{4}         Letter to the 7 Churches (II) (Rev 3:1-22)


Part 2. Letters to the 7 churches (2:1—3:22)

2.5.      Sardis (3:1-6)                                      2.7.      Laodicea (3:14-22)

2.6.      Philadelphia (3:7-13)

        PICTURE: John is encircled by mystic light from a source that he cannot see. In front of him are 7 giant lampstands in a circle. The glorified Jesus Christ stands among the lampstands. He commands John to write the letters to the 7 churches, as dictated by Christ.


3:1       SARDIS was one of the most powerful cities of the ancient world. It was a natural citadel.

The church at Sardis comes under the most severe denunciation of the seven churches. Untroubled by heresy and free from outside opposition, it had compromised with its pagan environment.

[1] Author: The 7 stars are the angels of the 7 churches. The identity of the 7 spirits is unknown.

[2] Achievements: With the exception of a few, the whole church had fallen into a state of complete spiritual death was Christian in name only (nominal Christians).

3:2       [3] Teachings: There are 5 imperatives in vv.2-3. The first one is “be watchful”. Lack of watchfulness is to consider oneself secure and fail to remain alert and will result in disaster.

3:3       The church is commanded to bear in mind what they had received (perfect tense) and heard (aorist tense).  They were commanded to obey and to repent. If the church does not wake up to its perilous position, Christ will “come like a thief” (unexpectedly) and visit them in judgment.

3:4       The white dress is for those who are justified before God.

3:5       [4] Promise: The overcomers are promised with: [a] dressed in white, [b] their names will not be blotted out of the book of life, [c] Christ will acknowledge them.

3:7       PHILADELPHIA was a city of commercial importance and was called “gateway to the East”.

The letter to Philadelphia contains no note of disapproval or reproach. Church members might have been excommunicated from the local synagogue. Yet they endured patiently.

[1] Author: The Holy One was a familiar title in Jewish culture for God. The True One (speaking the truth) was used to refute those Jews who would claim that Christ was a false Messiah.

3:8       [2] Achievements: Christ recognizes that although they have little strength, they have faithfully kept His word and not denied His name.

[3] Teachings: The “open door” may refer to: [a] great opportunity for missionary activity; [b] an open door into the eternal kingdom.

3:9       The reward for faithfulness includes: [a] vindication before their foes (v.9), [b] deliverance in the final period of testing (v.10), [c] security in the coming age (v.11).

3:10     “The hour of trial” is the period of testing before the end. Pretribulationism teaches that this verse is a proof that Christians will be taken out (through rapture) of this world and will not experience tribulation. However, the same Greek phrase (tereo ek) in Rev 3:10 is used only used one other time in the Bible in Jn 17:15. Here, the “kept from” means kept from harm, not from the world because the first part of the verse says “not take them out of the world”.

3:11     They are encouraged to hold on to their faith in Christ and obedience to His word.

3:12     [4] Promise: The overcomers will be made pillars in the temple of God in New Jerusalem. It conveys the idea of stability and permanence (“never again will he leave it”).

The names written on pillars show that the faithful belong to God, hold citizenship in God’s city, and are related to Christ.

3:14     LAODICEA was was the wealthiest city in the region of Phrygia. It possessed agricultural and commercial prosperity with a banking industry. The city was also known for its medical school.

Laodicea’s major weakness was its lack of an adequate source for water. Thus water had to be brought in from springs 10 km from the south through stone pipes of 1 metre in diameter.

[1] Author: Christ is the “God of Amen”; an acknowledgment of that which is valid and binding. It presents the trutworthiness of Christ in sharp contrast to the unfaithfulness of the Laodiceans.

3:15     [2] Achievements: Similar to the church in Sardis, there is nothing positive in this church.

[3] Teachings: There are two possible interpretations of the lukewarmness of this church.

[a] North of Laodicea were hot springs. The water gradually became lukewarm. Someone drinking such water would spit it upon the ground because of the taste of minerals. [Another suggestion is that the taste of lukewarm water is worse than hot or cold water because the temperature hid the bad taste.] The traditional interpretation is that those figurative words describe person who are neither in earnest for God (hot) nor utterly indifferent to Him (cold). If it is the latter, those persons will realize their insufficiency of a lack of faith. So lukewarm Christians are the worst.

[b] Another explanation is that the contrast is between the hot medicinal waters of Hierapolis and the cold, pure waters of Colossae. Thus the church in Laodicea was providing neither refreshment for the spiritually weary, nor healing for the spiritually sick.

3:16     Their deeds show them to be neither cold nor hot, but lukewarm.

3:17     The Laodicean church possessed material wealth and believed that they had need of nothing. But they were in reality wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.

3:18     The Laodiceans prided itself on 3 things: [a] financial wealth, [b] textile industry, and [c] a popular eye salve made in medical school. They need to buy from Christ: [a] “gold refined in the fire” so that they have genuine prosperity; [b] white clothes so that they they can cover the shame of their nakedness; [c] eye salve so that their sight can be restored from blindness.

3:19     The rebuke of God is educative discipline and means to summon him to repentance.

The advice is that they should repent (in one decisive act: aorist imperative) and make it their practice to continue to live zealously for the Lord (present imperative).

3:20     Jesus requests permission to enter and reestablish fellowship with the church.

3:21     [4] Promise: Overcomers will sit with Christ on His throne to reign and to judge.


        The Sardis church and the Philadelphia church are at the two extremes. The Sardis church had an easy time in the world and was not persecuted, yet they only received rebukes. The Philadelphis church was severely persecuted by the Jews, yet they received only commendations, no rebukes. For churches in the free world, this is a good lesson on the urgent need of watchfulness.

        The Laodicean church is the best analogy of the North American church today. We are rich in material and in spiritual gifts, yet actually spiritually poor. We are lukewarm. We are self-confident. Similar to the Ladodicean church, we are in danger of being spit out by Christ.