To the Church in Sardis
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of Him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.”
Sardis was a hub city southeast of Thyatira in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Chapter 3, verses 1 and 2 begin again with a command to John to write a letter to the archangel assigned over the church at Sardis. It entails previous and repetitious wording, signifying divine attributes of Jesus, pointing the 1st century church to the fact that He is indeed Yahweh.
As we’ve seen in previous chapters, the seven “spirits of God”, or attributes of the Holy Spirit, are listed in Isaiah 11:2…
“(1) the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
(2) the Spirit of wisdom and (3) the Spirit of understanding,
(4) the Spirit of counsel and (5) might,
(6) the Spirit of knowledge and of (7) the Fear of the Lord;”
• Seven stars = 7 Archangels appointed over the Churches
Sardis, corporately, had a reputation of being a “living” church, or a church that was blessed of God, but Jesus pronounced that they are a dead church, and without Him in their midst. He commands them to build upon what remained that was about to die: their works and faith.
This church thought they were right with God, but God declares that He was not even in their midst. (Let that sink in…) Jesus had departed from them for not repenting. They had backslid, by compromising to the culture around them. But there were still a few true believers in their midst, who were living righteously and worthy of His name.
3:3- Here, “come as a thief” is Hebraic, idiomatic language signifying judgment. Jesus is saying that if they didn’t repent, and turn it around, that He would bring judgment upon them. The “thief” term here only applies to those who are not ready for His coming, much like those outside the ark of Noah, when they felt the raindrops begin to fall. being “taken” or stolen is not a good thing. When Jesus said, “One will be taken, the other left” in Matthew 24, He was correlating it to the example of Noah He had just mentioned. Was being the one taken in the flood a good place to be? No! The one’s left behind were the blessed ones. Context!!!!
3:4- White garments are symbolic of spiritual purity. Being soiled or spotted means to have partaken in the things pertaining to the world system, and compromising one’s integrity before Christ: tolerating and partaking in sin.
3:5- Names get blotted out of the Book of Life. The Book of Life is the record of the names of all the souls who received life in the history of mankind. When one is not found in allegiance to Christ, and his/her sins under the blood of Jesus in the judgment, God erases their remembrance. Being confessed before God and the angels is referring to being found “faithful.”
Notice there were a few faithful people in this city’s church. It is relational, one on one, regarding being saved. This church was full of people thinking they were saved, or would be accepted by Jesus, and they were not. They had minimized God’s Word to fit in within the culture around them. They did not love God enough to stand apart for Jesus. But within the many like this, Jesus found a few who were true and faithful, and living a holy life, void of compromise.
To the Church in Philadelphia
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy One, the true One, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.
“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Continuing southeast of Sardis, we come to Philadelphia, “the City of Brotherly Love.” The letter to Philadelphia also opens with descriptive language of Jesus, calling Him “Holy and True.” Those attributes are self explanatory. Jesus was sinless, and holy (set apart). He said His life to doing the Father’s business/will. How much more holy can one get? And He is the Word of God, the only real Truth that exists. Jesus never spoke anything but Truth. But here in 3:7, we find John writing a reference from Isaiah 22:22… regarding having “the Key of David.” This is a play off of chapter 1, referring to Jesus “having the key(s)…” The key of death and hell show His sovereignty over them and here, this reference made to Isaiah 22:22 depicts his sovereignty of who enters His salvation and Kingdom. It signifies His divine authority and His approval.
We see in these churches the same issues present in today’s churches: A compromising people that are ashamed of the testimony of Jesus Christ, because they’re not willing to be persecuted in their stand for the name of Jesus, nor committed to His call and commission. Isn’t it amazing that in the 21st century that we can say praise be to “god”, Buddha, Allah, or whomever…., but the moment you use the name of Jesus, you become persecuted? It is the only Name whereby men can be saved. It holds a candle up to sin and demands repentance, and a faithful life in doing the law of faith.
These churches were compromising to cultural pressures, because they were ashamed of the testimony of Jesus Christ and unwilling to be persecuted to uphold it. They were unwilling to stand upon the fact that He was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life in obedience to his Father, died on the cross, and in three days rose again in bodily form, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. Most today claim to be Christian, yet won’t even speak of Him, let alone let their lives witness of Him.
3:8- Again, a play on the words of Isaiah 22:22 regarding the door that only He can open and shut. He decides who enters it and who doesn’t. Jesus is Lord. His name is Salvation. No one enters thru His Door, or salvation but by following His example in the power of His Spirit given to them.
3:9- These Jews were called the “synagogue of Satan” for persecution of Christians. Ignatius wrote of a conflict between the church at Philadelphia and these Jews in those days. These Jews claimed to be true Israel, but rejected Messiah as well, and by their wealth, it can be concluded that they had compromised their own laws of Judaism in that culture, so as to be accepted by the pagans.
Salvation being on the line here is clearly shown by the introduction. God makes the enemies of His faithful bow to them. Psalm 23 comes to mind, in that God honors his saints before their oppressors. The context of when this occurs is on the day of His return, despite the perverse teachings of modern heretics promoting false prosperity as being how this transpires. What is the message of the Cross, narcissism or self-denial? Exactly.
“Open door” is referring to salvation of the Church and to its witness. Though the Church appears to have but a little power in comparison to the majority pagan power of their day, God causes them to have great influence by His Spirit. Christ is the One causing the unbelieving Jewish community to recognize that the Gentile church composes His beloved people.
3:10- Here is a promise to Philadelphia for their faithfulness to bearing witness to His suffering in their own lives. God promised to keep them protected through the penal judgment of those who dwell upon the earth, referring to idolaters who reject Jesus in not keeping his teaching. (Lost and rebellious people.) This, no doubt, in a greater degree, hints to the final judgments to come later, as well, which were set in motion in the day in which they existed. But the grammatical wording, in context points to being protected while in the midst of something, rather than being taken out. This verse is often used to support a “rapture from tribulation” view, but it is a far stretch and poor exegesis to attempt to uphold this view. Remember the “Last Days/ Great Tribulation” are composed of the period of time from His ascent to Heaven until His return to set up the physical Kingdom. “I, John, your fellow companion in tribulation…..”………
3:11- Jesus continues to affirm His certain return, and to tell them to hold on to their faith, because they’re about to go through some intense persecution.
3:12- Pillar is imagery of strength and endurance. A new name is in regard to association with His Name and entails being included in His family.
3:13- Again, the repeating statement to all Seven Churches, admonishing… “Those who can still hear God’s voice, need to heed and do what the Spirit is speaking.”
To the Church in Laodicea
“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also 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.’”
3:14- Strangely, we have no clear evidence of any persecution to the church at Laodicea (pronounced Lay-oh-de-kaya), as with the other churches. Actually following Jesus brings persecution. So…. Jesus speaks of His identity here as the “Amen”, the Hebrew term of confirmation. He is the assurance of God’s promises. Again, He is called Faithful and True, assuring God’s covenant. He is also the Ruler or the Beginning (Greek- “arche”). In Roman heirarchy, the Emporer arrogantly referred to himself as the “princeps (preen’keps)”, or the “first of unequals.” John uses that Greek terminology of his day to allude this to Jesus’ status. He is the only One unequalled. No other man is worthy to open the seals. No other man could live a perfect, sinless life to redeem mankind. Jesus has no equal! The Name above every name!
Jehovah’s Witnesses have twisted this terminology to mean that Jesus was the first thing of creation by God. Looking at the uses of this term in scriptural entirety, this is a very weak and far reaching grasp at trying to make the biblical narrative fit one’s own. It brings a curse! The term is used to mean “the first.” In Revelation 21:6 and 22:13, where God is speaking, we see Him saying, “I am the Alpha and Omega (Alef and Tav), beginning (first) and the end.” And Jesus also is speaking, saying the same thing of Himself. So in light of Isaiah 41:4, 44:6, and 48:12, it is clearly a divine attribute being portrayed, the point of which is that Jesus is Himself, Yahweh, not some far reaching, heretical meaning that Jesus was created like the angels. Jehovah’s Witness teachings makes Jesus an angelic equal to Satan, and that is blasphemy.
3:15-16- Jesus challenges Laodicea’s arrogance in an area in which they were unable to boast: their water supply. It was contaminated and full of sediment. It tasted awful. The terra cotta pipes found around Laodicea reveal thick lime deposits. These pipes would have been a constant, visual reminder of their true lack of self-sufficiency, in spite of their projected facade, in that they had to pipe in water from elsewhere. This was a great area of vulnerability for an ancient city. If an invader wanted to overtake the city, all they had to do is seize or poison their water supply. A city with no internal water supply was absolutely defenseless in a siege. So Laodicea’s projection of self-sufficiency was superficial at best, a common trait associated with that kind of arrogance.
We also learn something of “hot and cold” water here. Hot water was useful for bathing. It was thought to be therapeutic, and public baths were also artificially heated. Hot water was also drunk, especially at banquets, though cold water was the normal preference for drinking. So both cold and hot water were useful for something. But in cultural context, lukewarm water was considered disgusting and useless. Ancient people often spat out bitter or lukewarm water. The mere act was used as an analogy and expression of people they found to be disgusting. So Jesus was saying to Laodicea, “You are likened to this water supply! You make me sick and disgust me! You make me want to vomit!” So much for the effeminate, passive, “He loves everyone and is not offensive” Jesus presented in preaching today. Jesus’ love is all about eternity, not our comfort and hurt little feelings. The only mention of suck bottles and milk in the scripture was Paul quoting Isaiah 28 to the imbecilic behavior going on at Corinth.
God doesn’t like our arrogant, self-sufficiency. God is near the humble, the weak, and broken. He is far from the proud. He is near those who depend on His ability and power in our weakness. Today, I believe the Church of Laodicea bears the closest resemblance to the Church in North America, because we more often than not, imbibe the values of our culture. We are so prideful of all that we have in material resources, our technology, mass-communication abilities, and titles of education, but we do not depend on the Lord. We try to do a lot in His name, but apart from the order of His Word. The early Church’s spirit was embodied in the words of Peter and John at the Beautiful Gate in healing a cripple, saying, “Silver and gold we do not have, but what we do have is the power of God working in us, so rise up and walk!” They had little in materialism, yet were mighty, in not just preaching the Word, but also had the Apostles confirming what was preached with signs following.
3:17- The city of Laodicea was a wealthy banking center and had grown immensely prosperous under the Flavian Dynasty of Domitian’s family. They were arrogant about their wealth. After the massive earthquake of 60 A.D., Laodicea refused the emporer’s offer of disaster relief, and said, “We can rebuild the city ourselves.” Again, arrogant! They wouldn’t accept help, being so proud of their supposed self-sufficiency.
Yes, Laodicea viewed themselves as self-sufficient, and they were arrogant. Their attitude was a reflection of the lofty, paganistic culture surrounding them, obviously. But Jesus informs them of their complete lack of Christ. They see material wealth, but Jesus reveals their spiritual bankruptcy.
3:18- Jesus calls them to repentance here and extends the offer of salvation to them, signified through Old Testament imagery of refiner’s gold, a symbol of purification, and offering “white robes”, which is the symbolic emblem of spiritual purity. He uses this “covering nakedness” terminology to denote the removal of sins and removal of being exposed in them. Uncovered sin will be revealed in judgment. He speaks of eye salve as a symbol of receiving true spiritual sight/understanding by the Spirit of God, indwelling the redeemed. Laodicea had its own medical school and was known for making eye salve, in which they exported throughout the Roman Empire. John, again using the known attributes of his day, to signify the spiritual points Jesus wanted conveyed to the Churches. It is all about purification, thru sanctification, by righteous living. This Paul referred to as “walking in the Spirit”, or the “obedience of the faith.”
3:19- He reminds them that, even though they are apart from Him and His salvation, that He died for them in love, and beckons them to repent and enter the family of God. Be zealous for Kingdom things, not things of this world.
3:20- As believers, we must be so immersed in scripture that we can see, even where it challenges things we may think are no problem, because everyone around us thinks it is no problem. We must hear His voice…hear Him rapping at the door of our hearts….and always be willing to open our heart to the correction of His Word. He promises to dwell with any who will simply surrender to His Truth, and says that He will reside with them.
3:21- He is declaring that the faithful will be exalted, and be kings and priests in the Kingdom come.
3:22- And to the final of “seven”, Jesus repeats this command for the seventh time to the seventh church, “He who can still hear God speaking, be attentive and DO what the Spirit says.”
Between Chapters 2 and 3, in looking into the characteristics of the Seven Churches, we see the same problems of human nature that are still permeating the churches of the world today. The root of which is compromise, brought about by the tolerance of false teaching, selfish nature, and allowing ourselves to love this world system. But what Jesus clarifies in these letters is that none who call themselves His disciples can partake in this world system of compromise and consumerism. The true church is unspotted by the world, beast system.