Monday, October 6, 2008

Revelation 3, Jesus Addresses the Church

The Spiritually Dead Church

This letter is a call to the congregation to wake up to the person of the Holy Spirit, and thereby be made alive to the things of God. It's the first church to which Jesus has nothing good to say.

3:1 "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, 'These things says He who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.

The great but tragic problem with Sardis lay in the fact that they had the name of Christ without the quickening influence of His divine Spirit. “A name in contrast with reality”, as one commentator puts it. So let’s look at the title of Jesus and see how it applies, and keep in mind that the “seven spirits” are interpreted to mean the fullness of the Holy Spirit and the “seven stars” are the pastors (see notes Rev.1:4-6,20).

“These things says He who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars”. The idea here is that Christ Jesus holds as His possession both the Holy Spirit (without measure and in perfection) and the church leadership (as the Authority over the church). Therefore, by Him and through Him both are indelibly joined. Whereas He has sent forth the Holy Spirit to influence and empower the church (Jo.16:13-15), He has also commanded the church to walk and live in the Spirit (Rom.8:14).

What Sardis had done, was fraudulent. They were calling themselves a church, yet denying the Person of the Holy Spirit by not teaching soundly that He is the appointed power by which Christians are brought to faith and helped in their walk with God. In other words, they were not teaching that one must be “born again”. So they had a form of godliness in that they looked like a church, but because they were denying the power of the Spirit, they had no manifestation of life by the Spirit. By all accounts, Sardis was little more than a corpse with a nametag or as Jesus tells them “…you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.”

3:2-4 "Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.

Allow me to paraphrase this admonition.
Wake up, Sardis! While you’ve been carelessly slumbering, you’ve come perilously close to a point of death. So wake up, stay wide-awake, and listen carefully.

Strengthen what little trace of the Holy Spirit that still remains in your congregation, otherwise, when that goes, you will have nothing of His grace abiding in you. And you will die off as a church, and be of no further use to me. For I have diligently searched through, and carefully examined, every effort and work you have done in my name, and have not found them perfect before God (though they appear godly before man). So those things will not help you.

You will find what you need for recovery in those few spiritually pure ones you have been neglecting to hear in your congregation; for I find them worthy, and they shall walk with me in white, because they haven’t denied my Spirit (as you have).

So listen attentively to what they have to say concerning the Spirit. But act quickly, because those members won’t be around long.

Reconsider your ways, Sardis: humble yourselves before God, and start paying closer attention to those precious doctrines deposited into your care; as in the beginning, when the truth came to you with the demonstration of the Spirit, and you heartily received it. Because I must warn you, that unless you do, I will come upon you when you least expect it, and judge your church for its neglect of my admonition.
3:5-6 "He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before my Father and before His angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

"He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments…" This refers to the glorified bodies we'll be given in heaven (2 Cor.5:1-4). The word "white" is taken to mean "brilliant". So the idea is, having been made the righteousness of Him, we will shine as brightly as the sun in the kingdom of our Father (check—Matt.13:43).

"…and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before my Father and before His angels." In other words, because our name is written in the Book of Life we are given the assurance that it will not be blotted out. Christ Jesus will claim us as one belonging to Him, before the Father and before all the angels.

Okay, let's pause here a minute and examine the Book of Life, and see if we can understand what it means to be "blotted out" of it.

The Book of Life is a "heavenly book" both held and kept by God. Its purpose is singular: To register the names of all who are redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and in turn have become citizens of heaven, joint-heirs to innumerable blessings, and future recipients of eternal life (see—Phil.4:3; Luke 10:20; Rev.21:2, 27).

It will be the Book of Life, therefore, when the condemned stand before Christ in the court of final judgment and must give a final account of their sins that ultimately convicts them to death. It will be opened in their sight, the names written therein carefully reviewed, and by the omission of their name, serve to prove their refusal to accept Christ's gift of salvation and the forgiveness of sin (Rev.20:12, 15).

The word "blot out" is as it sounds. It means to erase, which carries with it the idea to wipe out or to obliterate. Therefore, if someone’s name is blotted out of the Book of Life, it means that the name is no longer contained in the Book, and ever again shall be. Unfortunately, this has caused some to suggest that a believer can lose salvation. They reason that because the Book of Life contains no other group of names but those of the redeemed, therefore this blotting out of names must apply to the redeemed alone. But Scripture contradicts that notion; clearly stating that it’s not the redeemed, made righteous in Christ (Eph.1:7; 2 Cor.5:21), whose names are blotted out, but those who are not redeemed. (See—Ex.32:33; Ps.69:27-28).

Okay, but how do we reconcile the idea that the Book of Life, a record of the redeemed in Christ, could at the same time contain names belonging to the condemned that will be divinely obliterated? I have a suggestion based upon another scripture in Revelation.
“And if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life" (Rev.22:19).
Okay, let's look at this passage. The word "part" is a Greek word meaning "to get as a section or allotment". In other words by its use of that specific word "part" that passage can be interpreted to suggest that it’s one's “section” in the Book of Life that's blotted out and not one’s “name”. Let’s consider an example. When you reserve a room in a hotel, management allots you a room in your name. But until you actually arrive and claim the room, your name is not officially recorded in the registry as an occupant. You only hold a reservation. If you fail to claim the room, then your name is deleted, and you forfeit your reservation.

In my opinion, the Book of Life is both a reservation and registry. I believe that God, Who is "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet.3:9) has “reserved” a space inside His Book for the names of all who are born. When a person receives Christ Jesus as Savior, that person's name is registered permanently as the occupant of that space. Whereas, when God determines in His infinite wisdom that one will not be saved, an allotment of space is “blotted out" and the reservation made to include that name is forever forfeited.

It's only a suggestion, dear ones. But it's certainly not a contradiction to the immutable gift of salvation freely offered to us in Christ Jesus our Savior, and seems in perfect harmony with the riches of the grace of God.

Historically: Ancient Sardis was the capital city of Lydia in the province of Asia Minor, and in fact was one of its oldest and most important cities of its day. It's said that silver and gold coins were first minted here. Moreover, during its days as a Roman city, Sardis became an important Christian center that evidently became complacent due to a reliance on its past glory. At the time of this letter, Sardis was comparatively insignificant. Successive earthquakes, and the ravages of the Saracens and Turks, have reduced the city to a heap of ruins. Today the site (part of Turkey) is occupied by a village named Sart, which is said to be “A miserable village, comprising only a few wretched cottages, occupied by Turks and Greeks”.

The Faithful Church

Philadelphia had not turned its back to the Word of God, nor denied the Deity of Jesus Christ. So the letter contains no rebuke and no suggestion of judgment. It's to this persevering, spiritually awakened, faithful church at Philadelphia that Jesus alludes to the Rapture.

3:7 "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, 'These things says He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens:

In stark contrast to those in Sardis, whom Jesus had nothing good to say, to these in Philadelphia there are no suggestions of judgment; no stern reminders of His authority to regulate the church; no laments; and no hint that His examination of the congregation had found them wanting. On the contrary, Jesus has only praise, and thus presents Himself more personally with name-titles that reveal the sacred truth of Him.

“These things says He who is holy, He who is true...” Here, Jesus shows the Oneness He has with Jehovah God as the One God of the Old and New Testaments (see—Lev.11:44; John 17:3). He is “holy”, separate from evil, perfectly hating it. And He is “true”, as distinguished from false gods, the perfect realization of all that is true.

“…He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens.” (See Isa.22:22; 9:6,7). Here, Jesus shows Himself as God the Son, upon whom God the Father has placed supreme power and authority over all things, for it rests with Christ to open and shut heaven and hell; determining who is, and who is not to be admitted. He alone shuts what no man can open, and opens what no man can shut. His determinations stand fast, and none can reverse them. He is the King of Kings, the Mighty God, and the Everlasting Father, upon whose shoulder the government shall rest without end.

3:8-9 'I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie-- indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.

Philadelphia had "a little strength", which probably means that they were a small congregation. Perhaps they were comprised of low-income families, with little political authority or influence, thus requiring them to muster all the spiritual stamina they could to survive. There were no powerful evangelistic outreaches adding numbers to their church; no mighty prayer groups toppling evil governments or satanic strongholds; and no loud voices influencing the community around them with the gospel. Seemingly, they were just enduring.

"See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it.” Because the congregation was steadfast in truth, yet with little strength of its own, Jesus assures them of His Divine intervention on their behalf. He would open a door for them through the adversity and opposition and lead them into vast new opportunities to proclaim the Word, and spread the Gospel.

"Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie…”
Seemingly, Philadelphia was being troubled by the same organization of Jewish heretics found persecuting the church at Smyrna (see notes—Rev.2:9). “…indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you." It’s uncertain whether to take this promise as a temporal or future event, or both. If temporal, it could suggest that through an upcoming and divinely empowered evangelism, the Jews would be constrained to acknowledge them as children of God in God’s favor. Maybe to the degree that some of the Jews would be converted and ultimately join their congregation to worship Christ in their presence. If a yet-future event, it would find its fulfillment at the end of the age, when every non-believer files through for judgment in the court of heaven and is forced to kneel at the feet of Jesus and made to confess that He is Lord to the glory of the Father in the presence of His church (Phil.2:10,11).

3:10-11 "Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I come quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.

The “hour of trial” Jesus promises to keep the congregation from is not explained. Some consider it a reference to the more extensive Roman persecution that resulted under Trajan, and others suggest it might refer to some calamity by disease, earthquake (common in that region), or famine. If so, then we should conclude that what Jesus meant when He said, “I also will keep you from the hour of trial” is that He would divinely guard and carefully watch over them to keep them from sinking under the affliction of that trial.

There is, however, another suggestion.

Some commentators take the phrase, "hour of trial" to be a direct reference to the great tribulation because the trial appears broader in scope than a local issue, for it comes “upon the whole earth” to “test those who dwell upon the earth”. Moreover, they regard the faithful in Philadelphia as a type for the true Church and Bride of Jesus Christ, and the promise given that they would be kept from that tribulation applies to the Church and finds fulfillment in the rapture. I tend to agree.

"Behold, I come quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one take your crown."
Many elements in the world can cause us to turn from the hope of glory that will rob us of future rewards. We must remember that Christ is coming soon and therefore always resist the temptation to do evil, whether by act of negligence or unfaithfulness.

3:12-13 "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. And I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." '

"I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more.” A pillar serves as an essential and thus permanent part of a structure, yet is above ground and in full view, so artisans can also craft it into a beautiful adornment of the structure (check—I Kings 7:13-22). So the thought here is that we will have a permanent standing in the heavenly city of God not unlike that of a pillar, yet also stand in full view of heaven as the workmanship of Christ whom He made beautiful.

“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 God. And I will write on him My new name."
By implication, we know that neither our identity nor place of origin will ever be questioned in heaven. Though we travel into the uttermost parts of God’s creation, we will always be known and recognized by the names we bear: the name of God, the name of New Jerusalem, and the “new name” of Jesus Himself.

Historically: Philadelphia was founded after 189 BC, and therefore is not as ancient as many other cities of Asia Minor. Its name means "brotherly love,” but, having had a number of names prior to that, why and when it was so named is uncertain. It came under the domain of Rome in 133 BC and eventually became an important and wealthy trade center as other coastal cities declined. It remained a Roman town until it fell into the hands of the Turks in AD 1379 (the last of all the cities in Asia Minor to do so). As in most Asia Minor cities, many Jews lived there, and possessed a synagogue. Still a city of considerable size (but of little importance), Philadelphia is known today as Alasehin. Although there are few ruins, what remains are several pillars supposed to have been columns of a church.

The Lukewarm Church

This letter is a strong rebuke to the church that has departed from the faith. There is no praise, no mentioning of good works, and no apparent remnant of true believers in the congregation. At the same time, however, the picture of Jesus standing and knocking at the door of a heart He has deemed repugnant is also one of the most remarkable evidences of the love and mercy of God found anywhere in the Bible.

3:14 "And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, 'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:

Because Laodicea had departed from the true doctrine of Christ, and instead had accepted the doctrines of men, Jesus presents Himself with a three-fold title that shows Him to be the Truth.

First, Jesus calls Himself "the Amen", which means "true.” Where God is twice called in Scripture the “God of truth”, it means the “God of the Amen" (Isa.65:16). In other words, Jesus is the eternally true.

Secondly, Jesus calls Himself "the Faithful and True Witness". In contrast to worldly doctrines of humanism and materialism and all other vain philosophies, Jesus is (in the most absolute sense) the “Faithful and True”. He is the One in the bosom of the Father who has declared Him (John 1:18), the absolute expression of God to man (John 8:19b), the eternally true and reliable Witness.

Finally, Jesus calls Himself "the Beginning of the creation of God". This signifies Jesus to be the Creator of all creation, its origin and active cause. (See Col.1:15). He existed before time began; He is the eternal One.

3:15-16 'I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth.

Water becomes lukewarm in one of two ways: Whether its steaming hot or frozen solid, if allowed to sit at room temperature or mixed, cold with hot, water becomes lukewarm. In the same way, when Christians sit idly and do nothing with their faith, or when they mix truth with untruth, they become spiritually lukewarm.

The issue for Laodicea was having mixed the Word of Truth with untrue worldly philosophies. As a result, they concocted spiritually lukewarm hearts. They were neither hot nor cold, neither fervent for God nor bitterly opposed to God. They had adopted total indifference without conviction.

“I could wish you were cold or hot.” In other words, if Laodicea were “hot” it would have signified a heart that burned for Christ, whereas if they were “cold” it might have stirred a need to know Christ. Instead, Laodicea had become so satisfied and smugly contented with their complacency it became comfortable to neither desire Christ fervently, or to change. One commentator illustrates it well, “Whereas a cold person might at least sense a need, seek out a fire, and move near it, a lukewarm person senses no need, seeks out nothing, and comfortably stays put”.

"So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth." At first glance, this would appear that the Laodiceans were in danger of losing salvation, but I don’t consider the admonition concerning salvation. I believe the warning had to do with losing the opportunity to enjoy fellowship inside the body of Christ. Foremost, because that’s how God used this particular graphic one other time against His own people. He warned Israel not to defile their land with abominations “lest the land vomit you out” and then went on to say, “For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people" (Lev.18:24-29). The implication being (at least to me) that they would be discharged from the Nation and lose the blessing of fellowship with God's people, yet continue to be a people of God, rooted to the Nation, nonetheless.

We read about a similar incident in the church at Corinth regarding a man charged with adultery. In that case, Paul angrily admonished the congregation to drive the man from the group and “put away from yourselves that wicked person” (I Cor.5:13). But it’s clear that the admonition didn't regard that man’s salvation because Paul says, “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (I Cor.5:5). Moreover, when the man seemingly did repent later, the Apostle urged the congregation to "forgive and comfort him" and to "reaffirm your love to him" (2 Cor.2:7,8).

So the unrepentant of Laodicea were in danger, but not of losing their salvation. Jesus would “spew” or "discharge" them from His Body, which is the Church. Meaning they would to be cut off from among His people, and like those in Israel, and the man in Corinth, would lose the joy of fellowship, the peace of the Spirit, the nourishment of the Word, and a sense of God's blessings and presence.

3:17-18 'Because you say, "I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing"-- and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked-- I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.

The great stumbling block for the Laodiceans was their wealth.

A commercially rich city with many wealthy business people stuffing the church coffers, Laodicea had a sense of a financial well being that blinded them to the reality of their own spiritual depravity. "[You don't even know] that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked…I counsel you to buy from Me," Jesus told them. What Laodicea needed most their money couldn't buy, and only Jesus Christ can give.

First, they needed "gold refined in fire." This was to meet their spiritual poverty. The Bible says that godly wisdom is the "enduring riches" (Prov.8:18); the same burden, incidentally, that the Apostle Paul held for Laodicea years before (Col.2:1-3).

Secondly, they needed "white garments.” This was to meet their spiritual nakedness. In the pride of their financial success, Laodicea had unwittingly stripped itself of the covering of Christ. Considering themselves in need of nothing, they left themselves naked before God, and unrighteous in all their ways. They needed a covering of the righteousness of Christ.

Finally, they needed "eyesalve." This was to meet their spiritual blindness. This speaks of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. For apart from the working of the Holy Spirit, there can be no enlightenment about the Person or purposes of God (Eph.1:17-23).

3:19-20 “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”

Though Laodicea's complacency had ruined their relationship with Christ, it’s evident that Jesus did not turn His back on the Laodiceans, for He qualifies them as His legitimate children, whom He loves. (See also—Heb.12:5,6).

More miraculous still is that He continues to pursue the Laodiceans. Though crowded out of their hearts, Jesus remains at their hearts, beckoning at the door deliberately shut to Him. It’s a compelling picture of our Heavenly Father. That He would find us prodigal, yet in His heart yearn to be in fellowship with us still.

Oh, how wonderfully reassuring are the words,
"Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold You are there. I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me" (Ps.139:7-10).
3:21-22 "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

“I will grant to sit with Me on My throne as also I overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” The idea here is that nothing will remain in us that would defile His throne, or prevent us from sitting next to Him. By His grace, we shall become His righteousness, both pure and clean.

Historically: Known for its black wool industry, Laodicea became one of the most important and flourishing cities in Asia Minor during the Roman period. As the seat of large money transactions and its extensive trade in wool, most citizens developed a taste for Greek art, were distinguished in literature and science, and were wealthy. In fact it was the wealthy citizens of Laodicea that rebuilt the city following a destructive earthquake in AD 62 (without help from the state). It is believed that the Apostle Paul had a major hand in planting the Gospel in Laodicea, although he had not yet visited the city when he wrote Colossians 2:1. The site of Laodicea is now a deserted heap of ruins the Turks call Eski Hisar.

[This ends part two of Revelation. John has written those things "which are.” What follows concerns those things which “follow after these things”]

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