Revelation 3 (NRSV)
The Message to Sardis
Sardis was formerly the capital of the ancient Lydian Kingdom. The wealth of Lydia and Sardis is legendary. The Pactolus River there was said to have become rich in gold when the fabled King Midas of Phrygia bathed in its headwaters to rid himself of the “golden touch.” The legend of the “Golden Fleece” supposedly originated from the method of laying sheep skins in the shallows of the Pactolus to collect gold particles. The expression “rich as Croesus,” the last Lydian king, is used to indicate an extremely wealthy person. Unsurprisingly, it was here in Sardis that coined money was invented.
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars:
“I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead.”
G. B. Caird wrote that Sardis is “A perfect model of inoffensive Christianity.”
2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. 3 Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent.
What to do with a dying church? Jesus did not instruct Smyrna to go to a church growth conference in Philippi. He did tell them to remember what they had seen and heard. What they had heard was the basic message of the apostles. Jesus calls them back to the basics.
When Vince Lombardi tried to wake up his sleeping Green Bay Packers football team he called them back to the basics. He knew they needed to focus on the football basics of blocking and tackling. He took it to an extreme, held up a football and said: Gentlemen this is a football.
George Barna in his book Turnaround Churches profiles thirty churches that were about to die and made a turnaround. What he found in his study was that those churches that did turn about got back to the basics. The return to basic theology and simple ministry was refreshing for most people, even those who had been Christian for decades. The people could agree on the crux of their faith. They were returning to what is eternally significant, practical and encouraging.
If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.4 Yet you have still a few persons in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; they will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 If you conquer, you will be clothed like them in white robes, and I will not blot your name out of the book of life; I will confess your name before my Father and before his angels. 6 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
The Message to Philadelphia
Philadelphia had been built with the deliberate intention that it might become a missionary city. Beyond Philadelphia lay the wilds of Phrygia and the barbarous tribes; and it was intended that the function of Philadelphia should be to spread the Greek language, the Greek way of life, the Greek civilization, throughout the regions beyond.
The only ancient remains in Philadelphia is the Church of St. John, which dates from about A.D. 600. It was a huge domed basilica, but today all you see are the massive columns that held up the structure (pictured above.).
7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are 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:
8 “I know your works. Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.
Now Jesus opened the door for the Christians of Philadelphia to spread the culture of His kingdom through the whole region.
I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but are lying—I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. 10 Because you have kept my word of patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
Look at the features of the church in Philadelphia:
- Evangelistic opportunity (I have set before you an open door)
- Reliance on God (You have a little strength)
- Faithfulness to Jesus (have kept My word, and have not denied My name)
In some ways, these features seem unspectacular. They should be commonplace among churches. Yet Jesus was completely pleased with this church. He had nothing negative to say to the church at Philadelphia.
Bible commentator Donald Barnhouse wrote: “The church of Philadelphia is commended for keeping the Word of the Lord and not denying His Name. Success in Christian work is not to be measured by any other standard of achievement. It is not rise in ecclesiastical position. It is not the number of new buildings which have been built through a man’s ministry. It is not the crowds that flock to listen to any human voice. All of these things are frequently used as yardsticks of success, but they are earthly and not heavenly measures.”
11 I am coming soon; hold fast to what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 If you conquer, I will make you a pillar in the temple of my God; you will never go out of it. I will write on you the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem that comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
The Message to Laodicea
When I lived in Turkey I visited all the sites of the Seven Churches of the Revelation, and Laodicea is the one I remember most clearly! Pictured above is the nearby town of Pamukkale (meaning “cotton castles” in Turkish), with its white terraces of white calcite travertine, a sedimentary rock left behind from the flowing thermal water. These are hot springs, ranging in temperature from 95 to 212 degrees F. It is stunning. This place has been a resort for the rich and famous since Roman times. So, for the Laodiceans to be told that you are only lukewarm, when you live next door to hot springs . . ouch!
14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the origin of God’s creation:
. . . meaning, the One whose word can be trusted.
15 “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. 16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
The angel is neither cold nor hot, but merely tepid. First-century Laodicean Christians would almost certainly pick up on the local allusion, for Laodicea was almost equidistant between Hierapolis (modern Pamukkale), with it hot thermal springs, and the cold-water springs of Colossae. It was probably not the case that Laodicea’s aqueduct transported the hot water from Hierapolis to the north, as it comes into the city from the south. But certainly one can see clearly from Laodicea the sulphurous waters cascading over Hierapolis’ terraces, forming those white “cotton castles” which give the city its modern name. This local echo counts against the angel being criticized for spiritual lukewarmness, for loss of fervour (after all, surely it is better to be tepid in one’s commitment than completely cold). Rather, the tepid water of Laodicea does not produce any obvious benefit, unlike the healing properties of the hot baths at Hierapolis Spa or the refreshingly cool drinking water available to the Colossians (both of which are equally beneficial). The Laodicean angel has lost his effectiveness.
17 For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. 19 I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. 20 Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me. 21 To the one who conquers I will give a place with me on my throne, just as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”
Verse 20 — Behold I stand at the door and knock.
HERE is “Somebody’s Knocking at Your Door,” sung by Franklin Willis and arranged by Robert Nathaniel Dett.