Revelation 3:4
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.
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(4) The best MSS. commence this verse with “But,” or “Nevertheless.” The case of the Sardian Church was bad, yet the loving eyes of the faithful witness would not ignore the good. There were a few who had not defiled their garments. These had not succumbed to the oppressive moral atmosphere around them. The words cannot, of course, be understood of absolute purity. Their praise is that, in the deathlike, self-complacent lethargy around, they had kept earnest in the pursuit of holiness, and had not forgotten Him who could cleanse and revive. (Comp. Revelation 7:14.)

They shall walk with me in white.—This “white” is not the white of the undefiled robe; it is the lustrous white of glory, as in the promise in the following verse. (Comp. also Revelation 2:17.)



Revelation 3:4.

The fond fancy that the primitive Church was a better Church than todays is utterly blown to pieces by the facts that are obvious in Scripture. Here, in the Apostolic time, under the very eye of the fervent Apostle of Love, and so recently after the establishment of Christianity on the seaboard of Asia, was a church, a young church, with all the faults of a decrepit old one, and in which Jesus Christ Himself could find nothing to commend, and about which He could only say that it had a name to live and was dead. The church at Sardis suffered no persecution. It was much too like the world to be worth the trouble of persecuting. It had no heresy; it did not care enough about religion to breed heresies. It was simply utterly apathetic and dead. And yet there was a salt in it, or it would have been rotten as well as dead. There wore ‘a few names, even in Sardis,’ which, in the midst of all the filth, had kept their skirts white. They had ‘not defiled their garments,’ and so with beautiful congruity the promise is given to them - ‘they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.’ The promise, I said. It would have been wiser to have said the promises, for there are a great many wrapped up in germ in these quiet, simple words. Nearly all that we know, and all that we need to know, about that mysterious future is contained in them. So my purpose now is, with perfectly inartificial simplicity, just to take these words and weigh them as a jeweler might weigh in his scales stones which are very small but very precious.

I. We have here, then, the promise of continuous and progressive activity - ‘they shall walk.’

In Scripture we continually find that metaphor of the ‘walk’ as equivalent to an outward life of action. To make that idea prominent in our conceptions of the future is a great gain, for it teaches us at once how imperfect and one-sided are the thoughts about it which come with such fascination to most of us wearied men. It is a wonderful, unconscious confession of the troubled, toilsome, restless lives which most of us live, that the sweetest and most frequently recurring thought about the great future is, ‘There remaineth a rest for the people of God’; where the wearied muscles may be relaxed, and the tortured hearts may be quiet. But whilst we must not say one word to break or even to diminish the depth and sweetness of that aspect of the Christian hope, neither must we forget that it is only one phase of the complete whole, and that this promise of the text has to be taken with it. ‘They shall walk,’ in all the energies of a constant activity, far more intense than it was at its highest here, and yet never, by one hair’s breadth, trenching upon the serenity and indisturbance of that perpetual repose. We have to put together the two ideas, which to all our experience are antagonistic, but which yet are not really so, but only complementary, as the two halves of a sphere may be, in order to get the complete round. We have to say, with this very book of the Apocalypse, which goes so deep into the secrets of heaven, ‘His servants serve Him and see His face’ - uniting together in one harmonious whole the apparent and, as far as earth’s experience goes, the real opposites of continual contemplation and continual activity of service. It is so hard for us in this life to find out practically for ourselves how much to give to each of these, that it is blessed to know that there comes a time for all of us, if we will, when that difficulty will solve itself, and Mary and Martha shall be one person, continually serving and yet continually sitting, no more troubled about many things, in the quiet of the Master’s presence, ‘They shall walk,’ harmonizing work and rest, contemplation and service.

And then there is the other thought, too, involved in that pregnant word, of continuous advancement, growing every moment, through the dateless cycles, nearer and nearer to the true centre of our souls, and up into the loftiness of perfection. We do not know what ministries of love and service may wait for Christ’s servants yonder, but of this we can be quite sure, that all the faculties for service which we see crippled and limited by the hindrances of earth will find in the future a worthier sphere. Do you think it likely that God should so waste His wealth as to take men and redeem them and sanctify them, and prepare them by careful discipline and strengthen their powers by work, and then, just when they are out of their apprenticeship and ready for larger service, should condemn them to idleness? Is that like Him? Must it not rather be that there is a wider field for the faculties that were trained here; and that, whatsoever there may be in eternity, there will be no idleness there?

II. Still further, here is the further promise of companionship with Christ. ‘They shall walk with Me’

‘How can two walk together except they be agreed?’ If there be this promised union, it can only be because of the completeness of sympathy and the likeness of character between Christ and His companions. The unity between Christ and His followers in the heavens is but the carrying into perfectness of the imperfect union that makes all the real blessedness of life here upon earth.

‘With Me.’ Why! that union with Christ is all we know about heaven. All the rest is imagery, that is reality. All the rest is material symbol, that is what it all means.

In the sweet, calm words of Richard Baxter’s simple, but deep song -

‘My knowledge of that life is small, The eye of faith is dim; But ‘tis enough that Christ knows all, And I shall be with Him.’

We ask ourselves and one another, and God’s Word, a great many questions about that unseen life; and sometimes it seems to us as if it would have been so much easier for us to bear the burdens that are laid upon us if some of these questions could have been answered. But we do not really need to know more than that we shall be ‘ever with the Lord.’ Two, who are ever with Him, cannot be far from one another. So we may thankfully feel that the union of all is guaranteed by the union of each with Him. And for the rest we can wait.

Only remember that to walk with Him implies that those who were but little children here have grown up to maturity. We try to tread in His footsteps here, but at the best we follow Him with tottering feet and short steps, as children trying to keep up with an elder brother. But there we shall keep step and walk in His company, side by side. For earth the law is, ‘leaving us an example that we should follow His steps.’ For heaven the law is ‘they shall walk with Me’; or, as the other promise of this book has it, ‘they shall follow the Lamb whithersoever He goeth,’ No heights are so high to which He rises but He will make our feet like hind’s feet to tread upon the high places; no glories so great but we shall share them. Nothing in His divine nature shall part Him from us, but we shall be ever with Him. Let us comfort one another with these words.

III. Further, my text speaks a promise of the perfection of purity. ‘They shall walk with Me in white.’

The white garment, of course, is a plain metaphor for unsullied purity of moral character. And it is worth notice that the word employed by the Apocalyptic seer here for white, as indeed is the case throughout the manifold references to that heavenly colour which abound in this book, implies no dead ghastly white, but a flashing glistering whiteness, as of sunshine upon snow, which, I suppose, is the whitest thing that human eyes can look upon undazzled. So of the same radiant tint as the great White Throne on which He sits shall be the vestures of those that follow Him. The white robe is the conqueror’s robe, the white robe is the priest’s robe, the white robe is the copy of His who stood in that solitary spot on Mount Hermon, just below its snowy summit, with garments ‘so as no fuller on earth could white them’; white as the driven and sunlit snow that sparkled above. Perhaps we are to think of a glorified body as being the white garment. Perhaps it may be rather that the image expresses simply the conception of entire moral purity, but in either case it means the loftiest manifestation of the most perfect Christlike beauty as granted to all His followers.

IV. And so, lastly, note the condition of all these promises.

‘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.’ The only thing that makes it possible for any man to have that future life of active communion with Jesus Christ, in perfect beauty of inward character and of outward form, is that here he shall by faith keep himself ‘unspotted from the world.’ There is a congruity and proportion between the earthly life and the future life. Heaven is but the life of earth prolonged and perfected by the dropping away of all the evil, the strengthening and lifting to completeness of all the good. And the only thing that fits a man for the white robe of glory is purity of character down here on earth.

There is nothing said here directly about the means by which that purity can be attained or maintained. That is sufficiently taught us in other places, but what in this saying Christ insists upon is that, however it is got, it must be got, and that there is no life of blessedness, of holiness and glory, beyond the grave, except for those for whom there is the life of aspiration after, and in some real measure possession of, moral purity and righteousness and goodness here upon earth.

Do not be surprised at that word - ‘They are worthy.’ It is an evangelical word. It declares the perfect congruity between the life on earth and the issue and reward of the life in heaven. And it holds up to us the great principle that purity here is crowned with glory hereafter. If the white garments could be put upon a black soul they would be like the poisoned shirt on the demigod in the Greek legend, they would bite into the flesh, and burn and madden. But it is impossible, and for ever and ever it remains true that only those who have kept their garments undefiled here shall ‘walk in white.’ It does not need absolute cleanness from all spot, God be thanked! But it does need, first, that we shall have ‘washed our robes and made them white’ in the ‘blood of the Lamb.’ And then that we shall keep them white, by continual recourse to the blood that cleanses from all sin, and by continual effort after purity like His own and received from Him. They who come back as prodigals in rags, and have their filthy tatters exchanged for the clean garment of Christ’s righteousness, with which by faith they are invested, and who then take heed to follow Him, with loins girt and robes kept undefiled, and ever washed anew in His cleansing blood, shall be of the heavenly companions of the glorified Christ, joined to Him in all His dominion, and clothed in flashing whiteness like the body of His glory.

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.

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.Thou hast a few names even in Sardis - See the analysis of the chapter. The word "names" here is equivalent to "persons"; and the idea is, that even in a place so depraved, and where religion had so much declined, there were a few persons who had kept themselves free from the general contamination. In most cases, when error and sin prevail, there may be found a few who are worthy of the divine commendation; a few who show that true religion may exist even when the mass are evil. Compare the notes on Romans 11:4.

Which have not defiled their garments - Compare the notes on Jde 1:23. The meaning is, that they had not defiled themselves by coming in contact with the profane and the polluted; or, in other words, they had kept themselves free from the prevailing corruption. They were like persons clothed in white walking in the midst of the defiled, yet keeping their raiment from being soiled.

And they shall walk with me in white - White is the emblem of innocence, and is hence appropriately represented as the color of the raiment of the heavenly inhabitants. The persons here referred to had kept their garments uncontaminated on the earth, and as an appropriate reward it is said that they would appear in white raiment in heaven. Compare Revelation 7:9; Revelation 19:8.

For they are worthy - They have shown themselves worthy to be regarded as followers of the Lamb; or, they have a character that is suited for heaven. The declaration is not that they have any claim to heaven on the ground of their own merit, or that it will be in virtue of their own works that they will be received there; but that there is a fitness or propriety that they should thus appear in heaven. We are all personally unworthy to be admitted to heaven, but we may evince such a character as to show that, according to the arrangements of grace, it is fit and proper that we should be received there. We have the character to which God has promised eternal life.

4. The three oldest manuscripts prefix "but," or "nevertheless" (notwithstanding thy spiritual deadness), and omit "even."

names—persons named in the book of life (Re 3:5) known by name by the Lord as His own. These had the reality corresponding to their name; not a mere name among men as living, while really dead (Re 3:1). The gracious Lord does not overlook any exceptional cases of real saints in the midst of unreal professors.

not defiled their garments—namely, the garments of their Christian profession, of which baptism is the initiatory seal, whence the candidates for baptism used in the ancient Church to be arrayed in white. Compare also Eph 5:27, as to the spotlessness of the Church when she shall be presented to Christ; and Re 19:8, as to the "fine linen, clean and white, the righteousness of the saints," in which it shall be granted to her to be arrayed; and "the wedding garment." Meanwhile she is not to sully her Christian profession with any defilement of flesh or spirit, but to "keep her garments." For no defilement shall enter the heavenly city. Not that any keep themselves here wholly free from defilement; but, as compared with hollow professors, the godly keep themselves unspotted from the world; and when they do contract it, they wash it away, so as to have their "robes white in the blood of the Lamb" (Re 7:14). The Greek is not "to stain" (Greek, "miainein"), but to "defile," or besmear (Greek, "molunein"), So 5:3.

they shall walk with me in white—The promised reward accords with the character of those to be rewarded: keeping their garments undefiled and white through the blood of the Lamb now, they shall walk with Him in while hereafter. On "with me," compare the very same words, Lu 23:43; Joh 17:24. "Walk" implies spiritual life, for only the living walk; also liberty, for it is only the free who walk at large. The grace and dignity of flowing long garments is seen to best advantage when the person "walks": so the graces of the saint's manifested character shall appear fully when he shall serve the Lord perfectly hereafter (Re 22:3).

they are worthy—with the worthiness (not their own, but that) which Christ has put on them (Re 7:14). Eze 16:14, "perfect through MY comeliness which I had put upon thee." Grace is glory in the bud. "The worthiness here denotes a congruity between the saint's state of grace on earth, and that of glory, which the Lord has appointed for them, about to be estimated by the law itself of grace" [Vitringa]. Contrast Ac 13:46.

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.

Thou hast a few names even in Sardis,.... The Alexandrian copy and others, the Complutensian edition, the Vulgate Latin, and all the Oriental versions, read, "but thou hast a few names", &c. or "a few men", as the Ethiopic version renders it; who were called by name, and were men of renown, excellent men, men famous for holding the truth of doctrine, and for powerful and practical godliness; men of great light and grace, and who were known by name to God and Christ: these are said to be but "few", not in comparison of the world, in which sense all the elect of God are but few, though a large number, considered in themselves; but in comparison of formal lifeless professors of religion, with which this church state abounds; and which, if we were not as dead as we are, might easily be observed; there may not only be hypocrites in churches, but a majority of them: yea, these few may be understood in comparison of the greater number of true believers; for in this period of the church there are but few, even of them, that are lively, zealous, and careful, and are heartily concerned for the purity of doctrine, discipline, worship, and conversation; and a few there are, blessed be God, even in this our Sardian church state. God will have a few in whom he will be glorified in the most declining times; and the Lord knows and takes notice of these few; and for their sake the church state is kept up, the Gospel and its ordinances are continued; nor is a church to be judged of by the number of its members, nor is a multitude to be followed to do evil,

Which have not defiled their garments; the Ethiopic version adds, "with a woman", the woman Jezebel. They were not guilty either of corporeal or spiritual fornication, which is idolatry; they kept their outward conversation garments pure, and maintained a profession of Christ and his truths incorrupt; they did not defile it by an unbecoming walk, or by a denial of Christ and a departure from him, and by embracing false doctrines; they were neither erroneous in their principles, nor immoral in their practices; few there, are indeed of this sort. Defiled garments, in either sense, very ill become members of the reformed churches. Among the Jews (i), if a priest's garments were spotted or defiled, he might not minister; if he did, his service was rejected,

And they shall walk with me in white; there is a walking in Christ by faith; and a walking before him as in his sight; and a walking worthy of him, in all well pleasing in his ways and ordinances; and here a walking with him, in a way of special and comfortable communion, both here and hereafter: and this is in white; in white raiment, meaning either in the robe of his own righteousness, compared to fine linen and white; or in the shining robes of immortality and glory; and may be expressive of that spiritual joy which such shall be partakers of, as well as of their spotless purity and innocence in the other world. White raiment was used among the Romans as a token of joy at festivals, and on birthdays, and at weddings, and such like times,

For they are worthy; not of themselves, or through any works of righteousness done by them, which are neither meritorious of grace here, nor of glory hereafter; but through the grace of God, and worthiness of Christ. The Jews have a saying somewhat like this (k),

"they that walk with God in their lifetime, "are worthy" to walk with him after their death;

In the Apocrypha we read:

"Take thy number, O Sion, and shut up those of thine that are clothed in white, which have fulfilled the law of the Lord.'' (2 Esdras 2:40).

This clause is left out in the Ethiopic version,

(i) T. Bab. Zebachim, fol. 35. 1.((k) Tzeror Hammor, fol. 10. 3.

Thou hast a few names even in Sardis {3} which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in {4} white: for they are {d} worthy.

(3) That is, who have with all religion guarded themselves from sin and moral corruption, even from the very show of evil; Jude 1:23.

(4) Pure from all spot, and shining with glory. So it is to be understood always hereafter, as in Re 3:5.

(d) They are suitable and proper, that is, because they are justified in Christ, as they have truly showed it: for he who acts righteously is righteous in the same way that a tree bears good fruit; Ro 8:18.

Revelation 3:4. The accusation, admonition to repentance, and threat thus far made to the entire church, are contrasted (ἀλλʼ), by way of limitation, in regard to individual members, with the commendation that these have kept themselves free from the general sinfulness, and a corresponding promise; cf. Revelation 2:4; Revelation 2:6.

ἔχεις. Because, as members, they belong to the entire church. Beng.: “These, even though indeed few, had not separated themselves; otherwise the angel of the church would not have them.”

ὀνόματα. “Men designated by name;”[1363] cf. Revelation 11:13; Acts 1:15; Numbers 1:2; Numbers 1:18; Numbers 1:20. Ewald. An allusion to the ὌΝΟΜΑ ἜΧΕΙς[1364] is not to be acknowledged, because there the conception is entirely different from here.

Ἅ ΟὐΚ ἘΛΌΛΥΝΑΝ ΤᾺ ἹΜΆΤΙΑ ΑΎΤΩΝ. The figurative expression is arbitrarily pressed if the ἹΜΆΤΙΑ be interpreted as something special, whether as referring to the bodies as the clothing of the soul,[1365] or the consciences,[1366] or the righteousness of Christ put on by faith.[1367] It is, further, without all foundation, when Ebrard, in the entire figurative expression, tries to find “a spiritual self-pollution arising from spiritual self-concupiscence,”—“spiritual onanism.” Too much also is made of the figure if the presupposed purity of the garment be derived from baptism by a mistaken appeal to Revelation 7:14.[1368] N. de Lyra already correctly abides by the general idea whereby the “being defiled” occurs by means of sin,[1369] in which sense, of course, it may be said that the ἹΜΆΤΙΑ are the life itself, and actions of works,[1370] or profession and life.[1371] We have not to ask throughout as to what is properly meant by the garment; the entire figure of the defiling of the clothing is a designation of the impure and unholy life and conversation.[1372] To the commendatory recognition, corresponds also the promise of the reward: ΚΑῚ ΠΕΡΙΠΑΤΉΣΟΥΣΙΝ ΜΕΤʼ ἘΜΟῦ ἘΝ ΛΕΥΚΟῖς (viz., ἹΜΑΤΊΟΙς). Incorrectly, Aretius, who identifies the “white garments “with the undefiled garments: “They will persevere in the pursuit of good works.” The white garments, with their bright “hue of victory,”[1373] are peculiar to those in heaven.[1374] They who, in their earthly lives, have kept their garments undefiled will walk with Christ[1375] in white garments, since, thus adorned, they will live in “the state of immortal glory,”[1376] before the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the full and blessed enjoyment of his fellowship. [See Note XXXV., p. 183.] But the more definitely the promise περιπ. μετʼ ἐμ. ἐν λευκοῖς stands with respect to the testimony of acknowledgment ἃ οὐκ ἐμόλυναν τ. ἱμ. αὐτ.,—especially as marked by the addition on ὅτι ἄξιοί εἰσιν,—the more remote appears the side reference to the heavenly priesthood of the blessed which is to be indicated by the white garments, especially if, in connection therewith, the Jewish custom be thought of, that the priests examined before the Sanhedrim were clad in black or white garments, according as any defect were or were not found in their bodies.[1377]

ὅτι ἄξιοί εἰσιν. The foundation is entirely in the sense presented in Revelation 16:6.[1378] As, there, they who have shed blood must drink blood, so here, white garments are promised the undefiled because they are worthy of this. The idea, however, lying at the basis of the remuneration,[1379] leads also, in this passage, where the discourse is concerning reward, not to the Roman-Catholic idea of a merit, because, as Calov. correctly says, in substance, “Christ alone, by faith, renders them worthy.” Life itself,[1380] with all its powers exercised by those clad in white robes, is a free gift of the grace of the Lord; a meritum could be spoken of only when man, by his own powers, keeps himself undefiled. Thus, however, John designates only “a congruency between the acts and the honor rendered to them, even though the honor exceed the act.”[1381]

[1363] Vatabl.

[1364] Hengstenb., Ebrard.

[1365] Areth., Zeger.

[1366] Alcas., Tirin., Grot., Prie.

[1367] Calov.

[1368] Beda, Rib., C. a Lap.; cf. Zeger, Hengstenb.

[1369] Cf. also Ew., De Wette, Bleek, Stern.

[1370] Aretius.

[1371] Vitr.

[1372] Cf. Revelation 3:2.

[1373] Beng.

[1374] Revelation 3:5; Revelation 6:11; Revelation 6:9; Revelation 19:8.

[1375] μετʼ ἐμοῦ. Cf. Luke 23:43; John 17:24.

[1376] N. de Lyra.

[1377] Schöttgen, in loc. Cf. Vitr., Züll.

[1378] Cf. Revelation 14:13; Romans 2:6; 2 Corinthians 5:10.

[1379] De Wette. Cf. Revelation 16:5, the δίκαιος εἶ.

[1380] Cf. Revelation 3:1.

[1381] Grot. Cf. Vitr. (Cf. Luke 20:35.)


XXXV. Revelation 3:4. περιπατήσουσιν μετʼ ἐμοῦ ἐν λευκοῖς

Trench: “The promise of life, for only the living walk, the dead are still; of liberty, for the free walk, and not the fast-bound.” Gerhard (Loc. Th., xx. 328) finds, in the white garments, “the symbol of victory, innocency, glory, and joy, yea, even royal dignity.” Gebhardt: “The bright or white garments symbolize positive purity, holiness, or righteousness (cf. Revelation 19:8).”

Revelation 3:4. ὀλ. ὀν. “quasi paucos nominatos, i.e., bonos qui nominatione digni sunt” (cf. the use of πρίσωπα = persons or individuals, in Clem. Rom. and Ignat.). ἐμόλ. (cf. Fragment of Uncanonical Gospel, Oxyrhyn. 2 cent. A.D., line 16 μεμολυμμένος ἐπάτησας, κ.τ.λ.) the sullied garment an emblem of moral stains, including but not identical with that of πορνεύειν (Revelation 14:4, cf. Sir 22:1-2). The language reflects that of the votive inscriptions in Asia Minor, where soiled clothes disqualified the worshipper and dishonoured the god. Moral purity qualifies for spiritual communion (note the dramatic contrast of this ἄξιοι [cf. on Revelation 2:16] with that of Revelation 16:6); the apocalyptic beatitude is: blessed are the pure in life, for they shall join God (see on Revelation 14:14, Revelation 19:8). Note here only in the seven messages an eschatological promise unintroduced by the phrase ὁ νικῶν, although Revelation 3:5 really repeats the same idea, οὕτως = “as being victor” (i.e., accordingly). The idea of heavenly raiment is distinctively Persian (Brandt, 575, 580; Lüken, 122), but permeates Jewish eschatology from Enoch (lxii. 15, 16, the elect clothed after the resurrection in eternal “garments of glory”) down to Slav. En. xxii. 8; 4 Ezra 2:39, 45 (cf. Herm. Sim. viii. 2) and Asc. Isa. iv. 16 (garments = spiritual bodies in which the saints are vested at the last day, stored up in seventh heaven; cf. 8:26, 9:24 f., uidi stolas multas et thronos et coronas jacentes). περιβαλεῖται κ.τ.λ., like Joshua (Zechariah 3:3 f.); or (as others suggest) like priests acquitted before the Sanhedrin, who were robed in white. In the Apoc., as in En. lxxxv.–xc., white is the colour of righteousness, associated with innocence (and joy? Ecclesiastes 9:8), just as black with evil. In Apoc. Pet. 5, the dwellers in Paradise are clothed in ἔνδυμα ἀγγέλων φωτινῶν, whilst the angels who (Revelation 3:6) chastise the wicked are robed in black. All such metaphors reflect the primitive notion that clothing somehow could form almost a part of a man’s personality, corresponding to his identity and character (E. Bi. 1140, 1141), rather than the Roman custom of assuming a white toga uirilis to mark entrance upon manhood’s privileges (“uitae liberioris iter,” Ovid).—τῆς βίβλου τῆς ζωῆς, this favourite symbol of the Apocalypse which goes back even to pre-exilic Judaism (Isaiah 4:3, cf. Exodus 32:32 f., etc.; for the Babylonian background, cf. Jeremias, 69 f.), had through the influence of Dan. (Revelation 12:1) a great vogue in apocalyptic dreams as an apt image no longer of a share in the temporal felicity of God’s reign but of personal salvation. For a name to be erased from the book of life (one’s deeds not corresponding, upon scrutiny, to one’s position; cf. Revelation 20:12, Jub. xxxvi. 10) meant condemnation, or exclusion from the heavenly kingdom. To have one’s name retained (“and never will I blot out,” etc.) on the list of heavenly citizens was by this time a current metaphor for eternal fellowship with God and his people, and (by a natural inference drawn in Revelation 13:8) for predestination, the belief in which formed then as always a vivid inspiration in distress and conflict. For the erasure of names from the civic register, consequent upon their owner’s condemnation, cf. Dio Chrys. xxxi. 336 c, ὅταν δημοσίᾳ τινὰ δέῃ τῶν πολιτῶν ἀποθανεῖν ἐπʼ ἀδικήματι, πρότερον τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἐξαλείφεται; Xen. Hell. ii. 3, 51, and Arist. Pac. 1180. Also Dittenberger’s Sylloge inscript. Graec.2 43920 (iv. B.C.) ὃς δʼ ἂν δόξηι μὴ ὢν φράτηρ ἐσαχθῆναι, ἐξαλειψάτο τὸ ὄνομα αὐτο͂ ὁ ἱερεύς, and Orientis Græci Inscr. Sel. 218129 (iii. B.C.) ἐξαλείψαντας τὸ ὄνομα τὸ ἐκείνου. The special comfort of this verse is intelligible when one reads the prayer offered in contemporary Jewish worship (cf. Shmone-Esreh xii. Palest, recension): “for apostates let there be no hope, may the kingdom of the haughty quickly collapse in our days, and may the Nazarenes and the Minim suddenly perish, may they be blotted out of the book of Life and not enrolled along with the righteous”.

The message to Sardis, the most vehement of the seven, has some interesting resemblances to that addrtssed to Ephesus; cf. Revelation 2:1 = Revelation 3:1, Revelation 2:5 (μνημ.) = Revelation 3:3, Revelation 2:5 (visitation) = Revelation 3:5, Revelation 2:6= Revelation 3:4. The hope described in Revelation 3:5 is burlesqued by Lucian (Peregr. xl.) who describes his pseudo-Christian hero as seen after death περιπατοῦντα ἐν λευκῇ ἐσθῆτι, φαιδρόν κοτίνῳ τε ἐστεμμένον. The metaphorical references to raiment gain point in view of the local trade in woollen goods and dyed stuffs.

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.

Verse 4. - But thou hast a few names in Sardis. The "but" (Revised Version) must be added, and the "even" (Authorized Version) omitted, on conclusive evidence. "Names" is here used in the sense of persons (Acts 1:15 and Revelation 11:13, where the Revised Version has "persons"); there is no reference to the totally different use of "to have a name" in ver. 1. Bode remarks, "He knoweth his own sheep by name, as he knew Moses by name, and writeth the names of his own in heaven." These few are like the few righteous in Sodom. Though they consent to abide in the Church, they do not leaven it, nor does their presence save it: "They shall deliver but their own souls by their righteousness" (Ezekiel 14:14, 16, 18, 20). The word for "defile" (μολύνειν) occurs only here, Revelation 14:4, and 1 Corinthians 8:7. Its radical meaning is "to besmear," and so "to befoul." That of μιαίνειν (John 18:28; Titus 1:15; Hebrews 12:15; Jude 1:8) is rather "to stain," which is not necessarily "to befoul." That of κοινοῦν (Matthew 15:11-20; Mark 7:15-23; Acts 10:15; Acts 11:9; Acts 21:28; Hebrews 9:13) is "to make common or profane." In most cases all these three are rendered "defile" in our version. These few in Sardis have kept themselves "unspotted from the world" in which they live. Neither the corruption of heathendom nor the torpor of a moribund Church has infected them. Their contact with a dead body has imparted no life to the body and no defilement to them. There is no need to press the metaphor and give a special meaning to "garments" - whether their souls, or their bodies, or their consciences, or their baptismal robes. The metaphor is implied in "putting on the new man" (Ephesians 4:24; Colossians 3:10), "putting on Christ" (Romans 13:14; Galatians 3:27), where the word for "put on" is ἐνδύεσθαι, "to be clothed with." They shall walk with me. In accordance with Christ's high-priestly prayer (John 17:24; comp. Roy. 21:24). In white. This elliptical expression (ἐν λευκοῖς) for "in white robes" occurs in the New Testament only here and John 20:12, and is another small link between the two books. The word "white" (λευκός), excepting in Matthew 5:36 and John 4:35, is in the New Testament always used of heavenly purity and brightness. Thus also Plato, Ξρώματα δὲ λευκὰ πρέποντ ἄν θεοῖς εἴν ('Laws,' 956); and Virgil of the souls in the other world, "Omnibus his hives cinguntur tempora vitta" ('AEneid,' 6:665). (See notes on Revelation 1:14.) As we might expect, the word is specially frequent in Revelation. Of course, the white garments referred to here, vers. 5, 18, and Revelation 4:4, are quite different from the undefiled garments just mentioned. The one is the imperfect purity of struggling saints on earth, the other the perfect purity of glorified saints in heaven. The promise, therefore, is threefold.

(1) They shall walk, i.e. they shall have life and liberty.

(2) They shall have Christ as their constant Companion.

(3) They shall be in unsullied glory.

And why? Because they are worthy. The merit is not theirs, but Christ's, in whose blood they have washed their robes (Revelation 7:14; 1 John 2:2), and by whose grace they are preserved in holiness (1 John 1:7). It is because they have by God's help fulfilled the conditions which he has proraised to accept, that they are worthy. The nearest approach to this declaration of worthiness on the part of God's saints seems to be Luke 20:35 (not 21:36) and 2 Thessalonians 1:5, 11. But in all these passages they are "accounted worthy" (καταξιωθέντες) rather than "worthy" (ἄξιοι). In Revelation 16:6 we have the opposite worthiness of those who have earned the "wages of sin" instead of the "gift of God" (Romans 6:23). Such persons are literally worthy, and not merely accounted worthy. Revelation 3:4Thou hast a few names

The best texts insert ἀλλὰ but between these words and the close of the preceding verse. So Rev. But, notwithstanding the general apathy of the Church, thou hast a few, etc. Compare Revelation 3:1, thou hast a name, and see on Revelation 11:13. Names is equivalent to persons, a few who may be rightly named as exceptions to the general conception.

Even in Sardis

Omit καὶ even.

Defiled (ἐμόλυναν)

See on 1 Peter 1:4.


See the same figure, Jde 1:23. The meaning is, have not sullied the purity of their Christian life.

In white (ἐν λευκοῖς)

With ἱματίοις garments understood. See on Revelation 2:17, and compare Zechariah 3:3, Zechariah 3:5. "White colors are suitable to the gods" (Plato, "Laws," xii., 956). So Virgil, of the tenants of Elysium:

"Lo, priests of holy life and chaste while they in life had part;

Lo, god-loved poets, men who spake things worthy Phoebus' heart:

And they who bettered life on earth by new-found mastery;

And they whose good deeds left a tale for men to name them by:


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