The first thing to note is the distinct change in the pattern of Chapter 3. 3 of the past 4 churches were very ‘mixed reviews’… you do this, but I hold this against you. In chapter 3 we get more clear cut shades – bad, good, bad.
3 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. 6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Description of God (1): The one who holds the churches in his hand. The emphasis is on God as owner and sustainer of the churches.
I know (1-2): Emphasis is on REPUTATION – they have a reputation of being vibrantly alive, but they have a REALITY of being dead. Their deeds are unfinished – likely, they say the gospel but don’t live the gospel.
Instruction (3-4): Verse 3 gives the rebuke and a warning. A rebuke to return to the gospel they have received – to turn back to Christ and to hold fast to scripture. A warning that if they do not, Christ will return in judgement. Verse 4 talks of those few who have stood firm in the gospel and encourages others to join them (note: cool picture of sin as peeing on yourself)
The one who is victorious (5): A picture of being pure, the book of life and acknowledgement before GOD (as opposed to verse 1’s reputation).
Bringing it together (for us): Reputation doesn’t matter when God can see your heart. Let your knowledge of the God through scripture profoundly shape your actions. Don’t give pretences of faith while covertly living a life which denies it.
7 “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. 13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Description of God (7): Holy, Truth, empowering. God is perfectly good; God is on the side of truth; God holds the key to heaven… and he opens and shuts the gate – not others. This description matters in a place that is suffering.
I know… (8): You feel weak, You are keeping my word, you have not denied me. And I think that there is something beautiful in this description. The God who empowers sees them in their weakness and says I’m in charge, the door is open to you… don’t heed the words of those who are dominating you.
Instruction (9-11): God will make those who oppose them to be liars. The opposition seems to be coming from Jews within the local synagogue. Likely to be issues to do with the response to the Deuteronomic law and Christianity. But it could be referring to Christians being reported by Jews to the local authorities. Jews were a recognized religion and paid tax to Rome to not participate in the Emperor worship. Some churches were covered by the local synagogues… some synagogues however, caused trouble for the Christians – instead reporting them to authorities for arrest. This could be the trial that they are being spared from, in God’s mercy.
The one who is victorious (12): Beautiful picture – these people who feel weak will be made into a pillar of strength. I would suggest it is drawing on some pictures from 1 Corinthians 3… of the temple of God which is built up being the church.
“Never will they leave it” had significance for the people of this city who were often displaced due to earthquakes… God’s city, his chosen people, is firm to it’s foundations.
Bringing it all together (for us): In our moments where we feel weak and battered – turn to God for your strength. Don’t listen to the words that mock your faith – whether it is your internal dialogue and your emotions, or if you are facing real pressure from others to abandon your faith. But trust in the Holy, Truthful, empowering God who says – I will see you through this.
14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Description of God (14): The faithful; The true witness; The ruler over God’s creation; In whose words we all agree (Amen). The last 3 images themselves lend themselves towards a picture of judgement – Where God sees, God is ruler and God’s judgement is final and agreeable. And what is judged? Faithfulness… which the Laodiceans lacked.
I know… (15-17): Neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm. A specific reference to the hot springs right near Laodicea… which were … well, not particularly hot. But particular reference is the taste – it’s volcanic water – it tastes foul… and that is Jesus’ response to this church. He looks at them and he sees them as foul. So what tastes foul to Jesus? Self-reliance.
Particular emphasis is on the RESULT of wealth – that they do not need anything. But instead Jesus reveals them as the spiritual pauper.
Instruction (18-20): The problem is that they need to receive from Christ – not from themselves. True wealth, true appearance, true sight (19). Jesus then calls for them to repent (20) – because he loves them and, in his discipline, he wants them to turn from their self-reliance and to depend on him. Jesus’ desire is fellowship – to eat with them, to participate with them. But it comes from relying on Jesus and not beginning from a position of self-reliance.
The one who is victorious (21): Is given authority with Christ… it loops around to the images from the beginning: as we participate in these with Christ. Those who are faithful, are witnesses of the truth of God. We stand with Christ and have a role as judge (cf. 1 Cor 6:2).
Bringing it all together (for us): Do not be self-reliant!! As talented or well off as we may be – we are foolish to think that we are any less needy of Christ. I think one litmus test is our prayer life: do we actually pray, genuinely asking God to work in our life, or do we just think that we have it under control in our own power?
Self-reliance is a big deal – and it is a problem encultured in our society – to not be dependant on anybody else. As a recommendation, I would spend more time here in application than in the previous 2.