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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Revelation 3

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-22

Chapter 3

THE LETTER TO SARDIS (Revelation 3:1-6)

3:1-6 And to the angel of the Church in Sardis, write:

These things says he who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.

I know your works; I know that you have a reputation for life, but that you are dead. Show yourself watchful, and strengthen what remains and what is going to die. I have not found your works completed before my God. Remember, then, how you received and heard the gospel, and keep it, and repent. If, then, you are not on the watch, I will come as a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.

But you have a few people in Sardis who have not defiled their garments and they will walk with me in white raiment, because they are worthy. He who overcomes will be thus clothed in white raiment and I will not wipe his name out of the Book of Life, but I will acknowledge his name before my Father and before his angels.

Let him who has an ear hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches.

Sardis, Past Splendour And Present Decay (Revelation 3:1-6 Continued)

Sir W. M. Ramsay said of Sardis that nowhere was there a greater example of the melancholy contrast between past splendour and present decay. Sardis was a city of degeneration.

Seven hundred years before this letter was written Sardis had been one of the greatest cities in the world. There the king of Lydia ruled over his empire in oriental splendour. At that time Sardis was a city of the east and was hostile to the Greek world, Aeschylus wrote of it: "They that dwelt by Tmolous pledged themselves to cast the yoke on Hellas."

Sardis stood in the midst of the plain of the valley of the River Hermus. To the north of that plain rose the long ridge of Mount Tmolus; from that ridge a series of hills went out like spurs, each forming a narrow plateau. On one of these spurs, fifteen hundred feet up, stood the original Sardis. Clearly such a position made it almost impregnable. The sides of the ridge were smoothly precipitous; and only where the spur met the ridge of Mount Tmolus was there any possible approach into Sardis and even that was hard and steep. It has been said that Sardis stood like some gigantic watch-tower, guarding the Hermus valley. The time came when the narrow space on the top of the plateau was too small for the expanding city; and Sardis grew round the foot of the spur on which the citadel stood. The name Sardis (Sardeis, Greek #4454, in Greek) is really a plural noun, for there were two towns, one on the plateau and one in the valley beneath.

The wealth of Sardis was legendary. Through the lower town flowed the River Pactolus, which was said in the old days to have had gold-bearing waters from which much of the wealth of Sardis came. Greatest of the Sardian kings was Croesus, whose name is still commemorated in the proverb, "As rich as Croesus." It was with him that Sardis reached its zenith and it was with him that it plunged to disaster.

It was not that Croesus was not warned where Sardis was heading. Solon, the wisest of the Greeks, came on a visit and was shown the magnificence and the luxury. He saw the blind confidence of Croesus and his people that nothing could end this splendour; but he also saw that the seeds of softness and of degeneration were being sown. And it was then that he uttered his famous saying to Croesus: "Call no man happy until he is dead." Solon knew only too well the chances and changes of life which Croesus had forgotten.

Croesus embarked upon a war with Cyrus of Persia which was the end of the greatness of Sardis. Again Croesus was warned, but he failed to see the warning. To get at the armies of Cyrus he had to cross the River Halys. He took counsel of the famous oracle at Delphi and was told: "If you cross the River Halys, you will destroy a great empire. Croesus took it as a promise that he would annihilate the Persians; it never crossed his mind that it was a prophecy that the campaign on which he had embarked would be the end of his own power.

He crossed the Halys, engaged in battle and was routed. He was not in the least worried, for he thought that all he had to do was to retire to the impregnable citadel of Sardis, recuperate and fight again. Cyrus initiated the siege of Sardis, waited for fourteen days, then offered a special reward to anyone who would find an entry into the city.

The rock on which Sardis was built was friable, more like close packed dried mud than rock. The nature of the rock meant that it developed cracks. A certain Mardian soldier called Hyeroeades had seen a Sardian soldier accidentally drop his helmet over the battlements, and then make his way down the precipice to retrieve it. Hyeroeades knew that there must be a crack in the rock there by means of which an agile man could climb up. That night he led a party of Persian troops up by the fault in the rock. When they reached the top they found the battlements completely unguarded.

The Sardians had thought themselves too safe to need a guard; and so Sardis fell. A city with a history like that knew what the Risen Christ was talking about when he said: "Watch!"

There were a few futile attempts at rebellion; but Cyrus followed a deliberate policy. He forbade any Sardian to possess a weapon of war. He ordered them to wear tunics and buskins, that is, actor's boots, instead of sandals. He ordered them to teach their sons lyre-playing, the song and the dance, and retail trading. Sardis had been flabby already but the last vestige of spirit was banished from its people and it became a city of degeneration.

It vanished from history under Persian rule for two centuries. In due time it surrendered to Alexander the Great and through him it became a city of Greek culture. Then history repeated itself. After the death of Alexander there were many claimants for the power. Antiochus, who became the ruler of the area in which Sardis stood, was at war with a rival called Achaeus who sought refuge in Sardis. For a year Antiochus besieged him; then a soldier called Lagoras repeated the exploit of Hyeroeades. At night with a band of brave men he climbed the steep cliffs. The Sardians had forgotten their lesson. There was no guard and once again Sardis fell because it was not upon the watch.

In due time the Romans came. Sardis was still a wealthy city. It was a centre of the woollen trade; and it was claimed that the art of dyeing wool was actually discovered there. It became a Roman assize town. In A.D. 17 it was destroyed by an earthquake which devasted the area. Tiberius, the Roman Emperor, in his kindness remitted all tribute for five years and gave a donation of 10,000,000 sesterces, that is, L400,000. towards rebuilding and Sardis recovered itself by the easy way.

When John wrote his letter to Sardis, it was wealthy but degenerate. Even the once great citadel was now only an ancient monument on the hill top. There was no life or spirit there. The once great Sardians were soft, and twice they had lost their city because they were too lazy to watch. In that enervating atmosphere the Christian Church too had lost its vitality and was a corpse instead of a living Church.

Sardis, Death In Life (Revelation 3:1-6 Continued)

In the introduction to this letter the Risen Christ is described in two phrases.

(i) He is he who has the seven Spirits of God. We have already come upon this strange phrase in Revelation 1:4. It has two aspects of meaning. (a) It denotes the Holy Spirit with his sevenfold gifts, an idea founded on the description of the Spirit in Isaiah 11:2. (b) It denotes the Spirit in his sevenfold operation. There are seven Churches, yet in each of them the Spirit operates with all his presence and power. The seven spirits signifies the completeness of the gifts of the Spirit and the universality of his presence.

(ii) He is he who has the seven stars. The stars stand for the Churches and their angels. The Church is the possession of Jesus Christ. Many a time men act as if the Church belonged to them, but it belongs to Jesus Christ and all in it are his servants. In any decision regarding the Church, the decisive factor must be not what any man wishes the Church to do but what Jesus Christ wishes to be done.

The terrible accusation against the Church at Sardis is that, although it has a reputation for life, it is, in fact, spiritually dead. The New Testament frequently likens sin to death. In the Pastoral Epistles we read: "She who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives" (1 Timothy 5:6), The Prodigal Son is he who was dead and is alive again (Luke 15:24). The Roman Christians are men who have been brought from death to life (Romans 6:13). Paul says that his converts in their pre-Christian days were dead through trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:5).

(i) Sin is the death of the will. If a man accepts the invitations of sin for long enough, the time comes when he cannot accept anything else. Habits grow upon him until he can no longer break them. A man comes, as Seneca had it, to hate his sins and to love them at the same rime. There can be few of us who have not experienced the power of some habit into which we have fallen.

(ii) Sin is the death of the feelings. The process of becoming the slave of sin does not happen overnight. The first time a man sins he does so with many a qualm. But the day comes, if he goes on taking what is forbidden, when he does without a qualm that which once he would have been horrified to do. Sin, as Burns had it, "petrifies the feeling."

(iii) Sin is the death of all loveliness. The terrible thing about sin is that it can take the loveliest things and turn them into ugliness. Through sin the yearning for the highest can become the craving for power; the wish to serve can become the intoxication of ambition; the desire of love can become the passion of lust. Sin is the killer of life's loveliness.

It is only by the grace of God that we can escape the death of sin.

Sardis, A Lifeless Church (Revelation 3:1-6 Continued)

The lifelessness of the Church at Sardis had a strange effect.

(i) The Church at Sardis was untroubled by any heresy. Heresy is always the product of the searching mind; it is, in fact, the sign of a Church that is alive. There is nothing worse than a state in which a man is orthodox because he is too lazy to think for himself He is actually better with a heresy which he holds intensely than with an orthodoxy about which in his heart of hearts he does not care.

(ii) The Church at Sardis was untroubled by any attack from the outside, neither by the heathen or by the Jews. The truth was that it was so lifeless that it was not worth attacking. The Pastoral Epistles describe those who had drifted away from the true faith by saying that they had a form of godliness but denied its power (2 Timothy 3:5). Moffatt translates it: "Though they keep up a form of religion, they will have nothing to do with it as a force." Phillips puts it: "They will maintain a facade of 'religion,' but their conduct will deny its validity."

A truly vital Church will always be under attack. "Woe to you," said Jesus, "when all men speak well of you!" (Luke 6:26). A Church with a positive message is bound to be one to which there will be opposition.

A Church which is so lethargic as to fail to produce a heresy is mentally dead; and a Church which is so negative as to fail to produce opposition is dead in its witness to Christ.

Sardis, Watch! (Revelation 3:1-6 Continued)

If anything is to be rescued from the impending ruin of the Church in Sardis the Christians there must wake from their deadly lethargy and watch. No commandment appears more frequently in the New Testament than that to watch.

(i) Watchfulness should be the constant attitude of the Christian life. "It is full time," says Paul, "to wake from sleep" (Romans 13:11). "Be watchful, stand firm in your faith," he urges (1 Corinthians 16:13). It has been said that "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" and eternal watchfulness is the price of salvation.

(ii) The Christian must be on the watch against the wiles of the devil (1 Peter 5:8). The history of Sardis had its vivid examples of what happens to the garrison whose watch is slack. The Christian is under continual attack by the powers which seek to seduce him from his loyalty to Christ. Often these attacks are subtle. He must, therefore, be ever on the watch.

(iii) The Christian must be on the watch against temptation "Watch and pray," said Jesus, "that you may not enter into temptation" (Matthew 26:41). Temptation waits for our unguarded moments and then attacks. In the Christian life there must be unceasing vigilance against it.

(iv) Repeatedly the New Testament urges the Christian to be on the watch for the coming of his Lord. "Watch, therefore," said Jesus, "for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming." "What I say to you, I say to all: watch" (Matthew 24:42-43; Mark 13:37). "Let us not sleep, as others do," writes Paul to the Thessalonians. "Let us keep awake and be sober" (1 Thessalonians 5:6). No man knows the day and the hour when for him eternity will invade time. "The last day is a secret," says Augustine, "that every day may be watched." A man should live every day as if it were his last.

(v) The Christian must be on the watch against false teaching. In Paul's last address to the elders of Ephesus he warns them that grievous wolves will invade the flock from outside and from inside men will arise to speak perverse things. "Therefore," he says, "watch!" (Acts 20:29-31).

(vi) Nor must the Christian forget that, even as he must watch for Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ is watching him. "I have not found your works perfect," says the Risen Christ, "in the sight of my God." Here two great truths meet us. (a) Christ is looking for something from us. We so often regard him as the one to whom we look for things; for his strength, his help, his support, his comfort. But we must never forget that he is looking for our love, our loyalty and our service. (b) The things a man must do lie to his hand. The old saying is true: "Fate is what we must do; destiny is what we are meant to do." The Christian does not believe in an inescapable fate; but he does believe in a destiny which he can accept or refuse.

From everyone of us Jesus Christ is looking for something; and for everyone of us there is something to do.

Sardis, The Imperatives Of The Risen Lord (Revelation 3:1-6 Continued)

In Revelation 3:3 we have a series of imperatives.

(i) The Risen Christ says: "Remember how you received and heard the gospel." It is the present imperative and means: "Keep on remembering; never allow yourself to forget." The Risen Christ is telling the lethargic Sardians to remember the thrill with which they first heard the good news. It is a fact of life that certain things sharpen memory which has grown dull. When, for instance, we return to a graveside, the sorrow from which the years have taken the edge grows piercingly poignant again. Ever and again the Christian must stand before the Cross and remember again what God has done for him.

(ii) The Risen Christ says: "Repent!" This is an aorist imperative and describes one definite action. In the Christian life there must be a decisive moment, when a man decides to be done with the old way and to begin on the new.

(iii) The Risen Christ says: "Keep the commands of the gospel." Here again we have a present imperative indicating continuous action. It means: "Never stop keeping the commands of the gospel." Here is a warning against what we might call "spasmodic Christianity." Too many of us are Christian one moment and unchristian the next.

(iv) There is the command to watch. There is an old Latin saying that "the gods walk on feet that are wrapped in wool." Their approach is silent and unobserved, until a man finds himself without warning facing eternity. But that cannot happen if every day a man lives in the presence of Christ; he who walks hand-in-hand with Christ cannot be taken unawares by his coming.

Sardis, The Faithful Few (Revelation 3:1-6 Continued)

In Revelation 3:4 there shines through the darkness a ray of hope. Even in Sardis there are the faithful few. When Abraham is pleading with God for Sodom, he appeals to God: "To slay the righteous with the wicked, far be that from thee" (Genesis 18:25). In the old story of the kings, Abijah alone of all the sons of Jeroboam was spared because in him was found some good thing toward the Lord God of Israel (1 Kings 14:13). God never abandons his search for the faithful few and they are never lost to his sight in the mass of the wicked.

It is said of the faithful that they "have not soiled their garments." James spoke with respect and admiration of the man who kept himself "unstained from the world" (James 1:27). There are two possible pictures here.

(i) In the heathen world no worshipper was allowed to approach a temple of the gods with soiled clothes. For the heathen this was an external thing; but this may describe the man who has kept his soul clean so that he can enter into the presence of God and not be ashamed.

(ii) Swete thinks that the white garments stand for the profession a man made at baptism; and that the phrase described the man who had not broken his baptismal vows. At this stage in the Church's history baptism was adult baptism, and at baptism a man took his personal pledge to Jesus Christ. This is all the more likely because it was common at baptism to clothe a man, after he had emerged from the water, in clean white robes, symbolic of the cleansing of his life. The man who is faithful to his pledge will, beyond a doubt, some day hear God say: "Well done!"

To those who have been true the promise is that they will walk with God. Again there is a double background.

(a) There may be a heathen background. At the Persian court the king's most trusted favourites were given the privilege of walking in the royal gardens with the king and were called "The Companions of the Garden." Those who have been true to God will some day walk with him in Paradise.

(b) There may be a reference to the old story of Enoch. "And Enoch walked with God, and he was not; for God took him" (Genesis 5:24). Enoch walked with God on earth and continued to walk with him in the heavenly places. The man whose walk with God is close on earth will enter into a nearer companionship with him when the end of life comes.

Sardis, The Threefold Promise (Revelation 3:1-6 Continued)

To those who have been faithful comes the threefold promise.

(i) They will be clothed with white raiment. It is said of the righteous that "they will shine forth like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father" (Matthew 13:43); and it is said of God that he covers himself with light as with a garment (Psalms 104:2). What do the white robes signify?

(a) In the ancient world white robes stood for festivity. "Let your garments be always white," said the preacher, "and let not oil be lacking on your head" (Ecclesiastes 9:8). The white robes may stand for the fact that the faithful will be guests at the banquet of God.

(b) In the ancient world white robes stood for victory. On the day when a Roman triumph was celebrated, all the citizens clad themselves in white; the city itself was called urbs candida, the city in white. The white robes may stand for the reward of those who have won the victory.

(c) In any land and time white is the colour of purity, and the white robes may stand for the purity whose reward is to see God. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).

(d) It has been suggested that the white robes stand for the resurrection bodies which the faithful will some day wear. They who are faithful will share in that whiteness of light which is the garment of God himself.

We need not make a choice between these various meanings; we may well believe that they are all included in the greatness of the promise.

(ii) Their names will not be wiped out of the Book of Life. The Book of Life is a conception which occurs often in the Bible. Moses is willing to be wiped out of the book which God has written, if by his sacrifice he can save his people from the consequence of their sin (Exodus 32:32-33). It is the hope of the Psalmist that the wicked will be blotted out of the book of the living (Psalms 69:28). In the time of judgment those who are written in the book will be delivered (Daniel 12:1). The names of Paul's fellow-labourers for God are written in the book of life (Philippians 4:3). He who is not written in the book of life is cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15); only they who are written in the Lamb's book of life shall enter into blessedness (Revelation 21:27).

In the ancient world a king kept a register of his citizens. When a man committed a crime against the state, or when he died, his name was erased from that register. To have one's name written in the book of life is to be numbered amongst the faithful citizens of the Kingdom of God.

(iii) Jesus Christ will confess their names before his Father and the angels. It was Jesus' promise that, if a man confessed him before men, he would confess him before his Father; and if a man denied him before men, he would deny him before his Father (Matthew 10:32-33; Luke 12:8-9). Jesus Christ is for ever true to the man who is true to him.

THE LETTER TO PHILADELPHIA (Revelation 3:7-13)

3:7-13 And to the angel of the Church in Philadelphia, write:

These things says he who is holy, he who is true, he who has the key of David, he who opens and no man will shut, and shuts and no man opens. I know your works. Behold, I have set before you a door which stands open and which no man shuts, because you have a little strength and because you have kept my word, and have not denied my name. Behold, I will give you those who belong to the synagogue of Satan, who call themselves Jews and who are not, but who lie. Behold, I will make them come and kneel before your feet, and they will know that I have loved you. Because you have kept my command to endure, I, too, will keep you safe from the hour of testing, which is to come upon the whole inhabited world, to test those who dwell upon the earth. I am coming quickly. Hold on to what you have, that no one may take your crown.

I will make him who overcomes a pillar in the temple of my God and he will go out no more; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, of the new Jerusalem, which is coming down from heaven from my God, and my new name.

Let him who has an ear hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches.

Philadelphia, City Of Praise (Revelation 3:7-13 Continued)

Philadelphia was the youngest of all the seven cities. It was founded by colonists from Pergamum under the reign of Attalus the Second, who ruled in Pergamum from 159 to 138 B.C. Philadelphos (Greek #5361) is the Greek for one who loves his brother. Such was the love of Attalus for his brother Eumenes that he was called Philadelphos, and it was after him that Philadelphia was named.

It was founded for a special purpose. It was situated where the borders of Mysia, Lydia and Phrygia met. But it was not as a garrison town that Philadelphia was founded, for there was little danger there. It was founded with the deliberate intention that it might be a missionary of Greek culture and language to Lydia and Phrygia; and so well did it do its work that by A.D. 19 the Lydians had forgotten their own language and were all but Greeks. Ramsay says of Philadelphia that it was "the centre for the diffusion of Greek language and Greek letters in a peaceful land and by peaceful means." That is what the Risen Christ means when he speaks of the open door that is set before Philadelphia. Three centuries before, Philadelphia had been given an open door to spread Greek ideas in the lands beyond; and now there has come to it another great missionary opportunity, to carry to men who never knew it the message of the love of Jesus Christ.

Philadelphia had a great characteristic which has left its mark upon this letter. It was on the edge of a great plain called the Katakekaumene (Greek #2618), which means the Burned Land. The Katakekaumene was a great volcanic plain bearing the marks of the lava and the ashes of volcanoes then extinct. Such land is fertile; and Philadelphia was the centre of a great grape-growing area and a famous producer of wines. But that situation had its perils, and these perils had left their mark more deeply on Philadelphia than on any other city. In A.D. 17 there came a great earthquake which destroyed Sardis and ten other cities. In Philadelphia the tremors went on for years; Strabo describes it as a "city full of earthquakes."

It often happens that, when a great earthquake comes, people meet it with courage and self-possession, but ever. recurring minor shocks drive them to sheer panic. That is what happened in Philadelphia. Strabo describes the scene. Shocks were an everyday occurrence. Gaping cracks appeared in the walls of the houses. Now one part of the city was in ruins, now another. Most of the population lived outside the city in huts and feared even to go on the city streets lest they should be killed by failing masonry. Those who still dared to live in the city were reckoned mad; they spent their time shoring up the shaking buildings and every now and then fleeing to the open spaces for safety. These terrible days in Philadelphia were never wholly forgotten, and people in it ever waited subconsciously for the ominous tremors of the ground, ready to flee for their lives to the open spaces. People in Philadelphia well knew what security lay in a promise that "they would go out no more."

But there is more of Philadelphia's history than that in this letter. When this earthquake devastated it, Tiberius was as generous to Philadelphia as he had been to Sardis. In gratitude it changed its name to Neocaesarea--the New City of Caesar. In the time of Vespasian Philadelphia was in gratitude to change its name again to Flavia, for Flavius was the Emperor's family name. It is true that neither of these new names lasted and "Philadelphia" was restored. But the people of Philadelphia well knew what it was to receive "a new name."

Of all the cities Philadelphia receives the greatest praise and it was to show that it deserved it.

In later days it became a very great city. When the Turks and Mohammedanism flooded across Asia Minor and every other town had fallen, Philadelphia stood erect. For centuries it was a free Greek Christian city amidst a pagan people. It was the last bastion of Asian Christianity. It was not till midway through the fourteenth century that it fell; and to this day there is a Christian bishop and a thousand Christians in it. With the exception of Smyrna the other Churches are in ruins but Philadelphia still holds aloft the banner of the Christian faith.

Philadelphia, Titles And Claims (Revelation 3:7-13 Continued)

In the introduction to this letter the Risen Christ is called by three great titles, each of which implies a tremendous claim.

(i) He is he who is holy. Holy is the description of God himself "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts," was the song of the seraphs which Isaiah heard (Isaiah 6:3). "To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One" (Isaiah 40:25). "I am the Lord, your Holy One, the creator of Israel, your King" (Isaiah 43:15). All through the Old Testament God is the Holy One; and now that title is given to the Risen Christ. We must remember that holy (hagios, Greek #40) means different, separate from. God is holy because he is different from men; he has that quality of being which belongs to him alone. To say that Jesus Christ is holy is to say that he shares the being of God.

(ii) He is he who is true. In Greek there are two words for true. There is alethes (Greek #227), which means "true" in the sense that a true statement is different from a false statement. There is alethinos (Greek #228), which means "real" as opposed to that which is "unreal." It is the second of these words which is used here. In Jesus is reality. When we are confronted with him, we are confronted with no shadowy outline of the truth but with the truth itself.

(iii) He is he who has the key of David, who opens and no man will shut, who shuts and no man opens. We may first note that the key is the symbol of authority. Here is the picture of Jesus Christ as the one who has the final authority which no one can question.

Behind this there is an Old Testament picture. Hezekiah had a faithful steward called Eliakim, who was over all his house and who alone could admit to the presence of the king. Isaiah heard God say of this faithful Eliakim: "and I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open" (Isaiah 22:22). It is this picture which is in John's mind. Jesus alone has authority to admit to the new Jerusalem, the new city of David. As the Te Deum has it: "Thou didst open the kingdom of Heaven to all believers." He is the new and living way into the presence of God.

Philadelphia, The Open Door (Revelation 3:7-13 Continued)

In Revelation 3:8-9 there is a problem of punctuation. In the early Greek manuscripts there was no punctuation at all. The problem is that the words "because you have a little strength, and because you have kept my word, and have not denied my name," can go equally well with what precedes them or with what follows. They may express either the reason why the door stands open before the Christians of Philadelphia or the reason why they will be given those who belong to the synagogue of Satan. We have taken them with the words which precede them.

It is the great promise of the Risen Christ that he has set before the Christians of Philadelphia an open door which no man can ever shut. What is the meaning of this open door?

(i) It may be the door of missionary opportunity. Writing to the Corinthians of the work which lies ahead of him, Paul says: "For a wide door for effective work has opened to me" (1 Corinthians 16:9). When he came to Troas, a door was opened to him by the Lord (2 Corinthians 2:12). He asks the Colossians to pray that a door of utterance may be opened for him (Colossians 4:3). When he came back to Antioch he told how God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 14:27).

This meaning is particularly appropriate for Philadelphia. We have seen how it was a border town, standing where the boundaries of Lydia, Mysia and Phrygia met, and founded to be a missionary of Greek language and culture to the barbarous peoples beyond. It was on the road of the imperial postal service, which left the coast at Troas, came to Philadelphia via Pergamum, Thyatira and Sardis, and joined the great road out to Phrygia. The armies of Caesar travelled that road; the caravans of the merchant-men travelled it; and now it was beckoning the missionaries of Christ.

Two things emerge here. (a) There is a door of missionary opportunity before every man and he need not go overseas to find it. Within the home, within the circle in which we move, within the parish in which we reside, there are those to be won for Christ. To use that door of opportunity is at once our privilege and our responsibility. (b) In the way of Christ the reward of work well done is more work to do. Philadelphia had proved faithful and the reward for her fidelity was still more work to do for Christ.

(ii) It has been suggested that the door which is set before the Philadelphians is none other than Jesus himself. "I am the door," said Jesus (John 10:7; John 10:9).

(iii) It has been suggested that the door is the door to the Messianic community. With Jesus Christ the new kingdom of David was inaugurated; and, just as in the ancient kingdom Eliakim had the keys to admit to the royal presence, so Jesus is the door to admit to the kingdom of God.

(iv) Apart from all these things, for any man the door of prayer is always open. That is a door which no man can ever shut and it is one which Jesus opened when he assured men of the seeking love of God the Father.

Philadelphia, Inheritors Of The Promise (Revelation 3:7-13 Continued)

In Revelation 3:9 the promise of the Risen Christ is that some day the Jews who slander the Christians will kneel before them. This is an echo of an expectation of the Jews which finds frequent expression in the Old Testament.

This was that in the new age, all nations would do humble homage to the Jews. This promise recurs again and again in Isaiah. "The sons of those who oppressed you shall come bending low to you; and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet" (Isaiah 60:14). "The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Ethiopia and the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over to you and be yours, they shall follow yon; they shall come over in chains and bow down to you" (Isaiah 45:14). "Kings shall be your foster fathers, and their queens your nursing mothers; with their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you, and lick the dust of your feet" (Isaiah 49:23). Zechariah has a vision of the day when all men of all nations and languages shall turn to Jerusalem, "they shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you"' (Zechariah 8:22-23).

It was the Christian belief that the Jewish nation had lost its place in the plan of God and that that place had passed to the Church. A Jew in God's sense of the term was not one who could claim racial descent from Abraham but one of any nation who had made the same venture of faith as he had (Romans 9:6-9). The Church was the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16). It was, therefore, now true that all the promises which had been made to Israel had been inherited by the Church. It was to her that one day all men would humbly make their submission. This promise is a reversal of all that the Jews had expected; they had expected that all nations would kneel before them; but the day was to come when they with all nations would kneel before Christ.

That is what the Philadelphian Church would see, at least in its beginnings, if its members were faithful. Up until now they had been faithful. In the sentence, "You have kept my word, and have not denied my name," both the verbs are in the aorist tense, which describes one definite act in past time; and the implication is that there had been some time of trial out of which the Philadelphian Church had emerged triumphantly true. They may have only a little strength; their resources may be small; but, if they are faithful, they will see the dawn of the triumph of Christ.

Though few and small and weak your bands,

Strong in your Captain's strength,

Go to the conquest of all lands;

All must be his at length.

That which must keep a Christian faithful is the vision of a world for Christ, for the coming of such a world depends on the fidelity of the individual Christian.

Philadelphia, Those Who Keep Are Kept (Revelation 3:7-13 Continued)

It is the promise of the Risen Christ that he who keeps will be kept. "You have kept my commandment," he says, "therefore, I will keep you." Loyalty has its sure reward. In Revelation 3:10 in the Greek the phrase my command to endure is highly concentrated. Literally, it is the word of my endurance. The real meaning is that the promise is to those who have practised the same kind of endurance as Jesus displayed in his earthly life.

When we are called upon to show endurance, the endurance of Jesus Christ supplies us with three things. First, it supplies us with an example. Second, it supplies us with an inspiration. We must walk looking to him, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross despising the shame (Hebrews 12:1-2). Third the endurance of Jesus Christ is the guarantee of his sympathy with us when we are called upon to endure. "Because he himself has suffered and been tempted he is able to help those who are tempted" (Hebrews 2:18).

In Revelation 3:10 we are back again amidst beliefs which are characteristically Jewish. As we have so often seen, the Jews divided time into two ages, the present age which is wholly bad, and the age to come, which is wholly good with in between the terrible time of destruction when judgment will fall upon the world. It is to that terrible time that John refers. Even when time comes to an end, and the world as we know it ceases to exist, he who is faithful to Christ will still be said in his keeping.

Philadelphia, Promise And Warning (Revelation 3:7-13 Continued)

In Revelation 3:11 there is promise and warning combined.

The Risen Christ tells them that he is coming quickly. It has been said that in the New Testament the Coming of Christ is continually used for two purposes.

(i) It is used as a warning to the heedless. Jesus himself tells of the wicked servant, who took advantage of his master's absence to conduct himself evilly and to whom the master made a sudden return that brought judgment. (Matthew 24:48-51). Paul warns the Thessalonians of the terrible fate which awaits the disobedient and the unbelieving when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven and shall take swift and final vengeance on his enemies (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). Peter warns his people that they will give account for their deeds to him who comes to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:5).

(ii) It is used as a comfort to the oppressed. James urges patient endurance on his people because the coming of the Lord is drawing near (James 5:8); soon their distresses will be at an end. The writer to the Hebrews urges patience, for soon he that shall come will come (Hebrews 10:37).

In the New Testament men used the idea of the Coming of Christ as a warning to the heedless and as a comfort to the oppressed. It is quite true that, in the literal sense, Jesus Christ did not come back to those who were so warned and exhorted. But no man knows when eternity will invade his life and God will bid him rise and come; and that must warn the careless to prepare to meet his God and cheer the oppressed with the thought of the coming glory of the faithful soul.

There is another warning here. The Risen Christ bids the Philadelphians hold to what they have, that no one may take their crown (Revelation 3:11). It is not a question of someone stealing their crown but of God taking it from them and giving it to someone else, because they were not worthy to wear it. Trench makes a list of people in the Bible who lost their place to someone else because they had shown that they were not fit to hold it. Esau lost his place to Jacob (Genesis 25:34; Genesis 27:36). Reuben, unstable as water, lost his place to Judah (Genesis 49:4; Genesis 49:8). Saul lost his place to David (1 Samuel 16:1, 1 Samuel 16:13). Shebna lost his place to Eliakim (Isaiah 22:15-25). Joab and Abiathar lost their places to Benaiah and Zadok (1 Kings 2:25). Judas lost his place to Matthias (Acts 1:25-26). The Jews lost their place to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11).

There is tragedy here. It sometimes happens that a man is given a task to do and goes towards it with the highest hopes; but it begins to be seen that he is too small for the task and he is removed from the task and it is given to someone else. That can happen with the tasks of God. God has a task for every man; but it may be that the man proves himself unfit for the task and it is given to another.

It is blessedly true that even out of failure a man can redeem himself--but only if he casts himself upon the grace of Jesus Christ.

Philadelphia, Many Promises (Revelation 3:7-13 Continued)

In Revelation 3:12 we come to the promises of the Risen Christ to those who are faithful. They are many and most would paint pictures which would be vivid and real to the people of Philadelphia.

(i) The faithful Christian will be a pillar in the Temple of God. A pillar of the Church is a great and honoured support. Peter and James and John were the pillars of the early church in Jerusalem (Galatians 2:9). Abraham, said the Jewish Rabbis, was the pillar of the world.

(ii) The faithful Christian will go out no more. There may be something of two meanings here.

(a) This may be a promise of security. We have seen how for years Philadelphia was terrorized by recurring earthquakes of the earth and how, when such times came, its citizens fled into the open country to escape and, when the tremors ended, came uncertainly back. Life was lived in an atmosphere of insecurity. There is for the faithful Christian the promise of a settled serenity in the peace which Jesus Christ can give.

(b) Some scholars think that what is here promised is fixity of moral character. In this life even the best of us is sometimes bad. But he who is faithful will in the end come to a time when he is like a pillar fixed in the Temple of God and goodness has become the constant atmosphere of his life. If this is the meaning, this phrase describes the life of untroubled goodness which is lived when, after the battles of earth, we reach the presence of God.

(iii) Jesus Christ will write upon the faithful Christian the name of his God. There may be three pictures here.

(a) In the cities of Asia Minor, and in Philadelphia, when a priest died after a lifetime of faithfulness, men honoured him, by erecting a new pillar in the temple in which he had served and by inscribing his name and the name of his father upon it. This then would describe the lasting honour which Christ pays to his faithful ones.

(b) It is just possible that there is a reference to the custom of branding a slave with the initials of his owner to show that he belongs to him. Just so God will put his mark upon his faithful ones. Whichever picture is behind this, the sense is that the faithful ones will wear the unmistakable badge of God.

(c) It is just possible that we have an Old Testament picture. When God told to Moses the blessing which Aaron and the priests must pronounce over the people, he said: "They shall put my name upon the people of Israel" (Numbers 6:22-27). It is the same idea again; it is as if the mark of God was upon Israel so that all men may know that they are his people.

(iv) On the faithful Christian the name of the new Jerusalem is to be written. That stands for the gift of citizenship in the city of God to the faithful Christian. According to Ezekiel the name of the re-created city of God was to be The Lord is there (Ezekiel 48:35). The faithful ones will be citizens of the city where there is always the presence of God.

(v) On the faithful Christian Christ will write his own new name. The people of Philadelphia knew all about taking a new name. When in A.D. 17 a terrible earthquake devastated their city and Tiberius, the Emperor, dealt kindly with them, remitting taxation and making a generous gift to rebuild it, they in their gratitude, called the city Neocaesarea, the New City of Caesar, and later when Vespasian was kind to them, they called it Flavia, for that was the family name of Vespasian. Jesus Christ will mark his faithful ones with his new name: what that name was we need not even speculate, for no man knows it (Revelation 19:12), but in the time to come, when Christ has conquered all, his faithful ones will bear the badge which shows that they are his and share his triumph.

THE LETTER TO LAODICEA (Revelation 3:14-22)

3:14-22 And to the angel of the Church in Laodicea, write:

These things says the Amen, the witness on whom you can rely and who is true, the moving cause of the creation of God. I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are tepid and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth. Because you say, I am rich and I have acquired riches, and I need nothing, and are quite unaware that it is you who are the wretched and the pitiable one, the poor and the blind and the naked one, I advise you to buy from me gold that has been refined by fire that you may be rich, white raiment that you may be clothed and that the shame of your nakedness may not be openly displayed, and eye-salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.

I rebuke and discipline all those whom I love. Be eager, therefore, and repent.

Behold, I am standing at the decor and knocking. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and will have my meal with him, and he with me.

I will give to him who overcomes to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame and took my seat with my Father in his throne.

Let him who has an ear hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches.

Laodicea, The Church Condemned (Revelation 3:14-22)

Laodicea has the grim distinction of being the only Church of which the Risen Christ has nothing good to say.

In the ancient world there were at least six cities called Laodicea and this one was called Laodicea on the Lycus to distinguish it from the others. It was founded about 250 B.C. by Antiochus of Syria and was named after his wife Laodice.

Its importance was due entirely to its position. The road from Ephesus to the east and to Syria was the most important in Asia. It began at the coast at Ephesus and it had to find a way to climb up to the central plateau 8,500 feet up. It set out along the valley of the River Maeander until it reached what were known as the Gates of Phrygia. Beyond this point lay a broad valley where Lydia, Phrygia and Caria met. The Maeander entered that valley by a narrow, precipitous gorge through which no road could pass. The road, therefore, detoured through the Lycus valley. In that valley Laodicea stood.

It was literally astride the great road to the east which went straight through Laodicea, entering by the Ephesian Gate and leaving by the Syrian Gate. That in itself would have been enough to make Laodicea one of the great commercial and strategic centres of the ancient world. Originally Laodicea had been a fortress; but it had the serious handicap that all its water supply had to come by underground aqueduct from springs no less than six miles away, a perilous situation for a town besieged. Two other roads passed through the gates of Laodicea, that from Pergamum and the Hermus Valley to Pisidia and Pamphylia and the coast at Perga and that from eastern Caria to central and west Phrygia.

As Ramsay says: "It only needed peace to make Laodicea a great commercial and financial centre." That peace came with the dominion of Rome. When the Roman peace gave it its opportunity it became, as Pliny called it, "a most distinguished city."

Laodicea had certain characteristics which have left their mark on the letter written to it.

(i) It was a great banking and financial centre. When Cicero was travelling in Asia Minor it was at Laodicea that he cashed his letters of credit. It was one of the wealthiest cities in the world. In A.D. 61 it was devastated by an earthquake; but so rich and independent were its citizens that they refused any help from the Roman government and out of their own resources rebuilt their city. Tacitus writes: "One of the most famous cities of Asia, Laodicea, was in that same year overthrown by an earthquake and without any relief from us recovered itself by its own resources" (Tacitus: Annals 14: 27). No wonder that Laodicea could boast that it was rich and had amassed wealth and had need of nothing. It was so wealthy that it did not even need God.

(ii) It was a great centre of clothing manufacture. The sheep which grazed round Laodicea were famous for their soft, violet-black, glossy wool. It mass-produced cheap outer garments. It was specially connected with a tunic called the trimita, so much so, indeed, that it was sometimes called Trimitaria. Laodicea was so proud of the garments it produced that it never realized it was naked in the sight of God.

(iii) It was a very considerable medical centre. Thirteen miles to the west, between Laodicea and the Gate of Phrygia, stood the temple of the Carian god Men. At one time that temple was the social, administrative and commercial centre of the whole area. Until less than a hundred years ago great markets were regularly held on its site. In particular the temple was the centre of a medical school which was transferred to Laodicea itself. So famous were its doctors that the names of some appear on the coins of Laodicea. Two of them were called Zeuxis and Alexander Philalethes.

This medical school was famous for two things throughout the world, ointment for the ear and ointment for the eyes. The King James and Revised Standard Versions speak of eye-salve. The word for salve is kollourion (Greek #2854) which literally means a little roll of bread. The reason for the word is that this famous tephra Phrygia, Phrygian powder, was exported all over the world in solidified tablet form in the shape of little rolls. Laodicea was so conscious of its medical skill in the care of the eyes that it never realized that it was spiritually blind.

The words of the Risen Christ arise directly from the prosperity and the skill in which Laodicea took so much pride and which had in the minds of its citizens, and even of its Church, eliminated the need for God.

(iv) We add a final fact about Laodicea. It was in an area where there was a very large Jewish population. So many Jews emigrated here that the Rabbis inveighed against the Jews who sought the wines and baths of Phrygia. In 62 B.C. Flaccus, the governor of the province, became alarmed at the amount of currency which the Jews were exporting in payment of the Temple tax which every male Jew paid and put an embargo on the export of currency. The result was that twenty pounds weight of gold was seized as contraband in Laodicea and one hundred pounds in Apameia in Phrygia. That amount of gold would be equal to 15,000 silver drachmae. The Jewish Temple tax amounted to half a shekel, which was equal to two drachmae. This means that in the district there were at least 7,500 male Jews. In Hierapolis, six miles away from Laodicea, there was a "Congregation of Jews" which had power to levy and to retain fines, and an archive office where Jewish legal documents were specially kept. There can have been few areas where the Jews were wealthier and more influential.

Laodicea, The Claims Of Christ (Revelation 3:14-22 Continued)

Of all the seven Churches that of Laodicea is most unsparingly condemned. In it there is no redeeming feature. It is interesting to note that the third century work The Apostolic Constitutions (8: 46) says that Archippus was the first Bishop of the Church in Laodicea. When Paul was writing to the neighbouring Church of Colossae, he says sternly: "Say to Archippus, See that you fulfil the ministry which you have received in the Lord" (Colossians 4:17). It would seem that Archippus was somehow failing in his duty. That was thirty years before the Revelation was written; but it may be that as long ago as that the rot had set in in the Church in Laodicea and an unsatisfactory ministry had sown the seeds of degeneration.

Like all the letters it begins with a series of great titles of Jesus Christ.

(i) He is the Amen. This is a strange title and may go back to either of two origins.

(a) In Isaiah 65:16 God is called the God of truth; but in the Hebrew he is called the God of Amen. Amen is the word which is often put at the end of a solemn statement in order to guarantee its truth. If God is the God of Amen, he is utterly to be relied upon. This would mean that Jesus Christ is the One whose promises are true beyond all doubt.

(b) In John's gospel Jesus' statements often begin: "Truly, truly, I say to you" (e.g. John 1:51; John 3:3; John 3:5; John 3:11). The Greek for truly is Amen. It is possible that when Jesus Christ is called the Amen it is a reminiscence of his own way of speaking. The meaning would be the same, Jesus is one whose promises can be relied upon.

(ii) He is the witness on whom we can rely and who is true. Trench points out that a witness must satisfy three essential conditions. (a) He must have seen with his own eyes that of which he tells. (b) He must be absolutely honest, so that he repeats with accuracy that which he has heard and seen. (c) He must have the ability to tell what he has to say, so that his witness may make its true impression on those who hear. Jesus Christ perfectly satisfied these conditions. He can tell of God, because he came from him. We can rely on his words for he is the Amen. He is able to tell his message, for never did man speak as he did.

(iii) As the Revised Standard Version has it, he is the beginning of God's creation. This phrase, as it stands in English, is ambiguous. It could mean, either, that Jesus was the first person to be created or that he began the process of creation, as Trench put it, "dynamically the beginning." It is the second meaning which is intended here. The word for beginning is arche (Greek #746). In early Christian writings we read that Satan is the arche (Greek #746) of death, that is to say, death takes its origin in him; and that God is the arche (Greek #746) of all things, that is, all things find their beginning in him.

The connection of the Son with creation is frequently made in the New Testament. John begins his gospel by saying of the Word: "All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made" (John 1:3). "In him," says Paul, "all things were created" (Colossians 1:15; Colossians 1:18). The insistence on the Son's part in creation was due to the heretics who explained sin and disease by saying that the world had been created by a false and inferior god. It is the Christian insistence that this world is God's creation and that its sin and sorrow are not his fault, but are caused by the disobedience of men. As the Christian sees it, the God of creation and the God of redemption are one and the same.

Laodicea, Neither One Thing Nor Another (Revelation 3:14-22 Continued)

The condemnation of Laodicea begins with a picture of almost crude vividness; because the Laodiceans are neither cold nor hot, they have about them a kind of nauseating quality, which will make the Risen Christ vomit them out of his mouth.

The exact meaning of the words is to be noted. Cold is psuchros (Greek #5593); and it can mean cold to the point of freezing. Ecclesiasticus (Sirach 43:20) speaks of the cold north wind which makes the ice congeal upon the waters. Hot is zestos (Greek #2200); and it means hot to boiling point. Tepid is chliaros (Greek #5513). Things which are tepid often have a nauseating effect. Hot food and cold food can both be appetizing, but tepid food will often make the stomach turn. Directly opposite Laodicea, on the other bank of the Lycus, and in full view, stood Hierapolis, famous for its hot mineral springs. Often hot mineral springs are nauseating in their taste and make the person who drinks them want to be physically sick. That is the way in which the Church at Laodicea affected the Risen Christ. Here is something to make us think:

(i) The one attitude which the Risen Christ unsparingly condemns is indifference. It has been said that an author can write a good biography if he loves his subject or hates him but not if he is coldly indifferent. Of all things indifference is the hardest to combat. The problem of modern evangelism is not hostility to Christianity; it would be better if it were so. The problem is that to so many Christianity and the Church have ceased to have any relevance and men regard them with complete indifference. This indifference can be broken down only by the actual demonstration that Christianity is a power to make life strong and a grace to make life beautiful.

(ii) The one impossible attitude to Christianity is neutrality. Jesus Christ works through men; and the man who remains completely detached in his attitude to him has by that very fact refused to undertake the work which is the divine purpose for him. The man who will not submit to Christ has necessarily resisted him.

(iii) Hard as it may sound, the meaning of this terrible threat of the Risen Christ is that it is better not even to start on the Christian way than to start and then to drift into a conventional and meaningless Christianity. The fire must be kept burning. There is an unwritten saying of Jesus: "He who is near me is near the fire." And the way to "maintain the spiritual glow" (Romans 12:11, Moffatt) is to live close to Christ.

Laodicea, The Wealth That Is Poverty (Revelation 3:14-22 Continued)

The tragedy of Laodicea was that it was convinced of its own wealth and blind to its own poverty. Humanly speaking, anyone would say that there was not a more prosperous town in Asia Minor. Spiritually speaking, the Risen Christ declares that there was not a more poverty-stricken community. Laodicea prided itself on three things; and each is taken in turn and shown at its true value.

(i) It prided itself on its financial wealth. It was rich and had acquired wealth and had need of nothing--so it thought. The Risen Christ advises Laodicea to buy gold refined in the fire. It may be that gold tried in the fire stands for faith for it is thus that Peter describes faith (1 Peter 1:7). Wealth can do much but there are things that it can never do. It cannot buy happiness nor give a man health either of body or of mind; it cannot bring comfort in sorrow nor fellowship in loneliness. If all that a man has to meet life with is wealth, he is poor indeed. But if a man has a faith tried and refined in the crucible of experience, there is nothing which he cannot face; and he is rich indeed.

(ii) Laodicea prided itself on its clothing trade. The garments made there were famous over all the world, and the wool of the sheep of Laodicea was a luxury article which all men knew, But, says the Risen Christ, Laodicea is spiritually naked; if it wants really to be clothed it must come to him. The Risen Christ speaks of "the shame of the nakedness of Laodicea."

This would mean even more in the ancient world than now. In the ancient world to be stripped naked was the worst humiliation. It was thus that Hanum treated the servants of David (2 Samuel 10:4). The threat to Egypt is that Assyria will lead her people naked and barefoot (Isaiah 20:4). It was Ezekiel's threat to Israel that her enemies would strip her of her clothes (Ezekiel 16:37-39; Ezekiel 23:26-29; compare Hosea 2:3; Hosea 2:9; Micah 1:8; Micah 1:11). God's threat passed on by Nahum to the disobedient people was: "I will let nations look on your nakedness, and on your kingdoms shame" (Nahum 3:5). On the other hand, to be clothed in fine raiment was the greatest honour. Pharaoh honoured Joseph by clothing him in vestures of fine linen (Genesis 41:42). Daniel is clothed in purple by Belshazzar (Daniel 5:29). The royal apparel is for the man whom the king honours (Esther 6:6-11). When the prodigal son returns, it is the best robe that is put upon him (Luke 15:22).

Laodicea prides itself on the magnificent garments it produces but spiritually it is naked and nakedness is shame. The Risen Christ urges it to buy white raiment from him. This may well stand for the beauties of life and character which only the grace of Christ can give. There is little point in a man adorning his body, if he has nothing to adorn his soul. Not all the clothes in the world will beautify a person whose nature is twisted and whose character is ugly.

(iii) Laodicea prided itself on its famous eye-salve; but the facts of the case show that it was blind to its own poverty and nakedness. Trench says: "The beginning of all true amendment is to see ourselves as we are." All eye-salves in the ancient world caused the eyes to smart at their first application, and Laodicea had no wish to see itself as it was.

Laodicea, Love's Chastisement (Revelation 3:14-22 Continued)

Revelation 3:19 is one whose teaching runs throughout Scripture. "I rebuke and discipline all those whom I love." There is a very lovely thing about the way this is put. It is a quotation from Proverbs 3:12, but one word is altered. In the Greek of the Septuagint the word for love is agapan (Greek #25) which indicates the unconquerable attitude of goodwill which nothing can turn to hate; but it is a word which maybe has more of the head than the heart in it; and in the quotation the Risen Christ changes agapan (Greek #25) to philein (Greek #5368) which is the most tender affection. We might well paraphrase it: "It is the people who are dearest to me on whom I exercise the sternest discipline."

Let us first take the word rebuke. The Greek is elegchein (Greek #1651) and it describes the kind of rebuke which compels a man to see the error of his ways. Elegchos (Greek #1650) is the corresponding noun, and Aristotle defines it: "Elegchos (Greek #1650) is the proof that a thing cannot be otherwise than we say." The most vivid example of this kind of rebuke is the way in which Nathan opened David's eyes to his sin (2 Samuel 12:1-14). The rebuke of God is not so much punishment as illumination.

Let us see how the idea of discipline runs through the Bible.

It is very characteristic of the teaching of Proverbs. "He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him" (Proverbs 13:24). "Withhold not correction from the child; for, if you beat him with a rod he will not die. If you beat him with the rod you will save his life from Sheol" (Proverbs 23:13-14). "Faithful are the wounds of a friend" (Proverbs 27:6). "The rod and reproof give wisdom; but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. . . . Discipline your son and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart" (Proverbs 29:15; Proverbs 29:17). "Blessed is the man whom thou dost chasten, O Lord, and whom thou dost teach out of thy law" (Psalms 94:12). "Behold, happy is the man whom God reproves; therefore, despise not the chastening of the Almighty" (Job 5:17). "We are chastened of the Lord that we may not be condemned along with the world" (1 Corinthians 11:32). "For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves and chastises every son whom he receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is testing you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons" (Hebrews 11:6; Hebrews 11:8). "He that loveth his son will continue to lay stripes upon him, that he may have joy of him in the end. He that chastiseth his son shall have profit of him and shall glory of him among his acquaintances" (Ecc 30:1).

It is, in fact, God's final punishment to leave a man alone. "Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone" (Hosea 4:17). As Trench has it: "The great Master-builder squares and polishes with many strokes of the chisel and hammer the stones which shall find a place at last in the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem.... It is the crushed grape, and not the untouched, from which the costly liquor distils." There is no surer way of allowing a child to end in ruin than to allow him to do as he likes. It is a fact of life that the best athlete and the finest scholar receive the most demanding training. The discipline of God is not something which we should resent, but something for which we should be devoutly thankful.

Laodicea, The Christ Who Knocks (Revelation 3:14-22 Continued)

In Revelation 3:20 we have one of the most famous pictures of Jesus in the whole New Testament. "Behold," says the Risen Christ, "I am standing at the door and knocking." This picture has been derived from two different sources.

(i) It has been taken as a warning that the end is near, and that the Coming of Christ is at hand. The Christian must be ready to open whenever he hears his Lord knocking (Luke 12:36). When the signs come, the Christian will know that the last time is near, even at the doors (Mark 13:29; Matthew 24:33). The Christian must live well and live in love because the judge is standing at the doors (James 5:9). It is true that the New Testament uses this picture to express the imminence of the coming of Christ. If that is the picture here, this phrase contains a warning and tells men to have a care, for Jesus Christ the Judge and King is at the door.

(ii) We cannot say that that meaning is impossible and yet it does not seem to fit the context, for the atmosphere of the passage is not so much warning as love. It is much better to take this saying of Christ as expressing the appeal of the lover of the souls of men. The origin of the passage is much more likely to be in Solomon's Song when the lover stands at the door of his beloved and pleads with her to open. "Hark! my beloved is knocking. Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, perfect one" (SS 5:2-6). Here is Christ the lover knocking at the door of the hearts of men. And in this picture we see certain great truths of the Christian religion.

(a) We see the pleading of Christ. He stands at the door of the human heart and knocks. The unique new fact that Christianity brought into this world is that God is the seeker of men. No other religion has the vision of a seeking God.

In his book Out of Nazareth Donald Baillie cites three witnesses to the uniqueness of this conception. Montefiore, the great Jewish scholar, said that the one thing which no Jewish prophet or Rabbi ever conceived of is the "conception of God actually going out in quest of sinful men, who were not seeking him, but who were turned away from him." The National Christian Council of Japan in a document found the distinctive difference of Christianity from all other religions in, "Man not seeking God, but God taking the initiative in seeking man." St. Bernard away back in the twelfth century used often to say to his monks that, "However early they might wake and rise for prayer in their chapel on a cold mid-winter morning or even in the dead of night, they would always find God awake before them, waiting for them--nay, it was he who had awakened them to seek his face."

Here is the picture of Christ searching for sinful men who did not want him. Surely love can go no further than that.

(b) We see the offer of Christ. As the King James Version has it, "I will come in and sup with him." The word translated "sup" is deipnein (Greek #1172) and its corresponding noun is deipnon (Greek #1173). The Greeks had three meals in the day. There was akratisma, breakfast, which was no more than a piece of dried bread dipped in wine. There was ariston (Greek #712), the midday meal. A man did not go home for it; it was simply a picnic snack eaten by the side of the pavement, or in some colonnade, or in the city square. There was deipnon (Greek #1173); this was the evening meal; the main meal of the day; people lingered over it, for the day's work was done. It was the deipnon (Greek #1173) that Christ would share with the man who answered his knock, no hurried meal, but that where people lingered in fellowship. If a man will open the door, Jesus Christ will come in and linger long with him.

(iii) We see human responsibility. Christ knocks and a man can answer or refuse to answer. Christ does not break in; he must be invited in. Even on the Emmaus road, "He appeared to be going further" (Luke 24:28). Holman Hunt was right when in his famous picture The Light of the World he painted the door of the human heart with no handle on the outside, for it can be opened only from within. As Trench has it: "Every man is lord of the house of his own heart; it is his fortress; he must open the gates of it," and he has "the mournful prerogative and privilege of refusing to open." The man who refuses to open is "blindly at strife with his own blessedness." He is a "miserable conqueror."

Christ pleads and offers; but it is all to no avail if a man will not open the door.

This Means You (Revelation 3:14-22 Continued)

The promise of the Risen Christ is that the victor will sit with him in his own victorious throne. We will get the picture right if we remember that the eastern throne was more like a couch than a single seat. The victor in life will share the throne of the victorious Christ.

Every letter finishes with the words: "Let him who has an ear hear what the Spirit is saying to the Churches." This saying does two things.

(i) It individualizes the message of the letters. It says to every man: "This means you." So often we listen to a message which comes through a preacher and apply it to everyone but ourselves. In our heart of hearts we believe that the stern words cannot possibly be meant for us and that the promises are too good to be true for us. This phrase says to every one of us: "All these things are meant for you."

(ii) It generalizes the message of the letters. It means that their message was not confined to the people in the seven Churches nineteen hundred years ago, but that through them the Spirit is speaking to every man in every generation. We have set these letters carefully against the local situations to which they were addressed; but their message is not local and temporary. It is eternal and in them the Spirit still speaks to us.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

 


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Revelation 3:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/revelation-3.html. 1956-1959.

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