Chapters 3 - 4
Twenty-seven miles south of Thyatira we find the city of Sardis. It was one of the oldest and greatest cities of western Asia. Sardis means, “those escaping or renovation”. Some interpret it as “remnant”.
Sardis was the capital of the kingdom of Lydia and was known for its many wars and great wealth. The patron deity of the city was Cybele, who appeared on their coins. She was considered to be half-human and her symbol was a pair of loins.
Cyrus of Persia captured the city in the sixth century and in A.D. 17 the city was destroyed by an earthquake, but it was restored and continued to flourish until A.D. 1400-1403.
“And to the angel of the church of Sardis write,”
“These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.”
Remember the “seven Spirits of God” are representative of the Holy Spirit and “the seven stars” of the pastors and leaders of the churches. Jesus began His letter to the church at Ephesus by identifying Himself as “He who has the seven stars in His right hand” in order to show He was in charge. Here too, He shows His authority over the churches and their messengers.
Sardis was known as a Christian assembly but not as a Spirit filled church. Like many churches today, it went through a formal dull routine. Its members were satisfied with attendance for social benefit. They were known in the community as a Christian church but were dead to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus does not commend this church for anything, not for their faithful assembly nor works in His name.
In our historical timeline, it was a time that saw the union of church and state. The results of which brought about a church known more its profession than its confession.
“2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.”
Even those things that had remained true to God were in danger of dying. Jesus is calling for the few faithful leaders in the church to be on guard and to work to strengthen sound doctrine and practices, to encourage its faithful members and to protect the truth of His Word.
Jesus did not find their works to be perfect before God. There are two important points to be considered here.
1. As Paul said, we move forward to perfection. Churches and individuals can always learn more, understand more, and be more Spirit filled than we are.
2. In the historical timeline of the church, this is the Post-reform era. Reformation had not brought perfection. The church had gone into cruise control thinking that it had attained all knowledge and thus was perfect, when if fact it was far from it.
“3 Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon as a thief and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.”
In 2 Thessalonians 5:15 Paul reminds us, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” Over and over Paul calls for us to not be swayed by new doctrines that are different from that which we first received and he exhorts us to teach and preach Christ crucified and risen from the dead.
Jesus is calling for the church to do three things;
1.Remember HOW we received and heard His word
2.To HOLD FAST to that word
3.And to REPENT when we have failed
The repentance here includes returning to a correct walk with the Lord, not just being sorrowful for past actions.
Sardis was filled with “professing believers” who had never really accepted Jesus as Lord. They may have confessed Him as Savior but had not enjoyed a life changing salvation experience.
During His sermon on the mount Jesus taught us, “Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)
His judgment will come unexpectedly.
“4 You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.”
“5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life, but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”
“6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, these garments can only obtain their purity through the cleansing blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ. Only those whose names are written in the Book of Life are eligible to wear such garments.
Jesus promises not to blot out the names of those who have “not defiled their garments” and to profess them as His before the Father. One question that we will examine later is the “defiling of garments”. Is this or is it not a statement that indicates “white garments” that have become defiled?
There are several viewpoints as to the exact nature and purpose of The Book of Life. The Book of Life is mention seven times in Revelation. Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12; 20:15; 21:27; and 22:19 all refer to this important document.
The underlying question of the Book of Life is the eternal security of the believer. I will address this issue further along in this study. Jesus is making it clear here that He will confess those whose names are written in the book.
Verse 6 once again calls for men to hear the solemn warning against having a token religious profession while failing to yield to the conviction of the Holy Spirit to be born again by accepting Jesus as both Savior and Lord of their life.
It is not enough to believe that God is God. James 2:19, “You believe there is one God, you do well. Even demons believe – and tremble!” To have your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, you must be born again.
“7 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 no one shuts and no one opens.”
Attalus Philadelphus, king of Pergamos, founded the city. It was named after him because of the loyalty he had to his bother Eumenes. It is about 25 miles south of Sardis. It was a missionary city in the Greek world. Its modern name is Allah Shehr (City of God).
Jesus reveals Himself not as Judge but by His personal characteristics; holy in character and true in action.
Isaiah 22:22 mentions “the key of the house of David” in connection with the treasurer of David’s house.
Jesus has complete authority over the churches. Outsiders, whether they are Romans, Jews, or some God-less cult have no power to shut the door of opportunity of the church to obey God’s commandments and preach the Good News of Jesus Christ.
“8 I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.”
Jesus gives only words of praise to the church at Philadelphia. In good times and bad they had trusted the Lord. Because of their living and walking in faith through the door of opportunity Jesus had given them, the open door would not be shut. It remains open not by their strength but by His.
“9 Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie --- indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.”
The synagogue of Satan (people who claimed to Jews but were not) who claimed to be God’s chosen people would be forced to admit that these faithful Christians were loved of Jesus. The church had denied those who tried to impose legalism.
“10 Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.”
The “hour of trial” referred to here is clearly the Tribulation of Chapters 6-19. Because the church had persevered in righteousness it will be spared from entering into this terrible time. This is one of Jesus’ “I will” promises of the letter. What are the other “I will” promises?
This verse, along with other statements that we will study as we proceed through Revelation, is clear evidence that the church’s rapture will be prior to Tribulation.
Jesus rewards those who, by His perfect grace and mercy, He has indwelled with the Holy Spirit. As long as the Holy Spirit lives in us we will continue in His grace from now through all eternity.
“11 Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”
“12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. 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 out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.”
“13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
In verse 11 Jesus gives two warnings to the church at Philadelphia, 1) His return will be sudden and unexpected and 2) be careful that no one may cause you to lose your crown.
Loss of one’s crown is not loss of one’s salvation in this case. Crowns are given as rewards to believers and are reflective of our life of service. Loss of crowns means loss of rewards in heaven for believers. Crowns, like all God’s gifts, are results of His grace.
For the “overcomers” Jesus will make them a pillar in the inner heavenly sanctuary of God. The idea of a pillar shows strength, honor and security.
Also in verse 12 Jesus tells us he will write three new names of believers who overcome.
1.the name of God
2.the name of New Jerusalem
3.the new name of the Lord Jesus
The writing of the new names is the placement of a seal on the believer to identify him as one who belongs to all three.
The overcomer has blessed assurance that he will have a place in heaven and he will receive his rightful crown(s).
As stated earlier, the church at Philadelphia is representative of the great awaking of the eighteen and early nineteenth centuries. It was a time of revival for the church. It was a time of great missionary outreach. But it was also a time that Satan worked to introduce legalism and rituals into many churches.
“14 And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write”
“These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:”
Laodicea is about forty miles southeast of Philadelphia and was built by the Seleucid monarch, Antiochus II. He named it for his wife, Laodice. It was a large city specializing in the manufacture of wool.
During the early Christians era it was the residence of a bishop and the meeting place for church councils. The wealth of the city and pride of the people created a self-satisfied community. To put into my terms, they were full of themselves. Their self-reliance made a favorable impression on the some of the leaders of Christianity which aids in moving the church to man-driven instead of Spirit lead.
Laodicea means either “the people ruling” or “the judgment of the people”. It was a community ruled by the intellect of man instead of the Word of God.
The city was destroyed by Moslems in the Middle Ages and today lies in ruins.
Laodicea is representative of the church at the close of the church age in our historical timeline.
In this last of the seven letters to the churches, Jesus identifies Himself as the embodiment of truth. He is the “Amen”, the One who establishes all God’s promises. He is the “Faithful and True Witness”, he is the only reliable source and he has demonstrated His faithfulness by the witness of His love for the Father and for us.
He is “the Beginning of Creation”. This does not mean that He was created but that He was the Creator. He was there before the beginning with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
“15 I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot.”
“16 So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
“17 Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked”
Jesus offered no kind words to this self-reliant wealthy church. They had become so self absorbed that they no longer look to God, they no longer have a need for Him, and no doubt, attempted to use God to promote their self-image. I see it as if they had turned the church into an idol.
Worship had become a social event rather than a humble Spirit filled outpouring of love for God. It was so bad the Jesus wanted to vomit them out of His mouth. It was sickening to the One who died on the Cross of Calvary for them.
Because the church was no longer humble and worshipping in Spirit and Truth, it did not realize how wretched they had become. Listen to the words our Lord and Savior used to describe His church, wretched, miserable, poor, blind, naked!!
“18 I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve that you might see.”
Jesus tells them to “buy from Me gold refined in the fire”. Meaning to have genuine faith, purified by the result of their heart-felt praise, worship and Spirit filled lives.
Jesus wants the church to be rich in faith and clothed with the white garments that have been cleansed by His blood, so that they would not face judgment. “Heal your eyes”, is what Jesus is saying. See the truth before it is everlastingly to late.
The major problem both here an in our churches today is that we don’t see ourselves as sinners. When we look into the mirror of our self-reliant lives, we only see a good person. We don’t see the wretchedness of our lives; we don’t see what Jesus sees.
“19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.”
If Jesus did not love the church He would have simply destroyed it. It is because of Jesus’ great love for us that He calls us to repentance. When necessary He will chasten us. The convicting power of the Holy Spirit calls us to return to righteousness and calls the lost unto salvation.
Jesus once again calls to the church not to be lukewarm in their faith, praise and worship; but to have fervent devotion to the cause of Christ. Jesus calls for the church to turn away from their current position and course and to return to the straight and narrow path that leads to eternity with Him.
“20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with Him, and he with Me.”
The church had left Christ standing outside. He was not present at their table. But, because of His great love He stands knocking at the door. If anyone (individual) opens the door of their heart to Christ and repents of their sin, He will come in and sup with them.
“21 To him who overcomes, I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”
Jesus gives us the opportunity to share in His glory in heaven. Galatians 4:7 tells us that we can be “an heir of God through Christ”.
“22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
One last time Jesus pleads with the individual heart to hear (respond) to what God says to the churches.
There is little doubt that we are living in the time of the church at Laodicea. Times are good. We, as individuals, live in comfort. We engaged in many humanitarian acts for the church. We adorn our building and build new life centers. But, do we bare the cross for Christ? Do we tie the Cross to the bumper of our new pick-up and drag it down the road or do we humbly lift it to our shoulders?
SUMMARY OF THE SEVEN LETTERS:
For me personally, the seven letters are the most important part of the book of Revelation. For it is here that we can measure ourselves during a time that we can act for change. The truth is that our “end times” comes with our physical death. Only while we yet live can we repent. Only while we yet live can we live a Spirit-filled life that is pleasing to God. Only while we yet live can we confess our sins and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Over time the church moves from the Spirit filled fellowship of Pentecost to a lukewarm assembly of liberal socialites. Sin, self and Satan combine to cool the passion for Christ. Sexual immorality begins to crawl its way into churches. A spirit of compromise for the sake of social acceptance corrodes the leadership. False doctrine and legalism bring man to the forefront and attempt to diminish the commandments of God. God, Himself, is push to the background and used for self promotion.
For a time the church has a great revival but quickly becomes comfortable in its new status. The church begins to act as if its work is done and drifts from the truth.
In these last days of the church age, the church will continue to drift into “the great falling away”. But, praise God, not all will follow this course. The faithful remnant will hold fast to sound doctrine and continue in its work to win the lost for Christ.
To the overcomers there are great promises; to eat from the tree of life, to receive the crown of life, to eat the hidden manna which is Christ Jesus, to receive the white stone, to have power over nations.
The greatest of these promises is to have one’s name written in the Book of Life and to become a pillar and joint heir with Christ in heaven.
The challenge is before us. We are called to conduct ourselves and our churches in a manner pleasing to God by keeping His commandments. Our lives are to be our witness to the world that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. We are not to compromise the things we have been taught even unto death or until His return.
We are to be excited about serving the Lord!
Thus far we have covered the Church Age. Now we begin to look beyond the Church Age into “things which take place after this” (1:19).
We clearly switch from the present to the future between chapters 3 and 4. As we move forward in our study, we will not find any mention of the church being on earth. The word church has appeared many times in the first three chapters but we do not see it again until 22:16 when Jesus concludes His vision to John. The church is referred to as the Bride of Christ in chapter 19.
CAUTION: There is an important point to consider before we proceed --- time. Let’s reflect on what has happened so far. John has completed the task of writing the seven letters to the churches. That does not mean that John himself has moved forward in time. He’s is still living in the time of the 1st century church or using the seven churches as our historical timeline; he is living in the time of the church at Ephesus. The church has not been spued out of Christ’s mouth yet. It has been threatened in the letter but has not actually occurred nor any of the events such as judgment of Sardis or even Thyatira. John is living in the church age but the second vision of chapter 4 will take him “in the spirit” beyond it to a time when the church age has been completed.
With his first task completed, John now is given additional information about “things which take place after this”. In other words, his second assignment is to see things that will happen at some time in the future.
The remaining chapters can be divided into three distinct groups. Chapters 4-19 represents the Seventieth Week of Daniel or the Tribulation. Chapter 20 marks the binding of Satan and the beginning of the Millennium. Chapter 21-22 brings the promises of a new heaven and a new earth and eternal bliss with our God.
The most popular views concerning Tribulation, Rapture and Second Coming of Christ are;
1. Premillennial --- Tribulation is a time just prior to the second coming of Christ followed by the Rapture
2. Pre-tribulation --- Rapture prior to Tribulation
3. Mid-tribulation --- Rapture at the mid point of a seven year Tribulation
4. Post-tribulation --- the church will remain on earth during Tribulation
Pre-tribulation and Mid-tribulation views share the idea that the Second Coming of Christ will be in two phases. The first phase will be a secret coming in clouds to rapture the church. The second phase will be His return with the church to reign on earth. They differ as to when these events happen.
We will explore the idea of a secret coming in the clouds as a separate issue. This idea is the majority view and has been made popular by recent books like the “Left Behind” series. This view point does not see Jesus as visible to the world in the first phase of His Second Coming.
Post-tribulationists believe the church will be present during Tribulation but it will not suffer during it, that it will be protected from divine wrath.
There are other viewpoints that share portions of the above descriptions.
As we study look for evidence of; 1) the Rapture of the church, 2) the Second Coming of Christ, 3) the beginning of Tribulation.
Also remember at the beginning of this study I cautioned not to overlook the differences between the church and the nation of Israel.
We began Chapter 1 with John being given a vision of Christ’s glory before he was instructed to record the letters to the churches. Once again John is reminded of God’s glory before he is given the vision of things to come.
“After these things I looked and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.”
In Chapters 1 -3 Jesus was seen as standing among the seven lampstands (churches) here on earth. He now calls to John from a door standing open in heaven. John verifies it is Jesus by once again referring to Him as “the first voice which I heard” and restates the power of His voice, “like a trumpet”.
Jesus calls to John to come from earth to heaven so that he can be shown “things which must take place after this”.
Many scholars see a twofold image of John, John the apostle and John the symbol of the raptured church.
“2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.”
There are conflicting views as to who it is that “sat on the throne”. Some teach that it was the Father and others state it is representative of the Godhead. Some believe it to be Jesus who sat on the throne at this time. We do know that in 5:7 the Lamb takes the scroll from the hands of “He who sat on the throne”, which is clearly the Father.
The Spirit deals with John in a special way. Was John physically taken to heaven or was he there in a vision is an unanswerable question. The majority view is that John was there in the “spirit” as Jesus opened a vision to him. John is recording things as he saw there and is not attempting to interpret them. Christ who was judging the seven churches on earth will now open the books of this world’s judgment. Jesus is about to publicly take His inheritance.
“3 And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald.”
Exodus 28:17-20 describes the breastplate of the high priest. The first stone is the sardius (ruby) and the last is the jasper. There is debate as to whether verse 3 describes the throne or the One who sat upon it.
We do know that on the breastplate of the high priest the jasper represented Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn and the sardius represented Benjamin, his lastborn.
The rainbow is a reminder of God’s covenant and that He does not forget His promises.