Revelation 3:1-22 - 7 Churches: Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea

Sardis

 1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

   These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

   4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. 6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Revelation 2:1-6

 

Sardis Ruins
 

Sardis Synagogue

Seven hundred years before John wrote down the message, Sardis was one of the greatest and wealthiest cities in the entire world.  Sardis was the glory of the Lydian empire.  Its most famous king was Croesus.  His name became a common word because of a famous proverb, "As rich as Croesus."  Sardis was a very rich city.  Under Croesus, Sardis became one of the greatest cities in the world, but because of him it soon plunged into disaster.  It became decadent in its love of luxury, money, and immorality.  However, it was a famous city for a long time.  This city appeared to be thriving, but because of moral bankruptcy the city eventually died from within.

The city of Sardis was virtually impregnable because it sat on a spur on a mountain. Climbing up the spur of the mountain was extremely difficult. The only approach to the city was from the back where the ridge of Mount Tmolus met the spur. Of course the garrisons of the city guarded the entrance. A gigantic tower on the end of the spur overlooked the entire Hermus valley, so enemies could easily be spotted as they approached.  In fact, the entire city looked like a giant watchtower looking out over the Hermus valley.

Sardis was conquered two times in the same manner.  The first time it was conqured  by Cyrus (in 549B.C.) when his army besieged the city.  Part of Sardis had grown around the bottom of the spur, but the army had to defeat the part of the city on top of the spur in order to take control of the fortifications.  One of Cyrus's soldiers was standing watch one night when one of the Sardian soldiers dropped his helmet from the top of the tower.  It rolled to the bottom of the spur.  The Sardian soldier climbed over the fortress and made his way down the cliff to the base, collected his helmet, and climbed back up the same way he had come down.  The soldier standing watch realized that there was a route up the cliff to the city.  That night he gathered a select band of soldiers and followed the same path that the Sardian soldier had followed when he recovered his helmet.  The band of soldiers went into the city over the wall, and because the soldiers of Sardis thought they were so secure, they had left the city unguarded.  Cyrus's soldiers then let the army into the city and it was captured.

Hundreds of years later, the same thing happened.  The armies of Antiochus found a way to climb up the cliff . The people of the city were living in complete luxury and security, not thinking that any army could capture the city.  However, they were overtaken twice because they failed to keep someone on guard.  In the introduction to the church of Sardis, Jesus warns them to wake up and keep watch.  The city of Sardis had a problem watching out for its enemies; the church at Sardis had the same problem.  I think the church today is failing to keep watch the way she should, and her enemy is walking around seeking to destroy the believers and our children.  2 Peter 3:3-4; 1 Peter 5:8

The message to the church in Sardis reminds me of the parable of the ten sleeping virgins.  This group represents believers that are betrothed to Christ.  All believers are in a state of betrothal because we can not enter into the marriage state until Christ comes to receive His bride and we celebrate the marriage supper.  Therefore, all believers are virgins since the marriage vows have not been consumated.  The difference between the virgins is that five were wise and five were foolish.  The five wise had oil for their lamps while the foolish did not have sufficient oil for their lamps.  The oil  represents the Holy Spirit.  In the introduction of the letter to the church in Sardis, Christ demonstrates that he has what the foolish virgins and the members of the congregation in Sardis need--the Holy Spirit.  The oil, or Holy Spirit is the very thing that annoints us to do the work of Christ.  Without the annointing our works are of the flesh which lead to death.

The wise spiritual condition will become evident because once you have been annointed with theSpirit of God, you will immediately begin testifying of Jesus.  Revelation 19:10  Your lifestyle will change because you will begin to despise the things you do and desire the will of God.  Your witness will begin to challenge the lifestyles of those around you provoking them to reject you.  You will probably lose friends and influence, but you will gain your eternal life.  Jesus said that if you will confess Him before men, He will confess you before the Father and all of Heaven.  Matthew 10:32-33; Mark 8:38; 2 Timothy 2:12 

When you stand before the judgment seat of God, you will fail to remember that you are supposed to care what the world thinks of you.  Neither will it matter how famous you were in this world, because without Christ, the only name we have in His kingdom is infamous.  He and all of Heaven know who you are, they are just not impressed.  Without Christ, we will not have a place in His kingdom.  We all fear being an outcast among our friends and peers, but I warn you that being cast out is worse.  Enter in now during the day of salvation and ensure your place in the kingdom to come.  John 14:1-4; Revelation 20:11

There are some in Sardis that still have white garments.  The garment represents righteousness.  A soiled garment represents self-righteousness, but a pure, white garment represents the righteousness of Christ.  Almost all of Sardis have soiled garments because they think their works have ensured their at-one-ment with God.  Overcome your self-righteousness by removing that old, stained garment and reveal the shame of your nakedness.  Then allow Christ to clothe you with His righteous acts making your garments white and undefiled.  Your name will be written in the book of life.  You are no longer dead in your sins, but living in Christ.

The Sardis Christians were blessed bountifully with material goods.  The greater blessing was that the Sardis Christians could practice their faith without molestation.  These Christians assumed their blessings demonstrated evidence that they had a unique, special place with God.  There are certain things about Sardis that reminds me of American Christians. 

You can not assume because you are able to partake of the goods of this world, that you are right with God.  Of course, God knows our needs and is able as our provider.  However, history is filled with examples of believers that suffered while in this world and were as poor as paupers their entire lives.  Yet, these individuals are clearly greatly beloved by God.  You should also remember that just because your neighbors have tolerance for you and your faith, that does not mean you are doing something right while the martyrs are doing it all wrong.  You just have not had your moment of trial, yet.  You should praise God, but keep watch because surely you and yours will have your time of trouble, and remember that Christ said, "Woe unto you if the whole world speaks well of you."  Luke 6:24-26


Philadelphia

   7 “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:

   These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.

   11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. 13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Revelation 2:7-13

View through the remaining columns of an ancient Byzantine Church in Philadelphia

The city of Philadelphia was sometimes referred to as the "city of the open door."  Philadelphia guarded and commanded an important pass through the mountains between the Hermus and Meander valleys.  It was the “Keeper of the key” to a door, or gateway, of the eastern highlands.  The officials had the power to open and close this door as they willed.  Through this portal passed the mail, trade, and commerce of the west to the wide regions of central and eastern Lydia.  Christ said he was the door and His followers are the keepers of the door or gateway to Heaven.  We are the ones that guard this path and point others to it so they too can enter in at the door.

The house of God (the church) prays for reformation and revival.  We are doing the will of God when we pray for reformation and revival; but, we have a preconceived idea of what that should look like which rarely matches the reality.  Those that have not studied church history believe reformation and revival within the church brings peace, unity and harmony.  However, when the Holy Spirit brings Christ to the church through revival and reformation, it most often brings discension and discord.  Matthew 10:34-39; Luke 12:49-53 

As time unfolds, so does truth.  Therefore, truth is ever unfolding.  As generations pass, God reveals Himself in ways that are unique to each generation.  These revelations will often challenge our current belief systems that are established on the traditions of mankind.  The final generation will be the only one that will see the whole tapestry this side of Heaven.  The image of God as it is revealed to the final generation fully displays the just and merciful character of God in a way that will draw all manor of men to Him.  It is the work of the devil to prevent this from happening.  Therefore, because the reformation and reconciliation begins in the House of God (1 Peter 4:17), so does the spiritual warfare.

During a time of devine revelation, Satan will flood the church with psuedo wisdom.  The leaders will become overwhelmed and greatly desire to defend God; however, because many of them are not steeped in the word, it is not the teachings of God they defend but the traditions of men.  When the truth comes and it challenges our current belief systems which are based upon preconceived ideas and notions, it is difficult even for those seeking truth to receive truth when it is first revealed.  We have difficulty appreciating the new wine when it first comes from the vine, because we have become addicted to the intoxicating properties of the old wine.  Luke 5:36-39  

Philadelphia was surrounded by vineyards with a lot of wine making.  As you would expect, there were many drunkards in Philadelphia.  When a person desires the taste of the old or fermented wine, they lose their taste for the new wine.  The new wine represents revelation regarding the plan of salvation.  However, a wine maker knows how careful you must be to find adequate containers for the new wine.  If you put new wine in old bottles, it will immediately begin the fermentation process eventually bursting the bottles.  Only new bottles were fit to contain the new wine truth.  If you are drunk on the old wine, your sensory system and mental state is overloaded and you are not able to discern.  However, the euphoria that comes to alcoholics persuades you to believe you are the only one with understanding.  This describes the problem with those who think they are Jews, but are not.  

Give some consideration that Christ has called his true believers Jews.  We are sons of Abraham through rebirth in Christ making us heirs to all the promises delivered to Abraham's descendents.  The Jews that hold to the traditions of men instead of the teachings of Christ believe they hold the sacred truths of God, but when God comes to deliver a current divine message, they do not know the time of their visitation.  Historically, this has been true of the body of believers from the inception of faith.

In the letter to the Philadelphians Jesus describes His words as holy and true.  However, when the faithful believers deliver the message to the entire congregation, the ones that claim to be Jews (psuedo faithful ones) do not hear the message and call the faithful ones liars and heretics.  When they witness the favor of the Lord on the faithful Philadelphians, they are moved to jealousy.   It is the spirit of Cain that moves them to jealousy and makes them want to slay the messengers.  When devine knowledge is delivered to the congregation, some will receive it and others will not.  This will create a vast divide within the body of believers.  If this chasm cannot be bridged, the church will split.

Revelation becomes problematic when we can not discern  the sacred truths passed from our forefathers and divide truth from tradition.  This is a difficult test because the traditions are usually the things we hold dearest.  Believers have been required to pass this test since the congregational split between Cain and Able.  Do we do it our way or do we do it God's way?  Unanimously we profess our willingness to do it God's way but refuse to replace our old ways of doing things with the recently revealed revelation.  The difficulty comes because we think we can rationalize our way through the maze of misunderstanding.  These things are only divinely revealed and only if we earnestly seek a revelation.  This earnestness is often painful and will consistently deliver truth after much prayer and fasting.  When we fast, what do we give up--our opinions consisting of precious, preconceived ideas and notions of course!  Admit that you do not know, and God will give you knowledge.

The city of Philadelphia was constantly being shaken by earthquakes that tore the city apart; therefore, Philadelphia was often being rebuilt and/or repaired.  Philadelphias was routinely being torn apart and put back together.  The believers in Philadelphia are described as being cast out by their fellow believers that claim to be true Jews, but are not.  A true Jew will recognize his Messiah when He comes.  The Jews did not recognize Christ at the time of their visitation.  With hindsight our cricism of them is harsh since Christianity is the most fragmented of regligions.  Protestantism being even more fragmented than Catholocism.  This fragmentation exists because truth rapidly unfolds during reformation and not everyone can receive the truth.  When the truth comes, it tears the church apart and the messengers are usually cast out and looking to rebuild.  It is right that the believers that love religion more than revelation should stay with the building and all its worldly possessions.  However, it is righteous that the Philadelphian follow Christ wherever He leads.   

Philadelphia was named after Attalus Philadeiphus who founded the city in 189 B.C.  Some believe Philadelphia was called the city of brotherly love because of the deep affection Philadeiphus had for his older brother, the king of Lydia.  I never had older brothers.  I had three younger ones and for many years I felt a need to protect them whenever possible.  My younger brothers accepted my role as big sister and rarely run to extend protection to their big sister.  I witnessed other families and longed for the role a big, protective brother might fill in my life.  Jesus is that big brother to all of us.  As joint heirs with Him, He offers all He has to give.  Before the ages began, He redeemed us and when the ages end, He will swiftly come to rescue us.  My love for this big brother has no bounds, and His love for me is even greater.  If you feel that you have need for a big brother like Jesus, just call on His name for He is coming soon!

This big brother will provide for you during the trial that is coming on the whole earth.  He will be your provision and your protection.  He will write names on you providing evidence that you belong to God.  He will build you a place in God's city and declare to everyone that you are there under His authority.  No one will ever run you off or kick you out again without answering to Jesus, the best big brother anyone could ever have.


Laodecia

 14And 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;

 15I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. 17Because 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:

 18I 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.

 19As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. 20Behold, 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.

 21To 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. 22He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

Laodicea in Ruins

 

Laodicean Aquaducts

 

Laodicea was not a prominent city in the beginning.  However, she grew into wealth and recognition very quickly.  Laodicea was a in the middle of some of the most prosperous areas of Asia Minor.  Many aqueduct systems were built bringing water into the city from several surrounding water sources.  The city served as a primary hub for the Roman aqueduct system. The water from these sources originated from hot springs and sources of refreshingly cold water springs, but by the time it got to Laodicea it was lukewarm.  The water was tepid, tasteless and useless for refreshment.  People came to Laodicea for many purposes, but the drinking water did not draw anyone to visit this city.  The Laodicean church does not have refreshing water to drink either because she no longer draws from the well of Living Water.  John 4:1-15

It is interesting that the Lord described Laodicea as poor, blind and naked because when Rome captured Laodicea, it had the most affluent banking system during that era.  Laodicea was located in the midst of the wealthiest cities in western Asia Minor.  The Laodicea banking industry was considered the most reliable and the safest place to put money.  In addition, Laodicea had a very reputable medical school that produced famous eye and ear salves.  Their eye salve was highly sought by people from all the surrounding areas for healing eye conditions.  Finally, Laodicea was located close to the Lycus River allowing them to move their textile products far and wide.  The Laodiceans made the finest clothing from a famous black wool.  They were known far and wide for their garments. 

With all this prosperity, God counsels them to buy certain things from Him.  First, they are to buy gold that has been tried in the fire.  Laodicea was populated by a large Jewish community.  Before the time of Christ, twenty pounds of gold being sent to Jerusalem was confiscated.  Laodicea was known for their possession of large quantities of gold.  However, Jesus is telling them they need a different kind of gold.  They need the kind that has been tried in the fire.  He is talking about faith that comes forth as gold tried in the fire.  Believers that have been spared the fiery trials and tribulations consider themselves blessed, but it is those that have gone through those fires with their faith intact that are truly blessed.  1 Peter 1:7

He also tells them to buy eye salve to cure their blindness.  Laodicea produced the best eye salve and ear powder known to mankind.  How could they possibly be deaf and blind.  Jesus also tells them to buy white raiment.  That would be insulting and counterintuitive to a people that produce the most famous garments in their corner of the world.  The garments they produce are black representing their pompous, self-righteous convictions.  Their garments may be highly sought after in this world, but they are not impressive in Heaven's court.  The only garment sufficient for that day is the one that has been made pure and white from the blood of the lamb.  Isaiah 1:18; 61:10; Matthew 22:11-14 

The Laodiceans would never consider slaying their dark colored garment producing lambs.  Neither would they consider slaying self so Jesus can live within us.  Therefore, they have submitted to their own wills and not the will of the Father.   The name of the city is a compound Greek word: laos means people, nation, or crowd; dike means custom, law, judgment, penalty, or punishment, depending on the context.  From that, most conclude that the founders of Laodicea saw themselves as a people of justice or law-abiding people.  In the Christian family, Laodiceans see themselves as law-abiding or fulfilling the law; therefore, they are not in need of mercy and prefer that everyone receive justice.  I warn those that seek justice, none can live in the presence of a living God.  It is the mercy seat that God sits on that fulfills the requirement of the law.  If you seek mercy today during the day of salvation, it is yours.  Do not be deceived into thinking you do not need it.

Jesus, being the gentlemen that He is, stands at the door of our hearts and knocks.  He is willing to come in and reside within us.  Since we are poor, blind and naked he offers us a garment that will cover our sins, salve that will cure our spiritual blindness and the wealth of Heaven that will rival the possessions of this world.  Only Laodicea will look out the peephole and see just a peddler soliciting things they do not desire.  In their disinterest, they will often not even bother going to the door.   Sadly, the Master of the Universe will leave their adorned but desolate dwelling place and offer His goods to someone that recognizes their need. 

The spiritual condition of the church today in America and Europe is predominantly Laodicean.  I have even heard some boast of it!  That is the height of ignorance.  If you are Laodicean and the Lord is knocking on your door and your first thought is that you are rich and increased in goods and in need of nothing, then I challenge you to get up, go to the door and hear what He has to say.  The Laodicean is the Christian with one foot in the world and one toe in God's kingdom.  If this describes you, you are in danger of losing your foothold so please consider taking a stand.

Today Laodicea lies in buried ruins.  This city has not even been excavated.  There are no roads leading to the ruins because no one goes to Laodicea anymore.  It is no longer a thriving community nor even a tourist attraction. This city is dead and buried.  You can see some of her former glory peeking out at the top of the mount just to remind us that she once lived.  The Turks call her Eski Hisar or "old castle."  This is fitting because this city is dead in her sins and represents the state of the kingdom of this world.  You have an invitation to live in the kingdom to come with reigning authority.  I don't know what this world has bestowed up on you, but it cannot compare to the gifts of God.  Come alive in Christ today, leave Laodicea and live forevermore.  We are about to enter into the throneroom of God.  We can enter in with confidence as we learn more. . .

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