Revelation chapter 3 continues the 7 letters with letters to Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. For the text of Revelation 3 click here.
The Church in Sardis:
This city of Asia Minor, once the capital of Lydia, had its historical shares of ups and downs. The church in Sardis had its share of ups and downs as well. Metzger parallels the two well, “As the city had fallen in the past because of lack of vigilance, so now the Sardians are reminded to be watchful and to shake off their apathy.” – Metzger, 39. The letter opens with imperatives that are the call to be vigilant – Wake up! Strengthen what remains, Remember what you received, hold fast, and repent. While things don’t look good in Sardis, and there is historical verification of intense persecutions in Sardis, there is hope. The victors will be dressed in white (3:4-5). This was a common Roman symbol for those who were victorious.
The Church in Philadelphia:
A city founded by Attalus Philadelphos in the second century B.C. who received his name due to his love for his brother Eumenes. Christ has set before them an open door, a choice. Just as we will see later with the seven seals on the scroll, Christ is able to open what no one else can open and what he opens cannot be shut (3:7). Verse 10 has some foreshadowing of what is about to take place in Revelation, the unveiling of “the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth” (3:10). Those who are faithful will avoid the coming trial but those who are not will have to endure it. Crowns, pillars, and receiving a new name – all a picture of receiving a permanent dwelling in the house of God.
The Church in Laodicea:
Now we have arrived at the most talked about of the seven churches because of the admonition not to be “lukewarm.” Lukewarm from what? What could they be sitting on the fence from? Probably between emperor worship and Christianity. There were hard feelings in the first century over Christians who denied Christ to avoid execution. This could be a warning not to try to have it both ways just to preserve your own life. Either you follow Christ or you don’t.
The next rebuke is toward their attitude of being rich and not needing God. Christ’s response, “But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked. 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.” (3:17-18). Do you have any idea what three industries Laodicea was well known for? Banking, Textiles, and Eye salve (Metzger, 43). Christ says that is not sufficient. You still need me.
After all the rebukes it must have been nice to hear 3:19ff – “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 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 them and they with me…” – There is still hope and grace is still extended! One side note – the KJV inserted “man” into the verse where it literally read “anyone” (τις).
Message for Today:
It is easy to get lulled to sleep and forget that we are to be people of action. We need to be alert and be vigilant. That means we may need to do some pruning in our lives of the things that distract us from our calling. We have a reminder that our desire for God needs to be strong and that all competing interests be put to the side. What else can we learn from these three letters?
Interestingly, I had a preacher recently tell me that Revelations 3 and 4 proves that there should only be one church in each city. I think this is a teaching that was popularized by ICOC. Have you ever run into this thinking?
That is an ICOC concept. It is also a very literalistic and legalistic view of the text that is unfounded. One big house church could not accommodate the thousands of Christians in Jerusalem. They think a house church could possibly fit 30-40 in the larger homes of the more wealthy Christians. Yet the church was still called the church not referring to each home but to the church as a whole.