Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
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.The Church in Sardis. Chap. Revelation 3:1-61. that hath the seven Spirits of God] See the last note on Revelation 1:4. Though “the Seven Spirits” were mentioned there, we have not yet heard of them as specially belonging to Christ: but this we End in Revelation 3:6.
and the seven stars] Cf. Revelation 2:1. We find the “Spirits” and the “stars,” i.e. Angels, mentioned coordinately, a further argument against identifying the Spirits with Angels, even angels other than these. These attributes of Christ are mentioned, because He speaks as Judge of the Churches: cf. 1 Corinthians 2:15 for the conception of judgement as the Spirit’s work.
Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.2. Be watchful] Literally, Become watching: “awake and watch.”]
the things which remain] The elements of goodness, or means of goodness, which thou hast not yet lost. Cf. Revelation 2:6, and the first note there.
that are ready] Read, which were ready, i.e., would have died, but for the strengthening them. We may perhaps say, that it seems to be taken for granted that the warning, sharp as it is, will be effectual.
perfect] Lit. fulfilled; as we say “up to the mark.”
before God] Read before my God. The Church had name of being alive among men: its works therefore may have come up to their standard.
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.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.
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.4. Thou hast] Read, But thou hast, and omit even.
a few names] Some understand, from the similar use of the word “names” in Acts 1:15, that at this time it was usual for every Church to keep a register of all its members. 1 Timothy 5:9 seems certainly to imply such a register of office-bearers at least. It is possible indeed that the “names” are spoken of as entered in the heavenly Book of Life (cf. the next verse): but the use of that image would be far more forcible, if the readers of the Revelation were familiar with an approximate counterpart to that Book on earth.
have not defiled their garments] Which were cleansed (Revelation 7:14) by the Blood of Christ, but may be defiled again by deadly sin. See St John’s I Ephesians 1:6-7; where we are told both of the absolute sufficiency, and of the conditional efficacy of that Blood for cleansing. It seems to be fanciful to inquire minutely what the “garments” are, whether their bodies or their baptismal robes: there may be an allusion to Zechariah 3:3 sqq.
in white] Song of Solomon 6:11; Song of Solomon 7:9. It is idle to ask whether these are the same garments which they kept undefiled during their probation: but no doubt it is meant that their keeping these undefiled proves them “worthy” of those.
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.5. the same shall be clothed] Read, shall thus be clothed. Perhaps the sense is not so much “thus, as I have promised to the holy remnant in Sardis,” but “thus as I am now.” The colour of Christ’s priestly robe (Revelation 1:13) was not stated (and see Pseudo-Barnabas, there quoted) but we are probably to understand that it was white, cf. Daniel 7:9.
I will not blot out his name] See Exodus 32:32 sq. (which it seems hard to tone down into meaning no more than 1 Kings 19:4 : compare rather Romans 9:3), Psalm 69:29 (28) (which can more easily be taken in the milder sense), and Daniel 12:1. The image seems to be, that everyone on professing himself Christ’s soldier and servant has his name entered in the Book of Life, as on an army list or census-roll of the kingdom. It remains there during the time of his probation or warfare, even if, while he has thus “a name that he liveth,” he is dead in sin: but if he die the second death it will be blotted out—if he overcome, it will remain for ever. See Revelation 20:12; Revelation 20:15.
I will confess] A repetition of Matthew 10:32.
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;The Church in Philadelphia. 7–13
7. he that is holy, he that is true] The same epithets are combined in Revelation 6:10, where apparently they belong rather to the Father than the Son. In Mark 1:24, John 6:69 (according to the true reading), Christ is called “the Holy One of God,” and God’s “Holy Servant” (according to the probable rendering) in Acts 4:27; Acts 4:30 : also “the faithful and true” in this book, inf. Revelation 3:14 and Revelation 19:11. “The Holy One” is used absolutely as a name of God in Job 6:10; Isaiah 40:25; Habakkuk 3:3, and perhaps Hosea 11:9, besides the phrase so frequent in Isaiah, and used by several other prophets, “the Holy One of Israel:” and we have “the true God,” as opposed to idols, in 2 Chronicles 15:3; Psalm 31:5, (6); Jeremiah 10:10; 1 Thessalonians 1:9; 1 John 5:20, and, without such opposition being specially marked, in Isaiah 65:16; John 17:3. Here the sense seems to be “He Who is the Holy One of God,” as opposed to those in Revelation 3:9, who say that they are of the Holy people and are not.
he that hath the key of David] From Isaiah 22:22. There the meaning is, that Eliakim shall be made ruler of the house of David, i.e. chief minister of the kingdom (2 Kings 18:18 &c.), and that his will shall be final in all business of the kingdom. Here then in like manner Christ is described as Chief Minister in the Kingdom of God. But the promise in the next verse suggests that the image is not used in this general sense only: Christ says that He has the power of admitting to, or excluding from His Church, the power which He delegates (St Matthew 16:19) to the rulers in His Church, but which none, not even they, can really exercise in opposition to His will.
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.8. an open door] Through which thou mayest enter into the Kingdom, into the house of David.
and no man can shut it] Probably the false Jews mentioned in the next verse denied the title of the Christians in Philadelphia to the privileges of brotherhood—whence we may suppose that they were mostly Gentiles. Christ answers, that He would grant what they refused.
for thou hast] Rather, that thou hast, depending on “I know thy works,” the intermediate words being parenthetical.
thou hast a little strength] Better, thou hast little strength and [yet] hast kept &c. The point is that his strength is not great, not that he has a little left in spite of the strain upon it.
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.9. I will make them of &c.] Literally, I give of the &c. The use of “give” in this verse is frequent in Hebrew: here the sentence is unfinished, and is resumed by “I will make them come” &c. below.
the synagogue of Satan] See on Revelation 2:9.
I will make them to come &c.] An application of Isaiah 60:14.
that I have loved thee] The pronoun “I” is emphatic—which supports the view already suggested, that the title of this Church to Christian privileges was contested by the Jews, and that this message of the Lord is intended to decide a controversy.
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.10. Because … I also] It would be possible, but hardly in accordance with the usage of this book, to connect this with what goes before, “that I have loved thee, because thou hast kept …, and I will keep thee from.…”
Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.11. hold that fast which thou hast] See on Revelation 2:6; Revelation 2:25.
that no man take thy crown] i.e. rob thee of it: the image of a race or other contest for a prize does not seem in harmony with the context, nor with the style of this book.
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.12. Him that overcometh] Lit. He that overcometh, I will make him, as in Revelation 2:26.
a pillar] Used of chief men in the Church in Galatians 2:9, and perhaps 1 Timothy 3:15. All Christians are living-stones in the Temple (Ephesians 2:20 sqq., 1 Peter 2:5), all necessary to its completeness, but some of course filling in it a more important position than others: and such important position is indicated by the image of the “pillars” ll.cc. But here the promise is not for Apostles or their successors only, but for all the faithful: the point is not “he shall be one of the great and beautiful stones on which the others rest,” but “he shall be so placed that he cannot be removed while the whole fabric stands.”
I will write upon him] We repeatedly have in this book the image of the divine Name written on the foreheads of God’s servants: see Revelation 7:3, Revelation 14:1, Revelation 22:4. Hence the inscribing the name is here equally appropriate to the figure and the thing signified: probably the metaphor of the pillar is not dropped, but writing the name on the pillar means the same as writing it on the man.
the name of my God, and the name of the city] Cf. Isaiah 44:5; Jeremiah 23:6; Jeremiah 33:16; Ezekiel 48:35, for the junction of these two names. The three names joined here are in a manner those of the Trinity, the Church being representative of the Spirit. It is probable that passages like this did much to suggest the use of the sign of the Cross on the forehead, both at Baptism and on other occasions that seemed to call for a profession of faith: and the image of the “new name” (cf. Revelation 2:17) harmonises well with the much later usage of conferring a name in Baptism.
which cometh down] Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:10.
my new name] See on Revelation 2:17, and Revelation 19:12 there referred to.
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;The Church in Laodicea. 14–22
14. the Amen] See the last note on Revelation 1:7. Here the name is used, (i) because this is the last of the seven Epistles, that it may confirm the whole: (ii) as synonymous with the title “Faithful and True” that follows: for which see the latter group of references on Revelation 3:7. Isaiah 65:16 is specially noticeable, where “the God of truth” is in the Hebrew “the God of Amen”: in the other O. T. passages a different but cognate form is used.
the faithful and true witness] See Revelation 1:5.
the beginning of the creation of God] Exactly equivalent to Colossians 1:15, as explained by the words that follow: in both places the words are such as might grammatically be used of the first of creatures, but the context there, and the whole tone of the Book here, proves that the writer does not regard Him as a creature at all. But St John is not here, as in the first verses of his Gospel, describing our Lord’s Nature theologically: it might be enough to say that here and in Proverbs 8:22 (where the words “the Lord possessed” or “created Me” lend themselves more easily than these to an Arian sense), the Word coming forth to create is conceived as part of His earthly mission, which culminates in the Incarnation, so that in a sense even creation is done by Him as a Creature.
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.15. neither cold nor hot] Neither untouched by spiritual life, dead and cold, as an unregenerate heathen would be, nor “fervent (lit. boiling—a cognate word to that here used) in spirit” (Romans 12:11). We might naturally speak (perhaps the Lord does, Matthew 24:12) of those as “cold” who were such as the Laodiceans were, and of course here something more is meant: but that further meaning can hardly be being “actively opposed” to the Gospel, but only being utterly unaffected by it.
I would thou wert cold or hot] For the sentiment that it would be better even to be “cold,” cf. 2 Peter 2:21; though there the apostasy described is no doubt more deadly than here. But according to the Greek proverb (Ar. Eth. VII. ii. 10) of a man who sins against his conscience, “When water chokes, what are you to wash it down with?” You can instruct and convince a man who has either low or perverse views of duty, but what can you do to one whom sound views do not make to act rightly? And similarly an unbeliever can be converted and regenerated, but what can be done for him in whom faith does not work by love?
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.16. because thou art lukewarm] The image is of course taken from the tendency of lukewarm water to excite vomiting. It is intended to be an offensive one, interfering with the self-satisfied refinement to which it is addressed.
I will] Rather, I shall soon, or, I am likely to …: the word used does not necessarily imply that the intention is final, and Revelation 3:19 shews that it is not.
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:17. I am rich, and increased with goods] The words in the original are cognate, as it were, “I am rich, and have gotten riches.” If there be any distinction of sense between them, the second expresses pride in the riches being his own acquisition, in addition to self-complacency in the enjoyment.
For the sense, cf. Hosea 12:8, where apparently the self-complacency in material prosperity lends itself to and combines with religious self-satisfaction. Hence it is not necessary to interpret these words either of material wealth, or of fancied spiritual wealth, to the exclusion of the other. St James 2:1-6 shews that in the first century, as in the nineteenth, the “respectable” classes found it easiest to be religious, to their own satisfaction.
that thou art wretched] Inadequate: read that thou art the wretched and miserable one, &c.: the one person truly to be called so, above all others—at least, above all the other six Churches.
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.18. I counsel thee] “There is deep irony in this word. One who has need of nothing, yet needs counsel on the vital points of self-preservation.”
to buy] Cf. Isaiah 55:1 : the counsel to a poor beggar to buy is of course meaningless, unless he can buy “without money and without price,” or, as the Hebrew of that passage more literally means, “for (what is) not money and for (what is) not a price.” Thus the word is not a mere synonym for “receive:” the sense is, “Thou hast nothing to give, but thou must give all that thou hast” (Matthew 13:44; Matthew 13:46). The nothingness of human merit is a reason against exalting self, but not a reason for sparing self: the Lord does not bid us say, “We are unprofitable servants: we cannot and need not do what it is our duty to do.” (Luke 17:10.)
gold tried in the fire] Right in sense, though “fresh burnt from the fire” would be perhaps more literal: cf. Revelation 1:15, where the same participle is used as here. The meaning of the “gold” is defined in the next words: it stands for spiritual “riches” of any sort.
white raiment] As in Revelation 3:4-5.
that the shame &c.] Cf. Revelation 16:15.
and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve] Read and eyesalve to anoint thine eyes. Collyrium was the common dressing for weak eyes, and could be applied by a barber (see Horace’s Satires, passim), but perhaps hardly by the patient himself.
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.19. As many as I love, I rebuke] The pronoun “I” stands emphatically at the beginning of the sentence—as it were, “My way with those I love (the word is a strong one, expressing affection, not simply charity), is to shew them their faults,” not to “prophesy smooth things,” and encourage the self-complacent temper that was destroying the Laodiceans. In every other case, the Lord has noted both the good and the evil in the Church, and generally the good first: here He does nothing but find fault, but He adds in effect, “Do not suppose from this that I do not love you.” The word “rebuke” is more often rendered “reprove:” see e.g. John 16:8; Ephesians 5:11; Ephesians 5:13 : its meaning here is exactly what we express by “working conviction of sin.”
be zealous therefore, and repent] Shake off thy languid “lukewarm” temper: then thou wilt be able to start on a new life of righteousness.
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.20. I stand at the door, and knock] The Lord expresses His affection, from which He has intimated that the Laodiceans are not excluded, by this figure of intense and condescending tenderness. It is intended to remind the readers of Song of Solomon 5:2 : but the figure of the lover’s midnight visit is too delicate to bear being represented, as here, with a mixture of the thing signified with the image, especially since the visit is not to the Church, personified as a single female, but to any individual, and of either sex; so it is toned down into a visit from a familiar friend.
hear My voice] It is implied that anyone is sure to hear His knock, and be roused to ask who is there: but only those who love Him will know His voice (as Rhoda did St Peter’s, Acts 12:14) when He says “It is I.”
will sup] The blessing promised is a secret one to the individual. There can thus hardly be a reference to the Holy Eucharist, which is shared publicly by the whole Church.
with him, and he with Me] The sense is, “I will take all he has to give Me, as though I had need of it, and benefited by it (cf. Matthew 25:37-40): but at the same time, it will really be I that give the feast, and he that receives it.” There can hardly be a better illustration than a quaint and touching legend, given in a little book called Patranas, or Spanish Stories, with the title “Where one can dine, two can dine.”
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.21. To him that overcometh] The construction is as in Revelation 2:26, Revelation 3:12, “He that overcometh, I will give him.” For the sense, compare the former of these passages; but the promise of sharing Christ’s inheritance (Romans 8:17) is even more fully expressed here.
as I also overcame] See St John’s Gospel, John 16:33.
with my Father in his throne] See Revelation 5:6, Revelation 7:17. In the Jewish Cabbala (of which the oldest parts are ascribed to a date little later than St John, and perhaps embody still older traditions, though it received its present form quite late in the middle ages) we hear of Metatron, apparently a Greek word Hebraised for “Next to the Throne,” or perhaps “in the midst of the Throne,” a sort of mediator between God and the world, who is identified with the four Living Creatures of Ezekiel’s vision. The Cabbala as it now exists has more affinity with Gnostic mythology than with scriptural or Catholic Christianity: but it is deserving of notice, as the outcome of tendencies in Jewish thought that might have developed, or found their satisfaction, in the Gospel. St John’s Lamb “in the midst of the Throne” is perhaps just as far comparable with the Cabbalistic Metatron, as his doctrine of the personal “Word of God” is with Philo’s. It is hardly wise to ask whether “My Throne” and “His Throne” are quite identical; for the doctrine that the faithful stand to Christ in the same relation as He to the Father, see St John’s Gospel, c. John 17:21-23, and 1 Corinthians 3:23; 1 Corinthians 11:3.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.