Study No. 5 Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea Chapter 3
The Sardis church 1-6
The opening remarks of Jesus seem to include from chapter 1 something that is particularly needed or applicable to each specific church in a special way.
1. “You have a name that you are alive …”: This is referring to the reputation of the church. Sometimes the reputation of our church is that which is known or seen by our sister churches within our denomination. This might be communicated by the pastor as he attends regular conference meetings. The reputation of the Sardis church is the reputation it has within the community. For a dead church to have a good reputation … is all too common and not just a little disconcerting.
Jesus mentioned something in the following verse that should really be noted by a church or church leaders that are working hard at being loved and respected by their local community.
“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” John 15:19
Jesus also said, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you …” Lu 6:26
James very boldly calls it like it is: “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” James 4:4
Churches across our land are choosing to be friends with and partner with the world.
(here is an example)
Very possibly the leaders (teaching elders) of the church (and the individual mini-congregations/house churches) were encouraging a ‘seeker sensitive’ mentality. That is, don’t say things to the unchurched that they might find offensive. Rather, give a lot of praise, be interested in them, be affirming and so forth.
This could be the reason they had a ‘good name’ in the community.
The next phase of this kind of thinking takes effect when the church has actually accumulated some of the community as part of their congregation. While some of the believers might have hoped that ‘once on the inside’ we can start teaching these people real doctrine, instead, the speakers and teachers water everything down, hoping to keep the newcomers happy.
Ro 16:17¶ I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.
18 For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.
In some situations people in the congregation begin saying things like in the following verse.
Isa 30:10 They say to the seers, "See no more visions!" and to the prophets, "Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions.
We do not want to follow the way of the Sardis church … and merely have a good name.
Col 4:5 ¶ Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
WWJD? What do you assume by the question? Do you take the time to really give it some thought … what WOULD Jesus do … perhaps a better question, What DID Jesus do?
“You are dead” I suppose we can take this in one of two ways:
- As a ‘dead’ church … there is no longer a lampstand … in other words, it is no longer even a church in the eyes of God? However, if that were the case, Sardis would not have been included with the other six in chapter one. It is still considered to be 'a church'.
- The church is not really ‘dead’ but it is an expression that really means ‘dying’.
- He not referring to the status of their salvation in Christ, but is referring to their ministry, including their use and understanding of the Word of God. In this sense He is saying, “You are dead as far as spiritual influence in the community is concerned.”
2 "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.
Here are the steps to revival. 1. Wake up, 2. take a close look at the ministry of our church and do our part to bring it back to biblical standards.
3 "Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.
‘Come upon you as a thief.’ This likely reminds us of 1Th 5:2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
But this is probably not what He has in mind here. This is more likely the same warning as chapter 2:5
Because all seven of these kinds of churches have existed in the world over the last 21 centuries, we have to think what this remark would mean to the church in the tenth century, for example. Would Jesus be saying that He had planned to come as a thief in the night at that time in history? No, probably it would be an expression of warning to a church, a large number of churches really, that were headed into deadness. The warning is that God would remove His ownership of them and remove His presence from them.
This is what Jesus had said to the church in Ephesus back in chapter 2.
Re 2:5 "Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place——unless you repent.
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. (Click here to get a ‘visual’ of the Sardis church)
What is this about ‘white garments’ … and worthiness?
Believers are dressed in 'the righteousness of Christ'. That is, we appear in the Father's eyes as holy.
Ga 3:27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
Heb 9:14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
Re 1:5 and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler over the kings of the earth. To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood,
How can ‘red’ produce ‘white’? What colour is sin? (Isaiah 1:18)
I challenge you to do the following simple experiment. Take a sheet of clear red plastic. Hold it in front of your eyes as you take a red marker or pencil crayon and write or draw on a piece of white paper. What did you discover?
Isa 61:10 ¶ I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, My soul shall be joyful in my God; For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
When you are in the act of evangelizing someone – You in fact are helping them to acquire their own clean robe.
Jude 1:22 And on some have compassion, making a distinction;
23 but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.
Our pure, white robes can become tainted and spotted. Jesus wants us to remain clean.
Eph 5:27 That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.
Our spotted robes can be made clean again.
Re 3:18 "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 may see.
Re 7:14 And I said to him, "Sir, you know." So he said to me, "These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
At some future point up in heaven, after the judgment seat of Christ, we will be ‘re-robed’.
Re 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.
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.
Two promises are made here.
1. Will be clothed in white garments
2. Will not blot out his name from the book of life.
As mentioned above, we are dressed in the righteousness of Christ. 2 Cor 5:21 For He made Him who knew no sin [to be] sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
This is in regard to our ‘Standing’ in Christ. If it were a question of whether we are saved or not, if God, the righteous judge were to look at the ‘book’, written there would be our name, and beside it the designation, ‘Holy one’. - why? By reason of faith. This makes us an overcomer. This is what ‘broke us out’ of Satan’s kingdom and put us into the kingdom of God. (We will look at this more thoroughly in a few paragraphs.)
He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, Col 1:13
As Jesus addresses this church He does not seem to identify Himself with one of the attributes mentioned in Chapter One as He did with all of the other six churches. There is only one statement which might possibly be connected with those identifying characteristics that he used to describe Himself, and that is the reference to the one who holds a key.
Re 1:18 … and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades.
The word ‘key’ represents authority and control.
The introduction of Jesus to this church is;
“He that is holy” and “He that is true” and “He that is in control”
1. Only God is holy. Mark 10:18 So Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.
Is Jesus saying to this person that he is not good (holy)?
No, because in verse 7 of this study Jesus calls Himself holy. In Mark 1:24 a demon identifies Jesus; saying, "Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are——the Holy One of God!"
So what was Jesus saying in Mark 10:18? Simply this … as He tells the man, no one is good but God … and as you call me good, do you realize that you are calling me God?’
The Spirit of God, third person of the trinity is called holy; πνευμα αγιον (Spirit, Holy)
But what about this, in the next verse … certain people are called holy.
¶ Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints (αγιοις) who are in all Achaia: 2Co 1:1
Note: The Catholic church has put a totally different spin on who or what is a saint. To them it is a person who reaches holiness after a period of time, or is recognised as holy after a period of investigation has taken place. In their view, sainthood is something earned. The Apostle Paul says that we do not earn righteousness/holiness.
Php 3:9 ¶ not having my righteousness, which is of law, but that which is through faith of Christ—the righteousness that is of God by the faith,
2. Only Jesus (God) is true. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” John 14:6.
Ro 3:4 Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar… " Jesus is God.
3. He has control over death and Hades, and ultimately will cast them into the ‘Lake of Fire’. “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” Re 20:14
And, holding the key of David, as David had control over the kingdom of Israel and of the palace itself, so Jesus has ultimate authority and control over the heavenly kingdom and the palace in heaven. Jesus alone, decides who comes in and who does not.
In verse 8 Jesus says, "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.
Paul the Apostle experienced closed doors when he first went through Asia. At other times a door was opened to him. 1Co 16:9 For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
Jesus has the keys and doors are opened and closed by Him.
He says the Philadelphia church has a little strength. This is not a criticism. As we have been studying this book we made note that God wants our faith strengthened. We noted that God works behind the scenes and arranges things in our lives so that our faith will be strengthened (As He did with the church in Smyrna). But remember what Jesus said about faith?
“… assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.” Mt 17:20
He was not referring to mustard seeds because they are quite big. They are quite small. This church with ‘a little strength’ is being recognised for their faith. Yes, to be sure, God wants us to have more faith. But He most certainly will use the faith that we do have.
What about this ‘open door’ that is set before the church? It appears it had to do with what was about to happen in the local synagogue. Once again Jesus calls it a synagogue of Satan … because they have rejected Jesus as Messiah. But here Jesus says that many of them will come ‘and worship before your feet’. This church will have an effective ministry of evangelism to the Jews in the city … and they will come and humbly join the church. This, by the way, is what God expects of the Jews of today. In the Old Testament God’s ministry entailed bringing gentiles into ‘the kingdom of God’ by having them be circumcised and become Jews. In the New Testament a Jew must come to recognize that His ethnic and religious backgrounds have zero to do with being accepted by God. They must serve God in the church today. (Unto Him be glory in the church Eph 3:21)
“I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles.” Ro 11:11
Verse 10: …keep you from the hour …
This may have had a local fulfillment for the church back in John’s time, but it likely is a principle which has been true through the ages and will be true of the coming time that we call the great tribulation.
The principle is this … enduring suffering and persecution will always purify and strengthen the church. Jesus is saying that, from His perspective, He sees that they don’t need this ‘trial’ or test of their faith and so He will see that they can avoid it. This has no reference to the rapture. The Philadelphia church was not raptured – but they were to be spared. This principle applies to us as well. Let’s learn the lesson … so that we need not learn it the hard way.
Verse 11: “Don’t let anyone take your crown.” Often we think of a crown as a reward. (As if perhaps, we could melt it down and cash it in for money!!) Receiving a crown is an honour. But it is much more than that. It is a huge responsibility. A crown means … rule. It is a position of authority and responsibility. The privilege (and responsibility) of ruling has been promised to overcomers in the preceding verses, and here it is again. Jesus said that those of his servants who had been faithful over a few things, he would make rulers over many things. Matt 25:21. Don’t let anyone take your crown … God has a unique place for all of us in His eternal kingdom. Apparently it is possible that we could ‘so mess it up’ that our privilege of ruling is taken from us and given to someone else. "Then he said to those standing by, ‘Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas.’ Lu 19:24
We will look in a greater depth about ‘going in or out’ of the Holy city, New Jerusalem in chapter 21 and 22.
The Church of Laodicea
This time Jesus refers to Himself as (1) the amen, the faithful and true witness. The word ‘amen’ is sometimes translated ‘verily’ in the KJV and ‘truly’ in most other versions. Amen means truth and certainty. For all the promises of God in Him are ‘Yes’, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us. 2Co 1:20
And He calls Himself (2)‘the beginning of the creation of God’. There are only two way to look at this, as far as I know. Either Jesus is the first one to be created … or Jesus is the source of all creation. The Jehovah’s Witnesses take the first meaning. We take the biblical one, ¶ In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. John 1:1-3
Verse 15: I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot.
The city of Laodicea did not have a good water supply. It was piped into the city by an aqueduct, from a spring … a hot spring, actually. Other cities used fresh cold springs, but none existed near Laodicea. By the time the hot water reached the city … (perhaps the designers hoped it would cool off and be cold when it reached town) it had become lukewarm. The city was known for its lukewarm water. Perhaps they had ways to cool it off before drinking it but I am sure that many a thirsty person had to put up with it the way it came out of the tap. I am sure many people felt like spitting after a few mouthfuls of this water.
This comment about the church would certainly be understood by them.
Note- to clear up a question that might be forming in your minds … Why would Jesus say that He preferred either COLD or hot? Doesn’t He want us to be hot? The answer is, Yes, He wants us to be hot … when hot or cold are the only two options. In this case he is not comparing hot or cold. He is saying that, when it comes to water, cold is refreshing and hot is very useful for mealtimes. But lukewarm is nauseating and useless.
What does the ‘spitting out’ mean? Could he be talking about the possibility of a person ‘losing their salvation’? Well, whether that is a possibility or not, that is not what he is referring to here. He is talking about spitting out the whole church. This is just another way to repeat the warning he made to the Ephesus church … “I will come quickly and remove the lamp stand.”
The Laodicean church is quoted by Jesus as saying, “We really have it made. We have money and stuff. Lot’s of stuff.”
You remember the Sardis church had a good name in the community. (But they were dead). This church does not necessarily have any kind of name in the community, but they had an opinion about themselves. They were deluded.
Re 3:17 ——and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—— They were unaware!
This reminds me of the scripture in 2 Peter 1:9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
Jesus counsels them to ‘go for the gold’. No, certainly not in the way people do it in the Olympics. Gold refined in the fire refers to suffering and tribulation. When Jesus says to them, ‘Repent’ what He is saying is Go speak of me boldly in the market places … and suffer for it … it will change you and your whole outlook and attitude.
Is this being loving on Jesus’ part? He says as many as He loves … He rebukes and chastens. Yes this is love. Tough love.
Is this still a church? Does it still have its ‘lampstand’? Apparently so. Jesus pictures Himself to them as One who has been ignored and pushed out. He is knocking on the door of the church. On a one by one basis He says, I want to fellowship with you.
Overcomers will rule with Him!
Today we have just read about a ‘dead’ church, and a good church, and another all-but-dead church. In previous studies we read the warning to ‘repent’ … come back to your first love. We read of the warning to those who preach free grace saying, “We have liberty to pamper ‘self’”. We also saw that Jesus hates it when we turn the responsibility for our spirituality totally over to ‘the professionals’ and fail to study for ourselves.
From the scriptures assigned for ‘extra study’ (2 Timothy 2:15, 3:16,17) what did you find that would address all of these?
Below is an overview of the seven churches, the positive comments made to them, the negative comments, the changes they needed to make, and finally the promises to those who would make the required changes (the overcomers)
Church Positives Negatives Warnings Promises
Ephesus Hard-working Departed from Repent or have Access to the tree of
Persevering first love. lampstand removed life in heaven.
Smyrna Enduring affliction Faithfulness to the point
and poverty. of death equals a crown
Pergamum Remaining true Allowing those Remove them or Access to hidden
in the face of who hold the expect the sword manna and a new
persecution. doctrine of of God to come name.
Balaam and against you.
Thyatira Good deeds, Tolerating a Repent or expect Privilege of ruling
love, faith, Jezebel spirit severe judgment with Christ.
perseverance, (sexual im- from God. Hold on Gift: the Morning Star
and 'increase'. morality etc. ) to what you have.
Sardis 'Alive' in name Wake up and Will be clothed in
only. strengthen the white and your name
little that still remains will not be blotted out.
Philadelphia Some strength Do not let anyone Kept from the hour of
Not denied my take your crown. of trial.
name. Permanent resident of
the Holy City.
Laodicea Lukewarm, "Buy gold, white Rule with Christ.
wretched, pitiful clothes and eye salve.
poor, blind and naked. Open the door to me."