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the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26
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Revelation 3

Wells of Living Water CommentaryWells of Living Water

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Verses 1-22

The Churches at Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea

Revelation 3:1-22


We present some of the outstanding things written to the Church at Sardis. This is the fifth Church in the seven, and some startling things are revealed.

1. Sardis had a name to live but was dead. We fear that there are many churches who deserve this characterization. You read their reports to the church association, or conference, or synod, and you would think that they are quite alive. They tell of so much money given to this, the splendid audiences, the new organ, the new carpet, the fine salary paid to the pastor; when the reports are read, the church has a name to live, However, they are dead.

If you find out how many separated Christians there are in the church, how many attend the prayer meeting, how many were saved, how many missionaries were sent out, and how many young men were set apart for the Gospel ministry, you will find nothing but a lot of zeros.

2. Sardis was urged to strengthen the things that remain. Even at Sardis, therefore, there must have been a few saints who. in the middle of its "graveyard." and its "tombstones," stood true to God. To such as these, God said, "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die."

3. The church at Sardis had imperfect works before God. They had works, to be sure, but they were the works of the flesh. They walked as men. If you would have classed their works, Scripturally, you would have been forced to have put them over with the "wood, hay, stubble." Their works were such as would make no more than a large bonfire at the judgment seat of Christ.

Let us examine to see if our works are right before God.

4. The Church at Sardis is called to repent. Here is the expression to which we refer; "Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent." If they did not repent and watch, the Lord was going to come upon them as a thief, and they would not know at what hour He would come.

We are living in the very hour of the Lord's Return. Spiritual churches and spiritual saints who know God and are taught of God, have their faces turned upward; they are looking, waiting, watching, longing, and expecting the possible, any-moment Return of the Lord.

The Lord said unto the Church at Sardis, "If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief." Some churches, Sardis-like, have no thought of the Lord's soon Return. God has written, "Ye * * are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. Ye are all the children of light." Sardis, however, like the people in the days of Noah, will know not the hour when the Lord will return.

5. The Church at Sardis possessed a few saints who had not defiled their garments. Thank God that even in the worst of conditions, in the saddest of situations, there will always be found that holy few who are walking with. God, To such, the Lord draws near with comforting words and says, "They shall walk with Me in white: for they are worthy."

We are not saved because we are worthy. We are saved because He was worthy; and, being worthy, He died for us. However, it we are worthy after we are saved, and we defile not our garments, we shall be rewarded by walking with our Lord clothed in the raiment of our righteous acts and deeds.

I. A DESCRIPTION OF CHRIST (Revelation 3:7-8 )

1. A wonderful name. To the Church at Philadelphia, and to its messenger, the Lord gives a beautiful description of Himself as the One who is speaking. Here are the words: "These things saith He that is holy, He that is true." The Names of our Lord are Holy, and True. "Therefore also that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee"; "A Lamb without blemish and without spot ." Yes, "Holy" is His Name, We often speak of the Holy Spirit. May we not also often speak of the Holy Christ?

The Lord who addresses the Churches is the One who knew no sin, who did no sin, and in whom there was no sin; the Holy One of God is He! No wonder that the Church is called to holiness, No wonder that everything which is unholy carries with it shame and disgrace.

Our Lord is also the Truth. He is true because His Name is the Truth. He is true because His words are true. He is true because He is faithful and true to His saints, to His promises. Such is the One who walks in the midst of His Churches. He. is true because He can in no wise disappoint any saint, or any people who follow Him. He will fulfill every promise, and keep every word which He has spoken.

2. A wonderful power. Revelation 3:7 says that Christ hath "the key of David," that "openeth, and no man shutteth"; and "shutteth, and no man openeth." The key of David suggests authority and power. A key is given to open a closed door, or to close an open door. This is what the Lord says He is: He is all of this in the behalf of His people, Israel.

The key of David means that He has opened for Israel stretches of grace and glory which no man can shut. It also means that He has shut up His people in the arms of His love and provision, and no man can open the door which He has fastened to hide them, and to shield them.

What is true, however, of His people Israel, is true of His Church. To Philadelphia, He said, "I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it." Certainly, in these last days God is protecting His people, the Church, even as during the ages agone He protected His people, Israel.

II. SMALL BUT FAITHFUL (Revelation 3:8-9 )

1. "Thou hast a little strength," The words seem at first discouraging, but they need not so to be. We do not need a great deal of strength, because we may go forth in His strength. Sometimes great strength and large human resources tell nothing but defeat.

Gideon with his 30,000 possessed an army meager indeed in comparison with the armies of the enemy. Yet, to God, even the 30,000 were too many. Even the 10,000 which remained after Gideon had dismissed the majority of men were too many. It was not until Gideon was reduced to 300 men that God could use a little strength to accomplish great things. When we have much strength, in ourselves, God gets no glory, It is when He links His almightiness to our nothingness, His power to our weakness, His great strength to our little strength, that we can be truly successful. Did He not tell us that if we have faith like a grain of mustard seed, great things could be accomplished? Thus Philadelphia, with her little strength, could be used to enter an open door which no man could shut.

2. "Thou * * hast kept My Word." Here is something that makes our hearts rejoice. Philadelphia not only knew the truth, but kept it; not only believed that Word of God was written by men inspired of God, but she kept that Word. To memorize Scripture is not enough. To hear the Word preached is by far insufficient. The Bible says, "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." It also says, "Be ye doers of the Word, and not hearers only." Again it says, "Whosoever heareth these sayings of Mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man." Do we keep His Word? Do we obey it? Do we prove it?

3. "Thou * * hast not denied My Name." Philadelphia had denied His Name neither by her lips nor by her life. The expression, "My Name" has been, more than once in these Letters. It is the people who know His Name who will put their trust in Him, It is they who know His Name who will do exploits. "Thou * * hast not denied My Name."

Our Lord said, "I have manifested Thy Name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world." It seems to me that we can either deny His Name, or manifest it. We can manifest it by holding it forth in all its beauty and "glory, in all its magic power.

Take the Jehovah Titles: every one of them refers to our Lord. They are Names which manifest His character. Let us not deny their deeper meaning, for if we deny His Name, we deny Him. It is not merely the Name Jesus; nor the Name Lord; nor the Name Christ; it is all of His Names ; the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace; and all the rest.

III. A FULL REWARD (Revelation 3:9-12 )

1. "Thou hast kept * * I also will keep." He said, "Thou hast kept the Word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation (trial), which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth."

This kind of statement runs often throughout the Bible. God says to us, "Give, and it shall be given unto you." He says again, "Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him shall the Son of Man also confess before the angels of God."

There are, therefore, certain realms where what He does depends upon what we do. For instance, the Lord said, "If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

The servant who refused to forgive his fellow servant so small a debt, found his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormenters till he should pay so great a debt. Then came this statement, "So likewise shall My Heavenly Father do also unto you." To this extent every one of us holds in his own hands the things which mark out his judgment.

Thou hast kept My faith, in the midst of many temptations, I also will keep thee when the hour of trial comes upon the earth, All this goes to show that which is expressed in the 6th chapter of the Book of Hebrews: "God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward His Name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister." The same thing, in substance, is taught in another verse which says God will "shew Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him."

Do not confound matters. Salvation does not depend upon our works, for we are saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves. Rewards, however, and deliverances from the hour of temptation, do depend upon us, inasmuch as it is written, "Because thou hast * * I also will."

2. "Hold that fast." Here is the same thing we have been studying, only from an opposite viewpoint. The one said, "Because thou hast * * I also will"; this one says, "If thou wilt, I will." It is stated thus; "Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." In other words, God says, "Thou hast thus far lived in a way to merit a crown. This is more than being kept out of the great trial: it is, in addition to that, the getting of a crown."

The Lord, however, gives warning that a crown which had already been allotted to saints in Philadelphia, may yet be lost. They must hold fast, lest they lose their crown. The Apostle Paul had this in mind, when he said, "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." Paul did not want to lose so great a reward.

IV. LOVERS OF THIS WORLD (Revelation 3:15-16 )

1. "Thou art neither cold nor hot." We are now coming to the Church at Laodicea. The word itself means "world-mixers." It was in the Letter to the Church at Pergamos that the doctrine of Balaam began to work. It is in the Letter to the Laodiceans that the leaven has reached its full sway. In the former Church, there was world-mixing under the symbol of fornication, and they had it there. In the Church at Laodicea, however, the world-mixing is not only there, but it is the dominant and overshadowing condition of the Church.

To such a Church God wrote, "Thou art neither cold nor hot." Then He said, "I would thou wert cold or hot."

You could not have said that the Church at Laodicea was dead, because it had some life, You could not have said that it was alive, because the life it bad was terribly feeble. You could not have said that it was a cold, formal church; nor could you have said that it was a live, fervent, hot church. It was neither the one nor the other. It was lukewarm.

2. "I will spue thee out of My mouth." We wonder, as we write, if there are not many churches like unto Laodicea today? Is God not saying to thee, "I will spue thee out of My mouth"? Such a church is a church with no vital testimony. It is a good place to take a nap. It is a good place to be lulled to sleep in one's sins, it possesses nothing vital, nothing that really counts for God. Therefore, God wants to spew it out of His mouth, casting it to one side. The eleventh chapter of Romans teaches us that "if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee." If God cast Israel off, may He not also cast off the lukewarm, professing church, and spew it out of His mouth?

V. A SHAMEFUL PRIDE (Revelation 3:17 )

The verse, before us seems to be the Church's response to the Lord's warnings. God said, "Thou art neither cold nor hot." The Church replied, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing."

1. "Thou sayest, I am rich." We wonder how the Church at Laodicea counted their riches. Were they putting down the amounts of the wealth of their membership; the millionaires, and the "thousandaires"? When they counted it all up, they felt that they were rich. In what do true riches consist? Do they consist in the goods which we possess? In the land which we hold? In the money which we have in the bank? What are the true riches? "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth," said our Lord, and yet the Church of Laodicea was counting what she possessed.

Our Lord said again, "Lay not up for yourselves treasure upon earth," but they were laying up their treasures upon earth. The Word says, "The love of money is the root of ail evil," but Laodicea counted it as the height of their glory. God has said to His servants, "O man of God, flee these things," but Laodicea sought after them. Her report was a report of their riches.

2. "Thou sayest, I * * have need of nothing." This is the picture of self-satisfaction. Perfectly contented were they, although the world about them lay in the darkness of sin. Perfect satisfaction, with lost men wandering the streets of their own city. Did they need nothing? In the way of temporal good, no. They had all and more than they could wish, and yet they needed everything.


1. The Divine judgment. "Thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." This is what Christ said, about them, and then He said, Thou "knowest not." Those drifting from the faith would not be in such a fearful estate if they only knew of their inconstancy. The Church at Laodicea would not have been so far from their Lord had they only known their need, They said that they had need of nothing, but they needed Him. They thought themselves to be rich, but He said, "Thou art * * poor." They were not only poor, but they were naked. They were not only poor, but they were blind; and being poor, and blind, and. naked, they were wretched, and they were miserable.

Thinkest thou that the Divine judgment was true? Were these happy people unhappy? Were these contented people discontented? Were these rich and boastful people poor ami naked? Christ said that they were, but they did not know it. In what sense were they poor? They were poor in the sense that God hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Heavenly places. In earthly places they were rich, in the Heavenly places they were poor.

In what sense were they naked? So far as raiment was concerned, they were clothed in fine linen; however, in the sight of God, they were naked, for they did not have the raiment of righteous acts, which shall clothe the redeemed as expressed in Revelation 19:8 : "And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints."

In what sense were they miserable? Were they not walking in the ways of the world? Were not their lips often filled with laughter? Did they not enjoy the worldly functions in which they delighted? Oh, yes, no doubt they did, but they knew nothing of the peace of God which passeth all understanding. They did not possess that joy of which Christ wrote, when He said, "My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full." Their happiness was the short-lived kind. It passed away as the shades of night gathered heavily about them, and they lay upon their beds wretched and miserable. They were not only wretched and miserable in their spirits, but they presented to the world about them, a testimony concerning Christ that was both wretched and miserable.

2. The Divine counsel. How tenderly did Christ say, "I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see."


1. "I love." Revelation 3:19 says. "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten." As we read God's words to the Church at Laodicea, and His purpose to spew her out of His mouth, we might have thought that He had no love for such a church. However, He assures us that He did love them. He is "like as a father." His rebuke and His chastening are for our good to lift us up, and not for our harm to cast us down. The One who is writing to the Church calls Himself the "Faithful and True Witness." He did tell the truth about the Church, but He was faithful to it. His heart was yearning in her behalf. Never again rebuke the church with hardness and bitterness. As long as there is faith, and light, and life, let there be love.

2. "I stand at the door and knock." This was indeed a plea, couched in a rebuff, Think of the Lord, who should have been seated upon the throne of this Church, welcomed at every meeting, the chief thought of every prayer and sermon! Think of Hint standing outside the door! There He is a forgotten, neglected Lord! Did He not say this to the disdain of the Church? Not altogether so, because He said, "I stand at the door, and knock!" He did not say that He was standing there as an exile, although He was an exile. He said that He was standing outside wanting to get inside.

3. "I will come in to him." The Lord hardly hoped that He would be welcomed by the Church as a whole. He had spoken of spewing the Church out of His mouth, and they evidently had spewed Him out of theirs. He stood at the door, addressing, not the whole Church so much as the individual. He said, "If any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me."

How comforting are the words, "I will come in to him, and will sup with him. and he with Me." What a blessed fellowship is this! The Lord will not cast the faithful out because they are forced to fellowship, in a sense, in a church that is worldly and carnal.

4. I will grant him to sit with Me in My throne. To the one who has the darkest environment is offered the greatest promise. Will it not be wonderful, to sit with Him on His throne?


We may have trials and persecutions here, but there is rest in Heaven.

Mr. Moody tells of a little boy who was dying of fever. His lips were burning, and terrible thirst was raging within. Raising his eyes to his mother, who stood near, be said, "Mother, please- give me some water," The mother was grieved to see her boy suffer, but she dared not give him any more water, as it only increased his heat, "No, my dear; I cannot give you any." "Mother," said the boy,, "will there be water in Heaven?" "Yes, there's plenty there." The hot head was laid quietly down on the pillow, and the little sufferer said, "Mother, I'll wait," and passed into the realms of plenty. "A pure river of Water of Life" (Revelation 22:1 ). "Let him take the Water of Life freely" (Revelation 22:17 ).

Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Revelation 3". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lwc/revelation-3.html.
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