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; 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.
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.
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;
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.
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.
14 And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
15 I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
16 So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
17 Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
18 I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
20 Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
22 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
The great Old Testament prophet Isaiah, who gave the most messianic prophecies in one book, described the nature of Jesus as follows:
And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
Do we really care about what Jesus is telling through the Holy Spirit to the churches? Are we the true brethren who according to Luke 8, 21 hear his words and also practice them? The introduction to the church in Sardis is hard: “You are dead, wake up!”
Many people were baptised as a baby and became nominal Christians, but they never made an experience of the new birth described in John 3, 3. The Holy Spirit came to convict us of our sins and in accordance with Isaiah 40 the voice of one crying in the wilderness (in the form of John of the Baptist) was the forerunner for the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world. All flesh is like grass and all its beauty as the flower of the field. We wither and fade, but the word of the Lord stands firm in eternity. Paul adds in Romans 7, 18: “For I know that in me, that is in my flesh, dwells nothing good; for the good that I would, I do not, but the evil which I would not, that I do.”
The Christians in Sardis had a good name, but their works were not perfect. Self-righteousness and self-confidence can be fatal, because Jesus repeatedly emphasized that he comes like a thief in the night in the very moment we do not expect him. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom and the knowledge of the holy one is understanding (Proverbs 9, 10). In addition to the call to repentance, the instruction is to consider what we have received and heard, and then to retain it. Positively noted are the few names of the righteous believers who have not defiled their garments and are worth to walk in white robes. The worst fate overtakes the foolish Christians who are blotted out of the book of life, because they have not publicly confessed Jesus and didn’t care about their neighbours.
The letter to Sardis should make us said for we ourselves should feel addressed, and also there are only a few compliments.
Historically, there are again a lot of references to actual events of the Lydian capital. The Acropolis was considered as an impregnable stronghold but was still twice captured by enemies because of negligence. Sardis, the great power of Asia Minor, was famous for the first coinage, the richness of the gold-bearing river Pactolus, and for the generous king of Lydia, Croesus. Monumental buildings such as the Temple of Artemis, the Gymnasium, and the synagogue are up to this day worth a sightseeing tour.
And yet all splendour and wealth faded in the 14th century to a desolate place. Sardis was smitten 7 BC by a devastating earthquake and could only be rebuilt because of financial aid from Emperor Tiberius with his tax remission and furthermore 10,000,000 sesterces. According to Luke 16, 13 we can not serve God and mammon. Therefore, we should take care to build our house on the rock and not on sand, as well as not to throw away our faith because we then miss a great reward.
Preferably the Christians accept the message to the church of Philadelphia since it is positive and includes no rebuke. The name of the city of Philadelphia means brotherly love and is founded on the loyalty of Attalus II to his older, legitimate brother Eumenes II. Known as the gateway of the East, the Europe and Asia minor connecting city was called little Athens. But the beautiful buildings were frequently shaken by earthquakes all the same as the nearby Sardis. One similarity with the impeccable town of Smyrna were the lying Jews who were indeed serving Satan. The first letter of John describes in Chapter 4 verse 20: “If someone says he loves God, but hates his brother, then he is a liar.” In the sermon on the mount Jesus warned us to call a brother a fool, for then we shall be in danger of hell fire.
In contrast to the other Epistles, the introduction does not begin with a repetition of an attribute from the vision of chapter 1, but with him who is holy and true, and holds the key of David.
For 40 days Jesus separated himself from men before he started his public ministry. He spent this time of prayer and fasting in the desert in resisting every temptation. He is the only person without sin and wants us to follow his example of a holy life. He is the way and the truth and the life (John 14, 6), he who is truthful. Every person who claims the same of himself is a liar, thief, and ultimately ends as destroyer. After so many false saviours and Antichrists have appeared the deception always caused disappointment. The only key is Jesus, the Messiah, the son of David. His supposedly two different gender lines in the Gospels (Mary and Joseph, both descended from the tribe of Judah) is by all means one of many prophetic fulfilments of the Old Testament.
In the New Testament, the promise of opening a door refers to the proclamation of the Gospel (Colossians 4, 3 and 2 Corinthians 2, 12). The Gospel will be preached to every nation, tribe, and nation, and then the end will come. In the performance of this work, the Christians in Philadelphia had only a little strength and still earned the recognition to have maintained the word and not to have denied the name of Jesus. There were, and there are many obedient ambassadors of Christ who were unshaken in their trust of the invisible father in heaven without having angelic visitations, and without seeing great signs and wonders. Performing faithfully the service will help these kings to inherit the crown of life. He, who strives after God’s will and seeks the Kingdom of God is kept from the hour of trial. A well-known horror for the people from the several times renamed city of Philadelphia began again, when the earth shook strongly, so that their houses collapsed and they had to escape to the outside. What great comfort meant in this context the promise for the Christians to be a pillar in the temple, that they never had to leave again the city, and that they will get a new name in the new Jerusalem.
Remarkable at the observance of the sixth station in Asia minor is that the Christian church in Philadelphia has survived until the beginning of the 20th century. The sixth largest city in the USA got the same name as a 1682 newly founded Christian colony from the Quaker William Penn (Pennsylvania), and the Kraft brand made use of it as fresh cream cheese.
The best is saved for last, one could think, since in the beautiful Galilee, at the wedding of Cana, Jesus provided the best wine in six large vessels at the end. Also the disciples of the early church in Jerusalem had to wait until Pentecost for an unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit in the form of tongues of fire and a mighty rushing wind from heaven. Especially in lively charismatic circles it is taught that the greatest revival in human history is imminent by the spread of a global fire, because the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. How easy do we overlook the warning words of the eschatological discourse of Jesus in Matthew chapter 24 about deception, oppression, seduction, and falling. Also for the last church in Laodicea a warning is in the foreground. Jesus is the great word “so be it – Amen,” the only true and faithful witness who knows the beginning and the end.
Laodicea was a sophisticated city that was famous for its banking system, the clothing industry, and an effective ointment. The natural weakness in the infrastructure consisted of an artificial water supply, because the long channels made the water gross with the time. What unpleasant idea is it to be spewed out of the mouth of Jesus, just like lukewarm water. The main reason is to say that we are rich and need nothing, not knowing that we are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.
The parable of the camel, which rather goes through a needle’s eye, than a rich man is entering heaven, is quickly pushed to the back of one’s mind. As western prosperity Christians, who live today better than the kings in the Middle Ages, we prefer to be called the descendants of our rich father Abraham. But Jesus can not speak clearer than: “Behold I stand at the door and knock.” The Holy Spirit has come to convict us of sin. If we hear today his voice, we will not close up our hearts and confess our guilt. The counsel of the loving Lord Jesus is to buy gold tried in the fire, white garments, and to anoint our eyes. In the figurative sense all repenting sinners will be tested, cleansed, and clothed in righteousness, so that they know the truth and will be free.
There is no closer communion with the redeemer in the Gospels as the one John had during the last supper, when he was lying at the breast of Jesus. Today, we as church, can partake in this great blessing in celebrating the memorial meal. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11, 26). The future promise in Matthew 26, 29 is fulfilled when we personally dine in all intimacy with Jesus. Then, in his Father’s kingdom, he will drink with us again of the fruit of the vine. For the true overcomers there is no place of higher honour than to sit with Jesus on the heavenly throne of Zion, as he already sat down with the Father on his throne. The early Christians paid a high price for this promise by daily taking their cross, by denying themselves, and by resisting unto their own blood. Even today, the number of martyrs rises fast as in North Korea, according to “Open Doors” the organisation with the mission to help worldwide persecuted Christians.
Let us discern the signs of the times, for seven times in the revelation is emphasized from him, who was, and is, and is to come, at the end of every epistle: “He that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”