Confraternity Bible: New Testament and Supplemental Commentary

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APOCALYPSE - Chapter 3

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Apocalypse 3

Supplemental Commentary:

I.  THE SEVEN LETTERS  1, 9 -- 3, 22 (continued)

2. The Letters  2, 1 -- 3, 22 (continued)

3, 1-6:  To the Church at Sardis.  Sardis, the modern Sart, now a village of squalid huts, was once the capital of the Lydian monarchy and was associated with the names of Croesus, Cyrus and Alexander.  It is south-east of Thyatria and east of Smyrna.  The art of dyeing is said to have been invented here, and the city was noted for its dyed woolen fabrics.  The special religion of Sardis was the worship of Cybele.  While the three cities, Pargamum, Smyrna and Ephesus vied for the title of the First City of Asia, Sardis was a town of the past.

The seven spirits: the Holy Spirit who is here the Spirit of the Son.  Cf. Gal. 4, 6.  Jesus distributes the powers of the Holy Spirit, upon which the life of the churches depends.  If those who minister are without gifts it is because they have not asked for them.  The angel of this church has not asked, and so his works and the works of the church are dead.  But all is not lost.  Repentance is necessary, otherwise Christ will come as a thief in the night and judge the church.  Have not defiled, etc.: those whose works are good.  Shall walk . . . in white: shall be victors over the beasts and their armies in 19.

3, 7-13:  To the Church at Philadelphia.  This city was twenty-eight miles south-east of Sardis.  In ancient times it was a rich and powerful city, connected by trade with a large district towards the east and north.  It was thus well suited to be one of the central churches of Asia.

A door . . . opened: an opening for preaching the gospel, referring also to the rapidity with which Christianity spread through the cities connected with Philadelphia.  Cf. 1 Cor. 16, 8 f; 2 Cor. 2, 12; Col. 4, 3.  The whole region, however, was volcanic and the city suffered severely from earthquakes.  While this reduced the population, its favorable location preserved the city from complete desertion.  Of all the seven churches it had the longest life as a Christian city.  From the words of John it is clear that its religion was of a high character, second only to Smyrna among the churches.

The true one: "truth" is a Johannine word, occurring twenty-three times in his writings and only five times in the rest of the New Testament.  The key of David: supreme power, or the power of God.  The expression has a Messianic significance (cf. 5, 5; 22, 16).  To Christ belongs absolute authority to admit or exclude anyone from the city of David, the New Jerusalem.  He has the same authority in regard to death (1, 18).  He has supreme authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28, 18).  He is as a son over His own house (Heb. 3, 6).  Because Philadelphia has kept and advanced the faith, Jesus promises that the Jews will escape from Satan and come and worship at her feet.  This conversion has nothing to do with the conversion of the Jews predicted by St. Paul (Rom. 11).  Because of her fidelity, the church here also will be spared the trials of persecution, a persecution that is to come upon the whole world.  A pillar: i.e., a support in the Church of God.

3, 14-22:  To the Church at Laodicea.  This city was located on the south bank of the Lycus, six miles south of Hierapolis and ten miles west of Colossae.  It was founded by Antiochus II, and was named in honor of his wife Laodice.  It was a small city until the Roman period, then it rapidly became rich and great.  It was a banking center; Cicero proposed to cash his bills of credit there.  It was noted for the manufacture of clothing and carpets from the native black wool.  It was the seat of a flourishing medical school; Aristotle spoke of Phrygian powder, and later Galen of collyrium, both of which refer to an eye salve.  Hence the allusion in 3, 18.  The site of Laodicea is now utterly deserted.

The Amen: this title is not found in the vision of 1.  It means truth, fidelity, perfection personified.  It is here used as a personal name, and perhaps refers to the "God of truth" of Isa. 65, 16.  It contrasts with the inconstancy and mendacity of the Laodiceans.  The angel of this church receives no praise.  Rather the church is threatened with rejection, but the possibility of repentance is admitted in 18-20.  Their material wealth is a deception, for they are spiritually poor and blind and naked.  They need the gold, etc.: which only Christ can give.  Christ chastises them because He loves them; He is ready to give them what they need; whoever opens to the Lord will share his table with the Lord.


Confraternity Bible:

To the Church at Sardis  1 "And to the angel of the church at Sardis write: Thus says he who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: I know thy works; thou hast the name of being alive, and thou art dead.  2 Be watchful and strengthen the things that remain, but which were ready to die.  For I do not find thy works complete before my God.  3 Remember therefore what thou hast received and heard, and observe it and repent.  Therefore, if thou wilt not watch, I will come upon thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know at what hour I shall come upon thee.  4 But thou hast a few persons at Sardis who have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with me in white; for they are worthy.  5 He who overcomes shall be arrayed thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.

6 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

To the Church at Philadelphia  7 "And to the angel of the church at Philadelphia write: Thus says the holy one, the true one, he who has the key of David, he who opens and no one shuts, and who shuts and no one opens: 8 I know thy works.  Behold, I have caused a door to be opened before thee which no one can shut, for thou hast scanty strength, and thou hast kept my word and hast not disowned my name.  9 Behold, I will bring some of the synagogue of Satan who say they are Jews, and are not, but are lying---behold, I will make them come and worship before thy feet.  And they shall know that I have loved thee.  10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I too will keep thee from the hour of trial, which is about to come upon the whole world to try those who dwell upon the earth.  11 I come quickly; hold fast what thou hast, that no one receive thy crown.  12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and never more shall he go outside.  And I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God---the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from my God---and my new name.

13 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

To the Church of Laodicea  14* "And to the angel of the church at Laodicea write: Thus says the Amen, the faithful and true witness, who is the beginning of the creation of God: 15 I know thy works; thou art neither cold nor hot.  I would that thou wert cold or hot.  16 But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to vomit thee out of my mouth; 17 because thou sayest, 'I am rich and have grown wealthy and have need of nothing,' and dost not know that thou art the wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked one.

18 "I counsel thee to buy of me gold refined by fire, that thou mayest become rich, and mayest be clothed in white garments, and that the shame of thy nakedness may not appear, and to anoint thy eyes with eye salve that thou mayest see.  19 As for me, those whom I love I rebuke and chastise.  Be earnest therefore and repent.  20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If any man listens to my voice and opens the door to me, I will come in to him and will sup with him, and he with me.  21 He who overcomes, I will permit him to sit with me upon my throne; as I also have overcome and have sat with my Father on his throne.

22 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
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*

14: Amen: a Hebrew word, used here as a personal name.