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The. .Bible > A Commentary on the Book of Revelation (Chapter 3) Letters to Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea

A Commentary on the BOOK of REVELATION

Or, A Disclosure From Jesus Christ
About What Must Shortly Come To Pass

by Tom Stewart

Chapter 3

His Name is called the Word of God.


Chapter 3:
Letters to Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea

The fifth of the Seven Churches was Sardis, which was 50 miles inland from the Aegean Sea and due east of Thyatira (modern Izmur). Though the city was a prosperous trade city, e.g., its king Cresus is remembered with the saying, "as rich as Cresus", it was gradually dying of moral decadence. The LORD of the Candlesticks identifies Himself as having the "Seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars", i.e., possessing the All Present Spirit, as well as owning the Church, "which He hath purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28).

Without a single word of praise for past actions, Sardis is omnisciently labeled as a dead church, i.e.,
"thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead". This spiritually dead condition of the professed Body of Christ also was addressed by the Epistle of James. "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:26). Whenever the Saints depart from their walk of faith and holiness, it is right for them to be described as dead. "But she [a widow] that liveth in pleasure [leading a voluptuous life] is dead while she liveth" (1Timothy 5:6).

Dead Sardis is counseled to "strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die". If Sardis is already completely dead, then how could there be "things which remain, that are [still] ready to die"? Though Sardis was characteristically dead, Sardis still had some who had "not defiled their garments" (3:4). These were still alive! To prevent these from Spiritually dying, the LORD instructs them to "strengthen" themselves. How? Through prayer. "And Samson called unto the LORD, and said, O LORD GOD, remember me, I pray Thee, and strengthen me, I pray Thee, only this once, O God, that I may be at once avenged of the Philistines for my two eyes" (Judges 16:28). Through the Word. "My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen Thou me according unto Thy Word" (Psalm 119:28). By His Presence. "Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the Right Hand of My righteousness" (Isaiah 41:10).

The condition of basically Alive-in-Name-Only Sardis is much more critical than apparent to modern readers of the Revelation, for the LORD said,
"I have not found thy works perfect before God." Perfection, as far as our LORD Jesus was concerned, is simply to give ourselves 100% to God, as He has completely offered Himself to us. "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in Heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). [See John Wesley's "A Plain Account of Christian Perfection" ---New Window and our study, "An Urgent Call to Christian Perfection" ---New Window for a development of this thought.] So, the LORD's call to "strengthen" is to those who had "not defiled their garments" (3:4), and it gives the sense of imminent danger, if action is not taken quickly.

In essence, the LORD advises Dead Sardis to remember, repent, and hold fast. They were to "remember" in the present what they had "received and heard" in the past. "Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you" (Philippians 4:9). Remembering the "great things the LORD hath done" (Mark 5:19) for them, they were to "repent, and hold fast". "Prove all things; hold fast that which is Good" (1Thessalonians 5:21).

The LORD then warns Sardis.
"If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a Thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee." Because a thief is an adversary, the LORD warns that He will treat impenitent Sardis as an adversary. "2 For yourselves know perfectly that the Day of the LORD so cometh as a thief in the night. 3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that Day should overtake you as a thief" (1Thessalonians 5:2-4). Whether the occasion is a Pre-Tribulational Rapture or a Pre-Wrath Rapture, those who are not ready, will see Him as a Thief. [See our article, "The Seventh Trumpet and the Second Rapture" ---New Window , to explore the idea of more than one Rapture.]

Typically, the "few names in Sardis" correspond to "narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life" (Matthew 7:14). Even inside the Professed Church, there are only a "few" that had "not defiled their garments". Why? Defilement occurs because we do not hate sinning. "I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me" (Psalm 101:3). But, more importantly, we become defiled because we do not sense our need to cling to the LORD, Who is our Only Good. "Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is Good" (Romans 12:9). Therefore, the privilege of walking with the LORD "in white" belongs to the undefiled, "for they are worthy".

White is the color of the raiment of the angels (Mark 16:5) and of the robes of the Redeemed. "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the Throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands" (Revelation 7:9).

"not blot out" the name of the Redeemed from the Book of Life is the privilege given to the Overcomers. If salvation, is "by grace" (Ephesians 2:8), then being kept in the Book Of Life is also God making "all grace abound toward you" (2Corinthians 9:8). On reflection, we do not value the grace of God enough. "By Whom [our LORD Jesus Christ] also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand" (Romans 5:2).

How does the Spirit speak to the churches? The Revelation is only a part of the inspired Word of God. "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2Peter 1:21). And, the voice of the Scriptures is the unmistakable voice of the Spirit. "16 All Scripture is given by inspiration [the breath, i.e., Spirit] of God" (2Timothy 3:16). So, the Word of God, which incorporates this God-Breathed Revelation, is how the Holy Spirit communicates with His Church.

The Philadelphia of the Revelation, the city of brotherly love, is now a small village known as Alasehir. It is situated in modern Turkey, about 28 miles southeast of Sardis and 75 miles from the Aegean Sea coast. Numerous pagan temples dotted the skyline of the ancient city, with their columns dedicated to noteworthy citizens. An earthquake that devastated Sardis in 17 AD did the same to Philadelphia. During the ensuing years, Philadelphia was plagued with recurring quakes.

The LORD Jesus reveals Himself as the standard of holiness and Truth, as only God can, i.e.,
"He that is holy, He that is true". "There is none holy as the LORD" (1Samuel 2:2). And, "The LORD is the True God" (Jeremiah 10:10). The possession of the "Key of David" (Revelation 3:7) alludes to Christ's absolute Power over His Church to open and shut without hindrance. Notably, this Power was offered to the Apostle Peter, as well as to every living Saint. Of the Apostle Peter it is said: "And I [Jesus] will give unto thee [Peter] the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on Earth shall be bound in Heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on Earth shall be loosed in Heaven" (Matthew 16:19). And, for the rest of us, this magnificent Prayer Promise is recorded: "If two of you shall agree on Earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of My Father which is in Heaven" (Matthew 18:19).

Our omniscient Eldest Brother (Hebrews 2:11), the LORD Jesus, assessed the condition of Faithful Philadelphia, with the offer of a Window of Opportunity to accomplish the ministry of His Word, i.e., "I have set before thee an Open Door". In spite of Philadelphia's "little strength", these faithful ones had kept His Word and not denied His Name-- no mean achievement. This illustrates that the Almighty is not interested in any supposed greatness on our part, but in simple faithfulness. "For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole Earth, to shew Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward Him" (2Chronicles 16:9).

The beginning of the end of the Window of Opportunity to missionize the world with the Gospel, will come when the Church walks through the Open Door of the Pre-Tribulational Rapture.
"After this I looked, and, behold, a Door was opened in Heaven: and the first Voice which I heard was as it were of a trumpet talking with me; which said, Come up hither" (Revelation 4:1).

Possessing-a-Little-Strength Philadelphian Christians are blessed with the opportunity of proving the strength of God.
"9 And He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2Corinthians 12:9-10).

When God's people are unwilling to let the difference between the holy and the profane, to become blurred by those who falsely profess Spirituality, i.e., the "synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie", then the LORD Jesus will ensure that that difference will be upheld at His Judgment Seat. "I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee." This is the same concept that speaks of the submission of even the enemies of the LORD Jesus Christ to Himself at the Judgment Seat. "9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: 10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in Heaven, and things in Earth, and things under the Earth; 11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).

Because of Faithful Philadelphia's keeping of the "Word Of [His] Patience", the LORD Jesus has promised those who have that Spiritual character of the Philadelphians: "I also will keep thee from the Hour of Temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the Earth." Unlike the solo participation of Enoch and Elijah ( Genesis 5:24; 2Kings 2:11) in their individual Raptures, the Pre-Tribulational Rapture includes all the Watching and Waiting Church. [See our article, "A Tale of Ten Virgins" ---New Window , for an explanation of who is watching and waiting.] Notice that the following Words of the LORD Jesus are both a Command to pray for escape, as well as a Promise that escape is possible. "Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man" (Luke 21:36).

"Hour of Temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the Earth" (Revelation 3:10) makes reference to more than a local situation for this originally addressed church in Asia Minor. The "Hour of Temptation" (3:10) is equivalent to 15 days, if Daniel's Seventieth Week (1 week) equals 2,520 days. One hour would be 1/168 of a week or .0059523 of a week, which is 15 days. This would be the time equivalent to Tishri 1 to Tishri 15. If the Pre-Wrath Rapture of the Church occurs at perhaps the midnight hour on Tishri 1, then approximately 8 to 9 days (depending on how you count it) would be left in the Tribulation Week, which would then extend through Tishri 9. This would allow for the pouring out of about one Vial a day during the Seven Vial Judgments. Armageddon lasts 5 days from Tishri 10 (the Second Coming of the LORD Jesus Christ) to Tishri 14-- the day before Tishri 15 (the Inauguration of the Millennial Reign of the LORD Jesus Christ on Earth). 9 days (for the Vial Judgments) plus 5 days (for Armageddon) equals 14 days, which lacks only one day to complete the "Hour of Temptation" (Revelation 3:10). That one day lacking is Tishri 15. [See our article, "The Appointed Times" ---New Window , to see how the Seven Feasts of Israel of Leviticus 23 correspond to upcoming prophetic events.]

Though the Apostle John recorded the Revelation toward the end of the First Century AD-- nearly 1,900 years ago-- our LORD did not think it out of place to say, "I come quickly." In fact, the LORD Jesus repeated the same statement three other times in the Revelation (22:7,12,20). Admittedly, that has the tendency to raise the hopes and expectations of the readers for a soon Coming of the LORD Jesus; but, was that not His purpose? Consequently, any decision made by the Saints during the last approximately 1,900 years based upon that statement of Coming quickly, is based upon faith-- and justifiable. "1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good report" (Hebrews 11:1-2).

With the words
"hold that fast which thou hast" (Revelation 3:11), the LORD warns His faithful to "keep on, keepin' on". The key to receiving the benefit of anything received by faith, is patience and perseverance. "35 Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompence of reward. 36 For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise" (Hebrews 10:35-36). Crowns or rewards may be lost, i.e., "that no man take thy Crown" (Revelation 3:11), so care must be taken that we do not stumble into sin. "Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward" (2John 8). [See our article, "He Will Subdue Our Iniquities" ---New Window , to see how God makes normal Christians to walk without sinning.]

Remembering the earthquakes of ancient Philadelphia, you can easily imagine the frightened citizens of Philadelphia scurrying out of the temples, whose pillars were inscribed with their names, with each after shock. By comparison, our LORD "will write upon" the esteemed inhabitants of the New Jerusalem, His "New Name"-- signifying His ownership, for we "are bought with a price" (1Corinthians 6:20), and signifying a New Chapter in our lives, for "He will dwell with" us forever (Revelation 21:3). And, the dwellers of New Jerusalem "shall go no more out". This is perfect tranquility. "Thou wilt keep him in Perfect Peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee: because he trusteth in Thee" (Isaiah 26:3).

The Spiritual ears to hear the Command of the Pre-Tribulational Rapture-- "Come up hither" (Revelation 4:1)-- are the same to hear "what the Spirit saith unto the churches". Likewise, those who refuse to hear have already been described. "For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them" (Acts 28:27).

The last of the Seven Churches was Laodicea, whose name meant "justice of the people". It was about an 100 miles inland from the Aegean Sea, 40 miles southeast of Philadelphia, and due west of Colosse. Laodicea was known for its wool industry, its production of an eyesalve, and its banking industry. Because the city did not have a good water supply nearby, it had to depend more on diplomacy than military strength to prevent a siege.

The description of the LORD Jesus as the
"Amen, the Faithful and True Witness" is our LORD's way of showing the necessity of clear-cut delineations between good and evil, light and darkness-- as opposed to the unwillingness to take a stand for the good and against the evil. "5 This then is the message which we have heard of Him, and declare unto you, that God is Light, and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the Truth: 7 But if we walk in the Light, as He is in the Light, we have fellowship one with another, and the Blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1John 1:5-7).

Here, it is significant that the LORD Jesus is so confident of His divinity that He would label Himself as the
"Beginning of the Creation of God". This identifies the LORD Jesus as "begotten of the Father in a manner inconceivable and inexpressible by men, before any creatures were in being" (from John Gill's comments on Colossians 1:15)-- as unique as only God can be. "15 Who [Jesus] is the Image of the Invisible God, the Firstborn of Every Creature: 16 For by Him [Jesus] were all things created, that are in Heaven, and that are in Earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by Him, and for Him" (Colossians 1:15-16).

In this instance, Laodicea's Spiritual temperature is omnisciently understood to be "neither cold nor hot". Our LORD prefers a more straightforward profession of unbelief ("cold") or faith ("hot"). "He that is not with Me is against Me: and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth" (Luke 11:23). At least a straightforward admission of unbelief can be more readily approached with the bold claims of repentance and faith. "13 And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. 14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. 15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. 17 And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!" (15:13-17).

Lukewarmness is the transitional condition of having been warm-- but now backslidden. The true warmth, like the glory of God, has departed from Miserable Laodicea. "And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel: because the Ark of God was taken" (1Samuel 4:21). Like the lukewarm and nauseous mineral spring water near ancient Laodicea, the Lukewarm church at Laodicea caused God to vomit them out of His mouth. Again, the God of Truth (Psalm 31:5) refuses to hold up a compromising and uncertain standard of gray. He-- and His people-- must be known by the certain sound of fervent hot "HOLINESS UNTO THE LORD" (Zechariah 14:20).

The stark contrast between the Laodicean's perception of themselves, i.e., "rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing", and the LORD's perception of them. i.e., "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked", is the difference between self-deception and a true assessment. "For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself" (Galatians 6:3).

The only advice worth taking, comes from God. "22 How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? 23 Turn you at My Reproof: behold, I will pour out My Spirit unto you, I will make known My Words unto you" (Proverbs 1:22-23). The LORD Jesus gives counsel concerning the repentance of Laodicea's so-called Christianity:

(1) purchase the "True Riches" (Luke 16:11) from Christ of "Gold tried in the fire" (Revelation 3:18) by seeking "first the Kingdom Of God, and His righteousness" (Matthew 6:33),

(2) acquire "White Raiment" (Revelation 3:18), which is the "Righteousness of Saints" (19:8) flowing from a right relationship with Jesus Christ, and

(3) confess your wretched condition of self-deception to the LORD, then He will be "faithful and just to forgive [you your] sins, and to cleanse [you] from all unrighteousness" (1John 1:9), i.e., "anoint thine eyes with Eyesalve, that thou mayest see" (Revelation 3:18).

God is love (1John 4:8), but that does not mean that He will not chasten His people for sinning. Ask Adam and Eve if sin had consequences. Providentially, the LORD is known for seeing His good works through to their conclusion. "Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6). It is actually a matter of joy that the LORD sees something about Deceived Laodicea's sonship, that Laodicea could only prove by repentance. "6 For whom the LORD loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth. 7 If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not? 8 But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons" (Hebrews 12:6-8).

This is the classic invitation verse used by Soul Winners, who have brought a Lost Sinner down the Roman's Road of Salvation:

(1) "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23),

(2) the "wages [earnings] of sin is death" (Romans 6:23),

(3) but the "[free] gift of God is Eternal Life through Jesus Christ our LORD" (Romans 6:23),

(4) "if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the LORD Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (Romans 10:9), and

(5) "for whosoever shall call upon the Name of the LORD shall be saved" (Romans 10:13).

However, notice that the LORD Jesus Christ is standing outside of the church at Laodicea-- knocking for permission to enter. Though God does give "repentance to the acknowledging of the Truth" (2Timothy 2:25), He only receives that repentance from a voluntary submission from the sinner. "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool" (Isaiah 1:18).

Lukewarm Laodicea is also composed of those professed Christians who have never actually been saved-- but are still known to God to be elect-- in addition to the backsliders of Laodicea. These Elect-But-Lost Laodiceans are among those who repent at the Second Coming of the LORD Jesus Christ.
"Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced Him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of Him. Even so, Amen" (Revelation 1:7).

Elect-But-Lost Israel will also repent at the LORD's Second Coming.
"Who hath heard such a thing? who hath seen such things? Shall the Earth be made to bring forth in one day? or shall a nation be born at once? for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children" (Isaiah 66:8). Both of these will enter as subjects of our LORD's Millennial Kingdom (Revelation 20:6)

Overcomers of this Church Age "shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years" (Revelation 20:6). "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith" (1John 5:4). The LORD Jesus-- our Example of overcoming-- has graciously invited us to share the inheritance of His Government with us. And, if we will share with Him in judging this world, then should we not be careful to exercise love when making judgments about our daily life? "2 Do ye not know that the Saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?" (1Corinthians 6:2-3).

Let no man say that he has not been warned. It has always been a matter of whether or not we have been willing to listen to the counsel of the Holy Spirit. "24 Therefore whosoever heareth these Sayings of Mine, and doeth Them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a Rock: 25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a Rock. 26 And every one that heareth these Sayings of Mine, and doeth Them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: 27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it" (Matthew 7:24-27).



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