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3. Letters to Churches

1And to 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 thou art dead. 2Be thou watchful, and establish the things that remain, which were ready to die: for I have found no works of thine perfected before my God. 3Remember therefore how thou hast received and didst hear; and keep it, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. 4But thou hast a few names in Sardis that did not defile their garments: and they shall walk with me in white; for they are worthy. 5He that overcometh shall thus be arrayed in white garments; and I will in no wise blot his name out of the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. 6He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. 7And 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 none shall shut, and that shutteth and none openeth: 8I know thy works (behold, I have set before thee a door opened, which none can shut), that thou hast a little power, and didst keep my word, and didst not deny my name. 9Behold, I give of the synagogue of Satan, of them that say they are Jews, and they 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. 10Because thou didst keep the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of trial, that hour which is to come upon the whole world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. 11I come quickly: hold fast that which thou hast, that no one take thy crown. 12He that overcometh, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out thence no more: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God, and mine own new name. 13He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. 14And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God: 15I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16So because thou art lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew thee out of my mouth. 17Because thou sayest, I am rich, and have gotten riches, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art the wretched one and miserable and poor and blind and naked: 18I counsel thee to buy of me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich; and white garments, that thou mayest clothe thyself, and that the shame of thy nakedness be not made manifest; and eyesalve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see. 19As many as I love, I reprove and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. 20Behold, 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. 21He that overcometh, I will give to him to sit down with me in my throne, as I also overcame, and sat down with my Father in his throne. 22He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.

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Re 3:1-22. The Epistles to Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.

1. Sardis—the ancient capital of Lydia, the kingdom of wealthy Croesus, on the river Pactolus. The address to this Church is full of rebuke. It does not seem to have been in vain; for Melito, bishop of Sardis in the second century, was eminent for piety and learning. He visited Palestine to assure himself and his flock as to the Old Testament canon and wrote an epistle on the subject [Eusebius Ecclesiastical History, 4.26]; he also wrote a commentary on the Apocalypse [Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 4.26; Jerome, On Illustrious Men, 24].

he that hath the seven Spirits of God—that is, He who hath all the fulness of the Spirit (Re 1:4; 4:5; 5:6, with which compare Zec 3:9; 4:10, proving His Godhead). This attribute implies His infinite power by the Spirit to convict of sin and of a hollow profession.

and the seven stars—(Re 1:16, 20). His having the seven stars, or presiding ministers, flows, as a consequence, from His having the seven Spirits, or the fulness of the Holy Spirit. The human ministry is the fruit of Christ's sending down the gifts of the Spirit. Stars imply brilliancy and glory; the fulness of the Spirit, and the fulness of brilliant light in Him, form a designed contrast to the formality which He reproves.

name … livest … dead—(1Ti 5:6; 2Ti 3:5; Tit 1:16; compare Eph 2:1, 5; 5:14). "A name," that is, a reputation. Sardis was famed among the churches for spiritual vitality; yet the Heart-searcher, who seeth not as man seeth, pronounces her dead; how great searchings of heart should her case create among even the best of us! Laodicea deceived herself as to her true state (Re 3:17), but it is not written that she had a high name among the other churches, as Sardis had.

2. BeGreek. "Become," what thou art not, "watchful," or "wakeful," literally, "waking."

the things which remain—Strengthen those thy remaining few graces, which, in thy spiritual deadly slumber, are not yet quite extinct [Alford]. "The things that remain" can hardly mean "the PERSONS that are not yet dead, but are ready to die"; for Re 3:4 implies that the "few" faithful ones at Sardis were not "ready to die," but were full of life.

are—The two oldest manuscripts read, "were ready," literally, "were about to die," namely, at the time when you "strengthen" them. This implies that "thou art dead," Re 3:1, is to be taken with limitation; for those must have some life who are told to strengthen the things that remain.

perfect—literally, "filled up in full complement"; Translate, "complete." Weighed in the balance of Him who requires living faith as the motive of works, and found wanting.

before GodGreek, "in the sight of God." The three oldest manuscripts, Vulgate, Syriac, and Coptic, read, "before (in the sight of) MY God"; Christ's judgment is God the Father's judgment. In the sight of men, Sardis had "a name of living": "so many and so great are the obligations of pastors, that he who would in reality fulfil even a third of them, would be esteemed holy by men, whereas, if content with that alone, he would be sure not to escape hell" [Juan D'avila]. Note: in Sardis and Laodicea alone of the seven we read of no conflict with foes within or without the Church. Not that either had renounced the appearance of opposition to the world; but neither had the faithfulness to witness for God by word and example, so as to "torment them that dwelt on the earth" (Re 11:10).

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

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

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

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

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.

5. white—not a dull white, but glittering, dazzling white [Grotius]. Compare Mt 13:43. The body transfigured into the likeness of Christ's body, and emitting beams of light reflected from Him, is probably the "white raiment" promised here.

the sameGreek, "THIS man"; he and he alone. So one oldest manuscript reads. But two oldest manuscripts, and most of the ancient versions, "shall THUS be clothed," &c.

raimentGreek, "garments." "He that overcometh" shall receive the same reward as they who "have not defiled their garments" (Re 3:4); therefore the two are identical.

I will notGreek, "I will not by any means."

blot out … name out of … book of life—of the heavenly city. A register was kept in ancient cities of their citizens: the names of the dead were of course erased. So those who have a name that they live and are dead (Re 3:1), are blotted out of God's roll of the heavenly citizens and heirs of eternal life; not that in God's electing decree they ever were in His book of life. But, according to human conceptions, those who had a high name for piety would be supposed to be in it, and were, in respect to privileges, actually among those in the way of salvation; but these privileges, and the fact that they once might have been saved, shall be of no avail to them. As to the book of life, compare Re 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27; Ex 32:32; Ps 69:28; Da 12:1. In the sense of the "call," many are enrolled among the called to salvation, who shall not be found among the chosen at last. The pale of salvation is wider than that of election. Election is fixed. Salvation is open to all and is pending (humanly speaking) in the case of those mentioned here. But Re 20:15; 21:27, exhibit the book of the elect alone in the narrower sense, after the erasure of the others.

before … beforeGreek, "in the presence of." Compare the same promise of Christ's confessing before His Father those who confessed Him, Mt 10:32, 33; Lu 12:8, 9. He omits "in heaven" after "My Father," because there is, now that He is in heaven, no contrast between the Father in heaven and the Son on earth. He now sets His seal from heaven upon many of His words uttered on earth [Trench]. An undesigned coincidence, proving that these epistles are, as they profess, in their words, as well as substance, Christ's own addresses; not even tinged with the color of John's style, such as it appears in his Gospel and Epistles. The coincidence is mainly with the three other Gospels, and not with John's, which makes the coincidence more markedly undesigned. So also the clause, "He that hath an ear, let him hear," is not repeated from John's Gospel, but from the Lord's own words in the three synoptic Gospels (Mt 11:15; 13:9; Mr 4:9, 23; 7:16; Lu 8:8; 14:35).

6. (See on Re 2:7.)




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