consciences.
Revelation 3:4. But thou hast a few names in Sardis, who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white garments, for they are worthy. On the expression, “thou hast,” Bengel says, “These, from being so very few, had not withdrawn themselves, otherwise they would not have belonged to the angel of the church. Yet they did not owe it to him, that they had not defiled their garments, but it was a matter of blame to him that there were so few of them.” According to the passages, Numbers 1:2, Numbers 1:18, Numbers 1:20, Numbers 3:40, Numbers 3:43, Numbers 26:53, Acts 1:15, Revelation 11:13, it might be thought, that by the names here simply persons were meant. But, 1. This mode of speech is found elsewhere only in numberings and lists, in which persons are taken account of only in respect to their names. 2. It is a natural supposition, that the names here have respect to the declaration: thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead, in Revelation 3:1. It is better, therefore, to suppose, that the few names, which had not defiled their garments, the few in whom the name had its foundation in the reality (for to be a Christian is, at the same time, to keep one’s self unspotted from the world), stand here in reference to the great number of those who might adopt the saying, Nos numerus sumus. Names enough! but only a few among them, of which the bearers did honour to their names; whereas there should have been as many true Christians as there were names in their church. The defiling perhaps alludes to the name Sardis: Sardes has become Sordes. “These are they who have not denied themselves with women,” in ch. Revelation 14:4, corresponds as to the meaning. For there women are figuratively used as a name for sin. Upon the garments as a symbol of the state, see on ch. Revelation 7:14, where it is said of true Christians, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Hence with the early Christians the pure state of the baptized was represented outwardly by the white garments they wore. Because the saints have not defiled their garments, but washed them and made them white, therefore they are to receive white garments for a reward, ch. Revelation 6:11, Revelation 7:9. The appropriation of forgiveness and life in sanctification is followed by blessedness and glory. On the words, “for they are worthy,” Bengel remarks, “Oh how much more blessed is this worthiness, than that which is spoken of in ch. Revelation 16:6!” Comp. 2 Thessalonians 1:5.
Vitringa is disposed to conclude from this verse, that at Sardis also the heresy of the Nicolaitans had obtained a footing, which is also probable on this account, that they had made such devastations in the neighbouring churches. But neither here, nor at Laodicea, is there the least reference to the Nicolaitans. The reproach of very extensive sinful defilement, which is brought against the church at Sardis, cannot be regarded as such. It is not to be overlooked, that what was sinful in Gnosticism proceeded from the general corruption that pervaded heathen life; and that this could not fail to press into the Christian church under different forms, wherever Gnosticism was in process of formation, and the love of the world or the service of Mammon had obtained a footing. It is very remarkable, that precisely the two churches, which are represented as the moat debased, the most complete contrasts to faithful Smyrna and Philadelphia, Sardis and Laodicea, had no Nicolaitans in them. A warning lies concealed here, that amid the dangers arising from speculative errors, we should not overlook those which are still greater. In speculative errors there still is always a spiritual element, however unspiritual or counter-spiritual it may be. The conflict with it quickens, while common worldliness and indifferentism naturally exerts a deadening influence. For the followers of false doctrine itself the spiritual excitement not rarely forms a transition to spiritual life.
Revelation 3:5. He that overcomes, the same shall be invested with white garments; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life; and I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. The promise here is threefold. The few names that had not defiled their garments in the midst of a merely nominal-Christian society, whose corrupting influence flowed in upon them from every side, needed a particularly strong encouragement. The whole of the three promises run into that of 2 Thessalonians 1:5, he will be deemed worthy of the kingdom of God, for which he has suffered, or of Acts 13:48, he shall be of the number of those who are ordained to eternal life. The second promise rests upon Psalms 69:28, “They shall be blotted out of the book of life, and shall not be written with the righteous;” on which I remarked in my commentary, “To be blotted out of the book of life, of which mention is made for the first time in Exodus 32:32, is as much as to be devoted to death, with reference to the untimely and sudden death threatened against the wicked in the law. As here, in regard to a temporal existence, so in the New Testament with regard to an eternal one, we read of the book of life, Php_4:3 , Revelation 20:15. To be written with the righteous is a parallel expression. For it is just in the book of life that the righteous are written, they are ordained to life.” According to ch. Revelation 20:15, those who are not found written in the book of life shall be thrown into the lake of fire. The third promise has the faithfulness of the few chosen ones in confessing the truth for its foundation, whose light shone all the brighter on account of the surrounding unfaithfulness that inseparably attends lukewarmness and worldly-mindedness. It rests especially on Matthew 10:32-33, “Whosoever confesses me before men, him will I confess before my Father in heaven; but whosoever denies me before men, him will I also deny before my Father in heaven;” and Luke 12:8-9, “Whosoever confesses me before men, him will also the Son of man confess before the angels of God. But whosoever denies me before men, he shall be denied before the angels of God.” Matthew mentions only the Father in heaven, Luke only the angels, but here both are found. We shall the less think of ascribing this to accident, if we keep in view the undeniable reference to the words of Christ in Revelation 3:2-3. Herder already remarks, “The whole epistle is in the words of Christ, which he spake while yet upon the earth.” [Note: There is an allusion also to the same declaration of Christ in John 12:42, bearing respect to the failure of its object; so also, perhaps, in John 1:20, where there is the same contrast between confessing and not denying. The ὁ?μολογεῖ?ν is here used with the accusative of that, to which one confesses, as in John 9:22; Matt. and Luke have ἐ?ν .]
Revelation 3:6. He that has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Revelation 3:7. And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These things saith the Holy, the True, he that has the key of David, who opens and no one shuts, who shuts and no one opens. Absolute holiness is an unconditional and exclusive predicate of God; comp. on the divine holiness, the absolute exaltation of God above all created beings, on ch. Revelation 4:8. The angels are holy, raised above the world, above the earth, the state of vanity, but the name of the Holy belongs only to one. The Holy—by this word the Lord is exalted above all the calumnies and blasphemies of the Jews, who in the Lord of glory saw only the crucified. (Tryphon in Justin, § 32, says: “This Christ of yours was without honour and glory so that he fell under the severest curse of the law of God, for he was crucified”). And so it places his church upon an immoveable rock, on which the billows of the world must break in pieces. He that has the Holy for his friend, for him the hostile Jews are no more than puny dwarfs. The True is also an exclusively divine predicate. It is a word much liked by John, and more frequently used by him than by other writers of the New Testament; for in a world of shew and appearance, he ever longed after the true Being. To limit it here to mere truthfulness in promising would be quite arbitrary; as there is nothing in the context pointing to that, and the connection with holiness is against it. For truthfulness in promising is not properly fitted to stand as a contrast to the assaults of the Jews, to which every thing here has respect. These were directed to the object of shewing, not only that there was a disagreement in Christ between word and deed, but also a contrariety between appearance and essence, between faith and reality. Trypho reproaches Christians with being deceived by lying speeches, and following worthless men. “You have,” says he, “lent your faith to idle reports, and imagine to yourselves a Christ, for love to whom ye foolishly perish.” It is not a simple opposition to a Pseudo-Messias that we ought to find here. For the subject of discourse is not concerning a true Christ, but concerning the true in the fullest sense. In 1 John 5:20 this is simply identified with the true God: Christ is there first named the true, and then immediately afterwards is designated the true God and eternal life. In this book itself, ch. Revelation 6:10, the predicates of the Holy and the True are attributed to the supreme God. The absolutely true being is only the divine, all other being is overlaid with the seeming and the untrue. On account merely of his essential oneness with the Father, could Christ call himself the Truth in John 14:6, and be designated here and in 1 John 5:20 as the True. When the church directs her eye upon the True, she can look down with a holy irony upon the blasphemies of the Jews, and is filled with a holy boldness. For, if her Saviour is the True, he is also the Omnipotent; feebleness exists only where there is untruthfulness, false appearance, lies; and from unconditional Truth of Being truthfulness of word is also inseparable.
Justin in his discourse with Tryphon, § 123, reproaches the Jews with deceiving themselves, as if they alone were Israel, and cursing the blessed people of God. They felt that to allow the claim of Christians, was to overthrow their own claim to be the children of God. These Jewish pretensions pass for nothing with us. The death, which has reigned for eighteen centuries in the Syna-gogue, and the life that has belonged to the church, render them of no avail with us. We laugh at them. But it was otherwise at the close of the first century. Then the minds of Christians had to give earnest heed, lest they should be imposed upon by such pretensions. They had a plausible appearance about them. But by the words, “Who has the key of David,” etc., they are annihilated as by a single stroke. If the Jews have in their scale the external succession, the uninterrupted chain of outward church fellowship, Christ is in the scale of the Christians, and secures that the other shall kick the beam. It is as much as to say, Be not at all concerned, that the Jews boast of possessing the key of the kingdom of heaven. Look to the person who really possesses it, Christ, and rejoice and be glad, if he but opens the gate for yon. The key of David is the key, by which he opens his house—comp. Isaiah 22:22, “And I give the key of the house of David upon his shoulder, and he opens and no one shuts, and he shuts and no one opens.” Allusion is made here to that passage. Still the reference must not be pressed too closely. Remarks such as this, “who, like Eliakim in Isaiah 22:22, is the chief steward over the kingdom of God,” tread far too closely on the dignity of Christ, and John himself would have shuddered at them. Christ does not stand for Eliakim, but those are in a similar position to his, whom Christ has entrusted with the key of government—comp. Matthew 16:19. This itself meets the misunderstanding, that here the subject discoursed of is not, as in Isaiah, the key of the house of David, but, with a manifestly intentional deviation, the key of David, who is perpetuated in Christ, for his house. On the King’s castle on Zion (comp. 2 Samuel 5:9), in Nehemiah 3:25, called the upper house of the king, in Jeremiah 32:2, the house of the king of Judah, in Psalms 101:2, Psalms 101:7, the house of David, see the Christology III., p. 273. The tower of this royal castle, called in the Song of Solomon 4:4, David’s tower, Micah considers in Micah 4:8, as the symbol of the dominion of David’s race. In this house of David dwelt all his servants along with him, whether or not they might have there a proper habitation, just as in the house of the Lord all his servants spiritually dwell with him. In Psalms 101, which was sung by David from the soul of his whole race, it is said, “Mine eyes look after the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he that walks in a blameless way, he shall serve me. He that uses deceit shall not dwell in my house, he that speaks lies shall not serve me.” So that the house of David is the symbol of the kingdom of David, and the kingdom of Christ is continually regarded in Scripture as the continuation and completion of this—see in reference to the culminating of the Davidic stem in Christ, my Commentary on the Psalms, vol. iii. p. 79, Trans.; Luke 1:32. Christ the root and the offspring of David (comp. Revelation 5:5, Revelation 22:16), has as such the key of David. The house or kingdom of David is in meaning identical with the kingdom of God. For, David was set by God as king over his whole people and for all times; and since 2 Samuel 7 it has become impossible to serve God aright without at the same time serving David. So that the key of David is all one with the key of the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 16:19. There is an undoubted connection between this passage and ch. Revelation 1:18, where Christ is described as having the key of death and of hell; and it must be regarded as a touchstone for the correct explanation of the words before us, if it accords with this connection. For, the predicates of Christ in the introduction of the epistles are, according to the rule, derived from the description in ch. 1. A reference to that part of the description must the rather be supposed here, as it forms the close of the description of Christ, while here also the allusion to the description is brought to an end with this predicate; and that part of the description itself, as well as this verse, rests upon Isaiah 22:22. According to this view, then, the desired connection comes immediately out. The key of David corresponds to the key of death and of hell. To whomsoever he opens with the key of David, for him he shuts death and hell; for, he that is in David’s house, or in the kingdom of God, is secure against death and hell; but if Christ shuts for any one with the key of David, he opens for him death and hell. According to Bengel, the opening indicates the call to do good works, the shutting the putting away of all that is contrary. But it admits of no doubt, that the opening refers to the reception of the persons, and the shutting to their exclusion. For in ch. Revelation 1:18, where the holder of the key retains and forgives sins, and so exercises an administrative power in regard to membership in God’s kingdom—comp. John 20:23. In Isaiah 22:22, Eliakim also receives the key of the house of David, so that it belongs to him to determine, who was to be admitted into the house, or excluded from it.
The Epistle to the Angel of the Church in Philadelphia (Ch. Revelation 3:7-13 )
Justin in his discourse with the Jew Tryphon, § 17, thus reproaches the Jews: “Other nations have not so much guilt in their unrighteous dealings toward us and Christ as you, who are also the authors of the bad prejudice which they raise against the Holy One and us, who are sprung of him.” (Comp. § 133 and the first apology, § 31.) From this bitter feeling of hostility on the part of the Jews the feeble community at Philadelphia—feeble in a worldly respect—had much to suffer. But the Lord calls out to them: Faint not thou little weakling, and lays open to her the wellspring of rich consolation. No Jew shall be able to rob you of the kingdom of God, ye to whom it belongs, Revelation 3:8. On the contrary, many of that nation, who now in proud infatuation give themselves out for the only true people of God, shall one day humbly sue for reception into the calumniated church of Christ, as the only church of God and the one region of safety, Revelation 3:9. Your stedfastness in persecutions from the world secures your preservation in the judgment, which is soon to take place, Revelation 3:10-11. And at the end of your course eternal blessedness shall burst upon your view, Revelation 3:12. Whoever has an ear for such glorious promises, he will not faint, but fight with vigour, Revelation 3:13.
Revelation 3:8. I know thy works. Behold I have given before thee an open door, and no one can shut it; for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Here also we have three points of commendation: the works, the keeping of Christ’s word with a little strength, and the not denying of his name. But the specializing of the works is entwined with a declaration going before, which establishes the connection with the predicates that were attributed to Christ in Revelation 3:7. We are not to inclose that declaration in brackets, although certainly as to the meaning the works are more nearly described in the words: thou hast a little strength, &c. If it is certain, that the opening and shutting in Revelation 3:7 refers to personal membership in the kingdom of God, then the opened door, which no one can shut, which serves to the Philadelphians themselves for an entrance into the kingdom of God, is spoken of in the same respect, and as a ground of consolation to them before the Jews, who would deny them any share in the kingdom of God; the Lord himself had received them into his kingdom, and no Jew could prevail to exclude them from it. By the open door is usually understood “a free scope for proclaiming the gospel, or for active exertions to bring men to the faith,” with reference to 1 Corinthians 16:9, 2 Corinthians 2:12, where the opened door is the door of active operations. But here the door is more exactly determined by the connection with Revelation 3:7 as an entrance into the house of David or the kingdom of God. Then, the view in question is opposed by, “I have given,” in contradistinction to, “I give,” in Revelation 3:9. A space for active labour had still not been given to the angel at Philadelphia; otherwise his strength would not have been small. But the preterite does not suit with a prophetical view of the words. On the contrary argues the progression from the preterite to the future through the present, accompanied by the thrice-repeated Behold. By the little strength is meant not small official grace, but, as appears from Revelation 2:9, the weak beginnings and depressed circumstances of the church, which made it easy to match them on account of the wealth of their Jewish adversaries.
Revelation 3:9. Behold, I give out of Satan’s school of those that say, they are Jews and are not, but lie. Behold I will make them, that they shall come and supplicate before thy feet, and know that I have loved thee. To that which God has already given, and which no one can cause to return again, there is here subjoined what he gives: to the proper participation of Christians in the kingdom of God, a humble and express recognition of the church of Christ, as the true and only church of the Lord, on the part of those who proudly raised themselves above it, and denied it any part in the Lord. From this respect in the “I give,” to the “I have given,” it is clear that here also the discourse is of a gift of the Lord: Behold I give (to thee; or to the Christian church, and so to thee also) some of Satan’s school, [Note: See, in reference to the common omission of the tome before the מן in Heb., Gesenius’s Thes., p. 800.] &c.; that the giving does not stand in the sense of making, so that “I will make,” might be considered as a resumption of the “I give.” The kind of giving is certainly determined more accurately by what follows. It is clear from this, that they were in so far to be given to the church as their hostility was to be changed into reverential love. It is carefully to be observed, that it is not said: I give the synagogue of Satan, but that it is only members of this that are spoken of—those in it who should give to the Lord a seeing eye and a hearing ear, recognising the vanity of their own pretensions and the worth of that salvation which was presented to them in the church. This serves as a limitation of what Paul says regarding the conversion of “all Israel,” Romans 11:26; shews that thereby the remaining of a sediment behind, the continuance of a synagogue of Satan even to the last, is not excluded. Nor indeed could it be otherwise, unless one were to give up human freedom, and fall into the unscriptural doctrine of the restoration.
Just as the present: I give, connecting itself with the time then being, refers to a purpose presently fulfilled, so: I will make, points to the execution as what was to take place in the future. That we are not to overlook the distinction of the three tenses, is obvious from the corresponding thrice Behold. This second half of the verse rests upon Isaiah 60:14, “And there come bending to thee the sons of thy oppressors, and all thy despisers throw themselves down at the soles of thy feet; and they call thee the city of the Lord, Zion of the holy Israel.” The reason of such lowly prostration there, and hence also here, may be learned, not only from the name by which they called her, but also from Isaiah 45:14, “And they shall throw themselves down before thee, shall supplicate to thee: only in thee is God, and there is no God besides.” They prostrate themselves before the church, because they acknowledge that the Lord is in the midst of her, that in her is the only source of salvation, and in connection with her the only true blessing. We are led here also to the same result by the words, “and know that I have loved thee,” and hence that only in fellowship with thee there is salvation for those who now think thee excluded from the kingdom of God. The Jews were wont to refer those old promises to the synagogue; but a good part of them, as many as were ordained to salvation, would acknowledge that they belonged to the church. They shall therefore renounce the claim of homage from others, and come themselves willingly and cheerfully to do homage. But why should we be troubled at the scornful pride of those of whom we know that they are soon to be found lying at our feet?
We must not complain, that in regard to the fulfilment of the prophecy we are left without the light of history. As most of the blessings of Jacob in Genesis 49 and of Moses in Deuteronomy 33, which have respect to the particular tribes only in so far as they were part of the whole people, so what is written here is only an application of what belongs to the whole Christian church, to a particular section of it. The fulfilment would have taken place, even if in Philadelphia itself there had been no remarkable transition from Judaism to Christianity. What belongs to the whole is shared in also by the part. That the church of Christ is the true church of the Lord, has been proved to be the case by the attractive power she has exerted over the members of the synagogue, while Judaism has lost all attractive influence since the period of Christ’s appearance. We are to regard the thought, As surely as I am the holy, I am also the true, as pervading the whole verse. On this solid foundation the promise is raised.
Revelation 3:10. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I will also keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to tempt those that dwell upon the earth. Bengel: “This is spoken to the heart! So can the Lord Jesus single out his own. When it goes hardest with the world, it shall be the best with them. Noah in his ark was borne softly through the waters, when all the world besides were engulphed around and beneath him.” The word of Christ’s patience, according to the common view, must be the whole range of Christian doctrine. So De Wette, “The word, which partly from its subject and spirit, and partly on account of the duty of confessing and obeying it, demands stedfastness such as is peculiar to me and my people.” But the unnaturalness of this exposition is written on its very front. The word, which among many other things requires also patience, cannot be simply described as the word of patience. Far more natural is the explanation, which refers it to certain declarations of Christ, which enjoin patience and stedfastness. This is the rather to be adopted, as in other parts also of these epistles references occur to particular words of Christ contained in the Gospels, and which is the more natural, as it is Christ here also who himself speaks. For this explanation there are special reasons. As, first, that patience is frequently enjoined in the discourses of Christ, and is strongly inculcated, Luke 21:19, Luke 8:15, and especially the kernel-declaration, “He that continues (has patience) to the end, shall be saved,” Matthew 10:22, Matthew 24:13. Then, again, both here, and in those original passages, patience is described as a preservative against participation in the judgments that threaten the world. He that remains stedfast in his internal separation from the world, and makes no concessions to it, he shall also be separated from it externally, he shall not suffer with it. My patience, that of Christ—comp. “the patience of Jesus Christ” in ch. Revelation 1:9. [Note: The μου here serves to confirm the reading there Ἰ?ησοῦ? Χριστοῦ?, and shows the ἐ?ν Ἰ?ησοῦ? to be a gloss.] In the passages alluded to the subject discoursed of is specifically Christian patience. In Luke 21:19, for example, the patience meant is stedfastness in bearing hatred and persecution for the name of Christ This is what shall secure deliverance from the judgments which shall come upon an ungodly world. In the keeping or preserving the idea of deliverance is included. And from this is explained the: I will keep thee (exempting or delivering thee) out of, etc. [Note: The τηρεῖ?ν with ἐ?κ only here and John 17:15, where, on account of the preceding ἐ?κ , we can hardly translate the ἐ?κ by from. An explanation is given by John 12:27: Πάτερ , σῶ σόν με ἐ?κ τῆ?ς ὥ?ρας ταύτης . The τηρεῖ?ν is used in the Gospel of John at once of the conservative activity of believers, and of what corresponds thereto, the conservative activity of God and Christ.] What is more exactly intended by the keeping is to be understood from Revelation 3:7. According to the fuller explication there given it is of a double sort—consisting in the protection which the Lord causes to be extended to his faithful people amid the plagues that fall upon the earth, after the example of the preservation given to Israel amid the plagues that desolated Egypt; and in the enjoyment of the future inheritance of glory. Scripture usually speaks of temptations only in respect to believers, because only in their case can there be found a proper proving, so that the matter may turn out either one way or another; whereas in respect to the world, which has but one impelling principle, the result is certain from the first. Yet the idea of temptation is not on this account to be understood as having no reference whatever to the world. For it is of importance that even what may be understood of itself should be brought clearly to view, because so many are disposed to deceive themselves in regard to it, and suppose that still some other result may be attained than what is grounded in the nature of things. In Deuteronomy 4:34 the Egyptian plagues are described as temptations. So also in Deuteronomy 7:19, Deuteronomy 29:3. (Michaelis: Deus enim experiri voluit plagis suis, vellentue persistere in impietate necne.) The result of this trial stands written in ch. Revelation 9:20, Revelation 16:11-21; they did not repent of their deeds, they blasphemed God on account of the plagues, etc. While with believers the proving renders manifest their faith and love, it only serves with worldly people to bring to light their impenitence and hardness of heart, and the whole abyss of their perdition becomes naked and open to view. The “whole world,” and “the inhabitants of the earth,” do not of themselves indicate the non-Christian part of its people, but only in the present connection, since the Christians are to be kept out of the temptation. For we have not here a separate promise for Philadelphia, but, as is shown by ch. 7, and also by Revelation 3:9, only an individual application of what is of force throughout the whole Christian church; rendered prominent here, because the church of Philadelphia had to suffer very much for the sake of Christ, and stood especially in need of consolation. Christ sets before his people the alternative, either to suffer from the world, or to suffer with the world. Whosoever would have himself exempted from the one, he must certainly fall under the other. But he that willingly and cheerfully undergoes the former, has a refuge from the latter. The heart and centre of the whole world at that time was formed of the Roman empire, of which we must mainly (though not at all exclusively) think, on this account alone, because from it primarily proceeded the transgression, which had to be visited by the temptation; and also because it was there the Christian church, which was to be delivered from the temptation, had its seat.
Some expositors entirely fail, under the temptation, to think of a Christian persecution.
Revelation 3:11. Behold I come quickly. Hold what thou hast, that no one take thy crown. Bengel: “For this overseer a crown was prepared and exhibited, as if it was said: This crown belongs to N., the angel of the church at Philadelphia, and if he but perseveres, no one can take it from him. If we only are careful in respect to that which God has intrusted to us, we need not be solicitous about that which remains for us with him. Whoever has anything let him think on this word, Hold what thou hast.” The Lord comes primarily in the judgments that are executed on this world, which in Revelation 3:10 were announced in the plan (it is from its connection with Revelation 3:10 that the “ I come quickly” here receives its more precise determination), and more at large in the vision of the seven seals—comp. ch. Revelation 6:2. The word: I come quickly, is applicable to all times. Where sin is, and hostility toward the church of the Lord, there also the Lord is near. On the expression, “Hold what thou hast,” comp. ch. Revelation 2:25, “Hold what ye have, till I come.”
The crown is the crown of life in ch. Revelation 2:10, the eternal blessedness, which the chosen already possess in faith, and which God faithfully keeps for them, that he may bring it forth to them in his time. This crown is not actually bestowed on them before the coming of the Lord, but it may before that period at any time be lost. Jews and heathen may rob us of it, if we are not on our guard. But, oh! who would be afraid of these, and out of regard to them deny his faith, when he knows how soon their day is coming! The more difficult they make it for us, the nearer the day is, and the more foolish would it be to yield to them, in order first to be judged with them, and then to be despoiled of our crown. The mention of the crown naturally leads to the concluding promise.
Revelation 3:12. He that overcomes, him will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall not go out any more. And I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the New Jerusalem, the city of my God, that comes down from heaven from my God, and my name the new. On the temple as a figurative designation of the church, comp. in ch. Revelation 11:1. Here the temple can only be the church triumphant. For, the concluding promises to the churches refer always to that future existence, and here in the second promise it is the New Jerusalem that is discoursed of, in contrast to the Old Jerusalem, the militant church. That we are not to think alone of the regeneration, Matthew 19:28, the church on the glorified earth, that it rather points to the state of final blessedness in heaven, appears from ch. Revelation 7:15. This alone might be understood, with Bengel, according to ch. Revelation 21:22. However, it is more simple to say, that the discourse there is of a common material temple, and only this is denied to have a place in the new Jerusalem. For the temple here is manifestly contemplated as one perpetually abiding, and must consequently denote the triumphant Christian church in its two states of existence, which in the Apocalypse are constantly represented as an internally united whole. That by the pillar only one thing is brought into view, the unchangeable stability, is made perfectly plain by the explanatory clause, which excludes all doubt, “and shall no more go out.” Those who have sought to find more in the image, have not considered, that it is spoken not of some peculiarly distinguished Christians, but of Christians generally (for to be a conqueror and to be a Christian is the same thing); also, that in the second promise a simple participation in the kingdom of glory is what is certified; and that the concluding promises generally unfold only what is common to all Christians, eternal blessedness. Substantially what is said in John 8:35, coincides with the promise before us, “The servant does not remain in the house for ever (the spiritual house, the church), the Son remains for ever.” The expression, “my God,” occurs in the verse four times, no doubt intentionally—perhaps, with a respect to the four letters in the name Jehovah, which must now be disclosed in its whole depth to the elect.
Upon him, upon the conqueror, not upon the pillar. For the latter was no longer the subject of discourse in the immediately preceding context; the not going out, only suits the conqueror, not at all the pillar; and in ch. Revelation 14:1 the chosen have the name of Christ and the name of the Father written on their foreheads. That the chosen are distinguished by the name of the Father, points to this, that the most high God is over them, that they dwell as his dear property, ch. Revelation 7:15. That they bear the name of the New Jerusalem (comp. on ch. Revelation 21:2), characterizes them as its citizens. That Christ’s new name is also written on them, which, according to ch. Revelation 19:16, runs, “King of kings and Lord of lords,” imports that they must be received into fellowship with the new state, which is marked by the new name, that they shall “reign with him for ever,” Revelation 22:5.
Revelation 3:13. He that has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Revelation 3:14. And to the angel of the church at Laodicea write: These things says Amen, the true and faithful witness, the beginning of the creation of God. The Hebrew Amen is everywhere used adverbially, even in Isaiah 65:16, where the God of the Verily is the God whose words and deeds have always the verily impressed on them. So it is also here. The verily is he, who in all he says, in disclosing the concealed depths of the heart, in threatening and promising, can always add with the fullest right the verily; while in regard to every thing that a shortsighted man speaks, there constantly goes along with it a mark of interrogation, and the more so indeed the more confidently he speaks. This note of distinction comes out in connection with the verily so frequently occurring in the discourses of our Lord, and occurring more frequently in the Gospel of John than the others. In this Gospel also it is often reduplicated. [Note: Lampe on John 1:52 throws out the question, qui factimi sit, ut reliqui Evangelistae conatanter Jesum introducant semel tantum Amen pronunciantem, Joannes vero seque constanter commemoret, quod earn ingeminaverit.] For, this, just as the predicate here, points to the fulness of truth that dwells in him as the True—comp. on Revelation 3:7.
Christ was already in the Introduction designated the true witness, ch. Revelation 1:5. There, for the consolation (as appears from the connection) of those who were ready to despair in the presence of a seemingly almighty world, the eye of faith is pointed to the certainty of his promises. Here, according to what follows, we have mainly to think of the certainty of his threatening and rebuking testimony: Think not that ye have to do with a short-sighted man, who may easily be deceived, who may judge falsely of your spiritual condition, and dream of imaginary dangers; in the presence of the true and faithful witness repent, so that ye may not be consumed by his coming wrath. Still, we are not to think alone of threatening and rebuke. For, the promise also in Revelation 3:20-21 has the predicates of Christ here as its foundation. The condemnatory judgment of the true and faithful witness must no one gainsay, however deep it may wound, his threatening must no one despise, his promise must all confide in.
When it is said of God and Christ that he is the beginning (comp. on ch. Revelation 1:8), it is the living beginning that is meant—that wherein the beginning has its root, the source of being; as also God and Christ are named the end, from the end being ruled by them, or having its root in them. Now, the same that is the beginning alone, is the beginning of the creation of God. For, it is in relation to the creatures that God and Christ are named the beginning. As the beginning of these creatures of God, as the one in whom we all live and move and have our being, Christ is omniscient in the knowledge of the works (“there is no creature that is not manifest before him; all is naked and open to his eyes,” Hebrews 4:13), almighty in his power to punish and reward them.
In the fact also of God’s being called the beginning, is the inadmissibility discovered of the Arian exposition, according to which Christ is here called the beginning of the creation, as himself the first creature. It would, besides, be quite extraordinary if He, who everywhere goes forth for the purpose of exhibiting the most perfect unity of being between the Father and the Son, should here for once fix a terrible gulph betwixt them. Here too, in particular, where it was of importance to set Christ as high as possible, in order to secure attention to the address that follows by pointing to his omniscience and his almightiness! Against the Arian exposition also decides the original passage, Colossians 1:15-18, comp. on ch. Revelation 1:5. That there Christ is spoken of as the author of creation, not as the first of created beings, has been shewn recently by Huther. And as the author of creation Christ also appears elsewhere in this book; comp. on ch. Revelation 5:13.
Perhaps in this predicate of Christ: the arche of the ktisis of God there is an allusion to the name of Archippus, who in Colossians 4:17 (comp. Philem. Philemon 1:2) appears as the most influential overseer in Laodicea: “And say to Archippus, Take heed to the office, which thon hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.” [Note: Whether Archippus was at Colosse, or at Laodicea, certainly cannot with absolute certainty be determined from the passage referred to. But the latter is favoured by the Say; which seems to presuppose that Archippus did not belong to the persons to whom the epistle was immediately addressed. From Philem. Revelation 3:2, comp. with Colossians 4:9, it could only be concluded that Archippus dwelt at Colosse, if there did not exist a close connection between the churches.] And in the Apostolical Constitutions 8:46 he is called the first bishop of the Laodiceans, and is said to have been ordained by the apostles. The admonition sent to him by Paul already sounds somewhat suspicions.
The Epistle to the Angel of the Church in Laodicea (Ch. Revelation 3:14-22 )
The angel of the church at Laodicea, and this church itself, for which Paul had fought a great fight ( Colossians 2:1, Colossians 4:15, ss.), had become lukewarm, blind and naked. In their own imagination they were the foremost, but in reality they were the farthest from salvation. Instead of what they vainly conceived themselves to be, there must be repentance. Thus alone can they find life and full satisfaction here by intimate fellowship with Christ, and hereafter participate in the glory, which awaits the true confessor. Would they but have a hearing hear for the great secrets, which only God’s Spirit can disclose, and out of regard to these suffer themselves to be drawn to repentance!
Revelation 3:15. I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot. I would that thou wert cold or hot! Coldness here is the love produced by self, heat that which is kindled by the fire of the Holy Spirit’—comp. Luke 12:49, Acts 2:2-4, Romans 5:5. The latter is called in the Song the flame of the Lord. Song of Solomon 8:6, “Its glow is fiery and a flame of the Lord, so that even many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it.” It may seem extraordinary that the coldness is here placed higher than what stands mid-way between it and the being hot, lukewarmness. According to the common threefold division of the praise and blame, the not being cold appears also as a reproach. And what is still more, it is the wish that the angel at Laodicea would be either cold or hot, which is expressed. With the common remarks, “thou shouldst then be more easily brought right,” or that the “I would” should not be taken too stringently, etc., we plainly cannot be satisfied. One always conceives a considerable amount of one-sidedness to cleave to the matter when so represented. Out of the coldness, apart from fellowship with Christ, one may, on applying himself generally to Christ, become a lukewarm person. The lukewarm in the church of the Old Testament were the Pharisees. But the Lord could never have given utterance to the wish that the Pharisees would become Sadducees. There is only one solution of the difficulty. The Lord speaks here only of the condition of those who stand in a relation to himself. In regard to others the word in 1 Corinthians 5:12 holds good. So that we can only think of being cold in such a manner, as has connected with it the painful consciousness that one is cold, a hearty desire to become hot. To the saying: Blessed are they who are poor in spirit, this: Blessed are they who in their own feeling are cold in spirit, goes hand in hand. In order to become warm, one must first have been cold; and even if one has become warm, the being cold still does not lose its signification; every advance is conditioned by the being cold, and proceeds in exact proportion to it. In a manner similar to the being cold here, the being blind occurs in John 9:41, “Were ye blind ( q.d. did ye but feel yourselves blind) ye should have no sin; but now ye say, We see, therefore your sin remains.” Accordingly, the being cold is an absolutely preferable state to the being lukewarm. The latter is also not to be tolerated as a transition-state. It does not, like the being cold, lie on the path of a healthful development, but is degeneracy, sickness, in many cases a sickness to death. Where the work of salvation proceeds, there a direct transition to warmth is never experienced, but the first stage is always that of coldness. Would that thou wert cold, the Lord is also saying to our Laodicean age! Were it but come to that, the warmth would soon appear of itself.
Revelation 3:16. But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Lukewarm water provokes to spuing. There is nothing more common than for lukewarmness to be cast as a reproach against others by those who are lukewarm in the truth themselves. How many of the orthodox in the seventeenth century acted so! But it not rarely happens with anxious minds, that they regard themselves as lukewarm without actually being so. “One must not always,” Bengel remarks, “estimate what they have of the heat of life by their own feelings. A person in a state of bodily health may have a lively heat or warmth in his body, and be himself unconscious of it, while another, who takes him by the hand, readily perceives it. So in spiritual things one, who is accustomed to spiritual ardour, may be without much sensibility, such as may appear somewhat strange and wonderful to another of little experience in the divine life. It belongs also to the fundamental constitution of the soul, that when it burns with a fervent zeal for God, the fire within shall never say: It is enough.”
Revelation 3:17. Because thou sayest, I am rich and have enriched myself and need nothing; and knowest not, that thou art wretched and miserable, poor, blind, and naked. The accusation of lukewarmness has its ground here. We are not to take this verse as a premiss, and Revelation 3:18 as a conclusion: Because thou sayest, etc., therefore I advise thee. For so long a premiss does not suit the excited character, which belongs to the discourse here. And the kind of periodical diction in question is ill-suited in general to the Hebraistic style of the Apocalypse. A view is given here of lukewarmness, which is full of consolation for humble and vexed souls. The severe judgment of the Lord against it has not respect to wants and weaknesses in themselves, toward which the Lord manifests infinite compassion; it has respect to them only in connection with a high-minded conceit, a state of self-satisfaction, the want of any sensible convictions of sin, or of earnest desires after pardon and sanctification. The palpable contrast between imaginary riches and actual poverty requires, that the riches should lie on the same territory that the poverty does, that it must be spiritual riches which are meant—comp. 1 Corinthians 1:5, 1 Corinthians 4:8, 2 Corinthians 8:9. The comparison of the original passage, Hosea 12:8, “Ephraim says, I have become rich, and have found substance,” shews, that there is no substantial difference between the two expressions.” I have become rich” and “I have enriched myself.” Only by varying the words the idea of great wealth is expressed. It is possible, that the Laodiceans had low ideas of the calling of Christians, and so regarded the most miserable attainments as splendid riches. But it is also possible (and this is much more probable from the existing position of the Christian church), that they could point to showy virtues. How one can have and do everything, and still be lukewarm, appears from the example of the Pharisees, to whose “I thank thee, etc.,” the Laodiceans responded, and received also along with them the condemnation of heaven, “Ye are they who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your heart;” see also 1 Corinthians 13:1, ss. The three actual wants correspond to the three imaginary distinctions. But beforehand the whole condition of the Laodiceans is condensed into the, par excellence, “wretched and miserable.” The reproach of blindness, comp. Matthew 15:14, Matthew 23:26, shews, that the Laodiceans were disposed to pride themselves also on their knowledge. But while they undertook to search the depths of Godhead, and dreamt of the treasures of knowledge, as it appears also from the epistle to the Colossians, that a tendency existed at a very early period among the Christians in that region to pretend to a higher knowledge, they could not see what lay immediately before their eyes, did not at all know themselves, imagined themselves to be superlatively rich, though they actually were in a state of beggary.
Revelation 3:18. I counsel thee, to buy of me gold, that has been purified in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white clothing, that thou mayest put on, and that the shame of thy nakedness may not appear; and eye-salve, to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see. The buying is from Isaiah 55:1. The merchandise consists in giving up the imagination of their own excellence, of the already accomplished aim, which had not attained to a knowledge of the coldness, and therefore could not come to a possession of the warmth, in having a heartfelt desire, zealous endeavours, fighting and striving, and all with the conviction, that in one’s own strength nothing is done. The gold, which is purified with fire, signifies tried faith. This is also in 1 Peter 1:7 compared with gold, that has been purified in the fire; and the former explanation is to be obtained by viewing it in connection with that passage—comp also James 1:3, where likewise faith appears as an object for trial and purification. We are not to think of the riches, which may be found in the service of the Redeemer, nor generally upon any objective spiritual good; for that the discourse is of a subjective property is plain from the expression: purified in the fire. It was in faith, too, that the Laodiceans placed the chief part of their imaginary wealth. But their faith was not of such a kind, as that it could go through a period of trial. It was rather a faith of the fancy than a heart-faith. The white garments are the Christian virtues, which can only be found in fellowship with Christ—comp on Revelation 3:4. The third thing is true spiritual knowledge, as contrasted with a superficial show-knowledge. The eye-salve is the illuminating grace of the Holy Spirit.
Revelation 3:19. Whomsoever I love, them I rebuke and chasten: be zealous, therefore, and repent. In these words, says Bengel, “the penetrating force of the preceding address is represented, yet not quite immediately, only after it had wrought its necessary effect.” The contrast between the former and the present times is shown by the remark of De Wette, “The blame and the threatening are not meant in so bad a sense, as is evident from the loving affectionate exhortation;” whereas the older expositors point with one consent to the greatness of the longsuffering and goodness of God and Christ that here displays itself toward sinners. They speak of these being manifested now under the New Testament, just as formerly they had waited in the days of Noah ( 1 Peter 3:20), if by any means a better feeling might be awakened in the minds of sinners; while still they unfold the truth that it is just love, which holds out in prospect a terrible condemnation for those who will not be brought to repentance through the reformatory discipline. It may certainly be gathered from the “whom I love,” that Laodicea had still not reached the last step. [Note: Vitringa: “That church wan therefore still in some respect loved by the Lord. He desired to preserve it as loved, not to destroy it as reprobate,” etc.] But this indeed is presupposed by the fact, that its candlestick had not yet been removed from its place. Allusion is made to Proverbs 3:11-12, “My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, and be not impatient of his correction; for whom the Lord loves he corrects, and as a father the son, in whom he delights.” This passage is also quoted in Hebrews 12:5-6. We can the less regard the coincidence with it here as accidental, as in what immediately follows there is also a reference to the writings of Solomon. The words: Be zealous and repent, are not placed in a sort of reverse order. For repentance is not a mere insight into one’s poverty and nakedness, but a change of mind, a transition from lukewarmness through coldness to the fervent zeal of love. The call to repent, added to the exhortation to be zealous, implies that Laodicea could attain to true zeal only by undergoing an entire change of mind.
Revelation 3:20. Behold I stand at the door and knock. If any one hear my voice and open the door, I will go into him, and sup with him, and he with me. The first part of the verse alludes to the Song of Solomon 5:2, “I sleep, but my heart wakes. There is the voice of my beloved who knocks: Open to me my beloved, my sister, my dove, my undefiled.” The reference does not lie merely in the particular words. The spiritual state of the person addressed is the same in both passages. The bride is between sleeping and waking, incertum vigilans (comp. Revelation 3:2), corresponding to the state of lukewarmness here: she cannot at first overcome her slumbering inactivity, and delays to let the bridegroom in. This mere allusion to the commencement calls up before the trembling soul all that follows; how repentance seizes her, and she would then open to the bridegroom, while he meanwhile has gone away: “I sought him but 1 found him not, I called, but he answered not;” how she hied after him, and was beaten by the watchmen. The grief of a soul, that has driven the Lord from it, could not be more graphically exhibited than it is there. The second member of the verse, as well as the first, points to the Song. There the supper is spoken of which the Lord will hold with the soul and it with him. Immediately before the passage of Canticles just referred to, in Song of Solomon 4:16, the bride speaks to the bridegroom, “Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits;” and the bridegroom says in Song of Solomon 5:1, “I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse; I break my myrrh together with roots; I eat my honey with my comb; I drink my wine with my milk.” This is the foundation for the saying here, “I will sup with him.” In the Song, Song of Solomon 2:3, the bride says, “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sit under his shadow, which I desired, and his fruit is sweet to my taste.” This is the foundation for the other clause, “and he with me.” In what the supper consists, which the bride prepares for the bridegroom, and he again for her, is rendered plain by the Epiphonem of the sacred bard, with which the whole piece concludes, that Song of Solomon 4:16 belongs to, and after which we find the commencement of a new part at Song of Solomon 5:2, presenting Sulamith to our view in another and less joyful situation: “Eat, O friends, and drink, and be drunk of love.” It is love, to the enjoyment of which the bride invites the bridegroom, and which she enjoys again of him. We have substantially the same thing as this mutual supping between Christ and the believer in John 14:21, “He that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and manifest myself to him.” This passage and that of John 14:23, “He that loveth me, will keep my works, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our abode with him,” stand in the closest relation to the one before us, though of such a kind, that we cannot think of imitation. They, too, in their tender sympathy, in their sweet and affectionate tone, point back to the Song. Aversion to that portion of Scripture, however, has led some to deny that there is here any reference to it. The objection is urged, that no references are anywhere else to be found in the New Testament to Canticles. But it is enough to point in reply to John 7:38, “He that believeth on me, as the Scripture says, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” The reference is to Song of Solomon 4:15, where the bride is called “a garden-spring, a well of living waters, and they flow from Lebanon;” comp. Song of Solomon 4:12, where she is called “a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.” The belly, which has respect to an Old Testament mode of representing the relation between the Lord and his church, only to be found in Canticles, is from Song of Solomon 7:3, combined with Song of Solomon 4:15. Accordingly, whenever we meet with the bride there, we are to think of believers. The formula, with which the Lord quotes the passage, “as the Scripture says,” should be heard as the cry, “Put off your shoes, for it is holy ground,” by those who are yet incapable of understanding the book, or even abuse it to improper purposes. To that Song our Lord farther refers in Matthew 9:15, when he compares himself to the bridegroom; and likewise in the parable of the bridegroom and the ten virgins. John the Baptist points to it in John 3:29, and Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:1, Ephesians 5:27, comp. with Song of Solomon 4:7, “Thou art altogether beautiful, my beloved, and there is no blemish in thee.” There are other parts of this book also, which refer to the Song; the bride in ch. Revelation 22:17, Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:9, the marriage supper of the Lamb in ch. 19. And it confirms the reference to the Song here, that the passage, Song of Solomon 4:15, which is quoted by our Lord in the Gospel of John, that of Song of Solomon 4:16, which forms the ground for “I will sup with him,” and Song of Solomon 5:2, on which the clause, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock,” rests, are all quite contiguous to each other. The Lord stands at the door for every one who belongs to the number of his people, and has not yet committed the sin against the Holy Ghost; he did so even for Judas the traitor up to the moment when Satan entered into him, so that there is no occasion for the remark of De Wette, “If he still stood so near to them, their state could not have been so very perilous.’’ The more perilous the state was (if only it was not absolutely hopeless), the more must the Lord have stood at the door, and knocked the more loudly. The knocking, with which we are to associate calling, because this among the ancients was commonly connected with knocking, unless we may take the knocking itself as a symbolical calling, which, perhaps, is the simpler way:
This knocking is accomplished in various ways, by the word of God, and by the providences which stir emotions in the soul. Here it is done more immediately by this epistle. In the promise respect is not had to what may be experienced in a future state of being, which is first brought into view in the following verse; but, as appears also from the parallel passages of the Gospel, to a relation to Christ, which may exist even in this troublous world, and with all true believers is found to be as a heaven upon earth, and that a light illuminates their darkness.
Revelation 3:21. He that overcomes, to him will I give to sit with me on my throne; as 1 have overcome and have sitten down with my Father on his throne; Revelation 3:22. He that has an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. When Christ’s people have continued stedfast in the conflict against all temptations, he will receive them at last into the participation of his dominion, and triumph over all hostile powers, and they shall see lying prostrate under their feet all that afflicted them with pain and trouble during the course of their present life. Comp. on ch. Revelation 1:9, Revelation 2:26-28; and in regard to the words, “as I have overcome,” etc., ch. Revelation 5:5, Revelation 7:17, Revelation 22:1, Php_2:9 , Hebrews 12:2.
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Revelation 3". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13