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V. SARDIS. The Church of deadness, with a few spotless names, Revelation 3:1-6.
1. Sardis Thirty miles to the southeast from Thyatira, crossing the river Hermus, would bring our St. John, in his apostolic circuit, to the renowned city of Sardis. He would find it situated between the Hermus and the mountain range of Tmolus. Into the Hermus flows the small river Pactolus, from whose “golden sands” it was anciently reported that Croesus largely derived his riches. But Brewer remarks that the sands are sparkling with grains of mica, and suspects that what so glittered in ancient times was not “all gold.” Croesus, he thinks, drew his wealth from the rich alluvium of Hermus, rather than from the “fool’s gold” of the Pactolus.
The renown of Sardis was at its zenith under Croesus, who was king of all Lydia, by descent from an ancient line. From the record of his wealth we still utter the proverb, “rich as Croesus.” Celebrated, also, is the visit to his court of Solon, the Athenian philosopher and statesman. Of him Croesus asked whom he considered the happiest of men, expecting himself to be named. But Solon gave him answer, remembered by him on his dying day, that none could be pronounced truly happy until he had finished his course of life. Celebrated, too, is the ambiguity of the oracle by which he was deceived to his ruin. When he asked the god if he should fight Cyrus, he was told that if he crossed the river Halys in war he would destroy a great empire. He crossed, to find that the great empire to be destroyed was not that of Cyrus, but his own. Overcome by Cyrus, Lydia and all western Asia fell under the power of the Persians. For some centuries after, the richness of its soil retained its existence as a city, but at the present time it is a profound solitude. “Rarely,” says Svoboda, “can the site of any ancient city so impress the traveller with a sense of astonishment at its stupendous desolation, as does the aspect of Sardis at the present day. Once… its splendour gained for it the title of the Queen of Asia… Here, indeed, all must acknowledge that the prophecy of the Apocalypse has been fulfilled to the letter.” About seventy years after the publication of this Apocalypse, one of the brightest ornaments of the Christian Church was Melito, Bishop of Sardis. He was eminent for piety, learning, and talent; and his writings, some of which are still extant, are wonderful for the variety of subjects discussed by his active mind. They treated, among other things, upon faith, Easter, the first day of the week, the soul and body, the birth of Christ, the incarnation, and Satan. And it is here to be specially noted, that, severe as this letter to this Angel of Sardis is, Melito wrote a comment upon this Apocalypse, not now extant, but unquestionably accepting it as the work of our apostle John.
Hath the seven spirits of God The two ascriptions here claimed by the Lord are appropriated from John’s descriptions in Revelation 1:4-16. The Holy Spirit in its sevenfoldness in him dwells, and the sevenfold Churches, searched, judged, sanctified, or rejected by that Spirit, are in his hand. This is a most solemn awakening style and title with which the epistle to the dead Churches is preluded. And the sevenfoldness, both of the Spirit and the Churches, suggests that all Churches are here typically represented.
I know With all the intensity, omniscience, and purity of the Spirit.
I know thy works External and internal.
Hast a name The word name is thrice used in this epistle. Perhaps the last of the three (Revelation 3:5) explains the first two, the written name. The metaphor of Revelation 3:5 is drawn from the register-book of cities, in which every citizen’s name was written, and erased at his death or disfranchisement for crime. The Sardian angel, implying also his Church, had a recorded name among the Churches, and that implied life; and yet they were dead. Yet this dead did not mean the fulness of death, but deadness, lifelessness, which, was rapidly becoming death. This is implied in the next verse; for there were some things ready to die, and there was supposed life enough to strengthen and re-enliven them. And it is to this revival of life that the promise of not being blotted out, in Revelation 3:5, is given.
2. Epistles successively to the seven Churches, Revelation 2:1 to Revelation 3:22. The seven epistles to the Churches of Asia have been interpreted by a few commentators as a symbolical representation of the varying conditions of the Church through a chronological succession of periods. Thus Vitringa made them typify the history of the Church from its first founding down to his own time. But the failure to make out a due correspondence between the supposed representation and its fulfilments has been so evident, that even Elliott rejects that mode of interpretation. Nevertheless, that these Churches are typical of the varying spiritual conditions of the Churches of the world is evident from the symbolic seven, and from the variety of pictures presented, in which every Church may find its own traits, with its proper warnings and promises. These epistles are a permanent book for the Church. That this was a very early opinion in the Church is clearly indicated by these remarkable words in the Muratorian fragment, a document of the second century: “For although John in the Apocalypse writes to the seven Churches, nevertheless he speaks to all.” Hence Bengel, in his later days, earnestly commended these epistles to the solemn study of ministers and people; and Alford and Wordsworth notice, with profound regret, that the Anglican Church has placed no lessons from the Apocalypse in her ritual for the congregation.
The seven epistles are constructed on a striking and remarkably uniform type. Each one may be divided into three parts.
I. The divine SELF-ANNUNCIATION of the Speaker.
1. It is introduced in every epistle with the formula, Unto… the Church of… write.
2. It then begins with, These things saith. 3. He who saith, namely, Christ, is then specified by one or more of those glorious titles ascribed to him either in John’s personal delineation of the Christophany, or Christ’s annunciation of himself in the previous chapter.
II. A CHARACTERIZATION; namely, of the particular Church, solemnly reprehending its faults or graciously commending its excellences.
1. The characterization is introduced with, I know thy works.
2. A specification of traits, usually beginning with those that are good, with commendation, and then qualifying with adverse points, with reproof.
3. Of the seven, Smyrna and Philadelphia are in the most commendable condition; Ephesus and Pergamos are characterized with mingled approval and reproof; Sardis and Laodicea with almost unmingled reproof and warning.
III. A RETRIBUTIVE CONCLUSION; namely, of promise or threatening.
1. The retributive part in the first three epistles is preceded by the warning clause, He that hath an ear, etc.; in the last four epistles it is succeeded and terminated by that warning clause. Similar, the clause concerning him that overcometh, is in the first three placed first; in the last three last.
2. The promise or threat is generally anticipatively borrowed from the closing three chapters of the Apocalypse; mostly, the promises are from the description of the new state of Revelation 22:0.
Each epistle presents the Speaker in most divine majesty, criticises the Church with profound discrimination, and pronounces sentence with most solemn authority.
2. Be watchful Literally, become wakeful; wake up, be wide awake. For this deadness is a sleep; the fumes of which may, and should, be right speedily dispersed.
Strengthen Make firm, solidify.
Things Not persons, as many excellent commentators aver, but things: the Christian virtues, ordinances, aggressive movements. Revive all the early zeal by which the membership was holy, the Church strong, sinners were saved, and the gospel spread. These were now relaxed and ready to die.
Perfect Not the usual Greek word for perfect; but for filled up. It supposes a measure, a capacity, like a vessel which was not, but should be, completely filled with performed duties.
3. How thou hast received Or rather, didst receive, namely, when the gospel first came to you. And the meaning is not, (as some interpret,) remember what you received, that is, the matter; but truly, how you received; that is, the spirit and manner. He reminds them, as he does the Ephesians, of their “first love.” Compare Galatians 4:13-15.
And heard Refers more to the matter, namely, the true apostolic tradition of the gospel.
Hold fast Firmly with your original maintenance.
Repent Recognise and reverse your sinful decline.
I… as a thief The comparison originated by no other than our Lord himself in regard to himself, Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39. For who else would presume upon such a comparison without his example? Its primary application is to his judgment advent; and all its applications are to such a catastrophe as finally fixes the case of the man for that judgment. The judge then comes upon the sinner, repentance ceases to be possible, and the certainty of his final sentence is fixed.
Shalt not know Expect no other warning. The only safety is in watchfulness, constant preparedness, as if the judgment day, at least through the gates of death, were here.
4. A few names Recorded, perhaps baptismally, upon the Church parchments, (the earthly counterpart of the heavenly book of life,) and so here the word denoting the blessed owners of the names.
Defiled their garments As if one were walking with clean skirts through a dirty world, where the utmost care is necessary to “keep himself unspotted.” James 1:27.
Shall walk with me Along the golden pavements of the New Jerusalem, Revelation 21:21.
Walk with As in a public procession, or as two associates, in public view.
In white Not here indicating priesthood, although white was the colour of the priest in officiating. But the white of both the priesthood and the saints is an emblem, based on the natural idea of white as identical with purity. The white background presents the strongest contrast to all spot; and the white is associated with the cheerful and exhilarating colour of light, splendour, glory. All these stand in conceptual opposition to blackness, foulness, impurity, iniquity, wretchedness, woe. Hence in the primitive Church the candidate for baptism was dressed in white to indicate the professed purity of his Christian life. To live worthily was to preserve the whiteness of his robe; to commit sin was to stain it with a spot. Here the promise is, that the white garment of a well-sustained earthly life shall be exalted into the white garments of future glory.
Are worthy Justified by grace, and walking worthily of their high vocation, the Lord pronounces them worthy. Not that the best of our doing entitles us to heaven, but when we meet the conditions of grace, grace graciously pronounces us worthy. Note on Romans 3:27.
5. White raiment A full and joyous expansion of the promise hinted in Revelation 3:4. On the brilliant white here implied the whiteness of glory, the celestial coruscation see note on Revelation 3:18. On this Trench beautifully remarks: “As we cannot conceive of any room in heaven for raiment, in the literal sense of the word, we must understand by this that vesture of light, that clothing with light as with a garment, which shall be theirs who shall then ‘shine out ( εκλαμψουσι Matthew 13:43) as the sun in the kingdom of their Father;’ their ‘raiment,’ and yet for all this, not something external to them, but the outward utterance of all which now, inwardly, they are who have left all sin behind them forever. The glorified body, defecated of all its dregs and all its impurities, transformed and transfigured into the likeness of Christ’s body, (Philippians 3:21,) this, with its robe and atmosphere of light, is itself, I believe, the ‘white raiment,’ which Christ here promises to his redeemed.” Compare our note on 1 Corinthians 15:43-44.
Blot out his name When the glorious vestments of the resurrection are put on, the citizenship in the New Jerusalem is sure, and the name in its city census, the book of life, can never be blotted out. For this image of blotting, see our note on Luke 10:20.
Will confess his name When the man presents himself in resurrection array there is his record in the book, and the Lord will confess that blessed owner of the name, will remember how unspotted was his vestment in the Church below, and will acknowledge his “title clear to mansions in the skies.”
Before my Father… angels In presence of the celestial court shall he be introduced and recognised as belonging to the holy society of God, angels, and heaven. Such was the prospect of, alas! but few in this great city, the once rich capital of Lydia. The many, both in the Church and out, were facing toward a reverse future.
VI. PHILADELPHIA The faithful and blameless Church, Revelation 3:7-13.
7. Philadelphia On his apostolic journey our St. John, Starting from Sardis, would travel a narrow strip between the Cogamus river, a branch of the Hermus on his left, and the range of Tmolus mountains on the right thirty miles in length. He would find the city ensconced like a nest in a narrow nook between river and mountain. See map.
Though one of the smallest and most modern of the seven, Philadelphia has a vividly interesting history. Its name, signifying brotherly-love, was a memento of the fraternal affection which existed between its founder, Attalus II., King of Pergamos, and his brother. It was daringly built in the katakekaumene, or burnt district, and so liable to perpetual earthquakes. It was nevertheless persistently inhabited, on account, probably, of the profitableness of its grapes and wines, which its soil richly produced. The American missionary Brewer, (from whose volume several of our cuts are derived,) in our time found it, however, fertile in wheat, opium, madder, and cotton. When the Persian Xerxes marched with his army of millions into Western Asia, for the conquest of Greece, he came to Philadelphia on his route. As the city stood at the head of the two valleys of the Hermus and the Meander, he could take either route. He here found a “plane tree” of such beauty, that he presented it with golden ornaments, and passed on by the northern route, which led to Sardis. The plane tree is still a flourishing product of this soil, and Svoboda tells us that the natives still make the sort of confection of honey, tamarisk, and wheat, which charmed the palate of Xerxes. In the reign of Tiberius all of Asia Minor suffered from tremendous earthquakes, and Tacitus tells us that Philadelphia was very nearly destroyed. When, in 1390, the Ottoman conqueror Bajazet, surnamed the Thunderer, overran Western Asia, this people, who lived over the slumbering earthquake, bravely met the assaults of the Thunderer. They were the last to capitulate to his arms. The present population of Philadelphia is fifteen thousand, one third Greeks. How, in modern times, these Greeks celebrate Christ and the resurrection, Brewer thus informs us: “It being Easter Sunday with the Greeks, we were aroused soon after midnight to witness, in the principal church, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Here, as in other places, persons pass about the town at the appointed hour of night, and knock loudly at the door of every Christian dwelling. The usual round of ceremonies was gone through with, such as chanting of prayers, reading portions of Scripture, burning incense, lighting tapers and candles some of the size of small trees and moving in procession about the church and churchyard until the day dawned. Then the assembly broke up exclaiming, “Christ has risen! Christ has risen!” Afterward, during the day and the practice is continued more or less for forty days friends and strangers, in place of the customary forms of salutation, use the set Bible phrases, “Christ has risen!” “He has risen indeed!”
He that is holy Not the usual New Testament word for holy, ‘ αγιος , but οσιος ; and so not so much implying the sanctified life as the original absolute rightness of the divine Being.
He that is true True in himself, that is, genuine, and true in all his declarations, that is, veracious. As the revealer of God, the source of all revelation, he is both genuine and true.
Hath the key of David As David was the king having both the sceptre and the key of old Jerusalem so this Son of David has the sceptre and the key of the New Jerusalem. And as David’s son he is heir of the theocracy; of the kingdom of God expanding from the old theocracy into a heavenly theocracy, and stretching into eternity.
Openeth, and no man shutteth A quotation and exaltation of Isaiah 22:22, “The key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” And so this King of the New Jerusalem alone has original control of the keys of the New Jerusalem, to admit or exclude according to his divine will. And so much more has he the key of this earthly kingdom of grace; and all true exercise of the power of the keys by human beings is but an acting as his agents.
8. Set before thee an open door Namely, of divine entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem.
No… shut it No persecutions can exclude them from entering to their crown, Revelation 3:11. Hast by my grace a little strength for entering the heavenly door. And in the use of that “gracious ability,” hast kept my word. Hast not, amid faithlessness and persecution, denied my name. The Christian name, perhaps; which, long since adopted at Antioch, has been well maintained in Philadelphia. We are obliged with Stuart, and against Hengstenberg, Alford, and others, to maintain the correctness of our translation, a little strength, making it a commendation, rather than, by omitting the article, to read, thou hast little strength, making it a depreciation. Christ gives them the reward of an open door because of three good points; namely: their spiritual energy, however little; their keeping his word; and their sustaining his name. The entire drift of the three clauses is the same, namely: rewardable traits for which the everlasting door shall be open to them. To find this meaning in the open door may be disappointing to those who desire to read into it a temporal and present benefit promised. But most certainly a true reading will find, that from this open door to the new Jerusalem of Revelation 3:12 there is one straight line of thought, promising Philadelphia triumph, preservation, and abundant entrance, all solely at the second advent.
9. Behold In view of this little strength, the hast kept, and the not denied; therefore I will give them a royal triumph in the New Jerusalem, to which the open door admits them. The triumph is expressed in an image drawn from Isaiah 60:14. “All they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet; and they shall call thee, The city of the Lord, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel.” When the developments of the judgment day are unfolded, how will the despisers of the now humble Church acknowledge, with profound abasement, its true glory as the real city of God! The Jewish troublers of the Philadelphian Church are selected as the very present specimens of such “despisers,” who are bound to “wonder and perish.”
Say they are Jews And are so “after the flesh;” the which is now a nullity; but are not the spiritual Israel, which is now the only true Israel.
Worship before thy feet Of course no literal fact, but imaging the severe and final humiliation of all evil in presence of the truly good. In the judgment-day development the atheist will learn there is a God; the impenitent Jew will confess a true Jesus the Christ; the scorner will find there is a hell; and the haughty despiser of the weak and humble, yet pure Church, like our Philadelphians, will discover, to the sad reversal of his pride, that they were heirs of an eternal crown. When a great lady once spoke with contempt of Lady Huntingdon’s associating with her conventicle of saints, one replied to her, “Madam, in the day of judgment you may be glad to grasp hold of Lady Huntingdon’s skirts to draw you into heaven.”
That I have loved They will recognise not only the loved in its true glory, but they will truly learn and know also this great I, whose love is the bliss of the heavenly world, as it makes the poor Philadelphian Church “the city of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One.” The interpretation of Alford, which makes the open door an opening for missionary enterprise for propagating the gospel, and which holds Revelation 3:9 to describe the resulting conversion of their bitter Jewish opponents, seems inapplicable. It has, indeed, Paul’s open door, 1Co 16:9 , 2 Corinthians 2:12, as an apparent precedent: but the opening and shutting of Revelation 3:7 clearly refer to the lordship of Christ over the entrance into heaven, the New Jerusalem, (22,) and Revelation 3:8 can be no description of the happy conversion, but of the penal humiliation, in the final day, upon the incorrigible. And Revelation 3:10-12, continue the same line of thought, describing the rich final reward of Philadelphian faithfulness. Revelation 3:10 promises preservation in the great day of the final trial; Revelation 3:11 describes the speed of its approach; Revelation 3:12 promises eternal security within the domain of heaven, beyond the day of trial.
10. My patience So Revelation 1:9, “the patience of Jesus Christ,” (if that be an allowed reading,) namely, a patience which is his and his followers.
Hast kept… keep thee The faithful work has its fitting reward; the keeper shall be kept.
Hour of temptation The Greek word for temptation may mean the presentation of agreeable inducements to sin before one’s mind, in order to elicit sin; and so the devil tempts. Or it may mean the presentation of a test or trial, adverse or agreeable, to allow the will or character to display itself. So every fearful crisis brought upon us is a temptation. And especially that great crisis which precedes the great white throne, (Revelation 20:11,) is a test, a trial, of the soul. The trial here described is mundane upon all the world and not in one nation or kingdom: is not merely a persecution in Asia Minor, but over the entire world, and upon all that dwell upon the earth. This is the same universality as in Revelation 1:7. The rich promise to the faithful Philadelphian is, that in that great ordeal he shall be kept from terror and despair.
11. Quickly In Revelation 1:7 he is already visible in the cloudy firmament.
Take thy crown Not indeed gaining it for himself, though depriving thee of it.
12. A pillar An emblem of his unchangeable permanence in the final heaven; not limited to a few eminent rulers, like the “pillars” of Galatians 2:9, but including every saint in the New Jerusalem. Such a pillar is not, like the Jachin and Boaz of Solomon’s temple, outside, but inside namely, of the living temple, the glorified Church. A tall pillar still stands a most conspicuous object in the city of Philadelphia, reminding the modern traveller of this passage, if it be not the source of the allusion. This permanence is explicitly expressed in the words he shall go no more out. He is, then, a fixed pillar; forever God’s, whose name is written upon him, and the name also of the city which is to be his eternal home. His name is Jehovah, and its name is the New Jerusalem, whose glories are unfolded in 22. In addition to the name of my God, Christ writes upon him his own new name, thus doubling the ownership; a name, as already said, which is not a mere word, but a power; namely, the full, final, glorifying power embraced in the word Jesus, Saviour, Redeemer, and which is new at the glorious resurrection in its renewing effect upon soul and body, and then will be forever and forever new; forever renewing the man in the image of Jesus. Thrice is the phrase my God here repeated; my as a term of claiming affection shared with Christ by all saints: God, as the primordial and eternal author and assurer of the whole great plan; thrice occurring as symbol of the divine threefoldness. In the permanence of the heavenly system and the saints’ abode, the whole Trinity is pledged, with all the omnipotence and immutability of God.
Though we find no temporal promises of prosperity to the little Church, yet it is historically true, that in the midst of the changes of war which have swept over this land, Philadelphia has had a wonderful preservation. The bravery of its inhabitants, whose home overlies the sleeping earthquakes, has ever signalized it in its own defences. On this subject see the impressive language of Gibbon. “In the loss of Ephesus, the Christians deplored the fall of the first angel, the extinction of the first candlestick, of the Revelation; the desolation is complete; and the temple of Diana or the Church of Mary will equally elude the search of the curious traveller. The circus and the three stately theatres of Laodicea are now peopled with wolves and foxes; Sardis is reduced to a miserable village; the God of Mohammed, without a rival or a son, is invoked in the mosques of Thyatira and Pergamos, and the populousness of Smyrna is supported by the foreign trade of the Franks and the Armenians. Philadelphia alone has been saved by prophecy or courage. At a distance from the sea, forgotten by the emperors, encompassed on all sides by the Turks, her valiant citizens defended their religion and freedom above fourscore years, and at length capitulated with the proudest of the Ottomans. Among the Greek colonies and Churches of Asia, Philadelphia is still erect a column in a scene of ruins a pleasing example that the paths of honour and safety may sometimes be the same.” When Brewer visited the place, in 1831, he found the Greek population about 2,000 souls, being three or four hundred families, amid as many thousand Turkish. “As a whole they have, for a century or two past, had a good name among travellers as a civil and hospitable people.”
VII. LAODICEA Rich in goods, but poor in faith, Revelation 3:14-22.
14. Laodicea From Philadelphia our apostle in his circuit would range to the south-east through a journey of fifty or sixty miles to the capital of Phrygia, the rich and powerful Laodicea. In so doing he would cross from the Hermus over a mountain range into the fertile valley of the river Meander, a river whose varying course has given our language a verb, “to meander.” He would find a great city, which, under the Roman sway, had continually grown in power. He would also find, to all appearance, a rich and proud Church, whose Christianity had assumed a stereotype and inactive form. The Apostolic Constitutions (viii, 46) say, that Archippus was then Bishop of Laodicea. And it seems to some a coincidence that in Colossians 4:17, St. Paul appears to imply that he was a remiss minister. Hengstenberg finds, not wisely, an allusion to his name in the word αρχη , Revelation 3:14. Laodicea was one of a triangle of neighbouring city Churches; including Colosse, to which Paul had addressed an epistle, and Hierapolis, visible from the summit of the Laodicean theatre, and where Papias was, soon after St. John’s day, a bishop. St. Paul in his epistle to Colosse salutes the brethren in Laodicea, and requires his epistle to be read in the Church of the Laodiceans, with an exchange. See note on Colossians 4:16. Laodicea was founded in the third century before Christ by Antiochus II., king of Syria, and so named after his wife. It submitted to Rome, and in the war of Mithridates, king of Pontus, stood a siege against that monarch. It had been (A.D. 62) overthrown by an earthquake, but was munificently patronized by the Roman emperors, and its theatres, aqueducts, and churches have left magnificent ruins for the eye of the modern traveller and the spade of the excavator. Perhaps Laodicea listened to the voice of the Lord, woke to action, and became a powerful Church. A bishop and martyr, Sagaris, (A.D. 170,) is mentioned by Eusebius. About the middle of the fourth century the Council of Laodicea assumed to settle the New Testament Canon, in which it is remarkable that our Apocalypse was denied a place.
The Amen The divine affirmative One. So in Isaiah 65:16, “The God of Truth,” in the Hebrew “The God of Amen.” In 2 Corinthians 1:20, Christ is the medium through whom our obedient amen goes up to God; here he is the intervening, affirming Amen, affirming God’s truth, to us. The “verily” so often repeated by our Lord in the gospels, is in the Greek amen; and it is remarkable that in John’s Gospel it is always doubled, verily, verily, amen, amen.
Faithful and true witness A title preparing us for a faithful and true testimony to Laodicea respecting her character and spiritual condition.
Beginning of the creation A sublime declaration of the divine authority from which that testimony comes. A beginning of a series of things, taken passively, is the first one in that series. In that sense Christ would be the first created being in the series of creation. Taken actually, as that which originates the series, then the series does not include, but takes existence from, him. In that case Christ is the originator of the creation, uncreated. How John understands it we may well learn from the very first verse of his Gospel. In the opening words, “In the beginning was the Word,” the same Word, αρχη , is used as here, and its subject precedes creation. And in the third verse we are told that “the world was made by him,” namely, the Word, who was in the beginning.
15. Neither cold nor hot The metaphor is taken from water, which, when cold or hot, ( boiling, ζεστος , from ζεω , to boil,) may be palatable, but nauseating when lukewarm. But it is a serious problem, the difficulty of which, is liable to be overlooked. What is that coldness which the Lord prefers to lukewarmness? Luke-warmness itself is that indifference which we commonly call coldness of religious state; and so this cold must be something colder, something implying the absence of even that degree of warmth implied in the equilibrium of indifference. Hence Dusterdieck, followed by Alford, represents it to be a state of actual unregeneracy, of “enmity and opposition” to Christ! And the reason assigned is, that it is easier to convert the enemy than it is to rouse a lukewarm Christian to heat; a reason overwhelmingly contrary to experience. Dusterdieck’s illustration is: “Saul was cold when he persecuted; and when he became Paul he was hot.” So it was easier for Saul to become Paul, than for a lukewarm Christian to become hot! But Paul had a troop of followers as cold as himself, none of whom would warm into conversion, leaving him an exceptional case. But how absurd to make the Lord wish this Church to be as Jewish persecutors, or heathen; like the world around them, rather than a Christian Church, even in its lukewarm phase! On the contrary, Hengstenberg’s view very nearly solves the problem. Not the coldness of the unregenerate, or the apostate, but the coldness of one still a Christian. In this Laodicean coldness there is not only the condition, but the Christian consciousness, of the cold, which is an uncomfortableness, and negatively, at least, feels the need of heat. He is, therefore, dissatisfied, and is more easily disturbed into repentance and zeal, than the man who was at once cold and warm enough to be satisfied and self-determined in his indifference. It is not the coldness, as a fact, but the coldness, as a feeling, which grounds the Lord’s preference. The feeling may be latent, only an unconscious susceptibility; but it is a susceptibility responsive to an awakening appeal.
16. I will spew Literally, I am about to spew; implying that the rejection is delayed, perhaps to allow time for repentance, yet is nigh at hand. It seems to be a threat of removal of the Church, implying, but not expressing, individual condemnation for each in the final day.
17. Because may assign reason for the charge of lukewarmness in the last verse; or it may refer forward to next verse, and would correspond with a therefore inserted before I of Revelation 3:18. Because thou sayest, etc., therefore I counsel, etc. The Lord’s counsel is infinitely better than their say.
I am rich The question is raised by commentators whether these are boasts over material or spiritual goods. Earlier commentators, as Bengel, Stuart, and others, take the former view; later ones, as Hengstenberg, Dusterdieck, and Trench, the latter. We think the old is better. The true idea certainly is, that in reply to their boasts of earthly goods, our Lord advises them to secure the heavenly. For, 1. This accords with our Lord’s style during his earthly ministry. So Matthew 6:19-20: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth;… but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Of the rich fool, Luke 12:21, he says, “So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” 2. This jubilant boasting is not the style of lukewarmness over its spiritual wealth, for the very idea of lukewarmness is indifference to spiritual things. So Stuart wisely and conclusively says, “There are, and have been, indeed, many spiritual boasters in the world; but then they are for the most part men of an enthusiastic turn of mind, and commonly have much fervor, such as it is; whereas the Laodicean Church are plainly characterized as worldling-Christians; grown lukewarm as to divine things.” To say that this Church was indifferent to spiritual things and yet thus fervently boasted of its spiritual goods, is a contradiction. Enthusiastic boasting and indifference are opposites. 3. It is evident that Laodicea was a flourishing city, growing rich under the munificence of the Roman emperors. There can be little doubt that the tide of wealth poured into the pockets and coffers of the Church: the natural danger, without great caution, would be to make her pecuniarily rich and spiritually poor. How easy it was to be liberal in feeling to the liberal paganism by which it was patronized, and to slide into doubt about the importance of being Christians! Quite as easy would it be to exult over the rich incomes flowing into their purses and filling their homes with luxury.
Rich… increased with goods… need of nothing A glowing and towering climax.
Knowest not Realizest not that, though in pocket a millionaire, in soul thou art a pauper! Our Lord demolishes the proud climax with a series of humiliating adjectives.
Wretched Intrinsically miserable.
Miserable The object of pity from others. By the best readings the first of these two adjectives, and perhaps the second, should have the article before it. The meaning then would be, thou art the wretched and pitiable one. Then the last three adjectives would follow as characterizing that one. Then the three poor, blind, naked, would balance against the previous rich, increased, and need of nothing.
18. In view of their boasts of temporal wealth the Lord gives them counsel to secure eternal goods.
Buy They are rich by material trade; suppose they now “buy the truth and sell it not.” In view of their poor, blind, and naked condition, let them secure gold, eyesalve, and white raiment. Trench, though interpreting Revelation 3:17 as boasting of spiritual goods, has here an excellent note, which clearly shows that he ought to have interpreted it of the temporal. “To the merchants and factors of this wealthy mercantile city he addresses himself in their own dialect. Laodicea was a city of extensive money transactions; Cicero, journeying to or from his province, proposes to take up money there. ( Ep. ad Div. Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:5.) Christ here invites to dealings with him. He has gold so fine that none will reject it. The wools of Laodicea, of raven blackness, were famous throughout the world; but he has raiment of dazzling white for those who will put it on. There were ointments for which certainly many of the Asiatic cities were famous; but he, as he will presently announce, has eyesalve more precious than them (they?) all.” All this shows that the passage contrasts a spiritual wealth, in Revelation 3:18, with a boast of temporal wealth, in Revelation 3:17.
Gold tried in the fire Rather, from the fire, as if just withdrawn from the fire, and so fresh and brilliant.
White raiment Note on Revelation 3:5.
Shame of thy nakedness Vivid image of the “shame and everlasting contempt” of the great moral exposures at the judgment day.
The images of spiritual wealth here are susceptible of specific application. The pure, well tried gold may represent faith, the condition of all salvation, and which, when pure and well tried by experience, becomes a fidelity, and a saving perseverance and ripening for heaven. The white raiment is the divine justification from faith, the robe of righteousness, which approves itself as white before men as pure and right and before God as acceptable for eternal life. The eyesalve is the spirit of discernment, the blended gift of the Spirit and of personal experience, by which things are seen as they truly are in the light of eternity.
19. As many as I love Imperfect as Laodicea’s character was, she was still Christian. She was not on a level with the paganism around her. She was still a witness for Christ, maintaining his name, holding fast his gospel, and retaining a candlestick for a richer supply of oil and a purer blaze. Even the form of religion is better than nothing, since it may stand as a future vehicle of the coming spirit and power.
We here, too, may see that there is a state of faulty sonship, of imperfect justification, in which, though the name be not blotted out of the “book of life,” yet it beams but dimly on the divine page, and is in great danger of disappearing. The divine Father still recognises his son, but treats him with rebuke, displeasure, and discipline. Not every sin after justification forfeits the sonship. Nay, there are higher and lower grades of Christian life. This Mr. Wesley well and fully shows in his sermon on “Sin in Believers.” The true test is, Does justifying faith remain, even in spite of short-comings?
And it follows from all this, that if there is a lower grade of Christian life, like that of Sardis and Laodicea, so there is a higher, like that of Smyrna and Philadelphia. In the case of Smyrna the approval is complete; not a blame is imputed, not a shadow is cast between the approving face of the Lord and that beloved Church. There is, then, a state of complete acceptance with Christ, of perfect justification, in which the Lord finds no fault, and bestows the blessed testimony of his unqualified approval. The acceptance is as perfect as it was at the moment when first our sins were swept away, and we were justified from all sin. And now sanctification, holiness, or what is sometimes called entire sanctification, is the power, through the Spirit, of retaining with more or less permanence that state of complete acceptance, without a cloud between the soul and Christ. This implies, not an absolute sinlessness on our part, as tried by absolute law, but a perfect approval on Christ’s part, according to the standard of gospel grace. The law still stands immutable; but if there come a condemnation for our shortcomings from the absolute law, there comes, also, a constant flow of love and pardon from the grace of Christ, which neutralizes that condemnation. Yet the law still stands to condemn our positive sins, and to separate us utterly from the love of Christ and consign us to hell, upon our apostasy from the faith.
Bengel notes the different Greek terms for love addressed to the Philadelphians, ( ηγαπηας ,) and to the Laodiceans, ( φιλει ,) on which see our note, John 21:15-17. The former is the love of estimation and approval, the latter of mere graciousness, the former being the more honouring to its object. Yet as addressed by Peter to his Lord, the latter was the tenderer and deeper term.
I rebuke and chasten He does not cast off for every shortcoming, nor blot out his justification for every sin, so long as faith and sonship remain. Nay, the author of the Book of Hebrews, quoting this same passage from Proverbs, adds, that the being unrebuked by God is proof that we are not his legitimate children. Hebrews 12:5-6.
Rebuke Rather, convince; make the fault so clear that the offender cannot but see it.
Chasten Apply the severe corrective, perhaps the rod, where the rebuke fails.
Zealous The zeal of conviction by the rebuke; leading to the repent, in view or in consequence of the chasten.
20. Behold The apparently broken connexion between this and the former verses of this address will be restored, if we consider the verse as a quotation from Solomon’s Song, Song of Solomon 5:2-6. The Church of Laodicea is represented by the sleepy bride at whose door the bridegroom knocks, but she is so remiss that she opens the door too late, for he is gone. She says, “It is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my love; for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.” The allusion shows to Laodicea the love between the Saviour and the Church, but the fearful danger of a deferred welcome to him.
I stand at the door, and knock There is a wonderful pathos in the picture. It is the supplicator Christ. It is night, and the darkness and damps are falling upon him. He is rejected by the sons of men almost the entire world round, and comes for admission at the door of one who professes to love him.
If any man Of the Laodicean Church immediately, of the whole world inferentially.
Open the door For, though Lord of all power, he will never force the door open. There is a solemn if which every man must decide for himself.
I will God’s will is to knock; and if man’s will is to open, then comes Christ’s will to come in.
Sup The evening dinner, as we may say; the principal meal of the day.
With him As his guest.
He with me As my guest; I being truly his host. And, continuing the reference to Solomon’s Song, this is the supper of Christ and his bride, the Church; the marriage supper of the Lamb, which is symbolically ever repeating itself here, but plenarily consummated at the resurrection of the just. Note 19.
21. To him that overcometh The last and most glorious promise to the victor.
With me in my throne The throne being extended like a sofa, and competent to contain many sitters.
Overcame For us, we conquering in his victory, reigning with his sceptre, and sitting upon his throne. For, while we form a vivid image of this co-session of the saints with Christ, we are to understand it only as an image of the truth that through Christ’s merits and mercy the saints are to be raised to a glory under his headship, of which priesthood, white garments, kingdom, sceptres, and thrones are the symbols, not the exact literality.
Father… throne Note on Revelation 21:1.
22. He that hath an ear The last clear ring of this refrain sounding through the world and through the ages.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Revelation 3". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25