Around the sixth century B.C the city of Sardis was one of the wealthiest and powerful cities in the ancient world. It is believed that gold and silver coins were first pressed there. It also claimed to be the first city that discovered the art of wool dyeing. It is located on top of a high mountain thus making it a fortified city with walls reaching approximately 1500 feet above the lower valley. Eventually the city grew so they developed a lower city at the bottom of the mountain. Archaeologists have discovered that the lower city had a theater, a stadium and a large temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis. The patron god of Sardis was Cybele, who is also identified with Artemis.
The Letter to the Church of Sardis
Sardis is the first of two churches that receives only criticism and no commendation.
Vs 1: The church of Sardis had a reputation, and it was not a good one. They appeared outwardly to be a church that was alive, but it was dead. From the outside one would think the church was healthy, but Jesus saw that they represented spiritual death and decay.
Vs 2: Wake up! This is significant because twice in Sardis’s history the city was defeated (546 B.C. & 218 B.C.) because of inadequate watches. Both times the enemy struck the city watchmen were not paying attention or sleeping. Jesus calls the church of Sardis to wake up from their spiritual slumber.
Vs 3: “Go back to what you first heard” Jesus instructs the church to do the same as the Ephesians and remember. They are to remember what they have heard and what they have received. This was most likely the message of salvation through faith. They lost sight of the message that was given to them and hold firmly to it and repent. Repentance is always the first step to returning to a right relationship with Jesus. The warning… If they did not wake up, then Jesus will execute imminent judgment that will come swiftly and unexpectedly (Like a thief).
Vs 4: Most of the church was not walking with God but, there were some who were faithful. They had not soiled their garments. In Asia Minor soiled clothing would disqualify one from worshiping and would bring dishonor to their god. The church was in a state of compromise and most of the individuals were living double lives. They wanted the best of both worlds. Those who did remain faithful in this pagan filled church were promised garments of white because of their faithfulness to Jesus. White garments are symbolic of victory, justification and in fellowship with Jesus.
Vs 5: The ones who remained faithful and obedient will have their name written in the book of life. Jesus assures them that they are secure because they belong to him.
Philadelphia was a prosperous city due mostly to agriculture and the industry of color dyes. Grapes were one of the main resources in the area, thus the worship of Dionysus (the god of wine) was widespread.
Around the 6th Century it was known as “Little Athens” as it had many pagan temples and religious festivals. Earthquakes have destroyed much of the historical artifacts but there are still some remains from the later centuries standing today.
Letter to The Church of Philadelphia
Every Church either wants to be or believes they are the Church of Philadelphia today and for good reason. Jesus has only good things to say to this church and many comforting. It is believed that it was a small church in a small town that didn’t really have a huge impact on society and yet, it was significant enough to Jesus to speak to them and commend them for their works.
Vs 7: This is the first letter that does not have a description of Jesus taken from John’s vision of chapter one. The whole letter is dominated by the sure and certain prospect of life in the kingdom of God. Jesus declares himself the one who is “The holy one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David.” This is his way of declaring authority, trustworthiness and power over life and death.
Vs 9: We are introduced to the term Satan’s synagogue in the letter to Smyrna. This term is believed to represent the Jews who were persecuting Christians. In their persecution of the Church, they became known as Satan’s synagogue. They were not working for the God Israel; they were doing the work of the devil.
“Bow down at your feet” According to Isaiah 60:14, the Jews believed that the Gentile nations would one day bow or bend the knee before them and humbly acknowledge them as God’s chosen people. Now, Jesus is declaring that there will be a day when the Jews will humble themselves and acknowledge Jesus as the true Messiah and declare his Church is His chosen people. They will bow not in worship but in respect to the fact that the Church is the people Jesus loves.
Vs 10: “great time of testing” Since the Church of Philadelphia has patiently endured persecution Jesus promised them protection from judgment. Many believe the “great time of testing” is a reference to the Great Tribulation some believe will occur before or after the rapture of the Church or before the second coming of Jesus Christ. The major question is whether Christ is promising deliverance from the period of trial or safekeeping through the trial? This is an argument that has been debated for years and I am not going to settle it today. However, if we use the high priestly prayer of Jesus as our guide then we can note that Jesus prays that believers would not be taken out of the world (physically taken away) but that they would be protected (preserved through judgment). One could deduce that Jesus prays for preservation and protection for believers during times of great persecution. The early church expected trials that precede the return of Jesus Christ.
Vs 11: “I am coming soon…” There is urgency in Jesus’ words (he mentions this three times in Revelation). He is coming back. When and how? Nobody knows. We can only speculate. So, what was the Church of Philadelphia to do? They were to hold on to what they have in the coming days of trials. They had the Word of God and the truth of the Gospel. They were called to remain faithful so no one can seize or snatch away their crown (N.T. describes three kinds of crowns life, glory and righteousness). This shows that the believer can have assurance that their salvation is secure if they remain faithful to Jesus Christ and obedient to His Word.
Vs 12: Jesus will make the one who conquers a pillar in the temple. A pillar is symbolic of stability and immovability thus, the believer will remain sturdy and immovable. Jesus will also write the name of God and their new name on them. What does this mean? Those who overcome will become citizens of the eternal city (the New Jerusalem) not because of their deeds but because they are children of God and belong to Jesus.
City of Laodicea
Laodicea was a prosperous city; most likely the wealthiest due in part to the banking industry which was one of the features of the city. Another contributing factor was the countryside was perfect for raising sheep and they accumulated great wealth from the soft black wool.
The city did not many natural resources, so they brought water to the city from springs about six miles away through a system of stone pipes. The summer months could be treacherous.
The Letter to the Church of Laodicea
Vs 14: “The one who is the Amen…” The word amen means, “So be it”, “trustworthy”, “firm.” It is an expression of absolute confidence and trust. When used at the beginning of a discourse AMEN means “truly, truly or of truth”. At the end of a discourse it means, “So be it, so it is, may it be fulfilled.” The word is almost identical to Hebrew word that means “believe” or “faithful”.
“The faithful and true witness” refers to Revelation 1:5 where Jesus is declared as the faithful witness.
“The beginning of God’s new creation” Colossians 1:15, 18 states that Jesus is the firstborn of all creation, and He is the Beginning. We see elsewhere in Revelation where Jesus is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega. Nothing existed before him, and nothing will exist after him. He is all… He is eternal.
Vs 15: “I know all the things you do…” Jesus actively watched their deeds. Unfortunately, in Laodicea’s case their works are not pleasing.
“You are neither hot nor cold…” The Church was ineffective at best.
Vs 16: Like “lukewarm water” this is water that is tepid or ineffective. Since the city received water from springs nearly six miles away the water of Laodicea was usually tepid and gross. They understood the reference of Jesus. The water was useless as it came out of the pipes and Jesus equates the church to the tepid lukewarm water.
Because they were lukewarm Jesus’ response is much like ours when we partake of something that is lukewarm (especially when you are expecting a hot or cold item).
“I will spit you out of my mouth” Can be translated as spew, vomit or throw up. Their lukewarm faith made Jesus want to vomit. This is a very harsh and graphic statement. Since they were spiritually tepid Jesus was repulsed
Vs 17: “You say, ‘I am rich, I have everything. I don’t need a thing” – Since the Church was in a prosperous city, most likely it was a wealthy church. Unfortunately, the people thought that since they were rich materially then God must be ok with them. They believed he was blessing them because of their wealth.
However, Jesus told them differently. “You don’t realize that you are wretched and poor and blind and naked.” In their prosperity they failed to see the truth… “We are not all we thought we were. We may be rich financially, but spiritually we are poor and Jesus isn’t pleased with us. In fact, we are making him sick.”
Vs 18: “I advise you to buy gold from me, gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich.” In their spiritual depravity Jesus counseled them to stop pursuing physical wealth and pursue spiritual wealth. The purchase, so to speak, is to be made from Jesus himself because only he can provide the true wealth and health they need. If they do this, then they will become truly rich.
“Buy white garments from me so you will not be ashamed of your nakedness” These white robes symbolize righteousness. Covering nakedness is symbolic of judgment. Jesus tells them to buy these garments of white so they will be clothed in righteousness and escape judgment.
“Ointment for your eyes.” This is in reference to the school of medicine and Herophilos. The Laodicean church was spiritually blind. They could not see their spiritual deficiency. Jesus counseled them to get eye ointment from him and anoint their eyes. They needed to quit trusting in the remedies of man and trust Jesus.
Vs 19: Jesus was not turning his back on the church. He loved the Church of Laodicea. Even though he is not pleased with them, he tells them, “I am telling you to do this because I love you. I am telling you this for your own good.” Jesus admonished the Church to wake up from their spiritual slumber and and seek him so they could be a church that was pleasing to Him and share in his glory.
Vs 20: “Look, I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door; I will come in and we shall share a meal together as friends.” The text suggests that Jesus has been at the door for some time. It also suggests that he continually knocked patiently and waited to be invited in. He was at the threshold of their lives and church, and he called for them to open the door of repentance so that he may come in and have true fellowship with them once again.
In the Middle Eastern culture eating a meal together is a sign of intimacy and trust. The main idea behind this passage is Jesus’ desires to restore fellowship with the Laodicean believers and him. This can only happen through repentance, heeding to the call and responding to the knocking of Jesus that would ultimately lead to them being effective followers of Jesus Christ and of his Kingdom.
Vs 21, 22: The continued promise to those who conquer or are victorious as they participate with Jesus in his sovereign rule. This is the promise given to all the churches (and individuals) who heed the words of Jesus in the letters to these churches.
All seven churches received different messages. However, we need to remember this is one letter written to seven churches. It is safe to say that a common thread running through these letters is the issue of compromise. Ultimately, will these churches compromise or will they remain faithful in trying times. Each church faced the reality of imperial worship and pagan practices, and each needed to determine where their loyalties lie. Will they expose sin or tolerate it? Will they call out false teachers and doctrines or embrace them? Will they seek comfort or endurance in persecution? They are all reminded to keep the end in mind, since Christ is victorious, they will be victorious. They are overcomers because Jesus is an overcomer.
This past Wed. during Bible study someone asked, “What would Jesus say to the church of America today?” That sparked a great discussion and I think it is a question worth considering and discussing. But on a more practical level, what would Jesus say to you and to the church of Southside? Where are our loyalties? How do we view and deal with sin? Do we expose false doctrines and teachings? Lastly, how will we respond when/if persecution and trials befall us for standing for the truth of Jesus Christ? These are questions worth considering and responding in our personal quiet time and in our times together in groups. All in all, may we emerge on the side of Jesus Christ as sovereign Lord and overcomer of all.
 New Bible commentary: 21st century edition. 1994 (D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer & G. J. Wenham, Ed.) (4th ed.) (Re 3:7–13). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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