As the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) As we “open our ears to hear what the Spirit says,” we find that the ancient people in the churches in Asia Minor were not very different from people today. Human nature has not changed a great deal. We have a tendency to lose our first love, become totally absorbed in our good works, yield to temptation from our culture, and tolerate evil teachers in our midst. Their warnings become our warnings. We now examine three more churches for more insight.
DAY ONE: LETTER TO THE CHURCH AT SARDIS
READ: Revelation 3:1-6
A. OPENING WORDS
Ancient Sardis was the capital of Lydia and was an important trade center as well as a military post for Rome. It stood at a junction of five main roads. The city itself was on a high plateau that formed what seemed like an impregnable fortress. When we feel invincible, we tend to let down our guard. Sardis had become a “sleepy town.”
Sardis was once known as an important center for the manufacture of wool garments but the city was now on the decline. The main religion was the worship of Artemis, a nature cult. This cult taught the idea of death and rebirth like the cycles of nature. This was common in many of the fertility cults. This city and the church both had need of rebirth!
Christ is introduced as the one who holds the seven spirits and seven stars. The seven spirits could represent the wholeness of the Holy Spirit’s power or it could be seven attending spirits serving before God’s throne. The seven stars are angels (messengers) who have divine supervision over the churches. The Spirit is always the source of power for believers and churches.
It is noted that there are no words of praise or commendation. The church, like the city, is in decline. They have fallen asleep and are no longer keeping watch for the coming of Jesus. The false sense of security in the city has influenced the church. In every generation there is an immediate danger of letting the culture influence the church.
B. WORDS OF EXHORTATION
Sardis was resting on their past reputation of a thriving church. They needed a reality check – an evaluation from God’s perspective. He saw the church as a hollow shell. The church was alive in name only, but was spiritually dead. This church is typical of the historical period of the reformation wherein state churches developed that had good creeds but no spiritual vitality that comes from personal faith. Large numbers of the churches were composed of unbelievers.
However, it was not too late. Jesus called the true believers to wake up. When Jesus returns a “sleeping church” will not be prepared. Some will still be unbelievers and others will not have accomplished the works Christ designed for them. The hope of Christ’s coming has a purifying effect on churches and individuals.
This church needed to come alive to their calling to do good works and teach sound doctrine. They need to repent and begin to obey what they had heard from the apostles.
C. WORDS OF PROMISE
A few people had been faithful, and they will be richly rewarded. They will inherit white robes and live with Jesus in the kingdom. Their names will not be blotted out but confessed by Jesus before the angels.
- There is no persecution mentioned in Sardis. Can you think of a reason the church wasn’t being attacked?
- What is the responsibility of the church according to Ephesians 2:10?
- What do white clothes symbolize in Scripture? (Revelation 7:14)
- Honestly examine the condition of your church and your own faith. Are you “asleep” or fully alive? What evidence supports your answer?
- What good works has God called you to fulfill at this time?
DAY TWO: LETTER TO THE CHURCH AT PHILADELPHIA
READ: Revelation 3:7-13
A. OPENING WORDS
Philadelphia was located in a strategic place on the main route of the Imperial Post from Rome to the East, and it was called the “gateway to the East.” It was also known as “Little Athens” because of the many temples there. Thus, it was a city of incredible opportunity for the church to be a light to both local residents and travelers on the Roman road.
Jesus identified himself as the one who is holy and true. He is the one true God as opposed to hundreds of false gods and goddesses in this city. Because He is holy He has the right to judge sin. He has the key of David; He is the Messiah who decides who is to be admitted into the Kingdom.
B. WORDS OF COMMENDATION
The church was commended for their works. They were provided a tremendous opportunity or an open door to impact many people. They have been faithful to make good use of it. They were small (had little power in numbers) but had kept Jesus’ word so they were very effective.
This is reminiscent of the historical period from 1700 – 1900 when there was an open door for missionaries to go all over the world. When Jesus opens a door, no one can shut it. We have a choice to walk through it or not. If we do, we can accomplish great things.
There were no words of condemnation for this good church. They were standing firm and serving well.
C. WORDS OF PROMISE
There are four promises for this outstanding church:
- Jesus will deal with their Jewish enemies. The Jews will be forced to admit the Christians are right. Some take this to mean a period of Jewish conversion will soon take place. Others point to the end times when the surviving nation will eventually accept their Messiah at the second coming.
- They will be spared from the great tribulation or some other great trial that will come to the whole earth.
- God will honor them in some way in the temple of God. They will be pillars.
- They will have three new names of honor showing they belong to (1) God, (2) the New Jerusalem and (3) Jesus. They will be well rewarded for their faithfulness.
- What does the Bible say will ultimately happen to the enemies of God? (Philippians 2:10-11)
- What does the Bible say about open and closed doors in the following passages? Acts 14:27; I Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12; Colossians 4:3
- What happens to the person who ignores the open doors presented to him? (1 John 2:28)
- What “open door” has God provided for you for ministry?
- Which of the four promises has special meaning to you?
DAY THREE: LETTER TO THE CHURCH AT LAODICIA
READ: Revelation 3:14-22
A. OPENING WORDS
As in the letters to the first 6 churches, this letter addresses the very personal setting and situations of a city called Laodicea. The city was known for:
- Its wealth that came from the manufacture of a special eye salve and a glossy black wool cloth.
- The famous hot springs that were nearby at Hieropolis
- The pure cold water that flowed from Colossae.
Jesus was presented as the “Amen,” the faithful and holy witness and the ruler of God’s creation. He was about to give a truthful assessment of the terrible spiritual condition of this wealthy church. They were neither faithful nor true.
This could represent the condition of the church at large in this present period of time. Many have turned away from the faith and embraced some sort of humanism. Rather than being ruled by Christ, they are ruled by men. Materialism has corrupted.
There is no commendation for this church—not one good word can be said for it.
B. WORDS OF CONDEMNATION
This church was lukewarm. This description fits well with their setting. The hot water flowing down from Heiropolis was useful for spa bathing because of its heat and healing chemicals. The water coming down from Colossea was good, pure drinking water. At one point outside the city the two water sources came together. At that point the water was good for nothing – not fit to drink because of the minerals and warmth; not fit for therapy because it was too cool and the minerals were diluted… So it was allowed to run off as wastewater.
Spiritually, the church in this city was like the wastewater – it was good for nothing. The people were spiritually poor, blind, and naked. These descriptions were fitting since the city produced great material wealth, salve for healing of the eyes, and great cloth for beautiful clothes. They thought they were rich and needed nothing. Yet none of these things led to spiritual advantage.
The church was producing nothing of eternal value. They were self-satisfied and were not calling on the Lord for power to thrive. Their prosperity led to a feeling of comfortable self-satisfaction. The Laodiceans could not use their material wealth to buy real spiritual gold and white robes of purity. They could not use their valuable eye salve to cure their spiritual blindness.
Jesus reminded them that He disciplines those He loves. His words are harsh but are designed to bring them to repentance and conversion. The church in all of its self-satisfied condition had shut Jesus out. But it was not too late. If any individuals will repent and open the door, Jesus will come in and have sweet fellowship with those individuals…
C. WORDS OF PROMISE
The person who overcomes the problem of apostasy and accepts Jesus is promised a share in the Messianic Kingdom. He will rule with Christ.
- What did God warn about the results of wealth in the Law of Moses? (Deuteronomy 6:10-12)
- Ultimately, who is the source of spiritual blindness? (2 Corinthians 4:4)
- What is the proper response to discipline? (Hebrews 12:11)
- What does it mean to you to repent and open the door to Jesus?
- When is your best time for sweet fellowship with the Lord?
DAYS FOUR AND FIVE: SUMMARY OF THE LETTERS
A. SEE WITH CHRIST’S EYES
Jesus has spoken to the churches individually, corporately, and down through the ages. It is enlightening to see church life from God’s perspective. Some have given descriptive titles to the seven churches. They may be summed up in this way: i
- Ephesus – The Careless Church
- Smyrna – The Crowned Church
- Pergamum – The Compromising Church
- Thyatira – The Corrupted Church
- Sardis – The Feeble Church
- Philadelphia – The Faithful Church
- Laodicea – The Foolish Church
Jesus’ unique introduction of himself to each church shows that He has what it takes to make each church successful. He is willing and eager to help them become overcomers. The churches were called to repent from the things that were hindering their success and accept their calling to impact their cultures and meet their challenges.
A beautiful part of the letters to the churches is the final promises to each one. Life as a believer in a hostile world will always be hard, but the promises for faithfulness are heavenly.
B. REVIEW THE PROMISES FOR FAITHFUL LIVING
- Ephesus – Will eat from the Tree of Life
- Smyrna – Will receive the Crown of Life and will not be hurt by the second death
- Pergamum – Will receive hidden manna, a white stone, a new name
- Thyatira – Will have authority over the nations, and will have the morning star
- Sardis – Will be dressed in white; will be acknowledged before the Father & angels
- Philadelphia – Will be pillars in the Temple; will have 3 new names on them
- Laodicea – Will eat with Christ; will rule with Christ.
C. REVIEW THE PROBLEMS THAT WERE IDENTIFIED
- Ephesus – Lost their first love
- Smyrna – No rebuke
- Pergamum – Held the teachings of Balaam and the Nicolaitans
- Thyatira – Tolerated Jezebel with her teachings of immorality and idolatry
- Sardis – Spiritually dead
- Philadelphia – No rebuke
- Laodicea – Lukewarm; Wretched, blind, poor, naked
D. REVIEW THE SOLUTIONS
- Ephesus – Remember; repent; Do the things you did at first.
- Smyrna – Don’t be afraid of suffering to come; Be faithful, even unto death
- Pergamum – Repent
- Thyatira – Repent; Hold on to what you have.
- Sardis – Wake up; Strengthen what remains; Repent; Obey what you received
- Philadelphia – Hold on to what you have
- Laodicea – Repent; Buy from Christ true gold, white robes, & eye salve. Be earnest
The letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor at the end of the 1st Century represent an amazingly thorough study of problems that face the church today. It was heartening to hear the commendations to the churches for good works, careful examination of false teachers, good response to persecution and suffering, persevering patiently in hardship, remaining true to Christ’s word and name. It was disheartening to see that one church had no commendation at all even though outwardly it was thriving. This calls us to a thorough soul searching. What do my church and my witness look like to Christ?
- Write a short letter to your church outlining the areas of strength and weakness that are drawn out from the evaluations of these churches.
- Write a short evaluation of your own spiritual health at this time.
Write out several prayer requests that call on Jesus for power to overcome the weaknesses you identified for your church and yourself.
The letters to the seven churches are open books for use in examining our standing before our Savior who is the head of His body, the church. Success is expected; Success is possible with His enabling; Success is vital to fulfill our calling. Success is well explained. Success is well rewarded. May we all have ears to hear what the Spirit has clearly told us.
PRINCIPLE FOR THE WEEK
God never calls us to do something He does not equip us to carry out. Success belongs to true followers of Christ.
Choose one area of personal or corporate weakness and pray for help in making improvement this week.
i Wiersbe, Warren W., BE VICTORIOUS Victor Books, 1985.
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