Revelation commentary: chapter 3 - last 3 letters to seven churches

by Don Koenig

5. Sardis: The spiritually dead carnal church

Background: Sardis was also one of the oldest cities in Asia Minor. Sardis was a city of commerce that was noted for its carpet industry and was a very wealthy city. The first gold coins in the world came from there in about 600 BC. The patron deity was the goddess Cybele who had a son named Midas whose touch was said to turn everything to gold. Sardis was on a hill 1000 feet above a broad valley. This gave the people a false self-confidence about their security and people there lived in the glories of their past. They did not watch as they should have and the city had been taken more than once by armies that scaled the tall cliffs surrounding her.


Prophetic application of this church on earth is from 1517 AD until the Church is completed in the tribulation. This is the church of the reformation that began when Martin Luther broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. It includes most of the old mainline Protestant churches of our time.


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; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.

Jesus tells this church that they have a name that they live but that they are really dead. He is saying that they claim to be Christian but they really have never been born of the Spirit. They have a false sense of security, as did the people of ancient Sardis.

Many of those in this church think they are saved because they were baptized into Christianity as an infant and because they call themselves Christian. The churches that came out of the reformation for the most part are in great spiritual decline. In Europe, these churches sought the approval of political leaders and became state supported churches. Today we can see the results of that merger in many parts of old Europe. There are large church buildings with clergy supported by the state that have few regular attendees. Less than five percent of non Catholic Europeans attend regular church services. The message heard from most pulpits in Europe teaches socialistic humanism rather than Christianity.

The reformed churches never finished cleaning up the heresies that they inherited from the Roman Church either and many just replaced Roman Catholic ritualism with their own brand of ritualism. Today in the United States, the churches that came out of the reformation are losing members and wasting away. In order to attract or keep members they now compromise with those who flaunt sinful life styles and even put these people in leadership positions.

Many of those who still attend these liberal mainline Protestant churches are only doing so for cultural or social reasons. There is little real Christian fellowship in these churches outside of the Sunday service and the church building, and the lifestyles and humanistic beliefs of its members reflect indifference or even hostility to biblical truths. Many of the damnable heresies of our modern day are conceived in their liberal seminaries.

The leadership in Sardis has a history of pointing out the shortcomings of the Catholics but the Catholics at least have works that Jesus praised them for. Jesus has few kind words for what is going on in this church.


2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.

Things that still remain in most of these churches is the correct doctrine of salvation by faith alone in the finished work of Jesus Christ alone and the belief in some that the Bible is the only infallible rule for Christians to live by.

The things that remain are ready to die because many of the foundations of the faith are now being attacked in their own seminaries and by many of their leaders who have been corrupted by these seminaries. Some of the leaders that can be identified with this church are now even telling people, which passages in the Bible, qualify as inspired and which do not. More and more of these are teaching that the Bible is just a guide for living as are holy books of pagan religions. Some no longer believe the Bible is God's infallible word and they even deny that Jesus is the only way to salvation.

Jesus said their works are not perfect before God. He is probably referring to the work within this church that is actively distorting and disregarding Christian truths and their lack of faith and/or service to carry out the great commission.


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.

Jesus is clearly telling this church that they must hold on to the essentials of the faith that were passed down from their fathers. He also tells them if they do not watch and strengthen the things that remain, they will not be aware of the general time of His coming or be ready when He comes.

The coming of Jesus as a thief is referring to what is commonly known as the rapture. It is when Jesus comes as a thief for his own in a world still under the administration of Satan. He comes so that His faithful will not endure Satan's free reign on earth as a counterfeit god.

God will allow this deception to come so that the whole world will have to make the choice that has eternal consequences. That choice is to accept His Son as Lord or to accept Satan as lord. Since the Spirit filled Church has already accepted Jesus as Lord, there is simply no reason for them to go through this trial, but most that can be identified with Sardis, we are told, will be left to go through this period of trial and tribulation.

Today the liberal amillennial churches of our time, in contrast to most fundamental and some evangelical churches, are totally ignorant of the signs that Jesus is coming very soon and many even speak against the theology of His soon return. The words of Jesus indicate that if they have not held fast to essentials of the faith and repented of their heresies, they will not know or be ready at His coming. They will endure the fire of the great tribulation.


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.

The passage says that most that identify with this church have defiled their garments. I do not think we can then assume that the garments were once clean and then became dirty (as if they lost their salvation). The statement may just mean that those who identify with this church in general are defiled because they never have come to Christ to get their garments washed. If that is correct, the passage would then indicate that some within her do overcome their filth by washing in the blood of the Lamb. If white garments actually do become defiled as some denominations teach, they can only be defiled by unbelief in Jesus. That would raise the question of how one born from above can deny the Spirit within him or how Jesus could deny a part of His own body.

Many in Sardis are seeking to save themselves by their own merits. They have never made Jesus Lord of their lives. Most of those identified with this assembly are on the church baptismal book and they call themselves Christian but how many have any evidence of being born of the Spirit with works of the Spirit being done through them? How many then are actually born of the Spirit? Jesus says that in this group there are only a few!

Jesus also makes it clear that He has a baptismal book of his own; it is called The Lamb's book of life. What many in this church fail to understand is that Jesus is the baptizer. Spiritual baptism is not done by the church, priest or pastor. Neither is true baptism accomplished by dunking or sprinkling and saying some words of ritual. True baptism is baptism into a new creation called the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit and this is all done through the authority that the Father gave Jesus when one truly trusts Jesus for his or her salvation.

In the one true baptism into the body of Christ by trust in the finished work Jesus did at the cross, the old man of flesh dies with Jesus and is raised with Jesus into a new creation along with many other members called the Body of Christ. Baptism is not a ritual of obedience that brings salvation as some denominations teach. What brings salvation is being born into a new creation by faith in the Creator. Many confuse the outward symbolism of identification with Jesus that believers display when dunked or sprinkled with the spiritual creation that occurs within when one believes.

Mat 3:11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:


The passage also implies that most in Sardis have defiled garments. This passage on the surface might seem to imply that once-saved always-saved theology is in error but that may not be what the passage is saying at all. It probably is saying that there are some in this near dead assembly that will overcome and find salvation but the rest of the assembly never had salvation in the first place.

I think one reason these problem passages exist is that the Savior does not want those who identify with the Church to be all that complacent about their salvation. He wants them to make sure that that they have really found true salvation. Those who are true believers certainly know they are true believers. They certainly will be saved, so the issue of losing one's salvation by unbelief is not an issue for those who believe anyway.

This passage further implies that some were once in the book and they will be blotted out. This statement leaves us with one of two conclusions. Either, all created are in the book of life but those who do not eventually come to Jesus are blotted out. Or, some who once believed will be erased from the book because they lost their faith in Jesus.

I believe the correct answer is that all mankind has their names entered in the book of life when they are created by God but all born since the fall of Adam will be blotted out of the book of life because we all sin and we all will die in our sins unless we live lives totally without sin. Since no natural man can do that, the only alternative is to put on the free gift of righteousness that comes through the blood of the only God/man who had no sin (Jesus).

Those drawn by the Father to be baptized into a new creation called the Body of Christ will be baptized into His righteousness and will not be blotted out of the book of life. All who do not come to Jesus for salvation will not be worthy to have their names retained in the book of life because their sin continues to separate them from God.

The other view that the saved can be blotted out of the book of life does not even guarantee salvation for those drawn from darkness to light by the Father. The view that the saved can be lost by their own actions in the final analysis is a salvation by works theology and makes Jesus a failure for losing some vessels of mercy given to Him by the Father.

Some say there is a difference between the book of life and the lamb's book of life but there is really little support for such a view in scripture and I think a fairly strong case can be made from scripture against there being two different books of life.

The prevalent theology in the church identified with Sardis says that a person in their church can never lose their salvation. However, how one is saved into the Church in the first place differs in different denominations. If they believe confessing the right words without a changed heart, or being baptized in water, or being baptized as an infant or obeying the doctrines of the church, etc., brings salvation, they certainly are living on a plateau of false security just like the ancient people of Sardis. In any case, those with spiritual ears will hear what the Spirit says to the churches and the others will not.


6. Philadelphia: The church of brotherly love

Background: Philadelphia was the youngest city of the seven mentioned in the letters. The city was established in 189 BC and was named after two brothers who ruled over the area and who displayed great love for each other. Coins have been found in the area with these two brothers images on them. The name Philadelphia actually means "one who loves his brother". This area had many excellent vineyards and the abundant wine made drunkenness the major social problem. Philadelphia was a missionary center for spreading the Greek language and culture to many other areas. The city suffered many earthquakes so she never became a great city. The church at Philadelphia suffered at the hands of a large Jewish community but many Jews actually did find their Messiah in Christianity.

Prophetic application of this church on earth is from about 1730 AD., until the rapture.

This missionary and evangelical church started with the great western revivals. The Bible came into common usage in common languages during this period and people began reading and obeying what the Bible taught. The great missionary movements and revivals began when overcomers in Sardis believed and taught the truths in scripture that had been forgotten or that had been replaced with the theologies of denominational theologians. During this period, the good news of God's grace was brought to all the nations and the teaching from scripture about His imminent return and his second coming to set up a physical kingdom on earth was restored. Many in this church walked with God like Enoch, and like Enoch, the faithful may also be removed without seeing death 300 years after the walk began.


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;

The only one that qualifies is our risen Lord. The key of David is the key that Eliakim of the Old Testament carried as the head of the household of David. Eliakim alone had the authority to allow or deny audience with King David. Jesus as high priest opens the door for access to the Father and no one but Jesus can open that door or shut that door.


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.

This church has an open door before it. This is reflected in the work of evangelism and missions that many in this church accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit. The power that came from the Holy Spirit is where this church gets her strength but her power is limited because she is a small minority and she does not have much influence over others who identify with Christianity.

Jesus said this church kept his word. He is referring to His "holy word" the Bible. This is the only church that obeyed the word of God to take the good news to the whole world. Philadelphia not only believed the word of God but she obeyed the word. This church has not denied that Jesus is the Savior (His name) even when it became popular for those who identify with Christianity to have a "many ways to God theology.


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.

The church at Philadelphia in the first century was persecuted by those who called themselves Jews but were of the synagogue of Satan according to Jesus. Jesus is saying that all Jews who persecuted this church will someday acknowledge that Jesus loves His Church. This passage also makes it clear that there will be an actual time of judgment in the presence of the saints that rule and reign with Jesus.

The prophetic application of this passage is talking about Jewish persecution on true Jews who found their Messiah. This has been happening from the time of John even until today. Jews who convert to Christianity are ostracized by their family and friends. The passage most likely also indicates a much greater fulfillment of Jew on Jew persecution that remains in the future.


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.

The word of His patience is the message about His second coming. Today many in the church are saying they do not expect Jesus anytime soon. In fact, some believe Jesus may not physically come back at all or at least not until the world is Christianized. Conversely, most in the Philadelphia Church are spreading the word that Jesus certainly is coming soon.

The Church is told that it will be kept "from" or literally "out of" ("ek" is used in the Greek and it actually means "out of") the time of trial that shall come on all that live on the earth. Since it is coming on the entire world this means that she will not be on earth for this trial. This time of trial is the great tribulation described later in this book. The time of trial for the world will come to test the world to see if they will believe God and accept the truth about the coming Kingdom of God ruled by Jesus or if they will believe the lies of the Beast Antichrist and become a member of the counterfeit kingdom that will lead them to their own destruction.

The assembly identified with Philadelphia has no reason to be tested since those in Her already believe. The faithful in this assembly will be taken before the judgment as Enoch was, because they are already walking with God because His spirit is in them.


11 Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.

Jesus said he will come very quickly or suddenly for this church. This church will not be on earth long. As Enoch walked with God three hundred years and was taken - so may this church. Jesus indicates that if these people hold fast and use their gifts until He comes they already have a crown assured to them. Scripture is also clear that it is possible for a believer to lose his crown to another believer if he stops doing the work God gave him to do.


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.

The overcomers in the church will be pillars in New Jerusalem; they will dwell with God forever. Verse 12 of course is a figure of speech. Overcomers are not pillars they are people. Pillars are the main support for the temple. They will not go out of the temple because their bodies are the temple for the Spirit of God. The descriptions of the Holy City in the last chapters of this book also make it clear that there will be no physical temple structure in the eternal Holy City. The temple of the Holy City will be the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb and He will indwell His people.

Rev 21:22 And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.


The words in this passage "I will write upon him my new name" is not in the original text. The text actually says "and my own new name I will write upon him" The passage literally means that Jesus will give those identified with Philadelphia a new identity. The new name He puts on these faithful followers is what He wants them to be known as for all eternity. For example - Simon's name was changed to Peter by Jesus (Peter in Greek means a rock or stone so Jesus changed Simon's name to Rocky).

The church identified with Philadelphia is the last of the two assemblies out of the seven that totally pleases Jesus. The other was the assembly identified with Smyrna that saw great persecution but still kept the faith.


7. Laodicea: The materially rich apostate church

Background: The city was founded before 1000 BC but the city was named Laodicea in 250 BC. The physical location of the city was about 40 miles east of Ephesus. The city of Laodicea was known for the lukewarm water it got by aqueduct from the hot springs of Hierapolis. It was a very wealthy city of merchants, bankers and industry. Laodicea was the main center for rich black wool that came from the unique sheep that grazed the area. The wool was used in their industry to produce carpet and garments.

Laodicea had a famous school of medicine that was known for its eye ointment. There is evidence that the people in the city liked to be entertained. The ruins indicate that the city had a gymnasium, a large racetrack, three lavish theaters and some bathhouses. Laodicea was so wealthy that when it had a massive earthquake in 60 AD the city actually refused outside aid from Rome. The name of the city means, "rule by the people". The city is known to have had a large Jewish community.

The Christian church was also wealthy and ruins of her buildings can still be seen in that area. Even though we know this church had large buildings, nothing is known of the ministry of this church outside of Laodicea. This by itself tells us that the church was self centered and added little to early Christian evangelism and missionary efforts.

Prophetic application of this church on earth is from about 1900 AD until the completion of the Church in the great tribulation.

What may mark the beginning of this church prophetically was when Protestant seminaries started questioning the basic foundations of Christian truth with their higher criticism methodology. These seminaries produced lukewarm leaders who doubted the scriptures and many of the truths found in them. Many began to teach doctrines of secular humanism and points from satanic psychology from their pulpits and the people in their congregations became indifferent to the foundation stones of Christianity laid by the apostles.

This church represents materialistic churches that are poor spiritually that exist in the last days just prior to the second coming. It includes "prosperity churches" and some "large seeker churches" and "emergent churches" that have watered down the true gospel and provided an entertainment center for the flesh in order to make Christianity acceptable to everyone. They provide for every need of the flesh on their campuses but there is little Bible based spiritual enrichment offered. Many of the methods now used to reach people are not based on teaching biblical truths but are based on psychological concepts that work in the world's most successful corporations. The assembly at Pergamos was corrupted by the world political system but here in Laodicea the church is corrupted by the Madison Avenue techniques of the world market place.

Laodicea also includes possibility thinking and word churches that make themselves the creators of what they believe and say. The church of Laodicea includes some TV ministries, traveling self-anointed healers and all those who fleece the flock by living extravagant life styles on the offerings of others. It may also include some who think they are rich spiritually but are really spiritually bankrupt because they have actually embraced new age pagan theology and doctrines of demons. Others like these have embraced human emotionalism with altered states of consciousness as being spiritual riches from God. Laodicea might even include some latter day cults that are in great heresy but do not deny the name of Jesus Christ.

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;

Jesus created all things in creation. The text "beginning of the creation of God" should read the "beginner of the creation of God". Some take this passage in the King James and claim that Jesus Himself was created but the text is not saying that. It is saying that He is the one who started creation. Other passages in scripture make it perfectly clear that Jesus is the Creator and is God.

Jon 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (speaking of Jesus)

Isa 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.


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.

Jesus says that this church is neither cold nor hot. Like hot and cold water are combined to produce lukewarm water these mingled their hot and cold theologies to form an ecumenical Christianity that is so half-hearted that Jesus cannot stomach them. Jesus at some point vomits the whole group of them out of His mouth. Prophetically I believe this occurs when He comes for his Church just prior to the tribulation. If this assembly is vomited out of the body, it would no longer be identified as part of the body of Christ. Those who can be identified with this assembly have a destiny like their apostate mother Israel; they will also become a harlot. In Revelation Chapter 17, we will see this harlot in more detail as the woman who rides the Beast.

As Israel was cast out of the land into the hands of her enemies, those who can be identified with this church will be cast out to endure the tribulation where the Beast will fornicate with them and then turn on them, devour them and burn them with fire (chapter 17).

Many in this church today point their finger at the Jews and say God is done with them but God is true, just and consistent. Those who identify with Christianity and who play the harlot with the satanic things of the world will receive judgment just as harlot Israel did. However, there is still hope of salvation for both Israel and for this assembly.

Joe 2:32 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the LORD shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the LORD hath said, and in the remnant whom the LORD shall call.

 Act 2:21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.


Both of the above passages are about the end times. The passage in Joel is to natural Israel while the second passage in Acts quoting Joel is written to those who identify with the Church. Those in Laodicea that lose their life for Jesus sake will find it and those who seek to save their life by denying Jesus will lose their soul. Just as those in Israel can be saved by calling on the name of the Lord, so can all those identified with Laodicea. God is consistent and offers mercy to the Jew and Gentile alike. He also will also judge the Jew and Gentle alike if they choose to reject His mercy.

Luk 9:24 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.


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:

This church had the wrong perception of herself.  She thought she needed nothing because she had material goods but Jesus tells them that they really were spiritually poor. Since this church thought it needed nothing, it asked for nothing and it got nothing spiritually. James 4:2 tells us, "We have not because we ask not". Obviously, this assembly has ineffective prayer because it either does not ask, asks for selfish reasons or does not understand the nature of the God it prays to.


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.

Jesus tells those that are identified with this assembly that they need to buy gold from Him that was tried in the fire. Gold tried in the fire is the faith of the righteous. White raiment is what is given to the righteous in Christ in contrast to the black wool that those in this city wore. Jesus tells the church in this city known for its medical center and eye salve that He is the Great Physician and that He can take their blind eyes and anoint them so that they will have spiritual eyes to see.

These have already been vomited out into the great tribulation. Therefore, this reference to nakedness seems to relate to those who go through the tribulation when Jesus comes as a thief for the tribulation saints prior to the last judgment (Rev 16:15). I explain this more in my commentary on that chapter. 

19 As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.

Jesus rebukes as well as loves. This is why Jesus said when the Son of man cometh will He find faith on the earth? (Luk 18:8) for Philadelphia the answer is yes; He will find faith. However, in Laodicea the answer will be no. The parable of the five wise and five foolish virgins of Matthew Chapter 25 might apply here although it may have some other application. Half of those waiting for the bridegroom in the parable went with Him at his coming for the bridesmaids for the wedding and half were not even available. They were out shopping for oil.

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.

We have a picture here of Jesus standing at the door of people's hearts knocking. The fact that they have not already let Him in is evidence that His Spirit is not in them. This assembly is not in the body of Christ. This appeal by Jesus is not to Laodicea as a corporate body. When Jesus vomiting them out, He indicated that He will no longer be identified with this assembly. The appeal then is to each individual identified with Laodicea. Those who hear His knocking and open the door to Him during the great tribulation will be saved and taken to the wedding in Heaven.


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 overcomers in this church are promised to rule and reign with Christ as part of His Church. Overcomers that can be identified with this church may become part of the body of Christ by being born again in a baptism of fire in the great tribulation (losing their lives for His namesake or enduring until the end). In my opinion, this verse disputes the belief that many hold that the Church is already completed at the rapture. It should be obvious that if they sit with Jesus on His throne that they are also part of His queen bride.

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