THE MESSAGES TO THE SEVEN CHURCHES
Third in a Four-Part Series
by Karen Thompson
5) The Church of Sardis
The city of Sardis was located in west Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia. In 133 BC, it came under the rule of the Romans. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 17 AD but the Romans rebuilt it. A fun fact to know about Sardis is that it was the home of the famous Bishop Melito, a prophet and respected authority in the Christian community. He was a prolific writer; unfortunately, very few of his writings remain in existence. The historical writer Eusebius of Caesarea tell us that Melito tried to convince the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius to make Christianity the state religion of Rome. He listed 20 books that Melito wrote, none of which survived, except for a nearly complete work about the Passion of the Christ.
Rev. 3:1 And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; these things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars.
To the saints in the church of Sardis, Jesus let them know that this message was coming from the One who has the “seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.” As already noted before, the seven Spirits of God represent the Holy Spirit, and the seven stars represent each of the pastors that were assigned to each of the churches.
Rev. 3:1b I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. 2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. 3 Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. 4 Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.
Sadly, the church of Sardis was in very bad shape spiritually. He said to them, “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” The Amplified Bible puts it this way: “you are supposed to be alive, but [in reality] you are dead.” By all appearances, the Sardis believers seemed to be alive unto God, but in fact, they were spiritually dead.
They looked good on the outside but in their hearts, they were backslidden. Jesus’ instructions to them were, “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent” (vv. 2–3). They were on the verge of spiritual death. They were to revive themselves to keep their faith from dying out completely. He told them to “repent.” If they failed to strengthen themselves, He said He would come to them “as a thief,” which meant that He would come without warning. Fortunately, not everyone was in a backslidden state. He said there were a few believers in Sardis that had not “defiled their garments” and that they would “walk with me in white.”
The Overcomer’s Reward
Rev. 3:5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. 6 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
Look at this overcomers’ reward! Overcomers would be rewarded by having their names not blotted out of the book of life:“I will not blot out his name out of the book of life…” (v. 5). This was a strong warning. For now, their names were in the book of life. But His warning to them was that if they didn’t repent, their names would be “blotted out” of the book of life.
In addition, the Lord Jesus would “confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” As part of the overcomer’s reward, He would confess the overcomer’s name before the Father and before His angels. When He walked the earth, Jesus warned what would happen to those who were ashamed to confess His name: “For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father’s, and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).
The Color White
It also says the overcomer will be dressed in white clothing. White is significant in meaning. Throughout the Bible, we see the color white as a symbol of righteousness. In fact, the Bible has much to say about the color white.
The great prophet Isaiah used the color white to symbolize the forgiveness of our sins: “…though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isa. 1:18). Also, the symbolism of holiness in the color white is reflected in Israel’s most holy day. On the holy day of atonement, the high priest’s garments—a linen coat, linen breeches, and a linen girdle, and a linen mitre (the headdress)—were all white. The temple choir was dressed in white linen, as well (2 Chron. 5:12).
In the Bible, we see beings that dwell in heaven whether they be human or angelic all wear white garments. The two angels that were present at Jesus’ empty sepulcher were wearing white garments. When Jesus ascended to heaven, the two angels that told His followers that He would come back in the same way were both wearing “white apparel.” When Daniel saw God sitting on His throne in heaven, His garment was white as snow (Dan. 7:9). In Revelation, the 24 elders seated around God’s throne all wear white. All the saints who went through the tribulation were given white robes as a reward (Rev. 6:11; 7:14). Even the army which follows the Lord Jesus into the battle of Armageddon will be dressed in white and riding white horses (Rev. 19:14). Furthermore, the seven angels that pour out the seven plagues on the earth are all dressed in white linen with golden girdles around their chests. White symbolizes righteousness, holiness, and purity. White is the color for heaven’s clothing.
A woman once shared with me an experience she had with angels. At one point in her life, angels began to appear before her. They had no message. They simply appeared before her and then vanished after a few moments. They were typical in appearance in how one would imagine an angel would look like. They had wings and were dressed in long beautiful garments. Then things changed during one appearance when the angel touched her shoulder. She said it didn’t feel right, and she had a bad feeling about it. That’s when she realized they were not sent from God, so she told them to leave and never come back. They never appeared before her again. The clue that should have told her they were not sent from God is that their beautiful garments were all in pastel colors. Not white!
6) The Church of Philadelphia
A fun fact to know about Philadelphia is that King Eumenes II of the Seleucid Empire established the city in 189 BC. The name Philadelphia means “one who loves his brother.” King Eumenes named it for his brother, Attalus, who was very loyal to Eumenes. At the time when Revelation was written, the Christians in Philadelphia were suffering persecution by the local Jews. The city of Philadelphia in what is now the modern state of Turkey still exists but was renamed Alaşehir.
Rev. 3:7 And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;
To the saints in the church of Philadelphia, Jesus let them know this message was coming from the One who holds the key of David. With this key, He can open and no man can shut and He can shut and no man can open. We see this nearly exact phrasing in only one other place in the Bible. The prophet Isaiah prophesied about Eliakim the son of Hilkiah that he was to be lifted up in Jerusalem. Through Isaiah, the Lord said about Eliakim: “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” (Isa. 22:22). This phrasing symbolizes having ultimate authority. That’s what Jesus was talking about when He said in Revelation 1:18, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” Jesus has all authority.
Rev. 3:8 I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. 9 Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. 10 Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. 11 Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.
The church in Philadelphia is the other church that did not receive a rebuke. The believers in Philadelphia were also experiencing severe persecution, but they remained faithful by keeping His Word and not denying His name. The Lord said to them an unusual thing: “I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name” (v. 8). He set before them an open door that no one will be able to shut it. Why? This open door set before them was because they had “little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.” The open door is a reward for enduring persecution.
What exactly is the door He opened for them that no one could shut? Look at verse 10: “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.” This is extraordinary. He is telling the church at Philadelphia that He will keep them from “the hour of trial that will come upon the whole earth.” First of all, there are those that believe the phrase “hour of trial” is a reference to the Great War that Daniel prophesied about and is the subject of the apostle John’s entire vision of Revelation. Some believe Jesus was telling the believers in Philadelphia that He was going to keep them from the end time tribulation. In other words, when the hour of trial comes, the city of Philadelphia, modern-day Alaşehir, would be spared.
Obviously, this message would not benefit the people who were alive during John’s time. It would only benefit the people who will be alive during the end times—people living a couple thousand years into the future. However, this interpretation is speculative.
The Overcomer’s Reward
Rev. 3:12 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. 13 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
He that overcomes, God will make him a pillar in His temple. The word pillar here is being used to describe someone that is highly esteemed, someone that is a leader, someone who is looked upon as an example. That is exactly how the word pillar is used when Paul described James, Cephas, and John in Galatians 2:9: “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars….”
In addition to being a pillar in the temple of God, the Lord said, “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” (v. 12). The overcomer will have permanent residency in the new Jerusalem. The overcomer will have the name of God, the name of new Jerusalem, and Jesus’ new name all written upon him. This is another way of saying that he will be sealed of God and have citizenship in the new Jerusalem.
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