To the Church in Sardis
3 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
To the Church in Philadelphia
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.
“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, 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 my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
To the Church in Laodicea
“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
Revelation 3 Commentary
by Hank Workman
Zombies. They’re everywhere. They pop up in commercials asking “What’s in your wallet?” They are in movies, TV shows, covers of magazines and even have been in the news from time to time. It’s the weirdest thing. But here’s the deal about zombies… they’re dead… they just don’t know it.
Jesus ran into some zombies. They happened to reside in the town of Sardis. Located at a converging point with many inroads, this town was the center for trade. History shows how it was captured by both Alexander the Great then later falling to Antiochus the Great. In 17 AD a massive earthquake devastated the town. Somewhere after the death and resurrection of Jesus, a church was established there. And what we’re about to discover, it was a church that became zombies.
The Church at Sardis
Of all the 7 letters, this is the only one that doesn’t have one good thing to say. There’s no “Keep up the good work! You’re doing well…” Nope. Nothing. Something is terribly wrong. Its criticism is unrelieved and no praise at all. That says a lot considering their reputation, for their reputation stated one thing but the truth of the matter was completely different.
Question – are you more interested in your reputation or your character?
The church in Sardis cared about their reputation but was spiritually bankrupt. Now by all rights, it was the place to be. It had acquired a name, a reputation of being a great church and progressive for its time. There was no false doctrine that had taken root. There was no shortage of money for projects and no lapse of talent or human resources. But outward appearances are deceiving. It had a reputation for being alive but was dead. The congregation was nothing more than a spiritual graveyard.
Jesus saw under the surface. There were things done in the church that did not meet what God was looking for, what His requirements were. Their reputation and their character were in complete opposition to one another. Jesus reads our thoughts. He knows our motives. He knows the recesses of our hearts and sees how much reality there is behind our profession of faith, how much life there is truly within beyond the façade we put on.
That said, there were a few who had fallen into this death. They had not “soiled their clothes” as Jesus states. Now according to historians, the city of Sardis was incredibly lax morally in every way. Moral standards were nonexistent. Could this be what had infiltrated the church? Whatever the truth of the matter, the reputation of Sardis was false. Today this could possibly be called a congregation with nominal Christians. Simply put, people who belong to Christ in name only but not with their heart.
The beauty of all these letters is that Jesus calls them out but doesn’t leave them hanging. He gives helps to get back on track. There are 5 different calls for them: Wake up! Strengthen what remains! Go back! Hold Firmly! Repent!
Each of these things Jesus calls of them they can’t do in their own strength. The reality is when we are in some of the same places we can’t either. The key is we recognize it, wake up to the reality of where we are and then through the power of the Holy Spirit allow Him to work within us to see this happen.
Beautifully, in verses 4 and 5, He offers a reward at the end if they would simply embrace His words and turn from their ways. That offer stands for all of us who maybe have lost our pulse and have grown spiritually dead.
Are we overlooking the life-giving power found in the Holy Spirit? Are we denying that power in our lives in how we live and act? Think hard about these questions. The Holy Spirit dwells within but has He filled us? We may have the Holy Spirit, but how much does He have you?
The Church at Philadelphia
Located 30 miles south of Sardis, Philadelphia was an important city of the Roman Empire. Although it hosted an active volcano and fell like Sardis with the earthquake that hit in 17 AD, it wasn’t completely destroyed. Through the rebuilding and in time a church was established. Being so important due to location and another crossroads, many a traveler passed through. Like all the other churches, it was in a pagan town. At one point even, it actually was called Little Athens due to all the temples. For the Believers, this was a place ripe for harvest.
This letter, in particular, comes with great approval to the people and the church itself. They held firmly to Jesus through persecution. They didn’t relinquish their faith. Because of this, they were solid.
Filled with vivid symbolic descriptions, this letter speaks of a key, a door, and a pillar.
Often within Scripture when speaking of an open door it’s referring to a door of opportunity given. When the door is closed, the opportunity is passed. Jesus tells the church He has opened a door for them. In fact, if He’s opened that door no one can close it. Jesus used His keys, turned the locks, unhinged the bolts and opened the doors. He orchestrated divine moments of opportunities for them to share who He was.
But they were struggling. What’s so beautiful about this statement is Jesus does not rebuke them for their weakness. They’re tired, exhausted, possibly beaten down. On top of this, there is a threat of future pain. The thunder clouds of persecution are gathering. Fascinatingly, with one breath He warns them of coming trials and with the next urges them to step through the doors He’s opened. Jesus was with them through the good times and the hard.
For us, even though there are hard times that are exhausting and painful – he still calls us to go through the doors of opportunities that lie before. It’s a natural response to shut down when hardship comes. We take a break. We disconnect on different levels with God the Father. But this is an encouragement – there are are things God wants to do despite all that’s happening. And God is in control. He is. Even though it may not feel like it at the moment. As Jesus told the church, He speaks the same to us – Hold on to what you have.
Jesus began all of this with a very significant remark of holding a key. For a door to be opened, a key must be used. Fascinatingly, it’s a key of David. This is a throwback to a story found in Isaiah 22. Basically, the kingdom of Judah was in turmoil and God chose a guy to help negotiate them and Assyria. He was from the palace, a good steward of King Hezekiah’s household and he had great authority. Take note:
“I will dress him in your royal robes and will give him your title and your authority. And he will be a father to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. 22 I will give him the key to the house of David—the highest position in the royal court. When he opens doors, no one will be able to close them; when he closes doors, no one will be able to open them.“Isaiah 22:21-22
Within this statement, we see how this gentleman foreshadowed Jesus Christ the head of God’s household and the Church who holds the keys. Jesus had been given all authority in heaven an on earth. And on that key ring of His are keys not only to the doors but the keys to death and life.
Finally, at the end, Jesus speaks of pillars. In ancient times, pillars were used to hold the roof, much like bearing walls today of a house. They were huge and immovable. Consider how Jesus encouraged them to stand firm. The reality is these pillars represent them doing the same. Standing firm, they would also stand firm in the temple of their God. It’s a promise for heaven.
For the church in Philadelphia, they had obstacles for sure. They lacked strength but as Jesus said they were faithful. And just like them, a door stands open for us. There are opportunities that surround us. The key to Christ’s authority is there, and if we remain faithful there’s the promise of surviving and being immovable like a pillar, where heaven waits.
Revelation 3 Commentary
by Brad Boyles
I remember several years ago going to a music festival in Kentucky called Ichthus. It was basically a camping trip with live Christian music playing at all times across multiple stages. Now, I’m not talking about music you hear on Christian radio. There was that if that’s what you wanted. But there was also rap, metal, screamo, country, and everything in between.
A typical daily schedule would involve waking up from your tent to the rising sun, listening to music until about 2 am the next day, and then getting a few hours of sleep so you could do it again in the morning. There wasn’t much time for showering. And even if you managed to make time, most likely the wait would be long and it was certain that your shower would be cold or lukewarm at best. And just like coffee, lukewarm doesn’t cut it. It’s ironic that from a physical standpoint, being really hot or really cold is considered uncomfortable but lukewarm falls right into our comfort zone. Spiritually-speaking, Jesus feels just the opposite.
The Church at Laodicea
Laodicea was known for its wealth and manufacturing. The city had a medical school, a textile industry, thriving banks, and featured specialized products such as eye salve and glossy black wool cloth. But it is famously known for being close to a hot water spring (Hieropolis) and pure, cold water (Colossae). This is exactly why Jesus addressed it in the way He did.
Jesus calls Himself the Amen (OT title for God) and the true and faithful witness (picture a witness in the courtroom ready to reveal the truth). Jesus wanted the church in Laodicea to pay close attention to His words.
‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 ‘So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.Revelation 3:15-16 NASB
Literally, the Greek word is vomit. The fruit, or lack thereof, in the Laodicean Church makes Christ want to vomit. Self-satisfaction has led to half-hearted disciples who are doing nothing.
Jesus no doubt uses a metaphorical play on words here to drive home this message. The city of Laodicea was once the home of an elaborate fountain with a massive water tower supplied by an aqueduct of hot springs. Those springs came from Hierapolis while the fresher and colder water was found in Colossae. Those hot springs rolled down to Laodicea but by the time they reached the city, they were no longer hot, but lukewarm. The springs in Hierapolis provided natural healing. The cold, fresh water of Colossae offered refreshment. What was the water in Laodicea good for? Absolutely nothing. It was lukewarm.
The readers of these three close cities would have understood exactly what Jesus meant when He used this metaphor. It wasn’t that the people in Laodicea weren’t zealous or excited about Jesus because lukewarm would be better than cold in that scenario. The problem was that they were not providing refreshment for the spiritually fatigued (cold water) nor restoration for the spiritually sick (hot water). Their ministry was totally useless and unproductive, and this is why it is so distasteful to Jesus.
The bottom line: this is a selfish, fruitless congregation.
- They are like the believer who church-hops because nothing is ever done “the right way.”
- They are like the believer who wants to argue theology but will never lift a finger to serve the poor or the marginalized.
- They are like the believer that can tell you everything that’s wrong with everybody else but refuses to dig into their own dysfunction.
- They are like the believer who complains about not being “spiritually fed” instead of being concerned about what they can bring to the overall body of Christ.
- They are like the believer who is so incredibly content to be saved by the blood of Jesus but doesn’t want to do anything else that Jesus asks.
Cold water has a purpose in the body of Christ. Hot water has a purpose in the body of Christ. Lukewarm water is useless to Jesus. The church had everything they needed, or so it seemed. They had wealth, a booming economy, prestige, nice clothing, etc. What happens to us when we focus on our material pleasures and comforts over Christ? He tells us we become wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.
A hot water heater needs to have electricity or gas to keep the water hot. A car requires fuel to be able to keep moving. A fire needs wood to stay hot. The people of this church had forgotten their source. They were operating as a closed system and they believed they were sustainable. That’s the lie of comfort. It makes you believe you are in control with sufficient power. We say it all the time, but it’s true. Apart from Jesus, you can do nothing. Well, except become lukewarm, I guess.
But not all is lost. In His grace, Jesus offers them wisdom to correct the error of their ways!
I advise you, then, to buy gold from me, pure gold, in order to be rich. Buy also white clothing to dress yourself and cover up your shameful nakedness. Buy also some ointment to put on your eyes, so that you may see. 19 I rebuke and punish all whom I love. Be in earnest, then, and turn from your sins.Revelation 3:18-19 GNB
Let’s not miss the emphasis here. Jesus says “from me.” The people of Laodicea had to relearn their ways spiritually because they had become so self-sufficient they had forgotten that what was given to them had come from Jesus. This is a call to invigorate their personal relationship.
I Stand At The Door
‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.Revelation 3:20 NASB
The assumption we can make from this verse is that Jesus Himself is not welcome inside these church gatherings. Just consider this truth!
Whatever they are doing when they gather as a body does not involve Jesus. They have boasted that they need nothing, yet, their Savior who means everything is standing outside knocking. What does that look like today? Church programs are thriving. Church attendance is booming. Church finances are growing. But what is being demonstrated here by the church at Laodicea is that all that can be true, and you can still miss Jesus.
Though this famous verse could potentially apply to the unbeliever, that is not the original context. This message is for the believer who has become so comfortable with the pleasures of the world that they have shut Jesus out of their life. Jesus has been kicked out of His own church! How could so many in Laodicea think they are right but actually be so wrong?
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’Matthew 7:21-23 NASB
Jesus doesn’t know the Laodicean church and He makes it clear what it will take to change. “Only he who does the will of My Father.” This is probably one of the most asked questions of all time. How do I discover God’s will for my life?
So let’s think about that… God’s will for Jesus was death and Jesus chose obedience. He went to the cross and took everything that was dished out to Him. God’s will for many of the early apostles was death. And it sounds like based on the verse prior to this God’s will for the Laodicean church involves suffering. So what we can conclude is that God’s will for our life is going to involve things we don’t necessarily want to do.
The believers in Laodicea are enjoying their lives. They are comfortable and they have probably justified that comfort by assuming that God wants them to live a happy, blessed life. Now, I’m not saying God is against being happy, but in the case of Jesus, His early followers, and this church in Laodicea, God’s will is for suffering to produce endurance, endurance to produce character, and character to produce hope (Rom 5:3-4).
Following God’s will means obedience produced out of love. Period.
Many people, just like the church at Laodicea, will say they have faith in Jesus. They will even attend church regularly. But Jesus is not interested in empty gestures. The true test of whether that faith is real isn’t found in what you are willing to do for Him, but what you are willing to give up.
Would you give up your comfort? Would you give up your finances? Would you give up your life?
One final encouragement. If you are suffering in some way right now, take heart! Jesus told the church at Laodicea exactly what they needed. Though their church board could have shown you all their ongoing programs with fancy bulletins, explosive worship services, and impressive statistics, Jesus wanted to vomit them out of His mouth. Why does God allow bad things to happen? Well, sometimes for grace. Because wouldn’t it be better for something bad to snap you from your complacency than for Jesus to literally spit you out of His mouth?