Revelation 3
Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures

Revelation 3:1–6

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 θλῖψις and ὑπομονή, 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 (John 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 (John 15:26, 20:22; Acts 2:33), Who acts as His representative (John 15:18, 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.1 [“Since the ‘stars are the angels of the seven Churches’ (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; John 20:22, 23; Acts 1:8, 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 [τοὺς λοιπούς], and it is true that, from another point of view, there would necessarily be a reference to persons as constituting the remainder (Ezek. 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 τὰ λοιπά as representative of the laity (Hengst.).

[ALFORD thus writes: “The latter view (that τὰ λοιπά 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 λοιποί 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 τέλεια, but πεπληρωμένα; 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 πληροῦν and πληροῦσθαι (Matt. 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 πῶς. 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 εἴληφας, as contrasted with the aorist ἤκουσας, indicated by Ewald, would have greater weight if λαμβάνειν 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 (Matt. 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. John 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 ἀμίαντος (1 Peter 1:4); this, something to which σπῖλοι (Eph. 5:27; James 3:6), μιάσματα (2 Peter 2:20), μολυσμοί (2 Cor. 7:1), can only too easily adhere. … This, itself a wedding garment (Matt. 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; 7:9; 19:8). Those who keep their garments undefiled in this earthly life, shall walk with Christ (μετ’ ἐμοῦ, compare Luke 23:43; John 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 (Matt. 10:10, 11; 22:8; Luke 20:35; 21:36; 2 Thess. 1:5, 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 νικῶν 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 (οὐ μὴ)] 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.2 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 (Ps. 69:28; Is. 4:3; Dan. 12:1; Rev. 20:12; 21:27); sometimes it is pre-eminently, significant of the relation and conduct of Divine grace to man (Ex. 32:32; Ps. 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 (Phil. 4:3; Rev. 13:8).3

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. Matt. 10:32 Luke 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.]


Revelation 3:7–13

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 Dan. 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 1 Peter 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. Luke 1:35; Acts 3:14. “Christ claims here to be ὁ Ἅγιος, the Holy One; cf. Acts 2:27; 13:35; Heb. 7:26. In all these passages, however, ὅσιος, not ἅγιος, 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 ὅσιος, 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; 16:5, and here, He is One in whom these eternal sanctities reside; who is Himself the root and ground of them. The ἅγιος 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; 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 συναγωγὴ τοῦ σατανᾶ below.” ALFORD.—E. R. C.]

The True One.—In the New Testament, the term, “the true” [der Wahrhaftige, ἀληθινός, veritable, see Comm. on John, p. 460, Am. Ed.—E. R. C.] denotes not only the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (2 Cor. 1:20), but also the substance of the Old Testament shadowy sketches (John 1:17). Accordingly, the attribute ἀληθινός is related to ἀληθής, and founded thereupon; the two epithets are contra-distinguished, however, by the pre-eminence of the idea of substantiality. of true spiritual life, in ἀληθινός, 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 ἀληθινός. 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 ἀληθινός (=verus) with ἀληθής (=verax). God is ἀληθής (=ἀψενδής, 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 ἀληθινός, as fulfilling all that is involved in the name God, in contrast with those which are called gods, … That is άληθινός, which fulfills its own idea to the highest possible point. … Nor is άλιθινός 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 φῶς ἀληθινόν (John 1:9; 1 John 2:8), ἄρτος ἀληθινός (John 6:32), ἄμπελος ἀληθινή (John 15:1); there is a σκηνὴ αληθινή 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 (John 5:35), and Moses gave bread from Heaven (Ps. 105:40), and Israel was a vine of God’s planting (Ps. 80:8), and the tabernacle pitched in the wilderness, if only a figure of the true, was yet pitched at God’s express command (Ex. 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 Is. 22:22, the key was given to Eliakim, after being taken from Shebna.4 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 ἔχων”—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.5 The cross of Christ instrumentum omnipotentiæ; Alcasar. That supreme power which is the property of the Lord, Matt. 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 ἰδού, etc., and find a specification of the works in the subsequent ὅτι, etc.; but neither are they “destitute of further qualification” [Düsterd.]; on the contrary, they contain the motive of the following: Behold I have given [δέδωκα, 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?6 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.7

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: μικρὰν ἔχεις δύν. 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 (δίδωμι) that some] of the synagogue of Satan.—Here also that community of Judaism which assumes to be the true Israel,8 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 διδῶμι 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 προσκυνεῖν, 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: Ps. 72:9; Is. 2:3; 49:23; 60:14; Zech. 8:20. On the misinterpretation of this passage in favor of the Catholic Hierarchy, see Düsterd., p. 192.9

And to know that I have loved thee.Ἠγάπησα 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 μου relate, not to τῆς ὑπομ. alone (like Ewald, De Wette, Hengstenberg and others), but to the whole conception τὸν λόγ., 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 ὑπομονή 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 ὑπομονή; particularly Rev. 2:2, 3, 19; 13:10; 14:12 [Luke 8:15; 21:19; Rom. 2:7; 5:3, 4; 8:25; 15:4, 5; 1 Thess. 1:3; 2 Thess. 3:5; Heb. 10:36; 12:1; James 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 τηρ. ἐκ must be distinguished from τηρ. ἀπό.”

From the hour of temptation.—The hour of temptation is the culminating point in the time of temptation (Luke 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 πειρασμός 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 Luke 4:13; 8:13; 22:28, 40, 46; Acts 20:19; 1 Cor. 10:13; Gal. 4:14; 1 Tim. 6:9; 1 Peter 1:6; 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, 1 Pet. 4:12 (τῇ ἐν ὑμῖν πυρώσει πρὸς πειρασμὸν ὑμῖν γινομένῃ), and by our Lord, Matt. 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 πειρασμοί referred to 1 Peter 1:6, and Matt. 24:4–13. It is also to be observed that the promise is not of preservation in trial, as was the promise to Peter, Luke 22:32; but of preservation from (ἐκ) the hour or period of trial (comp. 2 Peter 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 πειρασμοί which were to come upon the world.—E. R. C.]

Which is about to come upon all the world [οἰκουμένη].—Though it is relatively true that the Roman empire was the οἰκουμένη [Grot., Vitr., Stern, et al.].10 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; 11:10; 13:8, 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 ταχύ 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; 2:25; 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 (Matt. 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.11 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.). Μηδείς, 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 1 Cor 3:16 sqq.; Eph. 2:19 sqq.; 1 Peter 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 ἀπαρχή, the first fruits, Jas. 1:18; Rev. 14:4; the bride, Rev. 21:9; kings in the Kingdom then to be established, Rev. 2:26; 3:22; priests in the holy congregation, Rev. 1:6; 5:10; 20:6; pillars in the heavenly Temple. (See also note on Rev 2:26.)—E. R. C.]

And he shall nevermore go out. (Καὶ ἔξω οὐ μὴ ἐξέλθη ἔτι.)—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 ἔξω; 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 Rev 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 στῆλαι, rather than στῦλοι; 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 (7:3; 9:4; 14:1; 22:4), with probable allusion to the golden plate, inscribed with the name of Jehovah which the High Priest wore upon his (Exod. 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 Ezek. 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, 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 πολίτευμα ἐν οὐρανοῖς (Phil. 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 (22:14).” TRENCH.—And.… My new name.—“This ‘new name’ is not ‘The Word of God’ (19:13), nor yet ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ (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’ (19:12); for none but God can search out the deep things of God (1 Cor. 2:12; cf. Matt. 11:27; Judg. 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 (1 Cor. 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.]


Revelation 3:14–22

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.12 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.13

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 ἀρχὴ τ. κτ., 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 3:14.14 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 (πεπλούτηκα)15—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],16 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 (ἀρχή, see Col. 1:18) of the creation and redemption.17 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,18—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 lukewarmness as positivism, however, but as a double negation: neither cold nor warm. If the church were cold, if it were a stranger to Christ, like the heathen, or even if it cherished a positive antipathy against Him, He would not approach it in the character of a Judge; it might yet become, warm. It has just enough Christianity to come under condemnation, but not sufficient to attain to blessedness, for the reason that it is not warm.

This condition, in its approximation to eternal hopelessness, wrings from the Judge Himself, in His blessed majesty, a sigh that seems laden with a human grief: O that thou wert cold or warm!—Again, the condition of the church is illustrated by the figure of lukewarm water, which, when drunk, causes nausea: I am about to (not yet: I will) spew thee out of my mouth; i. e. reject with lively indignation and repulsion.

Not cold, not warm, but lukewarm. This attitude toward the Lord, His word and His Church, is based upon the church’s conduct toward itself, upon its spiritual [geistlich] pride. This pride is likewise expressed three-foldly: I am rich—I have become rich to excess or satiety—I have need of nothing (or, as it may also be rendered, no person, no Saviour, no fellowship). The first declaration is expressive of the church’s self-deception in imagining that it can be rich independently. In the second declaration, the church intimates, that in some way or other (by an arcanum or a would-be new idea) it has become rich, and that its wealth is forever an accomplished fact. In the third declaration, the fearful consequence is announced: it has need of nothing more; it is subjectively free from all heavenly and earthly props; its satiety is the complete caricature of the blessedness of true faith, having an imaginary exaltation in an imaginary omniscience.

Its false self-appraisement is met by the annihilating sentence of the Lord:

Thou knowest not.—Ignorance, and that in relation to the most immediate and necessary knowledge—ignorance of its own condition; ignorance in its most aggravated form—self-blinding, constitutes the basis of its wants. The church (represented by her character, her masculine life-picture) knows not that she is, on the one hand, the wretched one, the specific bearer of the burdens of a salvationless state; and, on the other, the one pitiable above all Others, on whom, also, the Lord wills yet to have pity in consideration of her ignorance (see Luke 23:34). The three fundamental traits of this woful picture are: poor and blind and naked; poor in reference to the true riches of life; blind in reference to truth and knowledge; naked in reference to the utter want of a truly spiritual [geistlich] appearance in genuine good works or signs and evidences of the inner life.

The counsel of the Lord is in harmony with the situation. The church is admonished to buy all that she lacks of Him. For of Him alone can the beggar buy—buy for nought (Is. 55:1), and yet buy, inasmuch as it is only under moral forms and conditions that the free gift is received; its reception implies the surrender of a whole world of counterfeit value, and thus there is a difference between its bestowal and the actual giving of alms to a beggar. The first proffer is that of gold—gold purified by fire; the heavenly riches of righteousness, in the sterling quality of the fidelity of faith; purified by the fire of tribulation, and thus proven to be genuine gold. The spiritualist [Spiritualist] dares not expose his gilded fancies to the fire of tribulation. The church’s nakedness is the second thing provided for—in advance of her blindness; and this is, doubtless, because a modicum of sight is pre-supposed in the first and second acts, and because it is high time that the manifestation of the shame of her nakedness, appearing, as it necessarily will, in moral scandals, should be averted by demonstrations of Christian life, in white garments, which are connected with the gold of faith. Then comes the eye-salve of truth, in order to the gaining of true and perfect sight in Christian knowledge, from which the spiritualist [Spiritualist], in his false conceit of knowledge, is most remote.

The severe utterance of the Lord is next exempted from all suspicion of partyism, party-strife or school-wrangling. The truth of Christ, under whatever aspect it is viewed, always turns to rebuke when it encounters falsehood; and the very fact of its rebuking and chastening is designed to teach the person thus exercised, that the love of Christ has not yet given him up, and that, on the contrary, it would fain win him by these means of rebuke and chastening—that it is thereby calling him to repentance.

Rev 3:20. Behold, I stand at the door.—With the peculiar species of sinfulness in the condition of the church, the peculiar form of repentance corresponds. An obliteration of the consciousness of man’s liberty of election is partly the cause, partly the effect of spiritualism [Spiritualismus]; the nerve of moral freedom, is paralyzed, and the sense of moral greatness, as exemplified in the history of the world, is obscured. Therefore Christ—Who has not for a long time been, in this high-flying spiritualism [Spiritualismus]—stands at the door of the soul and knocks. He finds the door shut; still He does not burst it in; He knocks and begs for admittance. In face of this conduct of the royally Free, the unfree should rouse him from his palsy. If any man.—This, indeed, is not to be expected of the mass of blinded ones, yet it may be hoped of individuals.

If any man hear My voice.—There is help for any one who still has an ear for this—for the affectionate tone, the loving call of Jesus’ voice. Amid his spiritual [geistig] waverings betwixt light and darkness, his heart, constantly declining, as it is, into an indifference to personal love, is not yet quite dead. This is proved by the fact of his opening the door to the Lord, by his reception of the personal Christ as his Friend and Saviour. And what then? With the peculiar modification of repentance, the peculiar modification of grace corresponds. The subsequent word of promise is, assuredly, meant for all who are converted, but especially is it intended for the returning spiritualist [Spiritualist].

I will come in to him and will sup with him.–In the case of the spiritualist [Spiritualist], above all, the new life must take the form of the most intimate communion, of personal fellowship with the Lord. This communion is primarily Christ’s supping with him; his heart, his property, his bread henceforth belong to the Christian fellowship. But the higher form of this new life is that he, on his part, sups with Christ, that he becomes a participant in His blessed, heavenly life. And though the general reference here is to the meal of vital communion, the restoration of the spiritualist [Spiritualist] will also be particularly evidenced in a proper appreciation of the Lord’s Supper, the social Christ, a Sacrament which he has before despised in his imagined self-sufficiency.

In this epistle, as in all the others, the concluding promise to the victor is in perfect harmony with all that has gone before.

Rev 3:21. To him that conquereth will I grant to sit with Me on My throne.—The throne of Christ is the glory of His Kingdom—the sitting on His throne, the personal vital possession of this glory; the sitting with Him on this throne is, therefore, the co-enjoyment of this highest definiteness of perfected personal life. This future forms the extremest contrast to the expectation of the spiritualistic [spiritualistisch] indifferentist who holds that he is to be swallowed up in the waves of the general, impersonal world-essence.

But the promise unfolds still greater glories:

And sat down with My Father.—We can imagine nothing concerning a fellowship in God’s personal exaltation above the world, above the transitoriness, unfreeness, and imperfection of the world. The words at the head of this paragraph, however, unmistakably form the culminating point of the contrast to the nihilistic views of the indifferentistically lukewarm mind, the positive counterpart of the negative Buddhistic Nirvana.

The solemn conclusion appeals for the last time to the organization, the capacity, the destination of man; for the last time to man’s freedom and to the first stirrings of freedom in hearing and obeying; for the last time to the high calling of the Christian—to hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. The words this time have a seven-fold weight, for they form the conclusion not only of the last letter, but of all the foregoing epistles likewise.

The more general import of Christ’s declaration, Behold, I stand at the door, is this, viz., that the last epistle sketches the last form of the church, and touches upon the Parousia.

After this general consideration of the final epistle, we present, briefly, the following exegesis of particular points:

Rev 3:14. The Amen, 2 Cor. 1:20.—[“Referring, as is the case in every epistle, to some attribute of the speaker adapted to impress their minds, or to give peculiar force to what He was about to say to that particular church. … The word amen means true, certain, faithful; and, as used here, it means that He to whom it is applied is eminently true and faithful. What He affirms is true; what He promises or threatens is certain. Himself characterized by sincerity and truth (2 Cor. 1:20), He can look with approbation only on the same in others; and hence He looks with displeasure on the lukewarmness which, from its very nature, always approximates insincerity.” BARNES. It may also be observed that a state of lukewarmness is a state of indifferentism, of partial unbelievingness. The lukewarm hear as though the promises and threats of their teachers were as vain as the wind. It was most appropriate that the Great Teacher should endeavor to arouse the Laodiceans to heed His words, by an epithet declarative of His sincerity, and the truth and certainty of His declarations.—E. R. C.] The Hebrew expression is, doubtless, thoroughly akin to the subsequent Greek terms (Bengel and others); yet there is a distinction between absolute certainty and absolute faithfulness and actuality, and we have here no mere climax (Düsterdieck).—See Düsterd. on unsupported interpretations.

[The faithful and true Witness—“He is ‘the Witness, the faithful and the true,’ in that He speaks what He knows, and testifies what He has seen. The thought is a favorite and ever-recurring one in the Gospel of St. John (3:11, 32, 33); but does not appear in any other. … Of the two epithets, the first, πιστός, expresses His entire trustworthiness. The word is employed in the New Testament, as elsewhere—now as trusting or believing (John 20:27: Acts 14:1), now as trustworthy or to be believed (2 Tim. 2:22; 1 Thess. 5:27; 1 John 1:9). Men may be πιστοί in both senses, the active and the passive, as exercising faith, and as being worthy to have faith exercised upon them. God can be only πιστός in the latter. … It will be seen that the truthfulness of Christ as a Witness is asserted in the πιστός, not, as might at first sight be assumed, in the ἀληθινός that follows, or at least in it only as one quality among many. Christ is a μάρτυς ἀληθινός (not ἀληθής), in that He realized and fulfilled in the highest sense all that belonged to a witness. Three things are necessary thereto. He must have been αὐτόπτης; having seen with his own eyes that which he professes to attest. He must be competent to relate and reproduce this for others. He must be willing faithfully and truthfully to do this. These three things meeting in Christ, and not the presence of the last only, constitute Him a ‘true19 Witness,’ or one in whom all the highest conditions of a witness met.” Trench.—E. R. C.]

[The beginning (ἀρχή) of the creation of God.]—[1] The principle of the creation; see Col. 1:15.—False interpretations: [2] The Prince [Fürst, first] of the creation; [3] The Founder of the. new creation, the Church; [4] The first and most glorious Creature of the creation. See John 1:1 sqq. [The first of the preceding views, the one adopted by Lange, is the one advocated by Alford and Trench. Their arguments as against the 4th, or Arian, view, are embodied in the following extract from Barnes. Both these distinguished commentators cite, as supporting their opinions as to the use of the term ἀρχή, many passages from Apocryphal and early Christian authors. TRENCH writes as follows: “For the use of ἀρχή in the sense and with the force which we here demand for it as ‘principium,’ not ‘initium’ (though these Latin words do not adequately reproduce the distinction), comp. the Gosp. of Nicod. c. 25, in which Hades addresses Satan as ἡ τοῦ θανάτου ἀρχὴ καὶ ῥίζη τῆς ἁμαρτίας; and further, Dionysius, the Areopagite (c. 15): ὁ θεὸς ἐστὶν πάντων αἰτὶα καὶ ἀρχή; and again, Clement of Alex. (Strom. iv. 25): ὁ θεὸς δὲ ἄναρχος, ἀρχὴ τῶν ὅλων παντελής. These, and innumerable other passages, abundantly vindicate for ἀρχή that active sense which we must needs claim for it here.” BARNES, who adopts the 2d of the above views, presents the entire subject in the following powerful language: “The phrase here used is susceptible, properly, of only one of the following significations, viz.: either (a) that He was the beginning of the creation in the sense that He caused the universe to begin to exist, that is, that He was the author of all things; or (b) that He was the first created being; or (c) that He holds the primacy over all, and is at the head of the universe. It is not necessary to examine any other proposed interpretations, for the only other senses Supposed to be conveyed by the words, that He is the beginning of the creation in the sense that He rose from the dead as the first-fruits of them that sleep, or that He is the head of the spiritual creation of God, are so foreign to the natural meaning of the words as to need no special refutation. As to the three significations suggested above, it may be observed, that the first one—that He is the author of the creation, and in that sense the beginning, though expressing a Scriptural doctrine (John 1:3; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:16), is not in accordance with the proper meaning of the word here used—ἀρχή. The word properly refers to the commencement of a thing, not its authorship, and denotes properly primacy in time, and primacy in rank, but not primacy in the sense of causing anything to exist. The two ideas which run through the word, as it is used in the New Testament, are those just suggested. For the former—primacy in regard to time—that is properly the commencement of a thing, see the following passages where the word occurs: Matt. 19:4, 8; 24:8, 21; Mark 1:1; 10:6; 13:8, 19; Luke 1:2; John 1:1, 2; 2:11; 6:64; 8:25, 44; 15:17; 16:4; Acts 11:15; 1 John 1:1; 2:7, 13, 14, 24; 3:8, 11; 2 John 5, 6. For the latter signification—primacy of rank or authority—see the following places: Luke 12:11; 20:20; Rom. 8:38; 1 Cor. 15:24; Eph. 1:21; 3:10; 6:12; Col. 1:16, 18; 2:10, 15; Tit. 3:1. The word is not, therefore, found in the sense of authorship, as denoting that one is the beginning of anything in the sense that he caused it to have an existence. As to the second of the significations suggested, that it means that He was the first created being, it may be observed (a) that this is not a necessary signification of the phrase, since no one can show that this is the only proper meaning which could be given to the words, and therefore the phrase cannot be adduced to prove that He is Himself a created being. If it were demonstrated from other sources that Christ was, in fact, a created being, and the first that God had made, it cannot be denied that this language would appropriately express that fact. But it cannot be made out from the mere use of the language here; and as the language is susceptible of other interpretations, it cannot be employed to prove that Christ is a created being, (b) Such an interpretation would be at variance with all those passages which speak of Him as uncreated and eternal; which ascribe Divine attributes to Him; which speak of Him as Himself the Creator of all things. Compare John 1:1–3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2, 6, 8, 10–12. The third signification, therefore, remains, that He is ‘the beginning of the creation of God,’ in the sense that He is the Head or Prince of the creation; that is, that He presides over it so far as the purposes of redemption are to be accomplished, and so far as it is necessary for those purposes. This is (a) in accordance with the meaning of the word, Luke 12:11; 20:20, et al., ut supra, and (b) in accordance with the uniform statements respecting the Redeemer, that ‘all power is given unto Him in Heaven and in earth’ (Matt. 28:18); that God has ‘given Him power over all flesh’ (John 17:2); that all things are ‘put under His feet’ (Heb. 2:8; 1 Cor. 15:27); that He is exalted over all things, Eph. 1:20–22. Having this rank, it was proper that He should speak with authority to the church at Laodicea.”—E. R. C.]

Rev 3:15. Thy works.—Works are of value only as indications of the character of the persons performing them. Lukewarm hearts, lukewarm works, and vice versâ. [See comments on Rev 2:2.—E. R. C.]—[That thou art neither cold nor hot (Lange: warm)].—The application to this passage of the distinction between the perfectly righteous, the perfectly unrighteous, and those occupying a middle position, is misleading; far more applicable is Dante’s description of the sinners peopling that portion of Hell which lies immediately beyond the direful portal—wretches too bad for Heaven, and even for Hell; i.e., the present passage of Scripture speaks of qualitative not of quantitative things. Most certainly the warm one is he who hangs upon the Lord, for only a personal relationship of love to Jesus, and conduct actuated by that love, make warm life. Whilst De Wette and others regard ψυχρός as the antithesis to ζεστός, Düsterdieck, with Hengsten. and others, justly insist that the antithesis is a vacillating middle conduct. Düsterdieck’s positive definition of coldness as enmity and resistance to the Lord, such as were manifested by Saul of Tarsus, is, however, as incorrect as Hengstenberg’s theory concerning a cold person who is painfully sensible of his coldness. The antitheses are: the believer—the non-believer—and in the midst, the half-believer, who in his inmost soul is already an unbeliever. [I would, etc.—“Ὄφελον, properly the second aorist of ὀφείλω, but now grown into an adverbial use (= utinam), has so far forgotten what at the first it was, as to be employed promiscuously in all numbers and persons; cf. 1 Cor. 5:8; 2 Cor. 11:1. It governs an indicative, not an optative, here (ἦς, not εἴης, is the right reading), inasmuch as the Lord is not desiring that something even now might be, but only that something might have been. In form a wish, it is in reality a regret.” TRENCH. But in what respect is a lukewarm worse than a cold condition? The author just quoted answers the question thus: “Best, I think, … by regarding the ‘cold’ as one hitherto untouched by the power of grace. There is always hope of such an one, that, when he does come under those powers, he may become a zealous and earnest Christian. He is not one on whom the grand experiment of the Gospel has been tried, and has failed. But the ‘lukewarm’ is one who has tasted of the good gift, and of the powers of the world to come, who has been a subject of Divine grace, but in whom that grace has failed to kindle more than the feeblest spark. The publicans and harlots were ‘cold,’ ‘the Apostles ‘hot’. The Scribes and Pharisees, such among them as that Simon in whose house the Lord sat and spake the parable of the fifty and the five hundred pence (Luke 7:36–47), they were ‘lukewarm.’ It was from among the ‘cold’ and not the ‘lukewarm,’ that He drew recruits.”—E. R. C.]

Rev 3:16. The figure is unmistakably derived from the nauseating effect of lukewarm water when taken into the mouth. [The figure is indicative of most fearful woe, namely, utter rejection by Christ as loathsome.—E. R. C.] The μέλλειν must be distinguished from a positive θέλειν.

Rev 3:17. I am rich.20—This is not, as a number of commentators suppose, to be referred to the earthly wealth of the flourishing emporium of Laodicea, though the connection between external riches and the danger of an inward conceit of riches cannot be ignored. Comp. the Old and New Testaments. The fancied wealth of spiritual goods is, therefore, the thing intended, in accordance with most commentators. [“So far as the language here is concerned, this may refer either to riches literally, or to spiritual riches. … It is not easy to determine which is the true sense, but may it not have been that there was an allusion to both, and that, in every respect, they boasted that they had enough?” BARNES.—E. R. C.] Note the climax: πλόυσιός εἰμι, etc., [see p. 134.]

And knowest not.—This is no mere simple self-delusion; it is marked in its character, being an aggravated ignorance, over against a supposed multiplied knowledge.—That thou, even thou.—ὁ ταλαίπωρος—the wretched one, par excellence.

Rev 3:18. I counsel thee.—The “dash of irony” which Ebrard discovers in this expression, may consist in the fact that Christ does not here approach the spiritualistic [spiritualistisch] indifferent in His historical authority, because such an one has loosed the bond of historical obedience. He meets him on the ground of his false liberty. If he will not obey the voice of the Lord, he must still hear the language of truth.21 Perfectly analogous to this form is the further declaration: Behold, I stand at the door—a hint to the Church in her dealing with [self-] emancipated spirits [emanzipirte Geister].22

To buy.—There can be no question of an actual purchase by a meritum de congruo; for Laodicea is poor and naked, and the thing to be procured is gold. Yet the usual Protestant idea.—the church must simply surrender her self-conceit; that is the purchase-price (Vitringa, Bengel, and others)—conceals in some measure the true relation of things. Such a surrender invariably presupposes an advance toward the Saviour in penitence and self-denial.23 According to Ebrard, the Lord’s counsel should be followed invertedly; first, eye-salve, then raiment, then gold. There are substantial grounds, however, for the order given. The gold purified in the fire, the fidelity of faith, tested in temptation and trial (Hengstenberg, fides; à Lapide, caritas; Düsterd., spiritual good things; Ebrard, good fruits). [Is it not the righteousness of Christ, imputed to him who believes, by virtue of which the possessor becomes rich (comp. Rom. 5:15–18; 2 Cor. 8:9)?—E. R. C.]

White garments.—Throughout the Apocalypse, these represent the victorious adornment of that righteousness of life which is based upon the righteousness of faith. Hence they are not of like meaning with the gold (Düsterd.), nor do they denote the subjective purification of the heart (Ebrard), which cannot be seen as can white garments. [May not the reference be to the entire righteousness of sanctification (holiness of heart and life) produced by the Spirit? The garments of the Saints are white within as well as without.—It may here be remarked, that it is utterly vain to expect that any one material figure should set forth a spiritual truth in all its phases.—E. R. C.]

The eye-salve, κολλούριον (the classic form is κολλύριον), is likewise differently explained (as the word of God, the gift of the Holy Spirit Who enlightens).

Rev 3:19. Ἐγώ.—After the Lord’s apparent self-coördination with the church, His high and sovereign personality emerges once more to view. This is the case here, however, especially in order to the expression of the fact, that His rebuke and chastening are pure love, and that His love can chasten and punish; and all this in contrast to the loose and anti-personal nature of indifferentism, which perverts love into laxity, accounts punishment as harshness, and utterly sunders the two. [Comp. Heb. 12:5–13; Prov. 3:12.—E. R. C.]

As many as I love.—Düsterdieck justly insists, in opposition to Vitringa, that this does not apply merely to the better portion of the church.

[I rebuke and chasten.]—The relation of ἐλέγχειν and παιδεύειν is in harmony with Christian liberty. The sinner must first suffer himself to be convicted, intellectually corrected; then grace begins to exercise an affectionate discipline over conscience and life.

[For a full discussion of the force of ἐλέγχειν, see Lange on John 16:8 (Am. Ed., pp. 472 sqq.). Trench writes that it is “more than ἐπιτιμᾶν, with which it is often joined; see my (his) Syn. of the N. T., § 4. It is so to rebuke, that the person rebuked is brought to the acknowledgment of his fault, is convinced, as David was when rebuked by Nathan (2 Sam. 12:13).” This definition will scarce bear the test of thorough exegesis. It is manifest that in the use of the term Matt. 18:5; Luke 3:19, an acknowledgment of sin is not contemplated, but the contrary. The word is one which expresses the act of an agent, and not the effect of that act upon its object; it is such a presentation of the truth as leaves the object without excuse for not believing (camp. John 8:46; 16:8; 1 Cor. 14:24; Eph. 5:11, 13; 1 Tim. 5:20; 2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:9, 13; 2:15; Heb. 12:5; Jas. 2:9). The necessary consequence of rebuke thus defined may, indeed, be a dim, inchoate perception of the right, but not necessarily that completed judgment, that conviction, which involves an acknowledgment even to self; and even this perception is not necessarily contemplated in the use of the term. (In John 3:20; 8:9; the only other passages in which the term occurs, its use is peculiar. In the latter the man was his own rebuker—conviction preceded rebuke; in the former, the idea is somewhat similar—here a dim perception of the fact of sin leads the transgressor, instinctively, to avoid the light which will clearly manifest his unworthiness.) The term παιδεύειν is also too much restricted by Trench, and apparently by our author. The former writes: “Παιδεύειν, being in classical Greek to instruct, to educate, is in sacred Greek to instruct or educate by means of correction, through the severe discipline of love,” etc. This is the meaning of the English word chasten, which was used by our translators to render the word whenever, in their judgment, the παιδεία was castigatory (1 Cor. 11:32; 2 Cor. 6:9; Heb. 12:6, 7, 10; see also παιδεία in Heb. 12:5, 7, 8, 11; and παιδευτής, Heb. 12:9); but it is by no means the established sacred usage of the original term. That fatherly correction was not always contemplated, see Luke 23:16, 22 (and perhaps 1 Tim. 1:20); that castigation was not always implied, see Acts 7:22; 22:3; 2 Tim. 2:25; Titus 2:12; also παιδεία, Eph. 6:4; 2 Tim. 3:16; and παιδευτής Rom. 2:20. An apparent force is given to the remark of Trench from the frequent recurrence of the word (and its allies) in Heb. 12, where it appears eight times out of the twenty-one instances of its New Testament use. These, however, in an exegetical point of view, constitute but one appearance. It appears in only thirteen independent passages; in three of these only do the contexts require us to limit its specific meaning to the training of castigation (Heb. 12:5–10; 1 Cor. 11:32; 2 Cor. 6:9—possibly four, if we include 1 Tim. 1:20); and in seven this specific meaning is excluded by the context (see above). The classical force of the word is retained in the Scriptures. Its proper meaning is to discipline, to educate; and into this education enter all the elements of spiritual training. Παιδεύειν includes ἐλέγχειν. A context may, indeed, limit the education spoken of to one specific kind. In such case only have we a right to regard it as limited. In the passage under consideration, in which sin is referred to, doubtless, chastisement was contemplated; but we should not suppose that chastisement alone was in the view of the Divine speaker. This very epistle entered into the παιδεία.—E. R. C.]

[Be zealous, therefore, and repent.—“This word (ζηλεῦε), through ζῆλος connected with ζέω and thus with ζεστός (Rev 3:15), is chosen as the special word of exhortation, with special reference to the lukewarmness,” etc. TRENCH. “Be earnest, strenuous, ardent, in your purpose to exercise true repentance, and to turn from the error of your ways.” BARNES.—E. R. C.]

Rev 3:20.—This verse also makes part of the special word to Laodicea; it is not, therefore, an epilogue to the whole (Vitringa). Yet the entire proceeding here described forms a picture which closes the preceding epistles and touches upon the approaching Parousia.

The door.—Generally interpreted, the door of the heart, the knocking being referred to the word of God, the Holy Ghost, special visitations. [Compare Song of Sol. 5:2–6.—He knocks in every incident of providence—in every act of παιδεία—that produces the thought of Himself in the mind.—E. R. C.] The door of the heart however, is the personal liberty. The standing before this door is expressive of three things: 1. Christ is not in the heart of the lukewarm; 2. He recognizes the liberty of shutting Him out which the lukewarm person possesses; 3. He makes a positive assault upon that unfreeness which lies in the abuse of liberty. The Lord’s knocking in the last time is a synthesis of the threatening presages of judgment and His word. According to Bengel, the promise, I will sup with him, mast be understood of the earthly life; he with Me, of the heavenly. The promise, however, distinguishes in a general manner a lower and higher grade of spiritual life (Martha, Mary). Our passage has nothing to do with the figure of the Marriage; it treats of the establishment of a personal intimate relationship between Christ and the individual church, or, better, the individual soul. [Compare John 14:21–23.—E. R. C.]

Rev 3:21. The promise, in its special greatness, certainly corresponds to the special greatness of the victory to be gained by the Laodicean (Ebrard); in its peculiar nature, however, it also forms a contrast to the destruction whence he must tear himself. According to Düsterdieck, this promise is merely the greatest and last. But as the final promise it points, with peculiar expression, to the all-embracing, consummate victorious form of the heavenly glory. Düsterdieck justly discards the distinction of different thrones of the Father and the Son (Calov.), referring to the oneness of the throne in Rev 22:1. [Is it not a promise of kingship in the Basileia (comp. Dan. 7:27; Matt. 25:21; Luke 22:30; and the Excursus on the Basileia, p. 93 sqq.)?—E. R. C.]


We wish, first of all, to establish the following points:

1. The seven epistles are by no means episcopal letters designed as an introduction to the Apocalypse; they are prophetic letters, constituting the first part of the Apocalypse itself, and forming a foundation for the whole.24

2. Hence, the life-pictures of the seven churches are not merely historical portraits of the Apostolic Church (issued through an episcopal medium, but of prophetic depth and form); they are also prophetic types of churchly conditions, which shall hold good until the end of the world.

3. Still, we should bind ourselves to the general chronological Church-historical conception of the Apocalypse if, in the succession of these pictures, we were to pretend to discover distinct periods of Church-history.25

4. Notwithstanding this, the Prophetic Spirit has, out of the synchronistic coördination of the seven Asiatic churches, indubitably made an ideal succession which, in its beginning and end, is at the same time unmistakably historical. For Ephesus is manifestly a picture of the Church toward the end of the apostolic time, whilst Laodicea pictures it as it shall be in the last time, according to the fundamental traits of that time, as predicted Matt. 24:37 sqq. And thus individual attempts at exposition, conceiving of the seven churches as historical periods, may be worthy of notice; in any case, the ideal foundation, the prophetic view of a spiritual world-historical process of development, such as we have sketched above, must be retained. The attempts themselves, however, are by their disagreement characterized as mere attempts.

The construction of the Catholic Theologian Holzhauser is incorporated by Haneberg in his History of Biblical Revelation, p. 690:

1. EPHESUS: End of the apostolic age. 2. SMYRNA: Time of the martyrs. 3. PERGAMUS—Confession of faith: Time of the great Church fathers, from the fourth to the sixth century. 4. THYATIRA—Laudable condition: Time of the Church’s domination, from Justinian to Charlemagne; warning (?) against worldliness—Jezebel. 5. SARDIS: Semblance of Christianity; the prevailing condition of the Church at the present time. 6. PHILADELPHIA—Destitute of exterior power, yet witnessing a faithful confession: Perhaps our immediate future. 7. LAODICEA, i. e., people’s judgment: The end.

Sander furnishes a Protestant pendant to this:

1. EPHESUS: Like Holzhauser. 2. SMYRNA: As above. 3. PERGAMUS: Period from Constantine the Great to the middle of the eighth century. 4. THYATIRA: From the middle of the eighth century to the Reformation. 5. SARDIS: Time of dead orthodoxy, from the end of the sixteenth century to about the latter half of the eighteenth. 6. PHILADELPHIA: Church of Brotherly Love, signalized by the phenomena of Pietism, Herrnhutism, Methodism. 7. LAODICEA: Picture of the final period.

We can affirm with certainty that the seven life-pictures are continued side by side through all ages of the Church; now one, and now another, predominating; one prevailing at this place and another at that. There have been illustrations of the figure of Jezebel in all ages. And were there no Philadelphia in the very last time, where would the Lord find His Bride?


—As to the nature of the Seven Churches, there are three (logically) possible hypotheses. I. The Historic—that they were merely seven churches in Asia Minor; II. The Prophetic—that (having no proper historic character, as existing when the Apocalypse was written), they represent merely seven ages of the Church; III. The Historico-prophetic—that they were seven churches then existing, but also typical of seven periods of Church history. The generic Historico-prophetic hypothesis is divisible into two species: 1. The simple Historico-prophetic—that merely seven prophetic periods were indicated; 2. The complex Historico-prophetic—that seven periods were indicated in which all the types should be exemplified, one exemplification however being predominant in each period, in the order indicated. There have been few, if any, supporters of the II. hypothesis; nearly all commentators who have advocated the prophetic character of the churches, have admitted that the types were realized in the churches mentioned. It is probable, also, that there are no advocates of the I., or Historic, hypothesis, who do not also admit that the seven historic churches were, in some sort, representative of churchly conditions that should be exemplified throughout all periods of the present dispensation. Thus Trench (who, in an exceedingly able Excursus at the end of his work on The Epistles to the Seven Churches, opposes the III., or what he styles the “Periodist,” hypothesis, admits that 1. “These seven epistles, however, primarily addressed to these seven churches of Asia, were also written for the edification of the Universal Church;” 2. “These seven churches of Asia are not an accidental aggregation, which might just as conveniently have been eight, or six, or any other number; that, on the contrary, there is a fitness in this number, and that these seven do in some sort represent the Universal Church; that we have a right to contemplate the seven as offering to us the great and leading aspects, moral and spiritual, which churches gathered in the name of Christ out of the world will assume. … (But) though not exhaustive, … they give us on a smaller scale ὡς ἐν τύπῳ, the grander and more recurring features of that life (the new life which Christ brought into the world); are not fragmentary, fortuitously strung together; but have a completeness, a many-sidedness, being selected probably for this very cause; here, perhaps, being the reason why Philadelphia is included and Miletus past by; Thyatira, outwardly so insignificant, chosen, when one might have expected Magnesia or Tralles. … That these churches are more or less representative churches, and were selected because they are so; that they form a complex within and among themselves, mutually fulfilling and completing one another; that the great Head of the Church contemplates them for the time being as symbolic of the Universal Church, implying as much in that mystic seven, and giving many other indications of the same.” It is also probable that there are few, if any, who adopt the first species of the Historico-prophetic view, all the advocates of this generic hypothesis adopting more or less completely the second—the one designated in this note as complex. This latter specific view, is the one that will be advocated in this paper; as there is no danger of confusion it will be styled simply, Historico-prophetic.

In order to the complete establishment of this hypothesis, three points must be proved: 1. That the Seven Churches are representative of the Universal Church. 2. That they are representative of different forms of Church-life, each of which is always existent, to a greater or less degree, in every period of Church-history. 3. That they are, in their order, representative of the predominant characteristics of the Church in seven periods of her history between the writing of the Apocalypse and the second Advent of Christ.

1. The proof of the first of these points is ably set forth in the language of Trench, quoted above. The following, however, is presented as a more complete exposé of the facts upon the view of which the truth of this proposition may be concluded, viz.: The nature of the Apocalypse as a Book for the Universal Church (chs. 1:1–3; 22:6–20 [16]); the mention of the seven churches in immediate connection with an Introduction contemplating the Universal Church (comp. 1:1–3 with 4); the choice of the number seven (the sacred, mystic number, symbolic of completeness), when there were other, and in some instances, more prominent, churches in the geographical district; the manifest parallelism of the seven candlesticks and the seven stars, with the seven Spirits of God, Rev 1:4; 3:1 (“the Holy Ghost sevenfold in His operations” in the Church), and with the sevenfold description of the person of Christ, Rev 1:14–16; their being symbolized by the seven-branched candelabrum of the Tabernacle (itself, doubtless a symbol of the one light-giving Church, manifold in its branches) tended by the Great High Priest, Rev 1:13; 2:1 (see Notes); the characteristics of the respective churches which set forth every conceivable form of Church-life, each being the complement of all the others, as is each beam of the seven-colored rainbow; the constant call throughout the epistles for all to hear (and heed) the things said unto the churches, a call manifestly contemplated, and in essence resumed, in the conclusion of the Book, where the address is unquestionably to the Universal Church (Rev 22:6–20); all these things are inconsistent with the idea that Rev 1:4–3:22, is an unnoted episode, in which merely seven churches (and these not, all of them, the most prominent even in their own geographical district) should have been addressed; but, on the other hand, require the hypothesis that, whilst the seven churches specified were specifically addressed, they were selected and addressed as types of Church-life then existent, and that should continue to exist until Christ should come again.

2. An à priori probability as to the truth of the second point—viz., that each of these forms typified a form existent in every period of Church history—arises from all that has been said under the preceding head. Manifestly, they were all existent, in the apostolic age, in the churches specified; and the most cursory view of history is sufficient to show that these churches have always had their analogues—in every age, there has been somewhere, a Philadelphia, a Sardis, a Laodicea.

3. The proof of the third point—viz., that the Seven Churches are, in their order, representative of the predominant characteristics of the Church in the seven periods of her history—is based entirely on observation of history. On this point TRENCH, after stating objections to the hypothesis, remarks: “But all such objections, with all those others which it would only be too easy to make, might indeed be set aside or overborne, if any marvellous coincidence between these epistles and the after-course of the Church’s development could be made out; if history set its seal to these, and attested that they were prophecy indeed; for when a key fits perfectly well the wards of a complicated lock, and opens it without an effort, it is difficult not to believe that they were made for one another. But there is nothing here of the kind.” He admits that “there are two or three fortunate coincidences here between the assumed prophecy and the fact. … Smyrna, for instance, represents excellently well the ecclesia pressa in its two last and most terrible struggles with heathen Rome; so too for such Protestant expositors as see the papacy in the scarlet woman of Babylon, the Jezebel of Thyatira appears exactly at the right time,” etc. His principal objection—viz., that resemblance fails between the church of Philadelphia and the churches of the Reformation, in that the latter suffered the “open door” set before them “to so great an extent to be closed again”—is based altogether upon his own interpretation of the open door—that it was to the heathen. If by this be understood an open door to the Kingdom of Heaven (see Note on Rev 3:8), which had been previously closed by those who made void the law of God by their traditions (comp. Matt. 23:13; Luke 11:52), the coincidence becomes no less striking than in the case of Smyrna. And if by Jezebel is understood, not the scarlet woman of the Papacy, but a world-element brought into a position of power in the Church by the unholy marriage of Church and State—in time assuming the position of a teacher and introducing heathen abominations (see Note on Rev 2:20), the coincidence between Thyatira and the period following the union becomes more striking than as presented above.

The scheme set forth in the following paragraph, which, as to the great periods indicated, is substantially that of Vitringa, is suggested for consideration. It may here be remarked that, upon the supposition of the truth of the hypothesis, it does not necessarily follow that the different periods should have distinctly defined termini; it is rather to be expected that, like the colors of the rainbow, the characteristics of adjacent periods, manifestly distinct in their central portions, should blend into one another at each beginning and end.

EPHESUS: The Church of first love, but declining—the primitive era extending to a time between the date of the Apocalypse and the Decian persecution, A. D. 250. SMYRNA: the Church faithful in trial—the period of persecution extending from near the beginning of the third century to about A. D. 312. PERGAMUS: The Church beginning in persecution (martyrdom of Antipas), subsequently brought under the protection of the world-power (dwelling [κατοικεῖν=secure habitation] where Satan’s throne is), earnest in working and faithful in the confession of essential truth, yet having those who, like Balaam, taught the world-power to seduce to heathen customs—the period beginning at the close of persecution, A. D. 312, and extending through the era of Constantine to about A. D. 700. (This was the period of Athanasius, Basil, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Chrysostom; of the protests against Arianism and Pelagianism; of the first five Œcumenical Councils; and also of the introduction of pompous ceremonies and image worship, after the manner of the heathen). THYATIRA: The Church of earnest working, yet of unholy union with the world-power, in which the State itself, as an authority and a permitted teacher, established heathen rites—a period intimately connected with the former, yet in its culmination different; having its roots, indeed, in the era of Constantine, but, as a distinct period, really beginning with the transformation of alliance into marriage with the State, culminating in the era of Charlemagne, and running on until lost in the period typified by Sardis, at some time before A. D. 1200. (This was a period of great charities and extensive missionary operations in Britain and throughout northern, central and eastern Europe, and yet of unholy union with, and subjection to, the civil power. In the West, the right of patronage was developed, the right of kings to confirm and invest bishops was established, and that of the emperor to confirm the election of the Pope; in the East the subservience of the Church was still more complete. Heathenish customs, which at the first seemed to have been adopted out of compliance with the world, now became, especially in the East, a matter of state control. On the subject of image worship, Gieseler well remarks that “orthodoxy changed according to court caprice;” it was abolished by Leo Isauricus, A. D. 726–730, but restored by the infamous Irene, who, A. D. 787, summoned a Synod at Nice, which, under her authority and influence, decreed in its favor; again, under imperial authority, it was abolished, and again restored by the Empress Theodora, who, A. D. 842, instituted a yearly festival [ἡ κυριακὴ τῆς ὀρθοδοξίας] in commemoration of its establishment [see Gieseler’s Church History, Period III. Div. 1; and Historians generally on Century VIII]. This was an extended period in which ample space was given for repentance.) SARDIS: The Church of uncompleted works, of mere ritual observances, of spiritual death; in which, however, a few living souls were found—the period blending with the spiritual declensions of the preceding, and extending through the dark ages to the Reformation. This was a period in which true religion was confined almost entirely to small and oppressed bodies, as the Paulicians, Albigenses and Waldenses. PHILADELPHIA: The faithful Church, to be preserved, before whose members was set an open door to the Kingdom—a period beginning with the “morning-star of the Reformation,” near A. D. 1400, and extending in appreciable degree to the present time. LAODICEA: The outwardly prosperous, but lukewarm Church. Has not this period already begun? That this is a day of unequaled outward prosperity for the Church is acknowledged by all. Is it not also a period of lukewarmness even in Protestant lands? It is true that this is a time in which, as compared with the absolute works of former days, great schemes of Christian beneficence are in operation. Spiritual warmth, however, is to be estimated, not by the absolute amount of work performed, but by the proportion which that amount bears to ability. The existing schemes of beneficence are sustained and operated by only a portion of the nominal Church; and still further, they bear a scarce appreciable proportion to the ability even of the portion nominally engaged in them. In point of fact, are not these schemes the work of the Philadelphia which, still preserved, is embosomed within the increasing Laodicea?26—E. R. C.]


[1]Comp. Ebrard’s polemical suggestion, p. 572. See Düsterdieck, p. 178.

[2][It is not asserted in this passage that the names of any who shall finally perish were ever entered in the Book of Life, nor is it necessarily implied.—E. R. C.]

[3][The phrase: βίβλος (τῆς) ζωῆς, occurs Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 20:15, and βιβλίον τῆς ζωῆς, 13:8; 17:8; 20:12; 21:27. (Ex. 32:2; Dan. 12:1, probably refer to the same, although the word ζωῆς does not appear; and possibly Ps. 69:28, and Is. 4:3, may have a similar reference.) In all these passages it is manifest that the simple hypothesis of a register (figurative, of course), of those who are to inherit eternal life, satisfies every contextual requirement.—E. R. C.]

[4][Is. 22:22. (LXX.) Δὠσω αυτῷ τὴν κλεῖδα οἴκου Δαυὶδ ἐπὶ τῷ ὤμῳ αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἀνοίξει καὶ οὐκ ἔσται’ ὁ ἀποκλείων, καὶ κλείσει καὶ οὐκ ἔσται ὁ ἀνοίγων.—E. R. C.]

[5][There is no connection between this key and “the key of knowledge,” spoken of Luke 11:52.—E. R. C.]

[6][Prof. Stuart advocates a third interpretation, viz.: (as presented by Barnes) “that they had before them an open way of egress from danger and persecution.”—E. R. C.]

[7][The view of Düsterd. (Alford, Trench) and others requires more than this—it demands that the door opened should be between the church and the unconverted; comp. (as referred to by Trench) 1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 11:12; Acts 14:27; Col. 4:3. It is true that Christ does open this door; but is not the door which He unlocks with the key of David that which leads into the Kingdom of Heaven? As King, He bursts open the gates of His enemies. Rev 3:9 can hardly be regarded as supporting the view of the text; being “made of the Synagogue of Satan,” and “falling down before the church” (not worshipping before God), are not the results of the open door to the unconverted, referred to in 1 Cor. 16:9, etc.—E. R. C.]

[8][See foot-note to chapter 2:9.—E. R. C.]

[9][There can be no doubt that there is special reference here to the prophecies of Is. 49:23, 60:14; and there can be as little doubt that a conversion is implied in these prophecies. The conversion, however, is not that of the present missionary era of the Church—that which follows the preaching of the Gospel to the unconverted through the “open door” alluded to in 1 Cor. 16:9, etc.;—during which time the converts are at once admitted into the Church. It is a conversion which is consequent upon the subjection of the nations to the established Basileia.—On Is. 49:23, J. A. ALEXANDER thus comments: “The addition of these words, ‘face toward the earth,’ determines the meaning of the preceding verb (LXX. προσκυνήσουσι) as denoting actual prostration, which is also clear from the next clause, where the licking of the dust cannot be naturally understood as a strong expression for the kissing of the feet or of the earth, in token of homage, but is rather like the biting of the dust in Homer, a poetical description of complete and compulsory prostration, not merely that of subjects to their sovereign, but of vanquished enemies before their conquerors (comp. Micah 7:17; Ps. 72:9).” A conversion is implied in this passage under consideration, it is true; but that which was directly contemplated in this threat of the Lord is subjugation. See also preceding note, and the Excursus on the Basileia, pp. 93 sqq.—E. R. C.]

[10][There is no authority for this limitation of the prime reference of οἰκουμένη (comp. Matt. 24:14; Luke 4:5; Acts 17:31; Rom. 10:18; Heb. 1:6; Rev. 12:9; 16:14).—E. R. C.]

[11][Στέφανος=that which is at once the wreath of the victor and the crown of the king. See note on ch 2:10—E. R. C.]

[12][There are three opinions concerning the destination of the Epistle to the Ephesians: 1. That it was addressed specifically to the church in Ephesus; 2. That it is the Epistle to (from=ἐκ) Laodicea mentioned Col. 4:16: 3. That it was a circular letter for all the churches of Asia Minor. For full discussions of the entire subject see Conybeare and Howson’s Life and Epistles of St. Paul, Alford, Eadie, Hodge, the Lange Comm. on Ephesians (Am. Ed.), etc. The evidence in favor of the last two opinions is of the most meagre character.—E. R. C.]

[13][Of all this there is not one particle of evidence.—E. R. C.]

[14][On this and several following pages, Lange presents a general view of the epistle. Special exegetical comments and additions may be found pp. 135 sqq—E. R. C.]

[15][The marvellous compendiousness of the German language is forcibly illustrated here. Six words present all that our translation has given in the space comprised within the last period and πεπλούτηκα, with the exception of “in the first place,” which in the German occurs further on. We cite the pregnant six: Ein solches krankhaftes Fertigsein und Bedürfnisslosgewordensein. Perhaps it is but fair to remark that the final octosyllable is composed of a substantive, an adjective, a participle, and an infinitive.—TR.]

[16][Lange seems to have employed this word, coined from the Latin as a generic term representative of the doctrine of those who deny the necessity of an external atonement, revelation and ordinances—affirming that the spirit of a man is sufficient unto itself. In this sense it includes the wildest mystics and the baldest rationalism. The only English word by which it can be rendered is spiritualism. The use of this term, however, is objectionable, as it is already employed in English in two or three different senses. As far as possible to avoid confusion, whenever it and the allied words spiritual, spiritualist, occur, the originals will be printed in brackets as above.—E. R. C.]

[17][See comments and additions on pp. 135 sqq.—E. R. C.]

[18][This comment seems to be based on a modern use of the term Amen. As it forms the conclusion of our prayers, it has come to be employed, both in German and English, as a word expressive of conclusion. No such meaning, however, properly belongs to it. Nor is there any reason to suppose that, in the days of the Apostles, it was ever employed in this special conventional sense.—E. R. C.]

[19][The word competent is a better translation. The idea of the original seems to be best brought out in the phrase: the Witness, the faithful and the competent.—E. R. C.]

[20][Trench would connect this verse with the preceding; “placing a colon at the end of Rev 3:16, and a full stop at that of Rev 3:17.”—E. R. C.]

[21][“There is a certain irony, but the irony of Divine love, in these words. He who might have commanded, prefers rather to counsel; He who might have spoken as from Heaven, conforms Himself, so far as the outward form of His words reaches, to the language of earth. To the merchants and factors of this wealthy mercantile city, He addresses Himself in their own dialect.” TRENCH. “There is a deep irony in this word. One who has need of nothing, yet needs counsel on the vital points of self-preservation.” ALFORD. Is it not better, as more consistent with the character of the compassionate and long-suffering Saviour, to suppose that there is no irony here? The language, couched indeed in the commercial dialect of those addressed, is such as a loving Father, yearning over indifferent and ungrateful children, might use to win them to better things.—E. R. C.]

[22][By this expression, Lange doubtless would indicate those who, in his own language, might better be styled (self-) emancipated spiritualists. The adjective emanzipirt has, when employed in certain connections, obtained the meaning of self-emancipation—thus an emanzipirte Frau, is a woman who has freed herself from conventionalisms—as we say in English, a strong-minded woman.—E. R. C.]

[23][And so it might be said, that any advance presupposes a previous advance. There must be a beginning of spiritual activity somewhere. This surrender, this giving up the tinsel and rags of one’s own righteousness, is essentially involved in that living faith which rests upon Christ alone for salvation, and which is the beginning of spiritual activity.—E. R. C.]

[24][Are they not, on Lange’s own hypothesis, both episcopal and prophetic? Episcopal, as coming from the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls (1 Pet. 2:25) to the individual churches in Asia Minor primarily addressed; and also to those portions of the Church throughout the ages respectively prophesied concerning, through the medium of these individual churches as types.—E. R. C.]

[25][We should so bind ourselves, if we pretended (or endeavored) to discover only such distinct periods. If it be recognized that all the types may be exemplified at any one time, although only one predominantly, there is no such binding. Manifestly when these epistles were written, all the types existed as realities; but, almost certainly, the existing Ephesus represented the predominant character of the then extant Church. See ADDITIONAL NOTE, beginning in the following column, and paragraph 4 above.—E. R. C.]

[26][SIR ISAAC NEWTON presented a peculiar prophetic scheme. He referred the seven churches to the times of the fifth and sixth seals, which he placed between the periods of the division of the Empire under Dioclesian, A. D. 285, and A. D. 378. All these churches, he held, were destroyed, with the exception of Smyrna and Philadelphia, which were continued as the two Witnesses of Rev 11:3.—E. R. C.]

And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.
Lange, John Peter - Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bible Hub
Revelation 2
Top of Page
Top of Page