REVELATION 2 - 3
HIS 7 CHURCHES
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We come now to the second division of the book of Revelation, THE VISION OF JESUS CHRIST MIDST HIS CHURCHES. Following Jesus’ outline back in 1:19, John will now write down the things which are. This section contains seven letters from Christ to seven of his local churches that existed in John's day. This section will not be just dry history, however. We will discover that the things Christ said to these churches are as relevant to us 21st century Christians as today's newspaper. Doubtless, it is Christ’s intention that each one of these letters should apply to all of his believers throughout history. He makes that abundantly clear when at the end of each letter he exhorts the reader, he that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. In Matthew 13:16, Jesus said to his disciples,
But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.
He was speaking about his disciples’ ability to receive spiritual truth ... in contrast to the majority of other Israelites at that time who had no such ability. When he spoke those words, he had just finished quoting Isaiah 6:9-10, which says,
By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I would heal them.
Spiritual truth can only be received and understood by spiritual people. This is what our Lord is referring to when, at the end of each of these letters, he says, he that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Cleary, our Lord had many more readers of these letters in mind than merely their original recipients. They are meant for all of his believers of all time … folks like you and me … those who have ears to hear.
Also, I am convinced that these letters are not placed here at the beginning of the book of Revelation by accident. Jesus, the Head of the Church, put them here for a purpose. His purpose is so that those who continue on to read the deep, complex, amazing and eye opening prophecies of this book would be spiritually prepared to receive them. This is very important. The letters to the seven churches are placed here by design … so that we readers of the Revelation have the opportunity for a spiritual tune-up, so to speak, before we proceed on with the book. The Apostle Paul, speaking to the Corinthian church, said,
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto you were not able to bear it, neither yet are you able. First Corinthians 3:1-2 (KJV)
Carnal believers and babes have little appetite for … and little ability to … receive and understand the Word of God. Those abilities are tied to the condition of one’s heart. When a believer's heart is right toward God, the Word of God becomes his or her delight and their necessary food for daily living. Here in chapters 2 and 3, we readers of the Revelation are going to receive a great blessing. As we read the letters to the churches, we will be given the opportunity to receive a renewing of our hearts. Jesus, our loving and all-knowing Great Physician, will give each of us a spiritual examination. He will take our spiritual temperature. There will be no holding back. Then, when he is finished, he will simply tell us his findings and prescribe the precise cure that we may need. By the end of chapter 3, if we will comply with his words we will be spiritually running on all eight cylinders and completely ready to receive all the wonderful revelations that our loving Lord and his Father so eagerly want to convey to us. Are you up for this? Ready or not, here we go. It would serve us well to enter these next two very special chapters with the prayer of David on our lips,
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24 (KJV)
One more thing before we begin … let me quickly point out that there are other views as to how these letters were intended. Probably the most common is that each letter is simply a snapshot of a particular period in Church history. Personally, I find no indication of that, either in the text or in church history. The danger in that view, in my opinion, is that it diverts the reader's attention away from what the Lord is actually trying to say to us here and, instead, sidetracks the reader's attention away to the mere academic exercise of sorting through the often dry leaves of church history … trying to find a fit there for each letter.
THE COLD CHURCH
To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, ‘These things says he who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for my name's sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 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. But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.’
Ephesus was a beautiful and wealthy cultural center in its day. It used white marble extensively in its buildings. It had a theater that held twenty thousand and an amphitheater with a capacity of a hundred thousand. Historians tell us that, on occasion, one to two million people were inside the city. I suspect that the Ephesian church was a wealthy church.
First, notice that Christ opens each and every one of his seven letters with one or more key identifications of himself. These descriptions are designed to be powerful reminders to the readers of just who the letter is from. In most of the letters, the description that Christ uses to identify himself comes directly out of chapter one. In addition, each unique salutation is tailored specifically for the situation of the particular church that he is addressing.
The Lord addresses the Ephesian church as he who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands. This description emphasizes that Christ is the head of the Church. The Ephesians had heard that before. In Paul's letter to them, he said that Christ is head over all things to the church (Ephesians 1:22b). Apparently, they needed to hear that truth again.
You will remember that Jesus explained these symbols back in chapter one. There, Christ said that the stars represented the messengers of the churches. Using that symbol again here, Jesus is emphasizing again that he is the one who gave this church their pastor (he came from his hand) and also that he was guiding him as well (he is in his hand). Is that the way you view your pastor? That's the way Christ sees him.
Then, he says that he walks in the midst of the golden lampstands. Back in chapter one, you will remember that the lampstands were symbols of the seven churches themselves. By bringing up this second symbol to the Ephesians, Christ is emphasizing his absolute headship over the Church and is reminding them of how intimately he is involved in its day to day life. Christ walks in the midst of his churches … controlling, inspecting, advising, encouraging, sanctifying, interceding, nurturing, chastening, coaching and judging each and every one. Sometimes, a pastor or some church member or board member might begin to think of themselves as the head of their particular church. When that occurs, it is tragic. Invariably, it leads to bad consequences. Jesus alone is the head of the Church.In real life, when properly applied, the truths portrayed by these two symbols balance themselves in the life of a healthy church.
Jesus is very positive about his church at Ephesus. Let's look at his commendations here for a moment. He says:
… I know your works, your labor. They were a working church … busy for their God ... fulfilling the admonition of First Corinthians 15:58,
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
… you cannot bear those who are evil. They were a separated church. They didn't run with the wrong crowd and found those who practiced evil to be unbearable and totally unsuitable to fellowship with.
… you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars. They were a theologically sound church. They knew their Bibles and weren't easily taken in by the wolves in sheep’s clothing who came bearing lies and false doctrines. Our Lord is pleased with his serving, separated and doctrinally sound churches.
… Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. How hard it must have been for the Ephesians to hear these words. He who reads the heart and mind can surely put his finger on a problem, can he not? This sounds serious ... and it is. What do you think this first love is, that our Lord is so concerned about? No doubt, the Ephesians asked themselves that same question. Well, isn’t it first love that most marriages begin with? When a marriage falls by the wayside, it is certain that the two partners have left their first love. As with a marriage, the first love of any believer is his or her first love for the Savior. Jesus is every believer's first love. Somehow, at Ephesus, the entire church had let that fact slip. Amazing. These folks, who crossed all their doctrinal “ts” just right … and who were separated from the world and busy as bees in the work of the Lord were living out their Christian lives with a fatal flaw. Their hearts had grown cold toward the Savior that had bought them and called them into fellowship with himself! Before we jump on them too hard, however, let me say that this is one of the easiest things in the world to happen to a believer. Our relationship with Christ can become cool and stale so very quickly. Have you not found it to be so? It is a very subtle thing. Frankly, if you and I are not in love with Jesus Christ, everything else we do is simply emptiness and vanity. A heart grown cold toward Christ ... is a heart in serious trouble.
… Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works. Our Lord is very practical here. He points the way back for these Ephesian believers from their “spiritual Siberia” in no uncertain terms. For the heart that has grown cold toward him, the Great Physician offers a three step cure.
First, he says to Remember. Can you remember when you first fell in love with the Savior? Think back for a moment. Remember how excited you were about him? Jesus says this is step one … Remember.
Second, he says, repent. Coldness toward Christ is a sin that must be confessed and forsaken (First John.1:9). If your relationship with Christ has grown old and cold, the way back is to call a spade a spade and repent, dear child of God. It is our own fault if we have allowed our relationship with Christ to deteriorate into frostbite. However, although our love for Christ may have waned, his love for us has not changed at all. As we learned back in chapter one, he is loving us at this very moment … even with these words.
Third, the Lord says, do the first works. The Ephesians were doing many good works, but they weren’t doing the most important ones. They weren't doing the first works. He is speaking here about the kind of things they did when they first fell in love with him. Do you remember your first works? Think for a minute about someone that has recently come to Christ and is all aglow with the fire of his or her newfound relationship with him. What kind of things do they do? A few years ago, there was a fellow I worked with who came to Christ. His fervency and absolute love for the Savior was almost embarrassing. He talked to Jesus constantly ... and read his Bible … my goodness … sometimes all night long! Also, he talked incessantly about Jesus to anyone and everyone who would listen. A year and a half later, (6/2003), he was still calling me up all excited about the things he had found in the Bible and just wanting to share them with me. New love just can't keep its mouth shut, can it? How natural it is to tell people when we’ve found that special someone that we’ve fallen in love with. How’s your relationship with the Savior? Have you been sitting at his feet by reading his Word? Have you been talking to him a lot in prayer? Have you been telling others about him? Those are first works, beloved.
May we pause here for a moment? Would you be willing to take a bit of a spiritual inventory along with me? When was the last time you or I told Jesus that we loved him? Has it been a while? My, how we believers are so easily infected with the spiritual cold virus! And, when we get that way, it affects everything we say and do, as well as everyone else around us. When our love for Christ turns cold, we become like a window in the Church left open in winter. We tend to freeze everyone else who is in the room! Don’t be a window letting in the cold, be a heater that keeps your home and church warm for Christ. Above all else, we must keep our first love burning as warmly as the first day we came to know Jesus. This is primary in the Christian life. If the Spirit is speaking to you about this, would you like to take a moment and repent and just throw your arms around his neck, as it were, and tell him that you are sorry and that you love him? Good. Now, we can get back to doing the first works, aye!?
How important is this? If their first love is not restored, Jesus says, I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place. When coldness toward Christ is a church-wide problem, it is a disaster. The Head of the Church is threatening here to shut this church down if their first love is not restored. I believe entire denominations are being shut down by the Head of the Church today because they have left their first love. Where once mighty congregations thrived on the Word of God and prayed and evangelized, there is little left but empty pews. God forbid that it should happen to your church or mine.
After this painful but profitable expose', the Lord returns now to the things that please him at Ephesus. He begins by commending them for hating the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which he says, I also hate. I know of no solid historical information about this sect. Exactly what the Nicolaitans practiced or believed, we do not know. Suffice it to say that Jesus is pleased with any church that stands firmly against groups, clubs, sects and cults who hold bold heresies or practice immorality and wickedness. It's a good thing to hate what Jesus hates.
THE ADMONITION AND THE PROMISE
Our Lord's closing words to the church at Ephesus instructs all those who read this to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Then, he closes with the promise saying, To him that overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life which is in the midst of the Paradise of God. An overcomer, by the way, is anyone who is a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. As you have it in First John 5:5,
Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Christ promises all his overcomers here that one day they will eat from the tree of life in the midst of God’s green Heaven. I'm up for that. How about you? We’ll take a closer look at this tree when we come to chapter 22.
THE SUFFERING CHURCH
And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, 'These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.’
Christ addresses the Smyrna church as the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life. So, he greets them not only as God of very God, but also as one who, himself, has suffered and died but came back to life. It is good for suffering believers to be reminded that they are following in the footsteps of their God and suffering Savior, Jesus Christ. And, like Christ himself, though they might even be killed for their faith, their future is truly bright and secure. These truths can be of great comfort to those saints who are enduring fiery trials for his name's sake. Philippians 1:29, says,
For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for his sake…
Christ tells them, I know your works, tribulation and poverty. It is comforting to know that our Lord sees and cares about every situation and trouble of his children. The works of the saints at Smyrna did not lack the solid foundation of love for the Savior that was the case at Ephesus. These Smyrnites were a bunch of on-fire believers for Christ. But, in their day to day lives, this had brought about great difficulty. Persecution was the order of their day and it had complicated their lives with economic loss and destitution. Christ tells them that he is aware of their poverty. Jesus knows all about poverty, by the way. One day, he told a scribe who was thinking of following him,
The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. Matthew 8:20
Our Lord's words to his believers at Smyrna indicate they had lost material possessions for his name's sake, possibly even their homes and livelihoods. If they were alive today, some misguided soul might say to them, It is because you aren't tithing! (Sic). What a crock those misguided purveyors of the Law and the Prosperity Doctrine are promoting. It is common for God's people to suffer poverty for his name's sake, brother. But, Christ assures them they are rich. Once, I had the privilege of visiting a little Mexican village named La Cuba. It was a tiny little place set down in a valley and built along a small stream. It is located about seven hours south of Juarez. How poor the Lord’s saints were who lived there. But, how proud they were of their little dirt floored church where their livestock took shelter at night! But, oh my, how rich they were in the Lord. The only true wealth we believers possess is Christ, beloved. Amen? Proverbs 13:7, says,
There is one who makes himself rich, yet has nothing; and one who makes himself poor, yet has great riches.
The church at Smyrna was of the latter.
Jesus continues, I know the blasphemy of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Satan is always the instigator of the persecution of the saints. When Jesus was on earth, he said to a group of Pharisees, who were persecuting him,
Why do you not understand my speech? Because you are not able to listen to my word. You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. John 8:43-44a
The Lord counsels his impoverished flock at Smyrna, do not fear any of these things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Jesus knows all about persecution and the people Satan uses to bring it. We American believers know little of such things. However, more and more, we surely will if our society continues its current downward spiral into paganism. Jesus tells these believers not to fear their persecutors. He assures them their trial will only last ten days. I believe that Christ meant this as a figure of speech meaning, in the mind of God, a very brief period of time. Suffering and persecution may seem to last forever to a believer when it is occurring down here on earth, but, in reality, it is very very brief. In light of eternity and the rewards it will bring to those who suffer persecution … the time is both short and priceless. Are you suffering for Christ's sake, dear saint? Then, you are greatly blessed! It is a huge honor and an unspeakable privilege to suffer for his name's sake. First Peter 4:12-13, says,
Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when his glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.
The Apostle Paul says, in Romans 8:18,
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:11-12,
Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Christ continues: ...be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He is not talking about salvation here. He is promising that one day he will bestow kingly rewards on all of his suffering saints (Second Corinthians 5:10). The suffering saints at Smyrna are scheduled for crowns! In the New Testament, crowns always refer to rewards. Let me take a moment and list them for you. There is the:
Crown of life … This crown is found here in the letter to Smyrna and in James 1:12. It awaits those who suffer and endure temptation, persecution and trials.
Incorruptible Crown … This crown is found in First Corinthians 9:25. It awaits those who have run their race well in living for Christ.
Crown of Rejoicing … This crown is found in First Thessalonians 2:19. It has been called the soul winner’s crown. It awaits those who have faithfully helped to get the Word of God out and have been instrumental in helping precious souls to come to Christ.
Crown of Righteousness … This crown is found in Second Timothy 4:8. It will be given to those who love his appearing ... who are eagerly watching and waiting for Christ to come.
Crown of glory … This crown is found in First Peter 5:4. It is the teacher and/or pastor's crown. It will be awarded to those faithful saints who have diligently fed God’s people with the Word of God.
Jesus had nothing negative to say to the church at Smyrna. She was his suffering church. People and churches who are suffering for Christ and his gospel, almost without exception are spiritually right where they are supposed to be. He promises them a crown.
The Lord concludes, He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death. Hebrews 9:27, says,
…it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment…
That scripture is speaking about the physical death that all mankind experiences. The second death, however, is defined for us in Revelation 20:14,
Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
The second death is an eternal and irreversible state. It will be the place and circumstance of all the wicked of all time who end up in the Lake of Fire. There, they will find themselves eternally separated from God. That is real death, brother. For multitudes of people, the second death begins at the point of their physical death. It is the state that awaits all who are not overcomers by faith in the Son of God. Its final manifestation will come after the Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20). At that time, all who are not found written in the Lamb's Book of Life will be cast into the Lake of Fire. It was the avoidance of the second death that Jesus was referring to when he said to Martha,
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die [experience the "second death"]. Do you believe this? Jn.11:25-26
Dr. D. L. Moody, speaking of the necessity of being born again through faith in Jesus Christ said, He who is born once will die twice, but he who is born twice will die once. Christ assures his suffering believers at Smyrna that, as overcomers, they will never be hurt by the second death … the only real and permanent loss anyone has to fear.
THE HERETIC INFESTED CHURCH
And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says he who has the sharp two-edged sword: I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan's throne is. And you hold fast to my name, and did not deny my faith even in the days in which Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.’
Pergamos was located about fifty-five miles (89 km) northwest of Smyrna and fifteen miles (24 km) inland from the sea. It was a Roman city that sat on a mountainside. It got its name from the paper (pergamena) that was made there. It is said that Caesar Augustus loved to come to this mountain retreat to dry out. It had a 20,000 volume library which Mark Anthony later gave to Cleopatra which, in turn, became the foundation of the great library at Alexandria. There was also a medical school at Pergamos. For nearly seven hundred years, people traveled there to its hospital for treatments. In addition, it was a city filled with idol temples. Aklepios, the god of healing, had a temple there. Zeus, Athena and Dyonesis had their temples there. It also was a center of emperor worship, sporting a temple dedicated to the worship of Octavius Caesar.
Jesus addresses this church as he who has the sharp two-edged sword. This is an obvious symbol for the Word of God. The church at Pergamos had a habit of tolerating heretics and their false teachings. Heretics are best scattered by the sharp two-edged sword of the Word of God.
Like the churches at Ephesus and Smyrna, Christ begins by noting that the church at Pergamos was busy for him. We should never underplay the importance of good works. Those who are busy doing good works are glorifying their Father who, himself, is constantly doing good things (James 1:17). Titus 2:13-14, speaks to this saying,
…looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for himself his own special people, zealous for good works.
And also, as you have it in Titus 3:8, 14,
This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.
And let our people also learn to maintain good works, to meet urgent needs, that they may not be unfruitful.
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be my disciples. John 15:8
Our Lord desires for his people to be engaged in good works. He compliments the saints at Pergamos for theirs.
He continues … and did not deny my faith even in the days in which Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was killed among you. Christ further commends these brothers and sisters for their courage and perseverance. He knew how difficult it was for them to live for him there in Pergamos where they faced an incredibly hostile environment that had resulted in the violent death of Antipas, one of their brothers in Christ. All we know about this man, Antipas, is what is written here. Jesus calls him my faithful martyr. That is enough, is it not? The Greek word here for martyr is μάρτυς (martus). It has been transliterated into our like sounding word, martyr. The root meaning of this word is witness. Antipas was a good witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. That was probably why he was killed. It pleased the Lord that the church at Pergamos continued to stand firm even though one of their own was murdered for his witness in their midst . These words of Christ indicate that the enemies of Christ had come right into a church meeting and cut Antipas down. Remember that name ... Antipas. He is a member of a very elite group in the Church of Jesus Christ. You will want to get acquainted with him one day. He is one of Christ's faithful martyrs.
I take this phrase, where Satan’s seat is, to be literal. The word translated seat here is the Greek word for throne. I believe that Pergamos was actually Satan’s headquarters on Earth at the time of the writing of the book of Revelation. The prolific idol and man worship that took place at Pergamos speaks loud and clear of Satan’s dominion there. Talk about a tough environment for believers! The Bible teaches that Satan is the god of this world. He rules over all the nations in his dark kingdom and manipulates all their lost populations as he sees fit (Matthew 4:8-9; Luke 8:12; 1 Peter 5:8-9; Ephesians 2:2). Satan is not in Hell as popular secular opinion often thinks. He is loose in Heaven as well as on the earth and he has hoards of demons at his beck and call. This statement that Satan’s throne was at Pergamos is one of a number of indications in Scripture that Satan’s dominion on Earth is organized into specific geographic territories. You might recall that the demons which Jesus cast out of the man of Gadara, in Mark 5, begged him not to send them away out of the country. Why did they request that, do you think? The only reason I can think of is because they had been assigned there and would get into hot water if they left and went anywhere else.
In the book of Daniel, we read that an angel (probably Gabriel) was hindered from coming to Daniel by a demonic being called the Prince of Persia (Dan.10:13). Clearly, there was an evil demonic principality over the nation of Persia in Daniel's day just as, I might add, there still is today. This may well explain why American is having such a go of it with the nations of Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The greatest thing at stake in those dark countries, by the way, is not the war on terror but, as a result of that conflict, whether or not those nations will open up so that the gospel can be preached there. Satan and his demons would not be happy about that and they have surely pulled out all stops against it. Ephesians 6:12, says,
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (KJV)
Our Lord continues his compliment of the believers at Pergamos by noting that they were holding fast to my name. That is, they were holding firm to the truth of who Jesus Christ truly is. They tenaciously held to both, the humanity and the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ. First Timothy 2:5 and 3:16, could have been inscribed on the wall of their church,
…For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus… (KJV)
And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.
I am often amazed at how many Christians are fuzzy about the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the God-Man. He is both the Son of God and the Son of Man. This church had those truths down pat. They were holding fast to his name.
… But I have a few things against you, because you have those who hold the doctrine of Baalam and those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which I hate. In spite of the many good things at Pergamos, the Lord points out that there was a serious "cancer" that needed to be dealt with. The church was tolerating heretics in their midst. How subtle Satan is. What he couldn’t accomplish from outside, through persecution and intimidation, he was accomplishing from inside by maliciously planting his heretics in the church. There is a good deal of this going on in the Church today. Heretics are people who teach lies and half-truths to God’s people. The Lord demands that such people be confronted and, if they won’t repent, they are to be expelled. As you have it in Titus 3:10-11,
A man that is an heretic αἱρετικὸν (heretikon), after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself. (KJV)
There were people in the church at Pergamos who held serious deviations from the moral and/or central doctrines of the Word of God. The church should have dealt with them but it hadn’t. The Lord put his finger on those troublemakers. He names them. They were the Baalamites and the Nicolaitans. Doubtless, the believers at Pergamos knew exactly who Jesus was referring to. It's a bit tougher for us. Let's take a moment and take a closer look at these two groups.
In Numbers 22-25 and 31 we read about a prophet named Balaam who advised the king of Moab as to how to destroy the Israelites. He did it for money. His counsel was that the king of Moab should promote intermarriage with the Israelites. Intermarriage with the heathen was strictly forbidden in God's Law. Balaam knew the heathen Moabite women would then lead Israel off into idolatry. Then, Balaam reasoned, God would judge his people for this and they could all be destroyed.
Apparently, there was a group of people at Pergamos who were propagating the same error that Balaam advised by encouraging intermarriage between believers and heathen idol worshipers. There are a lot of such Baalamites in the Church today. They lead people away from the Lord by promoting and condoning unholy marriages. Watch out for this all too popular position. God’s Word says,
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? Second Corinthians 6:14-15
This is the same sect that was mentioned in the letter to the Ephesians (2:6). Again, we do not know what their doctrine entailed. Perhaps it was something similar to the doctrine of the Masons that is so invasive in many congregations today. Many church members are members of the Masons and there is a great deal of praise for their good works. However, the core doctrine of this organization is an abomination and, if it is being openly propagated in a church, it must be dealt with. Masonic doctrine teaches that there is a brotherhood of all religions because, they say, all religions have come from one pure but previously lost, original source. Hence, it is irrelevant in their view whether the Bible or a Koran is on a Masonic altar. Deeply committed Masons believe they have rediscovered man’s original religion whose god they call the great Architect in lower levels of Masonry. Those higher up in Masonry, claim they hold the original and one true religion of man in its pure form (as opposed to the entire rest of the world's watered down and contaminated versions, including Christianity). They teach that God's secret and original name was Jebulon, a composite name made up of the Jehovah of the Hebrews, Baal of the Canaanites and Osiris of the ancient Egyptians. It is said that some Masons in the higher levels of Masonry worship Jebulon around their altar.
If we could ask our Lord how he feels about his pure covenant name, Jehovah, being lumped together with the utterly pagan idols of Baal and Osiris and their abominable child sacrifices and historic immorality, he would unquestionably say that it is a doctrine which thing I hate. Make no mistake about it, Masonic doctrine is heresy and it is false. And, as with all of man's false doctrines and religions, it negates and obscures the truth of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6) and his Church alone holds the pure and only true religion in the world today. For further information on the modern day heresy of the Masons, most Christian bookstores offer books for the buying. The Secret Teachings of the Masonic Lodge by John Ankerberg and John Weldon, Moody Press, is one that comes to mind. We 21st Century churches need to be very careful that we too are not tolerating those who teach and promote things that our Lord hates. Peter says,
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. Second Peter 2:12
Someone has said, The Church in America today is overrun with heresy and heretics. How true. We believers must stand upon the fundamental truths of the Word of God when confronting them (Jude 3-4), and not allow their teachings to go unchallenged when they infiltrate the Church.
THE INSTRUCTION AND THE WARNING
Jesus’ remedy for these believers, who have been tolerating heretics in their midst, is the same as his remedy prescribed to the Ephesian church. He tells them ... repent. Repentance means to have a change of mind and direction … to do a one-eighty. The Pergamos believers needed to tell the Lord, We were wrong for tolerating heresies and for not dealing with the people who were teaching them to us. We humbly ask you Lord … for forgiveness.
The Lord says that if they will not hear him on this ... I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth. The Lord himself will take measures against a church's heretics if it will not act. What measures might he take? He says he will simply use his sword against them. The one who speaks the Word of God can easily deal with a church's heretics. He is a jealous God (Exodus 34:14). He will act. He is jealous of the truth and jealous of his blood bought people. Well ... should a church just let Jesus take care of it then? No ... by no means. By the time that Jesus must take care of it, countless lives may have been permanently damaged. The church should repent and take care of it long before the Lord is forced to do so. It's a matter of urgent necessity before precious blood-bought believers have been severely damaged.
In conclusion, he says, he who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. This is followed by two more wonderful promises to his overcomers.
First, he promises them hidden manna. I believe this is best understood in the light of John 6:48-58, where Jesus said, I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever. Jesus is God’s hidden manna. Blessed indeed, are all who continuously partake of him. They will live forever in a continuous spiritual feast on Christ.
Second, he promises his overcomers the gift of a white stone. On it, he says, a new name which no man knows but him who receives it will be written. I believe this stone will be a literal one. In Asia, at the time that John was writing this book, it was a custom to give an intimate friend a tessara which was a small smoothed stone or piece of ivory with writing on it. It became the secret private possession for the one who received it from the one who gave it. In like manner, I believe Jesus is speaking here of a heavenly tessara that will be inscribed with a secret and private new name that each child of God will be given from his hand one day. These individualized stones will ever remind us of the intimate and utterly unique … one on one … relationship that we have with our Lord Jesus Christ. It's my opinion that these special names will not be for everyday use in Heaven, but only on those occasions when we are enjoying one on one fellowship with our Lord himself. The great old hymn is right on which says, There’s a new name written down in glory and its mine! Oh yes, its mine!
THE IMMORAL CHURCH
And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write, ‘These things says the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and his feet like fine brass: I know your works, love, service, faith, and your patience; and as for your works, the last are more than the first. Nevertheless I have [NU omits: a few things] against you, [NU omits: because you allow] that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent. Indeed I will cast her into a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am he who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works. Now to you I say, [NU omits: and] to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I [NU omits: will] put on you no other burden. But hold fast what you have till I come. And he who overcomes, and keeps my works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations; he shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter's vessels'; as I also have received from my Father; and I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Thyatira sat at a crossroads between two valleys. It was a military and commercial center. Its coins depicted a warrior on a charger armed with a battle-axe. Its main claim to fame was its commercial guilds (unions), which are mentioned in the inscriptions found there. Lydia, the merchant lady who Paul won to the Lord at Phillipi, was from Thyatira. She was selling turkey-red dye when Paul first met her (Acts 16:14).
The Lord addresses this church as the Son of God whose eyes are like a flame of fire and whose feet are like fine brass. This is another conclusive proof that the one John saw back in chapter one was, indeed, the Lord Jesus Christ. He specifically calls himself here the Son of God. His reference to his eyes and his feet both speak of judgment. He alone is the Judge of both believers and non-believers. The Bible says that God has committed all judgment into the hands of the Son (John 5:22). Concerning us believers, Second Corinthians 5:10, says,
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
This is further emphasized in First Corinthians 3:11-15,
For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one's work will become clear; for the day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Dr. McGee, commenting on this Corinthian 3 passage, says, Some Christians leaving the judgment seat of Christ will smell like they were bought at a fire sale! Many of the Thyatira believers were fleshly. They were a carnal people who spent their lives stacking wood, hay and straw on the foundation of Christ. Sadly, many in the Church today follow in their footsteps.
Amazingly, the Lord lists six virtues of this church. He commends them for:
… their works. These are the credentials of all true believers, by the way (James 2:17-18).
… their love. This is another wonderful characteristic of real believers. It is a fruit of the Spirit.
… their service. The Greek word here is διακονίαν (diakonian), the word from which we get our word deacon which speaks of ministry. It literally means one who makes a dust by hastening. They were a ministering church (James 1:27).
… their faith. They were a believing church, trusting completely in the Lord Jesus Christ.
… their patience. Patience only comes as the result of walking through fiery trials in life (Romans 5:3). The Thyatiran believers had been over the mountain,as Louis L’Amour would say.
… their works. Their works were increasing ... the last are more than the first. It is a very healthy sign when a church’s good works are continually increasing. Wow! I wouldn't mind belonging to a church like this, would you?
Nevertheless, he says, I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce my servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. The Lord goes right to the source of the problem at Thyatira. The church was allowing a woman named Jezebel to teach them to commit sexual immorality.
By the way, isn't it amazing how often a church refuses to discipline its people? The Corinthian church looked the other way while one of its members openly practiced incest in their midst (1 Corinthians 5:1). Likewise, the church at Thyatira was looking the other way while Jezebel was actually teaching the saints to engage in sexual immorality!
Now, by the way ... scripturally speaking ... if Jezebel was a married woman, she shouldn't have been instructing the church in the first place. God's Word prohibits married women from taking that role of authority over their husbands and others in the church (I Timothy 2:11-14). First Corinthians 13:34-35, says,
Let women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but to be under obedience, as also says the Law. And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church. (KJV)
The Greek word used there in Corinthians, translated women, is better translated wives ... which is consistent with its context ... as it goes on to say that if they(the wives), want to learn anything, they should ask their husbands at home. Now, I know this is certainly not a very “PC” subject in our day. In fact, it is a subject that is so abhorred that it is normally cannot even be discussed. Nevertheless, the Bible's teaching is clear that married women should not be attempting to take authority over their husbands and other men by teaching them in the church.
However, also biblically speaking, this prohibition does not apply to single women and widows. Their status as unmarried and not under the authority of a husband, frees them to speak to the Church as led, whenever it is appropriate, because they are not dishonoring a husband thereby. In the larger context of the above Corinthian passage, Paul lays out the rules for single women to speak and teach in the church. In the early days of the Church, some unmarried women held the role of prophetesses (see I Corinthians 11:5; Luke 2:36 and Acts 21:8-9). When they married, however, they had to set aside that role and ministry, having assumed a new role as subject to a husband in submission and honor.
Someone is bound to ask, Are there exceptions to these rules? Yes. If a married woman is asked by the elders of their church to teach... and they have the approval of their husbands … they certainly can speak to and teach the saints. Also, Scripture reveals that married women can, and should, in fact, teach other women and children in the Church (Titus 2:3-4). Some may disagree with what I have said here. And, it is more of a knotty issue in some circles than others. Bottom line though … Jezebel had not only "taken the bit in her teeth" to teach the church, but she was teaching them blatant immorality as well!
Continuing on with our text, some say that Jezebel was not this woman’s actual name but I take it that it was. The famous Jezebel of the Old Testament was the wicked wife of King Ahab found in First Kings 16. She introduced idol worship and its accompanying sexual immorality to Israel. These two biblical Jezebels were two peas in a pod. The words here, and eat things sacrificed to idols, suggest that Jezebel was luring the saints to the local idol temples to consummate her false teachings by participating in the feasting and drinking there followed by unbridled sexual immorality.
Jezebel had a logical justification for this practice and promoted herself as a prophetess. There are only two other mentions of this word prophetess, by the way, in the New Testament. One is where it is used of Anna, a godly widow who was present at the dedication of the baby, Jesus (Luke 2:36). The other is where it is used in the plural, referring to Phillip’s four virgin daughters in Acts 21:9. Jezebel's character was certainly the opposite of those five dear saints. She was of the false prophet school that Peter so explicitly warns about in Second Peter 2:1, 14, 18-19...
But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you…
…having eyes full of adultery and that cannot cease from sin, enticing unstable souls. They have a heart trained in covetous practices, and are accursed children.
For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage.
The Lord says that he gave Jezebel time to repent of her sexual immorality, but she refused to respond. This is amazing, is it not? Jesus is gracious and longsuffering even toward the Jezebels who are polluting his Church!
In verses 22 and 23, the Lord confronts Jezebel and her associates.
First, he warns he will cast her into a bed of sickness. This is in contrast to Jezebel’s warm sensuous beds of adultery and fornication. The Lord tellsJezebel he is about to discipline her with sickness. I take it … because of the nature ofChrist's warning here … that Jezebel was a Christian. I assume that because:
a. He gave her time to repent. Repentance is a very Christian thing and is a common remedy offered to believers by Christ in order for them to set things straight and restore their fellowship with him (I John 1:9-10).
b. He threatens her with illness. This too, is a common thing that the Lord uses to chasten stubborn and rebellious believers. As you have it in First Corinthians 11:30-32,
That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep [died]. But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined so that we will not be condemned with the world. (NIV)
Second, he says that he will cast … those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds.
I take this second part of Christ's warning to refer to the unbelievers up at the temple that Jezebel and her disciples had been practicing sexual immorality with. Unquestionably, we have the first mention of the Great Tribulation here in the book of Revelation (referring to the second half of the seven year Tribulation period). The Greek words are θλῖψιν μεγάλην (thelipsin megalain). Jesus is using these two words here in their technical theological sense, just as he used them in Matthew 24:21, where he was defining that future time of trouble that he said will come upon the earth after the Rapture of the Church. This warning would also apply to any phony believers in the church at Thyatira. Such people would find themselves left behind if the Rapture occurred. Therefore, Christ's words would apply to all unbelievers (outside or inside the church at Thyatira) who were indulging in Jezebel's immoral orgies. Christ emphatically warns these unsaved people that he will cast them into great tribulation if they do not repent of their wicked ways.
As for the phony believer element that existed in the Thyatira church (professors ... but not possessors ... of real faith in the Lord Jesus Christ). They, along with all the other non-Christian participants in Jezebel’s practices, could expect nothing less than to find themselves on a fast track to the great tribulation in the event of the Rapture of the Church. Such hypocrites have always been present in the Church to plague it. Blatant and habitual immorality is one of the signatures of false brethren, by the way. As you have it in First John 3:7-8,
Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who sins (habitually) is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.
By way of application to the Church today, let me just say that, after the Rapture occurs, the unsaved Jezebel element will find itself left behind and on a fast track to the Great Tribulation right along with all their non-Christian chums. If the Rapture were to occur today, phony Christians who play church but practice immorality would be doomed to enter the Tribulation which will rapidly worsen into the Great Tribulation. I believe that is the thought here. Although this second part of Christ's warning was aimed primarily at the unsaved crowd up at the temple, it also included any unsaved Jezebel elements that existed inside the church at Thyatira as well. This reminds us of the parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13, does it not?
Third, Christ says he will kill Jezebel's children with death. I take this to refer to the Christian followers of Jezebel's doctrine who had adopted her teachings and were propagating it on to others. In that sense, they would truly be Jezebel's children. This is a stern warning indeed. One of our Lord's options, in chastening believers who go too far into sin, is the option of instituting their physical death. The passage above from First Corinthians 11, demonstrates this truth. Some at Corinth had died as a discipline and a grace from the Lord. James speaks to this issue also in James 5:19-20,
Brethern, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him [“turns him back”]; let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way, shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. (KJV)
The Lord adds and all of the churches shall know that I am he who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works. These words strengthen my contention that Jezebel and many of her followers were believers. Christ is clearly referring to them here in context of being members of his Church. His discipline of them would not go unnoticed by all of the other churches, just as the death of Ananias and Sapphira made quite an impact on the Church in Acts 5. Make no mistake about it, if the Lord carried through and judged Jezebel and her followers, all the other churches heard about it … especially since they had all been given a heads up when this book of Revelation was sent out to them. God is a holy and just God and a loving disciplinarian. He will not hesitate to discipline those he loves and, if necessary, take them home rather than allow them to continue to destroy themselves and others. As you have it in Hebrews 12:5-6,
And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to son ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.’
Jesus continues, Now unto you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say. Now, keep in mind here that these letters were addressed to individual pastors of the churches. So, when Christ says, Now unto you, he is speaking to the pastor at Thyatira. Also, standing with him were the rest of the saints who were not participating in Jezebel’s immorality. This phrase, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, tells us something of Jezebel’s teaching and her justification for it. Have you ever run across someone who said, You really need to experience evil to truly know and understand it! This was Jezebel’s line. She taught that everyone needed to taste the depths of Satan so that they could fully know and appreciate Good from Evil. Watch out, beloved. That is an old lie from the pit. Satan used it on Eve in the Garden of Eden. He is still using it today.
Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ Genesis 3:4-5
Eve didn’t end up knowing good and evil like God knows it. No, she ended up knowing evil in an experiential way with all its black trappings. It cost Eve both her spiritual and her physical life. We don’t need to experience evil to know it, nor for us to know what is truly good. Our sinless Lord never experienced sin in order to know it nor to know what was good. God’s Word was sufficient for him to know good and evil and it is sufficient for you and me as well.
One more thought before we move on here. Heretics love to boast about their perceived superior spirituality. Jezebel went around pronouncing that she was a prophetess. With this boast, she gathered a following. Watch out for people who want you to enter into their little, exclusive, super-spiritual club. Usually, those groups are a one-way street to Jezebel City. The Church of Jesus Christ is the exact opposite of this. It is a ... completely open … all-inclusive … everyone growing and knowing together … unified … body of believers. Secret societies, sectarianism, prejudice, spiritual pride and exclusiveness have no place in the lives of God's people. STAY AWAY FROM THEM. Those who promote these little clubs are carnal, fleshly and they are hazardous to one’s spiritual health.
Finally here, Christ says, Hold fast what you have till I come. Dear believer, if you are in the midst of a mess like the one that was being played out at Thyatira, this word is for you. Hold fast until he comes. Keep looking up. Your redemption draws nigh. As you have it in James 5:7,
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain.
Christ leaves two more wonderful promises here for his overcomers who keep my works until the end. Christ's works are always in stark contrast to the things that the Jezebel element likes to promote.
First, he promises that they will have power over the nations and shall rule them with a rod of iron. This is not the only place our Lord has promised this to his people, by the way. Second Timothy 2:12a, says,
If we endure, we shall also reign with him.
And again, in First Corinthians 6:2, we read,
Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters?
What an exciting and exalted future awaits the Lord’s overcomers. They will be given power over the nations to rule them with a rod of iron. He is speaking of his Millennial reign and the strict exercise of his laws at that time against those who pursue lawlessness, disobedience and harm toward others.
Second, the Lord promises his overcomers is the Morning Star. This name refers to Christ himself. It is rooted in an Old Testament prophecy found in Numbers 24:17a,
I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; a Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel…
In that prophecy, Moses foresaw the arrival of Christ to rule and reign on Earth one day. Here, Jesus adds the word Morning to it, which he also does in Revelation 22:16,
I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.
Christ’s reference to himself as the Morning Star magnifies the certainty of his future visible presence on Earth as well as in eternity. Have you ever wondered what that day will be like … that glorious day when we will physically see Jesus and regularly and walk with him by sight? If you have ever gone out very early in the morning and seen the last and brightest star … still shining, it will be something like that. Throughout his Millennial reign and throughout all of eternity, our Lord will always be right there, always visible to us … always beautiful … always shining in his unquenchable and matchless glory. This is the unspeakable treasure that awaits his overcomers. As he put it to Abraham in Genesis 15:1b,
Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceeding great reward.
THE DEAD CHURCH
And to the angel of the church in 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. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before my God. 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. Nevertheless, you have a few names [NU omits: even] in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 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.’ He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Sardis was the capital of the province of Lydia and was the first city to mint gold and silver coins. It was also known for its arts and crafts. The Lydian kings were so rich that they were legendary. An earthquake leveled Sardis in AD 17, and it never fully recovered after that, even though the Romans gave it ten million sesterces (1/4 of a denarius each) in relief.
Christ addresses the church at Sardis as the one who has the seven spirits of God and holds the seven stars. This is a reference to the same seven spirits of God that greeted us back in chapter one. Later in the book, we will learn that they are the angels of the Trumpet Judgments who will carry out the Lord's final judgments of the Great Tribulation and beyond. When they have finished blowing their trumpets, everything will have been wrapped up. Our Lord refers to them here because they speak of his approaching judgments. As the one who holds (controls) these seven spirits, Christ is emphasizing that he is the one who is about to intervene on the earth and set things straight.
As for the seven stars, you will remember that they are symbols of the messenger/pastors of the seven churches. Since Christ holds the pastors of the churches in his hand, it follows that he holds his churches accountable for their teaching and example. These twin concepts ... judgment and accountability ... are themes that are often found in the New Testament. For example, Christ judged a number of folks at Corinth because of their casual and blasphemous attitude toward the Lord’s Table. Concerning this matter of Jesus judging his churches, we looked at that in our analysis of the church at Thyatira.
Now, as for a church’s accountability for the leadership that Christ sends to it, Hebrews 13:17, commands,
Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.
At the Judgment Seat of Christ, I would not want to be the pastor who will have to give an account for the sorry condition of the church at Sardis. Nor, would I want to be a member of that church, or any other church that deliberately chose not to heed their godly pastor’s teaching and leadership.
Sadly, there is no compliment here for the dead church at Sardis. There was nothing to compliment. So, Christ simply goes directly to their problem.
He says, I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. What a rebuke. This church was a shell, a phony. I once lived in a little eastern Oregon town near the Eagle Cap wilderness where the movie Paint Your Wagon was made. After the filming was over, the producer invited the public to come up and tear down the sets and haul away whatever materials they wanted … free of charge. So, a fellow pastor and I got a big truck and went up to the site to glean materials for our church camp. After the long drive on a mountainous dirt road, we finally arrived in a beautiful high mountain valley. The first thing that met our eyes was a magnificent water wheel turning slowly in the stream below us. Then, all around in the little valley was what looked, for all the world, to be a mining town right out of the Old West. My friend, Fred, and I drove down its main street and parked in front of a building that read, General Store. Then, we got out, opened the front door and stepped inside. Immediately, we began to laugh. Once inside, we found that we had stepping right back into the forest on the other side! The structure was just a front. It was not a building at all. The water wheel had the same problem. It turned and turned, but it wasn't actually doing anything! The church at Sardis was like that mockup town. It had a name that it was a living, breathing church but, in reality, it was just a sham. I fear there are far too many churches like that today.
May we step aside again for a moment? A church building, by its very presence in a community, says something to all who see it. By its very presence it declares, This is a place where God is known, loved and served. But, unfortunately that is not always the case. Our righteous Lord will judge such churches for their hypocrisy. Dead churches do a great deal of damage to the cause of Christ. They seek to fool their community and sometimes even manage to fool themselves but they can't fool their Lord. The church at Sardis probably said, The Bible is the Word of God but, they didn’t read it, love it, study it, meditate on it, obey it or experience its life-changing, sanctifying power. They may have had a plaque on the wall that said, Prayer changes things, but they never met for prayer. They probably said, Jesus saves … but they never got around to speaking of him to the poor lost folks they encountered. They probably said they loved one another but, were notorious for fighting over … just about everything. The great identifying mark of a dead church is its hypocrisy. Jesus said to his church at Sardis, you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.
What an optimist our wonderful Savior is. Even his dead churches, he never views as hopeless! There is no such thing as a hopeless church as far as Jesus is concerned ... if it is willing to listen to him and obey his instructions.
Christ’s words to the dead church at Sardis are fourfold.
First, he says, be watchful. The first thing a dead church needs to do is to open its eyes ... wake up … honestly evaluate itself. If it is willing to do that, it will discover some unpleasant things but they will be very good for it. For example, it will discover that it hasn’t really been seeing anything, hearing anything, or doing anything that matters. It hasn't even recognized that it was dead. The first step back for a dead church is to be watchful. Wake up! Ephesians 5:13-16, says,
But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore he says: ‘Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’ See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Second, he says, strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die. After waking up, a dead church needs to ask itself, Exactly what do we have left that hasn’t gone down the drain? Do we still believe in justification by faith, the authority of the Word of God and our obligation to the Great Commission? What’s left? Jesus instructs this church to look at what they still possess that is authentic Christianity and then strengthen and build on those things which remain.
Third, he says, remember therefore how you have received and heard. Another essential step for a dead church is to remember how they heard and got saved in the first place. Peter says,
…having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever. First Peter 1:23
Have you forgotten how you received Christ and heard about him? It was through the communication of the Word of God, was it not? The Sardis church was not reaching others with the Word of God like they themselves had been reached with it. Somewhere along the line, they abandoned that priority. When a church stops preaching and evangelizing with the Word of God, it has become a dead church. Any church that continues to be obedient in getting the Word of God to lost humanity around them will never come to the sorry state of deadness that the church at Sardis was in. No one will ever hear the Lord say, Well, where you went wrong was … you spent too much time, energy and resources getting the Word of God out to poor lost sinners so that they could get saved!
Finally, Christ says, hold fast and repent. There is no healing for a patient until he or she agrees with the diagnosis of their physician and submit to the remedy he or she prescribes. Christ’s prescription for the church at Sardis was repentance. Any dead church that is willing to take that medicine has taken a giant step on the path to a glorious comeback.
He says, Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief. When a dead church persists in its hypocrisy and refuses to wake up, it opens itself up to the Lord's judgment. He told his church at Sardis that he will come upon them like a thief in the night. This certainly will be true for many people at the Rapture, by the way. Someone has said, The Rapture will not be rapturous for the disobedient and slothful. Although it will be a day of rejoicing and reward for many, it doubtless will be a bitter day for others. First John 3:18-19, says,
My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.
Real, authentic Christianity brings assurance to the hearts of believers toward their Lord, both in the here and now as well as when they will stand in his presence one day.
He says, You have a few names, even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments. Normally, not everyone in a dead church is dead. Even in the deadest churches, a few good people can usually be found who are obedient and have a real vibrant and obedient walk with the Savior. Such was the case at Sardis. A few, he says, have not defiled their garments. A few were living clean and separated lives for Christ. They were separate from the world and from the spiritual deadness of their church. Now, it’s an axiomatic truth that deliberate disobedience to the revealed will of God leads to impurity of life. These two things go together like bread and butter. When people are not obeying the Word of God and abiding in Christ, there is only one other alternative … they become caught up in carnality and sin. A victorious Christian life is a Christ centered, Word centered, Spirit filled and empowered way of life. Where this is not taking place, flesh and sin always take over. We read in Galatians 5:16,
I say then: walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
Let’s step aside here for a moment. The Bible says there are three different lifestyles that exist in the world today. First Corinthians 2:14-3:3, gives them to us.
First, there is the natural man. This is the unsaved man. He does not and cannot receive the things of God because they are foolishness to him.
Then, there is the spiritual man. He is the saved man who consistently has, and is enjoying, a real walk with Christ. He sees clearly and is able to discern all things.
Finally, there is the carnal man. He also is a saved man … but he has built his life apart from walking with Christ. Therefore, he continues to act like the same old natural man that he was before he got saved.
It is very important to understand that all three of these are chosen life styles. Every believer chooses to be either a spiritual man or a carnal man. The spiritual man is the one Jesus is addressing here at Sardis in verse four. He was in the vast minority, as he is in many churches today. He was living a life of purity and the Lord speaks here in glowing terms of the future of such people. He says, They shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. I believe that he is speaking of a position of future privilege in Heaven where spiritual saints will enjoy a deeper and more intimate walk with Christ. Apparently, not everyone will know such a high level of relationship. The child of God who has walked with Christ down here, will one day enjoy a level of fellowship and service with their Savior above that many disobedient and carnal believers may never know. This is the heart of our Lord’s promise and comfort here to his handful of spiritual saints at Sardis who had not soiled their garments.
In closing, our Lord sets forth three more wonderful promises here to his overcomers.
First, he says, they will be clothed in white. Although all of Christ’s saints will one day be clothed in white (Romans 4:22-25), these white garments, spoken of here, will be quite different. We will discuss these garments further when we get to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in chapter 20.
Second, he promises, I will not blot his name from the Book of Life. Some have been quick to jump on this statement, thinking they can prove that Christians can lose their salvation. In reality, however, it is teaching the exact opposite. This is a wonderful verse on assurance. In the Greek found here, Jesus uses a double negative. It is very significant. It’s import is this: I will never ever, surely not ever, never, never, never, never, never, never (ad infinitum) blot out any overcomer’s name from the Book of Life! So, this verse is another great anchor for eternal security. It teaches that a believer's position in Christ is permanent, irrevocable and eternally secure. Once your name is in this book, brother, the Lord assures you it will never ever be blotted out. We have the Word of God on it.
Third, he promises, I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. Jesus also spoke of this to his disciples.
Therefore whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, him I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 10:32-33
Isn't that a wonderful promise? Can you picture it? One day, the Lord Jesus himself … standing before the awesome presence of his Holy Father and all of his mighty angels … will confess each and every one of his saints individually by name (Luke 12:8-9). That will certainly be a red-banner day in the life of each of us believers, will it not? What a moment that will be in your history and mine. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
THE BIBLE CHURCH
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 shuts and no one opens: I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, [NU omits: and] which no one can shut [NU omits: it]; for you have a little strength, have kept my word and have not denied my name. 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. 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. [NU omits: Behold] I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out 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 out of heaven from my God. And I will write on him my new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
The Greek word for Philadelphia is Φιλαδελφείᾳ (filadelfia). It means brotherly love. Philadelphia was a Lydian city founded by King Attalus II, which he named Philadelphus because of his devotion to his brother. It was located at the foot of Mount Tmolus but, unknown to King Attalus, it was situated on a major fault that caused it to be prone to earthquakes. The great earthquake of AD 17, completely devastated the city. Afterwards, it was re-named, Neocaesarea. Philadelphia was situated in a great vine growing area. Down through the centuries, the Christian witness remained strong at Philadelphia. No doubt, that is because it was so well grounded in the Word of God. The church remained there throughout medieval times and, in spite of the Moslem invasion and takeover of the area, Christians were still found there into modern times.
We come here to a marked change in salutations of Christ to his churches. This is the first church that Christ doesn't use a description of himself from chapter one. I believe that is because of the very special relationship the Lord enjoyed with these Philadelphian believers. Let's look at it.
First he says, These things says he who is holy. When the angel announced Jesus' birth to the virgin Mary, he said,
…the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Luke 1:35b
Those who know a deep personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ are acutely aware that he is the holy one of God (Mark 1:24). Christ once challenged the Pharisees, which one of you convinceth [can convict] me of sin? His question was met by stony silence. No one could think of anything. The Psalmist, prophesying about Jesus' death and resurrection, said,
For you will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will you allow your Holy One to see corruption. Psalm 16:10
The Apostle Paul says of Christ,
For he made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him. Second Corinthians 5:21
The writer to the Hebrews proclaims,
Therefore he is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens… Hebrews 7:25-26
People who do not walk with Christ do not know much about the holiness of their Lord. In fact, they know very little about his true nature and little of what the Word of God says about him. It's not too uncommon to even run across believers who think that Jesus may have sinned a little! That's abysmal ignorance, brother and sister. The Philadelphian believers were not of that group. So, when he addressed them as the Holy One ... they knew exactly who was talking to them.
Second, the Lord addresses them as He who is true. Jesus said in John 14:6,
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
The Apostle John says,
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14
The believers at Philadelphia were intimately acquainted with the One who was Truth incarnate. That fact escapes carnal believers.
Lastly, he addresses the Philadelphians as, He who has the key of David, he who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens. As soon as their Pastor read that ... I can picture someone in the congregation calling out, That's Isaiah 22:22. It's from our Lord, alright! In Isaiah 22, God says of his Son,
The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and no one shall shut; and he shall shut, and no one shall open. I will fasten him as a peg in a secure place, and he will become a glorious throne to his father's house. Isaiah 22:22-23
Holy … true … heir to the throne of David … the one who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens … are the words of warm and special greeting Jesus used to greet his church at Philadelphia.
Christ begins … I have set before you an open door. This statement, in itself, is a great compliment. Someone has said, Prayer moves the hand of God. The fact that Jesus had opened a door for the Philadelphians is moot testimony to the prayer life of this church. Being a people of the Book, they had come to know the Lord's will and were able to pray accordingly. That, in turn, caused the Lord to gladly open a door on their behalf. The Apostle Paul requested, in Colossians 4:3,
… meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the Word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains…
Notice, the great Apostle Paul himself requested that the Colossians pray to the Lord that he would provide a door of opportunity for him to speak the mystery of Christ. Frankly, only a spiritual person or church would even think to ask for such a thing. That's praying according to the will of God, brother. A Bible church is a praying church. Having come to know God's will in his Word, it petitions the Throne accordingly. The Lord set an open door before these Philadelphian believers because they asked according to the will of God. Do you ask God to open doors for you and your church to share the mystery of Christ?
Now this is the confidence that we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of him. 1 John. 5:14-15
Christ continues, you have a little strength. This is another great compliment. The Philadelphian believers would be the first to tell you that they were weak and that all their strength came from the Lord. People of the Book learn quickly that they are weak but he is strong. And, they learn to depend totally upon the strength of their Omnipotent Lord. Paul says,
But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence. First Corinthians 1:27-29
Again in Second Corinthians 12:9-10, we read,
And he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
When Jesus said these Philadelphians had a little strength, it was meant as a compliment. In relation to the Omnipotent One, they had a little strength and, brother, that is a whole lot of strength! In relation to him who holds all things together by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3) it was little … but the Omnipotent One knows strength when he sees it and they had it … from him. They were experiencing being strengthened with all might according to his glorious power (Colossians 1:11)!
Then, he says, you … have kept my word. What a wonderful compliment that is. Twice here, the Lord says they have kept his Word (v. 8 and v. 10). This shows the Philadelphia church to be the most spiritual of the seven churches, in my opinion. They had to have been a biblically literate church to know the Word of God and keep it. And, oh, the raw power of the Word of God in the life of a believer and church. It cannot be overestimated. It is the Word of God that produces spiritual people and spiritual churches. It is the key to the new birth, Christian maturity, wisdom, knowledge, understanding, freedom, the filling of the Holy Spirit, spiritual growth, sanctification (purity) and a fruitful walk with Christ. Let’s look at a few scriptures that speak to these truths.
…having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever… First Peter 1:23
You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. John 15:3
As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby… First Peter 2:2
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. Psalm 1:1-3
The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, To perceive the words of understanding… Proverbs 1:1-2
Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed him, ’If you abide in my word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.’ John 8:31-32
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear muchfruit; so you will be my disciples. John 15:7-8
Now, let's compare two verses and note the relationship between the intake of the Word of God in the life of a believer and the filling of the Holy Spirit.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. Colossians 3:16
And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord… Ephesians 5:18-19
Did you notice that the results of letting the Word of God dwell in one’s life richly and being filled with the Spirit are identical? That’s because they are two sides of the same coin. The filling of the Holy Spirit and the intake of the Word of God cannot be separated. You cannot have one without the other. How can someone be filled with the Holy Spirit and not be filled with his Word? How can someone be filled with his Word and not be filled with his Holy Spirit? There is no substitute in the life of a believer for the Word of God. No experience can duplicate its multifaceted and indispensable work. Have you been reading your Bible? It's the sanctifying life-changing Word of God you know. It can and will change your life when you take it in, cherish it in your heart and let it take root … way down in your soul. Jesus, in his prayer for us in John 17:17, prayed to his Father,
Sanctify them by your truth. Your word is truth.,
There is no road to spirituality and maturity outside of the Word of God … dear saint. No, no road at all.
The Lord promises two things to the Philadelphians.
First, that he will vindicate them in the presence of their enemies. Like the church at Smyrna, these believers had been suffering at the hands of ungodly Jews in their city. The Lord aims a thunderbolt at their enemies here, calling them the synagogue of Satan, just as he spoke of the unrighteous Jews at Smyrna back in 2:9. He says ... they say are Jews and are not, but lie. This parallels the thought in Romans 2:28-29,
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
A true Jew, by God’s definition, is a spiritual person, a person who is truly godly. The Jews who were persecuting the believers at Philadelphia were just outward Jews and not God’s people at all or they would have acted like God’s people. The Lord's promise to the Philadelphians is that he would one day compel those phonies to fall at their feet and worship and know that I have loved you. What an occasion that will be. When Jesus vindicates his suffering saints, it will certainly be in no uncertain terms.
Second, Christ promises, 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. Eschatologically speaking (doctrine of end things), these words are very important. The Greek word translated from here is the word ἐκ (ek), which means out of.The import of this little two letter word here is great. Christ is promising to keep these Philadelphian believers out of the time period itself. He will accomplish that by removing his saints from the earth before the day of God’s wrath begins. I take this term, the hour of trial, to refer to the entire seven year Tribulation that will commence after the Rapture of the Church. This is further proof that the Church will not be on Earth when God's day of wrath comes.
Now, this church at Philadelphia has long vanished from the scene, yet the coming hour of trial has yet to arrive. One might ask then, How could this have been relevant to them? The answer lies in the fact that the return of Jesus Christ for his Church has always been an eminent one. He could have come for the Philadelphian believers at any time but, in retrospect, he didn't. Therefore, this statement has now come to apply to Christ's Universal Church of all ages as evidenced by his words, he that has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. These words are strong proof for the pre-tribulation Rapture of the Church. In essence, they teach us that no church will enter into that time period. This is in line with the whole of scripture on this subject as well. For example, as you have it in First Thessalonians 1:10,
… And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
It is the legitimate and biblical expectation for every church, of every age, that they will not go through the coming day of God's wrath, the Tribulation. They will all go out ahead of it.
The Lord further clarifies what he means by the hour of trial by saying it will be sent to test those who dwell on the earth. The coming Tribulation will test mankind under the severest conditions imaginable. It will be designed to see which way men will turn under extreme conditions. It will be a time of refining for Jews and Gentiles alike. Out of those days, God will call out the last of his people for his name's sake. Every possible man, woman and child who will turn to the Savior and be saved will come to him during those dark days. Millions will respond during God’s great day of testing. It will bring about the greatest revival the world has ever seen. In chapter 7, we will be introduced to the believers who will come out of the Great Tribulation. A passage from Isaiah’s prophecy, at this point, is helpful to define what our Lord means by testing. Because of its importance, here is Isaiah 24 in its entirety...
Behold, the LORD makes the earth empty and makes it waste, distorts its surface and scatters abroad its inhabitants. And it shall be: as with the people, so with the priest; as with the servant, so with his master; as with the maid, so with her mistress; as with the buyer, so with the seller; as with the lender, so with the borrower; as with the creditor, so with the debtor. The land shall be entirely emptied and utterly plundered, for the LORD has spoken this word. The earth mourns and fades away, the world languishes and fades away; the haughty people of the earth languish. The earth is also defiled under its inhabitants, because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore the curse has devoured the earth, and those who dwell in it are desolate. Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned, and few men are left. The new wine fails, the vine languishes, all the merry-hearted sigh. The mirth of the tambourine ceases, the noise of the jubilant ends, the joy of the harp ceases. They shall not drink wine with a song; strong drink is bitter to those who drink it. The city of confusion is broken down; every house is shut up, so that none may go in. There is a cry for wine in the streets, all joy is darkened, the mirth of the land is gone. In the city desolation is left, and the gate is stricken with destruction. When it shall be thus in the midst of the land among the people, it shall be like the shaking of an olive tree, like the gleaning of grapes when the vintage is done. They shall lift up their voice, they shall sing; for the majesty of the LORD they shall cry aloud from the sea. Therefore glorify the LORD in the dawning light, the name of the LORD God of Israel in the coastlands of the sea. From the ends of the earth we have heard songs: "Glory to the righteous!" But I said, "I am ruined, ruined! Woe to me!" The treacherous dealers have dealt treacherously, indeed, the treacherous dealers have dealt very treacherously. Fear and the pit and the snare are upon you, O inhabitant of the earth. And it shall be that he who flees from the noise of the fear shall fall into the pit, and he who comes up from the midst of the pit shall be caught in the snare; for the windows from on high are open, and the foundations of the earth are shaken. The earth is violently broken, the earth is split open, the earth is shaken exceedingly. The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall totter like a hut; its transgression shall be heavy upon it, and it will fall, and not rise again. It shall come to pass in that day that the LORD will punish on high the host of exalted ones, and on the earth the kings of the earth. They will be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and will be shut up in the prison; after many days they will be punished. Then the moon will be disgraced and the sun ashamed; for the LORD of hosts will reign On Mount Zion and in Jerusalem and before his elders, gloriously.
Truly, mankind is scheduled for an hour of trial indeed.
The Lord concludes with a three-part warning to the church at Philadelphia.
First he says, behold, I am coming quickly. The Rapture of the Church will be an instantaneous event. There will be no time to get ready. As you have it in First Corinthians 15:51-52,
Behold, I tell you a mystery: we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed; in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
Second he says, hold fast what you have. The Philadelphians were a spiritual and fruitful people. The greatest danger to a Bible reading and practicing church is that it can become a non-Bible reading, unspiritual and fruitless church by means of simple neglect. Hold fast to what you have is very good advice indeed, both for them and for you and me as well.
Third he says, that no one take your crown. As I have mentioned before, crowns are rewards. The Philadelphians were to be careful not to let anyone influence them to let the Word of God slip. This could result in tragic loss of reward for them. Paul likewise warns in Colossians 2:8,
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
Employment, money, family, friends, professors and teachers and a host of other things can sidetrack believers from what is really important in life. Don't allow it to happen to you, dear saint. Hold fast to the Word of God until he comes.
Christ closes this letter with two more promises to his overcomers.
First, he says, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go out no more. Pillars are the very visible, ornate and central structures in great buildings and palaces. So it will be with the child of God in his Father’s house. The Greek word for temple here is ναῷ (naoh from naos). It is the term for the inner Holy of Holies in the temple of God. It was in the naos that the Ark of the Covenant stood and where God dwelt between the golden cherubim of its lid, the Mercy Seat. One day, you and I will regularly walk in a city that, chapters 21 and 22 tell us, will be the naos of God … side to side and top to bottom … a Holy of Holies … in the very visible presence of God. We will be pillars there, fixtures, if you please, in that holy and awesome city. Peter, using a similar analogy, says of us believers in Christ,
Coming to him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. First Peter 2:4-5
Second, he says, I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God ... and I will write on him my new name. This is precious. I don't know about the visibility or location of these identifying marks on the child of God, but we learn here that they will be written on the child of God with the finger of Christ himself. The implication is that they will be visible forever for all to see. They will display our identity and declare our legitimacy in Heaven. God’s name, Heaven’s name, and Christ’s new name … all three will be written on God's children. What an honor it will be to bear them. Do you know Christ's new name, by the way? No? Neither do I, but we will, one day. It will be written upon us. As Christ’s overcomers, we shall uniquely display them before all created beings throughout eternity, showing that we are Christ's and he is ours.
One more thought before we leave the church at Philadelphia. Let's you and I resolve to be a Word centered people, O.K.? Let's get to know our Bibles. Let's be a people of the Book. Have you read your Bible today? Out of it stems all that God has for us. You and I will one day spend eternity with the Living Word of God who spoke each and every word of it. Treasure it, study it, memorize it, cherish it and do not let it slip.
THE WISHY WASHY CHURCH
And to the angel of the church [NU omits: of the Laodiceans] in Laodicea write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth. 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; 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. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore 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 dine with him, and he with me. 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. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Laodicea was probably the wealthiest of the seven churches. It was situated on a major trade route and was a commercial banking center. It had so much money that after the great earthquake of AD 17, it refused aid from the Roman Senate. Like the Laodicean church, the city itself seemed to have need of nothing.Laodicea also had a medical school that produced and marketed a famous eye salve. Jesus will allude to that salve in his comments to this church.
Christ addresses this church as, the Amen. This is the only place in the Bible where this name of Christ is found. Amen means, so be it,it is true. or In effect, he is saying, The one writing to you is the one who has the last and true word on all things, the One who will have the final word … like a period at the end of a sentence. Now, complacent people, as well as complacent churches, are usually arrogant in their coldness, apostasy and compromising lifestyles. They live as if they have no accountability at all. So, the Amen addresses them here in no uncertain terms. They would do well to listen. He is the One who will have the last word on every life and church throughout all time. All will give account to him. Jesus is the Amen of God.
Also, he addresses them as the Faithful and True Witness. Jesus never pulled a punch on anyone. He always told it like it was. He is God’s Faithful and True Witness. When he was on earth, Jesus said,
...When you have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. Jn. 8:28-29
..the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works. Jn. 14:10b
Jesus never deviated from faithfully expressing and doing the will of his Father. He was always faithful. The Laodicean church was far from that. Christ's churches are called to walk in his footsteps. To be a faithful and true witness is a minimum requirement. Christ's opening words here were designed to bring these folks up short. In response, they should have asked themselves, Are we faithful and true witnesses? In John 20:21b, Jesus said,
Peace to you! As the Father has sent me, I also send you.
And, in Acts 1:8, we read,
But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Last, he addresses them as, The Beginning of the creation of God. The Greek word here for beginning is ἀρχὴ (arke). It means origin or the original cause of something. Contrary to the beliefs of the Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses who teach this verse says that Jesus was a created being, Jesus is actually saying that he is the Creator himself. The scriptures also clearly testify to this fact. Here are a few of them.
Speaking of Jesus, Colossians 1:15-16, says,
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through him and for him.
Hebrews 1:2-3, says that God,
…has in these last days spoken to us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…
Christ Jesus is the Creator and the originator of all things. Yet we live in a day when secular society (and often ho-hum Christianity) has chosen to adopt the theory of Evolution and the eternality of matter as their preferred hypothesis of origins. The Word of God disagrees. As you have it in Exodus 21:11,
For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
And again, in Hebrews 11:3,
By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible.
I do not know what theory of creation the Laodicean church held. It wouldn’t surprise me though if some of them held the popular Greek myth of their day which said that the earth was hatched by a giant chicken! Jesus points out to this lukewarm church that he is their Creator … with all that that implies.
Our Lord begins by saying, I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of my mouth. Well, that's right to the point, isn’t it? Jesus didn’t mince words. The word picture he used is a vivid one. It is a picture of someone who assumes they are taking a cool drink of water but they discover that it is like warm saliva and immediately spews it out of their mouth. A lukewarm church is a sickening thing to the Head of the Church. Let’s look a bit more closely at his words.
What is hot? I would define a hot church as one that is fervent in prayer, witnessing, good works, love for one another, Bible study and, most of all, love for the Savior.
What is cold? A cold church is one that possesses little or none of the above.
What is lukewarm? A lukewarm church is a group of saints that agree with the things of a hot church. Yet, they are so complacent and indifferent to them that they seldom give them a second thought. So, a lukewarm church is a church that performs Churchianity as opposed to living Christianity on a daily basis. Jesus says of such a church, You make me sick! He literally says to them, I will vomit you out of my mouth. I take this to mean that Christ is threatening to suddenly dissolve their church like an involuntarily physical reaction on his part. This is not just a threat to remove them like he threatened to do to the Ephesian church. He is saying, Frankly, I don’t know how much longer I can stomach you.
He continues, Because you say I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing...
The source of the problem at Laodicea appears to be materialism. Materialism, in the life of a church or individual Christian, is a devastating thing. It has a way of creeping up on people. It brings a false sense of security and an independence from God that totally distracts from living and walking with the Savior. Consider these scriptures.
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (money). Matthew 6:24
And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. First Timothy 6:8-10
As dedicated materialists, the Laodiceans thought they had it made, but the Lord says they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. What an indictment. Many have likened this church to the Church in America because of her materialism.
May I step aside here for a moment? One must never assume that material prosperity is synonymous with spiritual success. This is one of the great errors taught in our day, as it was in Jesus' day. Prosperity doctrine preachers are constantly pounding the drum on this. They are up to their ears in the error of the Laodiceans. Riches are never a sign of either spirituality or spiritual success. Solomon said,
Remove falsehood and lies far from me; Give me neither poverty nor riches; Feed me with the food allotted to me; Lest I be full and deny you, and say, ’Who is the LORD?’ Or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God. Proverbs 30:8-9
That is very good advice. The writer to the Hebrews also speaks pointedly to this issue.
Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth. And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise… Hebrews 11:36-39
The lives of the majority of God’s greatest saints have not been marked by health and wealth, brother. They have been marked by faith and sacrifice, poverty and suffering, and yes … even sickness. The Laodiceans confused riches and prosperity with God’s blessing … an error the Pharisees held and so did Job’s misguided friends.
Since the Laodiceans were of “the shop until you drop” crowd, Jesus tells them they should pick up a couple of things while they are out and about doing their shopping. He counsels, buy from me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich. He is saying, Come to me if you want true riches, I have them and I'll show you how to get them. Faith, the fruit of the Spirit, laboring under duress, suffering in the fires of persecution, serving under thankless conditions and sacrificing along with Christ is where real riches lie, beloved. Those are things that will remain. Those things are gold tried in the fire.
Next, he counsels them to acquire, white garments from him so that, the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed. Saints who are long on materialism and short on righteousness will find themselves very underdressed in Heaven one day and it will be to their shame. Christ is referring to that time, after the reward seat of Christ, when the literal clothing of the saints will reflect the things they accomplished for, with and through him when they were alive on Earth. If there was precious-little kingdom living down here, there will not be a whole lot to show up there. Revelation 19:7-8, says,
Let us be glad and rejoice and give him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
Last, the Lord counsels them to drop by his pharmacy and pick up some eye medicine. He says, anoint your eyes with eye-salve that you might be able to see.This should have really struck home with the Laodiceans because there was a famous eye-salve factory there. What's he getting at? Well, I hate to keep pounding the drum of the importance of the Word of God, but it’s the only eye-salve that I know of. Meditate on these verses and see if it isn’t so.
Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105
The entrance of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. Psalm 119:130
So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. Acts 20:32
The cure for poor, blind, lukewarm believers is liberal applications of the eye-salve of the Word of God. This was Jesus’ formula for a turnaround for the Laodiceans.
The final words of Christ to his, lukewarm church at Laodicea are surprising, touching and deeply moving. He says, As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: therefore be zealous and repent. These are loving and marvelously gracious words, are they not? Up to this point, if I were a part of the Laodicean church I might have been tempted to throw in the towel. But listen, in spite of the sorry condition this church was in, the Head of the Church does not hesitate to declare his love for them. Amazing. As you have it in Hebrews 12:6-9,
For whom the LORD loves he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?
And, not only does he declare his love for them but, he also offers them his fellowship. He declares, Behold, I stand at the door and knock. This is a wonderful word picture. It is a verse that is often quoted to persuade non-Christians to come to Christ but, it was actually spoken to believers. Jesus tells the Laodiceans that he is knocking on their door and He deeply desires entrance and fellowship with them. This is a wonderful thing about Jesus. He desires our fellowship … even when we don’t desire his. The English artist, Holman Hunt, painted a famous picture based on this verse that pictures Christ knocking upon a door. It is said, when he first displayed it, a woman remarked that he had forgotten to put a handle on the door. He replied, This door is a picture of the human heart. The handle is on the inside. This is true of every believer. No matter how badly we foul up, Christ still desires our fellowship. But, it is entirely up to us. Jesus is either inside fellowshipping with us or he's outside, knocking on our door.
To sum up, the Lord's cure here for ho-hum Christianity is threefold … repentance … followed by a liberal applications of the Word of God … followed by genuine fellowship with Christ. All who take him up on this remedy will surely bless the day they did. They will be completely transformed … from lukewarm to warm to hot for God and the things of God.
Now, we have come to Christ’s final promises to his overcomers in these wonderful letters. He says that he will grant his overcomers, power over the nations and to sit with me on my throne. Say what!? Can you believe this? What an honor. No one knows the full import of this promise but, at a minimum, it speaks of reigning with Christ in his glorious Kingdom on earth one day. What an amazing offer to such a poor excuse for a church, aye? That's grace, brother. We saw these same promises back in Revelation 2:26-27,
And he who overcomes, and keeps my works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations; he shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter's vessels; as I also have received from my Father…
This brings us to the end of this section, THE VISION OF JESUS CHRIST MIDST HIS CHURCHES. Christ is in the midst of your church and mine. All that he has said here in chapters 2 and 3 is directed to each one of us and to our churches for our spiritual profit and edification. I believe that he put these chapters here so that we might truly be 100 percent in fellowship with him when we move on to the unfolding mysteries that he is about to impart to us in the pages that follow. There certainly is much to think and pray about here. Perhaps the most important thing was his words to the Ephesian church, though ... since he put them first in the order of churches. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.