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THE SPIRIT’S ADDRESS TO SARDIS
(Revelation 3:1-6 ).
THE EPISTLES TO SARDIS AND THYATIRA.
In this epistle to the angel we have the general state of the Church after the Reformation, as in the previous epistle we had a sketch in word and symbol of the Church before the Reformation. In Sardis Protestantism is before us; in Thyatira the papacy. The one overlaps the other, while both run on concurrently till the end, the Coming of the Lord. In the first three epistles are described consecutive states of the Church as a whole. The Reformation was a turning point in the history of western Christianity. The enforcement of the lofty and impious pretensions of the papacy in the seventh century was Satan’s scourge of the west, while the rapid development of Mohammedanism at the same period equally blighted the east. The Reformation was a partial recovery in the west; for the east there has been none; it is apostate from God and the truth.
THE SEVEN SPIRITS AND THE SEVEN STARS.
1. “ He that has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. ” “The seven Spirits of God” is a perplexing expression to some. In the epistles of Paul the unity of the Spirit, “ one Spirit,” is a cardinal truth. But in the apocalyptic phrase “seven Spirits” are taught the fulness, completeness, and diversified attributes and actions of the one Holy Spirit. The Spirit in diversified governmental action as distinct, yet in conjunction with Jehovah and Jesus Christ, seems the thought intended in Revelation 1:4 ; while in Revelation 5:6 the perfection of power and fulness of spiritual intelligence, exercised governmentally by the Lamb, is the force of the expression there used. The fulness of the Spirit is in Christ. He exercises the power of the Spirit whether towards the Church (Revelation 3:1 ) or towards the world (Revelation 5:6 ). Whatever, then, the state of the Church may be fallen, ruined, corrupt, dead there is in Him Who is in the midst of the golden lamps adequate spiritual power.
1. “ He that has……the seven stars. ” The stars are the light bearers of the churches, responsible to shine for Christ and reflect the light of Heaven on the surrounding darkness. Christ has both the “seven Spirits” and the “seven stars,” only the latter are not said to be in His right hand, as in Revelation 1:16 . It is simply said He has them. The ecclesiastical order of the Church was maintained in Ephesus, whereas in Sardis the ministry in general and the organisation of the Church were by no means according to the due order of the Spirit. A scripturally constituted ministry where all was in place, and every endowment of the Spirit was exercised under the Lordship of Christ might well be spoken of as “in His right hand.” But after the Reformation churches were rapidly formed according to the will, caprice, or intelligence of certain leaders. Certain truths, not THE TRUTH, became a rallying point or centre round which congenial minds gathered, forming for themselves a Church polity, and establishing a ministry, paid for and duly ordered according to ability, talent, and the power to increase and consolidate their numbers. Hence it is here simply said “He has the stars.” After all, ministry of every character proceeds from Christ. “He has the stars.” The entire ministry of the Church is with Christ, but be it remembered that “the Spirits” and “the stars” must not be separated; distinguished they may be, but severed they cannot be without serious loss. A cold, carnal, intellectual, humanly-ordained ministry is a ministry divorced from the Spirit. The stars shine by the light of the Spirit. The union of the two is the point here. The Church’s competency for inward and spiritual power and for an outward organisation of authority and ministry are ever with Christ. Herein consists the strength and weakness of Protestant profession of Christianity. Dependence upon and guidance by the Holy Spirit is true power; ministry and order which ignore the Spirit, practically or theoretically, are effete, and moral death is the sure result.
1. “ I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. ” The Lord’s omniscience is again asserted in the words, “I know thy works.” Thus He Who walks in the midst of the churches searches Sardis, and pronounces this judgment, “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” Such was, and is, Protestantism. The Reformation was the result of the energy of the Spirit of God. Historically we trace that mighty intervention of God to its human instruments, Luther, Melanchthon, etc., and to the various causes which contributed to the grand result, as the invention of printing, etc., but behind all these the great operating cause was the Holy Ghost. We regard the papacy as the greatest curse and the Reformation as the greatest blessing since the introduction of Christianity. We distinguish between the Reformation and Protestantism; the former was a divine work, the latter a human system.
When the energy of the Reformers succeeded in breaking the chains and shackles of the worst tyranny which history records the crucial question arose: Will the energy and zeal be maintained? Will victory succeed victory? Alas, the Reformation, like every movement begun in the Spirit, soon lapsed into a cold, formal, lifeless, orthodox thing. The Reformers, and notably those who succeeded them, commenced the system of making churches instead of searching Scripture, from which they could alone learn what the Church of God is. Spiritual power was well-nigh gone; it might be found in individuals here and there, but, as a general and characteristic condition of the Church soon after the Reformation, the personal presence of the Holy Ghost in the Church (1 Corinthians 3:17 ) and in the individual believer (1 Corinthians 6:19 ) was either unknown, or, where a glimmering of the truth had penetrated, ignored. Yet things seemed fair enough, but within the power, the life, was not there. We refer to the general state. In Protestantism we have not the horrors nor gross corruption of the Middle Ages, but rather the sleep of death. There is a name to live, but only a name . The change from the papacy to Protestantism, from Thyatira to Sardis, may be described as a step out of the “chamber of horrors” into the “cell of death”. There is the appearance of life, but He Whose eyes search all things and pierce through the outward covering says “art dead.”
Revelation 3:2 . “ Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain, which are about to die, for I have not found thy works complete before My God. ” The general condition being one of death, the Church’s spiritual representatives are to rouse up. Not only is watchfulness in view of the state then enjoined, but they were to become abidingly watchful. Watching and praying are coupled (Mark 13:33 ) in the light of the Lord’s return. Praying and watching are connected in the maintenance of the Christian conflict (Ephesians 6:18 ). If moral death characterised the Protestant profession of Christianity inwardly, spite of deceptive appearances to the contrary, how needful the admonition to continue in a state of wakefulness and not slumber with the mass.
But while a continuous state of watchfulness was enjoined in order to arrest further paralysis (for death, not life, was fast becoming master of the situation), the energy of love was also needed.
2. “ Strengthen the things that remain, which are about to die. ” The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23 ) yet existed, although in measure small and in expression feeble; whatever of life and grace remained was to be built up, cherished, strengthened. Whatever is of God hold fast, and the more so as practical religion is dying out of these Christian lands. The exhortation was never more needed than now. The sword and the trowel are ever in demand, but the wise and diligent use of the latter is the crying need of the Church.
2. “ I have not found thy works complete before My God. ” This charge forms the ground of the admonition addressed to the angel. The works of faith and of obedience were not complete, i.e. , in the sense of being filled up . The soul’s practical relations with God were almost neglected in the public conflict with Rome. Individual godliness and Church life were at the lowest ebb. Protestantism as designating those who have seceded from Rome *At the famous diet of Spires, in 1529, on April 19th certain of the princes of Germany and many others protested against the usurpation of the papacy under Clement VII .; and again on Saturday, the 24th, the last day of the diet, they firmly renewed their protest . Hence from that day the Reformers all who stood out in opposition to the papacy were termed Protestants, eight years after Luther had so nobly borne himself alone at the diet of Worms. is a poor designation of what a Christian ought to be. The exalted truths contained in the epistles to the Ephesians and Colossians were utterly unknown to the mass of the Reformers. Their efforts were mainly concentrated on the great struggle to recover for themselves, their children, and succeeding generations the Pauline truth of justification by faith, and even that is not presented in their writings in its scriptural fulness. *Luther spoke in the most contemptuous terms of the epistle of James, because he foolishly thought that the Jewish apostle clashed with Paul in the presentation of the doctrine of Justification. Exceedingly defective were they in their thoughts as to the personality and dwelling on earth of the Holy Ghost, of the Church as the Body of Christ, and of our individual and corporate relationships to Christ in Heaven.
Thus their works were not complete or filled up before “My God.” This, then, was, and is, the great defect of Protestantism, and in this respect it compares unfavourably with the devotedness in works for which Thyatira was commended (Revelation 2:19 ). We must, however, in all this distinguish between the Reformation and the state subsequently known as Protestantism. The former was undoubtedly a divine movement, the latter is a public position taken up in opposition to the papacy in which, of course, there are many pious persons, while the system itself is one of moral death.
Revelation 3:3 . “ Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and keep (it) and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come (upon thee) as a thief, and thou shalt not know at what hour I shall come unto thee. ” The “remember” to Ephesus (Revelation 2:5 ) was in view of the exceedingly rich endowment of truth revealed and grace bestowed, and from which the Church was declining; whereas the call to “remember” here is in the light of what God had recovered for them at the Reformation, i.e. , the Gospel, the Word of God, and liberty of conscience. Judgment is ever according to the measure of responsibility, and that exists in a greater or less degree as flowing from what God has given and where He has set one. They had both “received” and “heard.” Protestantism was living on the renown acquired by her successful conflict with the papacy; was living on her name . The truths recovered and the Gospel heard to the joy of thousands were fading from memory and conscience; hence the command to “keep” and “repent” to keep what they had, and to repent of the poor use they had made of their blessings.
They had been counselled to watch (v. 2), now unless they do so they are threatened with judgment. The character in which Christ would come to them is as a “thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-28 ). He shall come as a Judge, unexpectedly, at an unknown and unlooked-for hour. Protestantism and the world are on the easiest terms possible. The mass of dissenters in pulpit, press, and Church courts are active politicians. State endowed churches must be to a considerable extent political in principle and practice. If, therefore, Protestantism identifies itself with the world, sharing its fortunes, it must also share its doom. Christ comes to the Church as the Morning Star, to Israel as the Sun of Righteousness, and to the world and religious profession in sudden surprise as a “thief in the night.” The papacy (Thyatira) and Protestantism (Sardis) are running on together, but in opposition lines. Immense efforts are being made to heal the breach with popery. The differences between the two are lessening. The hour is approaching when the 1300 sects of Christendom will coalesce, headed by the personal Antichrist, but the end of every unity not formed by the Holy Ghost can only result in judgment.
PROMISE TO THE UNDEFILED.
Revelation 3:4 . “ But thou hast a few names in Sardis, which have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with Me in white, because they are worthy. ” In Thyatira the “rest,” or remnant, and in Sardis the “few names” undefiled, formed a company in whom the Lord could delight. In principle and practice they were separate from the evil which they deplored; they walked apart from it. The weight of influence and numbers was with the popular side. The “few names in Sardis” had not defiled their garments. The mass had a name in the world, the “few” were unknown, and had no official standing, but each one of the company was personally known to Him Who “calleth His own sheep by name.” How ample the gracious consolation: “They shall walk with Me in white.” They had preserved their integrity here , they would walk with Him there in robes made white in the blood of the Lamb. We shall enjoy many a delightful walk and talk with our glorified Saviour and Lord (compare with Luke 9:30-32 ). In that coming day of ample reward, and of holy companionship with our ever blessed Lord, no thought of personal unworthiness as now shall ever cast a shadow across the soul, for, adds the Lord in His wonderful grace, “They are worthy.” Truly it is the reckoning of grace, for each one of the distinguished and honoured number is in himself as to worth but a “brand plucked out of the fire,” one rescued from imminent judgment justly deserved.
REWARDS TO THE OVERCOMER.
Revelation 3:5 . “ He that overcomes, he shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life, and will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. ” Here are three promises. (1) The overcomer who walked here in purity, in personal uprightness before God, shall be amply justified in the glorious scene outside this world. He shall be clothed in garments of white on which no speck or stain shall rest. (2) He who persevered in the path of life to the end would not have his name blotted out of the register of Christian profession. Many standing high in the Church, whose names are as “household words,” may be erased in the day when life’s records shall be scanned by the all-searching eye of the Lord of the churches. (3) He who shrank not from the confession of the Name of Christ always unpopular in merely religious society, and, of course, ever so in the world shall be singled out in the august presence of the Father and His angels and have his name confessed before that grand assembly.
5. “ The book of life ” here is not the same as that of Revelation 13:8 . In Revelation 3:5 it is profession which may or may not be real. The end would show. Some names would stand, others be erased. But in that of chapter 13: 8 every name recorded was that of a true believer, because the names were written from the foundation of the world, *The alternative reading in the margin of the Revised Version of chapter 13: 8 reads thus: “Shall worship……whose names hath not been written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the slain Lamb.” So also Tregelles, Darby, Kelly, etc. and hence before the course of human responsibility commenced. God knows the end from the beginning, and so in indelible letters wrote each name. In chapter 3: 5 “the book of life” is the record of Christian profession ; in chapter 13: 8 “the book of life” is the record of reality . In the former the true and false are found; in the latter the true only.
THE SPIRIT’S ADDRESS TO PHILADELPHIA
(Revelation 3:7-13 ).
PHILADELPHIA: ITS MEANING AND PRACTICAL SIGNIFICANCE.
Philadelphia was the last Christian city which submitted to the Turk, and of the seven cities named in these addresses it had the longest duration; moreover, it is the only one of the seven whose name is preserved in these modern times in the name of the well-known American city founded by William Penn.
Philadelphia signifies “brotherly love,” and evidently points to the characteristic feature of the work of God in our days. We are satisfied that the Philadelphian state has its rise, unique character, and development equally with the other Church states which have come before us. Why should Philadelphia with a character as equally pronounced as any of the others have no historical origin? We believe it has. At the close of the eighteenth century Christendom had settled down in the stupor of death. Protestantism was living on its name. That century was by no means the most wicked of the Christian centuries, but it was the worst in the sight of God as to its moral state. We judge that the Philadelphian epoch of the Church and the sounding of the midnight cry (Matthew 25:6 ) are associated events; if, indeed, the latter is not part and parcel of the Philadelphian movement. This was a true revival, a spiritual reformation. A work not of so public a character as the Reformation, but one of equal moment with it. The revival of long-forgotten truths, and their application to the souls and lives of God’s saints, was the Philadelphian work of eighty years ago. Many New Testament doctrines and truths of vital importance to the standing and state of saints were forgotten soon after the death of the apostles. Thank God for their revival in our day. Multitudes who apparently stepped into the blessed grace won for them and us through the energy of the Spirit of God are now giving it up. What next? What follows? Laodicea, pure and simple. In Philadelphia true saints are caught up into the air to meet Christ. In Laodicea mere professors are spued out of His mouth; in the former the Church is preserved, in the latter the mass is rejected.
“Brotherly love” *There is a good deal of Biblical instruction wrapped up in the meaning of personal and common names practically unknown to most readers of the Holy Scriptures through inattention to this branch of study. On the other hand, there is danger, especially to persons of a mystic character of mind, in allowing imagination to take flights of fancy and play fast and loose in the domain of revealed truth. The Reformer, Ursinius, author of the Heidelberg Catechism, ingeniously constructed a statement of the Fall and Redemption from the alleged signification of the names of the first ten antediluvian patriarchs; others have followed in the same fanciful direction. To seek to establish a truth or doctrine on the real or supposed value of a numeral, or significance of a name merely , is to introduce a dangerous principle in Biblical interpretation. The value of numerals, and the signification of names throw many a sidelight on the teachings of Scripture. The origin of many words is lost, but if the origin and early history of names of objects and persons could in all cases be given with certainty it would be found that they express characteristic features or qualities in relation to special circumstances or events. The naming of the animals by Adam would no doubt be in relation to their several characteristics or habits. Professor Max Muller in his “Science of Languages” says: “Analyse any word you like and you will find that it expresses a general idea peculiar to the individual to which it belongs. What is the meaning of moon? The measurer . What is the meaning of sun? The begetter . What is the meaning of earth? The ploughed .” intimates an exclusive company. Divine love in all its aspects is a holy love, one intolerant of evil, for God is love. “Brotherly love,” therefore, must partake of the character of its source, which is God Himself. In this respect Philadelphia stands out in marked contrast to Sardis; this latter represents the mass of professing Christians, whilst distinguishing a remnant; the former brings into prominence a true-hearted company, the members of which may be scattered world-wide, but one characterised by love, a love holy and true in its character and one not narrower than the divine circle, “the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19 ).
PERSONAL ATTRIBUTES and ADMINISTRATIVE AUTHORITY.
Revelation 3:7 . “ To the angel of the Church in Philadelphia write: These things saith the holy, the true: He that has the key of David, He who opens and no one shall shut, and shuts and no one shall open. ” It is a circumstance to be carefully noted that the character in which Christ presents Himself here forms no part of His glory as beheld in chapter one. He assumes a moral attitude towards the Church in Philadelphia, one which exactly fits its state of manifest weakness. Here, then, we have Christ in personal character, what He is essentially. He is the holy, He is the true. Others, however, might be that in a qualified degree, so that scarcely gives the force of the words, “ the holy, the true.” He is both in His own Person. He ever is the embodiment of holiness and truth. Both personally and intrinsically He is “ the holy” and “ the true.” Viewed essentially these are divine attributes (Hosea 11:9 ; Jeremiah 10:10 ; Revelation 4:8 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:9 ; Isaiah 6:3 ; 1 John 5:20 ). Persons and things are spoken of as holy and true, but no created being has the essential moral glory of being The Holy One and The True One. As employed in our text they are really divine titles.
7. “ He that has the key of David. ” In these words and in those that follow the reference is to Isaiah 22:22 . Shebna is deposed and degraded. The treasurer of the royal house of David used his high office to immortalise himself (v. 16). Then the prophet announced the investiture of Eliakim to the administration of the royal authority. The terms of the prophecy in depth and fulness are characteristically Messianic, going far beyond the historical circumstances in the days of Hezekiah. The prophetic announcement of Isaiah (Isaiah 22:22 ) and the words of the Seer (v. 7 in our chapter), almost verbally the same, imply administrative authority; the former in connection with royalty in Judah, the latter in connection with grace to the Church. The “key” as a symbol denotes undisputed right to enter and exercise all needful authority.
Some, strangely enough, connect “the key of the house of David” with “the keys of death and of hades.” They are not identical. The former intimates Christ’s sovereignty in time, the latter His sway in the unseen world in all that concerns the bodies and souls of men. “The keys of the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 16:19 ) were alone committed to Peter to signify delegated authority, which necessarily ceased when his work was done. Peter by his preaching opened the door of the kingdom for Jews in Acts 2:1-47 , and for the admission of Gentiles in Acts 10:1-48 . The keys having been used, and the doors opened, a successional and vested right in “St. Peter’s keys” is absurd. Peter left the door open; hence they are of no further use.
7. “ He who opens and no one shall shut, and shuts and no one shall open, ” does so in virtue of having “the key of David,” i.e. , complete sovereignty. But the reference here is not to admission and rejection connected with either Church or kingdom. It is a “door” of service and testimony that is opened or closed according to Christ’s sovereign pleasure (compare with Acts 14:27 ; 1Co 16:9 ; 2 Corinthians 2:12 ; also with the words following, “Behold I have set before thee an open door”). The treasures of grace and blessing are under the absolute control of Christ, “He has the key,” and will not pass it on to another. Hence when He opens or closes a door, who can shut or open? His right to direct His servants is unquestionable, His authority irresistible.
WHAT ALONE CAN MEET THE MIND OF CHRIST.
The zeal of many is unbounded, the orthodoxy of others is unquestionable, a scriptural ecclesiastical standing has been assumed by numerous assemblies of saints, and yet with it all there may be no real answer to Him, the holy, the true. We hold it to be impossible to point to any company of saints on earth and say, “There is the Philadelphian company” of Revelation 3:7-13 . What alone can suit the mind of the Lord (and no true-hearted saint would desire to come short of it) is a moral state, the reflex of what He is in essential moral character. God would stamp holiness and truth on His people, and in these morally associate them with His beloved Son. But the work must begin and be continued within , in the soul, and this will result in an outward display to the eyes of the Lord in which He can delight. Sardis is a sight for the world ; Philadelphia for the Lord . Yet in painfully realising the poverty of our answer to Him Who is the holy, the true, we must brace ourselves up in the strengthening thought that the full administrative authority of the kingdom is with Him. He can make good every yearning after holiness and moral conformity to Himself. We abhor with Him every shade and shadow of falsehood. He rouses the integrity of the new man within us to desire only the true. He has, and ever retains, the key of David, and unlocks the treasures of strength and blessing for His beloved people. But sure we are that pretension, boasting, and the declaration of what we are morally or ecclesiastically are in every way opposed to the moral condition suitable to Him. Christ-like people are not occupied with their state or progress. The transforming process (2 Corinthians 3:4 ) ceases when self, i.e. , what we are and what we have done , is before the soul.
ENCOURAGED AND COMMENDED.
Revelation 3:8 . “ I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, which no one can shut, because thou hast a little power, and hast kept My Word, and hast not denied My Name. ” The Church in Sardis walked hand in hand with the world, and so must share its doom (Revelation 3:3 with 1 Thessalonians 5:2 ). Not so with the assembly in Philadelphia. It walked apart from the world, and so its end is bright (v. 12). The public position of the former, with its abundant religious machinery and works on a large scale and duly chronicled, is in marked contrast with the latter, which has no worldly status, no ecclesiastical organisation, and no works which the world can either admire or publicly note. The works of Philadelphia do not attract the world’s admiration nor draw down the world’s éclat. This is enough for the faithful: “I know thy works.” A Philadelphian, one who answers to that character, flourishes spiritually in the shade. It is there, and not under the patronage or smile of the world that his deepest moments of communion are spent with the Lord. “I know thy works,” poor and feeble as they are at the best, is enough for cheer and strength till the day of recompense arrives.
But the weakness of Philadelphia need not hinder service and testimony, nor prevent them being of the truest character. To Jesus on earth, Whose only care was to do His Father’s will at whatever cost, the porter opened and none could shut. So here Christ has the unchallenged right to use the key, all authority in Heaven and in earth being committed to Him (Matthew 28:18 ), He had set before the angel “an opened door.” Service for Him and testimony to Him were to be the happy life work of the Church. They need not fear, for no created being can shut that opened door. “No man can shut it,” reads the Authorised Version; “no one,” or “none can shut,” reads the Revised. What strength! In individuals or associations created might is powerless to hinder the service or crush the testimony of those called into personal association with Christ. Our only defence is our weakness. Do we realise it? We have a shut door in Acts 16:6-7 , and an open door in 1 Corinthians 16:9 .
Then after this gracious and abundant encouragement the Lord proceeds in one unbroken strain of commendation. Not a word of censure. The Church in Smyrna was in suffering , and the assembly in Philadelphia in weakness , and so neither is blamed; the only two of the seven exempted from reproof.
8. “ Thou hast a little power. ” Not exactly “strength,” as in the Authorised Version. The Spirit wrought in resistless energy in the testimony and preaching in the commencement of Christianity, and had the Church continued its life of obedience and dependence the power of the Spirit would have remained in all its fulness.
The Lord has been pleased to make the plenitude of spiritual power dependent to a large extent on our individual and corporate faithfulness, but not so the presence of the Spirit in the Church; this latter is an ever-abiding fact pledged by the Word of the Lord Himself (John 14:16 ). There was not much to show, nor marked spiritual energy, but there was a little power. The Church in profession is a wreck, and it would be a virtual denial of the corruption and ruin to expect a Pauline or Petrine energy of the Spirit. God cannot work in mighty power in a condition of things which is to the denial of the Name of His Son, the holy, the true. The amount of power was small, but it was actively employed, not held as a mere passive possession. Activity in service and faithfulness to the Word and Name of Christ characterised the angel.
8. The testimony of Christ was both of a positive and negative character. Thou “ hast kept My Word ” *“Word,” meaning the mind of the Lord as a whole; “words” details; and “commandments,” expression of His authority (see John 14:1-31 . “Words,” in verse 23 should read “word;” “sayings” in verse 24, “words”). positive , and “ hast not denied My Name ” negative . The former involves thorough subjection of soul and conscience to the written Word. In order to “keep” the Word obedience to it must be prompt and unqualified. A slipshod reading of Scripture as a matter of duty, or even its study for intelligence and to equip one more thoroughly for ministerial service does not constitute one a doer of the Word. To keep Christ’s Word at all costs may involve the forfeiture of social and civil distinction and the abandonment of position in the professing Church and in the world. To a true Philadelphian saint Christ’s Word is that which separates him from all to Christ alone at whatever personal cost.
Surely, too, in a scene where almost every religious abomination is attached to the holy Name of the Lord it is a matter of no small moment to stand aloof, to reject every association, even if good and learned men uphold it, if it is to the dishonour of Christ. Elijah in his day, Paul in his, and Luther at a later era were distinguished witnesses for God. During those and other critical periods God had always a company of negative witnesses. It is morally invigorating to trace the steps, reckon up the opposing forces, and mark the brilliant career of men who bravely battled for God and truth; but let us not overlook, as did Elijah, the 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18 ). His testimony was the grander of the two without doubt, but theirs was also valued by Jehovah.
A name represents a person, and necessarily supposes his absence. The value of what a person is has its force in the name. In the Name of Christ prayer is all-prevailing (John 14:13-14 ); to it alone God would gather His saints (Matthew 18:20 ); in virtue of it our sins have been forgiven (1 John 2:12 ); and because of it God leads His pilgrim people in paths of righteousness (Psalms 23:3 ). It is no light matter therefore to be preserved from the denial of Christ in days of abounding iniquity. If we cannot have a bold, distinct, uncompromising testimony of an Elijah character, let us have at least a silent one, yet one that will not deny the Name of the blessed Lord.
CONDEMNATION OF MODERN JUDAISM
Revelation 3:9 . “ Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan who say they are Jews, and are not, but lie; behold, I will cause that they shall come and shall do homage before thy feet, and shall know that I have loved thee. ” We meet with the same party here as in the address to Smyrna. The character of the opposition may not be the same in both Church periods, for the tactics of Satan are varied, but in both the opposition is termed a “synagogue of Satan.” The company seems more formed and consolidated at the Philadelphian epoch of the Church; thus “ the synagogue of Satan.” Those here referred to are necessarily of Jewish nationality, but just as the Jews claimed to be God’s people on earth, and that to the exclusion of all others, so here a traditional, successional Church order and position are assumed. Its true character is exposed by the Lord of the churches. It is a gathering under Satan, and all the more wicked that it has tacked on to it the Name of the holy and true. The pretension to be the Church, to be the people of God, is a false one, a “lie.” Our souls and consciences have got somewhat blunted to the solemn state of things around us in which so many true saints are mixed up. The Church-state associations of the day are simply developed Judaism, with certain Christian rites and doctrines added thereto. The saved and unsaved are together addressed as “brethren.” The charge could be readily and abundantly proved. We have only to read the New Testament and contrast its teachings with Protestantism as a whole, and then ask: Have we not in our midst and around us a huge system of Judaism in its principles, traditions, practices, and character? Modern Judaism here meets the Lord’s withering condemnation. Popularity, numbers, wealth, and influence are on their side. Philadelphian saints are few, feeble, and of no account. Confronted on every hand with a spurious character of Christianity, which adapts itself to every variety of taste and temperament, the special danger is lest the separate position be surrendered, that an easier path be sought at the expense of a deviation from truth and holiness. A large and increasing party in the professing Church is here termed “the synagogue of Satan.” What is it if not that? There never was a moment when human charity was so in the ascendant, and surely never a moment when divine love is so needed. The former says “Union is strength ,” the latter says “Union in obedience is strength.” But the relative positions of those composing “the synagogue of Satan” and the Philadelphian Church are soon to be reversed. The former are to be humbled; the latter exalted. What a reversal of the present order of things! But, more, these Church pretenders shall know that those whom they had despised are special objects of divine love. They “shall know that I have loved thee .”
EXEMPTION FROM THE COMING HOUR OF TRIAL.
Revelation 3:10-11 . “ Because thou hast kept the Word of My patience, I also will keep thee out of the hour of trial which is about to come upon the whole habitable world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. I come quickly: hold fast what thou hast, that no one take thy crown. ” The patience or endurance of Christ was tested to its utmost, but the trial brought out, not impatience and fretfulness, as so often with us, but perfection of such sort as ascended to God as a sweet savour. “The Word of My patience,” however, does not recall His past fragrant as it is with moral beauty but refers to the present attitude of our Lord. He sits at Jehovah’s right hand patiently waiting till God makes His enemies a footstool (Psalms 110:1-7 with Hebrews 10:12-13 ), or, in other words, He waits for the establishment of the millennial kingdom in power and glory. For that kingdom Christ patiently waits in Heaven. When God’s time arrives the heirs are gathered up, changed and glorified (1 Thessalonians 4:17 ; 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 ); then God brings into the world His First-Begotten, accompanied by all His heavenly saints (Jude 1:14 ) and holy angels (Matthew 25:31 ). “And there was given Him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages should serve Him: His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:14 ). What a glorious prospect is thus opened up! A prospect grand to us, but infinitely more so to Him Who waits in patience in the throne of His Father. The Philadelphian saints had revived this testimony and kept it; here termed “the Word of My patience;” kept it midst the contempt and scorn of the proud, worldly, and pretentious party in the professing Church, whose arrogant claims to tradition and succession of ministry, priesthood, and sole right to dispense sacraments wore out the saints and demanded more than ordinary endurance. “ Because thou hast kept the Word of My patience, I also will keep thee out of the hour of trial.” How ample the recompense for the measure of faithfulness maintained by the Philadelphian assembly! The struggle was no light one. The conflict of Smyrna had been with the pagan world. The struggle of Philadelphia with the religious power. The Church had endured as seeing Him Who is invisible, and waited in patience as did the Lord for the intervention of God.
The wording of the promise is as precise as it is gracious, and effectually disposes of the theory advanced by some, and that to the fear and dread of believers, that the Church or a part thereof shall have to pass through the coming Tribulation to purge itself from its unfaithfulness. No, the guarantee is, “I also will keep thee out of the hour of trial,” not brought through it, or kept in it, but entire exemption from it. No portion of the Church shall be in the Tribulation. Jews especially will be the most awful sufferers, for it is pre-eminently the day of Jacob’s trouble (Jeremiah 30:7 ). Gentiles, too, are embraced in it (Revelation 7:9-17 ). Lot and Noah were preserved through the respective tribulations of their days; on the other hand, Abraham and Enoch were divinely kept from these same seasons of trial. It is these latter which figure the Church. The hour of trial is “about to come.” It is nearing daily, and cannot in the nature of things be much longer deferred.
“ The whole habitable world ,” or civilised portion of the earth. The word here is the same as in Luke 2:1 , denoting the Roman empire. All apart from and outside the limits of the empire were regarded as without the pale of civilisation. The geographical sphere of the four Gentile universal monarchies (Daniel 2:1-49 ), the scene of special light and privilege, is to be subjected to a brief but awful period of trial. This crisis in the world’s history has its place within the last week of Daniel’s celebrated prophecy of seven years (Daniel 9:27 ). Christendom has yet to answer to God for its abuse of the light vouchsafed and for privilege bestowed. Christianity will judge Christendom. Conscience and the testimony of creation will judge the heathen. But there is one class singled out, and one of ominous signification, “ them that dwell upon the earth.” This singular expression of moral import has its root in Philippians 3:18-19 . These enemies of the cross have settled down in the earth, making it their home, the things and interests of earth bounding their horizon. As a class thus morally distinguished they are frequently referred to in the Apocalypse (Revelation 6:10 ; Revelation 11:10 ; Revelation 14:6 , etc.). Having deliberately chosen earth instead of Heaven they are tried in that coming hour when the rights of Christ over the earth which is, the prophetic testimony of this book, is to be made good by judgment, in Palestine particularly.
“ I come quickly ” is the announcement of the Lord’s speedy return from Heaven. It is three times repeated in the last chapter of the book (Revelation 22:7 ; Revelation 22:12 ; Revelation 22:20 ). How can “ quickly ” be reconciled with a lengthened delay of nigh two thousand years? Ah! we have to adjust our modes of reckoning, and measure time as the Lord does. “Beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8 ). About two days thus measures the period between the two Advents, His first and second.
“ Hold fast what thou hast. ” The characteristic possessions of Philadelphia were Christ’s WORD, Christ’s NAME, Christ’s PATIENCE, and Christ’s COMING. These were to be maintained. Death, desertion, and compromise may thin the company and reduce it to an insignificant, feeble few. But all the more need to “hold fast,” and on no account surrender one iota of the truth. The character of the times demands unflinching loyalty to the faith and unswerving devotedness to Christ and to all He has committed to our care. “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run that ye may obtain” (1 Corinthians 9:24 ). It is not the start , but the end which determines the fitness to wear the crown. A true Philadelphian is one who continues to struggle on to the end. How needful, therefore, the admonitory words to one and all, to leaders and followers alike: “Hold fast what thou hast, that no one take thy crown.” Let go the truth and you lose the crown. What an irreparable loss!
Revelation 3:12 . “ He that overcomes, him will I make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go no more at all out; and I will write upon him the Name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem which comes down out of Heaven from My God, and My new Name. ” An overcomer * Witnesses in Hebrews 11:1-40 , Overcomers in Revelation 2:1-29 ; Revelation 3:1-22 . The former refer to Old Testament worthies the latter to New Testament saints. in Philadelphia is one who, though in weakness, yet holds on his way. His progress is not marked by distinguished achievements, but he struggles on. The deepening conflict strengthens faith, and leads to increasing faithfulness. He holds fast with a tight and tightening grip Christ’s Word, Name, Patience, and Coming. Life itself may be surrendered, but not the things which constitute the crown of his testimony. The weakness of earth is to be exchanged for the stability of Heaven. “Him will I make a pillar in the temple of My God.” There will be no material temple in Heaven (Revelation 21:22 ); there will be one on earth in the time of the apocalyptic judgments (Revelation 11:1-2 ). “The temple of My God” refers to the sanctuary above. Solomon set up two immense brazen pillars in the porch of the temple remarkable for strength and solidity (1 Kings 7:21 ). The names of these pillars were Jachin, establish , and Boaz, strength . The allusion in our text is to these pillars. The weak and tried Philadelphian believer, cast out it may be of the orthodox and popular assembly on earth, shall be established and made strong in the eternal blessedness of Heaven. This high position is a fixed and eternal one: “He shall go no more at all out.”
12. “ I will write upon him the Name of My God. ” The blessedness of knowing God, too, shall be the conqueror’s happy portion. But the tale of grace is not yet finished. The city of My God, the new Jerusalem which has her proper home in Heaven (Revelation 21:9-10 ), pours out her wealth of blessedness to crown the overcomer. Then last, but not least, Christ’s new Name will be graven for ever on each one of the conquering band. His new Name indicates His special relationship with the whole scene and sum of heavenly blessedness. While in all things He exceedeth, yet surely we may read these peculiarly rich and full promises as intimating association with Christ in the future scene of glory. How Christ loves to connect us with Himself in the enumeration of these rewards! My God, My Name, etc., occurring five times.
The address to the angel of the Church in Philadelphia closes with the usual call to hear. May the hearing ear be granted to each reader!
THE SPIRIT’S ADDRESS TO LAODICEA
(Revelation 3:14-22 ).
In the first four churches Christ presents Himself in some part of the character in which He is beheld by the Seer in Revelation 1:12-16 , but in each of the last three He gives fresh revelations of Himself. The circumstances in these latter are wholly different from those in the earlier churches, and hence the presentation of Christ is in exact keeping with the several closing Church states herein depicted.
Whatever the general condition of the Church may be at any period, Christ never deserts it. When it ceases to be a vessel of testimony for God, a light bearer in darkness, then the sentence of excision (Revelation 3:16 ) is finally executed, but that day, though nearing, has not yet arrived. The Church in its outward testimony for God is owned and recognised, and can be addressed in its Church standing. God has not yet rejected the professing Church, nor should we. We deplore its evils, and reject complicity with iniquity practised under its shadow, but it is still God’s witness on earth, the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15 ) and the olive tree of testimony (Romans 11:1-36 ). The unconditional threat and its execution are very different things. The former has been announced; the latter is yet future. Laodicea, representing as it does the last phase of the professing Church, has not yet been publicly disowned (v. 16). Its Church standing is a fact as positive as that of any of the previous churches. Laodicea may have departed in life and practice more than any of the others, but its position before God is unquestionable, and on that ground it is addressed.
The Church in these two chapters is spoken to in its public, professing character as the House of God in which the highest privileges are enjoyed; hence it is the scene of weightiest responsibility and the first subject of divine judgment (1 Peter 4:17 ). The Church, when viewed as the mystical Body of Christ, being the aggregate of all true believers on earth, is necessarily exempt from judgment. Human administration enters largely into the former; whereas the latter is the fruit alone of God’s Holy Spirit. The true and the false may enter the “House.” The true only can enter the “Body.” No real believer need fear being involved in the peremptorily expressed threat of judgment conveyed in verse 16. “Caught up” and “spued out” intimate the respective destiny of the true and the false, of believers and mere professors. This latter being so loathsome to Christ that thorough rejection by Him is the only way in which His holiness can be publicly vindicated.
In the address to Philadelphia there is no reproof. Here there is no praise.
TITLES OF THE DIVINE SPEAKER.
14. “ To the angel of the Church in Laodicea write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God .” The marginal reading in our English Bibles, “in Laodicea,” is correct, and not that in the text, “the Church of the Laodiceans.” The titles are singularly appropriate to the Church of the last days; they just suit the present Laodicean condition of things. The angel as usual is addressed. The Church standing is thereby recognised. The spiritual condition of this assembly even in Paul’s day, thirty years previously, caused the apostle great mental conflict (Colossians 2:1 ). Various causes contributed to this Church’s ruin, the chief of which were pride, material wealth, and self-satisfaction. In these it gloried. How fitting therefore these titles!
(1) “ These things saith the Amen. ” This is a Hebrew word signifying what is fixed, true, unchangeable. The force of the word may be found in Isaiah 7:9 ; Isaiah 65:16 , where the words “believe” and “truth” are literally Amen . Its equivalent in Greek is in our well-known “verily,” duplicated in the Gospel of John, and only there, occurring about twenty-five times. It implies divine certainty. Here, however, it is not employed as in other parts of the sacred volume as an adverb, but its use with the definite article “ the Amen” points to another glory, another descriptive title of our blessed Lord. The Church has utterly failed in making good the promises and truth of God. In Christ both are secured. In His Person we have the guarantee that every promise and every truth will be Amened (see also 2 Corinthians 1:20 ).
(2) “ The faithful and true Witness. ” The highway of the ages is strewn with wreck. Every witness for God, individual and corporate, has failed save One . The Church, so richly endowed with truth and privilege, is the worst offender of any of the witnessing company from Adam downwards. Has it been a faithful custodian of the treasures of divine grace? Is it a true witness to the character of God? Is it the living expression on earth of Jesus Christ, of what He was and is ? Alas, no! The Church has shut Him out. Hear its jubilant strain, “I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing ,” not even of Christ, the Church’s life and glory. He, thus driven out, yet lingers about the door, taking His stand outside. “Behold! ” this wonder of wonders, “ I stand at the door and knock,” and such is His attitude to-day. The Church is the most responsible witness which has ever appeared, and it is now a huge wreck. It is being morally ruined, not by open enemies, but by professed friends. Boastful, proud, loaded with wealth, and content while Christ is outside! Such was Laodicea, such is the Church today. She has been neither a faithful nor true witness. But Christ is, and thus once again the heart is relieved as it turns from the wreck and ruin around to Him. What a rest to the spirit! Herein is a firm ground for faith amidst the ecclesiastical upheavings everywhere. Christ is God’s Witness.
(3) “ The Beginning of the creation of God. ” The creation set up under the headship of Adam has, whether ecclesiastical, social, or governmental, gone from bad to worse. “The corruption of the best thing,” i.e. , the Church, “is the worst of all corruptions.” The world seems ready to enter on its last plunge into the vortex of iniquity. Ritualism is working towards popery, and Rationalism towards infidelity. The former system will be headed up, not in the Pope, but in the Antichrist; the latter will be fully represented in a man unnamed in the divine Word, but termed “the beast,” characterised by brute force, a blasphemous, persecuting, murderous personage, inspired by Satan. These two men may be alive now for aught we know, and as Jew and Gentile were united in the crucifixion of our Lord, is it not fitting that the respective forces of Ritualism and Rationalism which are ruining the Church should, when the restraining influences are removed and things are fully developed, be headed up in a Jew and a Gentile? Laodicea is compounded of two Greek words signifying people and righteous , and really intimates the struggle now fiercely raging in every land by the peoples to obtain their rights, real or supposed. The forces of anarchy and order are confronting each other, and soon Europe, if not in a more extended area, will present the grim spectacle of the subversion of all constituted authority, with anarchy and the peoples for a brief season triumphant, turning earth into a pandemonium (Revelation 6:12-17 ), when out of the moral, social, and political chaos a stern hand grasps the helm one tyranny exchanged for another and finally creation is again set under Christ, the beginning of the creation of God (Psalms 8:1-9 ; Ephesians 1:10-22 , etc.). “This very title, therefore, intimates the ruin of the now 6000 years old creation, of which the Church is the last witness. The extensive and magnificent system of things, celestial and terrestrial, animate and inanimate, of which Christ as Man is here termed “the Beginning,” is the creation spoken of in our text. The millennial kingdom is referred to. If, therefore, in the previous titles of the divine Speaker we are turned from the Church to Christ, from its ruined testimony to Him as the Securer of Truth and Promise, and the faithful and true Witness, here our hearts adoringly rest on a scene of ineffable blessedness, on another creation of which Christ is “the Beginning.” *There are at least four headships ascribed to Christ: (1) Headship of the body (Colossians 2:19 ). (2) Headship of the Race ( 1Co 15:22 ; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49 ; i.e. , those in Christ, Galatians 3:28 , 2 Corinthians 5:17 ). (3) Headship of Creation (Colossians 1:15-17 ; Colossians 2:10 ). (4) Headship of every Man (1 Corinthians 11:3 ). United to Him gives the thought of the first; “ in Him” is involved in the second; dignity is conveyed in the third; and lordship in the fourth. “The beginning of the creation of God” is a title involving His headship.
NAUSEOUS STATE OF THE CHURCH.
Revelation 3:15-16 . “ I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot; I would thou wert cold or hot. Thus because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spue thee out of My mouth. ” “I know thy works” is seven times repeated in these addresses according to our English Version, but in the Revised and other critical editions of the Scriptures the formula is omitted in the address to Smyrna and in that to Pergamos. To the angel in Ephesus and Thyatira other items are added to the works of which the Lord says, “I know;” while in the case of Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea, “I know thy works” refer to the general state and condition of these churches. The pregnant sentence, however, “I know” occurs seven times, being addressed to the angel of each assembly. Omniscience, a divine attribute, is thus seven times affirmed of our Lord. To Philadelphian weakness this assertion of the Lord’s absolute knowledge of that which is unknown to man, yet known to Him, is a truth full of strength. To Laodicea in its lukewarmness, with its show, and boast, and wealth, the all-seeing eye of the Lord searching the recesses of the heart must be an intolerable thought. What the Lord here specially notes is the lukewarm condition of the angel. This last phase of the Church is the worst. Men would find a deeper evil in Thyatira. The Lord declares the most nauseous state to be that into which Laodicea was sunk, a state moreover in which the angel positively gloried. The terms used are “cold” and “hot,” not “dead” and “alive.” Had these latter been employed the truth of being saved or lost might have been in question, but “neither cold nor hot ” is predicated in relation to their state to Him. Total indifference to Christ, not hatred, is implied in the term “lukewarm.” *“The Lord speaks here only of the condition of those who stand in relation to Himself.” Hengstenberg . It is not at all the question as to whether the angel was spiritually alive or dead, converted or unconverted, but of the moral state of one standing in a certain accredited relation to the Lord
We do not hold with some that the lukewarm condition of Laodicea springs out of the Philadelphian state of the Church. Such an interpretation is beset with insuperable difficulty, but, undoubtedly, the coldness and death of Sardis, with the weakness yet warmth of Philadelphia, had left but a feeble impression on the general condition of Laodicea. We take it that the legalism of Thyatira, the moral insensibility of Sardis, and the rejection of the truth and position of Philadelphia, with, of course, other causes, contribute to produce the Laodicean condition of that Church, i.e. , absolute indifference to Christ . What can the Lord do with it? Had it been cold an active position taken up or hot as manifesting a measure of spiritual activity then something might have been done. But an undecided, neutral position towards Christ and the truth is one so hateful that it must be got rid of without delay. The last phase of the Church is its worst. Philadelphia is cheered with the promise, “I come quickly.” Laodicea is threatened with judgment, “I am about to spue thee out of My mouth.” Both promise and threat are presented as at hand. It has been remarked more than once that the last four phases of the Church run on concurrently to the end. The mass in Thyatira and Sardis are involved in the doom pronounced on Laodicea, whilst the remnants in these churches equally share in one distinctive blessing of Philadelphia “caught up.” The Lord’s Coming is not referred to in the address to Laodicea. Its public repudiation as God’s witness will be effected by the translation of the heavenly saints. In other words, the removal of Philadelphia and the rejection of Laodicea are coincident events, the latter being dependent on the former. Christendom, which commenced its history under the brightest auspices, will close under the darkest cloud which has ever rested on the course of human responsibility.
THE PROUD BOAST AND THE LORD’S CONDEMNATION.
Revelation 3:17 . “ Because thou sayest, I am rich, and am grown rich, and have need of nothing, and knowest not that thou art the *The definite article is inserted by Darby, Kelly, Plumptre, and others. wretched and the* miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. ” Philadelphia has not a word to say for itself. Laodicea has. In fact, in almost every respect these two churches stand out in sharp contrast. “Thou sayest.” There was not only a self-satisfied condition in the Church, but the proud boast of it is here recorded: “Thou sayest, I am rich.” The city could boast of its material wealth, the Church would equally boast of its riches. It has added, moreover, to its wealth: “Am grown rich.” Without doubt the Church in Laodicea had influence, numbers, gifts, showy attainments, intellectual acquirements, and other attractive qualities, and in the possession of these it prided itself. Alas! these things at the expense of spirituality, of a true and fervent love to Christ, can only be regarded as a curse, and must sooner or later, if not repented of, end in judgment. In their own estimation “they had need of nothing.” They had neither heart for Christ nor desire for His presence. They could boast while immediate judgment was announced (v. 16), and Christ the Church’s life and glory was standing outside (v. 20). The Laodicean condition is the special danger in these days.
What is the Lord’s estimate of its state? What is the sum and character of Laodicean wealth in His eyes? “Thou art the wretched (one) and the miserable (one),” besides being “poor, and blind, and naked.” The definite article (omitted in the Authorised Version) adds considerably to the point and force of the Lord’s judgment of Laodicea. “ The wretched” and “ The miserable,” or “pitiable,” the concentration of extreme misery, and the subject beyond all others of pity. They were poor, as destitute of true riches; blind to their state and to the Lord’s glory; and naked, as destitute of divine righteousness. ‘There is one other feature to complete the awful picture presented of this Christless Church: “AND KNOWEST NOT.” Its actual condition before the Lord was absolutely unknown to it. Had there been the slightest recognition of its need there would have been hope. All was utter insensibility. Nothing, therefore, remained but loathsome rejection.
LAODICEA’S THREEFOLD CONDITION AND THE LORD’S THREEFOLD GRACE.
Revelation 3:18 . “ I counsel thee to buy of Me gold purified by fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white garments, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness may not be made manifest; and eye salve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see. ” The three main characteristic features of Laodicea were their poverty, their nakedness, and their blindness; and these are what the Lord, ever gracious, here offers to meet. He might have commanded, but no, He counsels, “buy of Me gold purified by fire.” “Buy” need present no difficulty. Christ has the treasures of grace, the wealth of Heaven at His disposal. He fixes the terms on which He sells: “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money ; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money , and without price ” (Isaiah 55:1 ). Your title to come, to buy, is your need and poverty. “Gold” purified or refined by fire points to divine righteousness, tested and tried; without it, oh, how poor! with it, how rich! “White garments” are declared to be the righteousness of saints, i.e. , their righteous deeds (Revelation 19:8 ), which would cover their moral nakedness and the shame of it as well. “Eye salve” is for spiritual discernment.
THE LORD’S LAST APPEAL.
Revelation 3:19 . “ I rebuke and discipline as many as I love; be zealous therefore and repent. ” The Lord does not, as some suppose, speak in the first member of our text of saints in Laodicea. He states a truth common to both Testaments (Proverbs 3:11-12 , and Hebrews 12:5-6 ). The passage does not assert its application to any special class of saints. The Lord had just been speaking in tones of unusual severity. The circumstances called for it. The stern rebukes administered to the angel were to be followed by an act of irremediable judgment “spued out.” But for Christians, then and now, they were to know that the Lord’s rebukes, and His still severer chastening, were the fruit of love, not of an arbitrary dealing as perchance by an earthly parent. “Be zealous therefore and repent.” The Lord would rouse them out of the torpor and insensibility in which they were sunk. He would rekindle their interest. Has this exhortation to be “zealous and repent” reached the conscience of the Laodicean Church? It is the first step towards recovery. Has it been taken? By the mass, no . Thank God, individuals have given heed, and do hear the call to repent. But the general mass is drifting on, and Laodicea is now being fully developed as the characteristic Church state of to-day. The judgment of the professing Christian body, as announced in verse 16, is inevitable and at hand.
CHRIST STANDS, KNOCKS, AND SPEAKS.
Revelation 3:20 . “ Behold, I stand at the door, and am knocking; if any one hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in unto him, and sup with him, and he with Me. ” This touching and tender call has for centuries been the foundation of Christian song and sermon. The last appeal addressed to the collective body is contained in verse 19; this is spoken to individuals only. Between the threat of rejection (v. 16) and its execution the Lord takes an outside place: “Behold, I stand at the door,” thus morally disowning the professing Christian body. The Lord both knocks and speaks. What a rich display of grace in the worst of circumstances! The Lord neither commands to buy (v. 18) nor forces an entrance. He counsels in the one case, and knocks in the other. “I stand, . . . and am knocking.” It is a present and continuous action. The continuity of both actions is affirmed: He stands, He knocks. The Lord will not force His presence where and when it is not desired. To the disconsolate travellers to Emmaus “He made as though He would have gone further” (Luke 24:28 ). They constrained Him to enter, saying, “Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And He went in to tarry with them.” In the presence of Jesus risen all is changed, He becomes the host and they His guests (v. 30). “If any hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in unto him, and sup with him, and he with Me.” It is the last season of communion ere the night of judgment dawns. It is essentially individual. If denied Church fellowship, how exceedingly sweet the promise! The voice here is not that of Christ in quickening power, nor is it the knocking of salvation at a sinner’s heart. The word to sinners is, “I am the Door: by Me if any man enter in he shall be saved” (John 10:9 ). They have not to knock, for it is an ever open door, and they have simply to enter in. To believers the word is, “Knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Luke 11:9 ). But in our text He continues standing and knocking. He wants the place in the hearts of His own. He will make a feast for us even now; together with Him we joy and rejoice, but He dispenses the joy.
PROMISE TO THE OVERCOMER.
Revelation 3:21 . “ He that overcomes, to him will I give to sit with Me in My throne: as I also have overcome, and have sat down with My Father in His throne. ” The “throne” is the sign and symbol of royal authority and dominion. How did Jesus reach His Father’s throne and sit down with Him in that exalted seat? Not by inherent right only! But by His life of patience and death for His Father’s glory. The conqueror’s path lies open to us. His example is our cheer. His footprints our guide-marks. The reward to the overcomer is undoubtedly a glorious one, but by no means exceeding those addressed to the Philadelphian conquerors. Association with Christ as Son of Man in His kingdom is here the promised blessing. The kingdom will be universal in extent (Psalms 72:8 ; Zechariah 14:9 ; Psalms 8:1-9 ); righteous in administration (Psalms 72:1-7 ; Psalms 45:7 ; Isaiah 32:1 ); and everlasting in duration (Daniel 7:27 ; 2 Peter 1:11 ; Daniel 4:34 ). Jerusalem on high will be the capital seat of the heavenly department of the kingdom (Revelation 21:1-27 ). Jerusalem on earth forms the metropolitan city of the kingdom here (Jeremiah 3:17 ). The Laodicean conqueror is promised association with Christ in His kingdom and glory. Surely a rich and full reward for the brief if rough struggle in overcoming the Laodicean element environing us on every hand. But the contest must be maintained to the end.
Then follows the usual call to hear, which fitly brings these Church addresses to a close.
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Scott, Walter. "Commentary on Revelation 3". "Walter Scott's Commentary on Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28