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1. Destination and description of Christ 3:1a-b
Sardis (modern Sart) stood about 33 miles southeast of Thyatira on a major highway that led all the way to Susa in Mesopotamia. [Note: See Caird, p. 47.] It had been the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia. It was famous for its military history, jewelry, dye, and textiles. Due to its situation on a steep hill, many people thought the city was impregnable. However Cyrus the Persian had captured it about 549 B.C. by following a secret path up a cliff. Antiochus invaded the city in the same way about 218 B.C.
"The dominant religion of the city . . . appears to be that of the general Anatolian religious forms: a worship of the forces of nature, which were viewed as subject to death but also as having the power of self-reproduction." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 243.]
The Lord presented Himself to this congregation as the all-wise God. The "seven Spirits" may refer to the seven principal angels of God (cf. Revelation 1:4). The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches (Revelation 1:20). Christ also reminded the readers of His lordship over the churches (the "seven stars," Revelation 1:20; Revelation 2:1).
2. Commendation and rebuke 3:1c, 2b
The Lord gave less praise to this church than to any of the churches except Laodicea, which received none. The only good thing He said to these Christians was that they had a good reputation, evidently among the other churches. However, they were really a dead church and their good works were not as impressive as they should have been. Only a few of their number were faithful to the Lord (Revelation 3:4).
"The temple to Artemis (possibly Cybele) equaled in size the famous temple of Artemis in Ephesus. However, the temple at Sardis was never finished." [Note: Johnson, p. 447.]
This tendency to fail to finish what they had begun characterized the Christians too.
"No city of Asia at that time showed such a melancholy contrast between past splendor and present decay as Sardis." [Note: William M. Ramsay, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia, p. 375.]
"Death was a special preoccupation of the Sardians, as witnessed by the impressive necropolis seven miles from the city." [Note: Johnson, p. 448.]
"Dr. Vance Havner has frequently reminded us that spiritual ministries often go through four stages: a man, a movement, a machine, and then a monument. Sardis was at the ’monument’ stage, but there was still hope!" [Note: Wiersbe, 2:577.]
E. The letter to the church in Sardis 3:1-6
Jesus Christ sent this letter to commend the few faithful Christians in Sardis for their good deeds and to challenge the negligent majority to remember what they knew and to obey Him.
3. Exhortation 3:2a, 3
These believers needed to awake from their spiritual slumber, to examine their condition, and to realize their needs (cf. Matthew 24:42; Matthew 25:13; Matthew 26:41). Their city had fallen into enemy hands more than once due to the carelessness of sentries who had relied too much on the town’s natural fortifications. They also needed to strengthen the areas of weakness in their church, which was almost dead.
As the Ephesians, they needed to remember the rich spiritual heritage of their church and to return to the attitudes and activities their teachers had taught them. Failure to heed these warnings would result in Jesus Christ sending discipline on the believers that would surprise them. It would be similar to the surprise that earth-dwellers will experience at the Second Coming (cf. Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 16:15). These Christians were not watching expectantly for the Lord to return. Note the many allusions to Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels in this Sardis letter.
4. Promise 3:4-6
Jesus Christ held out blessings for the faithful few in the congregation to stimulate the rest to repent. White garments symbolic of one’s works (Revelation 19:8) are pure and free of defilement (cf. Revelation 7:9; Revelation 7:13; Revelation 19:14; Matthew 22:11-12). Sardis boasted of her trade in woolen goods and dyed stuffs. [Note: Cf. Charles, 1:78.] Only the Christians who were faithful to Jesus Christ could enjoy His intimate fellowship ("walk with Me;" cf. Revelation 7:14; Revelation 22:14).
"The reference was to the day of a Roman triumph. All work ceased and the true Roman citizen donned the pure white toga. The specially privileged few-usually the civic authorities and sometimes relations or friends of the victorious general who was being honoured-had a part in the triumphal procession. Clad in white, these Sardian believers were also to walk in triumph with their Captain in the day of His triumph. They had remained loyal to Him and would share His honour in the day of His glory." [Note: Tatford, p. 115. Cf. Ramsay, pp. 386-88; Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting, p. 147; and J. Massyngberde Ford, Revelation, p. 413.]
God will eventually clothe all overcomers with special garments that declare their inward joy, victory, purity, and heavenly state (cf. Revelation 7:9; Revelation 7:13; Revelation 19:8). [Note: See Swete, pp. 51-52.]
Second, He will not (double negative for emphasis in Greek) erase their names from the "book of life" (cf. Luke 10:20), another metaphor for eternal life (cf. Revelation 2:7). There appear to be several "books" (records) that God keeps in heaven (cf. Revelation 20:12). Since God is omniscient He does not need to record things in books. People keep books for later recollection, so the figure of a book is an instance of contextualization: giving revelation in terms the recipients can easily understand. There is the book of the living, namely, those who are presently alive on the earth, including the unsaved (Exodus 32:32-33; Deuteronomy 29:20; Psalms 69:28; Isaiah 4:3). There is also a book containing the names of the lost and their deeds (Revelation 20:12). There is a book with the names of the elect in it (Daniel 12:1; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8; Revelation 20:15; Revelation 21:27). A fourth book evidently contains the names of faithful followers of the Lord (Malachi 3:16; Philippians 4:3; Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 3:5). [Note: See Charles R. Smith, "The Book of Life," Grace Theological Journal 6:2 (Fall 1985):219-30.]
"The Book of Deeds and the Book of Life are distinguished in Revelation 20:12 . . . The motif of having one’s name erased from, or blotted out of, the Book of Life is a metaphor for judgment (Exodus 32:32-33; Psalms 69:27-28; . . .), based on the notion of expulsion or disenfranchisement from the record of citizenship. Originally, however, to be blotted out of the Book of Life meant ’to die’ (Exodus 32:32-33; Psalms 69:27-28; Isaiah 4:3)." [Note: Aune, p. 224.]
Several reliable Bible students have believed that the book of life contains the names of everyone living, but as unbelievers die God removes their names from the book. Thus at the end the book contains only the names of believers. [Note: E.g. Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 261; Walvoord, The Revelation . . ., p. 82, McGee, 5:915; and Wiersbe, 2:577-78.]
The term "name" (Gr. onoma) also has more than one meaning. Biblical writers used it of the name of a person, his reputation (as in "he has a good name"; cf. Job 30:8; Proverbs 22:1; Isaiah 56:4-5), a synonym for the person himself, and in prepositional combinations. [Note: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. "Onoma," by H. Bietenhard.] In view of the previous use of the word "name" (Revelation 3:1), where it means reputation, that is probably what it means here too (cf. Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:12). The Christian has a good reputation in heaven that results in his receiving an honorable eternal identity. Yet his good name associates closely with his rewards. [Note: Fuller, p. 304. Cf. Dillow, pp. 482-86; and Robert N. Wilkin, "I Will Not Blot Out His Name," Grace Evangelical Society News 10:2 (March-April 1995):1-4.]
"Practically every city of that day maintained a roll or civic register of its citizens, and in that record was entered the name of every child born in the city. If one of the citizens proved guilty of treachery or disloyalty or of anything bringing shame on the city, he was subjected to public dishonour by the expunging of his name from the register. (The name was, in any case normally obliterated at death.) He was deemed no longer worthy to be regarded as a citizen of the city. If, on the other hand, a citizen had performed some outstanding exploit deserving of special distinction, honour was bestowed upon him, either by the recording of the deed in the city roll or by his name being encircled in gold (or overlaid in gold) in the roll." [Note: Tatford, pp. 116-17. Cf. Aune, p. 225.]
We should not infer from this statement in Revelation 3:5 that some believers will lose their salvation (John 5:24; John 6:35-37; John 6:39; John 10:28-29). The litotes here (cf. Revelation 2:11) means the overcomer’s name will be especially glorious forever. [Note: See Zane C. Hodges, "Revelation 3:15 Revisited," The Kerugma Message 4:1 (September 1995):2.]
"The purpose of the promise is to provide certainty and assurance to those who are ’worthy’ (cf. Revelation 3:4), not to indicate anything about the fate of those who do not overcome." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 261.]
Third, Jesus Christ will acknowledge all overcomers as His own (cf. Matthew 10:32; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Luke 12:8).
"The faithful, in the white toga of the freeborn, would walk in the triumphal procession with the Victor; they would be brought into the banquet and clad in the shining festal robe; their names would be honoured in the civic register of heaven; and finally they would be confessed before the Sovereign of the universe. Just as, in the presence of the emperor and his court, the victorious general related the deeds of the warriors who had done exploits in the battle and presented these men before the august court in acknowledgement of their worth, so the Lord Jesus Christ would recount the deeds of His followers and present them to His father." [Note: Tatford, p. 117. Cf. Matthew 10:32; Mark 8:38; Luke 12:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:12.]
"Faithfulness in trial now is to be rewarded beyond measure in the life to come." [Note: Mounce, p. 114.]
In view of these coming realities the Christians in Sardis would have felt encouraged to live in keeping with their calling (cf. Ephesians 4:1).
During the period of the Protestant Reformation the Protestant church had a reputation for being sound, but really it was quite dead. The reformers effected a return to the doctrines of salvation by grace and the priesthood of all believers, but they and their disciples could not agree on many other doctrines. This resulted in denominationalism that has fragmented the church ever since, destroying its unity and marring its testimony. The faithful few of this period were those who held to the truths of Scripture that the Reformation discovered anew but did not agree with the errors of its leaders. [Note: See E. H. Broadbent, The Pilgrim Church, for an account of the continuance through the centuries of churches practicing the principles taught and exemplified in the New Testament.]
Even in the present day there are many local churches that have a reputation for being good, perhaps because of an imposing building, much activity, or a rich history. However, they are really almost dead spiritually.
1. Destination and description of Christ 3:7
Philadelphia (lit. brotherly love; cf. Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; Hebrews 13:1; et al.) lay about 30 miles southeast of Sardis. A Pergamenian king, Attalus II (159-138 B.C.), founded it. The town received its name from his nickname, "Philadelphus" or "brother lover." This king had a special devotion to his brother, Eumenes II. The city stood in a wine-producing area and was the so-called gateway to central Asia Minor. The modern name of this town is Alasehir.
"It was a missionary city, founded to promote a unity of spirit, customs and loyalty within the realm, the apostle of Hellenism in an Oriental land." [Note: Tatford, p. 119.]
Because it experienced earthquakes from time to time more of the population than normal chose to live outside the city walls.
Jesus Christ presented Himself to these saints as holy (cf. Revelation 4:8; Revelation 6:10; Psalms 16:10; Habakkuk 3:3; Isaiah 40:25; Mark 1:24; Luke 1:35; Luke 4:34; John 6:69; Acts 4:27; Acts 4:30; 1 Peter 1:15; 1 John 2:20), true (genuine), and authoritative (cf. Revelation 1:5; Revelation 6:10). The "key of David" seems to refer to Isaiah 22:20-23 where Hezekiah’s servant, Eliakim, received authority over David’s house, including access to all the king’s treasures. Jesus claimed to have God’s full administrative authority over salvation and judgment and to distribute or not distribute all God’s resources according to His will.
F. The letter to the church in Philadelphia 3:7-13
The Lord sent the letter to the church in Philadelphia to praise the Christians for their faithfulness in spite of persecution and to encourage them to persevere.
2. Commendation 3:8
The Philadelphia Christians had received an "open door" to opportunity for spiritual blessing, perhaps opportunity for evangelism (cf. 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3). This opportunity would continue because they had a little "power" (spiritual power) though they were evidently few. Since there is no article before "little" in the Greek text, it is possible to understand their "little strength" (NIV) as a reference to their small influence, evidently because of their small number. They had faithfully obeyed God’s Word, and they had maintained a faithful testimony for the Lord in the past, presumably by word and by deed. They also enjoyed the prospect of an open door into the messianic kingdom because they had been faithful. This may be the primary reference in view. [Note: See Thomas, Revelation 1-7, pp. 277-78; and Beasley-Murray, p. 100.]
3. Promise 3:9-12
Jesus Christ gave no rebuke to this church, as was true of the church in Smyrna. He gave the Christians five promises instead.
First, their Jewish antagonists would eventually have to acknowledge that the Christians were the true followers of God (cf. Revelation 2:9). These foes claimed to be the true followers of God, but they were not, having rejected Jesus Christ (cf. John 8:31-59). Eventually they would have to admit their error, at the judgment of unbelievers (the great white throne judgment) if not earlier (Isaiah 45:23; Isaiah 60:14; Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10-11). However the future repentance of Israel at Messiah’s second coming that will result in the Jews’ respectful treatment of Gentile believers seems to be in view here (cf. Isaiah 45:14; Isaiah 49:23; Ezekiel 36:23; Ezekiel 37:28; Zechariah 8:20-23).
Second, God promised the Christians in this church that they would not go through the Tribulation period (Revelation 6-19). He promised to keep them from the hour of testing. The combination of the verb and the preposition in Greek in this verse clearly means that He would keep them out of it (the pretribulation position). It does not mean He would preserve them through it (the posttribulation position) or remove them during it (the midtribulation position). [Note: See Newell, pp. 71-72; Thomas R. Edgar, "An Exegesis of Rapture Passages," in Issues in Dispensationalism, pp. 211-17; Thomas, Revelation 1-7, pp. 283-91; Daniel K. K. Wong, "The Pillar and the Throne in Revelation 3:12, 21," Bibliotheca Sacra 156:623 (July-September 1999):303. For the posttribulational interpretation, see Mounce, p. 119; aand Ladd, p. 62.]
What if some in the church did not keep the word of Christ’s perseverance? This is probably a subjective gentive, meaning the endurance that Jesus Himself displayed rather than the endurance that He requires. Would God not keep them from the hour of testing? In other words, will only faithful or watchful Christians experience the Rapture (the partial rapture position)? No, all Christians will experience transformation at the Rapture (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). God has promised all Christians deliverance from that outpouring of His wrath (1 Thessalonians 1:10). [Note: See Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, pp. 478-507, for further explanation of the four major premillennial views of the Rapture; and see Gerald B. Stanton, Kept from the Hour, for refutation of the partial rapture, the midtribulation rapture, and the posttribulation rapture views.]
Furthermore, it is not just the testing God promised to deliver them from but the "hour" of testing, the time in history during which these trials will come (cf. John 12:27). Beasley-Murray regarded the hour of testing as a designation of the trial itself rather than as a period of testing (cf. Mark 14:35). [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 101.] Beale believed that this "hour" probably refers to the end of the church’s present experience of tribulation, just before Christ’s second coming. [Note: Beale, p. 290.]
The Greek word translated "testing" (peirasai) means to test to demonstrate the quality of a thing, not to purify its quality. This hour of testing will involve the "whole world" (Gr. oikoymenes, the inhabited earth), not just a local area. Its purpose is to demonstrate the quality of those who "dwell upon the earth." This term refers to earth-dwellers as contrasted with heaven-dwellers, the unsaved as contrasted with Christians. [Note: See Thomas D. Ice, "The Meaning of ’Earth Dwellers’ in Revelation," Bibliotheca Sacra 166:663 (July-September 2009)350-65.] As with the promises given to the other churches in chapters 2 and 3, this one is applicable to all Christians, not just the original recipients of the letter. [Note: See Stanton, pp. 46-50, 108-37; and Jeffrey Townsend, "The Rapture in Revelation 3:10," Bibliotheca Sacra 137:547 (July-September 1980):252-66.]
Revelation 3:10 appears at first reading to be another inducement to remain faithful to the Lord (cf. Revelation 2:10 c, 25; Revelation 3:4). The implication may appear to be that if a Christian denies Christ (Revelation 3:8) he or she will not participate in the Rapture. However other Scriptures make it clear that God will catch up all Christians, faithful and unfaithful, at the same time (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:9). We must therefore look for another explanation.
Since the whole Philadelphia church was faithful (Revelation 3:8) Revelation 3:10 is probably not an inducement to remain faithful. It seems instead to refer to a blessing the whole church could anticipate. The verse seems intended to comfort the whole church rather than to challenge unfaithful or potentially unfaithful Christians.
"The words in this verse must be looked upon as a statement after the fact rather than a conditional statement, somewhat similar to the words, ’Because thou hast obeyed my voice,’ in Genesis 22:18." [Note: Chitwood, p. 98.]
"Probably the most debated verse in the whole discussion about the time of the Church’s rapture is Revelation 3:10." [Note: Gundry, p. 54.]
Gundry believed that God will fulfill the promise of this verse at the Rapture, but he believed the Rapture will occur at the end of the Tribulation (the posttribulation view). He believed the Lord will come for His saints, meet them in the air, and descend with them to the earth immediately. [Note: Ibid., p. 159.] Townsend’s article, just cited, refuted Gundry’s interpretation of this verse. The Rapture and the Second Coming cannot occur back to back but must be separated by the seven-year Tribulation. [Note: See Renald E. Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord, Come! A Definitive Study of the Rapture of the Church, pp. 176-91.]
"It is exemption from the period of time that is promised. By implication, this deliverance will coincide with Christ’s return mentioned in the very next verse: ’I will come soon’ (Revelation 3:11). Believers on earth will meet the Lord in the air and thus escape the hour of trial . . . One cannot make good sense out of Revelation 3:10 otherwise. The statement does not refer directly to the rapture. What it guarantees is protection away from the scene of the ’hour of trial’ while that hour is in progress. This effect of placing the faithful in Philadelphia (and hence, the faithful in all the churches; cf. Revelation 3:13) in a position of safety presupposes that they will have been removed to another location (i.e., heaven) at the period’s beginning. . . .
"Because this period of tribulation will immediately precede the coming of the Lord to earth in power and great glory (cf. Matthew 24:29-30), and because the generation to whom John wrote these words has long since passed away, Philadelphia’s representation of not just the other six churches of Asia but also of the church universal throughout the present age is evident . . ." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, pp. 288, 289. See also Showers, pp. 208-18.]
Other New Testament passages also teach a pretribulation Rapture (e.g., John 14:3; 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; 1 Thessalonians 5:9).
Third, the Lord also promised to come quickly (Gr. tachy, soon; cf. Revelation 1:1; Revelation 1:7; Revelation 2:16; Revelation 22:7; Revelation 22:12; Revelation 22:20; 2 Peter 3:8).
"This can hardly be His return to earth described in Revelation 19:11-21, because this phase of His coming will be preceded by all the events described in chapters 6-18. A return to earth could not be characterized as ’soon’ by any stretch of the imagination. It is rather an imminent event that will come suddenly and unexpectedly (Walvoord). Only this nearness of the Lord’s coming to reward the faithful provides an effective motive to be tenacious (Alford; Moffatt)." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 290.]
"In light of the concept of the imminent coming of Christ and the fact that the New Testament does teach His imminent coming, we can conclude that the Pretribulation Rapture view is the only view of the Rapture of the church that comfortably fits the New Testament teaching of the imminent coming of Christ. It is the only view that can honestly say that Christ could return at any moment, because it alone teaches that Christ will come to rapture the church before the 70th week of Daniel 9 or the Tribulation period begins and that nothing else must happen before His return." [Note: Showers, p. 149.]
Fourth, God promised that He will not just honor overcomers by erecting a pillar in their name in heaven, as was the custom in Philadelphia. He will make them pillars in the spiritual temple of God, the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:22; cf. Galatians 2:9; 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Peter 2:4-10). [Note: For a study of the references to the temple in Revelation from a Reformed perspective, see Simon J. Kistemaker, "The Temple in the Apocalypse," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43:3 (September 2000):433-41.]
"When Solomon built the temple following his ascension to the throne, he had a worker of brass from Tyre construct two massive pillars for the porch. Solomon named one of these pillars ’Jachin,’ meaning establish, and he named the other pillar ’Boaz,’ meaning strength (1 Kings 7:13-21). The overcomers in Philadelphia were promised future positions with Christ which appear to be described by the meanings of the names given to these two pillars. The promise to the overcomers that they would ’go no more out’ refers to their fixed position as pillars in the temple; and with the two massive pillars in Solomon’s temple in view, saying that overcoming Christians will be placed in the position of pillars in the temple is the same as saying that these Christians will occupy sure, secure, firmly established positions of strength and power, positions which will be realized when they rule and reign as co-heirs with Christ in the [millennial] kingdom." [Note: Chitwood, p. 101. Cf. Overstreet, pp. 453-55.]
"In contrast to the fate of Eliakim [see comment on Revelation 3:7], who was like a peg that gave way, and the buildings that perished in Philadelphia’s earthquakes, the victor is assured that his place in the city which comes down out of heaven is eternally secured." [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 102.]
Fifth, Jesus Christ will identify with His faithful people. Since they have honored Him on earth He will acknowledge them in heaven (cf. Revelation 2:17; Revelation 14:1; Revelation 19:12). Writing one’s name on something indicated ownership in John’s day, as it does now. In the ancient world columns often bore the names of conquerors. In the pagan world devotees of certain gods often wrote the name of their god on their forehead (cf. Exodus 28:36). Scripture does not reveal Jesus Christ’s new name elsewhere. Perhaps this name is a symbol of His character, which overcomers can appreciate only when we see Him (cf. Revelation 2:17; Revelation 3:5). [Note: Swete, p. 58.]
"The threefold occurrence of onoma (’name’) is impressive and amounts to a threefold assurance of his identity with God." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 293.]
4. Exhortation 3:11b, 13
Since Jesus Christ’s return is imminent the believers should remain faithful to Him so their detractors would not rob them of the reward that would be theirs for steadfast perseverance (cf. 2 John 1:8). The familiar closing charge (Revelation 3:13) reminds us again that the message of each of these seven letters is applicable to all churches.
Students of church history have seen the era during which the modern foreign missionary movement flourished, especially the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as similar to the Philadelphia church. During those years there were several revivals of return to God’s Word. These took place under the leadership of the Puritans, the Wesleys, the Plymouth Brethren, and others. Like the church at Philadelphia, these groups of believers were not flashy, but they were faithful.
1. Destination and description of Christ 3:14
The last of the seven cities (modern Eski-hisar, "the old fortress") lay about 40 miles southeast of Philadelphia and 90 miles east of Ephesus. It was a wealthy town that specialized in banking, producing black woolen cloth, and health care. It had suffered a severe earthquake that had destroyed it, but its prosperous citizens had rebuilt it.
Jesus Christ called Himself the "Amen" (lit. So be it). We should probably understand this title as a testimony to His ability to produce what He predicts (cf. Isaiah 65:16). As a "Witness," His testimony to the situation in Laodicea was trustworthy. The Laodiceans had a reputation for saying and doing whatever was necessary to preserve their own wellbeing. [Note: Tatford, pp. 143-44.] In contrast, Jesus spoke the truth. The "Beginning [Origin] of God’s creation" sets forth His authority to pass judgment. The Laodiceans were creative, but Jesus alone was the Creator (cf. John 1:3; Colossians 1:16).
Michael Svigel argued that arche here means ruler (of God’s creation). [Note: Michael J. Svigel, "Christ as ’Arche in Revelation 3:14," Bibliotheca Sacra 161:642 (April-June 2004):215-31.] This rendering is possible, but most translators have believed the meaning is origin or source, which non-Trinitarians have taken as evidence that the Son is a created being.
"The whole tendency of the Johannine writings and of the Apocalypse in particular . . . forbids the interpretation ’the first of creatures.’" [Note: Swete, p. 59.]
G. The letter to the church in Laodicea 3:14-22
Jesus Christ sent this letter to shake the Laodicean Christians out of their self-sufficient complacency and to exhort them to self-sacrifice for higher spiritual goals (cf. Colossians 2:1-2; Colossians 4:16).
2. Rebuke 3:15-17
This church received no commendation, a fact that makes this letter unique compared to the other six.
The deeds of the Laodicean Christians manifested their heart attitude. They were neither cold nor hot in their love for God, just lukewarm. Beverages are better either cold or hot. Similarly the Lord would rather that His people be cold or hot in their love for Him, not apathetic. The Laodiceans knew how the Lord felt because their city drinking water came from a spring six miles to the south over an aqueduct, and it arrived disgustingly lukewarm. [Note: Beasley-Murray, p. 105.]
"Neighboring Hierapolis had hot, spring water, valuable for its medicinal effects. In its journey to Laodicea it lost some of this heat and consequently medicinal value by the time it arrived either overland or by aqueduct in Laodicea. Nearby Colosse had cool, life-giving water that was refreshing as a beverage (Hemer)." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 307. Cf. M. J. S. Rudwick and E. M. B. Green, "The Laodicean Lukewarmness," Expository Times 69 (1957-8):176-78; and Hemer, pp. 432-40.]
The Lord’s spitting (lit. vomiting) His people out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16) does not mean they would lose their salvation. The Scriptures teach this possibility nowhere (cf. Revelation 3:19). This anthropomorphism simply indicates His intense disgust. He did not mean that He would rather we be spiritually cold than that we be spiritually lukewarm either. He did mean that He would rather we be spiritually refreshing or healthful, as cold or hot water, rather than that we be spiritually bland, as lukewarm water. This explanation seems more likely than the one that identifies the Laodiceans as unbelievers.
The Laodiceans enjoyed material prosperity (Revelation 3:17) that led them to a false sense of security and independence. The expression "I am rich, and have become wealthy" is a literary device that inverts the natural sequence for emphasis (cf. Revelation 3:19; Revelation 5:2; Revelation 5:5; Revelation 10:4; Revelation 10:9; Revelation 12:10; Revelation 19:13). Here it stresses that the wealth attained came though self-exertion. Spiritually they had great needs (cf. Romans 7:24). This self-sufficient attitude is a constant danger when Christians live lives of ease and enjoy plenty.
3. Exhortation 3:18-19
Since they considered themselves to be rich but were spiritually poor Jesus urged them to "buy," implying self-sacrifice, the things they really needed (cf. Isaiah 55:1). Instead of real gold they should buy "gold refined by fire," namely, pure spiritual riches (cf. Psalms 66:10; Proverbs 17:3; Zechariah 13:9; Luke 12:21; 1 Timothy 6:18; James 1:3-4; James 2:5; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 4:12-13). Instead of the black garments that were popular in Laodicea they should buy "white garments" that symbolize righteous conduct (Revelation 19:8). [Note: Mounce, p. 127.] Instead of the eye salve that the Laodiceans produced and sold they should purchase spiritual "eye salve," probably a reference to the Word of God that enables us to see life realistically (cf. John 9:6; 1 John 2:20; 1 John 2:27).
The Lord reminded His readers that He said what He did because He loved them (cf. Proverbs 3:11-12). They should, therefore, be zealous (Gr. zeleue, cf. zestos, "hot," Revelation 3:15-16) and repent (i.e., repent with zeal). The only way cold people can become hot in their love for the Lord is to repent (i.e., do an "about face").
4. Promise 3:20-22
In the context we note that God addressed well-known Revelation 3:20 to Christians.
"The first thing which a person must get fixed in his mind when studying the message to the Church in Laodicea is the fact that the Spirit of God is addressing Christians. . . .
"Too many people deal with certain acute problems which arise in the Christian life in a rather loose manner. When, for example, sin manifests itself in the life of an individual claiming to be a Christian, one of the most common ways to deal with the matter is to begin questioning the person’s salvation. The thought usually centers around the premise that if a person is saved he will follow a certain course of action; and if he doesn’t follow this course of action, his conduct reveals that he was never really saved in the first place. Such a thought, however, is completely contrary to any Scriptural teaching on salvation by grace through faith. It is a corruption of the pure gospel of the grace of God, for works have been introduced into a realm where works cannot exist (Cf. Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 11:6)." [Note: Chitwood, p. 105.]
It is the indifferent Christian that the Lord urged to open his heart’s door and to invite Jesus Christ in for intimate fellowship. [Note: Mounce, p. 129.] Another view is that Jesus was knocking on the eschatological door through which He will enter at His second coming. [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, pp. 321-23.] When He enters, He takes whatever the individual may offer to Him, and He gives to that person out of His vast riches. The fellowship in view may anticipate participation in the marriage supper of the Lamb that will take place at the beginning of the Millennium (cf. Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25; Luke 22:30).
This verse expresses a truth taught elsewhere in Scripture, namely, that Jesus Christ desires intimate fellowship with all people (cf. Mark 10:45; Luke 19:10; John 10:10; 1 Timothy 4:10). Consequently I believe it is appropriate to use it in evangelism. [Note: See Tim Wiarda, "Revelation 3:20: Imagery and Literary Context," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38:2 (June 1995):203-12.] It expresses God’s universal desire very graphically, by way of application, not interpretation.
The privilege of reigning with Christ will be the portion of the overcomer (cf. Matthew 19:28; Luke 22:29-30; 1 Corinthians 6:2-3; 2 Timothy 2:12).
Scholars have explained the relationship between Christ’s throne and the Father’s throne in two ways. Many interpreters (covenant theologians and progressive dispensationalists) believe they are the same throne (cf. Revelation 22:1). [Note: See Mounce, p. 130.] However this verse clearly distinguishes two thrones. [Note: E.g., Walvoord, The Revelation . . ., p. 99; Thomas, Revelation 1-7, pp. 325-26; The New Scofield Reference Bible, pp. 1355-56; et al.] The Scriptures consistently present the Father’s throne as in heaven and Christ’s Davidic throne as on earth and His eternal throne as in heaven. Here Christ’s Davidic (messianic, millennial) throne on earth and the Father’s eternal throne in heaven seem to be in view.
This promise is the climax of all those held out to overcomers in chapters 2 and 3. We can choose not to live like princes now because we can live like kings one day. Again the Lord invited all to listen and respond (Revelation 3:22).
Many students of Revelation have compared the Laodicean church to the church as it exists in the world today, especially in the West. Christendom (all professing Christians) appears wealthy and powerful, but it lacks life and love for Jesus Christ. Sadly this is also true to a lesser degree in the body of Christ.
"There is an interesting, often overlooked parallel between the five warnings in the Book of Hebrews and the seven overcomers’ promises in the Book of Revelation. The warnings and the overcomers’ promises both have the same end in view. The last warning has to do with the birthright (Hebrews 12:14-17), and the last overcomers’ promise has to do with the throne (Revelation 3:21). The successive thought in the warnings in the Book of Hebrews is that of Christians ultimately realizing their birthright-sons exercising the rights of primogeniture. The great burden of Hebrews is ’bringing many sons into glory’ (Hebrews 2:10). And the successive thought in the overcomers’ promises in the Book of Revelation is that of Christians ultimately ascending the throne-co-heirs, companions, exercising power with Christ. The great burden of Revelation, chapters two and three is that of placing equipped Christians upon the throne with Christ." [Note: Chitwood, pp. 138-39.]
|Synopsis of Revelation 2, 3|
|Church and Passage||Description of Jesus Christ||Commendation||Criticism||Exhortation||Promise to the Overcomers|
|One who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands||Their deeds, toil, perseverance (twice), intolerance of wicked men, testing of professing apostles, endurance, and hatred of the deeds of the Nicolaitans||Left their first love||Remember your former position, repent, and repeat your first deeds.||Will receive permission to eat of the tree of life in God’s paradise|
|The first and the last, who was dead and has come to life||Endured tribulation, poverty, and blasphemy by professing Jews||Do not fear temporary suffering and tribulation, but remain faithful.||Will enjoy freedom from hurt by the second death|
|One who has the sharp two-edged sword||Held fast Christ’s name, and did not deny His faith||Some held the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans.||Repent or expect an attack from the sword of His mouth.||Would receive hidden manna, a white stone, and a new secret name on the stone|
|Synopsis of Revelation 2, 3 (cont.)|
|Church and Passage||Description of Jesus Christ||Commendation||Criticism||Exhortation||Promise to the Overcomers|
|The Son of God who has flaming eyes and burnished bronze feet||Their deeds, love, faith, service, perseverance and recent improvement in deeds||Their toleration of seductive, immoral, idolatrous, and impenitent Jezebel||The faithful should hold fast.||Gets authority to rule over the nations with Christ, and the morning star|
|He who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars||Some had not soiled their garments.||They were dead, had incomplete deeds, and were asleep.||Wake up, strengthen what remains, remember what you heard and obey it, and repent.||Clothed in white garments, name retained in the book of life, and name confessed before the Father and His angels|
|He who is holy, true, has David’s key, and permanently opens and shuts||Their deeds, a little power, had kept His word, had not denied His name, and had persevered||Hold fast what you have.||Made a pillar in God’s temple that he will not leave; have the names of God, His city (the New Jerusalem), and Christ’s name written on him|
|The Amen, the faithful and true witness, and the source of God’s creation||Lukewarm, self-sufficient, wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked||Buy from Christ refined gold, white garments, and eye salve. Repent. Open the door to Him.||Will sit down on Christ’s throne with Him|
Each of the seven letters in chapters 2 and 3 is applicable, as are all the other New Testament epistles. They apply to the local congregation that originally received each one and to all local congregations and all individual Christians since then. [Note: Especially good books on chapters 2 and 3 are by Tatford; Hemer; William Landels, The Victor’s Sevenfold Reward: Being Discourses on the Promises of Our Lord to the Seven Churches; Marcus Leone, They Overcame: An Exposition of Revelation 1-3; G. Campbell Morgan, The Letters of Our Lord or First Century Messages to Twentieth Century Believers; Ramsay; Richard C. Trench, Commentary on the Epistles to the Seven Churches; and Edwin M. Yamauchi, The Archaeology of the New Testament Cities in Western Asia Minor.]
"Collectively, the seven messages form an indispensable part of the Apocalypse. In them are the practical lessons to be applied in the light of coming events in God’s prophetic program. . . .
"These seven messages cannot be read apart from the rest of the Apocalypse, nor does the rest of the book mean anything without these seven. Chapters 2-3 explain why the rest of the book was written. The overall purpose is distinctly practical (cf. Revelation 1:3)." [Note: Thomas, Revelation 1-7, p. 327.]
However these letters have also proved prophetic of the history of Christianity following their writing. Most Christians in the first century may not have seen this, but one can hardly deny it now. It has become increasingly obvious as church history has unfolded. Chapters 2 and 3 are therefore prophetic as are the rest of the chapters of Revelation. [Note: See M. J. Brunk, "The Seven Churches of Revelation Two and Three," Bibliotheca Sacra 126:503 (July-September 1969):240-46.] In saying this I am expressing the "historico-prophetical" interpretation of chapters 2 and 3. [Note: Smith, A Revelation . . ., pp. 61-62; Lange, p. 139; and many others held this view.] Different views are that these chapters are only prophetical of conditions in the future day of the Lord, or they are only historical and deal with first century situations exclusively. Further explanation of these views follows.
|Three Views of the Interpretation of Revelation 2-3 [Note: Adapted from Robert L. Thomas, "The Chronological Interpretation of Revelation 2-3," Bibliotheca Sacra 124:496 (October-December 1967):321-31.]|
|The Prophetical View|
|Statement: The seven churches addressed were not in existence in the first century but will come into being in the day of the Lord. [Note: Bullinger, pp. 66-70; and Charles H. Welch, This Prophecy, pp. 59-61.]|
|Revelation 1:19 stresses the unity of the book. The whole book is a revelation of things yet future.||This verse may indicate a two or three-fold division of the contents only some of which may be prophetical. Or chapters 2 and 3 are prophetic of the church age.|
|The connection of angels with these churches indicates that what is in view is Israel in the day of the Lord rather than the church. Elsewhere in Scripture, God associated angels with Israel (e.g., Daniel 10:21).||God also associated angels with churches in the New Testament (e.g., 1 Corinthians 11:10). Or these angels may be human messengers.|
|God did not call church leaders angels in the New Testament.||John used this title in Revelation to emphasize the divine origin of these seven letters.|
|Tertullian (A.D. 145-220) and Epiphanius (ca. A.D. 367) wrote that churches did not exist in all the seven towns addressed when John wrote Revelation.||These writers were combating unorthodox views of the Apocalypse in their writings. They were not denying the existence of churches in these towns then.|
|The Historical View|
|Statement: The seven churches addressed existed in the first century, and what characterized each of them has marked other local churches in various locations throughout church history. [Note: F. Godet, Studies in the New Testament, pp. 303-4; Trench, pp. 307-8; Robert L. Thomas, "The Chronological . . .," pp. 327-31; idem, Revelation 1-7, pp. 505-15; and Leon Morris, p. 57; et al.]|
|This is the way we interpret the other New Testament epistles.||God did not identify the other New Testament epistles as prophetic as He did these (Revelation 1:19).|
|The Book of Revelation does not specifically identify the messages to the seven churches as prophetic.||That they are prophetic is clear from Revelation 1:19 and the contents of chapters 2 and 3. Moreover history has shown they were prophetic.|
|The Historico-Prophetical View|
|Statement: The seven churches addressed were in existence in the first century, and what characterized each of them has marked other local churches in various locations throughout church history. However they also reveal the history of the church from the time John wrote to the Rapture in seven successive periods. [Note: Lange, p. 139; Arno C. Gaebelein, The Revelation, p. 33; Smith, A Revelation . . ., pp. 61-62; William Kelly, Lectures on the Revelation, p. 24; J. N. Darby, Notes on the Apocalypse, p. 11; Tatford, p. 106; F. W. Grant, The Prophetic History of the Church; Joseph A. Seiss, The Apocalypse, p. 64; C. I. Scofield, ed., Scofield Reference Bible (1917 ed.), pp.1331-32; H. A. Ironside, Lectures on the Revelation, pp. 35-36; Walvoord, The Revelation . . ., p. 52; and McGee, 5:900-26.]|
|There is a correspondence between seven successive periods of church history and these seven letters.||The correspondence is arbitrary and contrived as is clear from the differences in the limits of each period as expounded by various advocates of this view.|
|God said the whole of Revelation is prophetic (Revelation 1:19), and to exclude chapters 2 and 3 seems unwarranted.||Revelation 1:19 means that the things "hereafter" are prophetic, and those things begin in Revelation 4:1.|
|The Rapture could not be imminent if chapters 2 and 3 reveal the history of the church from the first century to the twenty-first or beyond.||Chapters 2 and 3 do not predict that the church would pass through these stages before the Rapture. It is only by looking back that we can see they were prophetic.|
|This pattern of church history rests on a selective reading of history.||The correspondence is legitimate because there is adequate historical evidence to support this view.|
|These prophetic parallels hold true only for western Christianity.||Western Christianity has been the major leading branch of the church throughout history.|
A general scheme of the periods of western civilization that correspond to the conditions described in each of the letters to the seven churches is as follows.
|The Prophetic History of the Church in Revelation 2, 3|
|Revelation 2:1-7||Ephesus||Apostolic Era||ca. A.D. 33-64|
|Revelation 2:8-11||Smyrna||Period of Persecution||ca. A.D. 64-313|
|Revelation 2:12-17||Pergamum||Era of Official Patronage||ca. A.D. 313-606|
|Revelation 2:18-29||Thyatira||Middle Ages||ca. A.D. 606-1520|
|Revelation 3:1-6||Sardis||Protestant Reformation||ca. A.D. 1520-1750|
|Revelation 3:7-13||Philadelphia||Missionary Era||ca. A.D. 1750-1900|
|Revelation 3:14-22||Laodicea||Modern Period||ca. A.D. 1900-????|
"It is said that the seven churches of Revelation 1-3 picture the course of the age, and therefore early Christians could not have held to the doctrine under consideration [i.e., the doctrine of Christ’s imminent return]. While it is true that these churches bear a marked resemblance to the various periods of church history, and while granting that this is a legitimate application, it must not be forgotten that John was writing to seven existing, although representative, congregations. All these varying shades of Christian testimony, or of departure from, were present in John’s day throughout the early church. John saw no need for projecting the second coming into the far distant future, for he saw himself one of the chief witnesses to the soon coming of Christ, the closing words penned in the book of Revelation being ’Surely I come quickly [tachy, soon]. Even so, come, Lord Jesus’ (Revelation 22:20)." [Note: Stanton, p. 116.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Revelation 3". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/