1. Sardis--the ancient capital of Lydia, the kingdom of wealthy
Croesus, on the river Pactolus. The address to this Church is full of
rebuke. It does not seem to have been in vain; for
MELITO, bishop of Sardis in the second century,
was eminent for piety and learning. He visited Palestine to assure
himself and his flock as to the Old Testament canon and wrote an
epistle on the subject [EUSEBIUS Ecclesiastical
History, 4.26]; he also wrote a commentary on the Apocalypse
[EUSEBIUS, Ecclesiastical History, 4.26;
JEROME, On Illustrious Men, 24].
he that hath the seven Spirits of God--that is, He who hath all
the fulness of the Spirit
(Re 1:4; 4:5; 5:6,
with which compare
Zec 3:9; 4:10,
proving His Godhead). This attribute implies His infinite power by the
Spirit to convict of sin and of a hollow profession.
and the seven stars--
(Re 1:16, 20).
His having the seven stars, or presiding ministers, flows, as a
consequence, from His having the seven Spirits, or the fulness
of the Holy Spirit. The human ministry is the fruit of Christ's sending
down the gifts of the Spirit. Stars imply brilliancy and glory;
the fulness of the Spirit, and the fulness of brilliant light in Him,
form a designed contrast to the formality which He reproves.
name . . . livest . . . dead--
Eph 2:1, 5; 5:14).
"A name," that is, a reputation. Sardis was famed among the churches
for spiritual vitality; yet the Heart-searcher, who seeth not as
man seeth, pronounces her dead; how great searchings of heart
should her case create among even the best of us! Laodicea deceived
herself as to her true state
but it is not written that she had a high name among the other
churches, as Sardis had.
2. Be--Greek. "Become," what thou art not, "watchful," or
"wakeful," literally, "waking."
the things which remain--Strengthen those thy remaining few
graces, which, in thy spiritual deadly slumber, are not yet quite
extinct [ALFORD]. "The things that remain" can
hardly mean "the PERSONS that are not yet dead,
but are ready to die"; for
implies that the "few" faithful ones at Sardis were not "ready to die,"
but were full of life.
are--The two oldest manuscripts read, "were ready," literally,
"were about to die," namely, at the time when you "strengthen" them.
This implies that "thou art dead,"
is to be taken with limitation; for those must have some life who are
told to strengthen the things that remain.
perfect--literally, "filled up in full complement"; Translate,
"complete." Weighed in the balance of Him who requires living faith as
the motive of works, and found wanting.
before God--Greek, "in the sight of God." The three
oldest manuscripts, Vulgate, Syriac, and Coptic, read,
"before (in the sight of) MY God"; Christ's judgment is God the
Father's judgment. In the sight of men, Sardis had "a name of living":
"so many and so great are the obligations of pastors, that he who would
in reality fulfil even a third of them, would be esteemed holy by men,
whereas, if content with that alone, he would be sure not to escape
hell" [JUAN D'AVILA]. Note:
in Sardis and Laodicea alone of the seven we read of no conflict with
foes within or without the Church. Not that either had renounced the
appearance of opposition to the world; but neither had the
faithfulness to witness for God by word and example, so as to "torment
them that dwelt on the earth"
3. how thou hast received--
What Sardis is to "remember" is, not how joyfully she had
received originally the Gospel message, but how the precious deposit
was committed to her originally, so that she could not say, she had not
"received and heard" it. The Greek is not aorist (as in
as to Ephesus, "Thou didst leave thy first love"), but "thou
hast received" (perfect), and still hast the permanent deposit of
doctrine committed to thee. The word "keep" (so the Greek is for
English Version, "hold fast") which follows, accords with this
sense. "Keep" or observe the commandment which thou hast received and
heard--Greek aorist, "didst hear," namely, when the
Gospel doctrine was committed to thee. TRENCH
explains "how," with what demonstration of the Spirit and power
from Christ's ambassadors the truth came to you, and how heartily and
zealously you at first received it. Similarly
BENGEL, "Regard to her former character
(how it once stood) ought to guard Sardis against the future
hour, whatsoever it shall be, proving fatal to her." But it is
not likely that the Spirit repeats the same exhortation virtually to
Sardis as to Ephesus.
If therefore--seeing thou art so warned, if, nevertheless, &c.
come on thee as a thief--in special judgment on thee as a
Church, with the same stealthiness and as unexpectedly as shall be My
visible second coming. As the thief gives no notice of his
approach. Christ applies the language which in its fullest sense
describes His second coming, to describe His coming in special
judgments on churches and states (as Jerusalem,
these special judgments being anticipatory earnests of that great last
coming. "The last day is hidden from us, that every day may be observed
by us" [AUGUSTINE]. Twice Christ in the days of
His flesh spake the same words
(Mt 24:42, 43;
Lu 12:39, 40);
and so deeply had His words been engraven on the minds of the apostles
that they are often repeated in their writings
1Th 5:2, 4, 6;
The Greek proverb was that "the feet of the avenging deities are shod
with wool," expressing the noiseless approach of the divine judgments,
and their possible nearness at the moment when they were supposed the
farthest off [TRENCH].
4. The three oldest manuscripts prefix "but," or "nevertheless"
(notwithstanding thy spiritual deadness), and omit "even."
names--persons named in the book of life
known by name by the Lord as His own. These had the reality
corresponding to their name; not a mere name among men as
living, while really dead
The gracious Lord does not overlook any exceptional cases of real
saints in the midst of unreal professors.
not defiled their garments--namely, the garments of their
Christian profession, of which baptism is the initiatory seal, whence
the candidates for baptism used in the ancient Church to be arrayed in
white. Compare also
as to the spotlessness of the Church when she shall be presented to
as to the "fine linen, clean and white, the righteousness of the
saints," in which it shall be granted to her to be arrayed; and "the
wedding garment." Meanwhile she is not to sully her Christian
profession with any defilement of flesh or spirit, but to "keep her
garments." For no defilement shall enter the heavenly city. Not that
any keep themselves here wholly free from defilement; but, as compared
with hollow professors, the godly keep themselves unspotted from the
world; and when they do contract it, they wash it away, so as to
have their "robes white in the blood of the Lamb"
The Greek is not "to stain" (Greek, "miainein"),
but to "defile," or besmear (Greek, "molunein"),
they shall walk with me in white--The promised reward accords
with the character of those to be rewarded: keeping their garments
undefiled and white through the blood of the Lamb now, they shall
walk with Him in while hereafter. On "with me," compare the very
"Walk" implies spiritual life, for only the living walk; also liberty,
for it is only the free who walk at large. The grace and dignity of
flowing long garments is seen to best advantage when the person
"walks": so the graces of the saint's manifested character shall appear
fully when he shall serve the Lord perfectly hereafter
they are worthy--with the worthiness (not their own, but that)
which Christ has put on them
"perfect through MY comeliness which I had put upon thee." Grace is
glory in the bud. "The worthiness here denotes a congruity
between the saint's state of grace on earth, and that of
glory, which the Lord has appointed for them, about to be
estimated by the law itself of grace" [VITRINGA].
5. white--not a dull white, but glittering, dazzling white
The body transfigured into the likeness of Christ's body, and emitting
beams of light reflected from Him, is probably the "white raiment"
the same--Greek, "THIS man"; he and
he alone. So one oldest manuscript reads. But two oldest manuscripts,
and most of the ancient versions, "shall THUS be
raiment--Greek, "garments." "He that overcometh" shall
receive the same reward as they who "have not defiled their garments"
therefore the two are identical.
I will not--Greek, "I will not by any means."
blot out . . . name out of . . . book of
life--of the heavenly city. A register was kept in ancient cities
of their citizens: the names of the dead were of course erased. So
those who have a name that they live and are dead
are blotted out of God's roll of the heavenly citizens and heirs of
eternal life; not that in God's electing decree they ever were
in His book of life. But, according to human conceptions, those who had
a high name for piety would be supposed to be in it, and were, in
respect to privileges, actually among those in the way of salvation;
but these privileges, and the fact that they once might have been
saved, shall be of no avail to them. As to the book of life,
13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27;
In the sense of the "call," many are enrolled among the called
to salvation, who shall not be found among the chosen at last.
The pale of salvation is wider than that of election. Election is
fixed. Salvation is open to all and is pending (humanly speaking) in
the case of those mentioned here. But
Re 20:15; 21:27,
exhibit the book of the elect alone in the narrower sense, after the
erasure of the others.
before . . . before--Greek, "in the presence
of." Compare the same promise of Christ's confessing before His Father
those who confessed Him,
Mt 10:32, 33;
Lu 12:8, 9.
He omits "in heaven" after "My Father," because there is, now that He
is in heaven, no contrast between the Father in heaven and the
Son on earth. He now sets His seal from heaven upon many of His
words uttered on earth [TRENCH]. An undesigned
coincidence, proving that these epistles are, as they profess, in their
words, as well as substance, Christ's own addresses; not even tinged
with the color of John's style, such as it appears in his Gospel and
Epistles. The coincidence is mainly with the three other Gospels, and
not with John's, which makes the coincidence more markedly undesigned.
So also the clause, "He that hath an ear, let him hear," is not
repeated from John's Gospel, but from the Lord's own words in the three
(Mt 11:15; 13:9;
Mr 4:9, 23; 7:16;
Lu 8:8; 14:35).
6. (See on
7. Philadelphia--in Lydia, twenty-eight miles southeast of
Sardis, built by Attalus Philadelphus, king of Pergamos, who died
A.D. 138. It was nearly destroyed by an earthquake
in the reign of Tiberius [TACITUS, Annals,
2.47]. The connection of this Church with Jews there causes the address
to it to have an Old Testament coloring in the images employed. It and
Smyrna alone of the seven receive unmixed praise.
he that is holy--as in the Old Testament, "the Holy One
of Israel." Thus Jesus and the God of the Old Testament are one. None
but God is absolutely holy (Greek, "hagios," separate
from evil and perfectly hating it). In contrast to "the synagogue of
"VERY God," as distinguished from the false gods
and from all those who say that they are what they are
real, genuine. Furthermore, He perfectly realizes all that is
involved in the names, GOD, Light
as distinguished from all typical, partial, and imperfect realizations
of the idea. His nature answers to His name
The Greek, "alethes," on the other hand, is