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The Assembly at Sardis
The message to the assembly at Sardis has a very different character, for instead of being a development from Thyatira, it is rather a revulsion from it. Sardis means "a remnant" and represents the Protestant movement that began with the reformation of Luther's time. Of course, the power and grace of God was behind that reformation and the truth of justification by faith was thankfully recovered. But rather than going back to the first truths of Christianity, those who left Catholicism were content to go no further back than to a state similar to Pergamos, so that protestant "state churches" (like Catholicism) became prominent and the living power of the Spirit of God was virtually replaced by forms and ceremonies. They were not under the same degree of spiritual and physical bondage as in Rome, but were still involved in many of the same type of forms.
Therefore the Lord speaks as He who has the seven spirits of God (v. 1), the fulness of the power of the Holy Spirit so lacking in Sardis. He also has the seven stars: He upholds the heavenly reality of faith in His saints in contrast to the formal sectarianism of Sardis. However, He cannot give any commendation before His solemn reproof, "I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead." She enjoyed "a name," that is, a reputation because of having been rightly freed from the shackles of Rome, but she was not true to that name.
Yet she is told to strengthen the little that does remain for God in Sardis (v. 2). This is to be done only by watchfulness of faith, for even what was left was close to dying out. There had been no healthy maturing of her works before God. Though great promise of fruit was at first present, this had proved sadly ineffectual. She is to remember how she had first been blessed in receiving and hearing from God, and is to hold fast by at least letting nothing more slip from her grasp (v. 3). Besides this repentance was vitally important, as it is in all cases of backsliding. If she would not watch, this would prove that she had no reality of faith, and His coming to her would be as a thief in judgment in the day of His manifestation in power and glory. She would have no part in the Rapture.
Yet there are exceptions. A few names of those who had not defiled their garments by the pollutions of empty profession are given the attractive promise of walking with Him in white and are commended as "worthy" (v. 4). The overcomer would be clothed in white garments (v. 5), cleansed from all defilement of former contacts. His name would not be blotted out of the book of life. Though under law one may have been blotted out of God's book (Exodus 32:33), or sometimes because of faithfulness to God one may have his name blotted out of a church register, yet the book of life is a different matter. No name in this book will ever be blotted out, for only the elect are written there! Overcoming (by faith alone) would prove one to be elect of God. This promise is intended for the comfort and encouragement of faith. He adds that He will confess the name of the overcomer before His Father and before His angels. He is not ashamed to be identified with one who by faith honors Him. Again He makes a last appeal to a hearing ear.
The Assembly At Philadelphia
Philadelphia means "brotherly love" and represents a character of single-hearted devotion to the Lord Jesus which, in recognizing Him as the one Center of gathering, is genuinely concerned for the true welfare of every member of the body of Christ, His brethren. In the letter to the assembly at Philadelphia no reproofs are given. It thus is a great contrast to Sardis, for here we see a work of the Spirit of God in separating His own saints from the more formal profession of Christianity in order to set the true work of God in clear and bold relief. Of all the letters to the seven assemblies, this one strikingly focuses on the glory of the person of the Lord Jesus and on the truth concerning His one body, the true Church.
There can be no question that there were individuals all through the Church's history who were Philadelphian in heart, but it was in the 19th century that the Spirit of God initiated a decided public movement of this kind out of the dead formalism of Sardis. Many thousands who were linked with formal protestant denominations were burdened to leave these and gather simply to the name of the Lord Jesus, the true Center of gathering (Matthew 18:20) and to recognize the one body of Christ as distinct from the world and from the mass of merely nominal Christians (Hebrews 13:12-13). There have been many failures in standing firmly and honestly for such truths, but the truths remain and there is no reason why Christians today cannot rightly represent such Philadelphian character. To actually be Philadelphian is the important matter, not to claim to be. The Lord Himself will judge every claim according to His Word.
The Lord speaks as He who is holy, He who is true (v. 7), for holiness separates between good and evil. As the True One He is not satisfied with anything less than honest reality. He has the key of David (Isaiah 22:22), for David suffered as an outcast before the time of reigning; and this truth is the very key that opens the scriptures to us, as Luke 24:45-46 indicates. Willingness to suffer now, in view of future reigning with Christ, is a proper characteristic of the Assembly, the true Church of God. It is the Lord Himself who opens or shuts, so that man cannot reverse it in either case.
This is seen in verse 8. Though there is strong opposition to the testimony of Philadelphia, yet the Lord has opened a door for her that men cannot close. This door is both for the understanding of the Word of God and for public testimony. In this Philadelphia is said to have "a little strength." She has no great public place and power, but not weakness either, for there is some true spiritual energy. The significant commendation is added, "have kept My Word." She not only is a witness to the truth, but faithfully acts on it. Indeed, it is only in this spirit of willing obedience to the Word that we shall be able to understand it rightly (John 17:6). Also, she has not denied the Lord's name, a most important matter too, for Philadelphia bears witness in a day when that blessed name is denied in many subtle, satanic ways, and generally is denied as our Center of gathering.
Verse 9 indicates the special opposition of a Judaizing element (whether Jew or Gentile) who take the Jewish ground of law-keeping and other Jewish ritual. This is also mentioned in Smyrna (Revelation 2:9). These two assemblies stand firmly for the true grace of God against prevailing legality. The Lord will make the opposers "of the synagogue of Satan" and eventually require them to worship Him (not Philadelphia) before their feet. To make them of the synagogue of Satan is to show them up to be totally in contrast to the true Church of God. We have seen in connection with Smyrna (Revelation 2:9) that "synagogue" means "a gathering together" and indicates a desire to have the ungodly world religiously united, with altogether earthly objectives. There will be such a uniting under Satan's control in the future seven year Tribulation Period, an awful contrast to the purity of the Church's blessing with her Lord. But the Tribulation will end, and these then will be required to worship before the feet of the true Church of God.
These proponents of "works" as the means of salvation will find themselves deeply rebuked when they realize that the Lord has loved those who have depended solely on His grace, in true affection for Him personally. Notice that in this address the Lord uses the word "I" nine times and "My" seven times. We can never overestimate the value of His person.
Verse 10 shows that Philadelphia is confined to true believers whom the Lord says "have kept My command to persevere." His Word sustains them in continuing to endure in the day of His rejection. In actual fact, every believer keeps His Word (Cf. John 17:6). The measure in which each one does so may differ from others, but the fact is true. As a result, the Lord will keep all of these "from the hour of trial" (the Great Tribulation) that is coming on all the world, to try those who are earth-dwellers. (I use the scriptural expression "Great Tribulation" as in Revelation 7:14, focusing on the last three and one half years of Daniel's seventieth week, rather than using the general term "Tribulation" which is often used to denote the seven year tribulation period.) Notice, they are not merely to be kept from the trial, but from the hour of it, the time of this Tribulation. The only way this can be accomplished is by their being taken out of the world, which will take place at the rapture, before "the day of the Lord" comes. Some claim that the Tribulation is the last great trial for the Church, but not so. The Tribulation is to try those who dwell upon the earth, of whom we read in Revelation 13:8 that their names are not written in the book of life. See further proof that these are not saved people by comparing the similar expression used in Revelation 6:10, Revelation 11:10, Revelation 13:14 and Revelation 17:8. In designed contrast to this, the dwelling of the Church is in heaven asPhilippians 3:20; Philippians 3:20 tells us.
Philadelphia is encouraged by the words, 'Behold, I come quickly" (v. 11). We are not to suppose that anything else must take place before the Rapture: we are to look momentarily for Christ to come, certainly not to look for the tribulation. In view of this, He urges the holding fast of what God has given us in the truth of His Word, that the crown or reward should not be taken by another. Words of this kind should surely strike deeply into our hearts. Laxity or giving up in the Christian race may virtually forfeit a crown of reward, with another overtaking and passing us because of our lack of devotedness to the Lord.
In verse 12 the overcomer is promised that he will be made a pillar in the temple of the Lord's God, having a special place of honor in the future millennial display of the glory of God as a result of a dependable character of godliness in this present life. This reward however cannot be eternal, for it is said of the heavenly city, "I saw no temple therein" (Revelation 21:22). However, what follows is certainly eternal: "He shall go out no more," and Christ will write upon him the name of His God-He who approves every motive of devotion toward this blessed Man of His counsels. The overcomer also will have written upon him the name of the city of His God, the New Jerusalem-that which will eternally display the glory of His grace manifested to all the universe. Finally, he has the Lord's own "new name" written on him, that is, His name in connection with the new creation, not as He was on earth. What incentives are these to godly devotion and energy of faith! May we indeed have an ear to hear.
The Assembly at Laodicea
Laodicea is the last assembly to be addressed. Its name means "the people's rights," which shows it to have the most evident application to the day in which we live. Philadelphia refreshingly owned the supreme rights of the Lord Jesus, but Laodicea depicts a great revulsion from this. Today we know that the very atmosphere in the world is full of clamor in every direction for "human rights." Groups are being formed continually to fight for what people conceive to be their rights. The courts are swamped with cases of people demanding higher and higher judgments against others for infringing on what they claim to be their rights. Although there are many just causes and we can be thankful to live in countries where the individual is respected, yet men's greed in taking advantage of this is revolting to witness.
How much more shocking it is to see the same thing reflected strongly in the professing Church! Here at least one would think that God's rights would be of the greatest importance. But not so. Laodicea is the last state of the Church publicly, and shows itself far removed from the freshness of Ephesus and standing in sad contrast to Philadelphia, for it is a counterfeit while boasting great progress. In verse 14 the Lord therefore speaks as "the Amen," He who has the final word, though Laodicea's words are many. He also is "the faithful and true witness" in contrast to Laodicea's unfaithfulness and deceit. Further, He is "the beginning of the creation of God," that is, the new creation in contrast to Laodicea's emphasis on present gain in the mere natural or first creation.
There is no commendation here whatever, but the solemn pronouncement of His knowing them to be neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm (v. 15). As one has said, it is merely the warming up of a dead body. There is an effort to put on a show of reality, but actually there is indifference toward the Lord personally and toward His claims. This is what characterizes the last public, widespread state of the professing Church just before the true Church is raptured to heaven. One who is cold at least does not pretend to be a Christian and thus may yet be awakened and saved, but proud indifference stiffens itself against repentance. This whole condition will be spit out of the Lord's mouth, i.e., totally rejected, for faith is utterly lacking (v.16).
With indifference goes the self-complacency of verse 17. Because churches prosper financially, with increasing membership, they pride themselves on their material prosperity and their blessings. Many cults and isms arise, all courting the favor of the crowd and emphasizing present gain.
There is a third marked feature of Laodicea- ignorance of God's thoughts. The Lord declares those of Laodicea to be wretched, miserable, poor and blind and naked when they think they are just the opposite! This is only true of those who are lost, of course, but let the believer avoid any resemblance to them.
Since they consider themselves rich, the Lord counsels them (verse 18) to buy of Him gold tried in the fire. Gold speaks of the glory and righteousness of God, and tried in the fire indicates its being purged from men's efforts to contaminate it, such as the pollution of Laodicea mentioned above. Of course, this great blessing from God is bought "without money and without price" (Isaiah 55:1); yet Laodicea must realize it to be at the expense of her own pride. White clothing speaks of Christ as the true robe of righteousness who alone can cover man's nakedness. Finally the eye-salve speaks of the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit to open blind eyes. These three things are therefore, respectively, the genuine work of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
How significant is the fact that it is the love of Christ that moves Him to rebuke and chasten (v. 19). Will Laodicea not therefore listen and repent? This word is of course intended for anyone who will take it to heart, for the Lord has virtually given up the mass of Laodicea. He is standing and knocking outside the door (not in the midst, for Laodicea has no concern for being gathered to His name-Matthew 18:20). Therefore He directs His word to individuals: 'If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him and he with Me." Though He is sadly outside the door of Laodicea since He is not personally welcome in that particular church, yet He appeals to the individual to open his heart's door (v. 20). This opening will be rewarded with personal, vital fellowship with Him.
While the pride of Laodicea wants to sit on a throne now, the overcomer is promised such honor in the future, but with Christ on His throne (v. 21). Christ has not as yet taken His throne. As Son of Man He will take it in the millennial age to come. Meanwhile He is rewarded with the dignity of being seated on His Father's throne, a place we could never have. Again, a last earnest appeal is made to him who has an ear to hear (v. 22).
Any assembly today that is reduced to such a state as Laodicea will be so blinded as to not realize how awful is its condition before God. We should all be warned against allowing any of the evil things that characterized Laodicea to be in any measure true of us. Let us be awake to recognize the least tendency of slipping into the complacency, the indifference and the ignorance of God's thoughts that are solemnly censured by the Lord Jesus.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Revelation 3". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26