The study chapters of Revelation in the Bible Probe correspond to the chapters in Revelation and for ease of understanding should be started at the first chapter of this verse by verse study of the symbolism used by John.The rest of the seven letters to the seven churches appear in this chapter. We will continue to give you background on the cities involved so that one may see the connection of the life styles of the cities to the letters in relation to the comments the letters are making to each church.
LETTER TO THE CHURCH OF SARDIS
If one traveled south from Thyatira, about thirty miles, they would reach the very old city of Sardis. To go further south from Sardis was difficult due to mountains but east-west travel allowed the city to command an advantage as far as trade was concerned. The city itself dealt in wool and manufactured carpets and from this lucrative industry its citizens became financially wealthy. History for Sardis began with Lydian Kings and it was a thriving city when Cyrus of the ancient empire of Persia (in Daniel's time) conquered it. For two hundred years it was the capitol of Persia until Alexander the Great captured its rocky crated acropolis without the slightest resistance offered to him. After Alexander died, it was ruled by Pergamum until the iron foot of Rome became its master. It was also known as the capitol or center of worship for the Asiatic Goddess of Artemis for a population that is believed to have been about fifty thousand strong.
Josephus tells us a very large population of Jewish merchants maintained a community that thrived there. The Christian community probably developed because of Paul's teaching in Ephesus. It is safe to assume the same types of problems that arose in Ephesus and the church of Corinth developed in Sardis. Paul sent letters to both Ephesus and Corinth relating to subjects that also effected Sardis. Sardis became complacent in their faith. Since Sardis was an important and wealthy industrial metropolis, it would have attracted just about all the variations of what we could term Jewish Christianity. This is not as contradictory as it sounds. Jews that were embracing Christianity at that time began to be caught up in observing the Law given to Moses as a requirement to Christian faith.
The Mosaic Law that the house of Israel lived under was given as a guideline for direction and instruction, but the Law became the object of their worship instead of guidance to God. The early Christians were caught up in debates about the Law. This was due to the idea that the covenant and the law were the same thing.They are not! The new covenant did not abolish the law. This is not a simple subject, but in order to understand the reason for most of Revelation being given to us, we have to have a fundamental understanding of what the Law, as given to mankind, meant.
Jehovah gave Israel laws, much as a parent would warn a child, with punishment if necessary, not to play at the edge of a cliff. Therefore, it is recognized that correction or instruction by the parent is not for the parent's sake but the child's benefit and safety. Since the child does not realize the danger of impending disaster by playing in such a place, a parent not giving this instruction would be showing not only a lack of love, but a total disinterest in that child.
Since we acknowledge Jehovah as our heavenly father and since He has displayed nothing but love; He gave us, for our benefit, Law. Had the Jews maintained the attitude that the Law was something God gave us instead of something God demanded of us, sin would have been something one avoided because it detracted from our love of God and not because there was a penalty connected to it. It was for this reason the Law was classified and stated as something very desirable by many prophets.
Under the new covenant, a true Christian has the law written in his heart and does not need it written in stone. By walking in the spirit as Paul tells us in Galatians 5, a true Christian observes all the Law by following the two that Christ reiterated to His followers. For the two Christ gave us are in the original law given to Moses. Nothing has changed but the spirit of following the Law.
"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.(NIV) Again, the introduction of this letter makes it clear that it is Christ sending it. For it is only Christ that holds the seven stars and has complete use of the seven spirits or perfect power of God.
The message opens rather abruptly in a tone of scolding for as we saw above the city had been the capital of Persia for two centuries and without even the slightest resistance became a domain of Alexander the great. Apostasy began to creep into the lives of Christians almost immediately on the death of the Son. Therefore, Christ is relating this apostasy to the fall of the city of Sardis to Alexander by telling them:Rev 3:2
Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.(NIV) "In the sight of my God." Is altered in The King James Version, but if you doubt Christ is referring to His father, as His God, check verse 12 of this chapter, in any KJV version, and you will find Christ stating His Father as His God four times in that one verse.
The fact that nothing was stated to this church as complimentary meant there was nothing to compliment them on. The reason the church as a whole was being spoken to so harshly was that most were not obeying His commands. That they knew better is obvious from the next verse.
Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, 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.(NIV)
Christ is hereby telling them that they know the truth but are not obeying it, which is why He is sayingrepent. Dont be like your ancestors; so complacent about yourselves that you allow others to take over what you have and change it. "If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief"
Why is Christ referring to His return as a thief in the night? Because to those that are not part of the family, His coming will be a complete surprise.
1 Thessalonians 5:2
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.(KJV)
1 Thes 5:4
But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.(KJV)
This in itself is also a direct denial and answer to those that believe "Once saved, always saved." If you doubt this, read carefully what the next verse is saying from our Lord.
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.(NIV)
Notice"A few people who have not soiled their clothes." Being dressed in white is symbolic in Revelation with those that are spotless before God.
Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame.(KJV)
To those that remain spotless and follow the commands Jesus gave us, He is clearly saying"They will walk with me, dressed in white" The reason Christ has given us for saying this is because "They are worthy." And only the worthy will receive the crown of victory offered to all that obey His commands. Being dressed in white is not literal but symbolic of purity and equated with those that run the good race and remain faithful to the end, which is very clearly stated, in the next verse.
He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.It is not likely that there is an actual book somewhere in the universe that holds all the names of the true followers of Christ. That book is in God's head as well as the memory of His son. The symbolism of it all does not really need to be explained. However, it does point out that no one will be forgotten.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.(NIV)
Verse six, like all the letters, again reminds us that the message to each church is also to all the body of Christ.
Again there is no praise to this church except for the few that were keeping themselves awake and prepared as to what was happening and to what they were expected to do. The letter to this church and to all Christians is a clear warning that we must persevere in our efforts as members of the family of God. This, by the way, is the second time this message of warning was given to His body. The first time was when He walked on earth as Jesus. You can read this in the parable of the ten virgins and the oil for their lamps and the ten talents in Matthew 25.
LETTER TO THE CHURCH OF PHILADELPHIA
The Bible quotes used in the following letter are the same verses from both the New International version and the King James Version only to show that regardless of semantics or translation, the message is the same. This could have been done with any of the letters. Indeed it can be done with any message in the Word of God.
In a city about fifty miles Northwest of Laodicea, on a plateau amongst many hills, sat Philadelphia, a wealthy town due to its production of wine. It is not surprising, therefore, to find this originally Lydian pagan city worshipping Dionysus, the god of wine. The city itself is not particularly note-worthy. Nonetheless, it did serve as the gateway to Phrygia. Phrygia was an area in Asia Minor under constant change as far as its boundaries were concerned.
According to Josephus, about two thousand Jewish families were relocated in the area by Antiochus the third, which accounts for the widespread Jewish population throughout the seven cities at the time these letters were sent to the seven churches.
(ANTIOCHUS III, called The Great (242-187 BC), king of Syria (223-187 BC), the son of Seleucus II and brother of Seleucus III (r. 225-223 BC), whom he succeeded. He was the most distinguished of the Seleucids. Having made vassal states out of Parthia and Bactria, he warred successfully against the Egyptian king Ptolemy V and in 198 B.C., obtained possession of all of Palestine and Lebanon. He later became involved in a conflict with the Romans, who defeated him at Thermopylae in 191 B.C. and at Magnesia (now Manisa, Turkey) in 190 B.C. As the price of peace, he was forced to surrender all his dominions west of the Taurus Mountains and to pay costly tribute. Antiochus, who early in his reign had restored the Seleucid Empire, finally forfeited its influence in the eastern Mediterranean by his failure to recognize the rising power of Rome.)
Through the actions of the Holy Spirit during the almost three years Paul preached from Ephesus, Christianity had become well known over the whole area. That this letter is one of the two letters which has nothing but praise for its members is what makes this city, among the seven, outstanding. As with all the letters it begins with the introduction of who is sending it.
"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.(NIV)
"He that is Holy, He that is true"would to any Christian mark this sender as the Messiah. Just the same, as if making sure there would be no misunderstanding the letter further identifies Christ as "He that hath the key of David " (KJV)
Rev 5:5 further makes this identification clear as to Christ being the root of David.
Doors have locks. In order to open a locked door one must have a key. The Key of David spoken of here is obviously a reference to the Messiah in Isaiah.
And the key of the house of David will I lay upon his shoulder; so he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open.(KJV)
Although Isaiah is here speaking of Eliakim, the language is clearly of one in complete control and authority.
All Christians are aware that it is Christ who chooses those that follow him. They should also be aware that it is only by the grace of God that eternal life has been offered to all humanity. The work one does has nothing to do with this. Eternal life is and has always been a gift freely given from God. Just the same as James has very pointedly explained, faith without works is dead.
17.In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18.But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds." Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. (NIV)
In other words, if you truly do have faith in Christ and his promise, then you should be more than willing to prove it. Christ, as ordained by His Father God Almighty, controls those receiving eternal lives. What a Christian does in his lifetime determines his status as well as his entrance into the Heavenly Kingdom. This is made clear in the next verse:
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.(NIV)
Here Christ is telling these faithful followers that their actions in life have already caused him to unlock the door that leads to life for them. He is telling them that no one in the world, except themselves, can prevent their entry. This is verified in verse 11 of this chapter.
"For thou hast a little strength"(KJV) Here He is also obviously referring to this church being small in numbers but huge in faith, because in the next breath he is stating they: "Hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name." (KJV)
Some Bible commentators think the statement" For thou hast little strength" (KJV) might mean that the followers in Philadelphia were weak in their faith. However, as we have already seen, this does not at all fit in with the powerful statements Christ already has and is about to make concerning this church within this letter.
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.(NIV)
We have already learned from another letter that the synagogue of Satan is referring to those Jews that are Jews in name only and not in action or deeds, and are therefore liars. Concerning these Jews that do lie, Christ is saying " behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. (KJV)
In other words, there is coming a day when the truth Christians put forth from God's word will shine in all its wondrous glory and will in no way be deniable by anyone. You can read about this fascinating time to come in the 11th chapter of Isaiah.
Since we have learned that Christ can, with his double-edged sword of truth, cut to the heart of any matter, it is clear there is no way one can lie to God. That doesn't mean that one cannot lie to oneself. There is no doubt many people sincerely wished to serve God. But if one doesn't have the love in his heart, for God, to truly look for his truth, then his faith is judged as a lie. It is judged so because the actions or deeds behind it are not there.
One other thing can be said about Bible commentators claiming this church was weak in its faith. If the church in Philadelphia were made up of weak followers, would Christ be using the metaphor of the liars worshipping at their feet? I say it is a metaphor because we know that Jehovah is the only one we worship. Nonetheless, Christ is saying he would use their faith as an example of how one worships the creator.
No one worships himself. You worship one who is greater than yourself. Christ is saying people would look to these people, as leaders in the way one should worship. Indeed, He is telling us this church had faith of exceptional value. So much so, He says," To know that I have loved thee." (KJV)
The strength of this church's faith was so valued by God and His Son they are being told they would be protected from forthcoming trials. In fact, the following verse proves beyond all doubt that this church was not only strong but also indeed very strong in their faith in Christ.
Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.
"Because thou hast kept the word of my patience."(KJV) Christ patiently suffered and endured until the end. It was His trial. We have no way of knowing what the members of the church in Philadelphia suffered. Still the inference here is they suffered much. So much, that Christ is telling them: " I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation that will come as a trial to everyone on the earth." (KJV) In other words, Christ is telling these members they had already passed their testing period.
There are supposed Christian teachings that tell you once you are saved that you are always saved. Supposed Christian churches that, just as the Jews mentioned in this letter, manage to lie to themselves and become as the letter states judged as liars. This man-made doctrine is clearly denounced with the next verse. (The word crown below is from the Greek word "Stephanos" or victorious crown like those given to the winners in contests of strength or valor.)
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.(NIV)
This is not a religious hierarchy, a council of bishops, or a group of deacons, but the King, our Lord and Savior speaking. No one knows more about this subject than God Almighty and His Son.
That is what these letters mean by"To him who overcomes" (All Versions)
Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him 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 him my new name.(NIV)
This is stated, exactly the same way, in the King James Version.
Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.(KJV)
Notice above that Christ, long after He had been resurrected and sitting on the right hand of His Father the Almighty, is referring to His Father as HIS GOD. In fact, Christ does this four times in this one verse."In the temple of MY GOD" "The name of MY GOD" "The city of MY GOD" "From MY GOD"
There is only one God. We have been told this from the beginning and it is again being verified by the one and only begotten Son of our one and only God. In fact, while Christ was with us as a human being on earth, He never missed an opportunity to make this point.
Again, we have a letter to a church that is all praise from God, echoed loudly by Christ our Lord and King. Praise so strong that they are being told they have already won the battle. That their place in the kingdom is already assured and made ready for them. Their crowns are waiting and they are to continue in the path they follow to the end which means this can also be true for any other Christian who walks in the Spirit as Paul explained in Galatians chapter five.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.(NIV)
How glorious! How magnificent! This letter with all its promise and all its praise must have brought tears of joy and gratitude to the members of this church. It most certainly would have to mine.
LETTER THE CHURCH OF LAODICEA
About ninety miles east of Ephesus, there was a junction on the East west trade routes. At this point in the crossroads, we find Laodicea. Believed to have been restored by Antiochus the second, a Seleucid King, who named the city after his wife Laodice. Laodicea was an extremely wealthy city. We know this because when the contributions for the temple in Jerusalem (in effect the poor box) were confiscated from the Jews in that city by the then Governor Flaccus, his soldiers brought him back over twenty pounds of gold.
The wealth of Laodicea was mainly due to two factors. First, it was the banking capitol of Asia Minor. Second, because it manufactured clothes made of glossy black wool much desired by the then known world.
The city also produced a medicinal eye-salve known as "Phrygian powder" and had within its confines a major medical school. It is easy therefore to understand why this made Aesculapius, the supposed god of medicine, one of the major pagan religions of this city.
The city had all it needed of worldly possessions with the exception of one thing. An easily accessed water supply. The city drew its water from a long way off and transported it via pipes and aqueducts that were exposed to the sun. Hence, the water in the city was always lukewarm. Understanding the facts above helps to decipher the symbolism used by God to send the message to this church that he did.
One cannot help but notice a sense of sadness about this letter from the creator. Remember these letters are to the body of Christ, Christians. Those that have dedicated themselves to follow in the path Jesus had laid down when he was here on earth in a physical body. Yet these Christians had not only managed to stray from the path, by the lure of earthly possessions, but they had almost lost the path altogether.
As with all the seven letters, this one begins with an identification of He who is sending it.
"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.(NIV)
The word"Amen" means literally, "So it is written; so let it be." However, "Amen" said by God in this letter has a much stronger application and means "IT IS AND SO IT SHALL BE" because everything is under Gods control. Since men have no control, over what happens, it is rendered by them as "So let it be." Amen' is used in this manner in Rev 3:14 as part of a title for Christ, because through Christ the purposes of God are established:
The words"The ruler of Gods creation" therefore stamps this letter as being from God Almighty through His Son the "Faithful and true witness"
In other words, this is coming directly from the creator of the universe and His Son, the designated ruler of that universe. This church in Laodicea is being told point blank, regardless of what anyone else says: "LISTEN TO NO ONE ELSE FOR THIS IS THE WAY IT WILL BE."
(Again the words"Faithful and true witness" identify Christ as the first of the two witnesses in chapter eleven of Revelation, which will be explained when we reach that section of this vision of John.)
Having identified Himself as the sender, God wastes no time getting to the reason for the letter.
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!(NIV) From the content of this letter, we will learn that their deeds were of little account in the books of God. Yet, these people were not bad people. Which accounts for the sadness that God felt for these followers referred to above. Their actions were not from evil intent but still their deeds were not those that were expected or acceptable by God from followers of His Son.
(This is also something that those that believe in "once saved, always saved" should take note of.)
Now, no one likes to drink lukewarm water. Because of this, God is relating their lack of commitment to their water supply which would be immediately understandable by the people that lived in this city.Rev 3:16
So, because you are lukewarmneither hot nor coldI am about to spit you out of my mouth.(NIV)
This symbolic language was a way of God saying this Church was leaving a bad taste in his mouth. With the next verse, they are being told why this is being said.
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.(NIV)
The fact that this is being told, to people in one of the richest cities existing at the time is a definite indication that material wealth is not what Christ is referring to. God knew that their material wealth would be of no value to them at their death. It would disappear like the wind the moment their physical lives ceased on earth. For this reason, they are being spoken to as though they were part of a board of directors of a large banking conglomerate, for He begins the next verse by saying,
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.(NIV) "I counsel you to buy from me." God is telling them to buy "gold refined in the fire." Gold in its purest form is a dust. In order for gold to be useful it must be melted down or refined so rings, necklaces, bracelets etc can be manufactured from it. God is here pointing out something, this community of bankers, were well aware of and couching it in language, they could readily understand.
The most valuable thing in this world is God's Kingdom and one's place in it, for that is the only thing anyone can take with them when life on earth ceases. Therefore, they are being told to buy spiritual gold by following the commands of Christ. Spiritual gold is a treasure stored in heaven, spoken of by Jesus when He was here on earth.
44."The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Jesus spoke this message more than once and used different similes as symbols to express it.
"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.
46.When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (NIV)
Jesus is saying this because he knows what is of real value in this world and made this crystal clear in:
Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.(NIV)
Spiritual treasure stored in heaven makes one wealthy indeed, which is why the people of Laodicea are being told, in Rev 3:18, that this would make them truly rich.
The fact that Laodicea produced a medicinal eye salve for the world, being alluded to here in this letter, makes the point that the members of God's family should not let their eyes be deceived by the baubles of earthly wealth. Rather they should keep their sight on what is really of eternal value. In other words, keep your eyes on the kingdom of God and on the road that leads to it.
They are also being counseled to buy garments of white meaning purity to cover their shameful spiritual nakedness. The fact that they are being told they are spiritually naked is the crux of the problem with this church. They had become complacent in their deeds and actions concerning the kingdom of God. They were allowing their earthly wealth to blind them to what was of paramount concern to God, which is the preaching and spreading the word of the Kingdom and to their duty as Christians to the rest of mankind.
This, like the other letters, is to Christians: members of the body of Christ, those already in the family of God, which is why they are being chastised so strongly. The letter says this in the next verse.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.(NIV)
The word earnest also means eager, enthusiastic, urgent, strenuous, strong, and ardent. They are being told to be earnest, earnest in pursuit of what they already knew they were supposed to be doing. Therefore the letter is telling them to repent or they would find themselves spit out as tasteless.(Again, those that believe in the religious doctrine of "once saved, always saved" should take note of this letter.)
No one or nothing can take salvation through Christ away from you. But you yourself can certainly step off on a different path that leads you away from Him and the eternal life that salvation offers. This is why this church is being told to get back on the right track. The right track is preaching the gospel and proving your words by your actions. That is all that is required of a Christian; the rest Christ takes care of, which is why he is saying:
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 him, and he with me.(NIV)
This is not speaking of meat and potatoes here folks. These words are referring to spiritual food. If the words and actions of a true Christian leads another person to opening that door to our Lord, the Holy Spirit immediately rushes in to set the table for a spiritual feast. If that person is truly interested in God then he will find a peculiar event happening. For the more one eats this spiritual food, the hungrier they get. When one dines from this plentiful horn of truth, it leads them to becoming part of the family of God. A treasure that outshines anything one can imagine. To those that accomplish this, they also inherit something else.
To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.(NIV)
Christ overcame by remaining faithful to His very last earthly breath. We are expected, and are told to do the same.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."(NIV)
Again, the plural use of the word "Churches" tells us these letters are to all Christians, in all times, in all places.
So ends the letters of messages sent to the family or body of Christ, true followers of God's only begotten Son. Now the overall message of Revelation, given to John, turns its attention and condemnation, related through prophecy, to the rest of the world. A prophecy of a time you and I are living in right now, today. For the next chapter of Revelation opens, in part, with:
" Come up here, and I will show you what must come to pass "
(James Moffatt Version)
Not what might happen! Not what could happen!
Go to chapter four of this study in Revelation.
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