Wednesday, June 7th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Keathley's Commentary on Revelation Keathley on Revelation
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Keathley, J. Hampton. "Commentary on Revelation 3". "Keathley's Commentary on Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ hkr/ revelation-3.html.
Keathley, J. Hampton. "Commentary on Revelation 3". "Keathley's Commentary on Revelation". https://www.studylight.org/
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Revelation 3:1-6 (See the Book Comments for the Introductory chapters and Appendices)
Lesson 9: The Message to Sardis ( Rev 3:1-6 )
" Deadness in the Church "
The City and the Assembly (Revelation 3:1 a)
1a "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write:…"
The City of Sardis
Sardis was a city exceedingly fabled for its past wealth and splendor, but it had deteriorated greatly. Its greatness lay in the past. Sardis had, at one time, been considered to be impregnable because of its ideal physical arrangement and topography for defense. It sat on a hill or mountain surrounded by steep cliffs almost impos-sible to scale with only one narrow way of approach. Yet Sardis had been attacked and conquered twice because of its arrogance manifested in its lack of watchfulness ( Rev 3:2-3 ). The city was also famous for its woolen, textile, and jewelry industry.
Sardis was devoted to the worship of the mother-goddess Cybele and no temple worshipper was allowed to approach the temple of the gods with soiled or unclean garments. A white and clean robe was required to approach its so-called gods. Yet note the following account of the actual moral conditions of this idola-try. Andrew Tate writes,
Her worship was of the most debasing charac-ter and orgies like those of Dionysos were practiced at the fes-tivals held in her honour. Sins of the foulest and darkest impurity were committed on those occasions; and when we think of a small com-munity of Christians rescued from such abomin-able idolatry, living in the midst of scenes of the grossest depravity, with early associa-tions, and companionships, and connections, all exerting a force in the direc-tion of heathenism, it may be won-dered that the few members of the church in Sardis were not drawn away altogether, and swallowed up in the great vortex. [Note: Andrew Tate, The Messages to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor, p. 299, quoted by Walvoord in The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Moody Press: Chicago, 1966, p. 79.]
From this, you can see the obvious allusions to the historical setting in the Lord’s words in 3:4-5.
The Church of Sardis
Though filled with external works and activity, this church is known as the sleeping church. As Paul put it in 2 Timothy 3:5 , they had a form of godliness, but, because of their failure to walk with the Lord, they were denying the real power of God through their hypo-crisy. They were out of touch with elements of true spiritual-ity. Some may have been only professing Christians engaged in religious ac-tivities who had never truly trusted in Jesus Christ. More than likely, however, they were carnal believers who had made a good start, but had failed to move on, to grow and experience true spiritu-ality. They were active, engaged in works, but tem-porally dead, out of fellow-ship with Christ ( Eph 5:14-18 ).
The Christ, the Author and Answer (Revelation 3:1 b)
1b "…He who has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars, says this:
The answer, as always, is centered in Who Christ is--The Savior who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. These two aspects of Christ’s ministry to the church are brought immediately to the forefront because they give us the key to both the problem of this church and its solu-tion.
The Seven Spirits of God
"The seven Spirits of God" is a reference to the Holy Spirit who pro-ceeds from the Father and the Son to the believer (John 7:37-39 ; John 15:16 ; Joh 15:26 ). He is the Son’s gift to enable believers to experience genuine spirit-uality through the multiple ministries and work of the Spirit symbol-ized here in the number seven which is a clear allusion to the seven-fold ministries of the Spirit mentioned inIsaiah 11:2-5; Isaiah 11:2-5 . But believers have a responsibility to walk by the Spirit who indwells them. The responsibility is to walk by faith in His enabling power and to deal with the sin in their lives through honest confession or they will hinder (grieve and quench) the work of the Spirit. So part of the problem was the believers in the church at Sardis were grieving and quenching the ministry of the Holy Spirit ( Eph 4:30 ; 1Th 5:19 ).
The Seven Stars
In the introduction I shared my reasons why I, along with many others, have believed the seven stars referr-ed to the spiritu-al leadership which is primarily responsible to hold forth the light of the Word to the local flock of believers. Here, it ap-pears, was another key area of weakness; the failure to communicate and receive the Word in a con-sistent and an in-depth way with personal application and response of the mind, heart and will. Therefore, the two life-giving provisions of God for man--the Holy Spirit and the Word--were being neglected. The result was spiritual deadness (Zechariah 4:6 ; Hebrews 4:12 ; Ephesians 3:16-19 ; 1Th 2:13 ).
The Church and its Affairs ( Rev 3:1 c-6)
1c ‘…I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 ‘Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. 3 ‘Remember therefore what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. If therefore you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you. 4 ‘But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white; for they are worthy. 5 ‘He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels. 6 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
The Condemnation Declared ( Rev 3:1 c)
As with all the churches, the Lord declares, "I know your deeds." That which is invisible to men is perfect-ly clear to the Lord who is in the business of revealing our true condition regardless of how spiritual we may think we are. He uses His Word, the convicting work of the Spirit, and other agents (trials and members of the body of Christ) as mirrors of reproof to show us our need and draw us to Himself. The question is, as He will challenge us inRevelation 3:6; Revelation 3:6 , do we have eyes to see and ears to hear?
So, in the very next words, we see a rude awakening and reality:
· We see that they had a name, a reputation-- what men thought .
· We see they were alive, that is, they were an active church full of programs and church activity-- what men see .
· But, regardless, they were dead, without true spiritual vitality-- what the Lord saw and knew .
The point is they had a reputation, they were known far and wide, and they were active, filled with activity, action, and programs, just like a great deal of the church today all across America. By the world’s stan-dards they were successful and they were probably proud of their church, but our Lord says not so, "you are dead." So what does He mean by "dead?"
In Scripture, death stands for the concept of separa-tion as well as the absence of life.
· For the unbeliever, death means without spiritual life, unregenerate, and without God--separated from relationship with God.
· But for the believer, death, like sleep, is sometimes used as a symbol for carnali-ty, for being out of fellowship with God, separated from Christ as the source of the abundant life ( Eph 5:14 ).
Some could have been only professing believers, and so they were spiritually dead, just professing believers involved in an active church. But I don’t think that is the emphasis here. He was talking to true believ-ers who were spiritua-lly carnal and working from the energy of their own resources rather than from His (the Word and the Holy Spirit).
This is a warning. A church is in danger of death:
· When it begins to worship its own past or history, its reputation or name, or the names in the church.
· When it is more concerned with forms than with function and life.
· When it is more concerned with numbers and noses, than with the spiritual quality of life it is producing in its people.
· When it is more involved with management than with ministry or with the physical over the spiritual.
This illustrates the problem of institutionalism in the church, but today, we also have a new scenario that can be a part of this picture, the megachurch which has become a part of American jargon with megabucks, megatrends, and the megamall. Our megamalls have been styled as "cathedrals of consumption" because they are designed to feed the consumer appetites of our lifestyle today. But if we are not careful, churches can become "cathedrals of consumption" as well.
The Counsel Advised ( Rev 3:2-3 )
"Be watchful." We could translate this, "become and stay awake" or "get awake." By the analogy of Scripture this was a command for believ-ers to get back into fellow-ship, i.e., to repent or confess their sin and start walking in the Spirit and in the light of the Word ( Eph 5:14-18 ).
For the unbeliever or the merely apparent believer, this becomes a call to become genuine with Christ, to put one’s faith in the Savior (cf. 1Th 5:4-8 ).
"And strengthen the things that remain." Strengthen is an aorist imperative of the verb ste„rizo„ which means "to strengthen, make stable, firm." The aspect of the verb (an aorist imperative in the Greek) carries the idea of urgency like, do it now, before it is too late. This is basically a com-mand to get with God’s plan for spiritual stabilization and strength. And what is that? A life in the Word. If you have any doubt about that, spend some time reading and meditating on Psalms 119:1-176 .
Note the following verses where ste„rizo„ is used:
(1) Romans 1:11 , compare this withLuke 22:32; Luke 22:32 (Christ’s warning and command to Peter) and John 21:15-17 . Here is the principle of pastors and teachers strengthening believers by feeding the lambs and the sheep with the Word.
(2) Romans 16:25-26 . Here we have the principle of believers receiving the Word in the assembly as well as from personal study.
"The things which remain." When people stop operating from the base of God’s Word and from the power of His Spirit, spiritual decline always begins. It’s a kind of law of spiritu-al degenera-tion. But even in such a state there is at first some semblance of what is right in a man’s life--good habits, traditions and actions, a remembrance of morality, even though people forget the source. Remember, the church of Ephesus had good works ( Rev 2:2 ), even though it appears they too lacked the right spiritual source when we compare them with1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 1:4 , but even-tually even this was lost because Ephesus failed to go back to do the first works.
Even human good is better than evil and God uses such morality to benefit society and even His own church. This is one of the purposes of good government, to restrain evil and promote good. Morality in parents helps to produce the same in their children. But the point is, without the proper spiritual base and the absolute guide of Bible doctrine even this will be finally lost. So, He quickly warns, "which were about to die."
"For I have not found your deeds completed…" "Perfect" is the verb ple„roo„ which may mean "to fill, make full," or "complete." The verb is in the perfect tense which means its aspect (how the writer perceives its verbal action or state) is stative, resultative, or completed. It conceives the verbal idea as completed, or as completed with continuing results and looks at an existing condition. The word "complete" refers to "the deeds" done. This is what was incomplete or not completed. But does this mean they need more works, or that there was something incomplete about the works accomplished, or both? The context suggests both, but perhaps the focus is on the second, a missing element in their deeds. Their works were incomplete in that they lacked the proper source and motive. They had not measured up to God’s stan-dards. They were not Spirit produced and could not stand the test of His examination. At the judgment seat of Christ they would fall under the category of wood, hay and stubble ( 1Co 3:12-15 ). They were imperfect either in quality (works of the flesh) or they were imperfect in content.
"Remember therefore what you have received (perfect aspect) and heard (aorist)" ( Rev 3:3 ). This represents faith and the truth they had received as a trust and the perfect aspect of the verb "received" calls attention to the abiding responsibility incumbent upon the receiver.
"And keep it , and repent." Compare this verse with Col 2:6 and 1 Thessa-lonians 2:13. They were to remember the early days of their life in the Word, when the Word was received by faith and was their source of strength and wisdom for all of life. This former life of faith they were to keep, to hold fast to continually, but it was also vital that they repent carefully because a true change of mind and heart is necessary for a genuine and consistent walk with the Lord (Proverbs 4:23 ; Pro 4:26 ).
The Commendation Stated (Revelation 3:4 a)
They are comforted and commended because there were a few who had not fallen into the above condemnation.
"Soiled garments" speaks of the contamination of the life and witness by accommodation to the standards of the world prevalent in any society. More precisely, it refers to the unrighteousness of men in immorality, apostasy, idolatry, or of their own religious works of righteous-ness in mere external religion and legalism (Isaiah 64:6 ; Joh 6:63 ).
The Certainties Promised (Revelation 3:4-5; Revelation 3:4-5 )
They are next comforted and assured by calling their attention to certain verities or certain-ties that the Lord promises to every believer in Christ. The certainties come in three distinct parts: (a) arrayed in white garments, (b) name not to be blotted out, and (c) their name confessed before His Father.
The White Garments (Revelation 3:5 a)
"Walking with Christ in white" is a reward for faithfulness. Note that the reason given in 3:4 is stated in the words, "for (the causal use of hoti, "because") they are worthy." The worthiness here is linked to the fact that these were believers "who have not defiled their garments." This shows us that walking with Him in white is a reward for personal righteousness or deeds of righteousness. Note also how this fits with Revelation 19:8 . Walking in white must refer to the white garment of fine linen mentioned in Revelation 19:8 . There we are told the bride of Christ (the church) is "… to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean." This is then declared to be the righteous acts of the saints, a reference to deeds or acts of righteousness produced in the life of the believer by the Holy Spirit because only these deeds will stand the test of the Judgment (Bema) Seat of Christ ( 1Co 3:13 ).
No person is ever worthy of salvation righteousness. Justification, or salvation righteousness, is a gift given through faith in the finished work of Christ. It is based on His worthiness and record, not ours (Ephesians 2:8-9 ; Tit 3:4-7 ), but the white garment mentioned in 3:5 is related to the garment of 3:4 and is given as a reward for a worthy walk. While some writers assume that all Christians will wear these white garments in the kingdom, this verse teaches us that only overcoming believers, those who haven’t defiled their garments ( Rev 3:4 ), will wear these particular garments representative of the righteous acts of the saints in the kingdom.
His Name Never to be Erased (Revelation 3:5 b)
In Revelation 3:5 , the overcomer is also promised he can never have his name erased from the Book of life. Could this suggest the possibility of the loss of salvation? Such a concept is totally contrary to the analogy of the faith in the New Testament which teaches us all believers are kept secure by the power of God and the finished work of Christ (cf. John 10:28-29 ; Rom 8:38-39 ). As Charles Stanley so aptly put it, "Does it make any sense to say that salvation is offered as a solution for our sin and then to turn around and teach that salvation can be taken away because of our sin as well?" [Note: Charles Stanley, Eternal Security, Can You Be Sure? Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 1990, p. 181.]
Because so many do not understand the nature of salvation as a finished work of God in Christ and are insecure in their faith, verses such as this are misunderstood as suggesting the possibility of the loss of salvation, or as a proof for the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. This results in a fixation on what the verse does not say rather than on what it is saying in the context biblically, historically, and culturally. This verse was never intended as a warning. Instead, it is a promise of encouragement in view of the historical setting of John’s day. To say that Rev 3:5 suggests the possibility of losing salvation is at best, an argument from silence.
If we understand the promise of Rev 3:5 in its historical and contextual context, we will find that it is not dealing with the issue of losing or proving salvation at all. By the use of a figure of speech known as litotes (an affir-mation expressed in negative terms), we have an emphatic declaration that stresses the certainty of the promise. In other words, a positive point is made by denying its opposite. This not only stresses the security of the believer--for every believer’s name is written in the book of life--but is a way of promising something special to the overcomer in the kingdom and eternal future. Bob Wilkin, who agrees with this view, quotes William Fuller and writes:
William Fuller, who defends this understanding ofRevelation 3:5; Revelation 3:5 , writes, "A command that everyone keeps is superfluous, and a reward that everyone receives for a virtue that everyone has is nonsense." The eternal-rewards interpretation takes the command seriously, views the reward as a powerful motivation to obedience, and doesn’t distort the Gospel! [Note: J. William Fuller, "I Will Not Erase His Name from the Book of Life ( Rev 3:5 )," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (Sept. 1983), p. 299, quoted by Bob Wilkin, Grace Evangelical News, March, 1995.]
Tatford also interprets Rev 3:5 in a similar way when he writes,
Practically every city of that day kept a role or register of its citizens…one who had performed some great exploit, deserving of special distinction, was honoured by having his name inscribed in golden letters in the citizens’ roll. Our Lord’s emphatic statement, therefore, implies not merely that the name of the overcomer shall not be expunged, but per contra that it shall be inscribed in golden letters in the heavenly roll. [Note: Fredk. A. Tatford, Prophecy’s Last Word, p. 63.]
There is even evidence that a person’s name was sometimes removed from the city register before death if he had been convicted of a crime. [Note: Alan Johnson, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 12, Frank E. Gaebelein, general editor, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1981, p. 450.] When these messages were written, Christians were under the constant threat of being branded as social rebels and stripped of their citizenship if they refused to recant or denounce their faith in Christ. So here, as a source of motivation and encouragement, the Lord personally reminds the overcomer not only of the safety of his heavenly citizenship, but of the special acknowledgment the Lord Himself will give before the Father and before His angels.
His Name Confessed Before the Father and His Angels ( Rev 3:5 c)
As just indicated, this promise is related to the previous promise and may really be a part of that promise. It is likewise not dealing with salvation, but with reward by way of an accolade, a special acknowledgment or public recognition for faithfulness. Again we need to keep in mind the historical background mentioned above. Though the overcomer may experience blame and ridicule and loss of citizenship before the world because he or she refuses to follow after the world or bow to its threats, the overcomer will experience special reward in the form of public recognition. Undoubtedly, special accolades like, "well done, you good and faithful servant," is in mind.
The Challenge Needed ( Rev 3:6 )
See the preceding studies for the nature of this challenge to have ears to hear.
Some final lessons:
(1) The means for living the Christian life, so vital for spiritual reality, is a knowledge and a careful application of the Word through the various ministries of the Spirit ( Rev 3:1 ).
(2) The sign of a successful church, one truly in touch with God, is Christlikeness. How much do the people of the church demonstrate the Savior in their personal lives, in their families, in their values, priorities, ministries, etc.? It is never just activity or works or size or reputation. Activities and reputations by themselves are never a proof of true spirituality.
(3) Genuine godliness is the foundation of moral goodness. Moral goodness is always incomplete and on the verge of degeneration without godliness through the Spirit and the Word with its absolute truth.
(4) God is always faithful to reward His people for their faithfulness to Him. Salvation is by faith alone, sola fide , in Christ alone, but rewards are the product of overcoming faith in the life of Christ appropriated in the Christian’s life.
Revelation 3:7-13 (See the Book Comments for the Introductory chapters and Appendices)
Lesson 10: The Message to Philadelphia ( Rev 3:7-13 )
" The Church of the Open Door "
The City and the Assembly (Revelation 3:7 a)
7 "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:"
Philadelphia, which means "brotherly love," was situated in Lydia along the Hermus River valley about 38 miles southeast of Sardis. It was backed by volcanic cliffs and though the land was rich and fertile from the volcanic residue, Philadelphia was a dangerous place to live due the many earthquakes experienced by the region. Because of its location, the city was in constant danger of earth-quakes and experienced shocks as an everyday occurrence according to Strabo. As a result, many of its inhabitants chose to live in huts outside the city in the open country. Note the allusion to this in the promise of 3:12, "and he will not go out from it any more." Like Athens, Philadelphia was a temple warden and gave to the emperor the title "The Son of the Holy One." It is undoubtedly for this reason the Lord is called, "He who is holy, who is true" inRevelation 3:7; Revelation 3:7 .
Barclay points out another important historical feature about this city and one also alluded to in the statements of the message to the church there:
Philadelphia was founded for a special purpose and with a special intention. It was situated where the borders of Mysia, Lydia and Phrygia met. It was a border town. But it was not as a garrison town that Philadelphia was founded, for there was little danger there. It was founded with the deliberated intention that it might be a missionary of Greek culture and the Greek language to Lydia and Phrygia; and so well did it to its work that by A.D. 19 the Lydians had forgotten their own Lydian language and were all but Greeks…That is what the Risen Christ means when he speaks of the open door that is set before Philadelphia. Three centuries before Philadelphia had been given an open door to spread Greek ideas in the lands beyond; and now there has come to it another great missionary opportunity, an open door to carry to men who never knew it the message of the love of Jesus Christ. [Note: William Barclay, The Revelation of John, Volume I, The Westminster Press: Philadelphia, p. 158.]
The symbols of the ‘crown’ and the ‘temple’ mentioned in Rev 3:11-12 are undoubtedly allusions by way of contrast with the games and religious festivals that were a part of life in the city of Philadelphia. In contrast with the instability of life in a city prone to daily earthquakes, those who ‘overcome’ are promised the ultimate stability of being rewarded with special privileges in the temple of God. This church may picture the modern missionary era of church history.
The Christ, the Author and Answer (Revelation 3:7 b)
7b "…He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:"
Once again our risen Lord presents Himself in an aspect of His person and work which is fitting to the needs and problems of the assembly to ever remind us of the sufficien-cy of His life.
"He who is holy" asserts the Savior’s deity as the absolutely righteous One, the One totally set apart from sin. In Isaiah 40:25 , Yahweh calls Himself "The Holy One." It is a title of deity and contrasts Him with the claims of Emperor worship.
"Who is true." "True" is the Greek word ale„thinos. It means "the real, the genuine, the ideal," and stands opposed to what is false and to what is only a picture or type of the real.
(1) He is the One of whom all the Old Testament spoke. There we find only pictures and shadows, but He is the reality and the substance ( Col 2:16-17 ).
(2) This places Him in contrast to all the deceptions of the world and the false and futile answers it offers to man. God’s answer for man is Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life ( Joh 14:6 ).
"Who has the key of David." In Rev 1:18 the keys speak of Christ’s power to give salvation and victory over death and the unseen Satanic world which tenaciously tries to hold men under the dominion of sin and death ( Heb 2:14 ). Here, however, the key speaks of (1) His royal claims as Lord and Head of David’s house. It anticipates and looks to His rule and kingdom on earth. (2) But it also reminds us of His royal authority or sovereignty even now over heaven and earth ( Mat 28:19 ).
When men by their arrogance and ecclesiastical or political position and actions would strive to shut out true Bible-believing believers from effective service, we need to remember His power and authority. Men may bind us, as they did John and Paul, but God’s Word is not bound ( 2Ti 2:9 ). Further, when we think we must compromise God’s prin-ciples of the ministry and resort to human gimmicks, Madison Avenue techniques, or any kind of worldly means to accomplish spiritual objectives or as the keys to open doors, we need to again reflect on the truth of this passage. The Lord holds the key to opening doors to ministry as well as the door to the hearts of men. Note the following description.
"The One opening…" (Revelation 3:7 b) In the final analysis it is always our Lord who opens all true doors of ministry to us. This church had a little strength, i.e., they were small in numbers by man’s standards as man counts success, but this must never disturb or discourage us.
"And who shuts and no one opens…" There is also an important lesson here as believers seek God’s guidance for ministry. Paul and His missionary team had planned to minister first in Asia, but were forbidden by the Holy Spirit ( Act 16:6 ). Then they wanted to minister in Bithynia, but they were not permitted to minister there either ( Rev 3:7 ). Instead, they were called to Macedonia. In other words, at that point at least, the Lord shut the doors to Asia and Bithynia, but opened them in other places. Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 16:1-24 , Paul expressed his plans to eventually visit Corinth ( Rev 16:5-7 ), but he carefully qualified this with "if the Lord permits" ( Rev 3:7 ). However, for the moment, he was committed to staying at Ephesus to minister. Why? Because "a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries (evidently a sign to Paul of God’s hand on his work at Ephesus)" (cf. Rev 3:8-9 ). But when we turn to 2 Corinthians, we find that Paul had to change his plans in regard to Corinth due to circumstances beyond his control and the sovereign leading of the Lord, the One who opens and closes doors. The obvious lesson is that we must learn to grab the opportunities when they come, but not push and get frustrated when the Lord isn’t opening the door. For other passages using the open door image see Acts 14:27 ; 2 Corinthians 2:12 ; Colossians 4:3 .
The Church and its Affairs ( Rev 3:8-13 )
8 ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. 9 ‘Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews, and are not, but lie--behold, I will make them to come and bow down at your feet, and to know that I have loved you. 10 ‘Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth. 11 ‘I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, in order that no one take your crown. 12 ‘He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name. 13 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
The Commendation Stated ( Rev 3:8 )
(1) For Faithfulness with opportunities given to them
The statements of commendation flow out of the truth of Christ as the One who opens in Revelation 3:7 . They were using the opportunities (the open doors) the Lord had given them as the door opener. This is implied in Revelation 3:8 a. Christ knew their deeds, and so He put before them an open door of ministry. We should note that "put" of the NASB, or "set" of the KJV, or "placed" of the NIV is the perfect tense of Greek dido„mi which literally means, "I give." It is used according to context in the sense of "bestow, grant, supply, deliver, commit, and entrust." While the idea here is clearly that of placing before the Philadelphian believers open doors of ministry, it should be noted that this word is used of entrusting something to someone for some type of stewardship: money for investment purposes ( Mat 25:14-15 ), the keys of the kingdom ( Mat 16:19 ), and someone’s care (John 6:37 ; John 6:39 ; John 17:6 ; John 17:9 ; John 17:12 ; John 17:24 ; Heb 2:13 ). See also Luk 19:23 where dido„mi is used of putting money in the bank to gain interest. There are two points to ponder here. First, open doors of opportunity--no matter how hard we think we have worked to open the doors--are gifts from the Savior because without Him, they would not open. Second, open doors are trusts given to us for faithful stewardship just as with our spiritual gifts or our finances. If we will be faithful to live in the fullness of His life, He will bring opportunities of service and ministry.
(2) For spiritual competence
"You have a little power." They were small in number by comparison to the religious and idolatrous people of the city, but, small as they were, they did have power, spiritual capacity because they were operating from the source of Christ’s life and authority.
(3) For faithfulness to the Word
"And have kept My word." This was the secret to their lives and ministry ( Heb 4:12 ). Keeping God’s Word and keeping our hearts dependent on and close to Him go hand in hand ( Pro 4:20-23 ). "Kept" is the Greek te„reo„ , "to watch over, guard, keep, preserve" and "give heed to, pay attention to, observe" especially of the Law, or the Word, or teaching, etc. [Note: G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, 3rd edition, T. & T. Clark: Edinburgh, 1937, p. 445.] Undoubtedly, both ideas are involved. They were committed to Christ’s Word or the Word about the Savior to preserve it from false ideas and adulterations, but they were also committed to observing its truth in their lives.
(4) For attestation to their faith in Christ
"And have not denied My Name." This speaks of their spiritual fidelity and separation from the world. Remember, one may confess the Lord with his mouth and yet, in some way, deny Him with a life that is incon-sis-tent with the truth of Scripture or the character of Christ.
The Comfort Promised ( Rev 3:9-11 )
(1) Comfort concerning their persecutors ( Rev 3:9 )
"Those of the synagogue of Satan." The synagogue refers to the place of Jewish worship and study.
"Of Satan" is a genitive of possession, Satan’s synagogue, that which belongs to him. Satan was its head and the power behind the scenes. More crime, evil and persecution have been perpetrated in the name of religion and by the religious, self-righteous type than almost any other one source of evil. Religion is Satan’s trump card, and one of his primary weapons that he uses to both deceive and hurt mankind. This is what we have here. Religious persecution by religious Jews operating under Satan’s control whether they realized it or not. The Lord’s word to the religious leaders in Joh 8:41-47 is fitting here:
41 "You are doing the deeds of your father." They said to Him, "We were not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God." 42 Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love Me; for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come on My own initiative, but He sent Me. 43 Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies. 45 But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? 47 He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God."
"Who say they are Jews and are not." They were literal Jews, physical descendants of David and Abraham, but in claiming to be Jews they were also claiming to be God’s people, religious guides to the truth, and the means and access to God. The apostle Paul comments on what constitutes a true child of Abraham inRomans 9:6-8; Romans 9:6-8 . There he makes the clear distinc-tion between racial Israel and regenerate Israel.
Rom 9:6-8 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: "through Isaac your descendants will be named." 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.
They were not children of God regardless of their claims and religiosity. They had rejected God’s Son and revelation of God, they were of their father the Devil, as Christ plainly told them. To be a true Jew in the biblical sense one had to have the hope and faith of Abraham. Abraham was the possessor of faith in the promises of God to him and faith in the coming Messiah.
The promise: Since faithful believers will reign with Jesus Christ and share in His throne, these persecutors will in essence have to fall down at the believer’s feet in "operation footstool" (Philippians 2:10-11 , Heb 2:13 ).
(2) Comfort concerning the Tribulation ( Rev 3:10 )
The reason for deliverance
"Because you have kept the word of my patience" (Revelation 3:10 a). "The Word of My patience" refers to the Word, the testimony of Scripture regarding the truth of Christ as the suffering, resurrected, and so also, the victorious Savior who endured the shame of rejection and the cross and who endures today as the resur-rected and ascended Lord now sitting at God’s right hand ( Heb 1:3 with 12:1-3).
"Kept" is again the Greek te„reo„ , "to guard, watch over, protect," or "obey, observe" as with the principles and commands of Scripture. This is a non motion verb in contrast to verbs of motion like so„zo„ , "to save, deliver," and lambano„ , "to take." This is important because this same word is used of the promise which follows. We will see why when we consider the promise.
But what does it mean to keep the word of His endurance ? It means to be a believer, one who has trusted in the person and work of Christ who now sits at God’s right hand for us. Rather than reject this message, they had kept it by faith.
The promise of deliverance (Revelation 3:10 b)
"I will also keep you from the hour of testing,…" "Testing" is the Greek peirasmos , "a trial, temptation, or testing." The context must determine the exact meaning of the word. Here the context shows us the refer-ence is to a very specific meaning, that of world-wide testing or tribulation.
"Hour" is metaphorical for a shortened period. Because of the clause that follows, this clearly refers to more than the general trials or testings or temptations which people today may encounter. The hour is defined in three ways:
(1) It is "the" hour of trial. The presence of the Greek article specifies this as a very specific time of testing.
(2) It is to come upon the whole world. The term translated "world" is oikoumene„ , meaning "the inhabited earth," but modifying it is the adjective, holos , "whole, complete." The testing is worldwide.
(3) Finally, it is designed to test a certain category of people defined as "those who dwell upon the earth." The verb "dwell" is katoikeo„ from kata , "down" and oikeo„ , "dwell, live." Katoikeo„ means "to live, dwell, reside, settle (down)," or it can mean "inhabit." [Note: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, translated by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, University of Chicago Press: electronic version.] The construction of the Greek (a substantival present articular participle) describes the inhabitants as those who are characterized as earth dwellers. As used in Revelation, "those who dwell upon the earth" is basically a technical term for unbelievers because they are earthdwellers, i.e., people bound only to this life and what it can give (Revelation 6:10 ; Revelation 8:13 ; Revelation 11:10 ; Revelation 13:8 ; Revelation 13:14 ; Revelation 17:8 ; Isaiah 24:17 f). In contrast to believers who are to think and live as sojourners or aliens, the earthdweller is quite at home on earth.
"The hour of trial," sometimes referred to as "the Tribulation," refers to the time of wrath or judgment described in chapters 6-19. This is the same as Daniel’s Seventieth Week ( Dan 9:27 ) and the time of Jacob’s trouble described by Jeremiah as unprecedented in its judgment ( Jer 30:7 ).
First, note that this is not a reward to the faithful. This will come in Revelation 3:11-12 . Instead, this is a promise to the church as a whole. This is clear from 3:13 which broadens this as a promise to the churches at large. All believers are to listen to these messages and their warning, exhortations, and promises and act accordingly. As in1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 , this is to bring comfort to the church.
Second, the promise is "I will keep you from the hour…" i.e., from the Tribulation. This is very specific and carefully described in the Greek to emphasize and clearly teach the pre-tribula-tion rapture of the church. The Greek words for "keep out" are te„reo„ ek meaning "out of." There are four other ways this could have been stated if John wanted to imply that church age believers would be in the Tribulation, but none of them were used.
· te„reo„ en = To keep in. This would be a promise of preservation in the Tribulation.
· te„reo„ dia = to keep through. This would be a promise to keep us through the Tribulation.
· aireo„ ek = to take out, or so„zo„ ek = to save out. This could mean that believers would go into the Tribulation and then be taken out of the Tribulation.
· aireo„ apo = to take from. This would mean that believers would go into the Tribulation and then be taken out of the Tribulation.
Rather than any of the above, John chose to use te„reo„ ek , which means "to keep out." This is a promise that believers will never get into the Tribulation. But how? Paul describes this for us 1 Thessalonians 4:13 f. We can chart it like this:
[GRAPHIC: See Topic file version for graphic]
Some have tried to argue that this construction means just the opposite of the above interpretation. Gundry, for instance, in his book, The Church and the Tribulation , believes it argues for a post-tribulational emergence of the saints. He writes, "As it is, ek lays all the emphasis on emergence, in this verse on the final, victorious outcome of the keeping-guarding." [Note: Gundry, The Church and the Tribulation, p. 57.] Although this is generally true with ek , if ek is related to a non-motion verb like te„reo„ , the idea of motion out of something is negated by the static nature of the verb. The fact then, that a motion verb like so„zo„ is used here with ek shows the fallacy of Gundry’s argument. However, even if a verb of motion were used, it would not prove Gundry’s argument. A good illustration is 2Co 1:10 which has rhuomai ek , "delivered us from death." Certainly Paul did not mean that God had delivered them out of death through resurrection, but that He had kept them from death. [Note: Dan Wallace, Selected Notes on Syntax of the New Testament Greek, 4th edition, Dallas Theological Seminary, pp. 139-141.] Another illustration of this use of ek with a verb of motion is James 5:20 , "save him from (the peril) of death," so„zo„ plus ek .
As Jam 5:20 and 2Co 1:10 means saved from the peril of death, i.e., from dying. So likewise 1Th 1:10 and Rev 3:10 means delivered from the peril of wrath, the time of testing, the Tribulation.
(3) Comfort and admonition concerning the imminent return of the Lord ( Rev 3:11 )
His coming is promised to be "quickly." This means "suddenly, unexpec-tedly, without announcement" and not necessarily soon. It implies imminency and so the charge here is to "hold fast," a warning against spiritual carelessness and carnality. The warning reminds us to live in the light of His coming, to hold fast to Him in faith and service. For when He comes it will mean examination and rewards. He will not forget our service on His behalf, but we must hold fast to the hope and expectation of His coming for us or we will live carelessly, indifferently to our calling and purpose as believers. When that happens we lose our crowns, rewards for faithful service. So the Spirit quickly adds, "that no one take your crown."
"That no one take your crown" is an interesting picture. To lose a crown is to be deprived of the honor or glory potentially available through faithful living. There are two possible ideas here:
(1) It could refer to rewards which are lost and given to others because we failed to hold fast. Swete states, "‘The picture is not that of a thief snatching away what is feebly held, but rather of a competitor receiving a prize which has been forfeited.’" [Note: W. R. Ross Jr., "Dallas Theological Seminary Thesis," p. 52.] I am reminded of 1Co 9:24 where the apostle challenges us regarding rewards, "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win (lit. lay hold of)." There is also the parable of Luk 19:24 where the Lord says regarding the unfaithful servant, "Take the mina away from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas."
(2) Or, it could refer to rewards lost because of the evil influences that we might allow to hinder us in the race of life (cf. Matthew 13:7 ; Matthew 13:22 ; Col 2:18 ; 2 John 1:8 ; Rev 2:20 with 2:25f).
Actually, both concepts are true as the above Scriptures make clear.
Certainties for the overcomer ( Rev 3:12 )
In Revelation 3:12 , then, the believer who overcomes is promised three specific things:
First, he will have as a reward a special ministry as a permanent and prominent fixture in the temple of God (Ephesians 2:21 f). All believers are in the spiritual building and household of God ( Eph 2:21-22 ), but some will be pillars as special rewards. To be a pillar is a sign of special reward with a permanent position of honor and responsi-bilities in the millennium and eternal state. Pillars stood for stability, ornamentation, and service.
Second, he will never be removed from this place of preeminence in the eternal temple. The overcomer has a fixed eternal place of honor in the sanctuary of God. "He will not go out from it anymore."
Third, he will have three special names: he will have written on him God’s name and the name of the new Jerusalem along with Christ’s own new name. This would all signify the priestly dignity and prominence given to the victors.
The Challenge and Admonition ( Rev 3:13 )
13 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Finally the letter is closed with the usual charge to all the churches or to the church of God at large wherever it may exist in the world to hear and take this message to heart.
Revelation 3:14-22 (See the Book Comments for the Introductory chapters and Appendices)
Lesson 11: The Message to Laodicea ( Rev 3:14-22 )
" Lukewarmness in the Church "
All of the messages to the churches of Asia are extremely practical, but perhaps none fits the conditions in both Europe and in North America as does the message to Laodicea, the church that had become so lukewarm in its deceptive self-sufficiency. Regarding this condition, MacArthur has given us an accurate picture. He writes:
One of the remarkable sidelights in the staggering political changes in Eastern Europe is the fact of a vibrant Christianity that has emerged in the midst of the suffering, persecution, and atheism of these Communist dominated countries.
By contrast, in free Europe where there has been prosperity and democracy, the church is almost completely dead. The church has ceased to have any impact on the society. Atheism and humanism have taken over. Government and public policy is governed almost totally by philosophies that are antibiblical and even intolerant of the truth of Scripture.
If you look at the U.S., you find much the same thing. Government and the media, which affects the thinking of so much of America, are, for the most part, liberal and intolerant of Christianity. Leadership in both Europe and the U.S. are working for a one world government while the populace is preoccupied with their comfort and pleasure or the good life. The moral climate or condition of both free Europe and the U.S. is rotten to the core. According to a number of polls, if you compare the values, priorities, practices, and pursuits of professing Christians and non-Christians alike, you find very little difference on the whole.
Yet, much of free Europe and all of America owe their freedom, their prosperity, and blessings to the preaching of the Word of God, to the reformation in Europe, and to the ministries of men like the Wesleys, George Whitfield, and Jonathan Edwards in America.
What then is the problem? Is it freedom? Is it prosperity? No! But there are inherent dangers in both freedom and prosperity, subtle dangers.
It is more than a curiosity that the church has flourished behind the Iron Curtain while dying in the West. The reasons are clear. Lacking any visible external threat to our faith, many in the free world have lost any sense of the subtlety of the enemy and how he attacks. We have grown careless and apathetic. We have become concerned more with our own comfort and well-being than with the command of Christ that we should follow in His steps ( 1Pe 2:21 ). [Note: John MacArthur, "Masterpiece," May/June, p. 2.]
So, what’s the problem? People simply can’t stand prosperity. With freedom and prosperity come the temptation to trust in our blessings rather than in the Blessor. We become fat, comfortable, and self-sufficient. If we have plenty, we tend to think we have need of nothing. If we do not have enough, looking at the wealth around us, we tend to think that what we need is what others have--material blessings.
The problem is that men are putting their faith in the wrong thing, in their material world, in treasures on earth. Christ told us in no uncertain terms to do the opposite, to lay up treasures in heaven. Paul instructs us in 1 Timothy 6:17-19 :
Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.
In other words, in the words of the Savior, we need to lay up heavenly treasures (Matthew 6:19 f). Scripture warns us of this very problem over and over again.
God warned Israel in Deuteronomy 6:10 f against forgetting the Lord as the source of their freedom and salvation. Nine times in Deuteronomy He tells them not to forget what the Lord had done for them and 15 times He tells them to remember the Lord and His deliverance.
The Lord Himself in the letter to the church at Laodicea warns and instructs us against the deadening and lukewarm effects of trusting in material wealth (the details of life) rather than pursuing a vital faith relation-ship with Jesus Christ.
The Laodicean church was a church that had lost its impact on the world because it had become occupied with the world and because it had left the Lord standing outside. Whether one believes in the idea that the seven churches of Asia portray seven historical stages the church would go through or not, certainly this church il-lustrates conditions of the church in the 20th century in a large portion of the world.
The City and the Assembly (Revelation 3:14 a)
14a "And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write:…"
Laodicea was the chief city of Phrygia in the Lycus valley, strategically located where three highways converged. It was thereby a highly commercial and wealthy city. It was a city of wealthy bankers and financiers. The many millionaires combined to build theaters, a huge stadium, lavish public baths, and fabulous shopping centers. Sound familiar?
It should be obvious, but clearly, the American Mall, the big discount stores, and shopping centers define American culture in the ’80s and ’90s. The ‘80s has gone on record as the decade of consumerism and the ’90s has certainly continued the trend, even adding Internet shopping to the list. Consumerism is completely out of control.
I was in the north part of Dallas not long ago and was amazed at the number of shopping centers, restaurants, strip malls, and huge enclosed malls. But it’s like this all over America, especially in the big cities. There is a concentra-tion of buyers, sellers, and products; jammed parking lots and crushing crowds with millions of dollars being spent by people buying things they don’t need with money most of them don’t have.
Americans spend more than 30 percent of their income on luxury items, compared to less than 10 percent just forty years ago. Statistics on personal consumption published by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reveal that Americans’ spending on recreation rose from 42.7 billion in 1970 to 246.8 billion in 1988--a 477 percent increase!
Consumer Credit outstanding in America went from 167 billion in 1975 to nearly 660 billion in 1988. That’s a whopping 295 percent increase! [Note: MacArthur, p. 2.]
In A.D. 60 Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake. Being highly resour-ce-ful and self-sufficient, the people restored their own city rather than receive a government loan from Rome. That was very commendable and a far cry from what we find today in America. It demonstrated a self-sufficient attitude that would have detrimental spiritual results if carried over into their relationship with the Lord.
In addition to being a banking center, it was a manufactur-ing center for woolen garments and medicinal eye salve, powders and tabloids ( Rev 3:17-18 ).
They did have one inadequacy, however--their water supply. Laodicea received its water through an aqueduct coming from a spring four miles to the south. The waters of neighboring Hierapolis, however, were famous as hot springs and would have provided a contrast with the tepid aqueduct water in Laodicea. By contrast also there was Colos-sae which had ice cold springs, but nothing like this was known in Laodicea.
Certainly, this church illustrates and speaks to the church in our time, our modern period of materialism, consumerism, self-sufficiency, do-your-own-thing kind of independence and individualism, religiosity, and apostasy.
The Christ, the Author and Answer (Revelation 3:14 b)
14b "…The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:"
Again, as with the previous letters, this one begins with a part of the description of the Savior as given in chapter one. So our attention is focused on the person of the risen Lord Jesus and how He alone is the answer and solution.
"The Amen." Amen is the Greek ame„n from the Hebrew A^m^n . A^m^n is from a root meaning "to be firm, stable, sure, established, and trustworthy." It is used in Isa 65:16 of God as "the God of truth," literally, "the God of Amen."
The word was used to acknowledge and em-phasize what was valid, sure and true, or important and significant. It is used in the Old Testament as a liturgical formula in which a congregation or individual accepts both the validity of an oath or curse and its consequences (Numbers 5:22 ; Deuteronomy 27:15 ff.; Nehemiah 5:13 ; Jer 11:5 ). Twenty five times, always in the gospel of John, John records the Lord’s use of this word, ame„n , translated as, "truly truly, I say to you." Here in Revelation 3:14 , the "amen" is explained with the words, "the Faithful and True Witness."
"Amen" also connoted the idea of finality or the last word; is used of our Lord as the True One, the last word and final authority in each in-dividual’s life as well as for the entire world. As used of Christ, it points to Him as the end, the finality and certainty of all things. With Him one needs no substitutes, no sub-tractions or addi-tions. With Jesus Christ there is no further search needed for truth for in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge ( Col 2:3 ). Thus, every promise He makes is true and every woe He pro-nounces shall come to pass.
"The Faithful and True Witness." As mentioned, this clause defines the word "amen." But it is especially designed to contrast Christ’s statement of Rev 3:15-16 with the statement of the Laodiceans about themselves in Revelation 3:17 . As the "Faithful and True Witness," He stripped them and so also us of all our false appearances and pretentiousness, rationalizations and excuses. It stresses the need in each of us for honest examination followed by an honest to God confession that demonstrates a genuine desire for a change of life. It would further teach us the need to be in His Word which reveals our true condition ( Heb 4:12 ). The Lord said, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth" ( Joh 17:17 ).
"The beginning and the creation of God." The word "beginning" is the Greek word arche„ meaning (a) first in time or (b) first in place, cause, or origin. The point is Jesus Christ is the origin, the cause, the Creator of all things (John 1:3 ; Colossians 1:16-17 ; Revelation 1:8 ; Rev 21:6 ). He is the Creator of this earth, now fallen under the curse of sin through rebellion to Him. But He is also the Creator of the coming kingdom and the eternal state of a new heavens and earth in which dwells perfect righteousness (cf.Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 65:17 f).
As with the world today and many, many believers, Laodicea was occupied with and trusting in the things of this fallen creation that is now passing away and slated for destruction. They were trusting in the details of this life rather than in the Creator and in heavenly treasures.
Their priorities and security lay in temporal things rather than in the eternal and in the Creator Himself (Matthew 6:19 f; 1Ti 6:17-19 ). Perhaps, like much of Christianity today, their hope and faith was in a responsive Christ who is supposed to satisfy His people by quickly granting them ease and comfort. It is a Christianity that wants heaven or millennial conditions now in this present fallen world under Satan’s control. But that is not the message of the Bible and certainly not the message of Revelation.
The message of Revelation is about a continuing struggle with evil both in the church age (Revelation 2:1-29 ; Rev 3:1-22 ) and in the Tribulation to come (Revelation 6:1-17 ; Revelation 7:1-17 ; Revelation 8:1-13 ; Revelation 9:1-21 ; Revelation 10:1-11 ; Revelation 11:1-19 ; Revelation 12:1-17 ; Revelation 13:1-18 ; Revelation 14:1-20 ; Revelation 15:1-8 ; Revelation 16:1-21 ; Revelation 17:1-18 ; Revelation 18:1-24 ; Rev 19:1-21 ). It’s a struggle that will only get worse and worse and will not end until it is brought to an end by the personal return of the Lord.
The hope of the church and the biblical message that enables people to weather life’s storms and grow through them is gratitude for what happened at the cross of Christ combined with a passionate confidence in what will yet take place at His blessed coming. Surely, the only source of real stability in this present (a kind of stability that does not require the character-weakening mechanism of denial nor the demand for comfort) is a deep thankfulness for the past work of the Savior combined with a confident expectation for the future glories promised by Christ .
The Church and its Affairs ( Rev 3:15-22 )
15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. 16 ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17 ‘Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. 19 ‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent. 20 ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me. 21 ‘He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. 22 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’"
The Condemnation and Admonition ( Rev 3:15-17 )
Please note that in this church there was no commenda-tion . This church is condemned because it is neither hot nor cold, but simply lukewarm. What does this teach us?
"I know your deeds." As before, the Lord begins with a solemn reminder of His knowledge of the true condition of our lives. Since His witness is true and He is the Amen (the final word) it is as foolish for us to run and hide, as it was for Adam and Eve. We should never run or hide from his witness to us through the Word, or from the disciplines He brings into our lives. Why? Well, not only does denial dishonor the Lord and bring with it serious consequences to our fellowship with Him (see Rev 3:20 ) and our ability to grow up spiritually, but sooner or later we are going to have to face the Lord for the way we have lived and used or abused His grace.
Rom 14:11-12 For it is written, "As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every Tongue shall give praise to God." So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God.
"Hot" is zestos , a word which means "boiling hot." It is found in Rom 12:11 where we are first warned against "lagging behind in diligence," but also exhorted to be "fervent ( zestos ) in spirit, serving the Lord," an obvious cause and effect relationship. It refers to spiritual fervor, zest, zealousness for the things of Jesus Christ. Our word zest comes from this word.
"Cold." Christ says "I would that you were either cold or hot." Why cold? Why is cold preferred to lukewarm?
First, there may be an allusion to Colossae which had cold springs. The point is that cold water is refreshing, it provides refreshment for the weary, and hot water has a healing or soothing effect upon the sick or on aching and sore joints and muscles. But Laodicea had neither; in fact, it was nauseating.
Note our Savior’s comment at the end of Revelation 3:16 . "I will spit you out of My mouth." The translation "spit" of the NASB or NIV, or "spue" of the KJV, are not really strong enough. The Greek word here is emeo„ which means, "to vomit." There is another word, ptuo„ that means "to spit" that John could have used if that is what he meant. [Note: Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, translated by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, University of Chicago Press: electronic version (under emew).] From the standpoint of their ministry they provided neither refreshment nor healing, they could only cause nausea. In other words, they were useless to the Lord and His purposes for the church in the world. Remember Mat 10:42 and the cup of cold water given in the name of Christ. They were even useless for that.
Second, when a person is cold and feels its bitterness, he is more apt to seek warmth or refuge from the cold and flee to Jesus Christ for his needs. But if one is lukewarm he becomes more difficult to reach because he feels comfortable and self-sufficient (Revelation 3:17 b).
"I would." This is the Greek ophelon , a fixed form used to express an unattainable wish. It’s equivalent to "would that, I wish." It assumes the nature of an interjec-tion where one wishes that a thing had happened, but has not and probably will not. They had become thoroughly hardened and indifferent to Christ through the deceitful- riches of the world and their sin (cf. Hebrews 3:7 f).
What does it mean to be lukewarm? Rev 3:17 expresses what Christ means by lukewarmness. It refers to Christians who are indifferent or apathetic because they are self-sufficient and self-satisfied. Christians who are trusting in themselves and their wealth or what they thought their wealth could buy them. Note their threefold claim:
(1) "I am rich"--they had an over abundance of material blessings, but by this statement, it shows they were proud and trusting in that richness as though wealth had the power to give them security and happiness.
(2) "… and have become wealthy"--they continued to add to their wealth. Not only was wealth a sign of security, happiness, and success, but the truth is, it never really satisfies and people want more. I can’t remember who it was that said this, though I know he was a very famous wealthy man, but when asked how much is enough, the millionaire replied with one word, "more."
(3) "… and have need of nothing"--They were so well off they thought they needed help from neither man nor God. They had bought into the satanic delusion that money can buy anything. They didn’t need to trust God. They could simply go out and buy whatever they needed or desired. There was no need to wait on the Lord, no need to put Him first.
They sought their security in their talents, abilities, human resources, and financial wealth. They thought they were protected from all dangers, were insulated from all problems, and immune to every kind of tragedy.
These are the kind of people who thought they deserved special treat-ment: first class accommodations, the finest clothes, the best of everything. Their real God was comfort and pleasure.
The problem was that they sought their happiness in things and their security in their wealth. As a result they neglected the Lord and biblical values. They neglect-ed real service or ministry to others.
America has more churches per capita than any other country. Our currency reads, "In God We Trust." But according to recent statistics, there is very little difference between the lifestyles of Christians and non-Christians. The moral degeneracy of our nation in its attitudes, values, and beliefs is everywhere obvious. The crime rate, substance abuse, the divorce rate, abuse of women and children, the secularism, rise of the occult, the new age movement, and many other signs make it clear this country is in critical condition regardless of its Christian heritage and its many churches.
We are the wealthiest nation in the world with more churches, more Bibles, Christian literature, and Christian schools than any other nation in the world, yet, we are losing the battle.
Why isn’t the church more effective in the world today? Is the problem simply with the world? Is it too stubborn and too blind to listen? Or could part of the problem be with us? Have we, because of our materialism and in spite of our religiosity, excluded the Savior? Have we literal-ly shut Him out of our lives so He can no longer flesh out His life in ours to impart His vision, His character and values into ours?
What’s the cure for the American church? What do we need to do? In the verses that follow, we have the Lord’s counsel and advice along with His promises and rewards.
The saddest thing about the Laodicean church (and that which characterizes America today) is not just the Lord’s statement about their condition as "wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked," but the words that preceded this indictment, "and you do not know that you are…" How sad to be this numb and blind! Let’s note the description:
"Wretched" is the Greek word ( talaipo„ros ) which comes from the word talai meaning "to bear, undergo" and another word ( po„ros ) which means "hard, callous." I don’t want to make too much of this because etymology (the derivation of words) is the not the primary basis for understanding words, usage is. But perhaps the use of this word suggests that they were wretched in the sense that they were bearing severe calluses on their soul, hardened against the truth.
"Miserable" means "pitiable." It describes one in such a state that he becomes the object of extreme pity, like a beggar. The real pity is that they were like a drunk in the cold, they could not feel their condi-tion.
"Poor" is "beggarly." This word referred to one who begs for crumbs trying to fill his hunger or craving. Those who try to find happiness and security in the details of life are like beggars trying to exist on crumbs while, as we see inRevelation 3:20; Revelation 3:20 , Christ stands at the door inviting us to come in out of the cold and dine with Him in fellowship.
"Blind" They were without spiritual insight or discernment. They were walking in darkness. Their eyes were bad and so their whole body was full of darkness ( Mat 6:23 ). Here was the crux of their problem; it was spiritual blindness, poor spiritual insight or a lack of biblical perspective or vision. Here is something we must not ignore. The problem of seeking happiness in the treasures of the world is at heart, an eyesight problem, a problem of blindness or poor spiritual eyesight ( Mat 6:19-23 ).
Compare Psalms 119:11-14 ; Psalms 119:99-105 ; Psalms 19:10 ; Pro 16:16 and note there the results of good eyesight or spiritual illumination.
In Revelation 3:17 , Christ, as the True and Faithful Witness, describes the condition to which they were blind and totally insensitive because of their luke-warmness, a condition caused in part by their failure to desire ( 1Pe 2:2 ), know and respond to the Word ( 1Th 2:13 ).
Further, the Lord says they were:
"Naked" is the Greek word gumnos from which we get our word gymnasium. It meant (a) to be totally without clothes, or (b) to be poorly clothed, dressed in rags. Though they were rich, and manufactured and wore expensive clothing, and though they made eye salve, they were, spiritually speaking, in pitiful condition.
By way of application for the unbeliever, or the mere professing Christian, this means to be without the righteousness of Christ. All our religious or moral good works, if we are without Christ, are but filthy rags ( Isa 64:6 ). For the believer, this means to be without the fruit of the Spirit, the genuine character of Christ. It means hypocritical Christianity.
Satan and the world wants us to think that the good life is what we all want and need. People watch shows like "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," and game shows where people win large amounts of money. They follow the lotteries and think, "Wow, if only I could have that kind of luck." The implication is that money buys the good life, but not so. There is no "good life" to be purchased for any amount of money.
Materialism is a destructive pathology. Statistics indicate the more money you have the more likely you are to commit suicide. Actuarial figures reveal life expectancy decreases as income increases. Money adds to stress and that in turn takes years off one’s life. One study shows that money also intensifies moral decline and family disintegration. Marital infidelity and divorce rates rise with income levels. Money cannot buy happiness. [Note: MacArthur, p. 2.]
The Counsel or Advice ( Rev 3:18-19 )
"I advise you." This word, sumbouleuo„ , means "to give counsel" or "to take counsel together." This reminds us (or should) that the whole of the Word is the counsel of God setting forth the will of God. So He calls us to come and take counsel together with Him ( Isa 1:18 ). What is the Lord’s counsel or advice?
"Buy from Me." How can you buy from Christ what is only given through faith? (cf. Revelation 21:6 ; Rev 22:17 ). The answer is given for us in Isaiah 55:1-3 .
1 Ho. Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; And you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And delight yourself in abundance. 3 Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, According to the faithful mercies shown to David.
"Buy" stands for the concept of acquire or gain. No one can actually buy these things from Christ. He only uses these words as a medium to carry their thoughts from the material world and material wealth to the spiritual world and the need of spiritual wealth that can only be received by faith. Also note the concept of the source. They can be bought only from Christ.
Note what it is that can be bought or acquired. "Gold." Here the Lord counsels the church to turn to Him for true riches. Gold here is a picture of faith produced by God’s own Word by which men bring the spiritual riches of Christ into their lives (cf. 1 Peter 1:7 ; Romans 10:17 ; Rom 5:1 ).
"White raiment." Again we would divide this into two categories: (a) For the unbeliever, this refers to the right-eousness of Christ which is imputed to the believer at the point of faith in Christ (Revelation 3:5 ; 2 Corinthians 5:21 ; Philippians 3:9 f). (b) For the believer it would refer to the ex-periential righteousness, the fruit of the Spirit. Acts of righteousness from living in the Word and walking in fellowship by abiding in Christ (John 15:1-27 ; Revelation 3:4 ; Revelation 19:8 ; Gal 5:22-23 ).
"Eye salve." Since this obviously has to do with spiritual sight, this most likely refers to the person and work of the Holy Spirit as God’s anointing who anoints our eyes to discern His Word ( Joh 14:26 ; 1Co 2:14-16 ).
We need to remember that these letters are written to the church, to believers in Christ. There could have been unbelievers in their midst, but unbelievers are really not a part of the church. Christ is addressing believers here and says, "those whom I love, I reprove and discipline." He loves them and promises to reprove and discipline them to bring them out of their self sufficiency and into the sufficiency of His life. This could require severe testing, pain and heartache to bring them (or any believer in this state) to a point of personal need and dependency upon the Lord ( Heb 12:5-15 ).
In view of this, they are warned to become zealous and to repent of their ways. In other words, repent in order to stop the dis-cipline before it begins.
"Be zealous" is a present imperative which commands a continual state. This is maintained by using our divine operating assets, the Word, the filling of the Holy Spirit, prayer, etc.
"Repent" is an aorist imperative which means don’t delay, do it now, but it also looks at action designed to arrest a condition, the condition of lukewarm self-sufficiency.
The verb is metanoeo„ , "to change the mind." It is equivalent to confession of the past or the present with a view to a change in the future.
The Call and Invitation ( Rev 3:20 )
Christ is represented in relation to the church locally and univer-sally in that these letters have application locally and universally. But this appeal has special application to the individual for the church is made up of individuals. Note the words "if anyone hears." A condition can exist in the life of a believer which necessitates inviting Christ to come in for personal fellowship. But this is not the way this passage is often used and understood.
This passage is often used in presenting the gospel and in offering salvation to a lost sinner. Such a view is based on two assumptions: (a) that the Laodiceans, or at least some of them, were indeed lost, and (b) that the Greek text eiseleusomai pros means "come into ." Both of these assumptions have little evidence to support them.
With reference to the first assumption, that those in the Laodicean church were not believers, note that in the preceding verse, the resurrected Lord declares, "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline." Here phileo„ is used for "love"--a term that is never used of God/Jesus loving unbelievers in the NT. (Indeed, it would be impossible for God to have this kind of love for an unbeliever, for it routinely speaks of enjoyment and fellowship. agapao„ , rather, is the verb used of God’s love for unbelievers [cf. Joh 3:16 ], for it frequently, if not normally, speaks of commitment and, when used with God/Jesus as the subject, the idea is often of an unconditional love.) This phileo„ must be applied to the Laodiceans here, for the verse concludes, "Be zealous, therefore , and repent." The inferential oun ("therefore") connects the two parts of the verse, indicating that the Laodiceans are to repent because Christ loves ( phileo„ ) them !
The second assumption is that eiseleusomai pros means "come into." Such an assumption is based on a less than careful reading of the English text. The ASV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, for example, all correctly renders it "come in to." (Note the space between the prepositions.) The idea of "come into" would be expressed with eis as the independent preposition and would suggest a penetration into the person (thus, spawning the idea of entering into one’s heart). However, spatially pros means toward , not into. In all eight instances of eiserchomai pros in the NT, the meaning is "come in toward/before a person" (i.e., enter a building, house, etc., so as to be in the presence of someone), never penetration into the person himself/herself. In some instances, such a view would not only be absurd, but inappropriate (cf.Mark 6:25; Mark 6:25 ; Mark 15:43 ; Luke 1:28 ; Acts 10:3 ; Acts 11:3 ; Acts 16:40 ; Acts 17:2 ; Act 28:8 ). [Note: Daniel B. Wallace, Th.M, Ph.D., Associate Professor of New Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary, Scripture Twisting, The Biblical Studies Foundation web site at www.bible.org. (Note: for our non-Greek readers, I have transliterated the Greek words used by Wallace in the article on the BSF site.)]
"I stand" is in the perfect tense which points to action completed with continuing results and marks out the loving patience of the Lord and His desire for our fellowship.
"Knock" is in the present tense which looks at continuous action. What gracious condescension that the Creator--God--Savior would seek our fellowship. The Lord stands, knocks and speaks. His speech is an invitation for men to open up the doors of their hearts and to invite Christ in for fellowship.
"I will dine with him and he with Me." Dine is a Greek word which referred to the main meal of the day--a real feast. This Greek word, deipneo„ , was used not only of the chief meal of the day--a full course dinner--but of the meal which was the occasion for hospitali-ty and fellowship. At this meal, however, He is the host. It is He who sets the table and we are His guests dining on that which He has provi-ded.
We can perhaps make application for the lost, for those without Christ, but we must be ever so careful in how we do this. Unbelievers are not saved by asking Jesus to come into their lives. Unbelievers can only invite Christ into their lives as personal Savior by faith in the person and work of Christ (John 1:12 ; John 3:16 ; Joh 3:36 ). Christ comes in through the ministry of the Spirit of God by believing in Jesus Christ as to both His person and work as the only means of salvation, not by simply asking Christ to come in. This means believing in Christ as the Son of God, the God-man who died on the cross as God’s substitute and payment for one’s own sin, and believing that God raised Him from the dead, the proof of His person and work ( Rom 10:9 ).
Actually, this passage is addressed to the church--to believers. This is a call to fellowship with the Savior. As an invitation to Christians, it’s a call to repent, as commanded in Revelation 3:19 . It is a call for confession of one’s sins with a renewal of mind and heart to continue to draw upon the glorious life of Christ daily through walking by the Spirit and living in the Word. It means abiding in Christ, the vine (John 15:1-7 ; 1 John 1:7-10 ; Ephesians 4:20-24 ; Ephesians 5:14-18 ; Rom 8:1-16 ).
The Comfort and Assurance ( Rev 3:21 )
Not only does He promise to come into the life of the one who invites Him ( Rev 3:21 ), but again special blessing is promised to the believ-er who overcomes. He is promised the privilege of sitting with Christ on His throne. This means the privilege and right to share in Christ’s authority and rule in the millennium and eternal future.
But note the basis of this: "as I also overcame and sat down." The real victory over death, sin and Satan was accomplished by Christ in His life, death and resurrection. Because of His sinless life and perfect obedience to the Father’s plan--even the death of the cross--He overcame sin, Satan and death and was granted the right and authority as the God-man to sit with the Father until operation footstool, until he makes His enemies the footstool for His feet (Philippians 2:5-11 ; Hebrews 1:3 ; Heb 1:13 ).
But by our union and identification with Him in His person and work, and through our faithfulness in the conflict as we draw upon His life as the source of ours, we get to share in His reign as a reward for faithful service. This is truly amazing because, whenever we do overcome in the battles of life, it is always through Him.
The Challenge or Appeal ( Rev 3:22 )
Rev 3:22 ends the letter to Laodicea and also concludes these two chapters and the letters to the seven churches by the appeal to hear. It is an appeal which each time is made to all the churches because all seven letters are vital to us all.
The great lesson concerns a church that is religious, but basical-ly useless. It is a church that has excluded Christ from their fellowship in selfish, materialistic, self-dependence. It is a church where Christ stands on the outside, excluded by the church’s apathy to His Word, a Word which convicts, enlightens, warms and softens hearts, and makes people productive. Thus, the call is to hear, to open our ears.
Like Laodicea, the church today is lukewarm. Am I? Are you? We have seen what it means to be lukewarm and how we are to deal with lukewarmness. We have also seen its causes and cure. Do we have ears to hear this message as the Lord challenges us in this passage? Are we blind to the effects of our own forms of greed?
Think for a moment about Madison Avenue with all its advertising techniques. They are designed for the financial gain of the advertisers, not that of the buyer. Regardless of their claims such as, "you need a break today," or whatever the alleged benefit of the product, it is really without much concern for the welfare of people other than they want to keep our business. It is exploitative, manipulative, and designed by greed to play on the weak-nesses of the public. The goal is to get us to buy what we can’t afford, what we do not need, with money we often don’t have. And many times it is either harmful or wrong according to biblical standards. Advertisers often seeks to reach the most vulnerable in society and intentionally market products that are both addictive and destructive.
But this greed-driven behavior is not exclusive to the world. We find it in the church among God’s people too, but often we are too blind to see it. Think of how often greed, laying treasures on the earth, and desires for the good life negatively affect the body of Christ:
(1) Think of how it tarnishes the testimony of Christ when business professionals compromise integrity and biblical values to cut a less than honorable deal.
(2) Think of how greed shreds families when parents devote their best energies to dreams of the "good life" leaving little strength or time for caring for the spiritual well being of their family.
(3) Think of how greed injures the church and ministry for the same reasons because people are so engulfed in the pursuit of position, power, praise, prestige, and pleasure that there is neither time nor energy to devote themselves to the Word, to ministry, or to liberal giving.
We are not exempt from the consequences of our own forms of greed. It litters the landscape around us with victims of our self-centered drives. [Note: J. M. Stowell, "Moody Monthly," May, 1990, p. 4.]