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‘I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, and you are dead.’
This church has gone further away from God than the Ephesians. The Ephesians had lost their first love, but these have lost the life they once had. They are supposed to be Christians - they have a name that they live - but they have actually become almost nothing but a social gathering, if not worse, and they are bereft of the Spirit. They are not rebuked for idol worship or immorality. They are rebuked for formality, for having no life. They gather as a church, but their ‘worship’ is lifeless. They meet for social pleasure rather than to come to a fuller knowledge of Christ.
‘Be watchful and establish the things which remain, which were ready to die, for I have not found any works of yours fulfilled before God. Remember therefore how you received and heard, and keep it and repent.’
They are not only a church without the Spirit, they are a church without works of any kind, whether spiritual or physical. No love, no faith, no labour, no tribulation, no patient endurance, nothing. They have almost nothing left. There is nothing to distinguish them from those of other religions round about them. This is evident in that they have even ceased to watch for the Lord’s coming.
But there is still a slight hope. Something still lingers in their midst. If only they will wake up and go back to their beginnings, and remember how their church first heard, how they first responded to Christ, what message had first stirred them, and consider it deeply and hold it fast, then there will be hope. If only they will repent and have a change of mind and heart from the condition they are now in, and begin to watch. That is their hope.
This church parallels Israel at its last gasp. It too was ‘dead’, and its bones dried up (Hosea 13:1; Ezekiel 37:11). Thus it was carried away never to be a separate nation again. Sardis should heed the warning.
‘If therefore you will not watch, I will come as a thief and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.’
Jesus’ teaching was full of the need to be like servants waiting for their Lord to return, busy about His service, doing good, and honouring their Lord, with love in their hearts as they expect His arrival. This is what this church must revive if they are to live. They must begin to watch for His return and live in the light of it.
But if they will not do so then He will suddenly arrive unexpectedly, creeping in like a thief, taking them unawares. It is always to unbelievers that he comes as a thief, for they are the ones who are not watching (1 Thessalonians 5:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:4; 2 Peter 3:10; Revelation 16:15 compare Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39).
‘But you have a few names (people) in Sardis who did not defile (spoil) their clothing, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.’
Sardis was a centre for the manufacture and dyeing of woollen garments. They knew what it meant for clothing to be ruined in the process of manufacture and dyeing, and that is what the church themselves have done with their spiritual garments. They have totally ruined them. They are useless. No longer are they concerned to be clothed in the righteousness of Christ. No longer do they seek to live as He directed. Their whole lives are spoiled spiritually.
Yet even here there are a few who still enjoy unspoiled clothing, and in the future they will enjoy the finest. Walking in white is always the symbol of purity and acceptability to God (see Revelation 6:11; Revelation 7:14; Revelation 19:8), and is distinctive of heavenly beings.
So there is no live fellowship in Sardis, but, here and there, there are scattered Christians who are still living clean, pure Christ-like lives, and are still worshipping Him and experiencing the Spirit’s presence. God does not condemn the few because of the many, for there is nothing they can do about the situation. Sin can be cast out but not coldness. They need not fear. They will not lose out because of their solitary state. They will receive their due. Perhaps the mention of ‘names’ (which here simply means ‘specific people’) has in mind that they are remembered before God, because their names are in the Book of Life. Though they seem to be forgotten He knows them by name, and their names are recorded (v. 5).
‘But I will confess his name before my Father and before His angels.’
Rather than their names being blotted out, the names of the overcomers will be announced and honoured before the Father and His angels. They will not be shamed but will receive honour from God (compare Matthew 10:32).
‘He who has an ear let him hear, what the Spirit is saying to the churches.’
The passage finishes with the usual refrain. ‘The Spirit is speaking, let him who will, listen’. It is one we must all heed.
The Letter To The Church In Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-66.3.13 ).
‘And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, These things says he who is holy, he who is true, he who has the key of David, he who opens and none shall shut, who shuts and none opens.’
‘He who is holy.’ The ‘Holy One’ is a title of God (e.g. Isaiah 57:15; Hosea 11:9; Habakkuk 3:3), and in Isaiah He is regularly called ‘the Holy One of Israel’ (Isaiah 12:6 and often). It refers to His unique distinctiveness, His ‘otherness’, distinctive in essence and in total purity. It is a title bestowed on Christ (Psalms 16:10; Acts 3:14; 1 John 2:20).
‘He who is true.’ In 1 John 5:20 God is called ‘Him who is true’, and here the description is applied to Christ. In Revelation 6:10 Christ is called ‘the holy and true’ as here. The sense of ‘true’ is that He is real and reliable and the source of truth.
‘He who has the key of David, he who opens and none shall shut, who shuts and none shall open.’ This picture is taken from Isaiah 22:20-23.22.25. There in the days of Hezekiah the key of David is to be given to Eliakim, who will replace the false chief steward of the royal palace, the treasurer over the king’s treasury. ‘And he will be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah, and the key of the house of David will I lay on his shoulder, and he shall open and none shall shut, and he shall shut and none shall open’. Eliakim was a faithful steward who managed His stewardship well and was seen as a father to the people. So Jesus too will be faithful and true in watching over His people and providing for His own. None can prevent it. But He will be faithful, not as the steward, but as the son over His own house (Hebrews 3:6). The idea of the key of David may well suggest that He controls access to the New Jerusalem (See below, Revelation 3:12, and Revelation 21:2).
However, it will be noted that this is the only introduction which apparently does not refer back to chapter 1 for its source. If it was so this must be considered somewhat surprising. Thus we must consider the suggestion that the mention of a key ties in with the Son of Man as having the keys of the after-world and of death (Revelation 1:18). This would stress that He has power over the grave and can release or retain whom He will. If He opens, none can shut. If He shuts none can open.
So the church of Philadelphia are called on to recognise that as the greater David He controls the afterlife and death, releasing whom He will, and that He can provide, or refuse, access to the New Jerusalem.
‘I know your works - (behold I have set before you an opened door which none can shut) - that you have a little power, and have kept my word, and did not deny my name.’
The reference to the opened door clearly refers back in some way to the previous reference to the key and demonstrates that Jesus also controls the opportunities of witness and service (1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3) which He has opened up for them. It is clear that the works of the Philadelphians include faithful witness. They are not a powerful church, but they are faithful. They have held on to and obeyed the teaching of Jesus and, unlike Peter, they have been true to Him and have not denied His name. Nothing in fact is actually said against them, except perhaps their need to experience more of the power of the Spirit.
The opened door and the reference to He Who opens and none shuts parallels the time of Hezekiah when, as Israel perished, Judah witnessed a revival characterised by the reopening of the doors of the Temple when they had previously been ‘closed’ (2 Chronicles 29:3). Compare also what is said about Eliakim, Hezekiah’s treasurer, who was the opener of doors for the people demonstrating a new attitude towards the people (see above on Revelation 3:7). Thus the opened door includes the thought of revival. Hezekiah’s time was the time of the open door. But eventually that door closed through the failure of the people. A warning to us all.
‘Behold I give to you those of the synagogue of Satan, of those who say they are Jews but are not and do lie, behold, I will make them to come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.’
Once again we have reference to those Jews who deliberately sought to cause trouble with the authorities for the Christian church (compare on Revelation 2:9). Though they claim to be Jews, says Jesus, they are not really true Jews, for they do not obey the Law or show mercy (Matthew 23:23), or love Him as required by their God (John 8:39-43.8.45). They are simply liars like their father Satan, who is the chief adversary. They demonstrate that really they belong to his synagogue, and not God’s.
But one day they will be made to acknowledge their error. In the words of Isaiah 60:14, ‘the sons of those who afflicted you will come bending to you, and all those who despised you will bow themselves down at the souls of your feet, and they will call you the city of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel’, and they will enter ‘the gates which are open continually’ (Isaiah 60:11). So these false Jews will have to admit that these Christians whom they hate and despise are the true children of ‘the One Who is holy’, and that they are the new Jerusalem, beloved of the Lord. Once again we have the interchange of thought between the Lord God and the Lord Christ. In the Greek ‘that I have loved you ’ is emphatic.
‘Because you kept my word of patient endurance I also will keep you from the hour of trial which is to come upon the whole world, to try those who dwell on earth. I come quickly. Hold fast what you have that no man take your crown.’
For His ‘word of patient endurance’ see Matthew 10:22; Mark 13:13; John 15:18; John 15:21; John 16:2. All who would live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12), and they must endure to the end. Clearly the Philadelphian church has also faced persecution instigated by false Jews, and has come through unscathed, patiently enduring. (Alternately we may read it as ‘the word of my patient endurance’, thus referring to His sufferings on the cross. But it is clear from Revelation 3:9 that there has been serious trouble, so the former is more likely).
‘I also will keep you from the hour of trial’. There is a play on the word ‘keep’. ‘You have kept my word of patient endurance’ - ‘I will keep you from the hour of trial’. God responds to the faithfulness of His people. They have already suffered enough. He will not ask them to suffer more.
‘Those who dwell on earth’ are mentioned regularly in Revelation, referring specifically to non-Christians, and the various trials that they have to go through are vividly described. They represent humanity outside the church.
So the Philadelphians are promised that in some way not described they will escape, not all the trials, but the worst of the trials to come, the ‘hour of trial’. This may have in mind that, as always in such times there will be places where the worst effects are not felt, possibly because of the presence of a humane governor. It is a reminder that God can keep His people either from or through, depending on His will, any hour of trial they have to face. But more probably it has in mind the particularly awful attacks of spiritual forces which are limited in time but which those sealed by God will not experience (Revelation 9:4-66.9.11).
They will not be kept from everything that the world must face. Their preservation is limited to a particularly severe ‘hour of trial’ which God has in mind. This ‘hour’ cannot be seen as describing the whole process of tribulation described in the following chapters, which will be prolonged, but must have reference to a particularly severe part of the trials which are coming, which they will escape. As suggested it may refer to Revelation 9:4-66.9.11.
It may well, however, have reference to the ‘hour’ mentioned in Revelation 17:12; Revelation 18:10; Revelation 18:17, promising that they will not share the fate of Babylon the Great (His people are warned to come out of her (Revelation 18:4)). Revelation 9:15 demonstrates that an ‘hour’ means a small part of what is being described. But had Jesus meant that they would totally escape something tangibly called ‘the Great Tribulation’ He would have said so. The fact is that the unique period called ‘the Great Tribulation’ as such is an invention of Bible students. The great tribulation mentioned in Matthew 24:21 was of the Jews, and could be escaped by fleeing to the mountains. It began in 70 AD at the destruction of the Temple, and continued on through the centuries (see Luke 21:24). The great tribulation in Revelation 2:22 was threatened as possibly coming on certain members of the church in John’s day. That in Revelation 7:14 refers to the same possibility.
We can compare this use of the word ‘hour’ with its use by Jesus where we are told ‘His hour was not yet come’. His hour was a short period at the end of His life and ministry. The world also must face its ‘hour’, but this church will be kept from it. Great play is often put on the words ‘out of ’ and ‘hour’ in ‘out of the hour of trial’, suggesting that because they will not go through the hour they must have been raptured. But the hour is for those who must face the trial, ‘those who dwell on earth’. Those who do not face it, even though on earth, are kept out of it. (Jesus went through His hour, the disciples were kept out of it. It was not their hour. But they were still both on earth).
‘I come quickly. Hold fast what you have that no man may take your crown.’ Jesus intends that His people live in expectancy of His imminent return, for He knows it will be an encouragement in whatever they have to face. Now, today, Christians are still looking for His imminent return, as have Christians in every age. To every generation He is ‘coming soon’. The two thousand years that have passed may seem long to us, but in God’s terminology they are two days (2 Peter 3:8 - written specifically in the light of the second coming - compare Psalms 90:4). Besides these words come from Christ in resplendence in ‘the Lord’s day’ looking back in time to where the churches are. Thus ‘quickly’ can be seen as relating to His standpoint.
For those who have been faithful a crown awaits, an idea constantly repeated in the New Testament (an incorruptible crown - 1 Corinthians 9:25; a crown won by striving in accordance with the rules - 2 Timothy 2:5; a crown of righteousness - Revelation 4:8; a crown of life - James 1:12; an unfading crown of glory - 1 Peter 5:4). We must ensure that we endure stedfastly so that it is not taken from us by others. Like entry in the book of life it is not something that can be taken from us, but we are exhorted to live in such a way that we deserve it not to be taken from us.
‘He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the Temple of my God, and he will leave it no more, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from Heaven from my God, and my own new name.’
Here is Christ’s clear indication that the coming Temple of God is a spiritual one. Those who are overcomers will be made part of that Temple, the guarantee that they will be in the presence of God forever (see John 17:12; John 18:9).
They will also be clearly identified as His. He will write on them the name of God, to show they are His, and the name of the new Jerusalem which descends from Heaven (Revelation 21:2; Revelation 21:10) to show that they belong there, and Christ’s own new name to show that they belong to the glorified Christ.
This new name, only known to those who receive it (Revelation 2:17), is the sure sign that they are His. In Revelation 2:0 they wear it proudly on the pure white stone, probably seen as on their breasts and on their shoulders as with the High Priest. Here the name is written personally on them (see Revelation 14:1; Revelation 22:4. Compare Isaiah 49:16 where the names of His own are written on His hands). We must not overpress the symbolism. It is the idea that matters, not the form in which it is put. So once again, in a different form, the overcomer is guaranteed eternal life.
This designation with a new name is spoken of in Isaiah 65:15. There the so-called people of God have forsaken the Lord, and have prepared a table for Fortune and filled up cups with mingled wine to Destiny, and because of this they themselves are rejected and forsaken and their name will become a curse. They have become enslaved by the occult, and caught up in fortune telling and belief in Fate. So God promises that He will call by another name those who have sought Him and are faithful to Him, His chosen ones, His servants (Isaiah 65:9-23.65.10). How much clearer could He have put it that those who take the new name have replaced those who bore the old, for they are the true seed of Jacob (Isaiah 65:9).
‘He who has an ear let him hear, what the Spirit is saying or the churches.’
And once again Jesus tells us, ‘he who has an ear to hear, let him hear’. The constant repetition demonstrates how important and urgent it is.
The Letter To The Church In Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-66.3.22 ).
‘And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write, ‘These things says the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.’
Jesus is the One who is the ‘yes’, the ‘Amen’ (‘so be it’) to all the promises of God (1 Corinthians 1:20), and especially the promises in Revelation 1:5-66.1.7. He is the full provider of the riches in those promises. The Laodiceans were famous for their pride in their wealth but He is telling them that their riches do not compare with what He has to offer. He offers them the true riches, the riches of God.
He is the faithful and true witness ((Revelation 1:5; Revelation 19:11; Revelation 21:5). He has suffered for God and He has suffered to death for them and His words can be relied on (Revelation 21:5). He has proved Himself and His faithfulness by His action in offering Himself for His own (compare Revelation 2:13) with all that results (Revelation 1:6). He wants them to respond in like manner.
He is ‘the beginning of the creation of God’. As its beginning He is its source, the firstborn before the whole of creation (Colossians 1:15). But equally important is the fact that He is also the beginning of the new creation (Revelation 21:1 with Revelation 1:7). In that there is a land of riches beyond anything they have ever dreamed of. Thus all things belong to Him and are in His hands.
The idea of the Amen comes from Isaiah 65:15-23.65.19 (literal Hebrew), where it is connected with the new creation. Here God distinguishes between ‘His servants’ and the rest of Israel and Judah.
‘He shall call his servants by another name, so that he who blesses himself in the earth shall bless himself in the God of Amen, and he who swears in the earth will swear by the God of Amen, because the former troubles are forgotten and because they are hid from my eyes. For behold I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered nor come to mind, but be glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create, for behold I create Jerusalem a rejoicing and her people a joy. And I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and joy in my people, and the voice of weeping shall be no more heard in her, nor the voice of crying’ (Isaiah 65:15-23.65.19).
Thus ‘the Amen’ has in mind the new creation and the new Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1-66.21.2). The God of Amen is the God who says ‘so be it’ of the future, He guarantees it and can be relied on to bring it about.
The idea of ‘the Amen’ here in Revelation is to be seen as including both the faithful and true witness and the beginning of the creation of God within itself. In Revelation 1:5-66.1.6, He is revealed as the faithful witness and firstborn from the dead, ruler of the kings of the earth, the One who has delivered and exalted His people and John adds ‘Amen’, and in Revelation 1:7 He is the king coming in glory to judge the world, and John again adds ‘Amen’. So as the Amen He is the successful carrier out of His purposes. ‘The beginning of the creation of God’ has as much in mind the ‘new creation’ which results from His coming, as the old creation. The future is safe in His hands for He is the Amen.
‘I know your works, that you are neither cold not hot. I would you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth.’
Laodicea’s water supply came from hot springs piped down from five miles away so that by the time it reached them it was lukewarm. They knew by experience the problems caused by lukewarm water and its effect on the digestive system. So Jesus describes them as like lukewarm water that can only make someone sick.
Many Bible students misunderstand this idea. It does not mean that the Laodiceans were only semi-spiritual, half and half, and that He would prefer them even to be unspiritual. The idea was rather that because they were like lukewarm water they were useless for anything, and could only make people vomit. Cold water had its uses and so did hot water, but lukewarm water had none. It just made men sick. And so did they.
They were self-satisfied, complacent and unresponsive. They were so self-important that they felt they were doing enough when in reality they were doing nothing of any real importance at all, nothing that counted. They were lacking in every way, but were so proud that they did not realise their own inadequacy. There is no mention of their love for Christ, or of their faith, or of their endurance, or of their works. They did not get involved. They just sat and preened themselves.
Jesus was not wishing that they were either fully spiritual or not spiritual at all, He was wishing that they had some value, like cold water for drinking or hot water for bathing. A lukewarm, useless Christian, who can only make people sick, is a contradiction in terms.
‘I will spew you out of my mouth’. These words have in mind Leviticus 18:25; Leviticus 18:28; Leviticus 20:22 where the inhabitants of Canaan are to be vomited out because of their sexually evil ways, and Israel is warned that for similar behaviour they too will be vomited out. However there is no mention of any particularly bad sexual irregularity here, so that it is the general idea that is taken up and probably their overweening pride and spiritual uselessness that made Jesus sick.
‘Because you say I am rich, and have amassed wealth, and have need of nothing, and do not know that you are a wretch, a thing of misery, and poor and blind and naked.’
‘Wretched’ and ‘miserable’ both have the article before them suggesting they be read as nouns, thus ‘a wretched one, a thing of misery’.
Laodicea was a wealthy town with wealthy inhabitants and it was extremely proud of its wealth. When it was destroyed by an earthquake in 60 AD it proudly rejected all help from Rome and rebuilt itself from its own resources. It was famed for its black woollen garments, made from the wool of its equally famed black sheep, and there was a famous medical school in its vicinity where Phrygian stone was ground to make collyrium (Gk. ‘kollyrion’ as here - which mixed with oil was used for making an eye salve). Its inhabitants therefore had a very high opinion of themselves and were inordinately proud. Thus Jesus warns them that their view of themselves is really inadequate, for while they admire themselves because of their wealth, spiritually they are really like the homeless wretch in the street, a thing of misery, and poor, blind and unclothed into the bargain. Spiritually they are have-nothings.
The idea of nakedness was regularly used in the Old Testament to depict the sorry state of men before God because of their sinfulness (see Isaiah 47:3; Lamentations 1:8; Hosea 2:3; Jeremiah 13:25-24.13.26; Nahum 3:5; Genesis 3:7). For blindness see Isaiah 59:10; Zephaniah 1:17; Matthew 23:17; Matthew 23:19; Joh 12:40 ; 2 Corinthians 3:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Eph 4:18 ; 2 Peter 1:9. Their whole condition is described in Jeremiah 5:27-24.5.29. Spiritually they are bare, empty and unseeing.
This church parallels the final stage in the downfall of Israel and Judah. They too had become proud, declaring their riches (Hosea 12:8), yet poor (Ezekiel 22:18), blind (Isaiah 59:10), and naked (Lamentations 1:8; Ezekiel 16:39). They were counselled to buy what is good (Isaiah 55:2). Failing to do this Judah came to its final downfall. (see Introduction). And this is the danger at Laodicea.
‘I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire that you may become rich, and white clothes so that you may clothe yourself and so that the shame of your nakedness should not be revealed, and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.’
They were famed for buying expensive goods. Let them therefore now take notice and ‘buy’ what is of worth. The purchases mentioned here are like the purchases made from the water-seller in Isaiah 55:1, ‘without money and without price’. Jesus is advising them to obtain them from Him, bought at the cost of His own blood. They consist of:
· the true gold, refined by fire, referring to purified lives lived in obedience to God, refined by tribulation and endurance;
· pure white clothing, the righteousness of Christ which will cover them before God and hide their nakedness before the angels, and the resulting righteousness of good lives which is the result;
· the truly valuable eye salve of the Spirit that they might see and understand the truth.
In Zechariah 13:7-38.13.9, when the shepherd has been smitten and the sheep have been scattered God promised to restore one third of the people, saying ‘I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried, they shall call on my name and I will hear them. I will say it is my people, and they shall say the Lord is my God’. And again in Malachi 3:3 he says of the Lord’s messenger, ‘who may abide the day of His coming, and who shall stand when he appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire --- he will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, and they shall offer unto the Lord offerings in righteousness’ See also Proverbs 22:1. So the idea of refined gold is of people who have truly turned from sin to the Lord and offer Him righteous offerings, which in the New Testament sense means righteous prayers with thanksgiving and full dedication (Romans 12:1; Hebrews 13:15; compare Revelation 5:8).
White clothing is regularly what heavenly beings are seen as wearing, suggesting purity, righteousness and acceptability to God. In the Old Testament God’s people are made white by God’s forgiveness (Isaiah 1:18); and by tribulation and martyrdom (Daniel 11:35; Daniel 12:10). In Revelation 19:8 the fine clothing of Christ’s bride the church is ‘the righteous acts of the holy ones’, God’s people, for receiving the imputed righteousness of Christ necessarily results in righteous actions, but the clothing there is not specifically said to be white.
Those who are redeemed to God are given white clothing (Revelation 6:11) as will be overcomers (Revelation 3:4-66.3.5). And the gathering in Heaven of the people of God is in white clothing, because they have gone through great tribulation and have washed their clothes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:9; Revelation 7:13-66.7.14).
So the buying of white clothing refers (1) to the obtaining of cleansing and imputed righteousness through the cross of Christ, (2) to the resulting lives lived in purity, producing good thoughts, attitudes and actions, (3) to the enduring of tribulation for Christ’s sake, and (4) to the goodness of God in the provision of such clothing to the redeemed. There is a subtle suggestion that, while they pride themselves in the black clothing they produce, they need to consider their need for white clothing.
They boast about their eye salve so let them truly anoint their eyes with the true eye salve. To anoint their eyes with eye salve is to pray to God that He will open their eyes through the Spirit so that the eyes of their understanding may be enlightened (Ephesians 1:18), and they may understand His truth (Isaiah 35:5), and so that their eyes may not be dim, which will result from looking to the King Who reigns in righteousness (Isaiah 32:3). Thus they should look to their Maker with eyes that have respect to the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 17:7).
‘As many as I love, I reprove and punish for their own good. Be zealous therefore and repent (have a change of heart and mind).’
(See Proverbs 3:11-20.3.12 for the idea of chastening, cited in Hebrews 12:3-58.12.9). The word for love is philo meaning great affection. Jesus wishes the Laodiceans to know that His heart reaches out to them, that His love is not dependent on their deserts. As God as Redeemer says in Isaiah 43:3 ‘you are precious in my sight and I have loved you’, while in Deuteronomy 7:8 Israel are reminded that they were not loved and chosen because of anything in themselves, but because God had set His love upon them. Indeed He drew them ‘with the cords of a man, with bands of love’ (Hosea 11:4).
His reproof and chastening are proof of that love. In the Old Testament God told His people, ‘And you will consider in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you, and you will keep the commandments of the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and fear Him’ (Deuteronomy 8:5-5.8.6). Thus when the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews were discouraged at the tribulation they faced, the writer told them ‘For whom the Lord loves, He chastens’ (Hebrews 11:6 quoted from Proverbs 3:11-20.3.12), and, ‘If you endure chastening God deals with you as sons, for what son is there whom his father does not chasten?’ (Hebrews 12:7). This suggests that Jesus is expecting tribulation for the church at Laodicea and is thus preparing them for the trials that lie ahead, and explaining its purpose so that they may benefit from it. It is because He loves them that they will be chastened.
‘Be zealous therefore and repent’. This ‘change of heart and mind’ is only demanded of four churches, one of them because of the heresy in their midst (Pergamum), one because they have lost their first love (Ephesus), and the other two (Sardis and Laodicea) because of the failure of the whole church as a result of their lax state. Refusal to hear means the lampstand being removed from it place (Ephesus), an attack with the sword of His mouth against the offenders (Pergamum), and the arrival of Jesus as a thief to catch them unprepared by His coming (Sardis). To the church of Laodicea He gives similar warning of His coming.
is a clear reference to that parable. The Son of Man, Whom John saw standing among the lampstands, is pictured as having arrived and as standing and knocking at the door of this church so that He may come in and sup with them. ‘I am here’, He says, ‘knocking’. But the inference is that they are not ready to hear.
So He next makes His plea to individuals in the church. If any one will hear His voice and open the door He will come in to him and they will eat together. In other words He wishes the church to see Him as on the verge of His coming in glory, and to respond on that basis. At some stage He will come, and no one knows when, so they must be like servants making ready.
But He recognises that they are so complacent that He is doubtful of their response so He then addresses each individual member. If any individual will therefore recognise Him as the coming Lord and welcome Him, even before His coming, He will sup with them, and they with Him. This does not really represent the heart’s door, but it does refer to an individual’s willingness to receive Him and welcome Him, which is much the same thing.
This reminds us that all these letters sent to the churches are sent as from the Lord Who is about to come in His glory. They are to see Him as on the verge of coming. As we learn here, this is in order to awaken them. It is also an encouragement to them to persevere in the face of hardship and tribulation. He is still on the verge of coming today. He delays only because He is longsuffering (2 Peter 3:9). But who knows when He will finally arrive?
‘He who overcomes, I will give to him the right to sit down on my throne, as I also overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.’
The Laodiceans had much of this world’s goods but they were not royalty. He can offer them so much more than their so-called riches. Here those who overcome are offered not only royalty, but the royalty of the King of Kings, for they can share His throne and reign with Him.
He Himself shares the throne of God, something He alone can do because of Who He is, the true God. They cannot share that. But the one who overcomes will be privileged to share His throne, the throne that was given to Him as the glorified God-man, and they can reign with Him for ever, a further guarantee of eternal life, and more!
So Jesus shares the throne of Godhead, for He is Lord of Lords, and He possesses the throne of glorified Man, for He is King of Kings (Revelation 19:16).
This guarantee to the overcomer may reflect Luke 22:29-42.22.30. ‘I appoint to you a kingdom, just as my Father appointed to me. That you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom. And you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel’. And also may reflect Matthew 19:28, ‘in the regeneration, when the Son of Man shall sit on the throne of His glory, you also shall sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel’. These promises, set in earthly terms, promised the disciples that their faithfulness would result in advancement beyond their wildest dreams. They would share with Him the Messianic Feast, and would be set as judges over the people who have rejected them and their Lord.
But in Matthew He then goes on to say that all who sacrifice earthly possessions and relationships for His sake will receive a hundredfold and inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:29). This demonstrates the connection of eternal life with the above ideas, showing that these promises will be fulfilled in Eternity.
Here in Revelation a similar promise is made to overcomers, for to share a throne is to participate in the authority of that throne. Thus they too will reign with Him. As we have already seen, the promises to overcomers are of sharing in the heavenly; the heavenly Paradise, the heavenly manna, and the heavenly Temple. So this throne and this reigning must also be seen as heavenly and not earthly. Just as when interpreting the Old Testament, we must take the spiritual meaning behind the promises and not press the literal words.
The final words of the chapter underline all that has been said.
‘He who has an ear to hear, let him hear, what the Spirit says to the churches’.
It is up to every man how he hears. And we have been warned seven times. How foolish we would be not to hear!
FURTHER THOUGHTS ON THE CHURCHES.
The care with which the letters to the churches were compiled is demonstrated when they are compared.
Firstly. The promises to overcomers follow a direct pattern, reflecting the Old Testament. The earthly Paradise (Genesis 2-3) will be replaced by the heavenly Paradise (Revelation 2:7). The earthly death (Genesis 3:0 with 5, and 4) will be replaced by the Second Death (Revelation 2:11). The earthly manna (Exodus 16:32-2.16.34) will be replaced by the heavenly manna (Revelation 2:17). The earthly stones on the High Priests garments (Exodus 28:9; Exodus 28:12; Exodus 28:15) will be replaced by the heavenly ‘pure white stones’ (Revelation 2:17). The earthly judgmental authority over the nations, the sceptre of iron (Numbers 24:17-4.24.19), will be replaced by the heavenly authority (Revelation 2:27). The earthly robes of the High Priest (Exodus 28:4; Exodus 28:39) will be replaced by the heavenly robes (Revelation 3:5). Entry in the earthly book of life (Exodus 32:32-2.32.33) will be replaced by entry in the heavenly book of life (Revelation 3:5). The earthly Temple (1 Kings 6:0 on) is replaced by the heavenly Temple (Revelation 3:12). The earthly Jerusalem is replaced by the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2). The earthly rule is replaced by the heavenly rule (4-5; Revelation 20:4). It is clear from all this that the earthly has been replaced by the heavenly, and therefore that all seemingly earthly promises should be interpreted in this light.
Secondly. The words to the churches reflect what is described in Revelation 4:0 onwards. The stress on overcomers and on overcoming (Revelation 2:7; Revelation 2:11; Revelation 2:17 etc) is repeated throughout Revelation (Revelation 12:11; Revelation 15:2; Revelation 21:7), and prepares the churches so that they will prevail in the tribulation that is to come (Revelation 6:9; Revelation 7:14; Revelation 12:11; Revelation 14:4; Revelation 15:2; Revelation 21:7). The Ephesians are in danger of having their lampstand removed (Revelation 2:5), by being decimated. The church in Smyrna is ‘about to suffer’ and will ‘have tribulation’ (Revelation 2:10). The church at Pergamum dwells where Satan’s throne is, preparing us for the descriptions of Satanic activity to come. Their new name is in contrast with those who are marked with the mark and name of the Beast (Revelation 13:17). The church at Thyatira harbours Jezebel, paralleling and preparing us for the scarlet woman (Revelation 17:3-66.17.4). The tribulation and killing with death of her followers is illuminated continually in later chapters (e.g. Revelation 12:17; Revelation 13:7). The church in Sardis are to be arrayed in white garments reflected in Revelation 6:11; Revelation 7:9; Revelation 7:14. The Philadelphians are warned of the hour of trial that is coming, from which He will ‘keep’ them. The church at Laodicea are to obtain gold refined in the fires of tribulation, and white garments (see above). In the light of all these warnings it seems perverse to separate them from what clearly follows in fulfilment of the warnings.
Thirdly. The churches are depicted in terms of the history of the people of God in the Old Testament, from when Adam lost his first love to when the overweening pride of Judah led to its downfall.
· Man lost his first love in Eden (Genesis 3:0) - the church’s first love is lost (Revelation 2:4) - the promise to the overcomer is Paradise restored (Revelation 2:7).
· Man is connected with the assembly of people in Cain’s new city, away from the presence of the Lord (Genesis 4:16), who were responsible for the first death (Genesis 4:8) and the second death (Genesis 4:23), who are Adam’s seed and yet are not - the church is connected with the ‘assembly of Satan’, who say they are Jews and are not (Revelation 2:9) - the overcomer will escape the Second Death (Revelation 2:11).
· Man sets up Satan’s throne in Babel, a dwelling place of the gods (Genesis 11:4) - the church dwells where Satan’s throne is, a dwelling place of the gods (Revelation 2:13) - the overcomer will share the Heavenly Tabernacle where the hidden manna is hid in the Ark of the Covenant over which is God’s throne (Revelation 2:17).
· Israel is taught by Balaam to commit idolatry and sexual perversions (Numbers 25:1-4.25.2) - the new ‘Balaam’ teaches the church to commit idolatry and sexual perversions (Revelation 2:14) - the overcomer will receive the white stone carrying Christ’s new name (Revelation 2:17), they will be clean from idolatry and sexual perversion.
· Jezebel, the foreign queen, teaches Israel sexual perversion and idolatry (1 Kings 16:31; 1 Kings 21:25; 2 Kings 9:7) - a prophetess like ‘Jezebel’ teaches the church sexual perversion and idolatry - (Revelation 2:20) - the overcomer will stand in judgment on the nations (Revelation 2:26-66.2.27).
· Israel had a name to live but is now dead (Hosea 13:1; Amos 5:2; Amos 7:8; Amos 8:2; Amos 8:10; Amos 9:10; Ezekiel 23:10), its name is blotted out (Exodus 32:33; Psalms 69:28; Psalms 109:13), and it is no more remembered before God (‘our bones are dried up, our hope is lost, we are clean cut off’ (Ezekiel 37:11 compare v. 2-3)) - (see 2 Kings 18:11-12.18.12; Hosea 1:6-28.1.9; Hosea 8:8; Hosea 9:16-28.9.17; Amos 7:11; Amos 7:17; Ezekiel 36:19) - the church has a name that it lives and is dead (Revelation 3:1) - the name of the overcomer will not be blotted out but will be remembered before God.
· In contrast to Israel, Judah (under Hezekiah) opens the door of the house of the Lord (2 Chronicles 29:3) which had been shut up (2 Chronicles 27:2; 2 Chronicles 28:24), thus an open door is set before Judah and Hezekiah’s steward opens and no man shuts (Isaiah 22:22) - an open door is set before the church (Revelation 3:8) by Him Who opens and no man shuts (Revelation 3:7) - the overcomer will become a pillar in the Temple of God (Revelation 3:12) and will receive a new name.
· But Judah in their pride and arrogance at their wealth (‘I am rich, I have found me wealth’ - Hosea 12:8; compare Ezekiel 16:15-26.16.17; Zechariah 11:5; Isaiah 2:7; Isaiah 39:2; Hosea 2:5) are advised to buy true wealth (Isaiah 55:2) and not trust their beauty (Ezekiel 16:15) or they will be stripped naked (Ezekiel 16:39; Hosea 2:3). They are poor (Ezekiel 22:18; Isaiah 1:22; Jeremiah 5:4) and blind (Isaiah 59:10; Isaiah 42:18) and naked (Lamentations 1:8) and are therefore defeated and led captive into Babylon and the house of the Lord is destroyed and the walls of Jerusalem broken down (Jeremiah 52:14) and there is no more a throne (Jeremiah 52:10-24.52.11). From now on the throne is in Babylon (Jeremiah 52:32) . Their wealth and their failure to see their true state has destroyed them and they receive the punishment threatened from the beginning, they are spewed out of the land (Leviticus 18:25-3.18.28) - similar accusations are made of the church (Revelation 3:17-66.3.18) and a similar fate threatened, they will be spewed out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16) - those who overcome will receive a throne within God’s kingdom (Revelation 3:12).
Although there may be controversy over detail the main line is clear.
Fourthly. While the letters are addressed to genuine churches, (and that the letters are to be delivered is suggested by the fact that the churches are in a circular pattern so that a messenger can pass easily from one to the next), it is clear that what is written to them applies to all churches, and that they are selected to cover the wide variety of experience within the worldwide church. Thus the church as a whole is being prepared for the tribulation to come.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Revelation 3". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany