Revelation 3
Benson Commentary
And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.
Revelation 3:1. To the angel of the church in Sardis write — This city, “once the renowned capital of Crœsus and the rich Lydian kings, is now no longer worthy of the name of a city. It lies about thirty-three miles to the south of Thyatira, and is called by the Turks, Sart, or Sard, with little variation from the original name. It is a most sad spectacle; nor can one forbear weeping over the ruins of so great a city: for now it is no more than an ignoble village, with low and wretched cottages of clay; nor hath it any other inhabitants besides shepherds and herdsmen, who feed their flocks and cattle in the neighbouring plains. Yet the great extent and grandeur of the ruins abundantly show how large and splendid a city it was formerly. The Turks themselves have only one mosque, a beautiful one indeed, perverted to that use from a Christian church. Very few Christians are here to be found; and they, with great patience, sustain a miserable servitude; and, what is far more miserable, are without a church, without a priest among them. Such is the deplorable state of this once most glorious city; but her works were not found perfect; that is, they were found blameable before God; she was dead even while she lived; and she is punished accordingly.” — Bishop Newton. Mr. Lindsay, however, informs us, that there is a small church establishment on the plains of Sardis, where, about five years ago, the few Christians who dwell around the modern Sart, and who had been in the habit of meeting at each other’s houses for the exercise of religion, built a church within view of ancient Sardis; and that there they maintain a priest. In consequence of this, the place has gradually risen into a little village, now called Tartarkeury, and thither the few Christians of Sart, who amount to seven, and those in its immediate vicinity, resort for public worship, and form together a congregation of about forty. There appears then still a remnant, a few names even in Sardis, which have been preserved. “I cannot repeat,” says he, “the expressions of gratitude with which they received a copy of the New Testament in a language with which they were familiar. Several crowded about the priest to hear it on the spot; and I left them thus engaged.”

These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God — That is, the Holy Spirit, from whom alone all spiritual gifts and graces proceed; or he who presides over and orders the various dispensations of the Spirit, and produces thereby such wonderful effects; and the seven stars — Which represent the ministers of the churches, all whose motions he continues to govern and direct, according to his all-wise and gracious pleasure. I know thy works — The state thou art in, and thy conduct: and that thou dost not answer that character which thou generally maintainest in the neighbouring churches for true religion and virtue; that thou hast a name that thou livest — A fair reputation; the character of being truly alive unto God; of possessing spiritual life here, and being in the way to eternal life hereafter; but art dead — Art really destitute of that life, and in the way to the second death.

Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
Revelation 3:2-3. Be watchful — Therefore awake to a sense of thy danger, and stand on thy guard against the enemies, visible and invisible, which threaten thy eternal destruction; and strengthen — By prayer, hearing and reading the word, by meditation thereon, and a conscientious use of every private and public means of grace; the things which remain — In thy soul: such as knowledge of the truth, good desires, convictions of sin, of depravity and weakness, and of thy duty and interest; which are ready to die

Wherever pride, self-confidence, lukewarmness, indolence, levity, or the love of the world revives, every fruit of the Spirit is reader to die. For I have not found thy works perfect — Greek, πεπληρωμενα, filled up, or complete; before God — As not being performed from a right principle; a principle of love to God and man; to a right end, the glory of God; by a right rule, his holy will; and in a right spirit, a spirit of humility, resignation, and patience; of meekness, gentleness, and long-suffering: and therefore the good things, which might still remain in part, were very defective, wanting those qualities required in the gospel to render them acceptable in the sight of God. Remember therefore how thou hast received — How humbly, zealously, affectionately, and seriously thou didst once receive the enlightening, pardoning, and renewing grace of God; and hear — His word; and hold fast — That knowledge of and faith in the truth, and whatever degree of grace thou yet retainest; and repent — Of that carelessness and negligence through which thou hast lost so many opportunities of gaining and doing good. If, therefore, thou wilt not watch — As thou art now directed to do; I will come on thee — By some sudden and unforeseen judgment, as a thief in the night comes on those that are buried in sleep; and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee — So that the surprise will throw thee into the greatest consternation and distress.

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.
Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.
Revelation 3:4. Yet thou hast a few names — That is, persons; even in Sardis — Corrupt and indolent as the general state of the place is; who have not defiled their garments — Who, notwithstanding the common corruption, have preserved their purity, having neither spotted themselves, nor partaken of the guilt of other men’s sins. These persons, though few, had not separated themselves from the rest; otherwise the angel of this church would not have had them. Yet it was no virtue of his that they were unspotted; whereas it was his fault that they were but few. They shall walk with me in white — In joy, in perfect holiness, in glory. “It is well known that white robes were worn on occasions of great joy, and sometimes in triumphal processions; to both which there is probably a reference here. Priests also were clothed in white; and the addition of that dignity may likewise be implied as certainly coming within the scheme of Christ with regard to his people: see Revelation 1:6. Some think here is an allusion to the custom of the sanhedrim, when they examined the candidates for the high-priesthood; if they judged the candidate worthy, they gave him a white garment; if unqualified, he was sent out from among them in mourning.” — Doddridge. For they are worthy — A few good among many bad are doubly acceptable unto God. O how much happier is this worthiness than that mentioned Revelation 16:6.

He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
Revelation 3:5-6. He that overcometh — That is finally victorious over his spiritual enemies; shall be clothed in white raiment — In the habit of victory, joy, and triumph; and I will not blot his name out of the book of life — Like that of the angel of the church at Sardis. See on Php 4:3; Daniel 12:1. This passage plainly implies, that some names shall be blotted out from the book of life: that is, some who, in consequence of their adoption and regeneration, were entitled to and fitted for eternal life, shall, through falling from grace, lose these blessings, and come again under guilt, condemnation, and wrath. But I will confess his name — Who overcomes to the end, as one of my faithful servants and soldiers; before my Father — In the great day of decisive judgment: and as he was enrolled among my believing, loving, and obedient people, he shall continue for ever in their number. He that hath an ear, &c. — Let everyone that hears this be animated by so glorious a hope to exert his utmost efforts in this holy and honourable warfare.

He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;
Revelation 3:7-8. And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write — “Philadelphia, so called from Attalus Philadelphus, its builder, is distant from Sardis about twenty-seven miles to the south-east. It is called by the Turks Alah Shahr, or the beautiful city, on account of its delightful situation, standing on the declivity of the mountain Tmolus, and having a most pleasant prospect on the plains beneath, well furnished with divers villages, and watered by the river Pactolus. It still retains the form of a city, with something of trade to invite the people to it, being the road of the Persian caravans. Here is little of antiquity remaining, besides the ruins of a church dedicated to St. John, which is now made a dunghill to receive the offals of dead beasts. However, God hath been pleased to preserve some of this place to make profession of the Christian faith, there being above two hundred houses of Christians, and four churches. Next to Smyrna, this city hath the greatest number of Christians, and Christ hath promised a more particular protection to it. Behold, I have set before thee an open door, &c., Revelation 3:8.” So Bishop Newton. But Mr. Lindsay’s account given of this church two years ago, in consequence of a personal inspection, is still more favourable, thus: “Whatever may be lost of the spirit of Christianity, there is still the form of a Christian church; which, according to the promise, has been kept from the hour of temptation, &c., Revelation 3:10. There are here about one thousand Christians, chiefly Greeks, who for the most part speak only Turkish. There are twenty-five places of public worship; five of which are large, regular churches: to these there is a resident bishop, with twenty inferior clergy. A copy of the modern Greek Testament was received by the bishop with great thankfulness.”

These things saith he that is holy, he that is true — Or, the Holy One, the true One; two great and glorious titles; he that hath the key of David — A master of a family has one or more keys wherewith he can open and shut all the doors of his house or palace. So had David a key, (a token of right or sovereignty,) which was afterward adjudged to Eliakim, Isaiah 22:22. Much more has Christ, the Son of David, the key of the spiritual city of David, the New Jerusalem; the supreme right, power, and authority, as in his own house. He openeth this to all that overcome, and none shutteth: he shutteth it against all the fearful and unbelieving, and none openeth — He hath likewise all authority and power in his church on earth, so that none can exclude from the privileges of that kingdom those whom he thinks proper to admit to the enjoyment of them; and none can bestow them upon those from whom he shall be pleased to withhold them. Likewise, when he openeth a door for the progress of his work, or the usefulness of his servants, none can shut it; and when he shutteth against whatever would hurt or defile, none can open. I know thy works — How exemplary they are; behold, I have set before thee an open door, &c. — I have given thee power and opportunity of spreading my gospel, which none can hinder thee from doing; for thou hast a little strength — A little courage and power; and hast kept my word — Both in judgment and practice; and hast not denied my name — Though my enemies have made many efforts to compel thee to do it.

I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.
Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.
Revelation 3:9-10. Behold, I — Who have all power, and when I exert it they must then comply; will make them — Who are indeed of the synagogue of Satan — And under all the solemn guise of religious worship are carrying on Satan’s cause and interest; which say they are Jews — Pretend to be my people, but are not; I will make them to come and worship, or bow down, before thy feet — To pay thee the lowest homage; and to know that I have loved thee — That all depends on my love; and that thou hast a place therein; or to find that I evidently support thy cause and interest against all that oppose it. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience — That gospel which I have myself, by such patient suffering in my human nature, established in the world, and by which I at once exercise and support the faith and patience of my people; I also will keep thee — O happy exemption from that spreading calamity! from the hour of temptation — Or of trial. I will partly preserve thee from it, and partly support thee under it. In other words, My hand shall remarkably appear in defending thee from the dangers by which others fall; and in strengthening thee in proportion to the trial. The word hour denotes the short time of its continuance; that is, at any one place. At every one it was very sharp, though short, wherein the great tempter was not idle, Revelation 2:10. Which shall come upon all the world — Upon the whole Roman empire, as the original expression frequently signifies. It went over the Christians, and over the Jews and heathen, though in a very different manner. This was the time of the persecution under the seemingly virtuous emperor Trajan. The two preceding persecutions were under those monsters, Nero and Domitian. But Trajan was so admired for his goodness, and his persecution was of such a nature, that it was a temptation indeed, and did thoroughly try them that dwelt upon the earth.

Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.
Revelation 3:11-12. Behold, I come quickly — To put an end to those trials which for the present are so painful; hold that fast which thou hast — With resolute fidelity; that no man take thy crown — That no person or thing may prevent thy receiving that crown of everlasting glory which will be the gracious reward of thy continued fidelity. Him that overcometh — All opposing power by faith and patience; will I make a pillar in the temple of my God — I will fix him immoveable in God’s heavenly temple, where he shall be as a pillar of distinguished ornament and beauty; and he shall go no more out — But shall be holy and happy for ever: and I will write upon him the name of my God — So that the nature and image of God shall appear visibly upon him. And the name of the city of my God — Giving him a title to dwell in the New Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God — And shall soon be represented to thee, O John, in a most glorious vision. And I will write upon him my new name — I will give him a share in that joy which I entered into after overcoming all my enemies. “Few texts,” says Doddridge,” in the whole New Testament, are more illustrated by antiquity than this. Great numbers of inscriptions are yet remaining, brought from the Grecian cities of Europe and Asia, and some from islands in the neighbourhood of Patmos, in which the victories of eminent persons are commemorated. And, as some of these were placed near the temples of their deities, others were in those temples, to signify their being put under the particular protection of those deities; whose names therefore were inscribed upon them, and the names of the conquerors and of the cities to which they belonged; as also the names of the generals by whose conduct the victory was gained.”

Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
Revelation 3:14-16. And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write — Laodicea lay south of Philadelphia in the way to return to Ephesus: for the seven churches lay in a kind of circular form, so that the natural progress was from Ephesus to Smyrna, and so forward in the order in which the cities are here addressed, which probably was the order in which St. John used to visit them. “That there was a flourishing church at Laodicea, in the primitive times of Christianity, is evident, from St. Paul’s epistle to the Colossians, wherein frequent mention is made of the Laodiceans, as well as from this epistle by St. John. But the doom of Laodicea seemeth to have been more severe and terrible than that of almost any other of the seven churches. For it is now utterly destroyed and forsaken of men, and is become a habitation only for wolves, foxes, and jackals, a den of dragons, snakes, and vipers. And that because the Lord hath executed the judgment that he had pronounced upon her, that all the world might know and tremble at the fierce anger of God against impenitent, negligent, and careless sinners. The ruins show it to have been a very great city, situated on six or seven hills, and encompassing a large space of ground. Some notion may be formed of its former greatness and glory from three theatres and a circus which are remaining; one of which is truly admirable, as it was capable of containing about thirty thousand men, into whose area they descended by fifty steps. This city is now called Eski Hisar, or the Old Castle; and though it was once the mother church of sixteen bishoprics, yet it now lies desolate, not so much as inhabited by shepherds; and, so far from showing any of the ornaments of God’s ancient worship, it cannot now boast of an anchorite’s or hermit’s chapel, where God is praised or invoked.” The testimony of Mr. Lindsay (quoted respecting the other churches) agrees perfectly with this of Bishop Newton. “Eski Hisar,” he says, “close to which are the remains of ancient Laodicea, contains about fifty poor inhabitants, in which number are but two Christians, who live together in a small mill: unhappily, neither could read at all: the copy, therefore, of the New Testament, which I intended for this church, I left with that of Denizli, the offspring and poor remains of Laodicea and Colosse. The prayers of the mosque are the only prayers which are heard near the ruins of Laodicea, on which the threat seems to have been fully executed in its utter rejection as a church.”

These things saith the Amen — That is, The true One; the faithful and true Witness — He who attests those truths, which are of the utmost importance, on the most perfect knowledge of them, and with the most unerring exactness: the beginning — The Author, Head, and Ruler of the creation of God — Of all creatures, as αρχη της κτισεως evidently here signifies. The person by whom the Father created all things, Hebrews 1:2; Ephesians 3:9; John 1:3. I know thy works — Thy disposition and behaviour; though thou knowest it not thyself; that thou art neither cold — An utter stranger to divine things, having no care or thought about them; nor hot Ζεστος, fervent, like boiling water, as the word implies: so ought we to be penetrated and heated by the fire of divine love. I would that thou wert — This wish of our Lord plainly implies that he does not work on us irresistibly, as the fire does on the water which it heats: cold or hot — Even if thou wert cold, without any thought or profession of religion, there would be more hope of thy recovery. The religion of the Lord Jesus is either true or false: there is no medium: if it be false, it is worth nothing; and therefore it is quite reasonable to be cold and indifferent about it: but if it be true, as we are sure, on the most satisfactory evidence, that it is, it is worth every thing: it is of infinite, because of everlasting worth: it is therefore a most unreasonable thing, not to be deeply concerned about it; even unspeakably more than about any earthly thing whatsoever: and we are inexcusable if we are not so concerned. So then, because thou art lukewarm — In a state of indifference, which is as disagreeable to me as lukewarm water is to a man’s stomach; I will spew thee out of my mouth — I will utterly cast thee from me; that is, unless thou repent.

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
Revelation 3:17-19. Because thou sayest, I am rich — In gifts and grace, as well as worldly goods; and increased with goods — Greek, και πεπλουτηκα, literally, And have enriched myself, by my own wisdom and virtue; and have need of nothing — Imagining thy state in religion to be very prosperous and happy; and knowest not — Dost not so much as suspect that thy religion is at all defective: that thou art — In God’s account; wretched, miserable, &c. — In a most deplorable condition, destitute of every desirable blessing. I counsel thee — Who art poor, and blind, and naked; to buy of me — Without money or price; gold tried in the fire — Living faith, purified in the furnace of affliction; that thou mayest be rich — In the enjoyment of God’s favour, and communion with him, and all the blessings consequent thereon. And white raiment — True and genuine holiness; that thou mayest be clothed — With the divine image and nature. And anoint thine eyes with eye-salve — Spiritual illumination; the unction of the Holy One, which teacheth all things; that thou mayest see — Mayest possess that acquaintance with God and things divine which is essential to true religion. As many as I love — Even thee, thou poor Laodicean. As if he had said, Do not imagine that what may seem severe in this address, proceeds from any unkindness to thee: far from it: love, that is, a regard to thine immortal interests, dictates the whole. O how much has his unwearied love to do! From this principle, I rebuke — For what is past: and chasten — That men may amend for the time to come. Be zealous, therefore — More so than thou hast ever been, and deeply repent — Of thy prevailing lukewarmness and indolence.

I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
Revelation 3:20-21. Behold, I stand — Or, I have stood, as εστηκα literally signifies, namely, for a long time and I still stand, even at this instant; at the door — Of men’s hearts; and knock — Waiting for admittance: if any man hear my voice — With a due regard, namely, the voice of my providence, word, and Spirit; and open the door — Willingly receive me, or welcome me with the affection due to such a friend and Saviour; I will come in to him — And dwell in his heart by faith, (Ephesians 3:17,) how mean soever his circumstances in life may be, and how faulty soever his character may have been formerly; and will sup with him — Refreshing him with the gifts and graces of my Spirit, and delighting myself in what I have given; and he with me — As I will sup with him here, he shall sup with me in life everlasting hereafter. For to him that overcometh — The various temptations with which he is assaulted, and patiently bears the trials which he is called to pass through; will I grant to sit down with me on my throne — In unspeakable happiness and glory in the heavenly and eternal world; even as I also overcame — The enemies which violently assaulted me in the days of my flesh; and am set down with my Father in his throne — For all things that the Father hath are mine.

To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
Revelation 3:22. He that hath an ear, let him hear, &c. — This stands in the three former letters before the promise; in the four latter, after it; clearly dividing the seven into two parts; the first containing three, the last four letters. The titles given our Lord in the three former letters peculiarly respect his power after his resurrection and ascension, particularly over his church; those in the four latter, his divine glory and unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Again, this word being placed before the promises in the three former letters, excludes the false apostles at Ephesus, the false Jews at Smyrna, and the partakers with the heathen at Pergamos, from having any share therein. In the four latter being placed after them, it leaves the promises immediately joined with Christ’s address to the angel of the church, to show that the fulfilling of these was near: whereas the others reach beyond the end of the world. It should be observed, that the overcoming or victory (to which alone these peculiar promises are annexed) is not the ordinary victory obtained by every believer, but a special victory obtained over great and peculiar temptations by those that are strong in faith. “Such,” says Bishop Newton on the close of these chapters, “is the state and condition of these seven once glorious and flourishing churches; and there cannot be a stronger proof of the truth of prophecy, nor a more effectual warning to other Christians. ‘These objects,’ Wheeler justly observes, ‘ought to make us, who yet enjoy the divine mercies, to tremble, and earnestly contend to find out from whence we are fallen, and do daily fall from bad to worse; that God is a God of purer eyes than to behold iniquity; and seeing the axe is thus long since put to the root of the tree, should it not make us repent and turn to God, lest we likewise perish? We see here what destruction the Lord hath brought upon the earth. But it is the Lord’s doing: and thence we may reap no small advantage by considering how just he is in all his judgments, and faithful in all his promises.’ We may truly say, (1 Corinthians 10:11-12,) that all these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. Wherefore, let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”

Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

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