Harry Whittaker
Revelation - A Biblical Approach

Chapter 3 - The Letters To The Churches (2) (ch. 3)

1. Sardis. Famous in earlier history. Capital of Lydia, the kingdom ruled by wealthy Croesus. At this time it was a declining city and had been ever since a destructive earthquake at the begim1ing of the century.

he that hath the seven Spirits and the seven stars. Ch. 4:5 and 5:6 and 1 :16, 20. Thus “seven spirits” emphasizes angelic action among the ecclesias, or the operation of Holy Spirit powers in the ecclesias. “Seven stars” emphasizes responsibility of ecclesias to Christ their llead.

I know thy works. Contrast the force and tone of this with 2:2, 9, 13, 19. Only here and in v. 15 does Christ begin with condemnation.

a name that thou livest and art dead. Ecclesia and city were alike-both living on a splendid past. What was wrong? (a) Indulgence in pleasure; cp. the similar language of 2 Timothy 3:5, 4; 1 Timothy 5:6; Titus 1:16, 12. (b) Lack of prayer may be inferred from “Be watchful ;” prayer and “watching” are frequently associated together; e.g. Matthew 26:38, 41; Luke 21 :36; Ephesians 6:18; Colossians 4:2. (e) Lack of faithful testimony to the Truth may be inferred from the allusion at the end of v. 5. What a shock when these words were read out before the ecclesia! There is a serious lack of this type of downright exhortation today. Why did not Jesus introduces himself by ch. 2:8?

become watchful. Nehemiah 7:3.

2. establish the things which remain. The reference is to the gifts of the Spirit. See on “fulfilled” in this verse and on “received” (v. 3). Evidently, the up-building power of the gifts of the Spirit was being neglected in Sardis Restraint of the exuberance of these powers had been necessary in Corinth (1 Corinthians 14) and in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 5: 19, 22). Had Sardis drifted into cold formality through striving after seemliness at the expense of spiritual fervour?

I have found. Greek: “eureka,” perfect tense, implies: “I found som~ time ago and it is still true.” This condemnation is not summary or hasty

no works of thine fulfilled. Romans 15: 13, 14; Ephesians 1:23; 3:19; 4:10; 5:18; Philippians 1:11.

before my God. Luke 12: 9, 6 and 15: 10.

my God. Only other occurrences: John 20:17; Revelation 3:12. What is the special significance of this? The expression is useful against the doctrine of the Trinity. Note that only dead Sardis and lukewarm Laodicea have no enemies, either in or outside the ecclesia!

3. Therefore. Twice in one verse, in consequences of “thy works not fulfilled...”

remember-”keep on remembering”-the key to faithfulness; Luke 22:19; Mark 14:72; whence 2 Peter 1:12, 13 and 3:1, 2.

how thou hast received (the gifts of the Spirit), as in Romans 8:15, Galatians 3:2; 2 Peter 4:10; 1 John 2:27. Gk. perfect tense implies that they were still possessed, but not honoured or used with profit.

how emphasizes the eager zeal of Sardis in its early days.

and didst hear (the word of life).

and keep (my commandments).

and repent. And apparently Sardis did! In the mid-second Century Melito bishop of Sardis was one of the outstanding characters of the early church. Among other things, he wrote a commentary on Revelation! If the leader of the ecclesia was faithful the rest would follow his lead. if thou wilt not watch. Luke 21:36; Matthew 24:42.

I will come as a thief. Matthew 24:42, 43 (Luke 12:39, 40), alluded to in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, 4, 6; Revelation 3.18 and 16:15; 2 Peter 3:10. The phrase always applies to the Second Coming, but what meaning could it have for Sardis in the first Century?

thou shalt not know what hour. Quote from Matthew 24:42 where context defines what is meant by “watching.” Should it be inferred that the watchful will know the hour?

4. a few names. Idiom for the faithful remnant; John 10:3; Acts 1:15; Revelation 11 :15; Numbers 26:63-65. These few faithful are not commanded to separate themselves from the rest!

not defiled their garments. Ch. 16:15, where also, “I come as a thief.” What is the point here in what seems to be a deliberate reference to the letter to Sardis?-to suggest that at the coming of the Lord the Truth will be in a Sardian state? Revelation 14: 4; 2 Corinthians 7:1; Jude 23.

their garments. Their Christ-righteousness; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:24 and 5:27; Revelation 6:11 and 7:9.

with me. In fulfilment of Christ’s High Priestly prayer; John 17:24; Revelation 2:1.

walk with me in white. Cp. Genesis 5:22; Luke 9:29; Matthew 13:43. Or, read as an allusion to Zechariah 3:3, the next verse becomes an appropriate reference to the Satan of Zechariah 3: 1-those in Ezra 2 :62, 63 whose names were blotted out of the book of the priesthood.

for they are worthy. What a contrast with 16:6!

5. he that overcometh. The one who repents: v. 3. Even his defiled garments shall be cleansed.

white raiment. The priestly robe; Matthew 6:29; Zechariah 3:4. Contrast Revelation 2:26-28 (royal majesty).

not blot out his name. Implying that it is possible for a name once written in the Book to be blotted out; Ezra 2:63. Cp. 2 Samuel 23, includes in David’s mighty men Joab’s armour-bearer, but not Joab; Ahithophel’s son, but not Ahithophel; the priest Benaiah but not the priest Abiathar. Revelation 7 omits Dan and Ephraim.

Direct reference here to Psalm 69:28. Implication: these Sardians by their empty service have put themselves among the Lord’s crucifiers, as in Hebrews 6:6 and 10:29. Cp. 1 Corinthians 11:27.

book of life. Revelation 13:8 and 17:8 and 21:27; Exodus 32:32; Psalm 69:28 and 56:8 and 87:6; Daniel 12:1; Isaiah 4:3; Ezekiel 13:9; Philippians 4:3; Luke 10 :20; Hebrews 12 :23; Malachi 3:16. There is no Book of Death, except Jeremiah 17:23. In fact, if there were, all would be written in it; Romans 3 :9, 23.

before my Father and 6efore His angels combines Matthew 10:32 and Luke 12:8. Implies a protasis; “he that confesses me before men.” Evidently Sardis was failing in this respect.

before His angels, who will be sent to gather the elect; Matthew 24:31.

7. Philadelphia. Further inland than the churches mentioned so far. It had been more devastated by earthquakes than any other town in the Roman Empire. Ignatius (died c. 112) has several interesting allusions to this letter in his letter to Philadelphia.

angel of the church (according to Apostolic Constitutions) was Demetrius. Probably the same as 3 John 12, where read: “Demetrius hath the witness (commendatory letter?) of all (the elders here?), and of the Truth itself (in the copy of the Gospel which he brings?),” and cp. rest of verse with John 19:35 and 21:24. If this suggestion be well-founded, there is special point in “he that is true,” and in “an open door,” and “no man can shut it” (contrast Diotrephes). Verse 7 is largely quotation from Isaiah 22:22. Almost this entire letter is shot through with allusions to that chapter and its background, so a diversion to study it becomes almost, if not quite, essential.

Isaiah 22:15-25.
Setting of the prophecy: Throughout the reign of wicked Ahaz, the Temple had been shut up, and the Temple area given over to base idolatry imported from Assyria (2 Chronicles 28:24, 25; 2 Kings 16:1~12). Shebna, along with Urijah the High Priest, was probably responsible to the king for the furtherance of this policy. With the accession of Hezekiah came drastic reformation. The Temple was re-opened (2 Chronicles 29:3) and cleansed (29: 16-19). Shebna was first transferred to a new office (Isaiah 36:2 and 22:15) and later thrust out altogether (Isaiah 22:17-19). Probably it was he that is denounced in Psalm 49. A man of godliness -Eliakim, replaced the time-serving Urijah. Using Shebna as a type of the old order, Isaiah foretells the replacement of Jewish self-sufficiency by the acceptable approach to God through Christ.

Shebna=sit down now. His name is symbolic of his imminent thrusting out of office. Contrast Eliakim (= whom God will raise up) son of Hilkiah (= the Lord is my portion).

over the house. Not only the royal palace, but the temple (the two buildings were in the same enclosure); cp. 1 Chronicles 9:11; 2 Chronicles 31: 10, 13; Jeremiah 20:1.

sepulchre. As though seeking to guarantee himself a glorious resurrection?

R.V. “hurl thee away.” s.w. Jeremiah 16:13.

R.V. “will wrap thee up closely.” An allusion to Leviticus 10:5?

the chariots of thy glory. Imitation cherubim. 2 Kings 23:11 (contrast 1 Chronicles 28:18 R.V.).

I . . . he. God, and His servant.

station. Priestly office, as in 1 Chronicles 23:28.

my servant. So the “servant of the Lord” is a feature of “Proto”- as well as “Deutero!”-Isaiah 49:1, 3. Read: “I will call my servant (Hezekiah the Suffering Servant of the Lord) to Eliakim”-the leper coming to the priest to be cleansed: Leviticus 14:2. Or perhaps the reference is to 2 Chronicles 29-the Temple restoration by Hezekiah. It is not Eliakim but “my Servant” who is the subject of this prophecy.

robe . . . girdle have special reference to priestly and royal garments; “government . . . father . . . shoulder” (v. 22) are all in Isaiah 9:6 a further hint that the whole of this Shebna transaction has Messianic significance.

key of the house of David. Kingship and priesthood are inextricably intertwined in this prophecy, as in v. 21 and again in v. 23, 24.

opens and none shall shut. Reference to the temple, as in Malachi 1:10; see 2 Chronicles 28:24 and 29:3, 7. Contrast Isaiah 60:11 speaking of the day when temple and city shall be synonymous.

a nail in a sure place, and v. 24. Hezekiah is likened to a wall-hook in the temple on which to hang securely various things for the temple service (2 Chronicles 28:24 and 29:18, 19). The figure of Christ upon whom all depend is an obvious one. So understood by Ezra and Zechariah; Ezra 9:8 and Zechariah 10:4.

a glorious throne. The King-Priest; Zechariah 6:12, 13. The words imply divine nature also: Jeremiah 17:12 and 14:21; Matthew 25:31.

they shall hang upon him. Israel being an utter failure in this particular respect (Ezekiel 15:3), God turns to one “made strong” for the purpose. “All the vessels . . . of cups . . . and of flagons” are interpreted as symbolic of “the offspring and the issue” in Christ.

In that day, further demonstrates the application of the prophecy to other than Hezekiah.

the nail . . . removed . . . cut down . . . fan. Either (a) reference to Shebna the type of an unworthy priesthood, in which case, it adds nothing to v. 15-19; or (b) a prophecy of the humiliation of Christ on the cross; cp. Isaiah 52:13 (his dignity) and 53:8, 11 (his shame). Cp. also Daniel 9:24, 26-Messiah the prince cut off; 1 Corinthians 2:8-the Lord of glory crucified. Difficulty here is in the anticlimax of the prophecy. “In that day” so often refers to the glorious consummation.

It is now easy to see Shebna as a type of the offensive self-seeking of Israel’s priesthood, a shame to its Lord’s House and eventually to be utterly abolished. Luke 16:3 is almost a quotation from LXX of v. 19 here. And every detail written about Hezekiah finds much greater fulness in an application to Christ.

he that is holy. This title apparently not in ch. 1. But it is: cp. Psalm 16:10, the one raised from the dead; this in turn connects with Revelation 1: 18, where note reference to “keys.” Same title associated with resurrection in Acts 3:14, 15: John 6:69 R.V. (but the reading is doubtful). This is another of God’s titles appropriate to His Son; Revelation 4:8; John 17:3, 11.

he that is true. v. 14 (the Amen) and 6:10 (to open the grave for his martyrs, and no man shutteth), and 19:11 (to shut his enemies in the grave, and no man openeth). The word “true” often signifies “true” in contrast to “type” (Hezekiah), not in contrast to “false”.

the key of David. Again, as in Isaiah 22:22, 23 there is both kingship and priesthood here. On occasions Peter was deputed to use this key (Matthew 16:19), but no intrinsic right was conferred on him. That remains Christ’s. Alongside mention of false Jews in v. 9 this figure is appropriate: see Luke 11:52, and note Galatians 4:17 R.V.: same attitude shown by Judaisers in the ecclesia, seeking to shut out those not circumcised. John 10:7, 9 is also a parallel with this verse; for by metonymy “I am the door” probably means: “I am the shepherd who shews the way through the door;” otherwise, the Lord’s parable loses all coherence.

he that openeth and none shutteth. Not (a) the meaning of Scriptures; nor (b) the sealed Book of Life, but, as Isaiah 22 shows, (c) the way of approach to God (the temple doors); Colossians 1:13; and also (d) the way out of the tomb; ch. 1:18.

shutteth and no man openeth. Again, apply to the way of approach to God. The Jewish means of access (v. 9) is now shut by Christ. True also of the way out of the tomb; Christ will close the grave upon his enemies.

8. set. Gk.: “given” is Hebraism for “appointed.”

behold, suggesting urgency about the work before them.

a door opened. R.V. as in Hezekiah’s day, a door for access to God (Romans 5:2) and thus for communion with Him; a door also by which to bring men into God’s temple. (a) 2 Chronicles 26:16 and 27:2 and 28:24 and 29:3 Isaiah 22:22. (b) Acts 14:27; Colossians 4:3; I Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12. Philadelphia had a vast opportunity-providing hinterland. It was to be before all else a missionary ecclesia.

no man can shut it. Not even Jewish obstinacy.

I know thy works . . . that thou hast a little strength. (a) The words about the “open door” may be a parenthesis, as though Jesus were eager to reassure this struggling but faithful ecclesia. “Little strength” probably means “few in number and resources.” If taken as applying to lack of spiritual vigour, it accords ill with the rest of this commendatory epistle. (b) But A.V. reading is possible. In that case the sense is: “because thou hast but a little strength, I have appointed for thee an open door, with immense opportunities for preaching” i.e. the reward for faithful work in Christ is more work. Note too that Christ is best able to use those without confidence in their own power.

a little strength . . . thou hast kept my word. Allusion to 1 Kings 7:20; Boaz = in him is strength. Jachin = he will establish or make firm. Now see v. 12.

kept my word. 1 John 2:4, 5. Philadelphia = love of the brethren, v. 10; see also on v. 10 here.

didst not deny my name. R.V. Staunch loyalty in the face of persecution of the name Christian.

9. Behold (repeated), emphasizing the surprising outcome of their “little strength.” Make - ”give” as in v. 8.

synagogue of Satan. The adversary synagogue of Jews rebelling against the light by rejecting the gospel. Contrast the synagogue of truth; James 2:2 R.V. These Jews who boasted in their descent from Abraham were not Jews at all in the eyes of Abraham’s Seed; John 8:39. The “works of Abraham” are “belief in Christ” (v. 56).

but do lie. John 8:44.

make them to come and worship. If from Isaiah 60:14, a prophecy of Gentiles worshipping Jews is applied by Jesus to Gentile Jews worshipping Jewish Gentiles! Note there also “the city of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel,” and compare Revelation 3:7,12. If from Isaiah 49:23 note: “they that wait for me”-”keep the word of my patience” (Revelation 3:10); and v. 24, 25=“keep thee from the hour of trial.”

worship before thy feet continues the figure of a re-opened Temple and worshippers prostrating themselves in the temple court before the entrance of the Holy Place, flanked by Jachin and Boaz (v. 12). Is this a promise of conversion of hostile Jews in Philadelphia? This would be an utterly unexpected meaning to the “open door.” The fulness of the promise can only be at the Second Coming; Zechariah 8:20-23 (“him that is a Jew”=Christ and the spiritual seed of Abraham; Romans 2:29) Zechariah 12:10.

I loved thee. Christ died for these Gentiles also as well as for the natural seed of Abraham. Gk. aorist refers to the death of Christ, as in 1 John 4:10, 11.

10. the word of my patience. (a) My commandment with patience. (b) My commandment concerning patience; Matthew 10:22. (c) The word, which commands steadfastness such as I also shewed. (c) is preferable.

the hour of trial. A phrase full of meaning for Philadelphians. Philadelphia was the most earthquake-stricken city in the whole world of that day. What hour of trial? (a) The spreading Neronic persecution afflicting “all the world” of Christians. This persecution died suddenly with Nero, so it might never have reached Philadelphia. (b) The earthquake of Revelation 16:14, I8. The promise then assures the faithful remnant of safety in the divine visitation; Isaiah 26:20, 21. (c) Suggestion included in next note.

them that dwell on the earth. In Revelation this phrase almost always means “them that dwell in the Land (of Palestine”). Gk.: Luke 21:23. But this seems to contradict “all the inhabited earth.” Interpret thus: The impending Jewish war and destruction of Jerusalem would not only “try them that dwell in the Land,” but would also be an “hour of trial” to the millions of Jews already scattcred throughout “all the world.” I7or all Jews, in Palestine and out of it, A.D. 70 was to mean the utter abolition of all that their religion stood for. But whilst Philadelphia’s Jewish advcrsaries were to suffer in this way, these same events would be a consolidation of faith to faithful Christians at Philadelphia. In fact the fall of Jerusalem may have been the Lord’s means of bringing these Jewish adversaries to “worship before thy feet,” by accepting the faith they had hitherto reviled.

11. I come quickly: hold fast only makes sense on the assurnption that an early coming of the Lord was (at that time) the divine intention (see Appendix).

hold fast that which thou hast. So the primary duty of a faithful ecclesia is not to find new truth different from the principles already learned, but to maintain in purity those already received.

that no man take thy crown. As David supplanted Saul, or Matthias Judas, or the Gentiles the Jews. Modern examples?

thy crown. In the light of the reference in v. 12 to “a pillar in the temple” this should be read first as an allusion to Jachin and Boaz (cp. v. 8); I Kings 7:15-22, 41, 42; 2 Chronicles 3:15-17. Note detailed descriptions of “chapiters” or “crowns” which were later “taken away;” 2 Kings 25:13, 16, 17. Reference to Exodus 28:36-38 is unlikely because this crown was peculiar to the High Priest.

12. a pillar in the temple of my God. See precious note. But allusion to Jachin and Boaz by no means exhausts the force of this phrase. “In the temple (sanctuary)” may now allude to one of the pillars supporting the Veil (Exodus 26:32; 1 Kings 6:31, 33). Such a conclusion would harmonize well with the rest of the verse. See next note but one. Galatians 2:9 speaks of Apostles as pillars in God’s spiritual house (there is no innuendo about the word “seemed”); 1 Corinthians 3:16, 17; 2 Corinthians 6:16; I Peter 2:5. The new Jerusalem has no temple in it; ch. 21: 22, 23. It is all temple. City and temple are one and the same.

and he shall go no more out. The words appear almost unnecessary until the fate of Jachin and Boaz is recalled. And following Galatians 2:9 it is to be remembered that Cephas was crucified in Rome, James the Lord’s brother was battered to death in Jerusalem, the other James was slain by Herod, and John was banished to Patmos. Nevertheless: John 6:37 and 10:28, 29. Contrast 1 John 2:19.

Both these phrases would be specially eloquent to the much earthquaked Philadelphians. To be a “pillar” must mean ability to withstand unmoved the worst shocks that life can administer. To “go no more out” would provide startling and satisfying contrast with the masses of panic-stricken populace camping in the open fields in time of earth tremors.

the name of my God . . . of the city of my God . . . my new name. Another triad. Jeremiah 33:16 and 23:6 put it beyond all doubt that the name is The Lord our Righteousness (contrast the name of the Beast). Righteousness is essentially a personal quality, and yet-amazing fact - here is one who is the Righteousness of others. How so? Because besides being a King (Jeremiah 23: 5) he is also an altar - for every other example of a compounded Jehovah name in the Old Testament applies to an altar: Judges 6 :24; Genesis 22:14; Exodus 17:15; Ezekiel 48:35 (and see also Exodus 20:24, 25). Thus the allusions in this letter have taken the steadfast believer from the Temple door into the very Holy of Holies, where the Mercy Seat was the altar, or propitiatory, on the Day of Atonement. Consider also Genesis 28:22 (very probably an inscribed stone, as Joshua 24:27), alluded to in 1 Timothy 3:15, where “pillar and ground of the truth (i.e. the promise)” may possibly be in apposition to “thou,” the earnest Timothy.

new 7erusalem which cometh down from God. A remarkable anticipation of ch. 21: 2, almost suggesting that the letters to the churches were written after the rest of the book. The detail here is necessary to avoid unhappy confusion with the literal Jerusalem soon to be destroyed, leaving not even a pillar standing. In his Gospel John uses the Greek form Hierosoluma, but in Revelation writing of the new Jerusalem, he always has the Hebrew form: Hierousalem.

my new name. In the New Testament this always means the beginning of a new life different from the old; e.g. Cephas, Boancrges, Paul, Barnabas. See on ch. 2:17. It was only after his resurrection that Jesus became the Lord our Righteousness; Romans 4:25; Philippians 2:9-11. This detail is highly appropriate here, for Philadelphia had adopted a new name Neo-Caesarea, in honour of the Emperor Tiberius who gave material aid to help recovery after the A.D. 17 earthquake.

14. Laodicea. A very wealthy city in the Lycus valley near Hierapolis and Colosse. Big trade in woollen manufactures (fine black wool). Banking centre. Famous also for a local eye-ointment. There were hot springs in the vicinity. Utterly destroyed by earthquake in Nero’s reign (not long before this letter) and, unlike other cities, was completely and magnificently rebuilt without any Imperial aid.

the angel. Almost certainly the “bishop” of this ecclesia was Archippus, son of Philemon; Colossians 4:16, 17; Philemon 2. And so also in Apostolic Constitutions. It would seem that Archippus was slack in his service and the ecclesia took its tone from him-a warning to ecclesial elders in this generation! Also Nymphas (Colossians 4:15) was prominent at Laodicea. The name is probably a shortened form of the word for “the one who leads the bride.” Now note the contacts of this letter with the Song of Songs: 5:2, knock; 5:1, sup; 5:3, raiment; 5:17, naked; 5:11 fine gold; 3:10, 11, throne; 1: 3; 4:10, ointment. In 1st Century ecclesias there was a vocal response from all the congregation: 1 Corinthians 14:16. Why not in the 20th Century? Amen-the “verily” of Christ- “as I live, saith the Lord,” in the Old Testament. So the title here contrasts the unwavering purpose of God in Christ with the vague purposelessness of Laodicea. It is another title of God applied to the Son: Isaiah 65:16 R.V.m. Where does this descriptive title of Christ come in ch. 1? - in v. 18? in v. 5? The context of Isaiah 65 is magnificently appropriate: (v.11) “ye are they that forsake the Lord” = “lukewarm”; (v. 12) “When I called ye did not answer” etc. = “behold, I stand at the door and knock;” (v. 13) “ye shall be hungry . . . thirsty . . . ashamed,” “cry for sorrow of heart, howl for vexation of spirit” = “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, naked.”

faithful and true witness. See on ch. 1:5. In apposition to “the Amen.” Each explains the other. Isaiah 65: 16 LXX-the true God. Psalm 89:37 connects this title with thc rainbow, which in Gcnesis 9: 12-17 symbolized the end of troubles and the bringing in of new heavens and earth-now see again Isaiah 65:16, 17. “True,” Greek: alethinos, is in contrast to the type (the rainbow). Revelation 22: 6 and 21:5 and 19:11 are all associated with the “new heavens and earth,” and are all guaranteed by the words “faithful and true”. Amen, it shall be so! Revelation 19:11 would have an ominous ring for these Laodiceans: this glorious being could bring judgement and war on Laodicea too. Jeremiah 42:5, 6 (another divine title appropriated by Christ!) hints at the spirit Christ fain would see in Laodicea.

the beginning of the Creation of God. Revelation 1:5; Colossians 1:15, 18. The first to rise from the dead to immortality, the first of God’s new creation. Or, possibly, in an active sense: the beginner of the new creation; cp. John 1: 1-3, where the meaning is precisely that.

15. cold or hot Boiling hot - allusion to Laodicea’s beneficent hot springs. The verb is used in Acts 18:25 (a fine example) and Romans 12:11. The noun translated zeal, indignation, jealousy (in good or bad sense) is from the same root. Here, obviously: zealous, enthusiastic.

cold can hardly be a synonym for spiritually dead, because 1. It is never so used in Scripture. 2. The order of the words “cold or hot.” Would Jesus wish his disciples cold, in that sense? For, using a different figure, he said: “If the salt have lost his savour . . .” Instead, Matthew 10:42, Proverbs 25:25 point to the meaning “spiritualIy refreshing.”

16. neither hot nor cold. R.V. After “lukewarm” these words are, strictly speaking, superfluous. But who shall say this additional emphasis is unnecessary? Why is the order of the words switched from v. 15?

spue thee out. Appropriate after “lukewarm.” Comparing Laodicea to Israel in its worst apostasy, Leviticus 18: 24-28 (note the context and compare “that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear!”). How startled these very proper but lukewarm Laodiceans would be by the comparison. Yet the same comparison is valid in these days! See on v. 18.

will spue thee out. Gk: I am about to; cp. Luke 12:19-21: “this night.” What practical action does this figure symbolize? How can “about to” refer to a Second Coming 1900 years later?

17. rich etc. Another triad. Cp. Paul’s irony in 1 Corinthians 4:8. Contrast ch. 2:9. It is not literal riches of Laodicean bankers that is referred to here though doubtless it was their literal wealth that fostered this self-sufficiency (there is no more potent cause). Cp. Hosea 12:8, alluded to here. Laodicea was another faithless Isracl, the grounds for whose complacency are in v. 8b, 11 (where “heaps” = dung-heaps).

have need of nothing. Allusions to Laodicea’s self-sufficiency after recent earthquake; see on v. 14. Apparently Laodicea knew better than its Lord; Matthew 6:8.

wretched etc. Read: “the wretched and miserable one, even poor and blind and naked.” Then this triad of spiritual diseases are separately prescribed for in the next verse. All these words describe the man who cannot help himself and who must needs beg aid from others. Laodicea could get this help only from Christ (v. 18).

the wretched one. The outstandingly wretched one amongst all the churches? Or, he who is spiritually poor and yet imagines himself to be rich is specially the wretched one. He is beyond aid. Everyday Gk. used this word of the one compelled to earn a hard living by excessive physical effort; i.e. Laodicea must work for its living in Christ. The Old Testament (LXX) uses it of those plundered by the strong and unscrupulous.

blind. Christ’s eyesalve (v. 18) is so restorative that it will even bring back sight to the completely blind; John 9:6. Note how in this verse the Lord is driven to pile up stinging epithets in order to get under this thick Laodicean skin! As are its leading ministers, so is the ecclesia, nearly always. And these leaders are held responsible for their ecclesia! But this may have been more directly the case in the days of Holy Spirit gifts.

18. I counsel thee. Ironic? Where else in Scripture does Jesus advise? Isaiah 9:6?

buy of me, at the cost of self-esteem, as Paul; Philippians 3 :7-9. The thrce items following correspond to Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Matthew 28:19 23: 9, 10, 8 R.V. The idea therefore is: Get back to the spirit and meaning of your baptism. Also, all three are allusions to local activities: see on v. 14.

gold tried in the fire. Tried faith? Very doubtful. 1 Peter 1:7 is a contrast not a comparison. More probably reference to the gold of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies (ch. 1:12, 13 and 8:3 and 15:7); i.e. you may think of yourself as sharing divine fellowship, but you don’t; yours is worldly wealth only; Zechariah 13:9-a figure for the discipleship of the faithful remnant.

rich. Colossians 2:2, 3 (see 4:16); Revelation 2:9; Ephesians 1:18 and 3:8.

white raiment. Colossians 3:10, 12, 14.

shame of thy nakedness. When? At the Lord’s Coming, Matthew 22:11. When else? Revelation 16:15, with v. 3, 4, 10 here, suggests that Sardis Philadelphia and Laodicea (ecclesias like them!) will still exist in the 6th Vial these letters have a further application in the Last Days.

eyesalve. Their own sent forth a stinking savour (Ecclesiastes 10:1); contrast John 9:6; 1 John 2:20, 27 (was Laodicea another ecclesia not using Spirit gifts to the full advantage?) and v. 28c.

19. as many as I love. Gk: phileo, indicates the Lord’s natural affection for these erring disciples. Use of this word might imply that he had known some of them personally in the days of his flesh.

rebuke. In New Testament=reprove and convict; John 1(J:8.

chasten. Cp. David; 2 Samuel 12:13 (convicted), 14 (chastened). This verse is a dircct allusion to Proverbs 3:11, 12. Entire context there is relevant to Laodicea. v. 10 = true riches. v. 12b = Revelation 3:21. v. 14 = Revelation 3:18a. v. 21 = Revelation 3:18c.

be zealous. Cognate with “hot” (v. 15). Continuous imperative: “be always zealous; “ Colossians 4: 17.

20. Behold. A matter of urgency.

I stand at the door and knock. Song of Songs 5:2. In the elaborate type of the Song of Songs this refers to a literal (not mystical) coming of the Beloved deferred because his “sister-spouse” is unprepared for him. Note also that verse 3d here = Revelation 3:18b.

hear my voice and open--- Luke 12:36, 37, (as the next words prove), and not John 14:23.

Come in and sup with him. Does not refer to present fellowship with Christ, but to Luke 12:36, 37, the Second Coming, ep. James 5:9. This is equivalent to the repeated “I come quickly” in the other Letters.

he with me - “(the Lord) shall gird himself, and come forth and serve them ;” Luke 12:37. Cp. John’s fondness for Christ’s “sayings of reciprocity:” John 6: 56 and 10:38 and 14:20 and 15:4, 5 and 17:21, 26, a rich collection.

21. sit with me in my throne. Christ’s earthly throne; John 17:22, 24. Contrast Matthew 20: 23. This v. (3: 21) supplies the answer to their question.

with my Father in his throne. The Father’s heavenly throne; ch. 4:2. But the two thrones are one and the same; ch. 22:1; Matthew 16:27 and 25:31.


The bearing of the Letters to the Churches on the difficult problem of Fellowship is very direct and important. Sardis is “dead.” The Truth in its midst is “ready to die.” Its works are “not prefect.” Nevertheless there are here “a few names which have not defiled their garments.” There is no hint that these few are to separate themselves from an otherwise “dead” ecclesia. There is no reproach that they are defiling themselves by present associations, no instruction that they are to take any kind of drastic action. This is left to the Lord himself. Instead, these few are pronounced “worthy.”

Pergamos has the pernicious doctrine of Balaamites and Nicolaitans, but whilst there is reproach because these are tolerated, there is no hint to the rest of the seven churches that they dissociate themselves from over-tolerant Pergamos.

On the contrary the Lord speaks of himself as the one who “holds the seven stars in his right hand.” This includes Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis and Laodicea! Indeed every implication of the Letters is that he continues to hold them until he “comes quickly to fight against them with the sword of his mouth,” until he comes “as a thief.”

Most impressive of all is the Letter to Thyatira. Here there is “that woman Jezebel” who both practiced and taught evil. Nevertheless there is even a certain commendation for this ecclesia. There is also the express charge: “Unto you . . . as many as have not this doctrine I will put upon you none other burden. But that which ye have already hold fast till I come.” Quite explicitly, then, there is no warning that the faithful in Thyatira were in duty bound to separate themselves from the corruption in their midst. But there is clear intimation of the need to discipline the false teacher.

Without any emphasis needed, it is evident that the Letters to the Churches, far from lending support to the doctrine of “iron curtain” excommunication, quite clearly require the faithful to remain even in unfaithful ecclesias holding tenaciously to their own faith and doing all possible to save the rest.
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