“To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. 3 So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. 4 But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Communicating to the church at Sardis, Jesus referred to Himself as the One Who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. The seven stars refer to the angels of the seven churches according to Revelation 1:20. The idea here is that He is God and the authority over His church, He being the head. His Holy Spirit indwells the true believers in each of the seven churches, and He watches over each with His angels. Thus, He knows all and sees all concerning the state of the church. Even though the church at Sardis had a reputation for being alive (perhaps it was well-attended, busy, and well-financed), God knew better based upon the state of the hearts of those in the church. By and large the church was spiritually dead, and God was not fooled. He had been watching, and, while the church managed to fool others while living in hypocrisy, a lack of love, and doctrinal compromise, God knew that it was a dead body. They needed to repent, wake up, and strengthen that which was about to succumb to sin, complacency, and hypocrisy. There were a few there who had not soiled their garments and who had kept the faith, while others just went through the motions pretending to love Christ while denying Him by their deeds all the while. Titus 1:16 says, “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed.” Their form of godliness (2 Timothy 3:5) was not what God was looking for, and He was able to see through the charade and declare that their garments were defiled and dirty. The church needed to return to the truth and the gospel which had been declared to them in the past. They needed to repent and hold tightly to the truth by faith. If they did not then God would come like a thief when they didn’t expect it and at an unannounced occasion. This is the same language that is used to describe Christ’s second coming in wrath for unbelievers (Matthew 24:43, 1 Thessalonians 5:2). These professing Christians who were actually dead in sin (Ephesians 2:1) and not alive in Christ needed to repent, wake up, and start living for Jesus by faith before it was too late to repent. God still wanted to use this church, for they had deeds that He wanted them to do to fulfill their purpose before God. Despite their imperfections and stumbling, God would use the true believers at Sardis to fulfill their purpose by His grace, but the future of the church as a whole was in doubt. God was giving them time, but they had a decision to make. They needed to get back to the basics and repent and submit to Christ, keeping His commands (John 14:21). Those who know Christ by faith will be found in the Book of Life, but those who do not know Him will not have their names in the Book of Life. Psalm 69:28 speaks of the wicked having their names blotted out of the Book of Life, but the righteous have their names permanently etched in the book from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8, 17:8). Those who act corruptly will not be found as having a part of the tree of life, and their names will not be in the Book of Life (Revelation 21:27, 22:19). Those not in the book will go to hell (Revelation 20:15). Those who truly know Christ will endure and overcome on the basis of the blood of Christ and the word of their testimony (Revelation 21:11). He will finish the work that He began in their hearts, and He will help them to endure. His Spirit is already a deposit in their hearts guaranteeing their future inheritance with Christ in heaven (Ephesians 1:13-14). The God of the seven Spirits knows where the Spirit of God lives and in whose heart He does not live. Believers never get erased from the Book of Life, but the wicked have no part in the Book. They erase themselves by their own evil deeds. What an honor it will be for true believers to have Jesus Himself confess before God the Father and the angels that He knows them and lives in their hearts! Those who confess Jesus in this life (Romans 10:9) will be named by Jesus as His own in eternity. People need to pay attention to this Scripture, for God sees all and will one day open the books and judge all the peoples. Only believers will walk with Jesus in white (Revelation 3:18, 4:4, 7:14, 19:7).
7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:
Jesus again revealed Himself based upon the description in Revelation 1, this time pulling from verse 18 which speaks of He Who holds the keys. In chapter 1, He said that He holds the keys of death and Hades, for He conquered the grave and paid the penalty for sin. Here, He said that He holds the key of David, implying that He also is Lord over Who enters the kingdom of heaven. He is holy and true, and He will be the final and fair judge of who may pass through heaven’s gates and who may not. No one can go against His will or defy His judgment. This revelation of part of His nature flows into His message to the church at Philadelphia which is meant to encourage them. Though they have been opposed and persecuted in this life, they will be honored in the coming kingdom. Jesus, Who has the keys to that kingdom, will make sure it is so.
8 ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name. 9 Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; 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 My new name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
Jesus knows all, and He is faithful to reward believers according to their faithfulness. He gives them opportunities which He empowers them to do (Ephesians 2:10). He opens doors for them which no one can shut (1 Corinthians 16:9, 2 Corinthians 2:12). In this life, He opens doors so that the gospel can go forward and so believers can use their gifts and opportunities to advance the kingdom. When they pass from life to death, they will pass into life in heaven because Jesus will make sure the door of heaven is open to them. The church at Philadelphia was said not to have been powerful in worldly terms, having only a little power and earthly influence, but God was strong in and through them (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). The unbelieving Jews, which Jesus said belonged to the synagogue of Satan for denying Him and persecuting His people, would one day have to bow before them. This is likely a reference to the time at the judgment when believers sit on thrones and reign with Christ (Revelation 20:4). There, finally, their vindication for believing in the true Messiah will be accomplished. As Jesus told His disciples in Luke 22:28-30, “You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Unbelieving Israel will be forced to see that they were on the wrong side of the gates of heaven on account of their unbelief, and so the first will be last and the last first (Matthew 20:16). However, some of the Jews have received Christ, and, in the last days, a believing remnant will be saved (Jeremiah 30:11; Joel 2:32, 3:20-21; Micah 4:6-8, 7:19-20; Amos 9:15; Malachi 4:1-3; Zephaniah 3:11-13). This portion that God preserves through the final battle will be given hearts that repent of their errors and have hearts for the Lord (Ezekiel 36:8-38, Zechariah 12:10-14, Hosea 3:5). The faithful believers at the church at Philadelphia weren’t impressive by the world’s standards, and the more powerful forces around them were able to cause them difficulty. But they didn’t deny the name of their Lord, and they kept His Word by obeying His commands. Because of their obedience and perseverance by faith by His grace, they would be kept from the hour of testing that will come on the whole world as a great divine test. This reference to the Great Tribulation period shows that believers have a great hope of not having to endure the terrible period of God’s wrath that will come upon the earth (Zephaniah 2:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:10, 4:13-18; 1 Corinthians 15:50-58). Some will turn to Jesus in that time (Revelation 11:13), but most will reject Him even in the day of wrath (Revelation 6:16-17). They will not pass His test. The hope of believers is that they will not face God’s wrath. However, those who come to faith during the tribulation will suffer and be persecuted during this time. Some of the judgments they will be spared from such as the sore that oozes from where the mark of the beast was taken and the demonic forces from the abyss. It is on their account that the tribulation will be cut short (Matthew 24:22). It is the wicked who are in God’s bull’s-eye, and it is Israel that God is working to call back to Himself during these final hours. That God would spare the faithful from having to endure this final period of wrath on the earth is a great promise of hope and blessing. That is not to say that life on earth will be easy, for it will have trials, tribulation, suffering, and persecution. But God’s wrath is not aimed at believers because it was poured out on Christ on the cross once and for all. God’s desire is that believers, including the church at Philadelphia, would persevere in faith and in truth until they are called home. While believers cannot lose heaven, they can lose out on eternal rewards. Thus, Jesus’ admonition to His church was that they would finish strong and not lose a crown as a reward. The believers at Philadelphia, who were viewed as feeble by the world, will be pillars in the temple of God in eternity. There will not be a literal temple of God in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:22), but the tabernacle of God will be among believers (Revelation 21:3). Thus, the idea is that, in heaven, God’s presence will be near to His people forever. God’s name will be written on them as well as the name of their new home, the New Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven (Revelation 21). Jesus’ new name, whatever that might be, will also be written on them, for they belong to Him forever. They are His possession, His children, and His to shower His blessings and riches and wisdom on forever and ever. People need to pay attention to what is written here, for it should be obvious that it is worth believing in Jesus because of the eternal glories to come. Christians might be “little people” now, but in heaven they will be great (Matthew 18:4, Luke 7:28) because Jesus loves them and will honor them there in His paradise.
14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:
Jesus, referencing how He appeared to John in Revelation 1:5, explained that He is the Beginning of the creation of God. He was with God in the beginning when God made the world (John 1:1), and He is also the firstborn of those who will rise from the dead (Colossians 1:18). Everything He says and does is true and right and good. He is the very definition of truth, veracity, and what is right. What He says can be trusted because He is faithful. He can give an “Amen” to Himself because He is truth and unchangeable. He was killed on account of His own testimony, and His devotion to His Father led Him to be passionate about the house of God and the purposes of God. There was and is nothing wishy-washy about Jesus, for He is absolutely and totally true, right, and faithful. He even died and rose from the dead, proving He is God, the beginning and the end.
15 ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. 16 So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. 17 Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, 18 I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. 20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. 21 He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
The church at Laodicea stood in stark contrast to the definitive character of Christ Who personifies truth and testifies to the truth. The Laodiceans were lukewarm, being neither cold nor hot. God knew their deeds and their hearts, and it made Him want to vomit them out of His mouth. He said that He loved them and therefore in love was going to discipline them unless they would repent and find their zeal and passion for truth and for Jesus. It appears that the church became complacent and self-sufficient rather than living in a sense of dependency on Christ Who alone is sufficient. It seems that they began to rest upon other things such as their money to do the work of the kingdom rather than relying upon the sufficient Word of God. They boasted in their wealth which made them self-confident, and they didn’t feel that they needed anything, including divine help and blessing. They tried to do the Christian life on their own, feeling confident in themselves rather than boastful in God. Their pride blinded them from being able to see how wretched, miserable, and poor they were save for Christ and His grace. They were walking by sight rather than by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). Pride doesn’t lead to eternal rewards, but humility brings honor. The church needed to humble itself, repent, and find its passion for God once again. They needed to find riches in Him, forgiveness, wisdom, insight, and renewed godliness and holiness. It is difficult to be passionate for truth when life is easy and the world has so many distractions. Wealth can be deceitful (Matthew 13:22), and thus Proverbs 30:7-9 says that it is wise to pray to have just enough and to remember to give to those in need lest pride takes over on account of having an over-abundance. This happened to the church at Laodicea. They needed to come to God in humility, begging Him to reveal their arrogance and to help them see just how weak and feeble they were on their own. It is only as believers abide in Christ that they can accomplish things of spiritual value (John 15:5). Otherwise, they cannot do anything eternally worthwhile. Interestingly, the other churches which were being persecuted severely didn’t have this problem, for they needed to desperately appeal to God for strength and deliverance. They had no means to deliver themselves or to delude themselves about what really mattered. But God was and is merciful, calling to the Laodicean church to repent and to open the door of their hearts to Him. He was busy knocking and calling to them, just as He pursued Jonah when His servant ran from Him and from His responsibilities before Him. When God calls, His church must submit and listen. He will forgive and empower again if only believers will humble themselves and live according to His wisdom by faith. Wealth can make a person walk by sight rather than by faith, but a person who has just enough needs faith every day so that he can get through the day by the mercy of God. A dependent heart that recognizes and celebrates the insufficiency of man and the sufficiency of Christ will enjoy intimacy and fellowship with Christ. Believers will overcome by faith on account of Christ’s blood (Revelation 12:11) because of God’s grace to keep them in His hand (John 10:28), and they will reign with Christ forever. Jesus even says that believers will get to sit with Him on His throne (Ephesians 2:6, Revelation 4:4, 20:4). He overcame sin and death and was able to sit with the Father on His throne. The Father gave Him the name above every name on account of His humility and obedience (Philippians 2:5-10). There are such great honors and rewards available to believers, and knowing this will help them to endure and look forward to the weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). Believers should stand in stark contrast to the world, reflecting the truth of Christ, and they should be full of zeal for His gospel and His kingdom. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches of the first century and of today.