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Bible: What Does Revelation 3:1-22 Teach Us About Local Churches (Part 2)?

Updated on October 16, 2016

Jesus Speaks to Churches


Revelation 3: Jesus' Messages to Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea

Jesus Speaks to Sardis

The leader to whom John writes in Sardis (a town thirty miles south of Thyatira) receives a message from Christ (the One who has the Holy Spirit and the seven messengers) that consists of a shocking report revealing the spiritually dead status of his church (v. 1).

[Apparently, the church looked successful and vibrant outwardly; Jesus, however, knowing her works, discloses her inward reality: spiritual lifelessness.]

He exhorts the leader to wake up from his spiritual lethargy, and work hard to revive those clinging to life in the church; the Lord does not find his service satisfactory (v. 2).

As He told the leader of the Ephesian church to remember his former heights, so He informs this messenger to refresh his memory of what he knows, develop convictions about them, and change his mind about his ministry (v. 3a).

If this man continues his lazy approach to life, Jesus promises to chasten him at an unexpected time (“I will come upon you as a thief”) [v. 3b].

Even in a “dead” church, a few worthy believers who have persisted in their faithfulness (“have not defiled their garments”) remain for Christ to honor and reward (v. 4).

Three events will transpire in the life of these "overcomers" who have remained faithful.

First, Christ will have them clothed in white garments, signifying that He recognizes they have performed righteous deeds (v. 5a).

Second, Christ reminds them that they are secure eternally, even if enemies kill their physical body.

The phrase "will not erase his name from the book of life" merely emphasizes this truth (v. 5b).

Third, Christ will so praise them as faithful witnesses that all heaven will acknowledge it (v. 5c; cf. Luke 12:8).

Again, Jesus ends an individual message with an exhortation to all churches (v. 6).

Kept Out of The Great Tribulation

The Great Tribulation

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The Lord Commends Philadelphia's Church

Following His stern rebuke to Sardis, the holy, true One who has absolute authority (“the key of David”; cf. Is. 22:22), delivers an uplifting commendation to the messenger who dwells in Philadelphia, a small city located about thirty-eight miles southeast of Sardis (v. 7).

Christ permits him to take advantage of “an open door” (perhaps an opportunity for service), because the church has some influence in the city, has been obedient to His word, and has been a faithful witness (“have not denied My name”) [v. 8].

Consequently, He will cause “the synagogue of Satan” (false professors of the Jewish faith) to “worship before their feet,” and acknowledge the church’s love relationship with Christ (v. 9).

[What is “the synagogue of Satan,” and when will Jesus make them “bow down at your feet”?

Both Isaiah 49:23 and Isaiah 60:14 speak of Gentiles doing great homage to faithful Jewish believers during the Millennium.]

He also promises to keep them out of the Great Tribulation (“the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world”) because they have persevered in their faith (v. 10; cf. Matt. 24:14-21).

Some Jews will survive the Tribulation, but the body of Church will be completely kept from experiencing it.

[Verse ten is a valuable proof text for those who espouse the pre-tribulation Rapture of the Church.

The technical phrase—“those who dwell on the earth”—points forward to other references in Revelation that specify people whose lives are bound for time and eternity to the Earth and its values, and who must endure the horrors of Satanic and divine judgments (cf. 6:10; 11:10; 13:8, 12, 14; 14:6).]

Jesus commands them to continue to adhere to it, desiring they keep others from dragging them down so that they would not receive a full reward (v. 11).

When the time is ripe, He will immediately appear and award each overcomer by making him a “pillar”—a great honor that magistrates received in the city of Philadelphia for their faithful service (Ryrie, New Testament Study Bible, 461)-- in the temple of God.

Overcomers will also earn special signs of belonging to God, having three names written on them: the name of God, the name of the city of God (“New Jerusalem”), and Jesus’ new name (v. 12).

Only by failing to persevere during persecution or hardship will this loss occur.

Again, John records the familiar clause, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (v. 13).

Jesus At the Door


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Jesus Rejects Lukewarmness

The seventh and final church, Laodicea (a city about ninety miles due east of Ephesus and forty-five miles southeast of Philadelphia) [Ryrie 462], hears the Lord's word from the lips of His angel (vv. 14-22).

Here, the Speaker labels Himself with three designations:

(1) “the Amen” (“Amen” means “Verily, or so be it”; consequently, His word is true, and His will final);

(2) “the Faithful and True Witness” signifies the absolute trustworthiness of His testimony to God’s truth; and

(3) “the Beginning of the creation of God” highlights His pre-eminence over all God’s creation (v. 14; cf. Col. 1:18).

Wishing that the church were either one extreme or the other (“cold or hot”) in terms of the fervency of their relationship with Him, He judges her as nauseatingly lukewarm (vv. 15-16).

Jesus clearly communicates that the church has deceived herself into believing that she is self-sufficient and prospering in every way; in truth, she is totally bereft of all blessing (v. 17). Consequently, He advises that she obey three directives:

(1) buy refined gold from Him (that is, a tested faith), that she might acquire true spiritual wealth;

(2) purchase white garments (white garments signify righteousness), that she might cover the fruitlessness of her service; and

(3) anoint herself with medicinal eye salve, that she might gain spiritual understanding (v. 18).

As a loving Teacher, Jesus promises to criticize strongly and discipline her; in light of these stern actions, she should obey His command and eagerly change her mind about her relationship with Him (v. 19).

He informs her that He stands outside the door (of her heart?), knocking; if any Laodicean hears His call to salvation) and invites Him inside, Jesus promises to enter the “dwelling” and have fellowship with him/her (v. 20).

Christ promises to privilege the overcomer with a place of rulership in the Messianic kingdom. The context does not mention any specific deed that he will accomplish to earn this right (v. 21).

The Lord concludes His messages to the churches with His familiar refrain (v. 22).

© 2013 glynch1


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