Chapter 3 v 7-13
7 ‘To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. 8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars – I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. 13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Philadelphia was the youngest city of the seven written to in Revelation. It was a border town established specifically to spread Greek culture to the surrounding lands. It had been devastated by earthquakes in about AD 17 and rebuilt and changed its name after the emperor and later changed name again after another emperor. Neither name lasted.
To this church Jesus describes himself as “Holy and true”.
Holy means “Separate” and the word used here for “true” means “genuine” or “real” – not so much the opposite of false. Jesus is the real deal. He holds the keys of David.
He and he alone is the one who has authority to let people into the kingdom of David, the New Jerusalem. What he opens no one can shut and visa versa – that is, there is no other way into God’s kingdom.
And Jesus has placed before this church an open door – an opportunity. They are not a strong church – they have “Little strength” Jesus says in verse 8. That probably means that they had no influence, and were small in numbers and low on the giftedness scale.
Smyrna was “poor and afflicted”, and Philadelphia was “weak”, but Jesus had no criticism for either, just encouragement. Size and wealth are not necessarily a sign of God’s approval! As we see in the letters to the seven churches faithfulness and love- they are the signs of a church of which God approves. The question for us is “Are we faithful and loving? Do we refuse to follow the ways of our culture?”
The church in Philadelphia had kept Jesus’ word and not denied his name, says verse 8, and in verse 10 they have kept his command to endure patiently. They had refused to worship the emperor and suffered for it.
Patient and courageous endurance – that is what is called for. As for the church in Smyrna so here in Philadelphia; “hang in there”, says Jesus. When it’s tough, hang in there! When it looks like you’ve lost, hang in there. When it seems pointless, hang in there. Do not give up. When it hurts so much you don’t know whether God is still with you, hang in there. It’s all about patient, courageous endurance.
And here God promises that he will spare them some of the troubles that are coming [v 10].
In verse 9 he talks about the Synagogue of Satan again and he says, “I will make them bow down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.”
In verse 11 he says, “Hold on to what you have so that no one may take your crown.”
There is an open door for them – they are to get on with the spreading of the good news.
Verse 12 tells us that Victory is not about winning, it’s not about success and power and recognition and glory and wealth and prosperity – victory is actually hanging in there ‘till the end. “I am coming soon” says Jesus. He will return and he will bring justice with him.
And these unimpressive people will become like immovable, unshakable pillars in the temple, firm and solid. They belong! We belong!
And Jesus will write his name upon them as a sign that they belong to him, and the name of the new city as a sign that they are citizens of that place. Just as later the evil one will put his number on his people, 666, so Jesus puts his name on his people. Just as the city itself had been given a new name on a couple of occasions, so the people of God would wear his name.
What a promise! That is the encouragement to those who suffer – hang in there. Persevere! It’s something we need to have in our minds well before suffering comes because in the midst of suffering it’s not such a welcome message. But it is Jesus’ message.
My lord and my Father, give me a heart to persevere. Strengthen your people and your church to remain faithful whatever the circumstances. Amen
Chapter 3 v 14-22
14 ‘To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so that you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so that you can see.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 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 that person, and they with me.
21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
The word for ‘spit’ in verse 16 is actually ‘vomit’. I am about to vomit you out of my mouth. Some of our translations sanitize things a bit by using the word “spit”. You get the impression that Jesus is pretty disgusted with the church he’s writing too, don’t you?
Why is this church making Jesus so ill that he is about to vomit them? It’s because, as Jesus says in v 5, they are neither hot nor cold. It seems pretty obvious that he’s referring to their commitment, their passion for him and for his work. That’s confirmed in v 19 where he says, “So be earnest and repent.” The word ‘earnest’ means ‘zealous’ or ‘passionate’. Be passionate and repent.
What does a lukewarm church looks like? A lukewarm church goes through the motions.
There’s no excitement and passion about knowing God and carrying out his mission.
Jesus requires passionate commitment from this church. A writer called Howard Hendricks has said, “A belief is something you will argue about, but a commitment is something you will die for.” We’ve already seen what that commitment means for some of the other churches Jesus wrote to. It meant not bending the knee to Caesar as God and so incurring the wrath of the govt and the people. It meant persecution, sometimes imprisonment and death.
Think for a moment what a passionate Christian or a zealous church would look like.
JC Ryle, a Bishop of yesteryear said this:-
‘A zealous man in religion is pre-eminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, uncompromising, thoroughgoing, wholehearted, and fervent in spirit. He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing, and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives or he dies - whether he has health or whether he has sickness - whether he is rich or he is poor - whether he pleases man or whether he gives offence - whether he is thought wise or whether he is thought foolish, whether he gets blame or whether he gets praise - whether he gets honour or whether he gets shame - for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God’s glory. If he is consumed in the very burning he cares nothing for it - he is contented. He feels that like a lamp, he is made to burn; and if consumed in the burning, he has but done the work for which God appointed him.’
Paul put it like this, ‘For me, to live is Christ to die is gain.’ Phil 1:21
And Jesus put it like this, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me.’ Jn 4:34
The second problem with the church in Laodicea was they thought they were OK [v 17].
Jesus has given them a real roasting, but then he says in v 19 ‘those I love I rebuke and discipline.” He uses a special word for love here that means “Those who are dearest to me I rebuke and discipline.”
Jesus is not venting his anger and dumping on this church. He wants it to change. He longs for it to change. He doesn’t want to vomit them out. He wants them to be earnest/ passionate/committed and to repent of their lukewarm attitude [v 19].
He says in v 20 “Her I am, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come and eat with him, and he with me.”
If a lukewarm believer repents and invites Jesus to come in and take over completely, Jesus will. The idea of eating with someone in Jesus’ culture was to do something intimate. It was a great honour.
If you’re not passionate/committed to Jesus and his church and his work, you’ll be committed to something, passionate about something else. Nature hates a vacuum. We’re all committed to something –- maybe our family, maybe our comfort, our work, somebody else, our dreams for the future, maybe our own protection. I reckon I could find out what every person here is passionate about.
Do you feel uncomfortable when the Bible talks about being passionate about Jesus? I do! I catch myself saying, ‘Yes, but you don’t want to go overboard.” Why not? Being passionate does not mean you have to be like those people can’t talk about anything else than their passion, but it is your passion that motivates you and drives you.
“Saturate me with the oil of the Spirit that I may be aflame. But flame is often short-lived. Canst thou bear this, my soul? Short life? In me there dwells the spirit of the Great Short-Lived, whose zeal for God’s house consumed Him. ‘Make me Thy fuel, Flame of God.’” Amen. [Jim Elliot, missionary to Ecuador]
4 After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. 3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. 4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits[a] of God. 6 Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.
I’ve got a mate who is one of those engineer-types who can do anything, and make anything out of stuff just lying around. You know how they say that engineers make the world go round? Well in Glen’s case that’s the truth. Anytime I’ve got something wrong with my car, or some renovation problem, or the driveway is cracking, or the house is subsiding, or I need to build a retaining wall, I call Glen. He’s a genius. He’s my go-to man when I’ve got any mechanical or construction issues.
The early chapters of Revelation tell us of 7 churches facing some serious issues. They are being persecuted and it’s going to get worse. They live in a world that is out to get them. What do they do in those circumstances? What do you say to them? You tell them they have the ultimate “go-to person”. Immediately after the letters to the seven churches John sees a throne in heaven [v 2]. John has trouble finding the words to describe what he sees. Imagine giving a description like John does in verse 3 to a police sketch artist! Remember that this is a vision and probably not a picture of physical reality, but an image or a metaphor. Chances are that God doesn’t actually sit on a physical throne, although he might. The image is meant to communicate that God is the ruler. He is glorious. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircles the throne. Emeralds are green! How does a rainbow which has 6 or 7 colours ranging from red to violet, resemble an emerald? Well, it may be that the emerald refracted light into a rainbow. It may be poetic license. Whichever way, the rainbow is significant in the Bible. It was the sign of God’s promise never to destroy the world with floodwater again after Noah’s flood.
It was the symbol for God’s covenant. You see, one of the prominent characteristics of the God of the Bible is that he is a covenant-keeping God. He is a God who makes promises and keeps them. Christian faith is nothing more than betting your life on God’s promises.
God promises that all who depend on Jesus’ death in their place and make him their Lord, will be forgiven and saved for eternity. Without God’s promises faith is just wishful thinking. God might forgive us, he might save us, maybe he will adopt us. But God has promised those things and that is what gives real confidence.
When we say that we’re sure we’re going to heaven, some people think that is arrogant. They say, “How can you be so sure? It’s up to God, not you.”, but God has promised these things and so we can be sure that we are going to heaven – he promised it and God never breaks a promise. Christian faith is nothing more than taking God at his word.
So, the rainbow here is significant. It may also signify that for God’s people the storm is over just as it did back in the time of Noah. Jesus has taken the punishment and the sun is shining. The rainbow represents God’s great mercy.
But there is also a storm going off over the throne [v 5].
I like storms, but they can be pretty terrifying. Now I don’t for a minute that God sits on his throne with a tiny thunderstorm over his head like some angry cartoon character. Remember this is imagery – pictures that convey a message. And it’s easy to get the picture here, isn’t it? There is a storm round the throne of God. It’s a picture of God’s power and might. God is not someone to be trifled with. God is not someone you stand up against!
You don’t stand in a raging storm and shake your fist at it in defiance – well, you could but you’d look pretty stupid.
Imagine standing before that God on the last day unforgiven!
So, what have we got so far? Churches in trouble, a throne in heaven, and a promise keeping God who defies description but who is glorious and wonderful and powerful. It’s a picture that is meant to encourage and comfort. Things look bad but the all-powerful, all-mighty God rules. Take heart!
Father, help me and all your people to take heart in tough times, relying on the fact that you are all-powerful. Amen
In the centre, round the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and behind. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle. 8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all round, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:
‘“Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,”[b]
who was, and is, and is to come.’
9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
11 ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.’
We are now introduced to the four living creatures. Now that’s what I call a bodyguard! Imagine running into one of those in a dark alley! It sounds like a pizza induced nightmare!
They are covered in eyes so that nothing misses their attention. All with wings so that they can go anywhere. The first creature was like a lion, the second an ox, the third an eagle and the fourth a man.
A rabbi of a few hundred years later said, “There are four mighty creatures. The mightiest among the birds is the eagle. The mightiest among domestic animals is the ox; the mightiest among wild animals is the lion, and the mightiest of them all is mankind.”
They are the best of the best! And they serve God!
When I was really young, we lived next door to the Young family who had a dog, more a monster really, called Tank. And on occasions, if he was riled enough, tank would jump and climb over the 6-foot paling fence. He was a mad as a meataxe. He feared nothing, and he would take on anything. All the kids in the street lived in constant fear of that dog. In our street if the cry went up, “Tank’s out”, kids would scatter in all directions. Tank was a legend in our street. I had nightmares about him.
But that was just a dog. Here God has the most awesome beasts imaginable and they serve God and they sing his praises. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” Can you imagine it! The best and the mightiest of the animal kingdom and they don’t just serve him, they are singing his praises! And when the beasts start singing, the 24 rulers join in…that’s in v 11. In v 10 these 24 wear crowns themselves. Now there’s a fair bit of debate as to whom these 24 represent, and I think the most probable explanation is that they represent the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel, which in turn represents the people of God in the Old Testament, and the 12 apostles who represent the people of God in the New Testament. They are dressed in white to represent they have been purified. So, the 24 represent the whole of the people of God who have been saved and purified by Jesus.
Whatever the case here are 24 VIPs, all rulers in heaven, which makes them far more important than any earthly ruler, and what do they do? V 10 says they fall down on their faces before God and they worship him. They lay down their crowns before the throne.
In John’s day, when a king surrendered unconditionally, he threw his crown at the winner’s feet. It was the equivalent of a dog rolling on its back in surrender.
God is the supreme ruler. He is worshipped out of the overflow of their hearts. We can get this picture of heaven where everyone is singing and think, “That’s not for me! Imagine spending the rest of eternity in a choir for goodness’ sake! That’s my picture of Hell!”
But going to heaven is not about joining some heavenly choir. It’s about being so happy that you just spontaneously sing or shout for joy or dance! That’s what the singing in heaven will be like. We won’t be able to help ourselves for pure joy and wonder. The singing will just burst out of us. We will sing because we will be exploding with happiness. That’s heaven!
Father, it is astounding to realise that you delight in us. Help me to delight in you. Amen
‘“Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,”[b]
who was, and is, and is to come……..’
11 ‘……You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.’
God is on his throne and everything else is in concentric circles radiating out from him. He is at the very centre of everything, and that we will be emphasised even more in chapter 5.
The creatures and the elders are all singing about God’s holiness and his worthiness and his accomplishments. It’s all about God and not them. There is not an “I” anywhere in any of the 17 or songs in the book of Revelation, whereas it’s pretty hard to find any modern “worship” songs that don’t put us in the picture.
Not that that is all bad. There are many other songs in the Bible that include us, the psalms, for instance. It is good to honour God for what he had done, and continues to do, for us. However, it is also good to remind ourselves that it is not all about us. We are not the centre of the universe, not even of our universe; God is. Our salvation is for the praise of God’s glorious grace [Eph 1:5]. God would be worthy of all honour and praise if his actions had never involved us.
While on the topic of singing as an act of worship, worship is not confined to singing but is to include all of life [Rom 12:1]. Singing in church is not the only “worship time”, because hearing the word of God, praying, repenting, giving helping those in need, encouraging each other, among other things, are all acts of worship, and are variously referred to as acts of worship in the Bible.
Revelation is written to suffering and persecuted Christians. It is written to churches that are in danger of going off the rails.
Who are they going to turn to?
The answer is ‘the one who rules’.
It’s as though John lifts the veil on the universe and shows the real situation, the real cause and effect of everything that goes on, and it’s God. The church sees persecution and problems, John sees behind and through all that and he sees God on his throne with the whole of creation serving him – all of it. We see suffering and hardship and failure: John sees God in charge. That doesn’t mean that everything is rosy. It doesn’t mean that if we just pray God will fix all our problems. That’s froth and bubble Christianity.
Remember this was written to people who were going to be gaoled, tortured, even killed. This was written to people who were going to go through bad times of sickness and natural disasters and plagues and warfare. They weren’t going to be spared any of that, and yet the Bible makes it very clear they are God’s chosen and precious people. They are being told to hang in there; to persevere. John, who wrote all this down was in exile, working as a prisoner in the copper mines of Patmos, in terrible conditions. He didn’t expect God to fix his situation. Jesus gives John this vision to encourage Christians to hang in there because God knows what he’s doing, even if we don’t know he’s doing and don’t like what he’s doing.
We aren’t protected from this world’s evils. Some of us will have been or will be molested or otherwise sexually assaulted; some of us will get terminal illnesses; some of us will live with physical pain for the rest of our lives; all of us will lose loved ones; some of us will be subjected to violence and evil; some of us will live in poverty; some of us will maybe go through times when we wish we were dead or had never been born. The message of this part of Revelation is “God knows what he is doing. There is a purpose for everything, even if we can’t see it, and don’t like it. God rules! Hang in there. Trust God. One day he will fix it.”
“All things work together for the good of those who love God and have been called according to God’s purpose.” [Romans 8:28]. That is the promise of the Bible.
Lord, it is so hard at times to trust you. In need your Spirit to strengthen me and help me to persevere. Amen