Tue. Sep 17th, 2019

Fulfilling the Promises

"And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory." Mark 13:26

The Seven Golden Lampstands – A Solemn Warning for All Churches

As we read through Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 and 2 Timothy, we see that these churches were spiritually healthy as Paul last ministered in this region. But by the time Revelation was written, approximately thirty years later, five of these same churches had suffered serious spiritual decline. Ephesus had left its first love, and most of the rest had been infiltrated by false doctrine and sin. Only two of the seven that Jesus addresses are not condemned by Him in some fashion, Smyrna and Philadelphia, yet today none of the seven currently exist. So, what are we to make of this?

In writing this it became evident that each of these seven churches no longer exist as active, vibrant Christian congregations. All seven of these churches, and all of the churches that the Apostles had founded in Asia Minor are now in the Islamic State of Turkey. Up to 98.2 % of the population of Turkey is Muslim with Christians making up less than 1%. Today, approximately 120,000 Christians and 26,000 Jews live in Turkey, out of almost 80 million of the total population. The once thriving Christian churches that Jesus addresses in Revelation are no more.

As we read through Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 and 2 Timothy, we see that these churches were spiritually healthy as Paul last ministered in this region. But by the time Revelation was written, approximately thirty years later, five of these same churches had suffered serious spiritual decline. Ephesus had left its first love, and most of the rest had been infiltrated by false doctrine and sin. Only two of the seven that Jesus addresses are not condemned by Him in some fashion, Smyrna and Philadelphia, yet today none of the seven currently exist.

So, what are we to make of this? It needs to be understood that Jesus is judging each of these churches as he sees them at that time. This would be about 94 AD or about 60 years after Jesus was crucified and about 30 years after the Apostles had spread the Gospel message throughout Asia Minor and established these churches. It is important to realize that they represent the types of churches that are generally present throughout the entire church age. Five of the seven churches (Smyrna and Philadelphia being the exceptions) were rebuked for tolerating sin in their midst, not an uncommon occurrence in churches of all ages. The problems in those five churches ranged in severity from waning love at Ephesus to total apostasy at Laodicea. Further, any church in any age could have a mixture of the sins that plagued these five churches. This is something that churches today should take heed of. Exactly which of these churches do each of our own churches most closely resemble?

The state of these churches at the time Christ addressed them did not guarantee that their lampstand would be removed, nor did it guarantee that it wouldn’t. Those that strayed and repented would keep their lampstand. Those who were commended and later strayed would lose their lampstand. The very fact that none of these churches currently exist shows that at some point all lost their lampstands.

It is also important that as we read through Christ addressing these churches, that we take note that He does not condemn individuals within the body of the church apart from Jezebel and those that are teaching false doctrine. He does in fact commend the ones who conquer. Those that have strayed along with their church will suffer the consequences of their disobedience. Those who remain faithful, those that conquer will be granted to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God. Those who conquer will not be hurt by the second death. Jesus Himself will give to those who conquer some of the hidden manna, and He will give them a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. To those who conquer and who keep Jesus’ works until the end, to them He will give authority over the nations, and they will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as Jesus Himself has received authority from His Father. And their Savior will give the conqueror the morning star. To those that conquer they will be clothed in white garments, and the Lord will never blot their name out of the book of life. Jesus will confess their name before His Father and before His angels. Jesus will make them a pillar in the temple of His God. Never shall they go out of it, and He will write on them the name of His God, and the name of the city of His God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from His God out of heaven, and His own new name. If anyone, yes anyone hears the voice of the Lord Jesus and opens the door, Jesus Himself will come in to that person and eat with him, and he with Jesus. To those who conquer, He will grant them to sit with their Lord on His throne, as He also conquered and sat down with His Father on His throne. Read carefully because “ Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.” (Revelation 1:3).

  1. Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-7)

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’”

Ephesus, because of its place in the Apostle’s early ministry of laying the foundation of Christ’s Church, was the most important of the cities to which John now writes. It was intentional that in his vision John places Ephesus at the head of the list of congregations to which his letter is addressed. The apostle Paul had found in Ephesus a group that had already believed in Jesus but knew only John the Baptist’s baptism. “And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. There were about twelve men in all. (Acts 19:1-7). For three years Paul made Ephesus his home (Acts 20:31), as well as his base for evangelizing the entire Asian province (Acts 19:10).

It was not long after Paul had left Ephesus that he was writing Timothy “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” (1 Timothy 1:3-4). Ephesus was already plagued by false teachers.

Certain persons had already began teaching contrary to sound doctrine and “have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. They presumed to be teachers of the law, though they did not understand it.” (1 Timothy 1:6-7). Paul disciplined two of them, Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Timothy 1:20). Paul describes the false teaching at Ephesus as “worldly fables fit only for old women” (1 Timothy 4:7), “disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions” (1 Timothy 6:4). Its perpetrators were conceited and understood nothing.

Paul sums up the state of the Ephesian Church in Chapter 6 “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:3-10).

When the Lord came to John in the midst of the seven lampstands it would not have surprised John that Ephesus came up first. Irenaeus[1] records that “John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.”  Eusebius[2] records that “in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep” among whom he lists John. John resided in Ephesus, very probably wrote his Gospel in Ephesus, and knew the state of the Ephesian Church. He undoubtedly knew they had abandoned their first love. Christ praises the Ephesians for having listened to Paul and Timothy and had tested those who claimed to be prophets. By this time, however, they had fallen away from the “works you did at first.” They were then promised that if they did not remember the heights from which they had fallen; if they did not repent, and do the works you did at first, He would come and remove their lampstand from its place. Most importantly Jesus brings against the church of Ephesus the indictment that she had left her first love. Jesus refers to love in the deepest sense, to the true love for their Lord and Savior and for each other. This was a love that they had exhibited during the early life of their church. This love had apparently filled the church of Ephesus early on but had now been abandoned. The Lord states that this love that they initially displayed had been forsaken. It is not incidental that first Church for Jesus to address was Ephesus and the primary issue for Him to condemn it for was a falling away from their first love.  Their love for their Lord and each other had gone cold. If it was not remedied, the Ephesian church would have its lampstand removed. The love of God in Christ is at the core of a church’s spiritual life. If a church leaves that love, the spiritual foundation of that church is undermined. A church can be doctrinally sound but if their love for God’s Word is not based on their love of their Lord and each other it is meaningless.

In the abandoning her first love we must recognize the beginning of their spiritual decline. I repeat:  the church of Ephesus being the first in the series of seven churches which are addressed in these letters is not incidental or irrelevant. It is significant. From Ephesus to Laodicea may seem a long way, but it is an inevitable path. Laodicea was told “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16).  The church which abandons its first love ultimately loses all her spiritual relevance and becomes lukewarm. Christ, as He does in each of His addresses to the seven churches holds out hope to those within the congregation that are still filled with the Spirit and still love their Lord with all their hearts. “To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.”

So where is that Church today? Their loss of their first love was the beginning of decline. Ephesus had been during the days of the early Church a prominent city in the province of Asia Minor: more powerful than Pergamum politically, and more favored than Smyrna for the imperial cult of Rome. Modern Ephesus today is in modern day Turkey. Turkey, once the heartland of Paul’s ministry, is 99% Muslim and devoid of Bible-based Christianity today. The Ephesian Church apparently did not heed Jesus’ warning. Did they lose their lampstand? – reality speaks that they did.

  1. Smyrna (Revelation 2:8-11)

“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.

“‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto 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. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’”

There is no record of how Christianity came to Smyrna. Like the other Asian cities, Smyrna was probably reached as a result of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus. The congregation at Smyrna, unlike the one at Ephesus, was facing persecution, imprisonment for some, even death. The heart of the message was not “repent like the Ephesian Church was called to,” but be faithful, even to the point of death.” The Ephesian Church was threatened if they did not obey (Revelation 2:5), but the Church in Smyrna was promised that if they persevered they would be given the crown of life (Revelation 2:10), matching the promise that was to be given to those individuals who “overcome” in all seven messages. In this message to Smyrna, the angel is a “conquering” angel, and the Christians there a whole assembly of “conquerors.”

For three centuries Smyrna had been one of the most important cities in Asia Minor. It was important, and it was wealthy. Smyrna had been fanatically devoted to Rome for several centuries. Not surprisingly, the city was a leading center for the cult of emperor worship. The citizens of Smyrna willingly offered the worship that Emperor Domitian was now demanding of his subjects everywhere. The demand that Christians bow to the Emperor and acknowledge him as a god brought Christians throughout the empire into conflict with the Roman authorities and in this instance the pagan population of Smyrna also. Though the Christians of the Empire would willingly submit to the emperor’s civil authority they refused to participate in the worship of the pagan pantheon of idols.  Furthermore, Roman society could not fathom the worship of an invisible God. Christians in Smyrna were denounced as traitors since they would not bow to the Emperor and as atheists because their God was not visible. These Christians were living outside the culture of Smyrna.

This Church was challenged by both the pagan worshippers and unbelieving Jews of Smyrna. That this is the case can be attested to by the martyrdom of Polycarp around 166 AD. At Polycarp’s trial, the unbelieving Jews of Smyrna joined with the pagans in condemning him to death. Eusebius writes that “the Jews, being especially zealous . . . ran to procure fuel” for the burning (The Ecclesiastical History 4:15).[3]

After commending the Church of Smyrna for faithfully enduring persecution, Jesus warned the believers that more was coming. Before specifying its nature, He commanded them not to fear what they were about to suffer. He would give them strength to endure it. As He told His disciples in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Therefore, the suffering believers in Smyrna could say with David, “In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 56:11). Specifically, the Lord predicted that the devil was about to cast some of them into prison. God’s purpose in permitting that imprisonment was so that they would be tested. By successfully enduring that trial, they would prove the reality of their faith and be strengthened. He was emphasizing what Paul would state that “’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Jesus’ promise to this Church was that if they persevered and conquered they will not be not be hurt by the second death. This is a promise to all Christians who call on the Lord and overcomes the world.  “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5)

The city of Smyrna is now the modern city of Izmir, Turkey.  Officially Muslim by name, residents are very much disillusioned with Islam and are generally secularist. They may know that Christians “used to” live in Izmir, but most are unaware of the thriving Christian community of up to five hundred believers scattered among at least twelve churches. Although many of these churches are historically Catholic or Orthodox, there is a growing number of evangelical Protestant believers as well. For those that persevered and conquered the Lord has preserved a remnant.

This persecuted, suffering, yet faithful church at Smyrna stands for all time as an example of those who upon “hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.” (Luke 8:15). Because they acknowledged Jesus before men, He promised to also will acknowledge them before His Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:32). For Christians today, we must realize that more and more we are living in a culture that is outside the main culture. Like the Smyrnians we need to persevere.

  1. Pergamum (Revelation 2:12-17)

 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.

“I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. So also, you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

The church at Pergamum, like much of today’s church, had failed to heed the biblical warnings against worldliness and conforming to the culture. Consequently, it had drifted into compromise with the world around them and was in danger of becoming intertwined with that world. Bowing to the culture and conforming to that culture is the next step in the downward spiral from the Ephesian church’s loss of its first love for Jesus Christ to apostasy.

Pergamum was a famous city that had long prospered. It included between 120,000 and 200,000 inhabitants. The citizens of Pergamum had the foresight to take the lead in joining Rome to defeat the other kings of the eastern Mediterranean, thereby securing for themselves special favor. This is one more of the cities that worshipped the Emperor and the Roman pantheon of gods. This is the culture this Christian congregation saw themselves in the mist of.

It was the writer of Revelation himself who had penned “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17).

Jesus commended them for continuing to hold fast His name – even though they lived where Satan’s throne is, where Satan dwells. They lived in a thoroughly pagan society. Pergamum also was the leading center of emperor worship in the province of Asia. And the cult of emperor worship certainly posed the gravest threat to the Christians, in terms of persecution, imprisonment and death in Pergamum.

After commending the believers there, Christ informed them, I have a few things against you. His concern was that they had there some who hold to false teaching. While the majority of the believers at Pergamum were faithful and loyal to the truth, there were some associated with the church who came to believe false doctrine. Today, in some ways, worldliness is still rampant in the church. Churches, even entire denominations, have departed from the true faith and embraced the world view of morality and values. And in some places, state churches still exist that are reputed of being alive, but they are dead. (Revelation 3:1)  Like the church at Pergamum, they fall under judgment by the Lord of the true church.

While many in the Christian realm today make light of doctrine, and biblical and theological error are viewed as unimportant, that is not the perspective of the Lord of the church. Our Lord holds it against any in His church who hold to or tolerate error. Worse yet, he condemns Churches that tolerate those that synchronize the Word of God with the values of this world. Jesus condemns them for allowing those in their mist who teach the tenets of Balaam who put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. This Church, instead of confronting them and, if they refused to repent, putting them out of the church, were tolerating them. Like many churches today, the church at Pergamum failed to obey the biblical mandate to practice church discipline (Matthew 18:15–18).

If there is one value that emerges from the message to Pergamum, it is that we are called to be faithful to God’s Word and have a firm commitment to what is right, coupled with a stubborn refusal to compromise in order to achieve respectability and status in our culture or society. Faithfulness to God’s Word cannot be compromised to tickle the ears of the congregation. Faithfulness to God’s Word cannot be compromised to fill the pews. If you are in a Church that does not hold faithfully to the Word of God just remember: “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.”

As part of the Roman Empire, Pergamon’s decline mirrored that of the empire as a whole. Like the rest of the region, it eventually came under Byzantine and then Ottoman rule. Today Pergamum is in Islamic Turkey which is less then 1% Christian. The Pergamum Church was warned “Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth.” The Church has long since lost its lampstand. The promises to the church were contingent on them repenting. That did not happen. These promises were also made to those believers within that church and for churches of all ages. To those who persevered in the faith and to those who have an ear, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers the Lord will give some of the hidden manna, and He will give them a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it. That is a promise the faithful can count on.

  1. Thyatira (Revelation 2:18-29)

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.

I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.  I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works. But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

The practice of church discipline that Christ instituted to maintain the holiness of the church has a twofold purpose: to call sinning believers back to righteous behavior, and to purge from the church those who stubbornly cling to their sin. In either case, the purity of the church is maintained. After the birth of the church on the Day of Pentecost, the Lord demonstrated His commitment to a pure church by executing Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11). The apostle Paul also had a passionate concern for the purity of the church. Horrified at the Corinthians’ casual attitude toward flagrant sin in their assembly, Paul wrote:

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”  (1 Corinthians 5:1–5)

The sexual immorality that Paul was warning the Corinthians against was being perfected in the Church of Thyatira. The phrase ‘the deep things of Satan’ indicates the moral corruption this church tolerated.  It shows how their plunge had reached the depths of hell. The church at Smyrna was being assaulted by a synagogue of Satan. But it was coming from the outside against them. Pergamum was being confronted by the throne of Satan, the very capital city as it were of satanic religion. But it was coming against them from without. Thyatira, on the other hand, had plummeted into the deep things of Satan and it came from within their congregation. This was not something that was attacking them from the outside, this was behavior that was going on within the church. Thyatira went all the way to tolerating sin and sin that could be defined as the deep things of Satan.

Sadly, this letter is written at the end of the first century. By the end of the second century there was no church in Thyatira. It was gone, out of existence. The problem that faced this little church was not persecution. The Lord does not mention that. There is no indication that this church faced pressure from outside the church. There is no indication that they battled, as Smyrna did, “a synagogue of Satan” or that they dwelled as Pergamum did where “Satan’s throne is.” The real problem here was not that they were being attacked. The real problem here was that they had fallen from within. They weren’t victims of the devil prowling around like a roaring lion from outside; he prowled around like a roaring lion within this church.

As noted, the lampstand of this church was by the end of the second century removed. To those within the congregation and to all those throughout the ages that held and will hold faithful to their Lord He tells them: “Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

  1. Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6)

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

Sardis was an actual church, in an actual city, it is a historical place in Asia Minor and it a prototype. As with each of these seven churches there are churches throughout the Christian era that will resemble one or more of the seven.  Sardis is a symbol of dead churches throughout all the ages of the church. It speaks of a certain kind of church. We all have seen this type of church. There are even whole denominations that are made up predominantly of this type of church. The Lord calls out these churches that they might turn from their ways and repent. The Lord presented these truths for all churches everywhere to examine themselves so that they may not have their lampstands taken away.

Jesus’ address to Ephesus challenged a loveless church; his address to Smyrna encouraged a persecuted church; his address to Pergamum addressed both persecution and compromise; his address to Thyatira challenged compromise with bad doctrine and sin in their midst. Jesus’ address to Sardis is a summons to a sleeping church to wake up. The message to Sardis reveals nothing definite about the church’s predicament beyond the fact that it is about to die.

The story of Sardis then is a story of degeneration. Seven hundred years before John penned his letter to Sardis, it had been one of the greatest cities in the world. By the time the letter is written, it had decayed greatly and was but a shadow of its once glory. Today it is a pile of ruins near a little village called Sarte. Gone is the glory of the Lydian Empire.  Gone is the wealth and luxury that Croesus its greatest king could display. The Church of Sardis like the city of Sardis was dying.

The Lord exhorts Sardis to “Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.”  The deadness that is overcoming Sardis relates to sin. Ephesians 2:1-5, ” And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”

Here was a church that was living in the deadness of sin. These people were unredeemed, spiritually dead sinners playing church. We have them throughout the churches of the world. They have beautiful cathedrals and large church campuses. They even have well known and widely read pastors and they have music and productions to entertain and there are thousands of people in them. But they’re dead.

Once again, we see here a church that has lost their lampstand. Yet the Lord knows there are those among this congregation and all congregations in churches like this church that are faithful to Him and His Word. “Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

  1. Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13)

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

We now come to a church that was faithful. Along with the Lord’s address to the church in Smyrna this address to Philadelphia is written to a church that needs no warning, that needs no condemnation, that needs no threats because here we have a true church. Two of the seven churches have nothing condemning them when the Lord addresses them because they are the regenerate church. The church at Smyrna, the church at Philadelphia were faithful, godly, loyal, effective. And we see these two churches as the models throughout all of church history of good, solid, regenerate, faithful churches.

First the Lord notes that the Philadelphia church had but little power. Here was a church small in numbers (cf. Luke 12:32) but had a powerful impact on its city. Most of its members may have been poor, from the lower classes of society. Was Jesus addressing such a church?

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

 Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.” (Luke 12:32-37).

Along with Paul they could say. “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Despite its small size, spiritual power flowed in and through the Philadelphia church. People were being redeemed, lives were being transformed, and the gospel of Jesus Christ was being proclaimed. The believers at Philadelphia were also marked by obedience; they kept Christ’s word. Like Job, they could say “I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my portion of food.” (Job 23:12).

Christ further commended the Philadelphia congregation for having not denied His name, despite the pressures they faced to do so. They remained loyal no matter what it cost them. Revelation 14:12 describes the Tribulation saints who refused to take the mark of the beast: “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.” Like them, the Philadelphia church would not recant its faith. Finally, Christ commended the Philadelphia church because its members had kept the word of His perseverance.

The promises, the promises! One promise after another. The Lord will set before them an open door, which no one is able to shut. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. I am coming soon. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. It is important for Christians of all eras to remember what the Lord commended this Church and when He promised them.

Philadelphia is today the Turkish market town of Alasehir. As with most of Turkey Alasehir has a very small Christian population. Until we are with our Lord in Heaven we may never know what happened to this church. That they were commendable when Christ addressed them did not mean that they did not grow to resemble another of the seven. If this church strayed the Lord promised those that held firm in their faith, to those who conquered, “He will make them a pillar in the temple of His God. Never shall they go out of it, and I will write on them the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

  1. Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22)

 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

In contrast to the other six churches, the Laodicean church has nothing to commend it. Jesus begins the message with condemnation: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot.” Some churches make the Lord weep, others make Him angry but the Laodicean church made Him sick. Hot people are those who are on fire for their Lord, they are spiritually alive. It is a genuine love, theirs is a life in which people can see in them Christ’s likeness. The spiritually cold, on the other hand, are best understood as those who reject Jesus Christ. The Gospel message leaves them unmoved.  In their lives Jesus evokes no spiritual response. They people have no interest in Christ, His Word, or His church. And they do not equivocate, they do not hide the fact that they reject Jesus Christ and all He stands for – they are not hypocrites. The lukewarm fit into neither category. They are not genuinely saved, yet they do not openly reject the gospel. They attend church and claim to know the Lord but their lives to not mirror Christ in any way. The Lord Jesus Christ described such people in Matthew 7:22–23: “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’’” The lukewarm are like the unbelieving Jews of whom Paul lamented, “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.” (Romans 10:2). They are those “who have the appearance of godliness but deny its power. Avoid such people.” (2 Timothy 3:5). We are told to avoid these people.

Laodicea was a very prosperous city. It was strategically located at the junction of two important roads: the east-west road leading from Ephesus into the interior, and the north-south road from Pergamum to the Mediterranean Sea. That location made it an important commercial city. These people claimed to be rich, blessed and self-sufficient and they probably were, but they were spiritually blind. The reality was that they were rich in material things. Paul had written Timothy about “those who desire to be rich and fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:3-10).

The Laodiceans thought themselves rich, but spiritually, the Laodiceans were in a wretched, pitiful condition, made all the worse in that they could not see their need. This was a church filled with self-deceived hypocrites. Christ rebuked them for their disastrously inaccurate self-assessment of their position before Him. Christ put it on the table “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.” It can’t be anymore plain and straight forward then that. This was a wake-up call to these people that “Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” And here is Jesus’ counsel to them: “but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.” Like the rich young ruler, they were deceived about their actual spiritual condition.

Yet there is hope for those in this church who listen to His counsel “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Yes, the seven churches are all gone. At some point they strayed, and their lampstands were removed. Yet the Lord is true to those that are true to Him. Yes, these are prototypes of churches we all know. Some troubled, some straying, some have lost their first love, some are dead in their sins. Some have strayed from sound doctrine, but some are like the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia and are alive with the love of their Lord. Bound together in unity and purpose as a loving community to obey and liv

[1] Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 202 AD) was a Greek cleric noted for his role in guiding and expanding Christian communities in what is now the south of France and, more widely, for the development of Christian theology by combatting heresy and defining orthodoxy. Originating from Smyrna, now Izmir in Turkey, he had heard the preaching of Polycarp, who in turn was said to have heard John the Evangelist. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies Book 3.1).

[2] Eusebius of Caesarea (AD 260/265 – 339/340) was a historian of Christianity, exegete, and Christian polemicist. He became the bishop of Caesarea Maritima about 314 AD. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon and is regarded as an extremely learned Christian of his time. (Ecclesiastical History 3.31.3; 3.39.1-7).

[3] Ibid.

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