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Message for Sardis
Revelation 3:1. In church history the periods that are presented in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum and Thyatira succeed each other, whereby the succeeding church takes the place of the previous one. Ephesus disappears and Smyrna appears, etc. With Sardis that tendency does not continue. Sardis does not replace Thyatira, but comes forth out of it, while Thyatira remains to exist. You also see that until this day roman-catholicism and protestantism exist next to one another.
As it is said, Sardis comes forth from Thyatira. That happened in the church history in the sixteenth century. Then through God’s grace a reformation was established, for which He especially had used Luther and later also Calvin and others. God opened the eyes of these men to the errors of roman-catholicism. The intention of the reformation was to reform the roman-catholic church, but due to the rejection by the catholic leaders it became a completely new movement.
However, a work that was started as a work of God became more and more a work of men. There is little left from the freshness of the reformation. What had come forth from the roman-catholic church, today we call protestantism. Since 1 May 2004 its greatest representative in the Netherlands is the PKN, the protestant church in the Netherlands. The connection between church and state is reflected in this name, just like it was earlier in the Dutch reformed church. That phenomenon is also to be seen in other countries. In such a way there is reference to the English state church and the German evangelical church.
National churches were formed everywhere. All these churches had their own national organization. The protestantism was made dependent on the national governments. You see here the relation with the world which looks like that of Pergamum. But it is different. In Pergamum the world had control over the whole church. In Sardis the domination of the world (in the form of the state) over the church is a matter of each separate country. This is absolutely far away from God’s thoughts about the church, wherein a distinction according to nationality has completely disappeared (Colossians 3:11).
By relating herself to the state and by putting herself under its protection, the church disconnected herself from the biblical model. In the protestantism biblical truths are indeed confessed, but they are being implemented in a purely worldly manner. The church claims to be alive, which name she loves to have, but the Lord Jesus says of her that she is dead. Has all hope gone now?
No, fortunately not. If you see how the Lord Jesus presents Himself to this church, then there is shining hope for everyone who finds himself in such a situation. He has “the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars”. In this way He ensures the faithful ones in Sardis that in Him there is the real source of life and power that never will fail. The world may have entered where the Spirit of God had to be ruling, but that does not change anything about the fullness (of which the number ‘seven’ speaks) of the Spirit that He has. Neither will He in any way give up His right to the churches as light bearers, represented in the ‘seven stars’.
Every time when He has presented Himself, He has said to the preceding churches ”I know” and then noticed something what He could appreciate in that church. Also to Sardis He starts by saying “I know”. However, after that comes not an appreciative remark, but a disapproving remark. That disapproval regards the appearance of the life that the church confesses to have, while in reality there is no life, but death rules.
Life has gradually faded away from the reformation, which causes it to become like what we now recognize as protestantism. The religion has become more and more a confession led by an organization. Only relatively a few people have life from God. Most of them have shifted to the new doctrine in imitation of their spiritual leaders, without personal exercises of their conscience.
You cannot directly say that there is a wrong doctrine. The confession is orthodox. However, it is a dead form, wherein the life is missing. Also today there are a whole bunch of people who confess Christ, but relatively there are just a few who live with Christ.
Revelation 3:2. Death may be ruling in general, but there are still souls that the Lord can address. When they hear, there will still be hope for them. The appeal sounds as follows: “Wake up, and strengthen the things which remain.” The sleeping believers in Sardis urgently need a wake-up call and they have to take up their place again on the watch bases. They need to become aware again that the church and the world are not to be mixed. Due to the fatal sleeping disease of the believers the world got access in the church. That needs to be changed. Obedience to the call will work that.
When the call will be heeded, it will prevent that the few faithful ones, “which remain”, in whom a spark of life is left, will give up. The situation is more than critical. The Lord Jesus has to say that the works of the church of Sardis do not meet the demand of God. In the church history we find this also in protestantism that has arisen from the roman-catholicism. Many issues that are typical for the roman church have been integrated in protestantism.
The result is that regarding the church structures, there has been no return to God’s Word, but the people have integrated elements out of the roman church. The people wanted to return to the ‘sound doctrine’, but because of the mixture with the world it remained to be only a doctrine, for the practice breathed the spirit of the world. Just as little as in the roman-catholicism there was no vivid expectation of the coming of the Lord in protestantism. The religious institutions also remained to lead the church, through which in practice no room was given to the Spirit of God to lead the church.
Revelation 3:3. Then the call comes “so remember”. They are reminded of the moment when they heard and accepted the gospel and received the legacy of faith (of the Reformation) as a lasting treasure. It refers to the rediscovery of the Scripture and the way to salvation that is received by faith, without works of the law. In case of deviation we are always reminded of the unchangeable Word of God and the immoveable authority of God Himself.
This also goes for your personal life of faith. In case you have deviated therein, when the faith does not live like that, remember then the moment that you heard and accepted the gospel. That will bring you to repentance of your deviation.
When there is no alertness, when the coming of the Lord is not being considered, then that coming will be just as unexpected and undesirable as the coming of a thief (cf. Matthew 24:43-Acts :; 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:4; 2 Peter 3:10). He then will come to them as He will do to the world. Protestantism has put itself under the protection of the world. It has connected itself with the world and has sought and striven for the interests and approval of the world. Therefore Christianity will also share the fate of the world and will be judged with the world.
Revelation 3:4. Fortunately the Lord has discovered also a few (“a few people” litt. “a few names”) in Sardis who have remained faithful. They not only believe in the right doctrine, but they also live in sincere separation from the world, with their eyes fixed on the Lord. They have “not soiled their garments”. That means that they have personally kept themselves clean from the many defilements that are typical for protestantism (e.g. bible criticism and modernism).
The Lord appreciates this in a special way. Just like they have walked in purity before Him on earth, they will be allowed to walk with Him in “white” in the future. The Lord emphasizes the special appreciation of their separation in Sardis by His mention that “they are worthy”. This expression is therefore special, because in this book it is further only used for God (Revelation 4:11) and the Lamb (Revelation 5:9; Revelation 5:12).
Revelation 3:5. It is the part of the conquerors to be clothed “in white garments”. That means that the purity they had on earth will always characterize them. An additional reward is related to their “name”. The Lord knows each one of the conquerors by his name. On earth their names may be removed from church registers because they do not support the course that the church goes. But they may know that there is a register that the Lord is keeping up and wherein their names are written in indelible ink. This book is the book of God’s elect (Revelation 13:8; Revelation 17:8Revelation 20:15; Revelation 21:27; cf. Daniel 12:1; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3). As an extra consolation the Lord adds to it that He will draw the attention of His Father and His angels to their name because of their faithfulness to Him (Luke 9:26; Luke 12:8).
Revelation 3:6. Also here the call to the individual believer to hear what the Spirit says to the churches cannot be addressed to the whole. You have seen that the whole is dead, but also that there is a call to be watchful and that there are those who ‘remain’. Therefore the call “he who has an ear” follows after the promise to conquerors. When there is somebody amongst them who has an ear, he will certainly take the message to heart and will then receive the reward for the victory.
Now read Revelation 3:1-6 again.
Reflection: How do you make sure ‘that your garments remain white’?
Message for Philadelphia
Revelation 3:7. The message for Philadelphia is like Smyrna without a blame. The Lord mentions only honorable things and encourages them to continue on the same track. The name Philadelphia means ‘brotherly love’. Philadelphia is a church where there is love for one another. That love comes out of love for the Lord and His Word. At the same time the love for one another forms the right atmosphere where the love for the Lord and for His Word can be expressed.
Philadelphia has come forth from Sardis. Those who had a living faith in Christ in Sardis have moved away from the deadness. A new movement arose as a work of God’s Spirit that totally devoted itself to the Lord and His Word. In the lives of the believers there was a personal, vivid relation with Christ. He meant everything to them. We see this happening in the church history in the nineteenth century.
The Lord Jesus presents Himself to this church with features which you have not seen in chapter 1. Here He speaks as “He who is holy”, because they have sanctified themselves from evil. This evil is the appearance of life in Sardis. He also speaks as “who is true”, because this is also fitting to them. They want to walk in sincerity and faithfulness, according to the truth that is in their inner man, that He is searching for and which He sees there (Psalms 51:6).
He also has “the key of David”. He is the true David (Isaiah 22:22) and the only One Who has access to and the right to all promises that were made to David. He who has the key, has the power to open and to close (Job 12:14).
Revelation 3:8. The Lord knows their deeds. It is not said which deeds it is about. To the world and to Christianity they will not be impressive deeds, but the Lord knows them and appreciates them. He tells them that He has given them “an open door”. The weak remnant receives from the Lord an open door, a passable way, which no one can block (Colossians 4:3; 1 Corinthians 16:9). It is a door to the treasury, to the knowledge of God’s Word and its secrets and to the city of God.
Maybe you are in a situation which is comparable to Sardis. There are people around you who call themselves a Christian but they are that only by name. There is a confession, but there is no life. If you desire life, He will surely open a door for you to a situation in which He and His Word are everything. He will bring you into contact with others who also have that desire. Just ask Him for it and He will show you the way. You can find that way in His Word which He will open with His key, so that you see His beauty in it and enjoy it.
He knows that you, just like it is said of the church in Philadelphia, have “little power”. That means that He knows that you are dependent on Him. Philadelphia – and each believer and each church that wants to be like that – is not noticed in the world. Their and also your strength is in the Lord and in ‘keeping His Word’. With His Word the Bible is meant, but then as the Word that He has spoken. It gives an enormous spiritual power when you read the Bible as the words of the Savior Who loves you and Whom you love. You cherish that Word because it is about Him and He has spoken it. To you it is about Him, you have Him and that is sufficient to you.
Another appreciation that the Lord speaks about is that they have “not denied” His Name. His Name means everything to them. That’s what they hold on to. That’s what you also do, isn’t it? You owe your salvation to His Name (Acts 4:12); in His Name you may gather with fellow believers as a church (Matthew 18:20). You do not want another name, you reject that, for that would be a denial of His Name.
Revelation 3:9. The remnant was under heavy pressure of the mass of the confessing Christianity. He who did not join the established churches, was presented as a member of a dangerous sect. They claim “that they are Jews”, which means that they present themselves as the true people of God. You may apply this to people who claim with their mouth to be true Christians and that they are entitled to everything that God has promised to the true Christians. Christianity is full of such people. But the Lord calls the nominal confessors “the synagogue of Satan”. Wherever He is not the center and His Word is not being considered, people become a prey of satan.
As an encouragement the Lord promised them that He will make sure that the false confessors will acknowledge that He has loved this weak remnant. He will once and for all justify the faithful believers toward the false Christians, the nominal confessors. He will unmask all who have unjustly adorned themselves with His Name. The false confessors will be forced to acknowledge that the believers despised by them were loved by the Lord Jesus.
Revelation 3:10. The Lord has more to encourage them. He honors them ‘for keeping His command to persevere’. By this the Lord means that He had said to be coming soon. He perseveringly looks forward to the rapture of His bride. This word has found resonance in their hearts: they also look forward to Him. That implies that He still does not reign. He is still patiently waiting for His kingdom and we ought to do that too (2 Thessalonians 3:5).
Because they are looking forward to His coming with such a perseverance, the Lord makes the promise to them that He will make sure that they will not be harmed by the judgments that soon will strike the earth. Before this “hour of testing” comes, He will take up the church into heaven. The second part of ‘the hour of testing’ is the period of the great tribulation (Matthew 24:21; Jeremiah 30:7; Jeremiah 30:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-2 Samuel :). The area upon which this trial will come is “the whole world”. The people who will be struck by it, are called, “those who dwell on the earth”. Those are the earth’s inhabitants, the people who consider the earth to be their home and who have permanently settled themselves there as their definite residence. God and His rights and eternity lie totally outside their field of vision (Psalms 17:14).
Revelation 3:11. As an extra encouragement the Lord promises to come quickly. He also exhorts them to hold fast what they have. What they have is not much. Still this call is necessary for them not to lose what they have: a warm love for the Lord and for one another. If they let go of that they will become lukewarm like Laodicea. We shall see that in the next and final message. For you it is also important to take this call to heart. Make sure that you will not lose your warm love for the Lord! For there is a “crown” attached to your attachment to the Lord and your affection for Him. The crown is the publicly visible appreciation of the Lord for your love for Him. He will adorn and honor you with that.
Revelation 3:12. Although the church in Philadelphia is not to be blamed for anything and there is also no call for repentance to be heard, there is still mention of an overcomer. Overcomers are they who not only have left Sardis and have become Philadelphia, but who also hold on to that with their whole heart. The next message shows that it is possible that the warm love for the Lord Jesus may cool off.
He who overcomes will be made by the Lord “a pillar in the temple of My God”. This is in great contrast to the place that they had on earth. There they were of no account and they were even portrayed to be annoying because they seemed to be blocking the growth of the church. However, in the resurrection they will appear to be pillars on which God’s house is resting (cf. Galatians 2:9). A pillar is a symbol of strength. Those who have shown much spiritual power precisely in their weakness will be pillars to eternity. There will absolutely be no mention of a collapse or failure.
It is the overcomers in Philadelphia who make God’s house a spiritual house. In that house spiritual sacrifices are brought and the Father is being worshipped by His sons. That is the place where priests draw near to God and know what He is worthy of. Those who do that today will be allowed to do a special service there in the resurrection.
But the promise for the overcomer goes still further. The Lord Jesus will write on him “the name of the city of My God”. On earth the believer in Philadelphia had no continuing city, but he was seeking the city to come (Hebrews 13:14). To that he will eternally be related and that will also be visible. That city is “the new Jerusalem”, which is the church. At the end of this book you see that this new Jerusalem “which comes down out of heaven from My God” (Revelation 21:2), but here this scene is already presented in prospect to the overcomer.
Finally the Lord says that He also will write “My new name” on the overcomer. That is the Name which He has now in glory (Revelation 19:12; Philippians 2:9; Hebrews 1:4).
Are these things not an exhortation for you too not to focus on the earthly things, but to look forward to the heavenly things? Will you not relate yourself with any religious system on earth, out of love for the Lord Jesus, but with the city which is in heaven, the church in her heavenly character? Then you will soon be rewarded by the Lord in a very personal way. You can derive that from the five times that He repeats the word ‘My’. Four times he emphasizes His very own personal relationship with God and one time His very personal relationship with each believer who is an overcomer in Philadelphia (cf. John 20:17; Hebrews 2:11-1 Chronicles :).
Revelation 3:13. It may be the case that in the ‘Philadelphia’ where you perhaps are, it is to fear that the fervent love is gradually disappearing. Then for you it is important to having an ear to hear. Therefore at the end of this message the question is very personally addressed to you: ‘Do you have an ear to hear what the Spirit says to the churches?’
Now read Revelation 3:7-13 again.
Reflection: What effort do you have to make to hold fast what you have?
Message for Laodicea
Revelation 3:14. You have seen that Sardis has emanated from Thyatira and Philadelphia has emanated from Sardis. This development is continued in Laodicea, for it emanates from Philadelphia. In church history it refers to denominations and churches that have emanated from revivals of the nineteenth century. They indeed have their roots in what originally is a work of God’s Spirit, but the roots have actually withered. They boast on spiritual inheritance, but there is no relation with the Heir.
In Laodicea you see what is happening when the light, which God has given to Philadelphia, extinguishes. Or better said: when the warmth of the love for the Lord Jesus diminishes and lukewarmness arises. That lukewarmness is what the Lord Jesus is blaming the angel of the church in Laodicea for (Revelation 3:15-Nehemiah :). The church is boasting of the spiritual riches, while there is no place for the Lord Jesus. He is excluded. The difference between Philadelphia and Laodicea has been described in a very striking way, namely: Philadelphia has nothing except the Lord, Laodicea has everything except the Lord.
The Lord does not present Himself to Laodicea with one of His judicial features from chapter 1. The features He shows here demonstrate the contrast between what the church has become and what He remained to be. He is the measure of what the church ought to be. In this way He puts the church in the light and He shows the deviation. He presents Himself as “the Amen”, because there is no new phase to be expected anymore in the church history. The next thing to happen for the church is the rapture of the believers. ‘Amen’ also means that Christ will have the last word (2 Corinthians 1:20).
He is and will always be, while the church has fallen into a great decline, “the faithful and true Witness”. He testifies of God’s rights in absolute faithfulness and truthfulness. He is also, as He is the beginning of the first creation, “the Beginning of the creation of God”, in other words: the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15). This is what is said of Him in the letter to the Colossians, a letter that was known by the Laodiceans (Colossians 1:18; Colossians 4:16). The church was supposed to be a manifestation of the new creation. The church has deviated from that, but Christ remains the Same.
Revelation 3:15. The deeds that the Lord is talking about here are not deeds that He can honor, but deeds of which He can only speak out His disapproval. They think that they are full of good deeds but the Lord looks right through it and sees their real condition. They were not that cold as Sardis and not that hot as Philadelphia. If they could have been one of both, then they could have represented something. You’re better dealing with a totally unbelieving person, a person who fanatically represents something than with a person who is full of himself.
Revelation 3:16. Lukewarm makes a person sick. It makes one’s stomach turn. The only thing that is left for the Lord to do is to vomit them ‘out of His mouth’. He is about to do that too.
Revelation 3:17. Before He vomits them out of His mouth He tells them what their tepidness consists of. He also suggests them to change their lukewarmness and gives the opportunity to the individual to repent. Their lukewarmness consists of being full of themselves instead of being full of Christ. The church is left on earth to testify of Christ. She does not do that anymore. Not only does she not testify of Christ anymore, but instead she starts to testify of herself. That is the sign of her to have fallen that deep. The church becomes everything and Christ disappears. The church makes herself attractive, not Christ.
I will give a small illustration of this development. Many years ago devoted believers put up a sign in a building of an English church saying: ‘Only Jesus’. Those two words expressed their great love for Him. After many years the letters ‘Jes’ on the sign faded away, which caused that all that was left was: ‘Only …us’.
The church in Laodicea talks only about herself. The Name of the Lord Jesus has become a means of self-exaltation for them, not an object of love. They are rich and they have the truth. They do not need others, for they have no lack of anything. But they do not know that they are miserable etc. par excellence. They are totally blind for their own situation, for what they spiritually represent. They do not even realize that the Lord is not with them anymore, but that He is standing outside the door.
Revelation 3:18. The Lord counsels them to buy from Him. When submitting their self-importance they will receive “gold”. Gold speaks of Divine glory and is in contrast with their human glory, the boasting in themselves. This gold is free from any impurity, for it has been purified through the fire of the judgment. The possession of Divine glory through the work of the Lord Jesus is the true wealth of the believer.
Therefore the confessing Christian without Christ has no “white garments”, which speak of purity that can be in God’s presence. The white garments are in contrast with the dirty clothes of self-righteousness. But the lukewarm nominal Christian can be clothed with Christ by repentance (Romans 13:14). Through the blood of the Lamb the believer is sure to be pure and covered before God. All their deeds (Revelation 3:15) are no cover, like the fig leaves that Adam and Eve made, were no cover for their nakedness (Genesis 3:7; Genesis 3:10). God gave them the right cover by the skin of an animal (Genesis 3:21). That means that an animal had to be killed, which refers to the work of the Lord Jesus.
Only through that way “eye salve” can be gained to be able to see. It is the anointment with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13; 1 John 2:20), through which we can get insight in the things of God.
Revelation 3:19. In His love the Lord Jesus is punishing and chastising them. He wants to address all who find themselves in a condition that is comparable to that of Laodicea, also through events. All His efforts are focused on making their heart beat again for Him and on restoring them in the right relationship toward Him. He wants them to be zealous in condemning themselves and that they may turn to Him.
Revelation 3:20. In His grace He even now tries to reach their heart and conscience. He seeks a place in their affections. He is standing at the door and He knocks. That means that the Lord is standing outside the door and they do not even realize it! They haven’t even noticed that He has left. In their imagination they think that He is with them. Of course they have the truth, don’t they?
For the church as a whole the situation has become such that she will be vomited. But the Lord addresses the individual. If there is “anyone” who hears His voice and opens the door, then He will come in to him to dine with him.
Are you maybe in such a situation? Then it is not hopeless. The Lord is knocking at your door now. Do you hear His voice? Then open the door for Him and let Him come into your life. His coming in means that He participates in everything you are engaged with, He wants to share in all your tests and trials. Then He will let you share in everything that He has. The result will be that you will rejoice again in all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge that are in Him (Colossians 2:3).
Revelation 3:21. You can be an overcomer. An overcomer in Laodicea is someone who in the midst of this evil company, opens up his heart to the Lord and allows Him to come in. There is a reward attached to that and that is to reign with Him. It is not the greatest of the seven rewards. It is not a typical Christian reward. This reward is shared with all believers of the Old Testament and with those who come out of the great tribulation. Still, it is great to sit together with the Lord Jesus on His throne.
He relates Himself with the overcomer in Laodicea by saying that this overcomer has overcome in the same way as He did. Indeed the Lord gives a proof of His great mercy here by comparing their victory to that of Him. He Himself indeed went to be seated on the throne of the Father after He had accomplished the whole work that the Father had ordered Him to do. Therefore He is entitled to that place. That is not grace, but He has obtained and taken in that place on the basis of Who He is and what He has done.
Revelation 3:22. The Lord Jesus does not get tired of appealing to hear, but that will also stop some time. He does that for the seventh and last time. Do you have an ear to hear? Then listen to what the Spirit says to the churches.
Now read Revelation 3:14-22 again.
Reflection: Is the Lord allowed to come in to you to dine with you and you with Him? In what way do you open up your heart to Him?
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Revelation 3". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany