Image: Kimon Berlin
THE CHURCH OF SARDIS (1-6)
St Bede's summary of the message to the Church of Sardis is as follows:
He reproves this angel, that is, the bishop, as not sufficiently diligent in correcting the bad. He commends him, however, as having some who walk in white, and the name Sardis agrees with these, as that of a precious stone.
St Bede comments:
To thyself, indeed, thou seemest to be alive. But if thou art not watchful in the correction of the wicked, thou wilt henceforth be numbered among the dead.
Bede points out that the issue is not public appearances but the underlying reality:
If a ruler has not striven to incite others as well, although he may appear guiltless before men, his works are not perfect before God.
St Bede sees this verse as a reference to the parable of the thief in the Gospel in Matthew 24: 42-44:
Watch ye therefore, because you know not what hour your Lord will come. But this know ye, that if the goodman of the house knew at what hour the thief would come, he would certainly watch, and would not suffer his house to be broken open. Wherefore be you also ready, because at what hour you know not the Son of man will come.
St Bede concludes:
He invites all men to imitate those who have kept the silken robe of baptism undefiled.THE CHURCH OF PHILADELPHI (7-13)
St Bede tells us that:
Philadelphia is interpreted "brotherly love," and to it is the door of the kingdom opened, and the promise made of being beloved by the Lord.
The reference to the key of David is an allusion to royal power:
either because He was born of the family of David, or because the prophecy of David was made manifest by the dispensation of Christ.Several commentaries on this verse see it as pointing to Christ's fulfilment of the promise that David's heirs would rule forever in Christ's spiritual kingdom. Several also point, though, to the key being to knowledge, especially of the meaning of the psalms. Tyconnius, for example, comments:
Through the dispensation of Christ, as though by a key, the secrets of the law and of the prophets and of the psalms were made manifest. Christ himself attests to this when he says, "Everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms mus be fulfilled."Similarly, Andrew of Caesarea suggests that:
And, moreover, the Holy Spirit is the key to the book of the Psalms and of every prophecy, for through him the treasures of knowledge are opened.We should study the Old Testament then, and especially the psalms, asking for the gift of understanding from the Holy Ghost to aid us.
St Bede's comment is that:
The secrets of the divine law are opened to the faithful, and shut to the unbelieving, by the power of Christ alone.
No one, St Bede explains, cut shut the door of divine knowledge which Christ opened to His Church, not by virtue of its own merits, but through God's grace:
He shews the reason on account of which the Church obtains theses gifts, namely, that it does not trust in its own powers, but in the grace of Christ, the King. And it is the praise of God the protector, and of the devotion of the Church, that the gate of victory is opened to a little faith, and that a little power is strengthened by faith.
This can be read as another prophecy of the final conversion of the Jews. St Bede comments:
He promises this to all the Church of that time, for it was not at Philadelphia alone that there were believers from the synagogue of the Jews, as we find in the Acts of the Apostles.
St Bede draws attention to the fact that Philadelphia is the sixth of the seven churches addressed, and there is some important symbolism in this:
Because thou hast kept My example in suffering adversity, I also will keep thee from the impending afflictions, not, indeed, that thou mayest not be tempted, but that thou mayest not be overcome by adversity. And although the Church is always tried by adversity, yet, in this place, the hour of temptation, and the humiliation of the Jews in the time of antichrist, may be signified; that, as frequently happens in the course of this book at the sixth in order, so here also at the sixth angel, the last persecution may be designated...The number six was regarded both as perfect, by virtue of the fact that the work of creation was completed in six days of creation and for the number's (not unrelated) mathematical properties; and yet also symbolising something short of perfect, since creation was not deemed complete by God until he instituted the seventh day of rest. And too, it marks the day of man's creation. Augustine, for example, in Sermon 259 on Octave of Easter says:
The sixth [day] is therefore counted from the Coming of Our Lord: we are in the sixth day. And so as in Genesis man on the sixth day was formed in the image and likeness of God, so we are also in this time, upon as it were the sixth day of the whole of time, are reborn in baptism; that we may receive again the image and likeness of Our Maker.In Sermon 80 he adds:
With the coming of the Lord begins the sixth age in which we are living ... When the sixth day has passed, then rest will come ... and the saints completed, we shall return to that immortality and blessedness which the first man lost. And the octave shall accomplish the mysteries of God's children.Hence, the next verse...
St Bede reads it as meaning:
Do not grow weary in endurance, for I will help thee quickly, lest perhaps another, through thy failure, receive the reward which was decreed for thee. So it is impossible that the number of the saints which is fixed with God should be diminished by the faithlessness of the increasing tares. For if the lost crown is delivered to another, the place of him who has lost it is not vacant.
The image of Christians as part of a living temple was important in the early Church as can be seen by numerous references in Acts and the epistles, as well as Patristic literature, and one worth meditating on to recover:
He who has overcome adverse things for My sake shall be glorious in the temple of the Church, and shall no more fear any loss which adversity can bring. The pillars, that is, holy men, at one time strengthen the Church by their support, at another adorn it by their elevation, like the two pillars at the door of Solomon's temple....He shall be joined to the unity of the Church, which, by heavenly grace, is born again to a new life.