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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Revelation 3

 

 

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Verse 1

Revelation 3:1. First, as in each previous case, we have a description of Him from whom the message comes, He that hath the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars (cp. Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:16). The description is different from that of chap Revelation 2:1, where the Lord is described as ‘holding fast the seven stars in His right hand.’ There He holds them fast for their protection: here they are simply spoken of as His possession. He is their Lord, and they ought to worship Him. The fact that He has also the ‘seven Spirits of God,’ or in other words, the Holy Spirit in His fulness, is on the one hand a proof of the doctrine of the Western Church on the relation of the Holy Spirit to our Lord, while on the other hand it also points to the true and spiritual nature of the service which He requires. They that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth. This last is precisely what the church at Sardis failed to do. To the world she seemed a star, but He who, as having the Spirit without measure, has the stars also, knew that she was not what she seemed to be.

That thou hast a name that thou livest, and thou art dead. These words denote more than that Sardis was dead while she lived. She had a name, a prominent, famous name, a name of which the whole connection shows us that she boasted. The thought of this name was her ruin: ‘Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.’ More than this; let a prosperous church, a church commanding the high places of the earth, a church no more persecuted, but at ease in the enjoyment of her privileges, the admiration of multitudes, an object of attention to the world,—let such a church remember that the outward is not the inward, and that power and splendour of position have no value in the sight of Heaven compared with spirituality of heart and life.


Verses 1-6

The fifth church addressed is that of Sardis, one of the most famous of the seven cities to which these Epistles are sent, the capital in former days of the great kingdom of Lydia, Croesus’ kingdom, largely engaged in commercial enterprises, and distinguished for a magnificent temple of the goddess Cybele, the rites of whose worship were in a high degree impure. A few uninhabited ruins now remain.


Verse 2

Revelation 3:2. Become watchful. Sardis had failed to ‘watch,’—the very sin into which spiritual pride is sure to fall. Therefore must she first of all awake, discover what her temptation is, and put herself on her guard against the foe.

And stablish the things that remain which were ready to die; that is, which were ready, at the moment when the searching eye of her Lord was first directed towards her, to sink into the state characterized as ‘dead.’ Christian graces, not persons, are alluded to,—a part of the church’s ‘works’ that had as yet been preserved from the too complete degeneracy by which she had been overtaken.

For I have found no works of thine fulfilled before my God. In no part of the Christian life had Sardis reached that perfect spirituality after which she was to aspire. Spirituality is Christ’s perfection, His consummation in His state of glory. At the right hand of the Father He is ‘spirit,’ not to the exclusion of a body, but with a ‘spiritual body,’ a body completely accordant and harmonious with that state of spirit in which He is. But the Church is Christ’s fulness; and so long, therefore, as she is not spiritual, her works are not ‘fulfilled.’ It is difficult to say why we should have the word ‘my’ prefixed to God; but the probability is that it is for the purpose of bringing out that true nature of God which leads Him to demand spiritual worship. ‘My God,’—‘the God for whom and in whom I live, who am your ascended and glorified High Priest and King.’ The Pharisee might think that God would be satisfied with outward profession: the heathen might offer Him a merely formal service. Jesus knew that He was ‘spirit’ (John 4:24), and that only in spirit could He be worshipped.


Verse 3

Revelation 3:3. The exhortation to Sardis is to remember, not the simple fact that she had received, but how she had done so, after what manner thou hast received, the earnestness, the faithfulness, and the zeal which had marked the first stages of her spiritual life. The change of tense in the next clause is interesting.

Didst hear. She had ‘received,’ and she still retained possession of the truth; hence the perfect. But she no longer ‘heard’ in that sense of obeying so common in the writings of St. John; hence the aorist pointing to a specific moment of the past. There is always a reason, whether we can discover it or not, for such changes of tense (cp. on Revelation 7:14).—If, however, the church at Sardis will not obey the command to ‘watch,’ she shall not escape. The Lord will come as a thief. It is not the suddenness or unexpectedness of the hour

only that is thought of under the image of a ‘thief,’ for that image has rather its expression in the last clause of the verse. It is the object with which the thief comes that is in view,—to break up and to destroy. Thus the Lord ‘comes as a thief;’ and the hour shall not be known till He is come (comp. Luke 12:39; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10).


Verse 4

Revelation 3:4. Sardis was not wholly given over to evil, and the Lord does not less mark and approve the good than condemn the evil that was in her.

But thou hast a few names in Sardis which did not defile their garments. It is impossible to miss the play upon the word ‘names’ as compared with ‘thou hast a name’ in Revelation 3:1. A few had resisted the temptations to licentiousness so prevalent around them, and had maintained their Christian life and character in a manner corresponding to the pure and lofty aims of the faith which they professed.—Hence the promise, again leading us back to the grace to which it is attached: they shall walk along with me in white. The grace which clothed them even here as a white robe shall become a robe of glory. Their glory shall be the very glory of their Lord, for there is force in the preposition ‘along with;’ they shall be sharers in what the glorified Redeemer is.

For they are worthy (comp. for contrast, chap. Revelation 16:5-6).


Verse 5

Revelation 3:5. He that overcometh shall thus be clothed in white garments. He shall be clothed about, shall be wrapped round and round with the glistering glory of Revelation 3:4.

And I will in no wise blot out his name out of the book of life. The ‘book of life’ is a book conceived of as a register, containing the names of the true citizens of Zion (cp. Exodus 32:32; Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8; Revelation 20:12; Revelation 21:27, 12:19. There is no statement here that there is such a process of erasure of names from the book of life as may warrant us in saying that names once admitted to that book are being continually blotted out. Nor is such a thought in harmony with the general teaching of the Apocalypse, which looks rather at the number of the saved and of the lost as being from the first complete. What we are told is, not that some names shall be blotted out, but that certain names shall in no wise be so.

And I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels (cp. Matthew 10:32-33). He who has sought no name before men (comp. Revelation 3:1) shall have his ‘name’ con-fessed by his Lord in the great day.


Verse 6

Revelation 3:6. The usual call, with which the four last Epistles close.


Verse 7

Revelation 3:7. The sixth church addressed is that of Philadelphia, a city of Asia Minor, of which it is unnecessary to say more than that it possessed considerable importance, without attaining to the rank of the other cities mentioned in these chapters.

To this church the Lord is introduced in terms corresponding to those of chap. Revelation 1:13; Revelation 1:18. The first two parts of the description are founded on the words ‘Son of man’ in Revelation 3:13, the third on the statement of Revelation 3:18, that He who is thus spoken of has the ‘keys of death and of Hades.’ By the word holy we are to understand not so much one who is free from sin, as one who is consecrated and set apart to the service of God (see on John 17:17); and by the word true, one who is the essence of reality as opposed to one who is only phenomenal and shadowy (see on John 1:9). Both appellations are illustrated by a prophecy of Isaiah that is evidently in the writer’s eye, in which the rejection of the false Shebna and the calling of the faithful Eliakim are foretold (Isaiah 22:20-25). The Jews are represented by the one, and they are now deposed from their priestly and prophetic office. The Christ is represented by the other, and He as God’s ‘holy’ and ‘true’ Priest with His people in Him is come to be the Head of that Israel of God, which is to be the ‘salt of the earth,’ and the ‘light of the world.’ As God’s ‘consecrated’ and ‘true’ one, Christ is the Archetype to which all things point, whether in nature or providence or grace. Everything is ‘fulfilled’ in Him.

Further, He is he that hath the key of David, he that openeth and no one shall shut, and shutteth and no one openeth. For the signification of ‘key,’ comp. on chap, Revelation 1:18. It is neither the key of knowledge,—of opening up the meaning of Scripture,—nor the key of discipline,—of receiving into or excluding from the Church. It is rather the key of power, of that power by which the Lord of glory is Ruler in His own house,—the kingdom of God. He is the Way, no one cometh unto the Father but by Him; and against those that come to Him the gates of Hell shall not prevail (comp. Isaiah 22:22). There is thus a much closer connection between this latter part of the description and the two earlier parts than we might at first suppose; for it is as the divinely-commissioned servant of the Most High, absolutely perfect, absolutely ‘true,’ comprehending in Himself the essence of all reality, of all enduring and eternal life, that the Son of man is the ‘Captain’ of our salvation, the Prince of life who opens and closes the kingdom of heaven on conditions involved in the nature of things, and therefore irreversible by any power in heaven or earth or hell.


Verse 8

Revelation 3:8. The contents of the Epistle begin in the usual manner, and then proceed, the first sentence being parenthetical, Behold, I have given before thee an open door, and no one can shut it. The translation of the original thus offered cannot be said to be idiomatic; but, when the inspired author has employed unidiomatic Greek for the purpose of giving expression to a particular thought which appeared to him important, it seems to be the duty of a translator to follow his example, and to endeavour as best he may to find utterance for the same thought in his own language. This is the case here. There can be no doubt that the verb ‘to give’ is a very important one in the writings of St. John, and not least so in these seven Epistles, in every one of which it has a place. In the words before us it is not used through any imperfect knowledge of the Greek tongue. It is deliberately chosen to bring out the fact that every advantage we possess, every privilege we enjoy, every victory we gain, is the gift of Him in whom we live. The Lord does not merely do certain things for His people: in the doing of them He bestows His ‘gifts.’ Nay, not only so, His giving is part of a chain that binds together the lowest and the highest in His kingdom. The Father gives the Son; the Son gives Himself: in giving Himself, the Son gives us all things: whatever we receive is part of one line of giving.—There is difficulty in determining the meaning of the ‘opened door.’ We may at once set aside the idea that it is a door of access to the understanding of Scripture. Is it then, as generally viewed, a door of opportunity for carrying on the mission work of the Church,—mission work which is then thought by some to have reference to the Gentiles, by others to the Jews? This idea is no doubt taken from such texts as 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3; but the supposed analogy loses its force when we observe that no instance of it can be quoted from the writings of St. John. On the other hand, there can be no hesitation as to the meaning of the word ‘door’ in chap. Revelation 4:1, or in John 10:7; John 10:9. In these passages the ‘door’ is something that leads the persons before whom it is opened into the happiness referred to in the context. Still further, it is unfavourable to the idea of missionary work here—(1) That the thought of converting the world by the instrumentality of the Church is foreign to the Apocalypse; (2) That missionary results achieved in this world cannot be described in the language of Revelation 3:9. Jews and heathens, when converted, neither worship before the Church nor pay such homage to her as is there implied; they worship before Christ; He is the object of their homage; (3) That the Church is conceived of here in her royal as well as in her priestly capacity. This appears from mention of the ‘crown’ in Revelation 3:11, and from the fact that the verb translated ‘worship’ suggests the thought of homage to royalty; (4) Add what is said on the clause ‘and he shall in no wise go any more out’ in Revelation 3:12; (5) Lastly, notice the peculiar construction of the sentence, where the thrice, or rather the twice repeated ‘behold’ (for the third behold is merely the taking up again of the second, as ‘knowing’ in John 13:3 is the taking up again of the same word in Revelation 3:1) leads to the inference that Revelation 3:9 is simply a second picture, or fuller explanation of Revelation 3:8. But Revelation 3:9 certainly does not express any conversion of the Jews: and neither, therefore, is Revelation 3:8 the expression of means taken for the conversion of either them or the Gentiles.

The ‘opened door,’ then, is no other than that by which the faithful enter into the enjoyment of the heavenly glory, as well as that by which those spoken of in Revelation 3:9 enter, so far at least as to see them, in order to pay them homage while they sit upon their throne.—This door no one shall shut, that is, no one shall be able to prevent believers from entering on their reward. Their enemies may frown upon them, persecute them as they persecuted their Lord, but it will be in vain. The world shall be compelled to own them as it was compelled to own Him in part even here, and fully, however much to its shame, hereafter (comp. chap. Revelation 1:7).—The following words present in three particulars the ‘works’ referred to in the first clause of the verse.—(1) Thou hast a little power. The church at Philadelphia had not altogether failed.—(2) Didst keep my word, that is, my word for utterance (comp. John 17:6; John 17:8). She had preserved the Word of the Lord as a precious heritage.—(3) Didst not deny my name. She had stood firm when tempted to deny her Lord, openly confessing Him.


Verse 9

Revelation 3:9. The two parts of this verse each beginning with ‘Behold’ must be taken together, for the second ‘behold’ is the repetition of the first. Those referred to are described as in chap. Revelation 2:9 (see note there). Commentators generally imagine that we have here a promise of the conversion of the Jews literally understood, not indeed of the whole nation, but of that ‘remnant’ which, as we learn from other passages of Scripture, still remained, amidst the general obstinacy of the nation, susceptible to the influences of the Christian faith. It is impossible to take such a view, for not only do the prophecies upon which the language before us rests, if it be a prophecy (Isaiah 2:3; Isaiah 49:21-23; Isaiah 60:14-16; Zechariah 8:20-23), refer to the coming in of the Gentiles rather than of the Jews; but there is nothing in the words in the least degree resembling a promise of conversion. They speak only of constrained submission to a Church which has been hitherto disowned, and of acknowledging what has been hitherto denied,—that Christians are the object of God’s love (comp. John 14:31). It ought further to be observed, that in the language employed by the Lord it is not some of these Jews that are thought of, but all. There is no mention of the ‘remnant’ alluded to by St. Paul in Romans 9:27. We are therefore entitled to conclude that in this verse nothing is said of a calling in of the Jews, whether in whole or in part. What we read of is simply the bowing down of the Church’s enemies before her feet. The outward progress of the Church, as illustrated by the case of Philadelphia, is again worthy of notice. At chap. Revelation 2:9 these enemies of the faith were only not to be feared: now they bow in submission before her whom they had persecuted. Nor is the inward progress of the Church less perceptible. For the first time in these Epistles we see her bearing witness to Christ in word, opening her lips to speak the Word of God, herself, in short, a continuation of The Word.


Verse 10

Revelation 3:10. Because thou didst keep the word of my patience. The reference is neither to any precepts of Christ concerning patience, nor to any accounts given us of the patience of Christ Himself, but simply to Christ’s ‘word,’ which cannot be kept without much patient endurance on the part of His people.

I also will keep thee out of the hour of the trial, etc. The hour spoken of is described as that of ‘the trial,’ the great, probably the final, trial which was now about to come, which was near at hand. ‘Out of’ (comp. John 17:15) this trial believers are to be kept,—not that they are to be kept in it, when in the course of providence it comes upon the Church as well as others, but that they are to be kept entirely out of it; it shall not touch them. This trial, then, is not to be a trial of the world, in order to see whether it will repent, or a trial of the Church, in order to confirm her in faith; nor is it to operate in two ways,—bringing out the fidelity of the believing, and hardening the unbelieving. It really befalls the impenitent alone, and is the just recompense of their sin (comp. Matthew 24:5, etc.; 2 Thessalonians 3:3). Even if the righteous suffer in it, it will not be to them a ‘trial;’ they are already elect, safe. That this is the true sense of the passage is confirmed by what follows. The trial comes upon the whole inhabited world; no part of the world shall escape it. But at the same time, it comes to try them that dwell upon the earth, not all living men without exception, but, as clearly shown by the use of this expression in the Apocalypse, only the wicked (comp. chaps, Revelation 6:10, Revelation 8:13, Revelation 11:10, Revelation 13:8; Revelation 13:12; Revelation 13:14, Revelation 17:2; Revelation 17:8). The ‘earth’ is the opposite of ‘heaven’ (comp. John 3:12), and they that ‘dwell upon the earth’ do not include the saints who are already seated in heavenly places (comp. chap. Revelation 5:9, Revelation 13:6, Revelation 19:14).


Verse 11

Revelation 3:11. I come quickly. Comp. chap. Revelation 2:25 and Revelation 3:3, in both of which the general, rather than any special, coming of the Lord had been spoken of. He was to ‘come’ in the first, to ‘come as a thief’ in the second; now He ‘comes quickly.’

That no one take thy crown, that is, take it away (comp. chap. Revelation 6:4), deprive the church of it. The crown is the crown of future glory, the kingly crown (comp. on chap, Revelation 2:10).


Verse 12

Revelation 3:12. We have now the promise to him that overcometh, which is divided into three parts, not two. (1) Him will I make a pillar in the temple of my God. He shall not merely be a living stone in the temple, but something much more beautiful and glorious. It may be doubted if the idea of stability ought to be introduced here in connection with the word ‘pillar.’ That idea seems to be drawn from the words immediately following, which have been improperly associated with those before us. The thought of the pillar is rather that of ornament and beauty to the building of which it is a part. (2) And he shall in no wise come forth any more. These words are not to be taken in the sense of, he shall be in no danger of being thrust out or of falling away. They rather form, when rightly viewed, a remarkable illustration of the unity of thought between the Apocalypse and the fourth Gospel, as well as of that close identification of the believer with his Lord which is so prominent in each. The verb ‘come forth,’ as used of Jesus in the fourth Gospel, expresses not only His original derivation from the Father, but His whole manifestation of Himself as the ‘sent’ of God (John 8:42; John 13:3; John 16:30; John 18:1 and note there). It includes, therefore, the thought of all His suffering and sorrow, of all His humiliation and self-sacrifice until He returned to the Father. In a similar sense it seems to be used of the believer here. The Lord is now exalted in glory, and ‘comes forth’ no more; the believer, when crowned with his glory, shall in like manner be safe from all future trial. (3) And I will write upon him, etc. Three things are to be written, not upon the pillar, but upon the victorious believer—first, the name of my God. Considering the manner in which one part of the Apocalypse enlarges and explains another, it is hardly possible not to take this part of the promise as an enlargement of what has already met us in chap. Revelation 2:17. We are thus led to think again of the inscription upon the forehead of the high priest. Secondly, the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God. The Jerusalem referred to is not the earthly but the heavenly city, the city now with God, but which is hereafter to descend (chap. Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:10). Thirdly, my new name, that is, a name of Christ in His character as Redeemer. All three things mentioned refer to the blessings of the covenant. They express in one way or another the relation of the believer to God as his Father, to Christ as the Revelation of the Father, and to the privileges and joys of citizenship in the kingdom made known to us in the Father and the Son. They thus appear not substantially different from the promise of Revelation 2:17, but rather an expansion of the ‘new’ name there spoken of. They contain a fuller statement of its contents, and bring to view alike the Lord whom His people serve, and the spirit in which they serve Him. We may note the correspondence, too, between witnessing to the name of Christ in Revelation 3:8, and the bestowal of the name mentioned in the promise. May it also be that there is a correspondence between the description of the Lord in Revelation 3:7 as ‘He that is holy,’ and the ‘name’ here given to him that overcomes? If so, we shall be the more led to think of the inscription upon the forehead of the high priest as the basis of the description of Revelation 3:12.


Verse 13

Revelation 3:13. The usual call at the close of the second group of the seven Epistles.


Verse 14

Revelation 3:14. The seventh church addressed is that or Laodicea, an important and wealthy city not very far from Philadelphia. The chief interest of Laodicea, apart from that lent to it by the fact that it was one of the seven cities addressed in the Apocalypse, arises from its connection with the history of St. Paul. That apostle had not indeed founded the church there, nor at the time at least when he wrote the Epistle to the Colossians had he visited the city (Colossians 2:1), but he cherished a lively affection for its Christian inhabitants, and anxiously sought to promote their welfare (Colossians 4:16). It is probable that the New Testament Epistle, known as the Epistle to the Ephesians, was primarily intended for the Gentile Christians of Laodicea and the neighbouring towns.

Again we are first met by a description of the exalted Redeemer, which cannot be said to be taken directly from any part of the description of the Son of man contained in chap. 1. It seems rather to be composed of characteristics selected for their suitableness to the closing Epistle of the Seven. The Lord is the Amen. The appellation is no doubt taken from Isaiah 65:16, where the words of the Authorised Version, ‘the God of truth,’ fail adequately to represent the original. The Lord is rather there named ‘Amen;’ and the meaning of the name here is not that the Divine promises shall be accomplished by Him to whom it is given, but that He is Himself the fulfilment of all that God has spoken to His churches.

Again, He is the faithful and true witness. His work is to be a witness of God, and in that work He has been perfectly ‘faithful,’ absolutely ‘true.’—Once more He is the beginning of the creation of God, not merely the first and highest of all creatures,

a view entirely out of keeping with what is said of our Lord in the Apocalypse,—but the principle, the initial force, to which the ‘creation’ of God owes its origin. More doubt may be entertained as to what the ‘creation’ here referred to is, whether the material creation in all its extent or the new creation, the Christian Church, that redeemed humanity which has its true life in Christ. The former is the view generally taken, but the third term of the description thus fails to correspond with the first two which undoubtedly apply to the work of redemption, while at the same time the subjoined words ‘of God’ become meaningless or perplexing. Add to this that in chap. Revelation 1:5, immediately after Jesus had been called the ‘faithful Witness,’ He had also been described as the ‘first-begotten of the dead’ (see note there), and we shall hardly be able to resist the conclusion that, if the whole creation be alluded to, it is only as redeemed, in its final condition of rest and glory, when the new Jerusalem has descended from heaven, and the enemies of the Church have been cast into the lake of fire (comp. Romans 8:21-22; James 1:18). The three predicates thus form an appellation peculiarly appropriate, not so much to the church at Laodicea considered alone, as to the last church addressed in these Epistles. We have already seen that the first Epistle, that to Ephesus, has a general as well as a special character. A similar remark is applicable now. Christ is the ‘Amen’ of the whole counsel of God: He is the ‘Wit-ness’ who has faithfully and completely exhibited His truth; He is the source and spring of that new creation which is called into being according to His will.


Verse 15

Revelation 3:15. The contents of the Epistle now begin. That thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. The latter words throw light upon the interpretation of the former, for they show that we cannot well understand by ‘cold’ either the state of a heart simply untouched by the Gospel of love, and occupying thus a merely negative position, or that of one which has relapsed from former zeal for the truth into a condition of indifference. In no circumstances could either of these states be to the Lord an object of desire, for experience shows that there is none out of which it is so difficult to awaken the heart to a proper reception of the Divine message. There must be some positive quality in him who is thus ‘cold.’ for the sake of which Jesus can say, ‘I would thou wert cold or hot;’ and this being so, it seems only possible to think of ‘coldness’ as real attachment to the world, and active opposition to the Church. It may indeed be objected that such a character is wanting in that Christian element which we must suppose to exist in what is ‘cold’ before it could be spoken of in the language of this verse; but there is nothing to compel us to think of such an element; and the first words of the exhortation in Revelation 3:19, ‘Be zealous,’ may with perfect propriety be referred to that natural disposition which, although not in itself Christian, is always the ground upon which the true Christian character is reared. ‘Hot,’ again, can only express warm Christian zeal. The church at Laodicea was neither ‘cold’ nor ‘hot.’ It had received the truth outwardly, but no deep impression had been made upon it. Its members were not zealous for the truth, but neither were they zealous against it. It was lukewarm, destitute of enthusiasm for anything whether good or evil. Had it been ‘hot,’ it would have been all that Jesus wished. Had it been ‘cold,’ it would at least have possessed those elements of natural character which might be turned to a satisfactory issue. As it was, nothing could be made of it.


Verse 16

Revelation 3:16. Hence the emphatic threatening of this verse. For the figure comp. Leviticus 18:28; Leviticus 20:22.


Verse 17

Revelation 3:17. This verse is sometimes connected with the preceding, as giving a further statement of the reason why the Lord would deal with the church at Laodicea according to His threatening. But it is more natural to connect it with Revelation 3:18, and to regard it as containing the ground of the counsel there given. The question may be asked, whether we are to understand the words of the first half of the verse as referring to temporal or spiritual wealth. The words of Revelation 3:18 determine in favour of the former. It was not spiritual pride that had made the church at Laodicea ‘lukewarm:’ the spiritually proud have too many positive elements of character to justify such a description in their case. It was worldly prosperity that had made the church indifferent to the energy and power of Divine truth. Outwardly she could still profess the Christian faith. But, to be held in reality, that faith must be accompanied by a clear and deep perception of the vanity of this world. To such a state of mind riches are a bar. The rich may no doubt enter into the kingdom of God as well as the poor, but they do so with difficulty (Mark 10:23-24). Their wants are satisfied with ‘corn and wine;’ the world pays homage to them; they have ‘much goods laid up for many years;’ they are free from anxiety as to the future; and they will ‘leave their substance to their babes.’ Why should they be eager about religion? They have difficulty in being ‘hot.’ Yet they would not oppose religion. It is easier to conform to it. They cannot oppose it or be ‘cold.’ Such is the state of mind which the Lord seems here to address, and hence the powerful language of the following words, and knowest not that thou art the wretched one, and miserable, etc. ‘Thou callest the poor wretched: thou art the wretched one: to thee really belong the misery and the poverty and the blindness and the nakedness for which thou pitiest or professest to pity others.’


Verse 18

Revelation 3:18. The counsel follows. I counsel thee to buy of me gold refined out of fire, not that gold which cannot stand the fire of the great day, but the true gold of My kingdom, purified by being burnt in the furnace of trial, that thus thou mayest be rich; and white garments, that thou mayest appear clothed when I come; and eye-salve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see (comp. John 9:6). The three things mentioned are in obvious contrast with those spoken of in Revelation 3:17, although they are not mentioned in the same order. For ‘buy’ comp. Isaiah 55:1.


Verse 19

Revelation 3:19. As many as I love I convict and chasten. The ‘I’ before ‘convict’ is very emphatic,—‘I, who though I was rich became poor, who bought true riches by suffering and death,’ For the force of ‘convict’ comp. note on John 16:8.

Be zealous therefore, and repent. ‘Be zealous’ comes first, because it relates to a general change of spirit. Were specifically Christian zeal in view, repentance ought to take precedence. The tenses in the original deserve notice, the first expressing the general habit, the second the decisive act.


Verse 20

Revelation 3:20. Behold, I stand at the door. The figure is not intended to convey to the church the thought of the Lord’s constant presence, but rather the assurance that He has taken up a new position, that He is at hand for judgment, and that He will immediately admit His people to the full enjoyment of His promised blessedness.

And knock. These words bring more forcibly home to us the Lord’s standing at the door and the nearness of His presence. No knocking in various ways, by providence, by conscience, by the ordinances of the Church, by the work of the Spirit, is referred to. The words simply show how near Jesus is, and how ready to bless (comp. James 5:9).

If any one hear my voice, etc. The picture is one of the heavenly reward, and both statements, I will sup with him, and he with me, are to be taken together. The first is not confined to the blessedness of earth, the second to the blessedness of heaven; but the two combined express the glory and joy of the future world, where the believer shall be for ever with his Lord.—Different opinions have been entertained as to the foundation of the figure, a very common supposition being that it rests upon St. John’s own personal intercourse with Jesus related at John 1:39, and upon his Master’s visits to him at the close of many a day’s labour during His earthly ministry. Such a reference is far-fetched; and it is much more natural to think of the words of the Song of Solomon in chap. Revelation 5:2, and to behold here the festivity and joy of the time of the Lord’s marriage to His Church. Revelation 19:9, where we read of the marriage supper of the Lamb, appears to confirm this. May we not also connect with the supper of this verse the thought of the last supper in the upper chamber at Jerusalem? We are dealing with the last of the Epistles, and the imagery may well be drawn from one of the closing acts of the Saviour’s life on earth. That Supper is not a mere memorial of death: it is a spiritual feast in which the life of the believer is most intimately bound up with that of his Lord, in which the union between them is the closest of all unions, that between the Bridegroom and the bride.


Verse 21

Revelation 3:21. He that overcometh, to him will I grant to sit down along with me in my throne, etc. This promise is the highest of all that we have met in the seven Epistles. The throne of Jesus is the throne of God,—‘I in them, and Thou in Me, that they may be perfected into one;’ ‘Father, that which Thou hast given Me, I will that, where I am, they also may be with Me’ (John 17:23-24). The promise is the ‘apotheosis of victory,’ and as such it has evidently a reference not only to the church at Laodicea, but to the whole series of the seven churches, and of the promises addressed to them.


Verse 22

Revelation 3:22. The Epistle closes with the usual call of the Spirit to the churches. We have considered the Epistles to the seven churches separately; but, before leaving the subject, it may be well to make a few remarks upon them as a whole. That they are intended to be thus looked at is allowed by every interpreter. We have not merely before us seven letters to seven individual churches, which no inner bond connects with one another, and where there is no thought of any general result; we have a representation or picture of the Church at large. Yet the traits given us of the condition of each church are historical, the seven churches selected being preferred to others, because they appeared to the apostle to afford the best typical representation of the Church universal.

The seven Epistles, however, are not merely seven. They are clearly divided into two groups, the first of which consists of the first three, the second of the four following, Epistles. Various circumstances combine to prove this, one of which—the difference of position assigned in the different groups to the call, ‘He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches’—is at once perceptible to the English reader. Another—the omission (by later reading) of the words ‘I know thy works’ from the Epistles to Smyrna and Pergamos, while they occur in all the remaining Epistles—is not so obvious, nor is its force so easily determined. Yet we know of no more satisfactory explanation than that the words are omitted from the second and third Epistles, because these two are so intimately connected with the first that the expression, when used in it, was supposed to extend its influence into them. It is true that the same thing does not occur in the last four, the expression ‘I know thy works’ meeting us in each; but this may only show that the unity of the second group is not so profound and intimate as that of the first. If, then, it be now asked what the difference between these two groups is, we answer that in the first we have the Church of Christ in herself, in the second the Church of Christ as she mingles with the world and learns its ways. No doubt in the first group sin and suffering are spoken of; but it must be borne in mind that it is the actual not the ideal Church with which we have to deal; and the Church had not then, nor has she even now, attained to the ‘stature of the perfect man in Christ Jesus.’ Sin marks her, and she stands in need of suffering; but it is the characteristic of the first of the two groups, that in it sin has more the aspect of weakness, while in the second it is intensified and yielded to through contact with the world. When, accordingly, we look more closely at the first three Epistles, the leading idea of each appears to be as follows. In Ephesus the church is faithful to her commission. She has indeed lost the warmth of her first love, but she holds fast the revelation of the will of God, the ‘form of sound words,’ with which she had been entrusted; she has tried them which ‘call themselves apostles, and they are not, and has found them false,’ and she has ‘not grown weary in her toil.’ In Smyrna this faithfulness continues, but the idea of suffering is now brought in, and the Church is told that the time is at hand when she must meet it. Lastly, in Pergamos we have a similar faithfulness even under persecution which has begun, although at the same time there are now ‘some’ within her own borders who have given way to evil, so that actual affliction is required to purify her. In the three Epistles taken together we have thus set before us the main New Testament conception of the Church, the Body of believers true to Christ’s cause upon the whole, but taught to expect affliction, and actually afflicted, that they may be cleansed and be made to bring forth more fruit (John 15:1-2).

When we turn to the churches of the second group we enter upon a different field. The Church is now in actual contact with the world, and, forgetting her high calling to be Christ’s witness in and against the world, she yields to its corrupting influences. Thus in Thyatira, the first of the four, it is no longer ‘some’ (chap. Revelation 2:15) in her midst who tolerate evil. The Church as a whole does so. She ‘suffereth,’ beareth with, Jezebel, a heathen princess the fitting type of the world and the world’s sins. She knew the world to be what it was, and yet she was content to be at peace with it. It may be worthy of notice, too, that as the first picture of the church in herself—that in the Epistle to Ephesus—showed her to be peculiarly faithful on the point of doctrine, so the first picture of the church, as she begins to yield to the world, shows us that it was in doctrinal steadfastness that she failed. In the Epistle to Sardis, the second city of the second group, there is more yielding to the world than even in Thyatira. A few indeed there have not defiled their garments, but the church as a whole reproduces the Pharisees in the days of Christ, loud in their profession and renowned for it, but with no works of a true and genuine righteousness fulfilled before God. Declension in doctrine had soon been followed by declension in practice. Amidst all such declensions, however, it must never be forgotten that the Church has her times of noble faithfulness, and such a time seems to be set before us in the Epistle to Philadelphia. That the church there has been struggling with the world we see by the description of her vanquished enemies who come in and worship before her feet (chap. Revelation 3:9); but she had not yielded to the world. No word of reproach is uttered against her. The Epistle to Philadelphia represents either a time when the Church as a whole maintains her allegiance to the Captain of her salvation, or that remnant within the Church (as there was a remnant even in the Jewish Church of our Lord’s time) which keeps ‘the word of the Lord’s patience’ in those seasons of conflict with the main body of the Church herself that are far more hard to bear than any conflict with the world. Lastly, in Laodicea all that is most melancholy in the history of the Church’s relation to the world culminates, and the last picture that is given us of her state is at the same time the saddest (comp. Luke 18:8). The Church is here conformed to the world, and takes her ease amidst the wealth and the luxury which the world affords to all her votaries, and to none with so much satisfaction as to those who will purchase them at the cost of Christian consistency.

Such appears to us to be a general outline of the course of thought embodied in these seven Epistles. But it is not easy to speak with confidence regarding it. The general conception of the two groups of three and four may perhaps be accepted as correct;(1) and starting from that point, other inquirers may be more successful in determining the special characteristic of the Church which each Epistle of both groups is undoubtedly intended to express.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Revelation 3:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/revelation-3.html. 1879-90.

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Sunday, December 15th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
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