From: Revelation 3:1-6, 14-22
Letter to the Church of Sardis
Letter to the Church of Laodicea
 “’I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold
or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew
you out of my mouth.  For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need
nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
 Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, that you may
be rich, and white garments to clothe you and to keep the shame of your na-
kedness from being seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.
 Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. 
Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens
the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.  He who
conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered
and sat down with my Father on his throne.  He who has an ear, let him
hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
1. Sardis, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) south-east of Thyatira, was an impor-
tant hub in the highway system; it was also famous for its acropolis, which was
located in an unassailable position. Herodotus describes its inhabitants as im-
moral, licentious people (cf. “History”, 1, 55). The Christians of the city were
probably somewhat infected by the general atmosphere.
Christ is now depicted as possessing the fullness of the Spirit, with the power to
effect radical change by sanctifying the churches from within (cf. note on 1:4).
He is also portrayed as the sovereign Lord of the universal Church (cf. note on
2:1), ever ready to imbue it with new life.
The church of Sardis is accused of seeming to be alive but in fact being dead:
in other words, although its external practice of religion makes it look Christian,
most of its members (not all: cf. v. 4) are estranged from Christ, devoid of interior
life, in a sinful condition. Anyone who lives like that is dead. Our Lord himself de-
scribed the situation of the prodigal son as being a kind of death: “my son was
dead, and is alive again”, the father exclaims in the parable (Lk 15: 24); and St
Paul invites Christians to offer themselves to God “as men who have been
brought from death to life” (Rom 6:13). Now, in this passage of Revelation, we
are told that the cause of this spiritual, but real, death is the fact that the works
of this church are imperfect in the sight of God (v. 2); they were works which led
to spiritual death, that is, what we would term mortal sins. “With the whole tradi-
tion of the Church”, John Paul II says, “we call ‘mortal sin’ the act by which man
freely and consciously rejects God, his law, the covenant of love that God offers,
preferring to turn in on himself or to some created and finite reality, something
contrary to the divine will (”conversio ad creaturam”) [...]. Man perceives that this
disobedience to God destroys the bond that unites him with his life-principle: it
is a mortal sin, that is, an act which gravely offends God and ends in turning
against man himself with a dark and powerful force of destruction” (”Reconci-
liatio Et Paenitentia”, 17).
2-3. Vigilance is always necessary, particularly in certain situations like that of
Sardis where there was a number of people who had not fallen victim to sin. In
this kind of peril, Christians need to be alerted and confirmed in the faith. They
need to remember what they learned at the beginning, when they were instructed
in the faith, and try to bring their lives into line with that teaching. And so they are
not simply exhorted to conversion but told how to go about it — by comparing their
lives with the Word of God and making the necessary changes: “no one is safe if
he ceases to strive against himself. Nobody can save himself by his own efforts.
Everyone in the Church needs specific means to strengthen himself — humility,
which disposes us to accept help and advice; mortifications, which temper the
heart and allow Christ to reign in it; the study of abiding, sound doctrine, which
leads us to conserve and spread our faith” (St. J. Escriva, “Christ Is Passing
“I will come like a thief”: an image also found elsewhere in the New Testament
(cf. Mt 24:42-51, Mk 13:36; Lk 12:39ff; 1 Thess 5:2; 2 Pet 3: 10). This does not
mean that our Lord is lying in wait, ready to pounce on man when he is una-
wares, like a hunter waiting for his prey. It is simply a warning to us to live in the
grace of God and be ready to render our account to him. If we do that we will not
run the risk of being found empty-handed at the moment of death. “That day will
come for us. It will be our last day, but we are not afraid of it. Trusting firmly in
God’s grace, we are ready from this very moment to be generous and coura-
geous, and take loving care of little things: we are ready to go and meet our
Lord, with our lamps burning brightly. For the feast of feasts awaits us in hea-
ven” (St. J. Escriva, “Friends of God”, 40).
4-5. Despite the corrupt environment in which they were living, there were some
Christians who had not been contaminated by the immoral cults and lifestyles of
the pagans: their loyalty is symbolized by white garments. In the course of nar-
rating his visions St John mentions white garments a number of times (cf. 7:9,
13; 15:6; 19:14); this color symbolizes purity and also the joy of victory.
The symbol of the “book of life”, which occurs often in the Apocalypse (cf. 13:8;
17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27; etc.), is taken from the Old Testament, where those who
belong to the people of Israel are described as enrolled in the “book of the living”,
which is also referred to as the book of the Lord (cf. Ps 69:28; Ex 32:32ff). Those
whose names are in the book will share in the promises of salvation (cf. Is 4:3),
whereas those who are unfaithful to the Law will be excluded from the people of
God and their names blotted out of the “book of the living”. Other New Testa-
ment texts use the same image (cf., e.g., Lk 10:20; Phil 4:3).
The names of the victors will stay in the “book of life” which lists those who have
proved loyal to Christ, as well as those who belonged to the people of Israel.
Finally, on Judgment Day, those Christians who have kept the faith, will be spo-
ken for by Christ (cf. Mt 10:32; Lk 12:8).
14. Laodicea was a city on the border of Phrygia, about 75 kilometers (45 miles)
south-west of Philadelphia. It is also mentioned by St Paul when he suggests to
the Colossians that they exchange his letter to them for the one he sent the
Laodiceans (cf. Col 4:16).
Jesus Christ is given the title of “the Amen”; a similar description is applied to
Christ in 2 Corinthians 1:20. Both texts are instances of a divine name being ap-
plied to Christ, thereby asserting his divinity. “Amen”, so be it, is an assertion
of truth and veracity and connects with the title of “the true one” in the previous
letter. It highlights the fact that our Lord is strong, dependable and unchangeable;
the words that follow, “faithful and true witness”, spell out the full meaning of the
“Amen” title (cf. 1:5).
The most satisfactory interpretation of the phrase “the beginning of God’s crea-
tion” is in terms of Jesus Christ’s role in creation: for “all things were made
through him” (Jn 1:3) and therefore he, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
is the Creator of heaven and earth.
15-16. The prosperity Laodicea enjoyed may have contributed to the laxity and
lukewarmness the church is accused of here (Israel tended to take the same di-
rection when living was easy: the people would become forgetful of Yahweh and
adopt an easy-going lifestyle: cf., e.g., Deut 31:20; 32:15; Hos 13:6; Jer 5:7).
The presence of hot springs close to the city explains the language used in this
passage, which amounts to a severe indictment of lukewarmness. It shows God’s
repugnance for mediocrity and bourgeois living. As observed by Cassian, one of
the founders of Western monasticism, lukewarmness is something that needs to
be nipped in the bud: “No one should attribute his going astray to any sudden col-
lapse, but rather [...] to his having moved away from virtue little by little, through
prolonged mental laziness. That is the way bad habits gain round without one’s
even noticing it, and eventually lead to a sudden collapse. ‘Pride goes before de-
struction, and a haughty spirit before a fall’ (Prov 16:18). The same thing happens
with a house: it collapses one fine day due to some ancient defect in its founda-
tion or long neglect by the occupiers” (”Collationes”, VI, 17).
Spiritual lukewarmness and mediocrity are very closely related: neither is the
route Christian life should take. As St. Escriva puts it, “’In medio virtus’.... Virtue
is to be found in the middle, so the saying goes, warning us against extremism.
But do not make the mistake of turning that advice into a euphemism to disguise
your own comfort, calculation, lukewarmness, easygoingness, lack of idealism
“Meditate on these words of Sacred Scripture: ‘Would that you were cold or hot.
So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of
my mouth”’ (”Furrow”, 541).
17-19. The Christians of Laodicea did not realize how precarious their spiritual
situation was. The city’s flourishing trade and industry, and the fact that the
church was not being persecuted in any way, made them feel prosperous and
content: they were proud as well as lukewarm. They had fallen victim to that self-
conceit the wealthy are always inclined to feel and which moved our Lord to say
that rich people enter heaven only with difficulty (cf. Mt 19:23); he often pointed
to the dangers of becoming attached to material things (cf. Lk 1:53; 6:24; 12:21;
16:19-31; 18:23-25). The Laodiceans had become proud in their prosperity and
did not see the need for divine grace (which is worth more than all the wealth in
the world). As St Paul says in one of his letters: “Whatever gain I had, I counted
as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the
surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered
the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ”
There was an important textile industry in Laodicea which specialized in the
manufacture of black woolen cloth. Instead of wearing that material, the Laodi-
ceans must dress in garments which only our Lord can provide and which are
the mark of the elect (cf., e.g., Mt 17:2 and par; Rev 3:4-5; 7:9). The city was
also famous for its oculists, like Zeuxis and Philetos, who had developed a very
effective ointment for the eyes. Jesus offers an even better ointment — one which
will show them the dangerous state they are in. This dire warning comes from
God’s love, not his anger: it is his affection that leads him to reprove and correct
his people: ‘the Lord reproves whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he
delights” (Prov 3:12). After quoting these same words the Epistle to the Hebrews
adds: “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating 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” (12:7-8).
“Be zealous”: stop being lukewarm and enter the fervor of charity, have an ardent
zeal for the glory of God.
20-21. Christ knocking on the door is one of the most touching images in the Bi-
ble. It is reminiscent of the Song of Songs, where the bridegroom says, “Open to
me, my sister, my dove, my perfect one; for my head is wet with dew, my locks
with the drops of the might” (Song 5:2). It is a way of describing God’s love for us,
inviting us to greater intimacy with him, as happens in a thousand ways in the
course of our life. We should be listening for his knock, ready to open the door
to Christ. A writer from the Golden Age of Spanish literature evokes this scene in
poetry: “How many times the angel spoke to me:/’Look out of your window now,
/you’ll see how lovingly he calls and calls.’/Yet, sovereign beauty, how often/I re-
plied, ‘We’ll open for you tomorrow’,/ to reply the same when the morrow came”
(Lope de Vega, “Rimas Sacras”, Sonnet 18).
Our Lord awaits our response to his call, and when we make the effort to revive
our interior life we experience the indescribable joy of intimacy with him. “At first
it will be a bit difficult. You must make an effort to seek out the Lord, to thank
him for his fatherly and practical concern for us. Although it is not really a matter
of feeling, little by little the love of God makes itself felt like a rustle in the soul.
It is Christ who pursues us lovingly: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock’ (Rev
3:20). How is your life of prayer going? At times during the day don’t you feel the
impulse to have a longer talk with him? Don’t you then whisper to him that you
will tell him about it later, in a heart-to-heart conversation [...]. Prayer then be-
comes continuous, like the beating of our heart, like our pulse. Without this pre-
sence of God, there is no contemplative life; and without contemplative life, our
working for Christ is worth very little, for vain is the builder’s toil if the house is
not of the Lord’s building (cf. Ps 126:1)” (St. J. Escriva, “Christ Is Passing By”,
Jesus promises that those who conquer will sit beside him on his throne. He
gave a similar promise to St Peter about how the Apostles would sit on twelve
thrones to Judge the twelve tribes of Israel (cf. Mt 19:28; 20:20ff). The “throne” is
a reference to the sovereign authority Christ has received from the Father. There-
fore, the promise of a seat beside him is a way of saying that those who stay
faithful will share in Christ’s victory and kingship (cf. 1 Cor 6:2-3).
Source: “The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries”. Biblical text from the
Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of
the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.
Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and
by Scepter Publishers in the United States.