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V. THE CHURCH AT SARDIS .
(A Dead Church.)
1. THE SALUTATION--“And unto the Angel of the Church in Sardis write: these things saith He that hath the Seven Spirits of God, and the Seven Stars.
2. THE CONDEMNATION--I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and ART DEAD.
3. THE COUNSEL--Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent.
4. THE WARNING--If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
5. THE PROMISE--Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in WHITE RAIMENT; and I will not blot out his name out of the Book of Life, but I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.”
The Church at Sardis was called a “Dead Church” though it had a name to live. That is, it was a “Formalistic Church,” a church given over to “formal” or “ritualistic” worship. It had the “Form of Godliness without the power.” The meaning of the word “Sardis” is the “escaping one,” or those who “come out” and so it is an excellent type of the Church of the
By the Reformation we mean that period in the history of the Christian Church when Martin Luther and a number of other reformers protested against the false teaching, tyranny and claims of the Papal Church.
This Period began about A. D. 1500. The condition of affairs in the realm dominated by the Papal Church became intolerable, and came to a crisis when Martin Luther, on October 31, 1517 A. D., nailed his 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenberg, Germany. From that date the Reformation set in. But it was more a struggle for political liberty than a purely Christian or religious movement.
It had the advantage of encouraging and aiding the circulation of the Holy Scriptures, that had hitherto been a sealed book, the revival of the Doctrine of “Justification by Faith,” and a reversion to more simple modes of worship, but the multiplication of sects only led to bitter controversial contentions, that, while they threw much light on the Word of God, interfered greatly with the spiritual state of the Church, until it could truthfully be said, “That she had a name to live and was dead.”
While the reformers swept away much ritualistic and doctrinal rubbish they failed to recover the promise of the Second Advent. They turned to God from idols, but not to “wait for His Son from the Heavens.” The “Sardis Period” extended from A. D. 1520 to about A. D. 1750.
VI . THE CHURCH AT PHILADELPHIA .
(A Favored Church.)
1. THE SALUTATION--“And to the Angel of the Church in Philadelphia write: These things saith He that is Holy, He that is True, He that hath the Key of David, He that openeth; and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth.
2. COMMENDATION--I know thy works: behold I have set before thee an OPEN DOOR, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept My word, and hast not denied My name.
3. THE PROMISE--Behold, I will make them of the Synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of My Patience, I also will keep thee from the HOUR OF TRIBULATION, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy CROWN. Him that overcometh will I make a PILLAR in the Temple of My God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the NAME of My God, and the name of the CITY of My God, which is NEW JERUSALEM, which cometh down out of Heaven from My God: and I will write upon him My NEW NAME. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.”
There is no question about the meaning of the word Philadelphia. It means “Brotherly Love,” and well describes the charity and brotherly fellowship that dissipated the bitter personal animosities that characterized the theological disputants of the “Sardis Period,” and made possible the evangelistic and missionary labors of the past 150 years. Three things are said of this Church:
1. It had a “little strength.” It was like a person coming back to life who was still very weak. It was the “dead” Sardis Church “revived,” and Revivals have been characteristic of the Philadelphia Period. These Revivals began with George Whitefield in A. D. 1739, followed by John Wesley, Charles G. Finney and D. L. Moody.
2. It had set before it an “open door,” that no “man” could shut. Note that this promise was made by Him, who “hath the ’Key of David,’ He that ’openeth’ and no man shutteth; and ’shutteth’ and no man openeth.” In 1793 William Carey sailed for India, where he found an “open door,” and since then the Lord has opened the door into China, Japan, Korea, India, Africa and the isles of the sea, until there is not a country in the world where the missionary cannot go.
3. It was to be kept from the “Hour of Temptation” (TRIBULATION), that shall come upon ALL THE WORLD, and as there has never as yet been a WORLDWIDE Tribulation, this “Hour of Tribulation” must still be future and refers doubtless to the “Great Tribulation” that is to come upon the “whole world,” just before the return of the Lord to set up His Millennial Kingdom, and as the promise is that the “Philadelphia Church” shall not pass through the Tribulation, is not this additional proof that the Church shall be “caught out” before the Tribulation?
The Philadelphia Period covers the time between A. D. 1750 and A. D. 1900. We must not forget that the characteristics of all these Periods continue on in the Church down to the end. This is true of the Evangelistic and Missionary movements of the “Philadelphia Period,” but they are now more mechanical and based on business methods, and there is less spiritual power, and this will continue until Christ returns.
VII . THE CHURCH AT LAODICEA .
(A Lukewarm Church.)
1. THE SALUTATION--“And unto the Angel of the Church of the Laodiceans write: These things saith the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the beginning of the creation of God.
2. THE COMPLAINT--I know thy works, that thou art neither hot nor cold: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold or hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing, and knowest not that thou are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
3. THE COUNSEL--I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
4. THE CHASTENING--As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
5. THE PROMISE--Behold I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in My Throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with My Father in His Throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the Churches.”
Christ has no “commendation” for this Church, but much to complain of. He says--
“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold or hot; I would thou wert cold or hot. So then, because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold or hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”
There is nothing more disgusting or nauseating than “tepid” water. So there is nothing more repugnant to Christ than a “tepid” church. He would rather have a church “frozen” or “boiling.” It was the “chilly spiritual atmosphere” of the Church of England that drove John Wesley to start those outside meetings which became so noted for their “religious fervor,” and it was the same “chilly atmosphere” of the Methodist Church that drove William Booth in turn to become a “Red-hot” Salvationist.
Our churches today are largely in this “lukewarm” condition. There is very little of warm-hearted spirituality. There is much going on in them, but it is largely mechanical and of a social character. Committees, societies, and clubs are multiplied, but there is an absence of “spiritual heat.” Revival meetings are held, but instead of waiting on the Lord for power, evangelists and paid singers are hired and soul winning is made a business. The cause of this “lukewarmness” is the same as that of the Church of Laodicea--Self-Deception.
“Because thou sayest I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind and naked.”
They thought they were rich, and outwardly they were, but Christ saw the poverty of their heart. There are many such churches in the world today. More so than in any other period in the history of the church. Many of these churches have Cathedral-like buildings, stained glass windows, eloquent preachers, paid singers, large congregations. Some of them have large landed interests and are well endowed, and yet they are poor. Many of the members, if not the majority, are worldly, card playing, dancing, and theatre going Christians. The poor and the saintly are not wanted in such churches because their presence is a rebuke. These churches do not see that they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.
If we were to visit such churches they would take pride in showing us the building, they would praise the preaching and singing, they would boast of the character of their congregations, the exclusiveness of their membership, and the attractiveness of all their services, but if we suggested a series of meetings for the “deepening of the Spiritual Life,” or the “conversion of the unsaved,” they would say--“Oh, no, we do not want such meetings, we have need of nothing.” The Church at Laodicea was not burdened with debt, but it was burdened with WEALTH.
The trouble with the church today is that it thinks that nothing can be done without money, and that if we only had the money the world would be converted in this generation. The world is not to be converted by money, but by the Spirit of God.
The trouble with the Church of Laodicea was that its “Gold” was not of the right kind, and so it was counseled to buy of the Lord “gold tried in the fire.” What kind of gold is that? It is gold that has no taint upon it. Gold that is not cankered, or secured by fraud, or the withholding of a just wage. What a description we have of these Laodicean days in James 5:1-4.
But the Church of Laodicea was not only poor, though rich, it was blind. Or to put it more accurately--“Near-Sighted.” They could see their worldly prosperity, but were “Short-Sighted” as to heavenly things, so the Lord counseled them to anoint their eyes with “Eye-Salve.” Their merchants dealt in ointments and herbs of a high degree of healing virtue, but they possessed no salve that would restore impaired Spiritual Vision, only the Unction of the Holy One could do that.
But the Church was not only poor, and blind, it was naked. Their outward garments were doubtless of the finest material and the latest fashionable cut, but not such as should adorn the person of a Child of God. So they were counseled to purchase of Christ “White Raiment,” in exchange for the “raven black woolen” garments for which the garment makers of Laodicea were famous.
Then a most startling revelation was made to the Church of Laodicea, Christ said--
“Behold, I Stand at the Door and Knock.”
These words are generally quoted as an appeal to sinners, but they are not, they are addressed to a Church, and to a Church in whose midst Christ had once stood, but now found Himself excluded and standing outside knocking for admittance.
This is the most startling thing recorded in the New Testament, that it is possible for a church to be outwardly prosperous and yet have no Christ in its midst, and be unconscious of the fact. This is a description of a Christless Church. Oh, the
Excluded from His own nation, for they Rejected Him; excluded from the world, for it Crucified Him; excluded from His Church, for He stands outside its door Knocking for Entrance.
How did Christ come to be outside the Church? He had been within it once or there never would have been a Church. How did He come to leave? It is clear that they had not thrust Him out, for they do not seem to have missed His presence. They continued to worship Him, to sing His praises, and engage in all manner of Christian service, yet He had withdrawn. Why? The reason is summed up in one word--Worldliness.
But how is Christ to get back into His Church? Does it require the unanimous vote or invitation of the membership? No. “If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” That is the way to revive a lukewarm church is for the individual members to open their hearts and let Christ re-enter, and thus open the door for His reappearance.
The character of the Church today is Laodicean, and as the Laodicean Period is to continue until the Church of the “New-Born” is taken out, we cannot hope for any great change until the Lord comes back.
What do these “Messages to the Churches” teach us? They clearly teach the DECLINE OF THE CHURCH. That the professing Church instead of increasing in spiritual and world converting power will become lukewarm, faithless, and CHRISTLESS.
In Paul’s Parable of the “Two Olive Trees” (Romans 11:15-27), he shows how the “natural branches” of the “Good Olive Tree,” (Israel) were broken off because of UNBELIEF, that the “Wild Olive Tree” of the Church might be “grafted in,” which in turn, because of UNBELIEF, would be displaced that the “Natural branches” might be “grafted back again,” thus showing that the Church does not take the place of Israel permanently, but simply fills up the “Gap” between Israel’s “casting off” and “restoration to Divine favor.” As the Laodicean Period closes the “Church Age,” the Church disappears at the end of Chapter Three, and Israel comes again into view.
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Larkin, Clarence. "Commentary on Revelation 3". A Study of the Prophetic Book of Holy Scripture. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany