“As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). Having witnessed the peculiar visions of seven stars and seven golden lampstands, John is about to have the mystery explained to him. According to Christ, these objects represent seven congregations located in the region of Asia Minor, an area under the control of Rome at the time. Some have speculated that these seven churches are supposed to represent different epochs in church history, but such a claim is easily refuted when we see that this is incongruent with actual historical events. That an entire span of history can be summed up in any one of these descriptions is irrational, for no Biblical evidence can be offered to support the claim.
Rather, what is presented in these seven short epistles is a series of praises, problems, and exhortations that seemed to exist amongst the congregations of the first century. More importantly, the things we can learn from the seven churches of Asia can be applied directly to problems that have existed in congregations throughout all the world and in all time periods since the first century. In each of the seven epistles, we are presented with a condition that may perfectly describe our own congregation, as well as a response that may be necessary in order for our lampstand to remain bright in the eyes of God.
Each of the epistles holds loosely to a formula, which indicates the broad nature of the exhortations in each. First, the Lord begins each epistle by addressing it to one of the churches. “To the angel of the church in…” The angel in question is likely symbolic of the spirit, or collective nature, of that congregation. Next, Jesus gives a brief description of Himself. Each description is different, and they are an indication of the content of the impending letter. For more positive letters, Jesus describes Himself in more positive terms. For the more negative letters, His descriptions are often meant as warnings of His power to judge, destroy, or see the sins of the world. In five of the seven letters, there is a bit of praise given, after which all but two of the letters include a description of some fault with the congregation. Finally, a warning is given to those congregations with serious problems, and a final exhortation brings the letter to a close. The lessons that can be learned are never meant for single churches, either, as the Lord Himself states in Revelation 2:29, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Spoken in the plural, the message given to each church is meant as a warning to all of the churches, for each problem or praise can exist in any place.
Ephesus – “You have left your first love”
Revelation 2:1-3 – “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot endure evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.’”
As a congregation, the church in Ephesus had maintained a high standard of doctrinal purity. They toiled under immense pressures from within and without and kept themselves clean, at least in the sense that they remained free from falsehoods. They did not endure evil men, which seems to be less common with each passing generation of Christians today. Finally, they tested those who claimed to be apostles. There is nothing wrong with this, for the Bereans are described as “noble-minded” because they searched the scriptures daily, never taking the apostle’s words as truth untested.
Do we follow the same pattern of caution in our own congregation? We must always remember that Jesus sees all, and is aware of all the activities that go on in His world. He “walks among the seven golden lampstands” like a guard, observing all that we do, so every time we tolerate evil He is aware of it. Every time we put up with false teachers in our midst, it is abhorrent to Him. Every moment of indifference to the degrading practices of unrighteous individuals is a moment spent in sin, disappointing our Lord. But would Jesus say the same thing to us that He does to Ephesus? Would He commend us for our stand for the Truth, and our stalwart refusal to participate in the evil deeds of unscrupulous men?
The quality of perseverance is lauded by Jesus in these verses. Indeed, other verses only confirm this. We are told that he who perseveres until the end is the one who will be saved (Matthew 24:13, Mark 13:13). “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). Endurance, according to James, leaves us complete and perfect. It tempers us and leads us to great spiritual maturity. To suffer as a Christians is the highest honor, according to Peter (1 Peter 4:12-16).
Revelation 2:4-5 – “‘But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you, and will remove your lampstand out of its place – unless you repent.’”
The importance of love cannot be emphasized enough, and its essential role in the life of a Christian is clear from this admonition. In spite of everything that the Christians in Ephesus had accomplished, they did not do it in a spirit of love. Their zeal was gone, replaced by an emptiness that seems to captivate so many churches. While they were a congregation that had remained true to the doctrine of Christ, they lacked the spirit of Christ. “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).
What does it mean to leave our first love? Perhaps it is most commonly manifested in the lives of second or third generation Christians – children of faithful believers who have followed in their parents’ footsteps only in form and function, and not motivation. As for the Christians in Ephesus, I want to look at a couple passages to exemplify the vulnerability of Christians from one generation to another. Ephesians 1:15-17 says, “For this I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints, do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers.” In the years 62 AD, which is about the time this epistle was written, Paul could not cease praising the Christians in Ephesus for their faith and devotion to the Gospel. Less than thirty years, later, a new group of professed Christians dwells in Ephesus. Of these members, the Lord says “that you have left your first love.” In only one generation, less than thirty years, the church at Ephesus had lost their first love – they had forgotten about the difficult labors of their parents in establishing the congregation and standing strong for the Gospel. They had forgotten what it meant to be strong in the faith and to love the Lord with all their hearts! Do we ever find this happening to us? It can seem so distant, at times, to think about the debate over apostasy two or three generations ago. I sometimes find myself taking for granted the hard work that our parents and grandparents did to strengthen the church and draw a line in the sand. I forget that at some point, a forefather of mine split from a denomination and took up his cross amongst the true believers (John 4:23-24).
An example of this same second generation mentality is found in Judges 2:7-10. In fact, one can read through the entire book of Judges and find examples of this concept! “And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who survived Joshua, who had seen all the great work of the Lord which He had done for Israel… And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel. Then the sons of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord…” In only one generation, the people had degenerated from a God-fearing nation to a home of idols like Baal and the Ashtaroth. If this does not seem close to home, then consider the situation in the early 20th-century discussed by Donald Townsley, “The people of God were not familiar with the whole counsel of God. They were not studying for themselves as they should, and the issues that were troubling the churches were not being discussed from pulpits of most [churches]. As a consequence, members of the church as a whole had no convictions against many practices because they had never heard them discussed and just did not know whether they were scriptural or not” (Trends Pointing Toward A New Apostasy, 5).
The danger for second generation Christians is to think that their religiosity is inherited – that they have been “going” to church so long that personal responsibility and study are no longer necessary. We often cannot grasp the great sacrifice made by new converts in splitting from their own religious traditions, having had our religion served to us since the day we were born. Christianity is not our own religion, our faith is not an individual one. We must ask ourselves why we are Christians. Beyond that, what kind of Christians are we going to be? Will I make myself a Christian after the heart of the Ephesians, who left their first love after less than thirty years? I am aware that these are tough questions, but I pose them to myself first and foremost. I am susceptible to temptations and there are times that I give in. For any second generation Christian, the answer to all of this is self-examination and sincere faith.
Revelation 2:6 – “‘Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.’”
At least, in spite of their lack of love for true faith, the Ephesians despised the false teachers of the day. The term “Nicolaitan” is likely used symbolically by Jesus in this passage, and throughout the other letters in the context. The name “Nicolaitan” is the Greek version of the Hebrew Balaam, which is a direct reference to the prophet-for-hire who was asked by King Balak to curse the Israelites. The two terms seem to be interchangeable in the text, especially since they are so closely related in definition. Balaam means, “He has destroyed the people,” and Nicolaitan is rendered in the Greek nika laon, “He has conquered the people.” Whether the Nicolaitans, therefore, were an actual group of deviant Christians or just symbolic of the broad tendency toward apostasy is inconsequential. From Revelation 2:14, their teaching is described as being the advocacy of eating meat sacrificed to idols and immoral sexual practices.
In any case, one of the most important lessons we can learn is that God does, indeed, hate false doctrine and all of the immoral deeds that come with it. Not only that, but He expects us to hate false doctrine too. There is no room for acceptance or tolerance of anything deviant, and we ought to call false doctrine what it is.
Smyrna – “You are poor, but rich”
Revelation 2:8-9 – “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The First and the Last who was dead, and has come to life, says this: ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.’”
The church in Smyrna is commended for its faithfulness, even in the most trying circumstances, without any reference to flaws or misdeeds. A good question to ask ourselves, then, is would the Lord say the same about us? I have often wondered what it would be like if the Lord Jesus wrote an epistle to congregations today. Would He have only good things to say? Would He have only bad? In the case of the Smyrnans, they were called to maintain their faith in spite of everything in the world that was going against them. Their tribulations were great and they were faced with the consequences of pious Christians living, even unto extreme poverty, literally.
What the Christians in Smyrna had to deal with was conceivably more intense than in other Roman cities. According to history, Smyrna was Rome’s second city, and the most beautiful and glorious of all the cities in Asia Minor. Smyrna was wealthy and was inhabited by some of the most powerful and influential citizens of Rome. Because of this very close association with the capitol, political events of the time would be felt in great strength in Smyrna. As the Roman emperors became progressively more hateful of Christians in the first and second centuries, inhabitants of Smyrna had to suffer under immense pressures to retract their statements of faith. In 155 A.D., for example, a faithful member of the church in Smyrna, a certain Polycarp who is well known for his writings, was burned at the stake because of his refusal to renege on his confession of faith. Furthermore, “extreme poverty is meant. These people were often thrown out of employment as a result of the very fact of conversion. Besides, they were usually poor in earthly goods to begin with. Becoming a Christian was, from an earthly point of view, a real sacrifice. It mean poverty, hunger, imprisonment, often death by means of the wild beasts or the stake” (More Than Conquerors, Hendriksen, 80).
And yet Christ states that they are rich. In what way does He mean this accolade? In spite of all the physical tribulation that existed, these Christians in Smyrna lived in such a way that reflected the wealth of their spirits. They were rich in faith, in good works, in love, in truth, in fidelity, in piety – in every way that is meaningful in the eyes of God, they were the wealthiest people in the city. They had treasures in Heaven that could not be measured by earthly means (Matthew 6:20, 19:21), wealth that came in the form of good deeds (1 Timothy 6:18-19). I have always appreciated Proverbs 13:7, “There is one who pretends to be rich, but has nothing; Another pretends to be poor, but has great wealth.” Also consider James 2:5, “Did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?”
The blasphemy, it seems, had been coming primarily from the Jews, who often aligned themselves with the pagans of the city in order to persecute the Christians. Although these malefactors claimed to be the people of God, the Lord Himself denies any relation to them, calling them instead “the synagogue of Satan.” We should take comfort in the assurance from Jesus that no false believers will benefit from their evil deeds. In spite of what modern day false Christians may say or do to deride those who keep the truth, the Lord knows the hearts of all people. God knows who His true believers are, and has the power to separate them from the tares of the world (Matthew 13:24-30).
Revelation 2:10-11 – “‘Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.’”
This text shows that God allows the devil to be active in the world. While not entirely free to do as he pleases, Satan has the power to manipulate situations to work to his advantage. Somehow, he can imprison Christians, tempt them to sin and bring about great trials (1 Peter 5:8-9). Even with this power, though, Christ is still in control and rules the world. Like the testing of Job, it is only because God allows Satan some degree of influence that he can do anything at all.
This passage is a perfect response to those who argue that the Lord is unjust because He allows bad things to happen to good people. Consider what the world would be like if God shielded us from everything evil. Christians would remain untested, for we need unfortunate events to temper our souls and make us stronger. We need tribulation to motivate us to better ourselves, to improve our spiritual resilience. We become more stable individuals when we have experienced negative events, such as illnesses, mockery, trials, tests, and temptations. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). The imagery used by Peter is very appropriate. The fiery ordeal literally means, “Trying, severe, and difficult trials. Fire is painful, but fire is also necessary in the refining process” (Bible Study Textbooks – First Peter, Bruce Oberst, 211). Although the testing is not comfortable at the time, it eventually tempers our spirits and refines us. It makes us stronger. It forces us to confront our weaknesses. It brings us face to face with God, who is our only lasting relief from physical and spiritual hardship. Paul was beset with a thorn of trouble, as described in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. He states, “Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” When we do suffer as Christians, it does not have to tear us down. Rather, by realizing our own limitations and weaknesses, we turn to the Lord and find greater strength than we ever thought possible. By relying on Him more and more each day, we are purified and tempered, just as the heat of the oven removes the impurities of gold. The result of this attitude is rejoicing. To be honored enough to suffer as Christ suffered is a privilege the early disciples did not take for granted. In Acts 5:41, the apostles “went on their way… rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.” This resolutely positive attitude is our only alternative to a bitter life. Either we can face our suffering with joy, or we can face it with misery unto misery. It is our choice, friends.
In the end, all of the sufferings of this life do not matter. Even if Satan could take away everything from us – our homes, our jobs, our families, and even our physical lives – he cannot take away from us the full assurance of salvation. Satan and his minions can only do so much compared to the power of Christ. “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Jesus promises in our text that a physical death means nothing, for our faithfulness leads to our protection from the fiery second death on the judgment day.
Pergamum – “You dwell where Satan’s throne is”
Revelation 2:12-13 – “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: The One who has the sharp two-edged sword says this: ‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith, even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.’”
The first detail that is striking is Christ’s description of Himself. He is the One who holds a two-edged sword, imagery that is used to depict Jesus as a warrior ready and able to inflict terrible wounds. The sword that is double-edged has the potential to incur damage on either side, making it wholly capable of performing whatever combative function the user desires. In this sense, Jesus is to be feared by His enemies and respected by those He is protecting. We should never be afraid of the power of God, for it is only used for good – either in just retribution or in performing some blessed task. Consider the way Jeremiah describes the awesome power of God in Jeremiah 20:11. Like a dread champion, the Lord defends the righteous and goes before us with His power to utterly shame the evil.
“I know where you dwell…” The church at Pergamum was surrounded by evil influences. So much so, in fact, that the best way the Lord found to describe it was the “throne of Satan.” Under the same circumstances, lesser men and women falter and give in to the temptations around them. Yet these Christians were able to dwell in the most sinful of cities and still maintain their purity, declaring their faith with great boldness. Does it not seem like our own country is like the throne of Satan? Surrounded by sin in the media, in our schools and neighborhoods, and even in family members at times, it certainly feels like the devil has grown fat off the pervasive evil of our time. But we must remember that there is no place too sinful for the power of the Gospel (Romans 1:16). There is no city that is too evil for a healthy, sound congregation of Christians. We can survive anywhere, for the people of God are hearty, strong, bold, confident in the Lord’s power to save. Sometimes we hear that certain places are not good evangelistic fields, as if particular towns, states, or countries could never succumb to the grace of God in obedience to the Gospel. And yet we have accounts in the Bible of Christians surviving in “Satan’s throne,” and in rotten places like Corinth, Rome, and some of the cities of Asia. Did not even Nineveh repent at the preaching of Jonah (Jonah 1:2, 3:5-10)? The point, my friends, is that the Gospel can survive anywhere, and we should never let temporary failures discourage us from continuing the work that needs to be done in our towns and cities. Our congregations can grow if we remain faithful, and we must remember that it is not our work being done, but the Lord works through us (Colossians 1:29, Ephesians 3:20, Galatians 2:20).
One of their number, however, became a victim of the widespread persecution that existed in Pergamum. Because the city was the capitol of the province, it doubled as the center of “Caesar worship.” Temples were erected in honor of the emperor, and citizens of the city were required to offer incense and sacrifices to the image of their leader. It was, perhaps, because Antipas refused to submit himself to these practices that he was put to death for the sake of Christ. In any case, his reputation remains unspotted and he is considered in high regard by the Lord. Surely Antipas would be counted amongst the number of the righteous martyrs who cry out to the Lord in Revelation 6:9-11.
Revelation 2:14-15 – “‘But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit acts of immorality. Thus you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.’”
The Nicolaitans again make themselves a known presence in these verses, just as in Ephesus. The difference, however, is that the Christians in Pergamum tolerated these false teachers while those in Ephesus rooted out their enemies, giving no occasion for the devil to infiltrate their ranks with deceptive doctrines. As has already been noted, there seems to be a relationship established in this text between Balaam and those of the Nicolaitan sect. Their goals appear to be similar – Both the wicked prophet and these false Christians advocate open participation in things relating to idols and sexual immorality. The reference to Balaam is most likely from Numbers 25. After Balaam blessed the people of Israel against the counsel of King Balak, it seems that he realized he could help the king by revealing to him methods of leading the Israelites into sin. He thought, at least, that if he was powerless to curse the Israelites he could counsel Balak in the ways of temptation. The entire affair in Numbers 25 leads to the execution of many Israelites, and Moses refers to the incident as being Balaam’s doing in Numbers 31:15-16. The modern application would be related to Christians who proclaim one thing in public when they believe God is watching, but devise wicked plans in private, advocating false doctrines covertly.
Were the Christians of Pergamum lauded by God for their tolerance? Did the Lord congratulate them for their willingness to accept new ideas and embrace the diversity that deviant teachers brought? Is there anything noble about tolerating evil people? Most certainly not, for the Lord finally concludes, “Repent therefore; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth” (Revelation 2:16). We note first of all that if there is no room in the heart of God for toleration, then why should there be in our hearts? Why should diversity – not physical diversity, but rather multiplicity of accepted doctrines – be considered a praiseworthy trait of any congregation of supposed Christians? Second, we see what true repentance requires of us. Does repentance mean simply being sorry about having the Nicolaitans in the midst of the church? Does it involve continuing toleration in any way? Or does true repentance require a cessation of the relationship? According to 1 Corinthians 5:11-13, we are to “remove the wicked man from among” our midst, not even eating with a professed Christians who holds to false teaching. 2 John 8-11 teaches that we should not even give a greeting to a false teacher who comes among our congregation teaching his evil ways. Ostracizing sinful brethren is a practice advocated by Jesus Himself in Matthew 18:15-20, and we should not be afraid to enforce it when the well-being of the congregation or the soul of an unrepentant Christian is involved.
Jesus ends this epistle with a few words of encouragement, stating, “‘To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one shows but he who receives it’” (Revelation 2:17). These words, while metaphorical, hold a very valuable lesson for us. To the Christian who overcomes the trials and temptations that are offered by the world, especially by false teachers like the Nicolaitans, certain promises are made. First, that he or she shall partake of “hidden manna,” which is likely representative of the reception of spiritual blessings. Manna was given by God to the Israelites for sustenance, but the spiritual manna that is provided to faithful Christians sustains in a much deeper manner. When we abide in the Word of God, we are opened up to a world of blessings such as strength, hope, faith, wisdom, discernment, and all of the love that Christ has to offer. Instead of spending our lives in the vain pursuit of worldly manna, let us press on and seek the “hidden manna” that is so much more valuable. Next, a pure white stone will be given to faithful Christians, with a new name written on it. This could be representative of the Godly wisdom acquired by Christians who study diligently and pray often (James 1:5, 3:17-18). Both God’s wisdom and this stone are unblemished, and the name written on each is hidden to all but those who receive them. In the same way, the wisdom from God is difficult to grasp by unbelievers, for they have not received the discernment of God by His love (Philippians 1:9-11). To the one who rejects Christ, heavenly wisdom is inaccessible and mysterious (1 Corinthians 2:12-16).
Thyatira – “You tolerate the woman Jezebel”
Revelation 2:18-19 – “And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this: ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first.’”
The opening words of this epistle act as a foreshadow of the judgments to come. Christ is described as having eyes like a flame of fire, which means that His vision is just as revealing as fire is all-consuming. It is powerful, piercing, and unavoidable. His feet are like burnished or perfected bronze, which is the material of armor. There is no place where His feet cannot go, no place off limits or too inaccessible for the Son of God.
The way that Christ lauds the faithful brethren in Thyatira is interesting when compared to Revelation 2:4. While the church in Ephesus had lost its love and had grown deficient in distinguishing deeds, the church in Thyatira had only become greater, having blossomed since its days of mediocrity. What kind of church are we? How would Christ describe us? Having lost our first love, are our deeds of old greater than anything we have accomplished recently? Or are we only accomplishing more over time? Are we getting stronger, more bold, more courageous with the Gospel? The goal behind Christianity is growth, for the writer of Hebrews 5:11-14 clearly states that Christians who do not mature have become dull of hearing and needs to have their senses trained. Development of talent, spiritual maturity, constant acquisition of more complete knowledge and discernment are all goals for which every Christians ought to be striving.
Revelation 2:20-21 – “‘But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray, so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. And I gave her time to repent; and she does not want to repent of her immorality.’”
The problems that existed in Thyatira have their root in toleration of sinful people. Just as we have already seen in the other epistles, God has no room in His heart for accepting evildoers as they are. If one is inclined to be wicked, contemptible, or divisive, only punishment is in store for them. How unfortunate it is when congregations fall into apostasy because they refuse to root out sinful influences, just as the Lord has instructed us to do so (Matthew 18:15-20, 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 1 Corinthians 5:6-13). Perhaps Jezebel was a popular member of the congregation, dynamic and attractive in her demeanor. As is often the case, evil comes in nice packages – well-dressed individuals, attractive personalities, influential speech, symbols of earthly success. Not that these things are inherently evil, but we must be aware that the most destructive forces in the Lord’s churches will not look like devils. We must never let a friendly face deceive us into believing false doctrine. On the other hand, perhaps Jezebel was an obviously wicked woman, and it was fear that motivated the brethren to follow her into crimes against the Lord. Unfortunately, some individuals vacillate when faced with powerful or terrifying foes. In the face of the aggressively voracious nature of Jezebel, some of the Christians in Thyatira may have become weak and joined her in immorality.
It is also possible that Jezebel was not, in fact, a real person at all. As a symbol, Jezebel represents everything that is evil and disgusting about false teachers. Her message is laden with sexual overtones, she is powerful and influential, she is brazen about her disobedience, she feels nothing when leading others astray, and she advocates things so obviously disgusting that it is startling how many of the brethren she leads into unrighteousness.
“And I gave her time to repent; and she does not want to repent of her immorality” (Revelation 2:21). We should not feel sorry for people who choose not to repent when the Lord’s had is so willing to forgive (Joel 2:12-13). The opportunity to be saved is ever-present, always ready, never inaccessible to anybody. Unfortunately, for the person who is unwilling to repent, there is no possibility for salvation. It is interesting to see that God makes no excuses for His firm stance on forgiveness and repentance. It is not the Lord’s fault that Jezebel is condemned, and He takes no responsibility for her unwillingness to change. In the end, we are in charge of our eternal destination. Whether or not we are saved is our choice – though free to do as we please, we will be called to make an account for every deed we have ever committed (Ecclesiastes 11:9, 12:14, Romans 14:12). The Lord has given all of us ample time to repent, so we will have no worthy excuse when we face our Father in judgment.
Revelation 2:22-23 – “‘Behold, I will cast her upon a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with pestilence; and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.’”
It is unclear, as has already been noted, whether or not Jezebel was a real person in the congregation of Thyatira. It seems to make more sense that she is meant to represent in the text false teachers in general. First, those who commit sin always face a lifetime of tribulation – perhaps not physically, but certainly in a spiritual sense they live in turmoil. The bed of false doctrine and immorality is always filled with disgusting consequences. Drugs and alcohol destroy parts of the body, adultery leads to diseases and broken marriages, corruption leads to the downfall of businessmen and politicians, and all sins inevitably lead to Hell when they are allowed to conquer our souls. The bed of adultery is always filled with unwitting followers who do not realize the consequences of their decisions until it is too late (Proverbs 7:6-27, 2 Peter 2:12-19). If the church in Thyatira did, indeed, have a real member named Jezebel, then the lesson still remains valuable. As powerful as she was in the congregation, nothing could have stopped her from bringing the consequences of sin on those who she infected. Today we see the same situation – even the most powerful people in the world are not immune from the penalties inherent in living a sinful life. Politicians still suffer from diseases, rock stars still die recklessly, wealthy men and women are still susceptible to corruption and greed.
Repentance is noted in this text as being essential before forgiveness occurs. The only way that the followers of Jezebel could ever restore their relationship to God would be a complete cessation of their obedience to the false prophetess. Upon conversion, we cannot continue doing the deeds that once were typical while living in sin.
As an example of the cost of sin, Jezebel would become a symbol to all the churches. The judgment pronounced against her in this text is a testament to the power of God in dealing with wicked people, especially those who lead others astray. It is unfortunate that so many individuals allow themselves to fall into the traps laid be Jezebel, especially when we consider the fact that her place in Hell is so firmly secured by her unrepentant heart. Even more unfortunate is the fact that negative examples are sometimes what we need before we make the decision to return to the Lord – after witnessing the devastation of the soul of Jezebel and all those like her, who would not want to repent and willingly serve the Lord?
“And I will give to each one of you according to your deeds” (Revelation 2:23). This is entirely congruent with other verses in the Bible that clearly teach individuals accountability to sins. We are not subject to the unrighteous deeds of anybody but ourselves, as long as we have adequately warned others about the judgment of God as faithful watchmen (Ezekiel 3:17-21). We are taught that sins of the father are his own in Ezekiel 18, just as the unruly son will not be a spiritual blot on the soul of the pious father. Wickedness is not inherited in any way, but is subject to the free will of every person. He who chooses to sin will be punished for it, unless he repents.
Revelation 2:24-25 – “‘But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them – I place no other burden on you. Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.’”
In spite of all the evil influences that existed in the city and the congregation, Jesus still recognized that there were some in Thyatira who were not obedient to the apostate teachings and immoral practices of the party of Jezebel. It is unclear what kind of arrangement existed in the presence of such evil – perhaps the few faithful brethren met separately as a congregation, having split themselves from the evil people in their midst (1 Corinthians 5:6-13), or maybe they accepted Jezebel for a time while trying to work with her and restore order to the church. There is something to be said for not acting too hastily in dealing with brethren in error, for not all sins and problems can be taken care of instantly. It may be that the faithful Christians in Thyatira worked very hard trying to confront Jezebel and her followers, giving them time to repent and time to consider the scriptures – hoping, in that end, that a complete cessation of fellowship would not be necessary. However, we must remember that even when we love people deeply, our own souls must not be put in danger. There is, after all, “a time to embrace, and a time to shun embracing. A time to search, and a time to give up as lost” (Ecclesiastes 3:5-6). When it becomes clear a brother or sister in sin is refusing to change, it is at that point that the ties of brotherhood must be cut.
“The deep things of Satan” may be referring to the mystical teachings often learned by the early Christians, especially the Gnostics. This deviant group of believers held to the idea that knowledge empowered, beyond faith and love, and that understanding the deep and mystical secrets of the universe was the key to higher enlightenment and spiritual fulfillment. But we need to keep in mind that some of the “deepest things” are engineered and administered by Satan. We must never allow ourselves to be sucked into strange philosophies (Colossians 2:8) and crafty ideas that lead only to speculation and worthless mental exploration. While understanding new ideas is important, what leads to the destruction of the hearer is the acceptance of deviant doctrines and mysterious beliefs.
“What you have, hold fast until I come.” There are several applications to this verse, the first of which being the Word itself. Christ is telling these believers that they have the words of life in the scriptures, and that there is nothing that should shake them from their faith in what is written (1 John 1:1-3). Surely this verse eliminates the possibility of additional gospels being added, or continued revelation from a select group of modern prophets and apostles. “If any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8-9). Second, Jesus could be referring to their steadfastness in sound doctrine. It is absolutely important for congregations to maintain the Truth of the Bible without wavering. To “hold fast” means to preserve, sustain, or keep going on a path with deviation. Finally, we can see that maintaining a steady membership ties into this section of scripture. Are our members missing church regularly? Are they deviant in their behavior or their beliefs? As a congregation, do we not “hold fast” very well, vacillating on issues and raising children who quickly fall away? We must bear in mind that the future of the Lord’s church is being determined by what we do now, and if holding fast is not high on our list of priorities, we will very quickly disappoint God.
Revelation 2:26-28 – “‘And he who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.’”
Often misquoted and abused, this section of text gives us a wonderful description of what existence will be like with Christ. It is impractical to assume that deceased Christians will literally rule over the world at any point, because the martyred Christians in Revelation 5:9-11 do not seem to be very happy with their status. And if this supposed “Christian” rule will occur after the judgment, then there will not be much of the world left to rule – it is to be destroyed completely (2 Peter 3:10). This must mean something else, then. “By and by the tables are going to be turned. At present the world oppresses the church-member who desires to keep a clear conscience. By and by the church-member who has remained loyal to his Lord is going to rule over the world and, being associated with Christ in the final judgment, is going to condemn the sinner. He is going to share in Christ’s dominion over the nation – which Christ, in turn, had received from the Father [according to] Psalm 2:8-9” (More Than Conquerors, Hendriksen, 89). Because we will be standing with Christ in glory and victory, by association we will rule over the world. As followers of the mighty Lord (Ephesians 1:20-23) we are part of the body of those who will ascend to Heaven on the last day. Similarly, Christians rule the world now in the sense that we hold to the Gospel, the very keys into heaven. We preach a message that goes deep into the heart, and that is applicable to every audience (Galatians 3:28). The reference to the morning may be primarily applied to Christ, and partially to Christians. In a sense, we are given the morning star in Jesus. He is the Light of the world, and the morning star symbolizes guidance and hope. In Christ, we have all of these things abundantly.
Sardis – “Wake up!”
Revelation 3:1 – “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.’”
“The seven Spirits of God” likely refers to the churches of Asia being discussed in these chapters. As a metaphor, it is supposed to represent the fact that Jesus Christ is head of the churches (Colossians 1:16-18, Ephesians 5:23) – not just some of the churches, but all of them. In Jewish literature, the number seven is an extremely significant number that means completeness or entirety. It is the seven churches of Asia that are meant to represent all of the churches.
What a scathing rebuke it is when Christ plainly states, “You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” While the church in Sardis had all of the exterior symbols of a faithful church, including the “right” name or designation, they lacked the spirit of Christ. They were dead, without energy, without vibrancy, without enthusiasm, without the very things that make the Lord’s body so very different from everything the world offers. This text, of course, teaches us that though a congregation may seem true on the outside, it can be filled with dead man’s bones, just as the human heart (Matthew 23:25-28). A church may be sound in doctrine, but it might not be applying those doctrines toward the edification of its members or the salvation of unbelievers. A church may have the proper structure of elders and deacons, with no human institutions, but if the Biblical model of authority is not used to evangelize or encourage church growth then it is worthless. A church may even have the “right” name on the front of the building, designating themselves a church that is of the Lord, but a name means nothing if what is inside the building is death. At its core, the church in Sardis seems to be the model of what is most hypocritical in the eyes of God.
Revelation 3:2-3 – “‘Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. Remember therefore what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. If therefore you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.’”
The overriding theme to these verses seems to be embodied in the phrase, “Wake up.” Some churches really need this exhortation – churches that are stagnant and tired, unwilling to put their hands to the plow and work as they did at first. Some churches just seem to dwindle into nothing. They fade after years of mediocrity and exhaustion, never being shaken back to life. This is the condition that Satan loves. While he will find any way possible to lead us astray, and go to any lengths, surely he prefers to just see the Lord’s church fall asleep and die in silence, without a fight. And what a sad state many churches find themselves in when the quietness of indifference and ambivalence set in.
But there is a strain of encouragement in these words, too, for the Lord knows that no congregation is too far from being saved if proper steps are taken to restore the bright light of life to the souls of those in spiritual coma. Even though the church in Sardis had little left in its tank, few members willing to work, a lack of spiritual tools and resources, He still encourages them to strengthen the few things that remain. What every church must do is count its arsenal and use everything available to awaken its members. Even if a small country church has ten faithful members left, those few devoted Christians must be strengthened and emboldened to restore the glory of their congregation. Even if a church has only two song leaders, and few men willing and able to preach and teach, those members must be encouraged and their talents cultivated. Even with very little, the Lord’s church can survive! “Which were about to die.” Souls can so easily reach the precipice of sin and discouragement (Jude 20-23), so they must be brought back with haste and love. At the same time, we should take note of the urgency that exists in this scripture. The Lord does not encourage slowness in this matter, but is pressing and describes these steps as imperative to the survival of the church in Sardis. While we must see from the Bible that there is never a soul or church too far to be saved and returned to safety, there are conditions that make it extremely difficult – almost to the point of realizing that there is practically nothing left to be done. What Jesus is saying in this exhortation is that we must never find ourselves in that position. That is why the message is so pressing, so critical. Some churches sink themselves so deep in ambivalence that they will never come back to the truth. It is no longer the “things that were about to die,” but “the things that are dead.”
“Remember therefore what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent…” Notice that receiving the Gospel is not enough, nor is just listening to it. While it is crucial that we study it often (Acts 17:11, 1 Timothy 4:13-16), application is the key to making the Bible valuable. Without application, we end up like the church in Sardis, near dead and at the brink of judgment. So we must be careful not to let our ears become dull of hearing – it is not just listen to this or that Biblical teaching, it is “keep it.” Do something with the Bible!
“If therefore you will not wake up…” This indicates complete free will in the matter. The Sardis church of Christ was not dead because God predetermined them to be, or because it was a bad evangelistic field, or because they had a proclivity toward spiritual slackness – they had the choice of whether or not they would wake up, and Christ leaves them with clear options. “I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.” The Lord’s judgment comes when we do not suspect it. It is not that Christ is a thief in the sense that he is a criminal, but just because that metaphor describes so accurately the manner in which the Lord will come upon this world. The same language is used in 1 Thessalonians 5:2. The point is that we must keep ourselves prepared for Christ’s return at all times, lest he come and find us spiritually dead.
Revelation 3:4-5 – “‘But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white; for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.’”
There were some in Sardis who were still carrying on with the good work of the Kingdom. Sadly, it was only a “few” which may mean that the overwhelming majority of members were a burden and a drain on the overall spiritual health of the congregation. This text is a good example of why “pastor-oriented” church models do not function properly. Unfortunately, many congregations of professed believers have abandoned the Biblical model of evenly-yoked churches, as the functioning body of 1 Corinthians 12, and have turned instead to loading all of the work on a few men and women. But it is obviously displeasing to the Lord when He sees it. Whether the minority asks for the responsibility (perhaps for power or greed) or they have it thrust upon them by a lazy congregation that is unwilling to work, the model does not function properly.
The reward for the few who have worked hard will be the honor of wearing robes of white in the presence of the Holy One. While we will not be confined to physical bodies at all, the metaphorical significance of being clothed in white is deserving of recognition. To be counted worthy of those white garments is an honor equal to none. It means perfection, cleanliness, purity, holiness, utter devotion to what is good. This is the ultimate description of life in Heaven. In the presence of God, we will have no desire for evil, motivated only by everything that is good. “He who overcomes shall thus be clothed with white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life…” It is not that our salvation is permanent, because we have to remember other verses that explain how we can lose our salvation if we discontinue a life of righteousness (2 Peter 2:20-22). Also note that the verse itself teaches that this is not “once saved always saved.” “He who overcomes” necessarily affirms the idea that we must be actively living our righteousness, continually overcoming the many trials that face us. Some Christians, to be sure, do not overcome, and have their names erased – these would be the brethren in Sardis who were dead, or those in Ephesus who had “lost their first love” (and one cannot lose something that he or she has not had). We should instead read this as an exhortation to continue living righteously, for as long as we continue to do good and remain faithful, our name will never be erased from the registry of those worthy enough to attain to the glorious realm.
“And I will confess his name before My Father…” This is very similar language to Matthew 10:32-33, which states, “Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.” It is comforting to know that our Lord will go before the Almighty and speak on our behalf – though we do not deserve such a confession. The warning, however, is that unbelief and disobedience will only lead Christ’s denial of us before the Father. Which path do you choose? “If you believe in Jesus Christ with all your heart” (Acts 8:37), confess Him before God and man, be baptized and you will be saved (Mark 16:16).
Philadelphia – “You have kept My word, and have not denied My name”
Revelation 3:7-8 – “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens an no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this: ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.’”
The letter to the church in Philadelphia is one of only two that does not include a rebuke of some kind. This shows that there is the potential in ever congregation to be a complete, functioning, healthy church with no glaring problems. The Lord even prayed that this would be true (John 17:21), and the apostle Paul pleaded for it (Romans 12:4-16). We should never be discouraged by the problems that exist in our congregation, for there is an answer to all of them and a prize waiting for us if we remain steadfast in the faith. If we work hard enough and root out the sinful influences that invade our love feasts (Jude 12), and strive to maintain and cultivate the attributes of churches like Philadelphia and Smyrna and Philippi (Philippians 1:6-11), we can reach a point at which the Lord would write us an epistle – not that such a thing happens today – that would have no rebuke attached to it.
The imagery in these first few lines focuses on the idea of doors being opened and closed by the Son of God. He is described as wielding the keys of David, which is a reference to His royalty and authority. Notice that when Jesus chooses to open a door, nobody can shut it, and vice versa. There is no law of God that can be amended, no death that can be reversed, no command that can be reinterpreted correctly. All things that have been established by the Lord are firm forever. Just as the moon and the stars are immovable by man, so the laws of God cannot be changed.
Many, however, have taken these words to mean that God chooses our destinies before we are born. We are predestined by the Father to some kind of life, and the outcome is chosen long before we have the capability or the consciousness to do so. These “doors” are interpreted to be everything from God choosing spouses for us to our careers and hometowns, and even whether or not we are saved in the end. A more precise understanding of the words, though, should lead us to conclude that there is still free will inherent in all of these matters. The reason that Christ lauds the Philadelphians so much is not because He chose them to be saved – otherwise He ought to be congratulating Himself! It is because the Christians in this city chose to do good and hold their righteous course that they are awarded praise. “I know your deeds… You have kept My word… You have not denied My faith… Hold fast what you have…” All of these phrases involve personal decisions on the part of the Christians. God did not force them to do these things, no did He predestine them for the righteous life. Essentially, God opened up a door for them – what that door was is inconsequential, for it may be the opportunity to hear the Gospel, or the chance to meet a Christian, or a situation that involved a choice – and it was up to each person to choose whether or not he or she would take that door. Indeed, God can open up all the doors in the world for us but we do not have to walk through them! Paul writes about “doors” in Colossians 4:3, referring to the Lord opening up those doors of evangelistic opportunities, and also in 1 Corinthians 16:9 and 2 Corinthians 2:12. All of these verses make it clear to us that God opens up doors, at least in evangelism, but it is always our free will that determines where we go.
“Because you have a little power.” This phrase is a marvelous example of the power of God compared to that of the world. Even in the littleness of their power, the brethren in Philadelphia were able to stand firm against the influences of the world. It is not because the power of a Christian comes from within himself, but because his power comes from Christ – and even the smallest modicum of the strength of God overpowers the most potent worldly vigor.
“And have not denied My name.” We are often asked, “What’s in a name? What is so important about having the right name?” It seems as if the world expends great energy to convince us that names are not important, as long as we all share some common ideas. Whether we are Christians or Jews, Muslims or Mormons, we all believe in the same God, right? But is there a name worth standing up for? Is there a name that is exalted above all the rest? Every time we vacillate and allow ourselves to believe for an instant that Christ’s name is not worth the tribulation, then we have “denied His name.” Indeed, mockery for only the name of Christ is our blessing, and to stand up for that name is to stand up for Christ Himself. Surely the first century Christians appreciated this concept, for it was Peter and the apostles who “went on their way rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” in Acts 5:41. So what is so important about Christ’s name? “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Revelation 3:9-10 – “‘Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews, and are not, but lie – behold, I will make them to come and bow down at your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I will also keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth.’”
The victory in Jesus was to be so thorough that all the enemies of the Christ would find themselves utterly defeated – perhaps not in a worldly way, but most certainly in a spiritual sense. The liars of the world will one day be forced to bow before the very people they abused, knowing finally that they accepted evil over good, and filth over righteousness.
These verses are similar to those describing the situation in Smyrna (Revelation 2:9-10). The imagery of Satan’s synagogue is used in both texts, and indicates that there will always be supposedly religious people in this world who actually are agents of the evil one. Does simply being religious mean anything, then? Surely these supposed Jews had all the outward signs of religiosity, for they acknowledged God, maintained a form of His doctrine, and acted piously in the eyes of the world. Does any false religion, then, have the right to salvation simply because of their religiosity? The two-faced nature of these Jews does not deceive God for a moment, and He pronounces judgment against them for what they are. Indeed, no false faith is pleasing in the eyes of God, for any doctrine, belief, practice, or tradition that is not found in God’s Word is an abomination and is opposed to the Lord. “He who is not for me is against Me” (Matthew 12:30).
“I will keep you from the hour of testing.” The phrase may be referring to the persecution at the hands of the Romans at the end of the first century. Because of the perseverance of the Philadelphians, God makes a promise that they will be spared from whatever punishment awaits others. This is not to say that God always prevents bad things from happening to Christians – for faithful men and women die of illness, lose children, lose jobs, suffer loss, suffer anguish, even to the degree that an abundance of tribulation is a blessing (1 Peter 4:12-13). But in the specific case of the Philadelphians, the Christians would have an easier load to bear during some unspecified time of upheaval. In the same way, we can take comfort in the fact that God does spare us from some suffering, too. Perhaps we are not protected from all the terrible things of this life, but we do have a shield against those trials that are most detrimental to our souls. We are told that nothing will happen to us that we cannot bear (1 Corinthians 10:13), and that God comforts those who are depressed (2 Corinthians 7:6).
“That hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth.” Clearly, this is referring to an earthly tribulation and not the judgment day. Furthermore, this is not making reference to the premillenial idea of the great tribulation on earth, for the verse clearly states that this hour of testing was imminent, within the lifetimes of those living in Philadelphia. Some have speculated that the hour of testing is the consecutive reigns of some of the worst emperors in Roman history. In the last half of the first century and the first half of the second, a series of cruel men came to power in Rome, some of whom, like Caligula, were notably insane and volatile. Although the Christians and Jews tended to endure the most tribulation under these emperors, the empire in general endured a period of inner strife and instability.
Revelation 3:11-12 – “‘I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, in order that no one take your crown. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write upon 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 My new name.’”
These verses serve as an encouragement to those who suffer in this life. While we are grieved for a time by the injustices of a world filled with sinful people, we must remember that it is only temporary and the Lord is not slow about His promise to return, as some count slowness, that is (2 Peter 3:9). The important concept that every Christian needs to keep in mind is that of endurance. If we do not maintain our course and uphold sound doctrine and sober spirits, we will never attain to the glory that is to be revealed on the last day. But if we do, our place in heaven is reserved, written in the book of life by the hand of God.
Laodicea – “You are lukewarm”
Revelation 3:14-16 – “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spit you out of my mouth.’”
Of all the scathing rebukes offered in the letters to the churches of Asia, the epistle to the Laodiceans is the most scornful. It is both poignant and evocative, describing the attitude of God in a very tangible way. The Christians in Laodicea suffered from indifference and complacency. Apparently, they were physically wealthy, at relative peace with their unbelieving neighbors, lived in a prosperous city, and had fallen into the trap of absolute, utter spiritual stagnation. “Laodicea was especially famous for its wealth. Located at the confluence of three great highways… it grew rapidly into a great commercial and financial center. It was the home of millionaires. There were, of course, theatres, a stadium, gymnasium equipped with baths. It was a city of bankers and finance… The citizens of Laodicea were rich – and they knew it! They were unbearable” (More Than Conquerors, Hendriksen, 93). They worshipped God with no fire, no zeal, no heart, and lived their lives as Christians in name only. Notice, too, that Jesus judges them not solely on their attitudes, but their attitudes exemplified by their actions. “I know your deeds…” It was clear from the way they were living that the Laodiceans did not reflect Christ. Following behind them was a long list of works that meant nothing in the eyes of God.
If they had been hot, they would have had the zeal of true Christianity. A faith based on vibrancy and life. If they had been cold, at least they would be easily identifiable as unbelievers. Is this not true of all people? God wants us to be true Christians, to be sure. That is preferable above all other conditions. But those who are cold, who are obviously unbelieving and doctrinally erroneous, are more easily converted to the truth. In our personal evangelism, we see this often. Usually, it is not the mediocre Baptist, or the Mormon, or the “well, sure, I guess I believe in God” person who is most easily converted and most eager to embrace the truth. It is the drug addict, the prostitute, or the atheist who end up becoming vibrant Christians. At least with the person who is cold and deep in sin, it is clear which battles need to be fought and which clear Bible teachings need to be applied. But with one who is lukewarm – the Christian with poor attendance, the bored believers, the apathetic members of the church who are not often involved – their spiritual problems can be much harder to take care of. One who does not believe he is wrong will be harder to convince than one who is obviously right or wrong.
“I will spit you out of My mouth.” It is as if the lukewarm Christian is worthless to God – worthy only of utter rejection. Those who are hot will work hard and accomplish. Those who are cold can be converted. But those who get themselves stuck in the middle often stay there in a happy, ignorant rut.
Revelation 3:17-18 – “‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advice you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothes yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.’”
These verses reveal the attitude of the Christians in Laodicea. Notice this is not an empty allegation, but a direct attack on the philosophy of those lukewarm people in that great city of riches. Stated simply, they believed that their physical wealth was adequate for their spiritual security, and could give them fulfillment in matters of the soul. Their material possessions had replaced faith, their wealth had become their idol, their indifference to the needs of the world was their worship practice. How many of us proudly proclaim that we need nothing from God because we have all the comforts of the modern world? How often is prayer to God the first answer we look for to our problems? Perhaps instead of spending so much time and energy trying to solve worldly problems with the problematic wealth of the world, we should devote ourselves to finding solutions with the held of God. After all, we are given a direct command to go to God in prayer for all of our anxieties and requests (Philippians 4:7).
In the end, the Christians in Laodicea may have found themselves in the same shoes as the rich man in Luke 12:16-21. After working hard his entire life and never seeking God, he finally concludes that he has done enough to relax and ignore all the worries that encumber mankind. His problem, however, was that after a lifetime of accumulating worldly wealth, he never spent a moment accruing spiritual wealth before God. “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you…” the one who lays up treasures for himself and never becomes rich before God has lost sight of everything important. “Do not lay up treasures for yourselves upon the earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
The lesson is so clear in our world of riches. Some of the most miserable people who have ever lived have also been the richest. The more money there is, the more worries we have (Ecclesiastes 5:11), and the more we have to spend on protection. The bigger the house, the less contact families have. The more expensive the car, the less one is inclined to drive it. The more one has in savings, the less he cares about his investment in religion. While marital problems affect families in all economic brackets, wealth has never been a protection against adultery, spousal abuse, or years spent without love between a husband and wife. Wealth spoils children. Wealth blinds us to the really good things of life (Proverbs 15:16-17). Most importantly, the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils (1 Timothy 6:10). Truly, just like we see in the Laodiceans, “There is one who pretends to be rich, but he has nothing; another pretends to be poor, but has great wealth” (Proverbs 13:7).
It is not that Christ telling us that wealth itself is a bad thing, for we are instructed to enjoy the things we have (Ecclesiastes 5:19). But without tempering that wealth with the right spiritual perspective, it is a vain pursuit to earn money. That is why the Lord makes it so clear that we need to be acquiring spiritual gold from Him, and robes of white to cover the shame of sin, and spiritual ointments to heal all of the ailments that plague our souls in this vain world. If we look to God for fulfillment, we will never be disappointed, but always nourished on the wealth of the Word and the hope of heaven.
Revelation 3:19 – “‘Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous, therefore, and repent.’”
Discipline can be a very good thing if it is administered with love and received with an open mind. This is not intimating that every bad thing that happens is a punishment for our sins, for “time and chance” overtake all people (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Rather, the Lord is indicating that His rebuke in the epistle is meant as a loving disapproval of the their attitudes. The Christians in Laodicea did not need to take the epistle in any way but with love and a sincere desire to see them change. In the same way, we should never resent the loving rebuke of another Christian, for it is on God’s behalf that they come to us (Matthew 18:15-20). Also consider the valuable words of Hebrews 12:7-11, which tells us that all discipline seems to be painful at the moment. With time and a proper attitude, though, punishment always results in growth and maturation, as well as deeper spiritual contentment. “To those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”
A second valuable lesson is found in the phrase “Be zealous, therefore, and repent.” Should we ever resent repentance? Should we become angry whenever we are told to change our lives? Even worse, how often do we meet individuals who drag their feet when it comes to reforming their ways? God does not want spiritual procrastinators, friends! He wants individuals who are zealous about living righteously, and who are excited about making themselves better. Self-improvement is not a chore, but a privilege. It is, indeed, a privilege because every moment that we have to repent is a moment that the Lord has given us without destruction.
Revelation 3:20 – “‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.’”
It is interesting to see the language of Matthew 7:7-8 turned around in a way. Whereas in the sermon on the mount, the Lord tells us to knock on the door, He is here telling the Laodiceans that He is the one knocking. The intimation is that no matter who does the knocking, the responsibility to obey is ours. Jesus is always available to us if we want Him. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it shall be opened.” So those who want to find Jesus will find Him without trouble. However, there are many who do not look for the Lord in any way. To them, the responsibility is given to respond when God finds them. God knocks on their lives, asks service of them, seeks their souls in pits of despair and sin. The Laodiceans had God knocking on their spiritual front door, and they seem to have ignored Him all this time.
This is an appropriate place to end our study of the seven churches of Asia, for the choice is left for us to make. If we want God, He is no farther than right before our eyes. He is available to all who would accept Him. His Gospel is for all who would listen. Heaven is for all who obey and are diligent. So the question remains, what kind of church will we be?