Lange Commentary - Revelation 3:1 - 3:22

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Lange Commentary - Revelation 3:1 - 3:22

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Rev_3:1. Sardis, once the wealthy capital of Lydia, and the city of Crœsus, is now a poor village, bearing the name of Sart. An earthquake took place here during the reign of Tiberius. Melito was bishop of Sardis about the middle of the second century. For particulars, see Commentaries and Books of Travel.

From the description given of the church, it appears that its members, with the exception of a small remnant, were almost entirely secularized. Though occupying a correct position in respect of creed and worship—having the name of life, therefore—the faith of the church was a dead faith, and its life of that worldly form which is always accompanied by the most manifold moral defilements. Yet the reproach of death is not absolute; otherwise, there could be no question of a part that was in danger of dying or, still less, of a vital strength that should reanimate this part, the elements of which strength the angel must find in the church itself.

“Ewald’s conjecture, that the Christians of Sardis had, on account of their heathenish life, not been molested by the heathen, and that this is the reason why the epistle does not speak of èëῖøéò and ὑðïìïíÞ , is scarcely in accordance with the text.” (Duesterdieck). Even if [as Düsterdieck avers] “the church had enough of the semblance of Christianity to preclude the friendship of the heathen,” there is no foundation for the assertion that Ewald’s conjecture is not in accordance with the text, save the bare fact that it is not expressly laid down in the text.

That hath the seven Spirits of God.—The seven fundamental forms of the revelation of Christ, in the seven fundamental forms of the working of God’s Spirit, with Whom He (Christ) is anointed without measure; corresponding to the seven stars or fundamental forms of the Church. Why is Christ thus described here? Explanations: Because of His omniscience, penetrating the innermost recesses (De W. and others). But this would be a repetition of the idea set forth by the eyes like a flame of fire (see Thyatira). Unlimited power to punish and reward (Hengstenberg). But the Seven Spirits are not Seven Spirits of judgment. They denote the holy all-sidedness of Christ and Christianity, here as opposed to the false all-sidedness of a sham Christianity, which is conformed to the world. Inasmuch as they are indicative of the fullness of the Spirit of Christ, they are proclaimed to a church which, from its lack of spiritual life, is at the point of death. Bengel: The Seven Spirits have reference to the vital forces which Christ proposes to communicate to the church.

[By the Seven Spirits, as was set forth in the note on Rev_1:5, we must understand the Holy Ghost, “seven-fold in His operations.” Christ is spoken of as having the Spirit, not because in the days of the flesh, as the Son of man, He was anointed with the Spirit without measure (Joh_3:34), but because, as the Son of God, the Spirit of God is His Spirit (Rom_8:9), and because He sends the Spirit (Joh_15:26; Joh_20:22; Act_2:33), Who acts as His representative (Joh_15:18; Joh_15:26). In reference to the fitness of the assumption of this designation in the address to the Angel of the Church of Sardis, Trench well remarks: “To him and his people, sunken in spiritual deadness and torpor, the lamp of faith waning and almost extinguished in their heart, the Lord presents Himself as One having the fullness of all spiritual gifts; able therefore to revive, able to recover, able to bring back, from the very gates of spiritual death, those who would employ the little last remaining strength which they still retained, in calling, even when thus in extremis, upon Him.”—E. R. C.]

And the seven stars.—The Spirits and stars are contrasted here. The seven stars must receive their vital light from the Seven Spirits; these latter are also the source whence Sardis must draw its light. [“Since the ‘stars are the angels of the seven Churches’ (Rev_1:20), we must see in this combination a hint of the relation between Christ, as the giver of the Holy Spirit, and as the author of a ministry of living men in His Church (Eph_4:7-12; Joh_20:22-23; Act_1:8; Act_20:28).” Trench.—E. R. C.]

Thy works, that thou hast a name.—We are not to read: and that thou, etc. Düsterdieck interprets: From thy imperfect works I know that thou, etc. The meaning of the passage, however, is, doubtless—the sum of thy works is sham Christianity.

A name.—Several have interpreted this as referring to the fortuitous name of the bishop (Zosimus, etc.), or to his office. Others have better interpreted it by referring it to the outward semblance of the church. [“In name” (Barnes); “Nominally” (Alford); thou hast the reputation.—E. R. C.]

Thou livest.—In accordance with the conception of life in Christ. [“The word life is a word that is commonly employed in the New Testament to denote religion, in contradistinction from the natural state of man, which is described as death in sin.” Barnes.—E. R. C.]

And thou art dead.—Spiritual deadness, as spiritual sleep, indulged in to the furthest extremity which admits of a waking; hence the admonition of Rev_3:2. Our passage, particularly, proves that the state of the angel represents the state of the church.

Rev_3:2. Become thou watching.—This is a stronger term than the simple awake. Watchfulness or wakefulness must become as much an attribute of the angel’s life as sleep—carelessness, indifferentism—is now.

And strengthen the things which remain.—Here also we must take the angel in his connection with the church. It does not mean, therefore, the remaining good in thy soul (Bengel); nor, the rest of those in the church; but the dying, though not yet dead, life which constitutes the vitality hitherto possessed by the church. Novatianism could only have written: the ones who remain [ ôïὺò ëïéðïýò ], and it is true that, from another point of view, there would necessarily be a reference to persons as constituting the remainder (Eze_34:4). The present passage, however, treats of the general edification of the church, not directly of the special cure of souls. The “official conception” of the angel regards ôὰ ëïéðÜ as representative of the laity (Hengst.).

[Alford thus writes: “The latter view (that ôὰ ëïéðÜ refers to persons), is taken by (Andr., Areth., as reported in Düsterd., but not in Catena) Calov., Vitr., Eichh., De Wette, Stern, Ebrard, Düsterd., Trench, et al. And there is nothing in the construction to preclude the view. But if I mistake not, there is in the context. For to assume that the ëïéðïß could be thus described, would surely be to leave no room for those mentioned with so much praise below, in Rev_3:4.”—E. R. C.]

For I have not found thy works perfect [completed].—Good works are not the only ones intended here—at the best, they are still imperfect, as a matter of course; nor is the external conduct in general referred to; but the actual collective works as phenomena of the spiritual condition; they are not complete before Christ’s God; in His light and judgment they lack the impress of the New Testament spirit, the stamp of principial perfection in the purity and sincerity of love. Pure, ripe, rich are the predicates of Christ’s works and of Christian works in Him.

[“The word here employed is not that which we commonly render ‘perfect;’ not ôÝëåéá , but ðåðëçñùìÝíá ; so that the Lord contemplates the works prepared and appointed in the providence of God for the faithful man to do as a definite sphere (Eph_2:10), which it was his duty and his calling to have fulfilled or filled to the full, the same image habitually underlying the uses of ðëçñïῦí and ðëçñïῦóèáé (Mat_3:15; Rom_13:8). This sphere of appointed duties the Sardian Angel had not fulfilled; not, at least, ‘before God;’ for on these last words the emphasis must be laid. Before himself and other men his works may very likely have been ‘perfect,’ indeed we are expressly told that he had ‘a name to live,’ Rev_3:1, etc.” Trench.—E. R. C.]

Rev_3:3. Remember, therefore.—Not only the reception of the Gospel on the part of the church (how received), but also its character as Gospel (how heard), is specified by ðῶò . In each connection there is a reference to the qualitative nature of living Christianity. The degeneration of the subjective keeping of God’s word is accompanied by a degeneration of the objective form of truth; orthodoxy itself, when dead, becomes heterodoxy; Thus, not only the receiving, but also the thing received, must be traced back to original (principial) vitality. Dead orthodoxy sinks the doctrine in doctrines, the primary articulation in derived articles. The result of right remembrance, which always constitutes the essence of true repentance, will be a compliance with the following commands.

[“This may refer either to some peculiarity in the manner in which the Gospel was conveyed to them—as by the labors of the Apostles, and by the remarkable effusions of the Holy Spirit; or to the ardor and love with which they embraced it; or to the greatness of the favors and privileges conferred on them; or to their own understanding of what the Gospel required, when they were converted. It is not possible to determine in which sense the language is used, but the general idea is plain, that there was something marked and unusual in the way in which they had been led to embrace the Gospel, and that it was highly proper in these circumstances to look back to the days when they gave themselves to Christ.” Barnes. “The charge against Sardis is not a perverse holding of untruth, but a heartless holding of the truth; and therefore I cannot but think that the Lord is graciously reminding her of the heartiness, the zeal, the love with which she received the truth at the first.” Trench.—E. R. C.]

And hold fast and repent.—The distinctions of Bengel are not applicable to this passage (see Düsterdieck).—True holding and keeping is a constant seizing and holding fast; here, a renewed seizing and holding fast that lead to repentance. The significance of the perfect åἴëçöáò , as contrasted with the aorist ἤêïõóáò , indicated by Ewald, would have greater weight if ëáìâÜíåéí did not denote the manner of the subjective appropriation.

[Hold fast.—“1. The truth which thou didst then receive; 2. What remains of true religion among you. Repent in regard to all that in which you have departed from your views and feelings when you embraced the Gospel.” Barnes.—E. R. C.]

If, therefore, thou dost not watch.—Stress is again laid upon the main matter, and a threat connected with its non-observance. The threat itself corresponds with the command. To spiritual sleepers the Lord, as Judge, always comes as a thief in the night (Mat_24:42). Spiritual sleepers have lost all perception, by their spiritual senses, of the threatening signs of the development of judgment unto its catastrophe. As this applies to the judgment at the end of the world, so it also holds good in regard to all preliminary judgments upon whole congregations as well as upon individual souls. Even though there may be an obscure presentiment of judgment, the proximity and actual hour of it take its objects by surprise; the hour is hidden from the sleepers, and the judgment comes upon them in as strange a form as a thief.

Rev_3:4. But thou hast a few names in Sardis.—The Lord’s righteous verdict always distinguishes between the guilt of communities and the guilt or innocence of individuals; here also the distinction is made. The contrast which the persons indicated in the text present to the dead mass of the church, makes them appear as living members, known to the eye of the Lord by name [comp. Joh_10:3]; after being made to prostrate themselves under the general verdict, they are relatively excepted from that verdict as individuals.

[“In most cases, where error and sin prevail, there may be found a few who are worthy of the Divine commendation; comp. Rom_11:4.” Barnes.—E. R. C.]

Which have not defiled their garments.—This sentence is not absolute praise, inasmuch as it is simply negative; still it is great praise, inasmuch as the individuals referred to have withstood the general infection. On the various one-sided explanations of the garments (the body, as the garment of the soul; the conscience; the righteousness of faith, the baptismal robe), also Ebrard’s interpretation, see Düsterdieck [this commentator regards all such special interpretations as an unwarrantable straining of the text.—Tr.]. But neither must we stop at the general conception, maculari per peccatum (Lyra), against which Aretius and Vitringa have insisted upon the ideas of life and its actions, or confession and morals. The divine sharp-sightedness of the Lord is proved by the fact that among the Sardians who have the semblance of life, He perceives their defilement or non-defilement by the mere appearance of their life, by their actions. If the works of the majority, in their negative aspect, were formerly characterized as not complete, not perfect, here they are indirectly characterized as polluted, defiled by the filth of worldliness, of earthly-mindedness, of heathenishness; thus Christ passed sentence upon the pious-mouthed Pharisees, judging them from their very words. And so the spotted garments do really refer to the polluted consciences, and, symbolically, to the defiled baptismal robe.

[“That ‘white raiment’ there [Rev_3:5] is the garment of glory—this the garment of grace. That incapable of receiving a stain, being part of an inheritance which, in all its parts, is ἀìßáíôïò (1Pe_1:4); this, something to which óðῖëïé (Eph_5:27; Jam_3:6), ìéÜóìáôá (2Pe_2:20), ìïëõóìïß (2Co_7:1), can only too easily adhere. … This, itself a wedding garment (Mat_22:11-12), but not necessarily identical with the fine linen, clean and white, the righteousness of saints (Rev_19:8), is put on at our entrance by baptism into the Kingdom of grace; that at our entrance by the resurrection into the Kingdom of glory.” Trench. “There can be little doubt that the simpler and more general explanation is the right one; viz.: who have not sullied the purity of their Christian life by falling into sin.” Alford. So also Barnes.—E. R. C.]

And they shall walk with Me in white.—The reward of these is appropriate to their conduct, yet far superior to it. “The white robes, with their ‘bright hue of victory’ (Bengel), are peculiar to the inhabitants of Heaven (Rev_3:5; Rev_6:11; Rev_7:9; Rev_19:8). Those who keep their garments undefiled in this earthly life, shall walk with Christ ( ìåô ἐìïῦ , compare Luk_23:43; Joh_17:24) in white robes, living, thus adorned, in statu gloriæ immortalitatis (N. de Lyra), before the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the full and blessed enjoyment of fellowship with Him” (Duesterdieck). On a reference of the promise to the Israelitish sacerdotal dress, see Düsterdieck.

Because they are worthy.—Here also we learn, in accordance with Scripture, to distinguish between the righteousness of faith in the court of the Spirit and the repentant conscience, and righteousness of life in the tribunal of the Judge of the world (Rev_16:5); recognizing the fact, however, that the latter is always conditioned upon the former.

[“They have shown themselves worthy to be regarded as followers of the Lamb; or they have a character that is fitted 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.” Barnes. “God’s word does not refuse to ascribe a worthiness to men (Mat_10:10-11; Mat_22:8; Luk_20:35; Luk_21:36; 2Th_1:5; 2Th_1:11); although this worthiness must ever be contemplated as relative and not absolute. … There are those who ‘are worthy,’ according to the rules which free grace has, although there are none according to those which strict justice might have laid down.” Trench.—E. R. C.]

Rev_3:5. He that conquereth shall thus be clothed in white garments.—The ever-recurring term ὁ íéêῶí has here the special meaning of victory over temptation emanating from the subtle worldly-mindedness and slumbrous spirit of the church. The faithful in Ephesus had to overcome the temptation of excess in external works, amid which the first love grew cold. Believers in Smyrna had to overcome the trial of persecutions unto death. Believers in Pergamus were to overcome anomianism. Believers in Thyatira must be victorious over fanaticism. The Philadelphians were tried with Judaism, and the Laodiceans, finally, had the temptation to self-righteousness to surmount. The richer expression, he shall thus be clothed, etc., gives prominence to the free act of grace in the righteous recompense; as does also the clause:

And I will not [Lange, never ( ïὐ ìὴ )] wipe out his name.—His name was entered in the Book of Life simultaneously with his calling and conversion. Such names may, however, be wiped out—a destiny awaiting many in Sardis. But the names of the conquerors shall never be wiped out.

The figurative expression, book of Life, borrowed from the registers of the living citizens of a community (see Düsterd.), like the idea of calling, is not always used in exactly the same sense; sometimes it predominantly denotes the actualized ethical relation of man to God (Psa_69:28; Isa_4:3; Dan_12:1; Rev_20:12; Rev_21:27); sometimes it is pre-eminently, significant of the relation and conduct of Divine grace to man (Exo_32:32; Psa_139:16; Rev_17:8); and sometimes the predominant idea is that of the concrete unity of the two elements which we have mentioned, the reciprocal relation of which is always implied (Php_4:3; Rev_13:8).

But I will confess his name.—Third promise. The recurrence of the name is significant. It is the mark of a dead church-life that only a collective Christianity remains, that Christian names, pronounced personalities, are lacking. In Sardis, however, there are still a few such names; and these the Lord will confess by name as His own, before God His Father, and before the angels of God—in the most glorious circle of life, therefore. Highest glorification of the highest definiteness of their personal life! [Comp. Mat_10:32 Luk_12:8.—E. R. C.]

[“It is a very instructive fact, that everywhere else in the epistles to all the churches, save only to this and to Laodicea, there is mention of some burden to be borne, of a conflict either with foes within the church or without, or with both. Only in these two nothing of the kind occurs. The exceptions are very significant. There is no need to assume that the church at Sardis had openly coalesced and joined hands with the heathen world; this would in those days have been impossible; nor yet that it had renounced the appearance of opposition to the world. But the two tacitly understood one another. This church had nothing of the spirit of the Two Witnesses, of whom we read that they ‘tormented them that dwelt on the earth’ (Rev_11:10), tormented them, that is, by their witness for a God of truth and holiness and love, Whom the dwellers on the earth were determined not to know. … The world could endure it because it too was a world.” Trench.—E. R. C.]



Philadelphia, like Sardis, was situated in Lydia, about thirteen hours’ journey southeast from that capital. It derived its name from its builder, the Pergamese king, Attalus Philadelphus. Though frequently visited by earthquakes, the city still exists under the Turkish name of Alah Shehr, a living monument of the faithfulness of Divine promises in the midst of ruins. Comp. the Encyclopædias and Books of Travel. On its church-historical reminiscences see Düsterdieck. In Philadelphia, as in Smyrna, there was a “synagogue of Satan,” i. e., an association of Judaistic enemies of Christianity, in opposition to which the epistle, whose images are theocratic throughout (see Düsterdieck), signalizes the church as the true people of God.

Rev_3:7. These things saith the Holy [One], the True [One].—The Lord’s self-designation is here in perfect accordance with the theocratic idea of God, and that in reference to the question as to which is the true people of God. The description is connected as a whole with the import of the Son of Man, Rev_1:13, in accordance with Daniel 7.

The Holy One.—The specific predicate of the God of Israel, the Sanctifier to Himself of a peculiar people—or a people of possession (see 1Pe_1:15-16). “Christ, rejected and blasphemed by the synagogue of Satan, is nevertheless, simply and plainly the Holy One, the true Messiah and Lord of the Church” (Düsterdieck). The personal manifestation of the God of Israel, the Founder of the Theocracy. Düsterdieck (p. 186) cites a number of instances of the misapprehension or ignoring of this obvious reference.

[Comp. Luk_1:35; Act_3:14. “Christ claims here to be ὁ Ἅãéïò , the Holy One; cf. Act_2:27; Act_13:35; Heb_7:26. In all these passages, however, ὅóéïò , not ἅãéïò , stands in the original; nor are these words perfectly identical, though we have but the one word, ‘holy,’ by which to render them both. The ὅóéïò , if a man, is one who diligently observes all the sanctities of religion; anterior, many of them, to all law, the ‘jus et fas,’ with a stress on the latter word. If applied to God, as at Rev_15:4; Rev_16:5, and here, He is One in whom these eternal sanctities reside; who is Himself the root and ground of them. The ἅãéïò is the separate from evil, with the perfect hatred of the evil. But holiness, in this absolute sense, belongs only to God; not to angels, for He chargeth His angels with folly (Job_4:18), and certainly not to men (Jam_3:2; Gen_6:5; Gen_8:21). He then that claims to be ‘the Holy One’—a name which Jehovah in the Old Testament continually claims for Himself—implicitly claims to be God,” etc. Trench. “As opposed to the óõíáãùãὴ ôïῦ óáôáíᾶ below.” Alford.—E. R. C.]

The True One.—In the New Testament, the term, “the true” [der Wahrhaftige, ἀëçèéíüò , veritable, see Comm. on John, p. 460, Am. Ed.—E. R. C.] denotes not only the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (2Co_1:20), but also the substance of the Old Testament shadowy sketches (Joh_1:17). Accordingly, the attribute ἀëçèéíüò is related to ἀëçèÞò , and founded thereupon; the two epithets are contra-distinguished, however, by the pre-eminence of the idea of substantiality. of true spiritual life, in ἀëçèéíüò , Comp. the series of interpretations cited by Düsterd. The blasphemies of the Jews who refused to see in the Lord aught but the hanged one”—hence, a false Messiah—are correctly pointed out by Hengstenberg as the antithesis to ὁ ἀëçèéíüò . As Christ is personal holiness as the realized fundamental idea of the Old Covenant, so He is also the True in the sense of the fulfillment and essential consummation of the Old Testament, the perfect essential form of the Messiah.

[“We must not confound ἀëçèéíüò (=verus) with ἀëçèÞò (=verax). God is ἀëçèÞò (= ἀøåíäÞò , Tit_1:2), as He cannot lie, the truth-speaking and truth-loving God; with whom every word is Yea and Amen; but He is ἀëçèéíüò , as fulfilling all that is involved in the name God, in contrast with those which are called gods, … That is Üëçèéíüò , which fulfills its own idea to the highest possible point. … Nor is Üëéèéíüò only, as in this case of God, the true as contrasted with the absolutely false; but as contrasted with the subordinately true, with all imperfect and partial realizations of the idea; thus Christ is öῶò ἀëçèéíüí (Joh_1:9; 1Jn_2:8), ἄñôïò ἀëçèéíüò (Joh_6:32), ἄìðåëïò ἀëçèéíÞ (Joh_15:1); there is a óêçíὴ áëçèéíÞ in Heaven (Heb_8:2). In each of these cases, the antithesis is not between the true and the false, but between the perfect and the imperfect, the idea fully and the idea only partially realized; for John the Baptist also was a light (Joh_5:35), and Moses gave bread from Heaven (Psa_105:40), and Israel was a vine of God’s planting (Psa_80:8), and the tabernacle pitched in the wilderness, if only a figure of the true, was yet pitched at God’s express command (Exodus 25).” Trench.—E. R. C.]

That hath the key of David.—The key of the house of David was kept by the steward of his house; it was the province of this official to grant or deny access to the king, and to decide all questions of presentability at court. According to Isa_22:22, the key was given to Eliakim, after being taken from Shebna. This key to the perfected theocratic Royal House, the House of the Messiah, the Messianic Kingdom, is now held by Christ the Messiah Himself (not by a steward); He and He alone decides, first, by His word and Spirit in the Church, and, again, by His authoritative rule in the world, the question as to who belongs to the people of God. And thus He forms in His Church the contrast to the synagogue of Satan. That which the Judaists would exclude, He includes; what they would include, He excludes. The difference, however, is that their communion, like their excommunication, is a mere delusion, whilst His acts have absolute reality. When He opens, none can shut: the world cannot take away His peace—no, not even from the martyr. When He shuts, none can open: the sentence of judgment which He by His Spirit executes in the spirits of men, can be invalidated by no fanatical self-delusion, or deception on the part of others.

[“Christ teaches us here that He has not so committed the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, with the power of binding and loosing, to any other, His servants, here, but that He still retains the highest administration of them in His own hands.” Trench. Is not “emphasis” to be laid on “the ὁ ἔ÷ùí ”—the “steward” may hold the key, subject to the authority of the Master, the latter alone can be said to possess it? This view supports the interpretation of Düsterdieck given below.—E. R. C.]

Various interpretations. Christ alone opens the Holy Scriptures; Lyra. The cross of Christ instrumentum omnipotentiæ; Alcasar. That supreme power which is the property of the Lord, Mat_28:18; Düsterd. and others. Christ, as Lord and King of the Kingdom, admits into it and excludes from it (Düsterd., Hengst., and others).

Rev_3:8. I know thy works.—We do not, with Bengel and others, pass over the next word ἰäïý , etc., and find a specification of the works in the subsequent ὅôé , etc.; but neither are they “destitute of further qualification” [Düsterd.]; on the contrary, they contain the motive of the following: Behold I have given [ äÝäùêá , etc.]; they are consequently an expression of full recognition.

Before thee a door opened.—Does this mean: The door into the Kingdom of God is opened for the church, though the Judaists would fain shut it, or is it a door to successful activity? The former apprehension, with various modifications, is supported by Bengel, Hengstenberg and others (see Düsterd.), whilst most commentators favor the latter conception, interpreting the passage as referring to the church’s opportunity for missionary labors. Düsterdieck declares in favor of the latter view, with reference to Rev_3:9. The connection may also be thus construed, however: So far from thine adversaries being able to shut the door upon thee, they shall be constrained to turn to thine open door themselves. If we translate thus: Behold, I have determined that the door shall stand open before thee, we include both particulars, and it generally proves that that church which itself enters into the Kingdom of God draws in others with it.

For thou hast little strength.—This must not be understood as indicative of spiritual weakness (a lack of miraculous gifts, Lyra), but of the external smallness or insignificance of the church (Düsterd., et al. [“The words ‘little strength’ may refer either to the smallness of the number; … or it may refer to the spiritual life and energy of the church—meaning that, though feeble, their vital energy was not wholly gone. The more natural interpretation seems to be to refer it to the latter.” Barnes. It may refer to either of these, or both; conjoined with their lack of temporal wealth.—E. R. C.]). Though thou hast little strength [“not as E. V., ‘a little strength,’ thereby virtually reversing the sense of the words: ìéêñὰí ἔ÷åéò äýí . importing ‘thy strength is but small,’ and the E. V. importing ‘thou hast some strength,’ the fact of its smallness vanishing under the indefinite term ‘a little,’ … and (using that little well).” Alford.—E. R. C.].—The sense is, though thou hast little strength, Thou didst keep, etc. [This idea of the German, weakened by the parenthesis, must be preserved.]

Thou didst keep My word, etc.—The church has already proved its faithfulness by confessing Christ in tribulation; therefore the Lord will grant it spiritual success exceeding the measure of its external power.

Rev_3:9. Behold, I will make them [Lange: I give ( äßäùìé ) that some] of the synagogue of Satan.—Here also that community of Judaism which assumes to be the true Israel, is denominated a synagogue of Satan, with the same energy with which the Johannean Gospel opposes Judaism. Even from this community of demonic adversaries, the church shall win some souls. Here, too, the äéäῶìé has more the appearance of an enactment than of a gift. He makes a disposition of these few already; subsequently He causes them to come.

And fall down before thy feet.—As it was prophesied in the Old Testament that the Gentiles should be converted and come unto Zion to the Jews, so here it is predicted that the Judaizing Jews shall in their conversion come to the Church of Christ as the true Zion. Even the ðñïóêõíåῖí , as an expression of homage, and, at the same time, humiliation before the Church of Salvation and of the presence of the Lord, is heard in the following prophecies: Psa_72:9; Isa_2:3; Isa_49:23; Isa_60:14; Zec_8:20. On the misinterpretation of this passage in favor of the Catholic Hierarchy, see Düsterd., p. 192.

And to know that I have loved thee. ἨãÜðçóá denotes a continuous love, begun in the past. Düsterd. refers this demonstration of love to the death of Christ, in which case Philadelphia would only represent the Church total. Others interpret the word as indicative of the superiority or excellence of the Philadelphian church. De Wette: That I have known thee to be a faithful church. Both considerations must, however, be recognized in their unity: That My love to thee has become manifest in thy life of faith. The recognition of Christ is implied with the recognition of the church, and as the real motive of the latter. Düsterdieck gives prominence to the thought that the Jews shall know the love of Christ as manifested in His death upon the cross, whilst now they still blaspheme Him as a crucified malefactor.

Rev_3:10. Because thou didst keep the word of My patience [endurance].—Düsterdieck makes the pronoun ìïõ relate, not to ôῆò ὑðïì . alone (like Ewald, De Wette, Hengstenberg and others), but to the whole conception ôὸí ëüã ., etc. (with Grot., Eichhorn and others). But the reading: My word of patience, gives rise to obscurity, suggesting the thought that the words of other teachers have glorified patience. There are also different explanations of this apprehension of the sentence. The word which, among other things, prescribes patience (Heinrich); The word which bestows and demands patience (Düsterd.). Isolated utterances of Christ, recommending patience—Christian patience (Hengstenberg. This interpretation approximates the other).

[Barnes: “My word commanding or enjoining patience, that is, thou hast manifested the patience which I require.” Trench: “Better, however, to take the whole Gospel as ‘the word of Christ’s patience,’ everywhere teaching, as it does, the need of a patient waiting for Christ, till He, the waited-for so long, shall at length appear.” The translation, constancy or endurance, or steadfastness, is altogether to be preferred; the idea of patience is rather that of uncomplaining submission under trial—in this sense it is a misnomer to speak of the ὑðïìïíÞ of Job, Jam_5:11.—E. R. C.]

The word of the patience of Christ is also variously interpreted as the word of My passion, My constancy (Calov.). The word which, as the word concerning the cross, demands, in respect of its purport and in respect of the obligation which it imposes, steadfastness such as is peculiar to Christ and His people (Vitringa). We read: The word ripened in persecution into a word of perseverance, to the martyrs’ testimony [martyrium], to confession. Hence: Thou hast kept my word in the fiery trial of temptation and opposition, when the word concerning the cross became a word of the cross;—the word in the beauty and power of the cross. The Holy Scriptures contain multiplied references to ὑðïìïíÞ ; particularly Rev_2:2-3; Rev_2:19; Rev_13:10; Rev_14:12 [Luk_8:15; Luk_21:19; Rom_2:7; Rom_5:3-4; Rom_8:25; Rom_15:4-5; 1Th_1:3; 2Th_3:5; Heb_10:36; Heb_12:1; Jam_1:3-4, etc.—E. R. C.]

I also will keep thee.—Three-fold interpretation: [1] Thou shalt be excepted from the hour of temptation. [2] Thou, with all the faithful, shalt be preserved from the plagues of unbelievers. [3] Thou shalt be kept through exterior temptation; it shall not become to thee an internal temptation to apostasy (Vitringa, Hengstenb., and others). Düsterdieck: “The expression ôçñ . ἐê must be distinguished from ôçñ . ἀðü .”

From the hour of temptation.—The hour of temptation is the culminating point in the time of temptation (Luk_22:53), the moment of the crisis. In general, doubtless, the severe conflicts of faith which the Church must undergo previous to the Coming of the Lord (see Rev_3:11) are here intended, as bringing with them the danger of apostasy.

More particular definitions: The preservation represented Rev_7:3 sqq. (Ewald, De Wette); the tribulations of Antichrist (Primasius); in addition to these, the plagues of the sixth angel (Bede).—Needless limitations.

False modifications: The persecutions under Nero (Grotius), Domitian (Lyra), Trajan (Alcasar and others).

[A ðåéñáóìüò is aught that tends to cause to swerve from the right (either in feeling or action), whether it be a promise, an allurement, a prophecy of evil, a threat, a persecution, or an affliction (see Luk_4:13; Luk_8:13; Luk_22:28; Luk_22:40; Luk_22:46; Act_20:19; 1Co_10:13; Gal_4:14; 1Ti_6:9; 1Pe_1:6; 1Pe_4:12, etc.). It is so styled because it is a trial, a test, of faith or the spirit of obedience. The hour of temptation (testing) is doubtless that special period referred to, 1Pe_4:12 ( ôῇ ἐí ὑìῖí ðõñþóåé ðñὸò ðåéñáóìὸí ὑìῖí ãéíïìÝíῃ ), and by our Lord, Mat_24:21-22; (a period both of testing and of punishment—primarily, however, of the former). This special period, be it observed, is distinguished from the period of ordinary ðåéñáóìïß referred to 1Pe_1:6, and Mat_24:4-13. It is also to be observed that the promise is not of preservation in trial, as was the promise to Peter, Luk_22:32; but of preservation from ( ἐê ) the hour or period of trial (comp. 2Pe_2:9). The idea of this promise seems to be, that as the Philadelphians had continued steadfast throughout the period of ordinary testing, they were to be exempted from those extraordinary ðåéñáóìïß which were to come upon the world.—E. R. C.]

Which is about to come upon all the world [ ïἰêïõìÝíç ].—Though it is relatively true that the Roman empire was the ïἰêïõìÝíç [Grot., Vitr., Stern, et al.]. it must here symbolize the whole of the inhabited world. This is indicated by the next clause.

To try them that dwell upon the earth.—According to Düsterdieck, “the mass of mankind in antithesis to believers, redeemed out of all peoples.” The following passages are cited in illustration of this view: Rev_6:10; Rev_11:10; Rev_13:8; Rev_13:14. It results from Rev_13:8, however, that the inhabitants of the earth are more or less identified with unbelievers only on account of the great majority of the latter over believers. It is true that the temptation comes, as a judicial infliction, only upon the unbelieving; yet the tempting fact comes, as a rigorous trial, upon believers also, in order to their confirmation. This result they owe to Divine preservation.

Rev_3:11. I come quickly.—Constantly recurring announcement, designed for the awakenkening and terrifying of foes and the consolation and elevation of the pious. We would again insist upon the fact, that it is no definition of time in the common chronological sense; it is to be apprehended in an exalted religious sense. The term ôá÷ý always involves the surprisingness of the coming, as unexpected, sudden, terribly early and terribly great.

Hold that fast which thou hast.—See Rev_1:3; Rev_2:25; Rev_22:7. Cherish the charism peculiar to thee. The ever new reproduction and more thorough acquisition of the thing possessed is expressed, together with the holding of it fast (Mat_24:13). Here the charism of steadfastness in the faith is denoted. [“Whatever of truth and piety you now possess.” Barnes.—E. R. C.]

That no man take thy crown.—That no man despoil thee of the victor’s wreath. that awaiteth thee at the goal; i. e. that none cause thee to lose it. Not, therefore, in the sense of another’s coming before and winning it in the church’s stead (Grot.). Ìçäåßò , however, represents the power of temptation, finally concentrated in Antichrist, with reference to the competitive contests of antiquity.

Rev_3:12. A pillar in the temple.—The distinct promise corresponds again to the distinct conduct of the church: 1. A pillar in the spiritual Temple of God; 2. An eternally consecrate inmate of the Temple; 3. Adorned with the three-fold inscription: a. With the name of God; the complete expression of perfect religiousness. b. With the name of the City of God; the complete expression of perfect ideal churchliness. c. With the name of Christ; the complete expression of perfect Christliness, which embraces in one both the foregoing considerations. This promise will, of course, not be perfectly fulfilled until the Coming of the Lord; yet we cannot, with Düsterdieck, regard its fulfillment as exclusively subsequent to the second Advent. Düsterdieck not only denies the reference of the promise to the Church Militant alone (Lyra, Grot., and others), but he even disputes its application to it and the Church Triumphant (Vitringa and others). [“The promised reward of faithfulness here is, that he who is victorious would be honored as if he were a pillar or column in the Temple of God. Such a pillar or column was partly for ornament, and partly for support, and the idea here is, that in that Temple he would contribute to its beauty and the justness of its proportions, and would at the same time be honored as if he were a pillar which was necessary for the support of the Temple.”—Barnes. Alford judiciously observes: “It is no objection to this view (substantially the one set forth above) that in the heavenly Jerusalem there is no Temple, Rev_21:22; but rather a corroboration of it. That glorious City is all Temple, and Christ’s victorious ones are its living stones and pillars. Thus, as Düsterdieck well remarks, the imagery of the Church Militant 1Co_3:16 sqq.; Eph_2:19 sqq.; 1Pe_2:5 sqq., is transferred to the Church Triumphant, but with this difference, that the saints are no longer the stones merely, but now the pillars themselves, standing on their immovable firmness,” This passage is but one of many which set forth the pre-eminence of the victorious saints of the present dispensation, in the future æon of blessedness and glory. They are the ἀðáñ÷Þ , the first fruits, Jam_1:18; Rev_14:4; the bride, Rev_21:9; kings in the Kingdom then to be established, Rev_2:26; Rev_3:22; priests in the holy congregation, Rev_1:6; Rev_5:10; Rev_20:6; pillars in the heavenly Temple. (See also note on Rev_2:26.)—E. R. C.]

And he shall nevermore go out. ( Êáὶ ἔîù ïὐ ìὴ ἐîÝëèç ἔôé .)—The pillar shall not be put out, according to Ewald and others. But there is doubtless a change of figure. The victor can no more fall away or be separated from the blessed fellowship of God. His secure position in the eternal Temple as a pillar, for firmness and beauty, is only equalled by his sure establishment therein as an inmate. [Continued purity, and exemption from association with anything impure, seem to be emphasized by the use of ἔîù ; comp. Rev_22:15.—E. R. C.] Hengstenberg justly says, that this applies to every Christian, for to be a Christian is to be a victor. The inscription also refers to the victor, not to the pillar, see Rev_14:1. On the reference of the name of Jesus to Jesuani, Jesuitæ, see Düsterdieck’s note, p. 197.

An analogue of the three names in Jewish Theology, see in Düsterdieck, p. 198.

Which cometh down out of heaven.—See Revelation 21. As the Church in this world is ever growing more spiritual, so the Church in the other world is constantly becoming more real, more corporeal, until its perfect worldly appearance is consummated in the resurrection. [See under Rev_21:1-3.—E. R. C.]

As the three names, in close connection with the Trinity, are expressive of a three-fold manifestation of the Divine image in the beatified one, so they also denote a three-fold appertinency or consecrateness on his part.

[And I will write upon him the name of my God.—“Christ will write this name of His God upon him that overcometh—not upon it, the pillar. It is true, indeed, that there were sometimes inscriptions on pillars, which yet would be óôῆëáé , rather than óôῦëïé ; but the image of the pillar is now dismissed, and only the conqueror remains. In confirmation of this, that it is the person, and not the pillar, whom the Lord contemplates now, we find, further on, the redeemed having the name of God, or the seal of God on their foreheads (Rev_7:3; Rev_9:4; Rev_14:1; Rev_22:4), with probable allusion to the golden plate, inscribed with the name of Jehovah which the High Priest wore upon his (Exo_28:36-38). In the ‘Kingdom of priests’ this dignity shall not be any more the singular prerogative of one, but the common dignity of all.” Trench.—And the name of the City of my God.—“What the name of this City is, we are told Eze_48:35 : ‘The Lord is there.’ Any other name would but faintly express the glory of it; ‘having the glory of God’ (Rev_21:11; Rev_21:23). He that has the name of this City written upon him is hereby declared free of it. Even while on earth he had his true ðïëßôåõìá ἐí ïὐñáíïῖò (Php_3:20; see Ellicott thereon), the state, city or country to which he belonged was a heavenly one; but still his citizenship was latent; he was one of God’s hidden ones; but now he is openly avouched, and has a right to enter in by the gates to the City (Rev_22:14).” Trench.—And.… My new name.—“This ‘new name’ is not ‘The Word of God’ (Rev_19:13), nor yet ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ (Rev_19:16). It is true that both of these appear in this Book as names of Christ; but at the same time neither of them could be called His new name; the faithful having been familiar with them from the beginning; but the ‘new name’ is that mysterious and, in the necessity of things, uncommunicated and, for the present time, incommunicable name, which, in that same sublimest of all visions, is referred to: ‘He had a name written, that no man knew, but He Himself’ (Rev_19:12); for none but God can search out the deep things of God (1Co_2:12; cf. Mat_11:27; Jdg_13:18). But the mystery of this new name, which no man by searching could find out, which in this present condition no man is so much as capable of receiving, shall be imparted to the saints and citizens of the New Jerusalem. They shall know even as they are known (1Co_13:12).” Trench.—E. R. C.]

[The following extract from Gibbon’s Decline and Fall (Rev 54) will be read with interest in this connection: “Two Turkish chieftains, Sarukhan and Aidin, left their names to their conquests, and their conquests to their posterity. The captivity or ruin of the seven churches of Asia was consummated; and the barbarous lords of Ionia and Lydia still trample on the monuments of classic and Christian antiquity. In the loss, of Ephesus, the Christians deplored the fall of the first angel, the extinction of the first candlestick, of the Revelation; the desolation is complete; and the temple of Diana, or the church of Mary, will equally elude the search of the curious traveller. The circus and three stately theatres of Laodicea are now peopled with wolves and foxes; Sardis is reduced to a miserable village; the God of Mahomet, without a rival or a son, is invoked in the mosques of Thyatira and Pergamus; and the populousness of Smyrna is supported by the foreign trade of the Franks and Armenians. Philadelphia alone has been saved by prophecy, or courage. At a distance from the sea, forgotten by the emperors, encompassed on all sides by the Turks, her valiant citizens defended their religion and freedom above four-score years; and at length capitulated with the proudest of the Ottomans. Among the Greek colonies and churches of Asia, Philadelphia is still erect, a column in a scene of ruins; a pleasing example that the paths of honor and safety may sometimes be the same.”—E. R. C.]



Our Laodicea was situated on the river Lycus in Phrygia Major, in the neighborhood of Colosse and Hierapolis; it was a large and rich commercial city. Bearing earlier the name of Diospolis, and then of Rhoas, it received its subsequent appellation in honor of Laodice, the Queen of King Antiochus II. In the year 62 this city, like Colosse and Hierapolis, was destroyed by an earthquake, but was speedily rebuilt. An insignificant town called Eskihissar, surrounded by ruins, now forms the last trace of its existence. Laodicea was the last of the seven churches; hence, a circular letter to these (the Epistle to the Ephesians) had, on reaching this city, arrived at its final destination, and from there an exchange could readily be effected between it and the Epistle to the Colossians (Col_4:16). Notwithstanding this, Winer still talks of a lost letter from Paul to the Laodiceans. The bearer of the seven epistles, having gone northward from Ephesus through Smyrna to Pergamus, turned southward to Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea; thus traversing a trivium and a quadrivium.

For further particulars, see Encyclopedias, Books of Travel and Geographical works.

“A bishop and martyr of Laodicea, called Sagaris (A. D. 170), is mentioned by Eusebius, H. E. iv. 20; v. 24; even Archippus (Col_4:17) is named as bishop (Const. Apost. viii. 46). Each has been regarded as the angel of the church; and in the expression ἡ ἀñ÷ὴ ô . êô ., Rev_3:14, Hengstenberg has even discovered an allusion to the name of Arch-ippus as the most influential leader of the church at Laodicea.” (Duesterdieck.) A curious discovery, certainly!

Colossians 2. does not distinctly prove, as Düsterdieck assumes, that in Paul’s time the Laodicean church, as well as that at Colosse, was in danger from erroneous theosophic doctrines, though Vitringa, with astonishing acuteness, maintained that there were traces of such things in the very epistle that we are examining (Düsterdieck, p. 199). The spiritual condition of the church may be clearly gathered from the epistle addressed to it, but cannot be explained from the external circumstances of the church itself.

Rev_3:14. These things saith the Amen.—Here also a harmony of all parts may be taken for granted at the very outset. The central point of all the terms contained in the epistle lies, manifestly, in the false self-gratulation of the Church as expressed in Rev_3:17. In the first place, such a morbid assurance of completeness, involving a cessation from striving, and even from aspiration—such a conviction of having arrived at a state in which all need is done away with ( ðåðëïýôçêá )—does not arise in a healthy condition of faith, for even on the firm ground of the peace of reconciliation, such a condition implies—nay, is itself—a longing and striving after perfection (the true righteousness of faith, an agonizing after righteousness of life).

But, again, this assurance of completeness and consequent stoppage of all exertion does not spring into existence where there is a mere legal holiness of works; the goad of the law is constantly rousing those under its bondage—or, at least, the worthier portion of them—from the false repose to which they, for a moment, may have yielded, and urging them on. Spiritualism [Spiritualismus], however, is always and everywhere thoroughly satisfied, whether it appear in a mystical form, declaring, I too am a son of God, or in a rationalistic guise, affirming that there is no such thing as a son of God, no such thing as the Atonement. Spiritualism [Spiritualismus] has the property of not being warm, because it has no spiritual [geistlich] blood, no social, historical or personal life; but neither is it cold, for it has its religious views and opinions, its party even, for which it can, for a time, be enthusiastically or fanatically hot. It does not, however, grow warm for the living fellowship of God and the Church of God. Now this spiritualism [Spiritualismus] may, in Laodicea, as well as elsewhere, have been based upon the antecedents of theoretical, theosophic heresies; at the writing of the epistle, however, these heresies were a vanishing point in the background; the enthusiastic soarings in the clouds had been succeeded by the reactionary fall of satiety and lukewarmness. Hence the word of revelation does not directly attack theoretical errors of the church, but its practical appearance, so specifically modified, however, that we perceive the epistle to be also aimed at the germs of the church’s corruption latent in the background.

The self-designation of Christ is the first instrument for the accomplishment of the design we have just stated. The Amen, the faithful and true [genuine] Witness, the Originator ( ἀñ÷Þ , see Col_1:18) of the creation and redemption. He is the Amen as the perfect and complete personal conclusion of the revelations of God, beyond Whom there can be no angelic or philosophic or spiritualistic [spiritualistisch] revelations,—the focus of the Divine sun of revelation, through Whom alone true vital heat is to be got. He is the faithful and essential, perfectly historical and real Witness of the truth, in face of Whom the inflated illusions, images and systems of spiritualism [Spiritualismus] must vanish away. He is the living, personal Principle of the whole creation; hence there is no principial life of spirits or spirit outside of that cosmical order of the Kingdom, which is comprehended in Him.

With this description of Christ, the description of the church corresponds. Its works are specifically merged in its character, and this character is lukewarmness—not luke