Matthew Poole's 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 2:1-6 What John was commanded to write in commendation or
reproof to the angels of the churches of Sardis,
Revelation 2:7-13 Philadelphia,
Revelation 2:14-22 and Laodicea.
The angel of the church: See Poole on "Revelation 2:12".
Write: See Poole on "Revelation 1:11".
The seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars: See Poole on "Revelation 1:3", See Poole on "Revelation 1:20".
I know thy works: this phrase here (as appears from what follows) can signify nothing but Christ’s comprehension of the works of this church in his understanding, not his approbation of them.
That thou hast a name that thou livest; the ministry of this church had a name, that is, were reported as famous for their faith, diligence, and holiness; but their faith, without suitable works, was dead, and they were no better than hypocrites.
And art dead; spiritually dead.
Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.Be watchful, against sin, and unto thy duty, to perform it in a better manner than formerly.
And strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die; improve those gifts and good habits which are left thee as yet, but are faint and ready to die, if thou dost not look after the improvement and strengthening of them.
For I have not found thy works perfect before God; for I have not found thy works before God (whether thy works in thy ministry, or in thy conversation) such as they ought to be; thou mightest have done me more service, and thou mightest have done what thou hast done with more uprightness and sincerity.
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.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.
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.Thou hast a few names even in Sardis, a few persons even in that polluted place,
which have not defiled their garments; who have kept their integrity and innocency. There is a garment of Christ’s righteousness, which, once put on, is never lost, nor can be defiled; but there are garments of holiness also: hence the apostle calls to Christians to be clothed with humility. As sin is expressed under the notion of nakedness, so holiness is expressed under the notion of a garment, Ezekiel 16:10 1 Peter 5:5. Those who have not defiled their garments, are those that have kept a pure conscience.
And they shall walk with me in white: the Romans used to clothe their nobles, and such as were competitors for honours, in white garments; the priests and Levites also amongst the Jews, when they ministered, were clothed in white, 2 Chronicles 5:12. God and his holy angels are in Scripture set out to us as clothed in white, Daniel 7:9 Matthew 17:2 28:3. Those that triumphed upon victories obtained, were clothed in white amongst the Romans. To these usages, or some of them, the allusion is, and the meaning is, they shall be to me as kings, and priests, and nobles, they shall be made partakers of my glory:
for they are worthy; though they have not merited it, yet I have judged them worthy; they are worthy, though not with respect to their merit, yet with respect to my promise.
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.He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; he that overcometh in the spiritual fight, shall be honoured as a triumpher.
And I will not blot out his name out of the book of life; that is, I will give him everlasting life: the phrase is an allusion to men who use to keep books, and in them the names of persons to whom they will show kindness. The book of life; applied to God, signifieth his eternal predestination, or purpose to bring some to heaven; out of which book, though none can be blotted out whose name is once wrote in, yet those whose names are in this book may be under some fears and apprehensions to the contrary. Christ assures them to the contrary, that they shall certainly be saved, but lets them know that this assurance depends upon their perseverance; of which also some make this phrase a promise.
But I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels; in the day of judgment I will own them, and acknowledge them as mine before my Father and all the angels, Matthew 10:32 Luke 12:8.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.The common conclusion of all the epistles: See Poole on "Revelation 2:7", See Poole on "Revelation 2:11", See Poole on "Revelation 2:17", See Poole on "Revelation 2:29".
Those who make these churches typical, and the epistles prophetical of the complexion of all the churches of Christ which shall be to the end of the world, say the church of Sardis typifieth those reformed churches after the year 1560, that should cast off antichrist, but continue in a more imperfect state, contenting themselves with a bare disclaiming antichrist, but not rising up to a perfect reformation.
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;And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
See Poole on "Revelation 1:20", See Poole on "Revelation 2:1". Of this Philadelphia we read no more in holy writ. We are told there were three cities of that name, one in Egypt, one in Syria, another in Phrygia, or in Mysia or Lydia, which is that here intended.
These things saith he that is holy; that is, the Holy One, Acts 3:14.
He that is true; true to his word of promise or threatening.
He that hath the key of David; that is, the key of the house of David, mentioned Isaiah 22:22; the key of the church, which answered the temple, the house David designed for God: the use of the key is to open and shut, or make fast.
He that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; who admits into the kingdom of heaven whom he pleaseth, and none can hinder him, and shutteth out of heaven whom he pleaseth. The house of David typified the church, the church containeth the number of those that shall be saved; Christ is here described as he who hath the sole and absolute power of saving and condemning whom he pleaseth.
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.I know thy works: it is very probable, that our Lord, by these ministers’ works, understands the works proper to them in their function, their labour in preaching and propagating the gospel, which Christ did not only know and observe, but also approve of, and promiseth them a liberty to go on, and success in their labours, under the notion of
an open door: see 1 Corinthians 16:9 2 Corinthians 2:12 Colossians 4:3.
And no man can shut it; so as it should not be in the power of adversaries to hinder his success.
For thou hast a little strength; both inward strength, and outward helps and advantages.
And hast kept my word; the doctrine of faith is by thee kept pure, as also my precepts for a holy life.
And hast not denied my name; and thou hast not been by any temptation prevailed upon to apostatize from the profession of the gospel.
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.Them of the synagogue of Satan; so he calleth all Jews that opposed Christianity, or all pretended but not real professors.
Which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie: For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is of the flesh; but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly, & c., Romans 2:28,29. By this term also he may mean all false and hypocritical professors, who would make themselves the church, the only church of God, but are far enough from it, hating, maligning, and opposing those who would keep stricter to the rule of the gospel.
Behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet; I will by my providence so order it, that these men shall come and honour thee, paying a civil respect and homage to thee.
And to know that I have loved thee; and to know that I have a greater kindness for thee than for them.
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.Because thou hast kept the word of my patience: the doctrine of the gospel is, unquestionably, the word here called the word of the Lord’s patience, because it was that word, that doctrine, which (as those times went) could not he adhered to and observed without much patience in those that adhered to it; both actively, waiting for the promises revealed in it, and passively, enduring all manner of trials and crosses. To keep this word, was to keep close not only to the matters of faith revealed in it, but to the duty imposed by it upon ministers and others in the preaching and propagating of the gospel, and all the duties of a holy life.
I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world; for this faithfulness God promises to keep the ministers of this church from those persecutions which raged elsewhere, and were further, in Trajan’s time, to come upon all Christians living under the Roman empire.
To try them that dwell upon the earth; to try those Christians that lived within that empire, how well they would adhere to Christ, and the profession of the gospel. This I take to be a more proper sense, than theirs who would interpret this hour of temptation of the day of judgment, which is never so called.
Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.Behold, I come quickly; tacu, which certainly is the same with en tacei; and it might be as well concluded, that the day of judgment should come by that time Rome pagan should cease, as that all things written in this book had their accomplishment in that time, because Christ told John they should come to pass en tacei, Revelation 1:1 22:6. No other coming of Christ, but his coming to the last judgment, can be here meant.
Hold that fast which thou hast; kratei, hold with a strong hand the doctrine of faith, which thou yet hast, pure, and thy pure worship, and discipline, and a pure conscience.
That no man take thy crown; that thou mayest not lose that reward which shall be the portion of those that persevere to the end, and of those only.
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.Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God: though by the temple of God in this place some understand the church of Christ on earth, where those always were, and are, and always shall be, most famous, who have overcome temptations best, from the world, the flesh, and the devil; yet, considering that all the promises before made to those who overcome are of another life, it seems best rather to interpret this so, that God would make such a one of fame and renown in heaven, great in the kingdom of heaven, Matthew 5:19, to sit upon a throne there, Matthew 19:28. He shall have a higher degree in glory, (for stars differ from one another in glory, 1 Corinthians 15:41), pillars being not only for support, but ornament, and principal parts in buildings.
And he shall go no more out; he shall have an eternal inheritance, of which he shall not be dispossessed.
And I will write upon him the name of my God; as men use, upon pillars and monuments erected for their own use and honour, to write their names; so I will peculiarly own, and challenge such a one for myself.
And the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem; and I will write upon him: This man is an inhabitant of the new Jerusalem.
And I will write upon him my new name; I will glorify him with that glory of which myself was made partaker, upon my ascension after my resurrection, John 17:22,24.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.This we have met with at the close of every epistle: See Poole on "Revelation 3:7".
Those who think these churches were typical, and the matter of the epistles not only didactic and corrective, but prophetical, say, this church of Philadelphia was a type of all gospel churches which were to be in the world upon the Reformation; which more perfectly cast off antichrist, and would allow no key but that of the house of David, reforming themselves strictly according to the rule of the word, not according to state policy, and prudence.
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;We read of this church, Colossians 4:16.
Laodicea was a city in Lydia, by the river Lycus: see Revelation 1:11.
These things saith the Amen: Amen, as we have oft noted, is a particle used in asserting, and in wishing, or praying; here it hath the use of a noun, and is assertive, he that is true, as it followeth. He may be conceived thus to preface his epistle, to ascertain to the ministers of this church the truth of what he blames in them; or of the threatenings or promises contained in it; to which purpose he also calls himself
the faithful and true witness: see the notes on Revelation 1:5.
The beginning of the creation of God: those that deny the Divinity of Christ, are deceived in their thoughts that this text will afford them any defence for their error; for arch, the word here used, doth not only signify the cause, but principality, or the chief, or prince, Ephesians 3:10 Colossians 1:16. Hence Christ is said to be arch, which we translate the beginning, because he was the Creator, the efficient cause of the creation, or hath a lordship over the whole creation; all power both in heaven and earth being committed to him, and all knees both in heaven and earth bowing down to him, Philippians 2:10. Unless we had rather interpret it of the new creation, either in the world, so he was the beginning of the gospel; or in particular souls, so he is the beginning of regeneration and sanctification. But though this be a truth, and consistent enough with the Greek phrase, Galatians 6:15, yet I see no reason why we should fly to it against the Arians, or their spurious offspring; for taking the creation, as ordinarily it signifies, the giving all creatures their first being, Christ was the efficient cause of it, and so the beginning of it, without him was nothing made; and he hath a lordship and dominion over it.
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.I know thy works; I know and observe thy behaviour, thy ministerial function.
That thou art neither cold nor hot; thou art neither openly profane and grossly scandalous, like heathens, or such as make no profession; nor yet hast thou any true zeal or warmth, either for the faith once delivered to the saints, or in love to God, seen in keeping his commandments, having the power and efficacy of godliness, teaching thee to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, Titus 2:12. Thou hast a form of godliness, but deniest the life and power thereof.
I would thou wert cold or hot: we must not think Christ wisheth any persons cold absolutely, but comparatively, intimating to us, that the condition of a downright atheist, or profane person, is more hopeful than that of a close, formal hypocrite: the latter is in the road to hell as well as the other, and no more pleaseth God than the other. It is better not to have known the truth, than knowing it, to live contrary to it, Luke 12:48 2 Peter 2:21. Commonly such men also are proud, and self-conceited, having something to stop the mouth of their natural conscience, harder to be convinced of their evil state, Matthew 21:32,33.
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.Neither cold nor hot; partly good, partly bad, having something of profession, nothing of the life and power of religion; contenting thyself that thou art not a Jew, nor a pagan; not a superstitious, idolatrous person; but a Christian, a protestant, a minister, or member of the Reformed church; yet neglecting thy duty both as a minister, and as a Christian, living in a sensual satisfaction of thy lusts.
I will spue thee out of my mouth; I will cast thee off, as men vomit up lukewarm things.
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:Because thou sayest, I am rich: it was said before, that one reason why the condition of a formalist is worse than that of an atheist, or more openly profane person, is, because the former is ordinarily proud and self-conceited, and hath something to stop the mouth of his natural conscience with, which the other wanteth. This is made good in the instance of this lukewarm angel; he said he was rich in a spiritual sense, in his state as a Christian, in spiritual gifts and endowments.
And increased with goods; and every day increasing and growing richer.
And have need of nothing; and needed nothing to make him happy and blessed.
And knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked; in the mean time he was as miserable as one could be. These words used, are several words signifying persons under various bodily afflictions, and applied to signify this angel’s forlorn spiritual state, which, in the general, was wretched and miserable, and such as had need of mercy, wanting the true righteousness, wherein any could appear before God not naked, and wanting all true riches; and to complete his misery, he was spiritually blind, and knew not the sad circumstances he was under.
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.Buying being the usual way amongst men to procure what they want, it is not to be wondered at, that the procuring of that spiritual blessing here mentioned is expressed under this notion; though our buying of God spiritual good things be (as the prophet expresseth it, Isaiah 55:1) without money and without price. It is not to be doubted, but that which is here propounded to be bought (that is, obtained, and procured by such ways and means as God hath directed) is Christ himself, with all his benefits, in whom there is a sufficient spiritual supply for all our spiritual wants; that which to the soul will answer whatever gold serveth the body for; and which to the soul answereth what clothing is to the body, viz. righteousness, wherein a soul may stand before God; and that which will answer what salves are to the body for the cure of its wounds, viz. consolation, and healing of all spiritual wounds and infirmities; in short, whatever thou hast need of, considered either as poor, wretched, and miserable, or as blind and naked.
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.I rebuke and chasten; elegcw kai paideuw the words may be translated, I convince and instruct, or deal with them as children; but it also signifies to chasten, and is so translated, 1 Corinthians 11:32 Hebrews 12:7; we translate it learn, 1 Timothy 1:20. By these words Christ lets this angel know, that although he had in this epistle dealt smartly with him, yet he had done it from a principle of love, as a father to a child, Hebrews 12:7.
Be zealous therefore, and repent; he adviseth him therefore to quit himself of his luke warmness, and to recover a warmth and zeal for God, repenting of his former coldness and negligence in his duty.
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.There is a double interpretation of this text, each of them claiming under very valuable interpreters; some making it a declaration of Christ’s readiness to come in to souls, and to give them a spiritual fellowship and communion with himself; others interpreting it of Christ’s readiness to come to the last judgment, and to take his saints into an eternal joyful fellowship and communion with himself: hence there is a different interpretation of every sentence in the text.
I stand at the door; either, in my gospel dispensations, I stand at the door of sinners’ hearts; or, I am ready to come to judge the world.
And knock, by the inward monitions and impressions of my Spirit, or my ministers more externally; or, I am about to knock, that is, I am ready to have the last trump sounded.
If any man hear my voice, and open the door; that is, if any man will hearken to the counsels and exhortations of my ministers, and to the monitions of my Spirit, and not resist my Holy Spirit; or, if any man hath heard my voice, and opened his heart to me.
I will come in to him; I will come in by my Spirit, and all the saving influences of my grace; or, I will come to him as a Judge to acquit him.
And will sup with him, and he with me; and I will have a communion with him in this life, he shall eat my flesh, and drink my blood; or, I will have an eternal fellowship and communion with him in my glory. The phrase seems rather to favour the first sense; the so frequent mention before of Christ’s coming to judgment, and the reward of another life, as arguments to persuade the angels of the churches to their duty, favours the latter sense.
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.To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne; I will give him great honour, dignity, and power; he shall judge the world in the day of judgment, 1 Corinthians 6:3, the twelve, tribes of Israel, Matthew 19:28; he shall be made partaker of my glory, John 17:22,24.
Even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne; but they must come to my throne as I came to it. I overcame the world, sin, death, the devil, and then ascended, and sat down with my Father in his throne: so they that will sit down with me in my throne of glory, must fight the same fight, and overcome, and then be crowned, sitting with me in my throne.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.We have had this in the conclusion of every epistle before: see Revelation 2:7,11,17,29, and in Revelation 3:6,13.
Those who make these churches typical of all Christian churches, from the time John had this Revelation, and prophetical of the complexion of the Christian churches in all ages, say, that the church of Laodicea typifieth the churches towards the end of the world till Christ cometh; but this necessitateth them to think there shall be no such pure and glorious state of the church just before the end of the world, as many believe there shall be, but that the state thereof shall grow yet worse and worse, of a Laodicean temper, so as when Christ cometh he shall hardly find faith on the earth.
For my part, I could allow the seven epistles to be typical and prophetical, but can by no means judge them to be purely prophetical; believing there were such churches when John wrote, and that their complexion is in the first place described in these epistles; though possibly, as face answers face in a glass, so succeeding churches have answered, and shall answer, the face of these churches, even to the last day.
This chapter concludes John’s first vision. In the following chapters we have a representation in visions of what was to happen in the world more remarkably, with reference to the church of God, from the year 95, to the end of the world.
There are very different opinions about the epocha, or the time, when the visions began to be fulfilled. My opinion is, it began soon after John had the vision; for it is twice said, Revelation 1:1 22:6, that the visions were to be about things that shall come to pass, (not that were come to pass), and that shortly; but we cannot fix the certain year, which maketh the interpretation difficult.
There are also divers opinions how far in this book the revelations go that concern the state of the church under Rome pagan, and where they begin that foretell the state of the church under antichrist. But of these we shall speak more particularly as we go along with the several chapters.