Revelation Chapter 3
Rod: July 23, 2009
(This post cites material from Dr. Sam Storms and Dr. John MacArthur:
[NASB MacArthur Study Bible. World Publishing, 2006.])
Scripture text for this study: Revelation 3:1-22
[Notes from Adam were added on October 14th, and are in blue font. Some are based on Steve Gregg’s book “Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary).”]
Sardis is a city of past glory. It was a capital in the ancient Lydian kingdom (1200 B.C.) and flourished under Croesus in approximately 600 B.C. It was famous for its red dye and woolen goods, and was also known for its excessive immorality. It was twice conquered by the Persians before eventually succumbing to decline. It was struck by a major earthquake in 17 A.D. and, despite being given aid to rebuild by emperor Tiberias, suffered great decline.
Sardis was built on a mountain (about 1500 feet up) to help protect it from enemy attack. Ironically, the city twice was taken by surprise and captured (by Cyrus in 549 BC and by Antiochus the Great in 218 BC). Jesus addresses this church’s lack of faithfulness (verse 2), and tells them to wake up before He comes against them in judgment.
Verse 3: Here Jesus says, “If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.”
Notice that Jesus says the same in Matthew’s version of the Olivet Discourse, concerning His own first century generation (Matthew 24:34):
“Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not expect Him” (Matthew 24:42-44).
We see the following identical elements in these warnings:
1. Jesus would come in judgment.
2. He would come like a thief.
3. They would not know the hour.
4. They were told to wake up or be ready.
1. What is one aspect of the Church in Sardis that we notice is different from the previous four churches?
Jesus has no words of commendation for this church. The previous four churches were greeted and given encouragement and praise. All the churches mentioned so far have mixed membership, but the people in Sardis have a majority of faulty members.
2. Why might both the Jews and Romans have persecuted this church much less with respect to the other churches?
It is likely because they were not faithfully and passionately following Christ. The church in Sardis was buried in mediocrity, entertained heresy and lacked conviction.
3. In verse 3, Jesus gives Sardis three commands in a specific order. What are they?
Remember – recall the blessings of grace and be strengthened
Keep it – hold firmly to the gospel which you have received
Repent – stop sinning, seek forgiveness and walk in righteousness
Philadelphia is located about thirty miles southeast of Sardis and was founded in 190 B.C. by Attalus II, the king of Pergamos. It was because of this king’s devotion to his brother that the city adopted its name “brotherly love”. The city was located on a major trade route and an important commercial stop. Though never mentioned in the New Testament, it is likely the church here was the fruit of Paul’s work in Ephesus.
Steve Gregg writes (p. 75) that Philadelphia was a city plagued by earthquakes, and for that reason was not well populated in John’s day. “Historically,” he says, the inhabitants had frequently been forced to move out of the city due to its instability.” Philadelphia was also destroyed by a major earthquake in 17 AD, but was then rebuilt. A significant church existed there until at least the 12th century, and a small congregation is said to be there to this day.
Verse 7: Jesus has the undisputed authority to admit into, or exclude from, the New Jerusalem (the Davidic kingdom–see Isaiah 22:22). Steve Gregg adds, “Jesus identifies himself as the One who is holy and true (v. 7). This is the first of the letters not to take its introductory description from features found in chapter one” (p. 75). He says further (pp. 75-76),
The reference to Jesus having the key of David (v. 7), so that he opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens is an allusion to Isaiah 22:22, in which the same privilege and prerogative is assigned to a man named Eliakim, who was steward over the house of King Hezekiah. This man had the power either to admit persons or to deny entry into the king’s house. Jesus is claiming to have a corresponding right with reference to admitting people into heaven. As a matter of fact, He tells the church that He has chosen to admit them: I have set before you an open door (v. 8). The mention that no one can shut it may imply that the Jews in Philadelphia (mentioned in v. 9) sought to exclude the Gentiles from God (cf. Matt. 23:13; I Thess. 2:15f), but Jesus had made access available to them through himself.
1. Note that Jesus does not have a bad word to say about Philadelphia. Because of their faithful adherence to him and persistent endurance, what three things does Jesus assure them of?
-They have an open door to the eternal kingdom that no one can shut
-They will be vindicated before their fellow “false” Jews and see Jesus’ love for his church
-They will be protected at the hour of trial that is coming to the whole world
Verses 9-10: Take note of the way that Revelation 3:9 looks back to Isaiah 60:14, where those who persecuted the people of Israel would bow to them, and reverses this image:
“Also the sons of those who afflicted you shall fall prostrate at the soles of your feet; and they shall call you The City of the Lord, Zion of the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 60:14).
“Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie – indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you” (Revelation 3:9).
Steve Gregg comments on the false Jews that Jesus spoke of in verse 9 (pp. 75-76):
As was the case in Smyrna (2:9), the present troublers of the church in Philadelphia appear to have been the local Jews (3:9)… Jesus again refers to the persecuting Jews as the synagogue of Satan. They say they are Jews and are not, but lie (v.9)—they are not real Jews in Christ’s sight because “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham” (John 8:39), and “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly…but he is a Jew who is one inwardly” (Rom. 2:28f). Although, prior to A.D. 70, the principal systematic persecution of Christians came from the Sanhedrin and synagogues of the Jews, both Christians and Jews later became the targets of Roman persecution—a development that would bring an end to biblical Judaism, but which would not be able to extinguish Christianity.
That the persecuting Jews would one day be forced to come and worship before your feet (v. 9) does not mean that the latter will be worshiped as deities, but they will be sitting enthroned with Christ (3:21), before whom, someday, every knee shall bow (Phil. 2:10). Though they are presently seeking to exclude the Gentiles from the love and favor of God, the day will come when these Jews will be forced to acknowledge that I have loved you (v. 9). Jesus had previously expressed a concern that “the world might know” that God loves His disciples (John 17:23). That day will come in which His desire will be fulfilled.
2. What is the hour of trial that Jesus is referring to in verse 10?
It may have pertained to the trials or “tribulations” that the Christians of Asia Minor were experiencing during that time or it may refer to one particular season of intense persecution that was imminent to the other believers of Asia Minor. [Note: The preterist position sees the great tribulation as having been fulfilled in the Roman-Jewish War beginning in early 67 AD and leading up to Jerusalem’s destruction 3.5 years later in August 70 AD. This is likely the “hour of trial” that they were to be spared from.]
According to John MacArthur, Jesus is referring to the seven-year period before Christ’s earthly kingdom is consummated, featuring the unleashing of divine wrath in judgments expressed in seals, trumpets and bowls. This is described in great detail in Chapters 6-19. Indeed this is a key Rapture text for Dispensational Futurists, seeming to them to indicate that believers will be taken to heaven so that they will not experience a future period of global tribulation. This is despite the fact that this statement was addressed to a specific church in the 1st century AD, as Sam Storms noted. However, as Steve Gregg points out (pp. 76-77),
…removal of Christians from the earth [need not be] the only possible way in which Jesus could keep His people from the wars and plagues anticipated to occur at that time. For example, Jesus prayed thus for His disciples: ‘I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one’ (John 17:15)… Preterists argue that an empire-wide crisis would satisfy the normal use of the terminology in Revelation 3:10. The whole world is a term used to designate the Roman Empire in Luke 2:1 and elsewhere. That it is to test those who dwell on the earth (or “land,” i.e. Israel) may suggest that there is a crisis that will shake the whole empire and put the Jews, in particular, into special peril. In A.D. 68, the death of Nero, and the civil wars that followed, greatly threatened the stability of the Roman Empire, until Vespasian was made emperor in A.D. 70. During this same period (A.D. 66-70), the Jews were embroiled in a fight for the survival of their nation against the Romans…which they lost. Preterism suggests that this judgment on Jerusalem is what is implied in the promise, I am coming quickly! (v. 11).
[As we continue in our study of Revelation, we will be suggesting that many of the references to “the earth” in the book of Revelation are not meant to be taken as worldwide in scope, but as dealing instead with the land of Israel/Palestine. In a 3-part study on this subject beginning with this post, I have outlined nearly 20 instances where this appears to be the case.]
3. What is the three-fold promise of Jesus in verses 12 and 13?
-I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God – a metaphor for eternal salvation?
-Never shall he go out of it – promise of permanence within the New Jerusalem
-I will write on him the name of my God, the city of God and my own new name – metaphor of divine ownership, being identified with the city New Jerusalem (see Isaiah 56:5 and Ezekiel 48:35).
Steve Gregg comments on verse 12 (p. 77):
The overcomer will be made a pillar in the temple of My God (v. 12). Assuming a familiarity with the concept of the church being the temple of God (I Cor. 3:16; Eph. 2:20-22; I Tim. 3:15; Heb. 3:6; I Pet. 2:5), faithful confessors will possess positions of stability and support. Such pillars are earthquake-proof, so that, unlike the citizens of Philadelphia, who had frequently been driven out of their city by quakes, the overcomer shall go out no more.
Gregg goes on to suggest that Jesus’ promise to write on those who overcome “the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem” is connected to God’s actions in Revelation 7:3 and 14:1. There God sealed His servants on their foreheads with His name, and this was in contrast to those who had the name and the mark of the beast on their foreheads. Gregg adds, “Such a mark on the believer is not a visible tattoo, but the seal of God’s ownership, a concept Paul equates with the believer’s possession of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 4:30). The writing of the New Jerusalem upon the believer suggests citizenship there (cf. Ps. 87:5-6). This Jerusalem is described in symbolic detail in chapter 21.”
Laodicea was a wealthy city, perhaps the wealthiest in all Phrygia. Struck by a horrible earthquake in 60 A.D., the city rebuilt itself without the aid of Rome. It was a banking center, and linen and wool were the main commerce for clothing manufacturing. It also had a medical school and was famous for its eye doctors and ointments.
Paul likely never visited Laodicea. But he mentions the city five times in Colossians: 2:1, 4:13, 15, 16 (2). It was likely that Epaphras, who was a servant of the Lord in Colossae, initiated the church here. It should be noted that there is no praise given to this church from Jesus.
1. What two things does Jesus discern about the people in Laodicea?
-They are lukewarm in their faith – rebuked for the barren nature of their works and their stagnant spiritual condition.
-They are comfortable in their own financial self-sufficiency. As Steve Gregg comments (p. 79), “Wealth has a way of imparting a false sense of self-sufficiency—the very antithesis of the beggarliness of spirit commended in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:3).”
Nearby Heirapolis was famous for its hot springs and Colossae for its cold mountain streams. Laodicea had an underground aqueduct to provide for its water supply that was dirty and tepid. Visitors would often spit this water out. The church there was neither hot, filled with spiritual zeal, nor cold, openly rejecting Christ. The members were lukewarm hypocrites professing to know Christ but not truly belonging to Him. Steve Gregg adds, “The city’s water supply originated from hot springs six miles away at Denizli. In the process of traveling through the aqueduct to Laodicea, the water became tepid—neither hot nor cold” (p. 78).
2. In verse 18, Jesus asks the church to come trade with Him. What three things* does Jesus say come and trade for, and what do they mean?
Gold – spiritual wealth, refined by the fires of suffering
White garments – works of righteousness that were lacking in this church
Eye salve – restoration of their spiritual vision
*Note that these are counterparts to the three major industries (banking, clothing and medicine)!
3. In verse 19, Jesus says “to whom I love, I will reprove and discipline.” What does He mean by this?
According to MacArthur: “It can be seen by verses 18 and 20 that Jesus is addressing unbelievers. God certainly loves the unconverted, but disciplining (or chastening) is referring to God’s convicting and punishing of the unregenerate.”
According to Storms: “The appeal of v. 20 is not to unbelievers so that they might be saved. Rather it is an appeal to individuals (“anyone”) within the church to repent and forsake their spiritual half-heartedness. As a result one may experience now the intimate communion and fellowship of which the feast in the messianic kingdom is the consummation. All present fellowship with Jesus is a foretaste of that eternal felicity which will be consummated in the age to come.”
Verse 21: Jesus promises that those who overcome will be able to sit with Him on His throne, as He has already done. Steve Gregg comments (p. 80),
Reigning with Christ also is promised to the overcomers in Thyatira (2:26f), and additional references to the co-regency of the saints are found in 5:10 and 20:4. Opinions concerning the exact time of this fulfillment depend upon one’s eschatological system—it could be in the millennium; or after death, reigning in heaven prior to the Second Advent. It could be a spiritual reign of saints in this life or a literal reign over the new earth. Theories abound. The present and accomplished enthronement of Christ is stated clearly enough: as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
BRIEF PRETERIST SUMMARY OF CHAPTERS 1-3
“The preterists consider the letters to apply to little else than the contemporary situation of the seven churches as they existed in John’s time. As with all biblical epistles, however, application to similar churches of any time is acknowledged” (Steve Gregg, Revelation: Four Views (A Parallel Commentary), p. 81).
Our study of Revelation 4 can be found here.
All of our Revelation chapter-by-chapter studies, and any other posts related to the book of Revelation, can be found here.