REVELATION - CHAPTER 3
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
3:1. “And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.”
This letter to Sardis, like the letters to all the churches, will be better understood against the background of an acquaintance with the character of the city itself. The Sardis of John’s day was a wealthy commercial center, but its greatness was as nothing compared to what it had been once. Centuries before, it had been the capital of Croesus, a king whose name to this day is synonymous with wealth.
Built originally on a plateau, and enjoying virtual impregnability by reason of the precipitous slopes of the mountain spur upon which it sat, the city eventually grew until a second city developed on the plain at the foot of the mountain. At the time when John wrote this letter, Sardis consisted of the metropolis on the plain, the part on the plateau having become little more than a ruin.
Cybele, the goddess of nature, was the patron deity.
We have already noted that “the angels of the churches,” described also as “the seven stars,” (Re 1:20), appear to represent the elders of the churches, and that the term “the seven Spirits of God,” refers, not to seven Holy Spirits, but to the sevenfold fullness of the one Holy Spirit, (Isa 11:2).
The Lord finds nothing to commend in this Sardian church, the character of the city apparently having impressed itself upon those who professed to belong to Him. As the slowly deteriorating city on the plateau was all that remained of the glorious city that had once reigned from the security of the mountain top, so was the Sardian church but the dying relic of a former glory. Of both city and church it might have been lamented, “How is the gold become dim!” As Dr. Tatford has so aptly commented relative to their works, “The clanking of ecclesiastical machinery soon superseded the virile spontaneity of the first reawakening.” The Lord’s denunciation was, “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” Mere works are no substitute for the happy, Spirit-directed service yielded in sacrifice to God as the expression of the gratitude of a redeemed heart. Many a believer, many a church today merits the same lament, the same denunciation.
3:2. “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.”
Accompanying His charge, is the Lord’s exhortation, and the pertinence of the command is the more apparent when viewed against the background of the city’s history. Decline had begun during the reign of Croesus, who, following a defeat at the hands of Cyrus the Persian, had returned to Sardis, confident that time would force the Persians to lift the siege of a city that seemed impregnable. His confidence was ill-founded. One day a Persian soldier saw one of the besieged garrison descend the cliff and retrieve his helmet which he had accidently dropped over the parapet. Realizing that since a Sardian had climbed down and returned again, a Persian could also climb up, he informed his commander. That night, by the same route, that Persian soldier led a company up the cliff, and they could hardly believe what they found. The over-confident Sardians hadn’t even bothered to post a guard. The city was easily taken, and for two centuries disappeared from the historical record. It did eventually recover, however, but history, as not infrequently, repeated itself. In 218 B.C. Sardis was again besieged, this time by Antiochus, who, upon being told of the earlier Persian expedient, duplicated it, and again a city too confident to set a watch, was captured.
The same careless confidence marked the church apparently, for it is to lack of watchfulness that the ruin of both churches and individuals, is to be charged. The dangers of careless confident indifference are pointed up in the frequency with which believers are warned to watch. Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders against the attack of “wolves” from inside and outside the church, concluded with the exhortation, “Therefore watch, and remember that ... I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Ac 20:31). The Corinthian believers were given the same admonition, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong” (1 Co 16:13). The Colossians were likewise admonished, “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving” (Col 4:2). Similar warning was given the Thessalonians, “Let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober” (1 Th 5:6).
3:3. “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. 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.”
This is a reminder of better days, and a call to repentance, with a view to recovery of their lost glory. The exhortation, however, goes beyond Sardis: it is for you and me, as it is also for each local church today. But the exhortation is accompanied by a threat, which also has application to individuals and churches today, “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.”
While certainly in a general way this coming as a thief relates to the Lord’s coming to effect the rapture of His Church, the more specific application may be to His exercise of discipline at any time throughout the Church age, as for example, in Corinth, “For this cause (unjudged sin) many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep (have died). For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world” (1 Co 11:30-32).
It is, however, a local circumstance that lends peculiar force to this warning as it relates to the Sardian church. As we have discussed already, lack of watchfulness had twice caused the city to fall to the enemy - a fact which, we are told, had given rise to a practice designed to guard against repetition of that error. It was the custom of the officer of the watch to make an occasional stealthy unexpected tour of inspection at night, and upon finding a sentry asleep, to quietly cut off a piece of his tunic, thus establishing the man’s guilt, and leaving him without excuse when he was punished in the morning.
3:4. “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.”
There were a few faithful ones left in Sardis, and the Lord would encourage them to continue keeping themselves from the general defilement, for since garments are symbolic of righteousness, the undefiled clothing declares their righteousness state.
“... and they shall walk with me in white....” It was the custom in Rome for the friends of a victorious general to be invited to walk with him, dressed in white togas, in the course of his triumphal procession to receive the applause of the multitudes, and the commendation of Caesar. The incentive to faithfulness - not just to those in Sardis, but to believers throughout the Church age - is the knowledge that in a soon-coming day, those whose faithfulness proves them worthy, will walk with Christ, clothed in His righteousness, and sharing His triumph and glory.
3:5. “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.”
This again has reference to a common practice of those days. Every city maintained a register of its citizens, the names being reinscribed in gold to commemorate worthy deeds, but being erased as punishment for wicked deeds such as treason.
Since Scripture is unequivocal in its teaching that eternal life, received by faith, can never be lost, this reference is not to be construed as teaching the possible loss of salvation, but rather, that as retention or deletion of his name from the city register was determined by the citizen’s deeds, so are the deeds of the professing believer indicative of whether he has eternal life, as the Lord Himself warns, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Mt 7:20-23), the further warning being given in Mt 25:46 that, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment....”
Lack of omniscience on the part of the city registrar made necessary the expedient of erasing the name of one who became a malefactor. An omniscient God, however, is under no such necessity. It is with perfect knowledge of the future, as of the past, that He has inscribed each believer’s name in His book, eternally beyond any possibility of erasure. Nor is this to be construed as His having predestinated some to be saved, and the others lost. It is necessary to distinguish between what God foreknows, and what He has predestinated. For example, He has predestinated that every believer will be in heaven for ever, and every unbeliever in the lake of fire for ever, but He leaves with each individual the freedom to choose which will be his eternal dwelling place, that choice being made by the man’s acceptance or rejection of the Gospel.
3:6. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
And finally, this letter to Sardis, like all the letters, is prophetic. The meaning of the name is uncertain, the two most generally accepted meanings being red ones and escaping remnant, the latter being the more probable, having regard to the fact that the period of Church history portrayed by Sardis is that of the Reformation, a period in regard to which Dr. Tatford has written, “The Reformers concentrated primarily upon the truth of justification by faith and ignored many equally vital doctrines. Admirable although their efforts were, their defective teaching could never produce a balanced result. Their work was not perfectly finished in the sight of God.”
3:7. “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth:”
Here also, a knowledge of the city in which the church was located, sheds light on the details of the letter. It had been founded by the king of Pergamum, Attalus II, (known also as Philadelphus because of his deep love for his brother Eumenes). It was this latter name, Philadelphus (brotherly love) that was given to the city in his honor. His purpose in building it was to spread Greek culture throughout Lydia, Mysia and Phrygia; and it was because of its proximity to the borders of these provinces that the site was chosen, causing the city to be known as “the gateway to the East.”
Its prosperity derived from the vineyards which abounded in the region, and from the commerce which must of necessity pass through it since it lay on the main route from the coast to the Asian hinterland.
This church, together with its sister in Smyrna, enjoys the happy distinction of having no rebuke directed against it, the Lord Himself commending and encouraging the faithfulness of His own in both places. The very qualities which He commends have led many to conclude that the church was small for such qualities have always characterized the small faithful remnant rather than the professing mass. There is good reason to believe, in fact, that the very character in which the Lord introduces Himself, was reflected in the life of the Philadelphian church, “These things saith He that is holy, He that is true.” Holiness and truth are no less prized by Christ today.
The propriety of the continued introduction, “... He that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth,” is readily apparent in view of the purpose for which Philadelphia had been built - to be, as it were, a missionary center for the spread of Greek culture. So had the Lord planted His church there, to be a center from which the Gospel would be carried, not only to Asia, but to the world. It is for the same purpose that He has placed, each in his appointed sphere, individual believers and churches today, His command to every believer being, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15).
The reference to “the key of David” has an obvious connection with Isa 22:22, “And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his (Eliakim’s) shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.” That the ultimate application is to Christ is clearly demonstrated by the Lord’s application of these words to Himself in the introduction to the Philadelphian letter. The encouragement to every believer is that as we walk in holiness and truth, yielding ourselves as instruments to do Christ’s bidding, nothing will be able to hinder our work.
3:8. “I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.”
The Lord takes notice of everything done for Him, and will not fail to recompense with an eternal reward in the imperishable currency of heaven. The condition of the world affords ample evidence that that day of reward isn’t far off.
“Behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it....” An open door of opportunity is similarly set before each one of us, and the fact that “no man can shut it” leaves us under the necessity of explaining our disobedience if we haven’t gone through that door with the Gospel. Since the Lord has opened, and no man can shut, it leaves no other explanation than that we have simply refused to use that opened door.
Small in numbers, and equally small in strength though they might be, the Philadelphian believers nevertheless had what the Lord prized highly: faithfulness, “Thou hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.” He still sets great value upon obedience and loyalty. Weakness and small numbers were never a hindrance to the Lord in the accomplishment of His purposes through yielded believers who find in their acknowledged weakness the perfect forum for the display of divine power. In regard to numbers, the accomplishments of Gideon’s three hundred, Jg 7:7, are the demonstration of the truth declared in Zec 6:6, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” “... for there is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few” (1 Sa 14:6).
3:9. “Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.”
This indicates that the Christians in Philadelphia suffered persecution at the hands of the Jews. The Lord’s scathing denunciation of those hypocritical liars, however, is accompanied by His promise, “I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.” Few will fail to see in that counterfeit synagogue of false professors a type of the great false church, apostate Christendom, which has been the inveterate enemy of the true Church down through the centuries. Nor will faith fail to detect in the Lord’s judgment of that synagogue the assurance of His equally certain judgment against apostate Christendom.
Their being made to “worship before thy feet,” is not to be interpreted as teaching that believers will one day be worshiped. It points rather to the exalted position which the Church will enjoy throughout eternity. As the Bride of Christ, she will stand by His side as all creation bows before Him in worship. Her nearness to Him is declared by the fact that those who bow at His feet, will be bowing synchronously at the feet of His Bride. However much outward circumstances might be construed, wrongly, as indicating lack of love on the part of Christ for believers, all such doubt will be removed on that day when the redeemed stand by His side in glory. Then all creation will comprehend just how much “Christ ... loved the Church....” (Eph 5:25). The Philadelphian Christians evidently hadn’t allowed persecution or any other circumstance to rob them of that assurance. May their confidence be ours.
3:10. “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, 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.”
Of the seven churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia exemplify most perfectly the ideal character of the Church, a fact which lends significance to the promises given them. Smyrna’s encouragement to faithfulness is the promise of “a crown of life,” and Philadelphia’s is the expectation of being kept from an hour of trial “which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.”
In the suffering church of Smyrna we see typified the lot of the Church universal: her earthly experience is a time of suffering that tests the reality of her profession; but the hour of trial from which the Philadelphian believers are promised exemption is of a different nature. Its purpose is not to test the Church, but the earth-dwellers, i.e., those whose interests are earthly, not heavenly. It is the seven-year terrible Tribulation period yet to come. The Church will not be subjected to this trial. She will have been raptured to heaven before it begins. Appropriately, the believers who will experience the Tribulation judgments, designed to test the earth-dwellers, will be the remnant of God’s earthly people, Israel.
3:11. “Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.”
The expectation of the Church represented by Smyrna is focused on the promise, “I will give thee a crown of life”; that of the Church represented by Philadelphia centers on the promise, “Behold, I come quickly.” The promises combine to present the full expectation of the Church. In the midst of trial there is held out the expectation of receiving a crown; but in the midst of trial there is also the expectation of the Lord’s coming “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Co 15:52) to take us out of earth’s trials by receiving us to Himself.
To the encouragement was added the exhortation, “... hold that fast which thou hast....” There was the danger for them, as for us, of allowing discouraging outward circumstances to cause them to relinquish those things upon which the Lord sets such a high value - obedience to the Word of God, and loyalty to Him. And there was added to the exhortation the warning, “... that no man take thy crown.” This has been mistakenly construed as indicating the possibility of a believer’s losing his salvation, a prospect which Scripture shows to be an impossibility. The believer’s crown, which is the reward of his service, is not to be confused with salvation, which is the reward of the sinner’s faith. The former may be lost; the latter, never. The
Lord has some service for each believer, and faithfulness in that service will be rewarded with a crown. Unfaithfulness however, will result in the Lord’s assigning that service to another, who will receive the crown forfeited by my dereliction.
3:12. “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.”
The pertinence of this promise is related to a circumstance of life in the city of Philadelphia. The whole region was subject to earthquakes, a powerful one of which had destroyed ten cities, including Philadelphia, in A.D.17. The seismic disturbances which continued for years afterwards, caused the people to live in continual fear of a second devastation, each fresh earth tremor prompting them to flee the city, and encamp in the relative safety of the open country. Compared to the uncertainty of existence under such conditions, the assurance of permanent stability, portrayed by a pillar, was something they could particularly appreciate.
The reference to the inscription of a new name upon the overcomer is also related to a custom of the times, and to a circumstance peculiar to Philadelphia. Barclay, writing in The Revelation of John, vol.1, p.134, says, “... when a (heathen) priest died after a lifetime of faithfulness, men honored him by erecting a new pillar in the temple in which he had served and by inscribing his name and the name of his father upon it. This then would describe the lasting honor which Christ pays to his faithful ones.”
In regard to the new name, the same author writes, “The people of Philadelphia knew all about taking a new name. Following the earthquake of A.D.17, Tiberius, the Emperor, dealt kindly with them, remitting taxation and making a generous gift to rebuild the city, they in their gratitude, calling the new city Neocaesarea, the New City of Caesar, and later when Vespasian was kind to them, they called it Flavia, for that was the family name of Vespasian.”
“... and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.”
Three names are to be written upon the believer, and since three is the number of manifestation and resurrection, this declares that the blessedness associated with the inscription of those names is deferred until the resurrection.
The heathen priests wore on their foreheads the name of the God they served, and part of the uniform of Israel’s high priest was the golden plate worn on the miter, and bearing the inscription, “Holiness to the Lord” (Ex 28:36). Throughout eternity the believer will be acknowledged as a priest of the God of heaven.
Since Jerusalem, meaning dual peace shall be taught: lay (set) ye double peace, is synonymous with peace, the inscription of this name upon the believer may be the symbolic assurance that “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Php 4:7), is the possession of the saint, not only here on earth, but for ever.
The third will be the Lord’s own new name, and since in Scripture a new name is indicative of a new state, the truth being taught here may well be that the fellowship with Him which began here on earth when we came to know Him as Savior, will continue eternally when He reigns as King over all creation.
Regarding the descent of the new Jerusalem, it is to be noted that there are two such descents referred to in Scripture: one, the descent into the atmospheric heavens during the Millennium; and two, the descent to the new earth after the Millennium. The believers of this present age, together with the resurrected saints of the OT and Tribulation age, will dwell in that eternal city during the Millennium, but it won’t be until the Millennium is succeeded by the eternal state with its new heavens and earth, that the believers of the Millennial age will enter it.
And finally, there is to be written upon the overcomer the Lord’s new name. This is generally taken to indicate that full revelation of Himself which is beyond our ability to comprehend with our present finite minds.
3:13. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
Having already discussed this exhortation which concludes all the letters, there is no need to repeat those comments here.
As the letters to the other churches have a prophetic significance, so also does this epistle to Philadelphia. The Philadelphian church is generally accepted as portraying the missionary zeal that characterized the Church during the nineteenth century, when a love for Christ and for dying men impelled many to forsake all, that the world might hear the Gospel.
3:14. “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;”
Again, a knowledge of the city’s background will lend significance to the contents of the letter. It was one of the wealthiest commercial and banking centers of the ancient world, situated on the main road between the rich hinterland and the great port of Ephesus. One of its principal trades was the manufacture of black woollen cloth which was exported to practically every part of the known world of that day.
Another product that enjoyed an equally wide distribution, and brought much revenue to the city, was its renowned eyesalve. Its famous medical school likewise enjoyed world-wide repute, attracting from every part of the Roman world, both students, and those seeking cures for all kinds of illnesses.
Its Jewish population was large and wealthy, numbering at least seven thousand males (based on the amount of the Temple tax sent from Laodicea to Jerusalem around that time).
Some idea of the city’s wealth may be assessed from the fact that though it was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D.60, the citizens, refusing Roman aid, rebuilt it themselves. Some measure of its spiritual poverty, however, may be gauged from the fact that it is the only one of the churches in regard to which the Lord expresses nothing but condemnation.
The reference to the church there as being “neither cold nor hot” is also related to a local feature. Water, from hot springs outside the city, was piped in, but by the time it reached the city, it, like the spiritual state of the church, was also tepid.
As befits the church which is the last to be addressed, the Lord introduces Himself as “the Amen.” There is moreover an indirect rebuke of their faithlessness, in His being introduced also as “the faithful and true Witness.” And again, appropriate to the church which prophetically represents the state of the professing church at the end of the Church age, He presents Himself, not only as the end of all things, but also as “the beginning of the creation of God.” This doesn’t mean, as has been wrongly deduced by some, that He was the first thing to be created, but rather that He is “the moving Cause of the creation of God.” As is declared in Jn 1:1-3 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made.”
3:15. “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.”
There could be no more fitting description of the present-day professing church than the condition which the Lord so caustically condemns in Laodicea, “...thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.”
3:16. “So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”
The “cold” portrays absolute indifference to spiritual things, while the “hot” points to fierce antagonism. In regard to the first there is the possibility that interest may yet be aroused. In regard to the second there is the possibility that the animosity may be converted to equally fervent adherence. There is virtually no hope, however, for the self-righteous complacency of mere empty profession portrayed in the lukewarm condition of the Laodicean church. As tepid water tends to nauseate the drinker, so did the spiritual condition of the Laodiceans revolt the Lord. That same condition, whether in a church or an individual, disgusts Him no less today, and it is this very condition that characterizes much of present-day professing Christendom. “I will spue thee out of my mouth,” declares the Lord’s utter rejection of all such empty profession.
3:17. “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:”
There could be no greater contrast than that which existed between the state of the Laodiceans, as perceived by them, and as perceived by the Lord. In their own eyes, which saw only temporal things, and were completely blind to the spiritual, they were “rich and increased with goods, and (had) need of nothing.” As seen by Christ, however, they were, “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked....” It is significant that in one of the great banking centers of the ancient world, where temporal wealth was constantly in evidence, the spiritual state of these professing Christians should have been one of abject poverty; that in a city which derived much of its wealth from the export of eye salve, their own spiritual condition should have been that of blindness; and that in a center which produced clothing for the rest of the world, they themselves should have been spiritually naked. To read of their condition, however, without realizing that it is the state of much of Christendom today, and that it may well be the description of our own spiritual state, is to demonstrate that we are equally “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.”
3:18. “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.”
The same One Who declares the state, discloses also the remedy. There was particular propriety in the cure prescribed. It was a common sight in Laodicea to witness gold and silver being assayed, for the merchants of that day were no more scrupulous than their present-day counterparts: where a profit might be turned by adulteration of metal tendered in payment, that expedient was employed.
Since, however, gold is the Biblical symbol of glory, the injunction becomes a command, as relevant today as then, to the believer to be concerned, not about amassing worldly wealth, but about accumulating riches that are eternal, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven ... for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:19-21). Nor should we miss the implication of that word “buy.” How are these heavenly riches to be bought? Just as we buy literally by giving one thing in exchange for another, so by giving up the worthless things of earth, do we acquire spiritual riches having eternal value. As we are willing, for Christ’s sake, to forego the opportunity to acquire worldly wealth, obtain fame, enjoy earthly pleasures, so do we “buy” eternal riches.
“... and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear.” Preoccupied with the production of their famous black cloth, they were ignorant of the fact that failure to produce works of righteousness had resulted in their being spiritually naked. What is frequently not understood by Christians is that mere abstention from sin is not in itself sufficient to produce righteousness: there must be also the active doing of good. And what is also not always understood is that while every believer is clothed with Christ’s righteousness at the moment of conversion, there is also the necessity to weave the garment of righteous deeds, for we read concerning the garment of fine linen in which the Church will be eternally arrayed, that “the fine linen is the righteousnesses (plural, not “righteousness” singular, of the KJ version) of the saints” (Re 19:8), i.e., their righteous deeds. This is not to be taken as an implication that we can make ourselves righteousness (we can’t), but that one of the evidences of new spiritual life is the production of righteous deeds, as it is written, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (Jas 1:22). “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (Jas 2:26). Living faith produces righteous works.
It is to be noted that literal nakedness symbolizes lack of righteousness, e.g., immediately after they had sinned, Adam and Eve discovered that they were naked. The spiritual state of the Laodiceans was revealed in the Lord’s announcement of their nakedness.
“... and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.” Busy producing what healed the sight of others, the Laodiceans failed to see that their own state was infinitely worse than that of those who bought their eyesalve. Their own malady was spiritual, that of their customers, physical. A characteristic of the present day is that many professing Christians, adept in prescribing worldly remedies for ills financial, matrimonial, social, etc., are blind to the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Remedy for every ill that besets the human race. Expert in the art of counselling, they fail to see that the root cause of man’s misery is sin, and that Jesus Christ, received by faith as Savior, and obeyed as Lord, is the answer to man’s every need.
3:19. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.”
While undoubtedly many in the Laodicean church were Christians in name only, the very fact that the Lord had bothered to send this letter of rebuke and exhortation proved that there were also in it those who belonged to Him.
The absence of Divine chastisement from the lives of many professing Christians is an ominous portent in view of Heb 12:8, “But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” Chastisement, however, to be effective, must produce results, “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby” (Heb 12:11). (All of Hebrews chapter 12 should be studied in connection with Divine rebuke and chastisement). As always, the road to recovery involves repentance. The Lord’s call to the Laodiceans was, “Be zealous therefore and repent,” or, according to Phillips, “Shake off your complacency and repent.” The command is no less to complacent Christendom today.
3:20. “Behold; I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”
Were it not that God Himself declares it, it would be impossible to believe that such a state could exist as is portrayed in this verse. It is painfully apparent, however, that the Lord is found outside, not only the church in Laodicea, but also outside many a professing church today. When it is realized that the corporate condition is nothing less than the expression of the individual state, this makes the application very personal. Each of us would do well to seek an honest answer, in the light of God’s standards, not ours, as to what extent the Lord has been made to stand “outside.” Every area of the life in which He is refused absolute control, is a place in which He is made to stand “outside the door” It is to be feared, that measured by this criterion, He stands also outside the door of many a professed believer’s life today.
His attitude is very different from what might be expected, for it must not be forgotten that He is portrayed as standing outside a heart into which He had once been received as Savior, a fact which clearly implies deliberate expulsion, for He will never depart voluntarily. The enormity of this offense will be better comprehended perhaps through the use of a practical illustration. Imagine for a moment a house occupied by one who had once been a beggar, but who is now rich - a beggar whose life you had saved at great risk to your own, a beggar whose house and riches you have supplied for no other reason than that you loved him. For a little while you are welcomed gladly into that house, but with the lapse of time you begin to see diminished warmth in the welcome, until finally the day comes when the one-time beggar, whom you have befriended and enriched, refuses to receive you at all. How would you react to such ingratitude? How long would you continue to supply his wealth? How long would you keep returning to knock at that door in hope of being received again as you had been once? Would you knock even once? Would you continue to supply for one more day the wealth that makes possible the beggar’s scornful independence of you?
We are the beggars whose lives the Lord saved, not at the risk, but at the cost of His own. We are the one-time paupers who are made rich by His beneficence. We have eternal life only because He died in our guilty place. We have a home in heaven only because He came from that heaven to an earth where He had not where to lay His head. We are rich only because He, for our sakes, was willing to be made poor. Add to these blessings His daily care, His provision of the very breath we draw, and we will perhaps begin to perceive the enormity of the outrage that refuses to permit Him control of any part of our lives.
We should tremble at the realization that God’s patience will not continue for ever. The warning voiced by the poet is as applicable to the saint as to the sinner, “There is a line by us unseen, that crosses every path: it is the line that separates God’s mercy from His wrath.” What if today should be the last time He knocks? There came a day for Israel in the desert when they finally exhausted His patience, and He turned them back into the wilderness to die. There came a day for a later generation of that same rebellious nation when they also exhausted His patience, resulting in His withdrawing the possibility of their entering the kingdom, and their being delivered instead to the sword of the Roman in A.D.70.
The Lord’s appeal is addressed, not to a church that obviously has passed beyond hope of recovery, but to the individual for whom there is yet hope, “If any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.” Others have pointed out that one of the distinguishing features of Christianity is that, unlike all other religious systems, it has to do with a God Who first seeks men, rather than men who seek God.
The saint as well as the sinner has a free will, and the Lord will never violate that will to impose Himself on any man. It is by an act of the sinner’s free will that Christ is received as Savior, and it is no less by an act of the saint’s free will that He is accorded control of the life. But first His voice must be heard. How? It echoes from every line of Scripture. To hear and refuse to obey, however, is rebellion. The hearer must “open the door.” (Most readers are possibly aware of the illustration drawn from an incident alleged to have occurred in a great art gallery. A visitor standing in front of a famous painting whose motif was based on this very passage of Scripture, was overheard to comment that it was strange the artist had not painted a handle on the door. Another viewer, familiar with the Bible, explained, “That is the door of the human heart. The handle is on the inside only).
In regard to the benefits that attend the individual’s response to the Lord’s knock, there is the assurance, “I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me,” and Barclay’s comments are well worth quoting in connection with this, “The Greeks had three meals in the day. There was akratisma, breakfast, which was no more than a piece of dried bread dipped in wine. There was ariston, the midday meal. A man did not go home for it; it was simply a picnic snack eaten by the side of the pavement ... or in the city square. There was deipnon; this was the evening meal; the main meal of the day; people lingered over it, for the day’s work was done. It was the deipnon that Christ would share with the man who answered His knock, no hurried meal, but that where people lingered in fellowship. If a man will open the door, Jesus Christ will come in and linger long with him,” The Revelation of John, Vol., 1, p.147.
3:21. “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.”
3:22. “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
Only he who overcomes the allurements of the world, will respond to Christ’s knock, and enjoy His fellowship. While certainly there is the assurance of the eternal continuance of that fellowship, the accent is upon the enjoyment of it here and now on earth. There is an added reward, however, but reserved for the soon-coming day when Christ will sit on His own throne. The overcomer will sit with Him on that throne. That this reward is reserved only for those whose faith is genuine (as demonstrated in their continuing faithful unto the end), is declared in 2 Tim 2:12, “If we suffer (patiently endure to the end), we shall also reign with Him.”
Encouragement to continue in that patient endurance is presented in the reminder that the Lord, by treading the same path, overcame, and now sits with the Father on His throne.
Like the other churches, Laodicea portrays a period of the experience of the Church universal, and it is the opinion of most scholars that that period is the present day, when the professing church is characterized by the same complacency, and indifference to the claims of Christ, as marked that early congregation. There is solemn warning, not only in the total absence of commendation, but also in the pronunciation of the Lord’s threat, “I will spue thee out of my mouth.” Only spiritual blindness will prevent us from seeing that the professing church today merits the same rebuke, and has made herself heiress of the same threat. Since, however, the corporate body reflects the state of the individuals comprising it, none of us should be guilty of failing to search his own heart, asking in sincerity, “Lord, is it I?”
Only a few more grains of sand remain in the divine hourglass. The last few lines of the Church’s history are being penned. The moment is almost here when the invitation to repent will be withdrawn, and the threat executed. May this study of the letters to the seven churches impel each of us to avail himself of the remaining few moments of grace to obey the Lord’s command, “I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of they nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.” Where occupation with the world has caused us to bolt the door against Him, may grace be given that will prompt a repentant response to His knock.