Revelation 3:3
Remember therefore how you have received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore you shall not watch, I will come on you as a thief, and you shall not know what hour I will come on you.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) Remember therefore how (or, after what sort) thou hast received and heard (or, didst hear—the tense changes).—Remembering that the words are addressed primarily to the angel himself, the change of tense may have been designed to point him back to some particular period of his life, such as the time when he was set apart to his ministerial work. The further expectation is to hold fast, or keep—i.e., as an abiding habit. It has been noticed that this counsel is identical with that given to Timothy to “keep the good thing which had been committed to his charge” (2Timothy 1:14; comp. also 2Timothy 2:2). “Repent” is the closing word; combined with the exhortation to hold fast, it reminds us that formal tenacity of truth and a fruitless inactive regret are alike useless. There must be the sorrow for the past, and a sorrow which shows itself in action—a repentance whereby sin is forsaken. (Comp. Revelation 2:5; Revelation 2:21.)

If therefore thou shalt not watch.—Better, If thou shalt not watch (or, have been awake), I will come (omit “on thee”) as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. The warning is an echo from the Gospels (Matthew 24:42-43; Luke 12:39-40). The coming of Christ to judge His Church would be in an hour unlooked for. What kind of hour He would so come was’ unknown; the sound of His approaching footsteps unheard. Shod with wool, according to the ancient proverb, stealthily as a thief, the Judge would be at the door. Yet they could not plead that they had been in darkness (1Thessalonians 5:4).

3:1-6. The Lord Jesus is He that hath the Holy Spirit with all his powers, graces, and operations. Hypocrisy, and lamentable decay in religion, are sins charged upon Sardis, by One who knew that church well, and all her works. Outward things appeared well to men, but there was only the form of godliness, not the power; a name to live, not a principle of life. There was great deadness in their souls, and in their services; numbers were wholly hypocrites, others were in a disordered and lifeless state. Our Lord called upon them to be watchful against their enemies, and to be active and earnest in their duties; and to endeavour, in dependence on the grace of the Holy Spirit, to revive and strengthen the faith and spiritual affections of those yet alive to God, though in a declining state. Whenever we are off our watch, we lose ground. Thy works are hollow and empty; prayers are not filled up with holy desires, alms-deeds not filled up with true charity, sabbaths not filled up with suitable devotion of soul to God. There are not inward affections suitable to outward acts and expressions; when the spirit is wanting, the form cannot long remain. In seeking a revival in our own souls, or the souls of others, it is needful to compare what we profess with the manner in which we go on, that we may be humbled and quickened to hold fast that which remains. Christ enforces his counsel with a dreadful threatening if it should be despised. Yet our blessed Lord does not leave this sinful people without some encouragement. He makes honourable mention of the faithful remnant in Sardis, he makes a gracious promise to them. He that overcometh shall be clothed in white raiment; the purity of grace shall be rewarded with the perfect purity of glory. Christ has his book of life, a register of all who shall inherit eternal life; the book of remembrance of all who live to God, and keep up the life and power of godliness in evil times. Christ will bring forward this book of life, and show the names of the faithful, before God, and all the angels, at the great day.Remember therefore how thou hast received - This may refer either to some uniqueness in the manner in which the gospel was conveyed to them - as, By the labors of the apostles, and by the remarkable effusions of the Holy Spirit; or to the ardor and love with which they embraced it; or to the greatness of the favors and privileges conferred on them; or to their own understanding of what the gospel required, when they were converted. It is not possible to determined in which sense the language is used; but the general idea is plain, that there was something marked and unusual in the way in which they had been led to embrace the gospel, and that it was highly proper in these circumstances to look back to the days when they gave themselves to Christ. It is always well for Christians to call to remembrance the "day of their espousals," and their views and feelings when they gave their hearts to the Saviour, and to compare those views with their present condition, especially if their conversion was marked by anything unusual.

And heard - How thou didst hear the gospel in former times; that is, with what earnestness and attention thou didst embrace it. This would rather seem to imply that the reference in the whole passage is to the fact that they embraced the gospel with great ardor and zeal.

And hold fast -

(1) Hold fast the truths which thou didst then receive;

(2) hold fast what remains of true religion among you.

And repent - Repent in regard to all that in which you have departed from your views and feelings when you embraced the gospel.

If therefore thou shalt not watch - The speaker evidently supposed that it was possible that they would not regard the warning; that they would presume that they would be safe if they refused to give heed to it, or, that by mere inattention and indifference they might suffer the warning to pass by unheeded. Similar results have been so common in the world as to make such a supposition not improbable, and to make proper, in other cases as well as that, the solemn threatening that he would come suddenly upon them.

I will come on thee as a thief - In a sudden and unexpected manner. See the notes on 1 Thessalonians 5:2.

And ye shall not know what hour I will come upon thee - You shall not know beforehand; you shall have no warning of my immediate approach. This is often the way in which God comes to people in his heavy judgments. Long beforehand, he admonishes us, indeed, of what must be the consequences of a course of sin, and warns us to turn from it; but when sinners refuse to attend to his warning, and still walk in the way of evil, he comes suddenly, and cuts them down. Every man who is warned of the evil of his course, and who refuses or neglects to repent, has reason to believe that God will come suddenly in his wrath, and call him to his bar, Proverbs 29:1. No such man can presume on impunity; no one who is warned of his guilt and danger can feel that he is for one moment safe. No one can have any basis of calculation that he will be spared; no one can flatter himself with any probable anticipation that he will have time to repent when God comes to take him away. Benevolence has done its appropriate work in warning him - how can the Great Judge of all be to blame, if he comes then, and suddenly cuts the sinner off?

3. how thou hast received—(Col 2:6; 1Th 4:1; 1Ti 6:20). What Sardis is to "remember" is, not how joyfully she had received originally the Gospel message, but how the precious deposit was committed to her originally, so that she could not say, she had not "received and heard" it. The Greek is not aorist (as in Re 2:4, as to Ephesus, "Thou didst leave thy first love"), but "thou hast received" (perfect), and still hast the permanent deposit of doctrine committed to thee. The word "keep" (so the Greek is for English Version, "hold fast") which follows, accords with this sense. "Keep" or observe the commandment which thou hast received and didst hear.

heard—Greek aorist, "didst hear," namely, when the Gospel doctrine was committed to thee. Trench explains "how," with what demonstration of the Spirit and power from Christ's ambassadors the truth came to you, and how heartily and zealously you at first received it. Similarly Bengel, "Regard to her former character (how it once stood) ought to guard Sardis against the future hour, whatsoever it shall be, proving fatal to her." But it is not likely that the Spirit repeats the same exhortation virtually to Sardis as to Ephesus.

If therefore—seeing thou art so warned, if, nevertheless, &c.

come on thee as a thief—in special judgment on thee as a Church, with the same stealthiness and as unexpectedly as shall be My visible second coming. As the thief gives no notice of his approach. Christ applies the language which in its fullest sense describes His second coming, to describe His coming in special judgments on churches and states (as Jerusalem, Mt 24:4-28) these special judgments being anticipatory earnests of that great last coming. "The last day is hidden from us, that every day may be observed by us" [Augustine]. Twice Christ in the days of His flesh spake the same words (Mt 24:42, 43; Lu 12:39, 40); and so deeply had His words been engraven on the minds of the apostles that they are often repeated in their writings (Re 16:15; 1Th 5:2, 4, 6; 2Pe 3:10). The Greek proverb was that "the feet of the avenging deities are shod with wool," expressing the noiseless approach of the divine judgments, and their possible nearness at the moment when they were supposed the farthest off [Trench].

Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard; to wit, from the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ. All true reformation, either of doctrine or manners, lies in the reduction of it to the doctrine delivered, and the rules of life given by them.

And hold fast, and repent: wherein our judgment or practice is conformable to theirs, it is to be held fast; wherein it hath varied, it is to be repented of.

If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief; if thou shalt not keep thyself free from gross sins or errors, and give diligence to do it, I will come to thee, not as a friend to comfort and refresh thee, but as a thief to rob and destroy thee, and that suddenly.

And thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee; I will surprise thee with my judgments, and thou shalt not know when my judgments shall overtake thee. Remember, therefore, how thou hast received and heard,.... That is, hast received upon hearing; for hearing goes first, and then receiving: the design of the advice is to put this church in mind of the doctrines of grace she had heard at the beginning of the Reformation, from Luther and others; such as justification by the righteousness of Christ, pardon through his blood, and atonement by his sacrifice, doctrines now almost lost and buried in forgetfulness; wherefore Christ would have her remember these things; how that she heard them with attention, reverence, humility, and without prejudice; and with much affection, so as to approve and love them, believe them, feel the power of them, and taste the goodness in them; and how she received them with all meekness, readiness, and joy, when now they are greatly disliked and rejected by many; very few attend to the doctrines of the Reformation. This is exactly our case:

and hold fast; the above doctrines, though the majority is against them, and learned men despise them, and they are charged with enthusiasm and licentiousness. It looks as if there was danger, as there is, that they would be entirely wrested out of her hands:

and repent: of her deadness, coldness, and indifference to these truths; of her unwatchfulness over them, and imperfection in them; not carrying truth to its fulness and perfection, resting in her first light and knowledge, and even going back from that:

if therefore thou shalt not watch: and preserve truth, and hold fast the form of sound words, and keep to the order, as well as the faith of the Gospel, and constantly attend divine worship, and look for the coming and kingdom of Christ:

I will come on thee as a thief; in the night, and at unawares, unthought of, and unexpected; which must be understood of coming to her in a way of rebuke and chastisement, by bringing some affliction, or suffering some sore distress to fall upon her: the phrase, "on thee", is left out in the Alexandrian copy and in the Ethiopic version:

and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee: which, though applicable to the spiritual coming of Christ in the next church state, and to his second coming in his kingdom and glory, which will be both sudden and unexpected, yet these will be to the joy and comfort of the church; whereas what is here spoken is by way of threatening, and must relate to some severe dispensation on her; and which we might now justly expect, were we not in the unwatchful, unthoughtful, and ignorant situation here described.

Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Revelation 3:3. From the reproach[1346] follows[1347] the admonition to repentance. The Πῶς dare neither be expressly changed into a ΠΟΊΑ,[1348] nor be explained in a sense proceeding therefrom.[1349] Castalio, correctly: “How thou wast instructed.”[1350] But it is not made prominent as to “how finely” the church received the doctrine, i.e., how well they began their life of faith;[1351] there is also no allusion to the simplicity and purity of the apostolic mode of preaching.[1352] In accord with the text, Ebrard explains: “The ‘what’ received by Sardis, it had maintained; but the ‘how,’ i.e., the manner in which it formerly had received and heard the ‘what,’ it had lost. Once it had received this with holy zeal of heart, but now only with the head.” A description of the Πῶς, as well in reference to the apostolic proclamation as the reception on the part of the hearers, is given by Paul (1 Thessalonians 1:5 sqq., Revelation 2:1 sqq.; 1 Corinthians 2:1 sqq.). The manifestation of spirit and power which occurs with the preaching belongs to the right mode of hearing and receiving, as it is that mode which is efficacious unto sanctification; cf. Ephesians 4:20; Colossians 2:6. Thus the quickening and refreshal of the dead Christian life must actually be begun by the remembrance (ΜΝΗΜ.) of their original reception of the gospel whereby the new holy life was wrought. Besides, the two other points of the admonition, ΚΑῚ ΤΉΡΕΙ ΚΑῚ ΜΕΤΑΝΌΗΣΟΝ, and that, too, in immediate sequence of this, have their justification in the fact that the received divine truth, when it is maintained, has in itself the power to work true repentance, and thus evermore to cleanse, strengthen, and perfect the new life.

Not without artificial refinement does Bengel distinguish the ἜΙΛΗΦΑς (“with the heart”) from the ἬΚΟΥΣΑς (“with the ear”), and then remarks on ΤΉΡΕΙ, “in order that your reception may not be in vain,” and on ΜΕΤΑΝΌΗΣΟΝ, “in order that your hearing may not be in vain.” Against this distinction between ἜΙΛΗΦΑς and ἬΚΟΥΣΑς in fact, while it rather lies in the mode of statement,[1353] the order of words already declares, which we would then expect to be reversed; the relation stated between the two ideas ΤΉΡΕΙ and ΜΕΤΑΝΌΗΣΟΝ is, in itself, arbitrary. The change from perf. to aor., in case such fine distinction were actually intended by the writer, can be explained only with Ew. ii.: The Holy Spirit appears to be still present in the church which had formerly received him, but the first hearing of the gospel lies simply in the past. With the perfect ἜΙΛΗΦΑ thus understood, the judgment on Revelation 3:1 (ΝΕΚΡ. ΕἸ) entirely harmonizes, because the latter is not absolute.[1354]

In the second sentence of Revelation 3:3, just as in Revelation 2:5; Revelation 2:16, the threat follows as to a case where the requirement of the Lord is unfulfilled. Yet the ΟὟΝ peculiar to this passage does not indicate that the fruitlessness of the warning with respect to the bad condition of the church is presupposed.[1355] Against this, the ἘᾺΝ already declares, which sets forth the future as either thus or possibly otherwise.[1356] But it refers either to the preceding admonition,[1357] or to the accusation of Revelation 3:2.[1358] The latter seems the more correct as the expression ΓΟΗΓΟΡΉΣΗς connects with Revelation 3:2.

ἫΞΩ Ὡς ΚΛΈΠΤΗς. Not only is this based, as to the expression, upon Matthew 24:42 sqq., but the entire mode of contemplation, according to which the special judgment upon a particular congregation appears as a proof of the Lord’s coming to final judgment,[1359] is previously found in the eschatological discourse of the Lord, since there the special judgment upon Jerusalem appears combined with the final judgment at the parousia.

οὐ μή. Cf. Winer, p. 471.

ΠΟΊΑΝ ὭΡΑΝ. The ace determinative of time[1360] is not only Hebraic,[1361] but also Greek.”[1362]

[1346] Revelation 3:1-2.

[1347] μνημ. οὖν., Revelation 2:5. Cf. Revelation 2:16.

[1348] Heinr.

[1349] Grot.: “Doctrine such as thou hast received from the apostles.”

[1350] Cf. Aret., C. a Lap., Vitr., Beng., Ew., Ebrard.

[1351] Beng. Cf. Revelation 3:2.

[1352] Vitr.

[1353] John 17:8; 1 Corinthians 11:23.

[1354] See above on Revelation 3:1; also cf. Revelation 3:4 of this chapter.

[1355] De Wette.

[1356] Winer, pp. 273, 275.

[1357] “As thou hast been so forcibly aroused and warned.”

[1358] “As thou so greatly needest repentance.”

[1359] Cf. Revelation 2:5; Revelation 2:16.

[1360] John 4:52; Acts 10:3.

[1361] De Wette, Ebrard.

[1362] Cf. A. Matthiae, Ausfühl. Griech. Gramm., § 424; Winer, p. 215.Revelation 3:3. Memory again the lever for repentance (as at Revelation 2:5); εἴληφας aoristic pf. (cf. Revelation 5:7, Burton 88) rather than pf. of existing result (Weiss, Bs.); πῶς = our colloquial “how” (practically equivalent to “that”). The melancholy feature about contemporary indifference at S. was that it had a fine beginning behind it: yet this very circumstance afforded hopeful ground for an appeal. καὶ τήρει (the primitive deposit of the faith) καὶ (to secure this steadfast adherence) μετανόησον (aor., sharp and decisive act of repentance). As Revelation 3:4 (compared with Revelation 3:2) implies, positive stains were visible in the local church no less than sins of mere omission. Sardis and Laodicea, which apparently were the only members of this group untroubled by outside persecution or inward error, were the least satisfactory of all the seven, ἐὰν οὖν μὴ γρηγορήσῃς, although the need is so desperate (cf. below on Revelation 16:15). The sudden and signal visitation of punishment threatened in the following words (for ὥραν in acc. cf. Moult, i. 63, Abbott’s Diat. 2013) is left vaguely impressive. It may be that (as in Judges 1:4; Judges 1:18, and 2 Peter) local libertinism meant a slackening of belief in the second Advent.3. Remember] Cf. Revelation 2:5 : but here it is the sound doctrine of the founders of the Church that is the standard to be regained: it does not appear that the former practice of the Church itself furnished such a standard.

hold fast] Or keep: the word is the same as in Revelation 1:3, where see note. Here the sense is more like 1 Corinthians 11:2; 1 Timothy 6:20, where however the Greek verb used is different: 1 Timothy 6:14, where it is the same as here, bridges the interval between the two.

I will come … as a thief] So Revelation 16:15; Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:4; 2 Peter 3:10. In all these places the image is used of the Last or universal Judgement, but here plainly of a particular judgement upon this one Church. The use of the same image in both the larger and narrower senses seems to sanction the system of interpretation commonly applied to St Matthew 24, and here attempted to be applied to this book also.Revelation 3:3. Πῶς· ποίαν) Regard to its former character (“how” it once stood) ought to defend the Church of Sardis, that the future hour, whatsoever it shall be, may not be attended with calamity to it.Verse 3. - Remember therefore how thou hast received and didst hear (comp. Revelation 2:5). Like the Ephesians, the Sardians are reminded of the better condition from which they have receded. They are of those "who, when they have heard the Word, straightway receive it with joy; and they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while" (Mark 4:16, 17). The "how," as is shown by the verbs "receive" and "hear," refers to the readiness with which they accepted the gospel, rather than to the power with which it was preached to them. The tenses are instructive: the aorist applies to the hearing at some definite period in their history; the perfect implies the permanent result of the act of reception. Keep and repent. Keep what thou didst hear. "Keep" is better than "hold fast," to mark the difference between τηρεῖν (Revelation 1:3; Revelation 2:26; Revelation 3:3, 8, 10, etc.), and κρατεῖν (Revelation 2:1, 13, 14, 15, 25; Revelation 3:11, etc.). Here again the tenses should be noted: the present imperative indicates that they are to continue to keep; the aorist, that they are to repent once for all. We have a similar combination of tenses in" Take these things hence at once; continue to refrain from making my Father's house a house of merchandise" (John 2:16; comp. John 5:8, 11; Acts 12:8; 1 Corinthians 15:34). "Remember" here and in Revelation 2:5 is with equal fitness the present imperative: "continue to remember." I will come as a thief. The "on thee" after "come," though well supported, is probably not genuine. Wherever this figure is used in the New Testament of the coming of Christ, the word used is κλέπτης, "a thief," and not ληστής, a "robber" or "bandit." This shows, what is also plain from the context, that secrecy, not violence, is the point of the similitude (comp. Revelation 16:15; Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10). Thou shalt not know what hour; literally, thou shalt in no wise come to know during what kind of an hour. The negative is the strongest form, οὐ μή (Revelation 2:11; Revelation 3:5, 12). The verb is γινώσκειν, which implies acquisition of knowledge (Revelation 2:23, 24; Revelation 3:9). The pronoun is ποῖος (John 10:32; John 12:33; John 18:32; John 21:19; and especially Matthew 24:42; Luke 12:39); and "hour" is in the accusative (John 4:52). Thou hast received and heard (εἴληφας καὶ ἤκουσας)

The former of these verbs is in the perfect tense: thou hast received the truth as a permanent deposit. It remains with thee whether thou regardest it or not. The latter verb is ill the aorist tense, didst hear (so Rev.), denoting merely the act of hearing when it took place.

Watch

See on Revelation 3:2.

On thee

Omit.

As a thief (ὡς κλέπτης)

Thief, as distinguished from hp λῃστής robber, a plunderer on a larger scale, who secures his booty not by stealth, but by violence. Hence the word is appropriate here to mark the unexpected and stealthy coming of the Lord. Compare 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:4; 2 Peter 3:10.

Thou shalt not know what hour l will come upon thee

The Greek proverb says that the feet of the avenging deities are shod with wool. The sentiment is voiced in the two following fragments from Aeschylus:

"Whether one sleep or walk or sit at ease,

Unseen and voiceless Justice dogs his steps,

Striking athwart his path from right or left;

Nor what is foully done will night conceal:

continued...

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