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Bible Study: The Book of the Revelation – LESSON 3: THE LETTERS TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES 2:1–3:22 (Part 2)

Calvary Bible Church Bible Study

The Book of the Revelation

 

LESSON 3:  THE LETTERS TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES. 2:1–3:22. (Part 2)

 

The Letter To The Church At Sardis

vrs     1                  Sardis is about twenty-seven miles due south of Thyatira. It was one of the oldest and greatest cities of western Asia. In ancient times it was a proud, wealthy city, the capital of the kingdom of Lydia. It had a history of many wars, and it was the city of the wealthy Croesus. The patron deity of the city was Cybele, whose form appeared on their coins. She was represented as half-human and was regularly associated with a pair of lions or single lion. The deity was supposed to have power to restore the dead. The city fell before Cyrus the Great of Persia in the sixth century B.C. In 17 A.D. the city suffered greatly from an earthquake. When John wrote this letter, the city was a city of the past.  Later, it was restored and continued to flourish until 1400–1403 A.D., when the Tartar (Mongol) Tamerlane swept over the area and destroyed everything. The city has never recovered from this desolation.

 

“The seven Spirits of God.”  Paul speaks of the unity of the person of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3); John emphasizes the diversity of His attributes and actions as well as the fullness of His power (Isaiah 11:2).  The seven stars are an allusion to the way Christ was revealed to the Church of Ephesus.  “I know thy works.”  Sadly, the Lord commends nothing in this church. The measure of its privilege and profession was the measure of its responsibility. It was full of empty profession; hence, it was dead. Again, the union of church and state brought about more profession than life.

 

vrs     2                  The call to be watchful and wakeful was directed to the spiritual leaders to carry out their responsibility. They were exhorted to strengthen the things which remain, because they had the testimony of the Word of God.

 

vrs     3                  “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard.”  Sardis believers are alerted to recall how much of the truth they had, and to hold fast the good they had received. Also, they needed to repent of the inadequate use they were making of it. If the church did not awake, they were in danger of meeting Christ when they were not ready.  The phrase “I will come as a thief” not only refers to the suddenness and unexpectedness of Christ’s Coming, but also refers to a specific event in the service of the Temple in Jerusalem.  During each night, a priest was appointed to make sure that the fire in the Brazen Altar was kept lit all night long, and was ready for the morning sacrifice at sunrise the next morning.  The High Priest would come into the Temple area BEFORE sunrise, quietly, to check and see if the priest had fallen asleep on his watch, and had allowed the fire to go out.  If the priest HAD neglected his duty, and was off snoozing in a corner somewhere, the High Priest would re-light the fire, and gather some of the new coals in a container.  He would then go to find the sleeping priest, and would cast the coals onto his garment.  Remember that the priests garments were made of pure linen, which is VERY flammable.  He would be rudely awakened by his flaming garment, and would have to strip it off to keep from being burned.  He then would be sent home in shame wearing only his undergarment, and everyone who saw him would know that he had failed in his duty.

 

vrs     4                  In spite of all appearances, there was a godly remnant in this church which have not defiled their garments (James 1:27). They are worthy. The worthiness spoken of is a reckoning of grace; they had been made such by Christ.

 

vrs     5                  There are actually three promises here. Clothed in white raiment. Garments are made white only in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14). The promise not to blot out his name out of the book of life is strong assurance of the eternal security of the believer in Sardis. Moreover, Christ will delight to recognize (confess his name) as His own all overcomers. The method of overcoming is clear throughout the Word (1st John 5:4).

 

vrs     6                  This is a simple call to a simple act, but it is so seldom heeded.

 

The Letter to the Church of Philadelphia. 3:7–13.

vrs     7                  The city was named after its founder, Attalus Philadelphus, king of Pergamos (159–138 B.C.), because he was loyal to his brother Eumenes. It was situated twenty-five miles south of Sardis. Its modern name is Allah Shehr (city of Allah). The remains of early Christian times are more numerous here than in any other of the cities named by John. It was a missionary city in the Greek world, promoting unity of spirit, customs, and loyalty within the kingdom. It is the only one of the seven churches whose name has been preserved to this day, in the Pennsylvania city named Philadelphia founded by William Penn. This church is the church of the faithful remnant. There are no words of censure for them.  “He that is holy, he that is true.” The One speaking is holy in life and true in doctrine, holy in character and true in action. Christ is not revealed by this characteristic in chapter 1.  He is seen here not in His judicial nature, but in His personal character and attributes. The key of David is mentioned in connection with the treasurer of David’s house in Isaiah 22:22. He that openeth by His Spirit the truths of the Word, no man shutteth; to hardened spirits He shutteth and no man openeth. Christ is also the key to the Word of God. His administrative authority is revealed here as well; He opens and shuts doors of ministry (Acts 16:6–10). Connected with David, He is depicted in His messianic kingly office.

 

vrs     8                  The open door is that of witness and testimony, including the worldwide mission field. To be sure, it is not a matter of human power and ingenuity; for these believers had a little strength. But no individual or group has power to frustrate the service of those joined to Christ. Their weakness is their defense (2nd Corinthians 12:10). Smyrna and Philadelphia are the only churches without reproof; the one is a suffering church, the other, a weak one.  “Hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.”  Moreover, this church kept Christ’s Word, speaking of their obedience and submission (John 14:23).  Nor have they denied the name of Christ: obedience and no apostasy.

 

vrs     9                  “Synagogue of Satan.”  Since there is a return to the first principles in this assembly, Satan again marshals his old attacks. He injects legalism; it is the Judaizing system in its opposition to the truth of grace. However, this Judaizing is not true Old Testament theology.

 

vrs     10                “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience”, the promise is that they will be kept from the hour of temptation, which is to come on all the world of those who have completely settled upon the earth (Greek word is not merely oikeoµ, to dwell, but katoikeoµ, to settle down, which is contrary to the pilgrim nature of the church, Philippians 3:18–20; 1st Peter 2:11).  This indicates that those whose life is focused on earth will receive the punishment, while those whose focus is on God will be kept by Him.

 

vrs     11                “Behold, I come quickly.”  Because Christ will come suddenly, they were not to surrender one iota of Christ’s word that they then possessed. “That no man take thy crown.”  If the truth is relinquished in our witness of Christ (doctrine), the crown is lost. Notice the word is not that anyone would take their salvation, but their crown.  The wording here presupposes that these people were truly SAVED, but could allow their witness to be weakened or watered down as it was presented to the unsaved.  A faithless servant may lose his crown, but not eternal life. Lost opportunities will result in lost crowns.

 

vrs     12                Notice the repetition of my God. The promises are full of identification and appropriation. The pillar is a reminder of the two primary pillars in the temple of Solomon (1st Kings 7:21) and connotes stability, strength, and permanence. Those who have been with Christ in the day of His rejection will realize the glory of the day of His enthronement.

 

vrs     13                A command to believers to hear is never out of place, because it is a long spiritual exercise to be quick to hear.

 

The Letter to the Church of Laodicea. 3:14–22.

vrs     14                Laodicea is about forty miles southeast of Philadelphia. Built by the Seleucid monarch, Antiochus II (261–246 B.C.), it was named after his wife, Laodice. It was a city of considerable size, trade, and wealth, specializing in the manufacture of wool. It was a bone of contention in Asia Minor under the Romans and under the Turks. Laodicea became extremely wealthy during the Roman period. For example, in 62 B.C. Flaccus seized the annual contribution of the Jews of Laodicea for Jerusalem amounting to 20 pounds of gold. Moreover, when the city was destroyed by an earthquake in A.D. 60 (along with Colossae and Hierapolis), it alone refused aid from Rome for rebuilding (compare the self-sufficient attitude of the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:17).  Epaphras, Tychicus, Onesimus, and Mark seem to have been the early messengers of the gospel there (Colossians. 1:7; 4:7–15). A letter addressed to the Laodiceans by Paul (Colossians. 4:16) has apparently been lost; some consider it to be a copy of the Ephesian letter. In later times it was a Christian city of importance and was the residence of a bishop, as well as the meeting place of church councils. Pride and self-satisfaction characterized the people and made their impression on the church as well. The city was destroyed by the Moslems in the Middle Ages, and today the site of the once wealthy city is a mass of ruins.  The church at Laodicea is the church of insipid lukewarmness. The living Lord demands enthusiasm and total commitment from those who worship Him. There is nothing to commend in this church, although it thinks it is perfect (vrs 17). Christ refers to Himself as the Amen, the One who establishes all God’s promises. He is the Last Word, the Ultimate Authority, the Finality of all things. When the church in her closing days will be unfaithful and untrue, He is seen as the faithful and true witness (see 1:5). All God’s witnesses have failed at one time or other, but Christ never. Moreover, He is the beginning of the creation of God. This does not invalidate His eternality. It indicates that He is Head of the new creation (2nd Corinthians 5:17).

 

vrs     15                The fault with this church is that it is neither cold nor hot; there is neither zeal for God nor absolute repudiation of the Lord.  Laodicea was known for its various flowing springs of water.  Some of the springs were HOT springs, and were used for health and cleansing.  Other springs were cold, fresh, and clear, and were prized for their purity and coldness for drinking.  There were some springs that were “lukewarm”, being a mixture of cold fresh water and hot (highly mineralized) water; these springs were good for nothing at all.  Lukewarmness (lukewarm water is an emetic) is hot and cold together: in Laodicea there are great humanitarian and cultural projects without the saving grace of the gospel.  Here is their attitude toward Christ; they are totally indifferent.  It is worse to be lukewarm (evangelical but not evangelistic, as many say) than to be one who abandons all profession. An active, positive opposition (notice Paul on the Damascus road) could be faced with better results.

 

vrs     16                “I will spew thee out of my mouth.”  Spitting the church out of Christ’s mouth has no reference to loss of salvation for those in the church who are truly saved, but removal from a place of witness.

 

vrs     17                This church claims it has need of nothing; it is self-satisfied and self-complacent. Boasting of wealth and methods of organization, it fails to realize the absence of spiritual life in its midst. Christ informs them that they are utterly insensitive to their condition.  Notice how this rebuke can apply to many churches in America today.  They have lots of programs, activities, and social opportunities, but the Spirit is not there, the true Gospel is not preached, and the righteousness of God is not seen.

 

vrs     18                For their threefold need (poverty, nakedness, and blindness), they are advised to buy, without money and price (Isaiah 55:1), gold, which speaks of divine righteousness, white raiment, which denote practical righteousness, and eye-salve, which points to spiritual discernment. Their trouble was that they had never really seen themselves as sinners.

 

vrs     19                “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.”  The reason for the rebuke and counsel was His love.  If not for this, He would have forsaken her. The mass of the group of people will not heed these words, but individuals will (notice in the Greek the singular verbs). Grace is still open to individuals, but the church as a whole is useless.

 

vrs     20                Here is a tragic, but true, picture. It is a group professing the name of Christ, but keeping Him on the outside. He is knocking at the door of the church for an individual to let Him in for fellowship and closeness (“sup with him”).  Christ may disown the church as a whole, but He still makes His plea to the individual heart.

 

vrs     21                To sit with me in my throne. To sit with Christ on His throne is indicative of royal authority, power, and glory. Kingdom participation is in view here. Christ will have His throne (2nd Samuel 7:13; Luke 1:31–33; Matthew 25:31). He is now set down with my Father in his throne (Psalm 110:1; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12–13; 12:2). The overcomer will reign with the victorious Christ on His blessed glorious throne.

 

vrs     22                Once again, the Spirit still pleads with the individual heart.