Chapter 3 - Letters to the Seven Assemblies of Asia (continued)

Revelation Chapter 3: more letters to the seven assemblies - letter to the assembly in Sardis, the spiritually dead church; letter to the assembly in Philadelphia, the weak but faithful church; letter to the assembly in Laodicea, the materially wealthy but spiritually impoverished, insipid assembly

3:1 “And to the angel of the assembly in (a) Sardis write, ‘These things says (b) He who has the seven Spirits of [Yehovah] and the seven stars: (c) “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.

a. Sardis, about 39 miles south and slightly east of Thyatira and 50 miles east of Smyrna, was a very prosperous city located on important commercial routes. Some wealthy citizens were involved in mystery cults, and the general citizenry worshiped Greek deities like Artemis, to whom was dedicated a great temple in Sardis. There was also a Jewish (Israelite) synagogue there that was much larger than any found even in Judea.

b. Here, as in Chapter 1, the angel is apparently a "ministering spirit" who has been given charge over the assembly at Sardis and with making sure the message gets to that assembly and probably others like it throughout history. "Spirits" should not be capitalized.  Although different roles or functions of the Holy Spirit are mentioned in Scripture (e.g., Isaiah 11:2), He is never referred to in Scripture as a plurality of spirits. Also, as in Chapter 1, "spirits" might just be another way of referring to heavenly beings responsible for carrying out the will of Elohim on the earth (see the commentary on 1:4-6c).  

c. The assembly at Sardis had a reputation as being an active, lively assembly, but Yehovah declares that she is (spiritually) dead.

(a) Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before [Yehovah]. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. (b) Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.

a. Adonai ("the Lord") gives the Believers at Sardis a series of things to do to remedy their deathly spiritual condition: be vigilant (a command of Adonai to followers of the Messiah); strengthen the few, emaciated, imperfect attributes or good works that remain; remember how they had at first received the new life in the Messiah and heard from Yehovah; hold fast to the little that they have left of what they had received from Yehovah; and repent of their lethargy in the Spirit.

b. The consequence of not being watchful in the Spirit was that Elohim ("God") would come on them when they least expected it, and that was not to bless or reward them (cf. a similar warning in Matthew 24:43-44). Notice also that the warnings to “chastise” those who fail to repent and mend their ways (2:5, 16, 23; 3:3) is to congregations of the Assembly, not to unbelievers. 

“You have (a) a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and (b) they shall walk with me in white, for (c) they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and (d) I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but (e) I will confess his name before My Father and (f) before His angels.”’” (g)

a. Though, for all practical purposes, the assembly at Sardis was spiritually dead, there were a few individual members who had not been separated from Yehovah by the “unclean spirit” that defiled the assembly as a whole.

b. Those few who overcome (continue in their faithfulness to Yehovah) are given several promises: white garments - a symbol of the spiritual purity of the Redeemed in Heaven (cf. 6:11; 7:14); walking with Yeshua in eternity (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:17); and not having their names blotted out of the Book of Life.

c. It is not that it is their own worthiness that will save them, but that they are clothed with the worthiness of Yeshua (cf. Galatians 3:27).

d. Some hold the doctrine of unconditional security (Once Saved Always Saved). But that doctrine is a little difficult to substantiate when the Bible says things like, "Brethren, be . . . diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our [Adonai] and Savior [Yeshua the Messiah] (2 Peter 1:10-11); "He that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved"  (Matthew 24:13); "He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life (3:5)."  The question for the OSAS advocates is: How can someone’s name be blotted out of the Book of Life if it was never written there in the first place?

And the apostle Paul stated, I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified (from receiving the "imperishable crown" of eternal life) (1 Corinthians 9:25, 27).  Again, the question for the OSAS advocates is: Why would Paul be concerned about “becoming disqualified” from receiving eternal life if there was no possibility of him doing that? Paul also pointed out that those Believers in Yeshua ("Jesus") who are grafted into the cultivated olive tree - the "commonwealth of Israel" - will be cut off if they do not continue in the goodness of Yehovah (Romans 11:22; Ephesians 2:12).  How can someone be cut off if he is never grafted in (saved) in the first place?

OSAS advocates respond with, "And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand"  (John 10:28); "I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of [Yehovah] which is in [the Messiah Yeshua] our Lord"  (Romans 8:38-39). They also point out the Scripture that states those whose names are written in the Book of Life were chosen “in Him [the Messiah] before the foundation of the world,” and were “predestined . . . to adoption as sons by [Elohim the Father] to Himself” (Ephesians 1:4, 5).  

However, none of these Scriptures state that one cannot, of his own volition, turn his back on Yehovah and reject the gift of salvation that he has been given, just as we can trash any gift we are given, do they? We still have a choice whether to remain faithful to Adonai ("the Lord"), or to turn our backs on Him. As He told His chosen people Israel, I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live  (Deuteronomy 30:19), the same applies to His people the Assembly of Followers of Yeshua (the "Church") regarding their eternal life in the Messiah. 

So, how may this apparent contradiction be resolved?  It cannot, totally, with our finite minds.  But perhaps part of the solution is to remember that Yehovah's perspective is outside of time - He sees history like a mural, not separate events.  He sees both the beginning and the end simultaneously (cf. Isaiah 46:10).  So, He knows who, in the end, will be saved and who will be lost.  But we finite human beings experience life only one moment at at time.  We may have subjective assurance of our salvation; that's what the whole book of 1 John is about.  But we cannot have objective, absolute knowledge of our salvation until the end.  That's why the apostle Paul wrote, "Continue to work out [the correct verb tense] your salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).  Some may object this is a work-your-way-to-Heaven doctrine of salvation.  It is not.  The next verse (Philippians 2:13) states, "For it is [Elohim] who works in you both to will and to do His pleasure."  You see, we cannot even make the decision to believe in and follow Yeshua unless Elohim the Holy Spirit is working in us, prompting us to do that.  Our salvation is all, from beginning to end, because of the amazing grace of Yehovah (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9).
Perhaps another solution to this apparent paradox is to understand that our salvation through faith in the Messiah is a process, not a once-for-all, done deal (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18, Philippians 2:12). (The correct verb tense in 1 Corinthians 1:18 is, "us who are being saved").  And although He wants us to be (subjectively) sure of our security in Him at any given point in time, nothing is more deceitful than the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9) and we, like Paul, should not take our salvation for granted or turn our backs on it.

So, in our limited human understanding, we cannot fully grasp the apparent paradox of Yehovah’s choosing us versus us choosing Him.  But let us remember that His ways are infinitely beyond our comprehension (cf. Job 11:7-9) and that, in the end, faith trumps understanding. Yes, the responsibility and freedom of choice seems to contradict the sovereignty of Elohim, but total determinism (Calvinism) seems to undermine His grace to just as great an extent as total freedom of will (Arminianism) undermines His sovereignty. That’s where humility and faith come in - the humility to admit that Yehovah’s ways are far above what our rational minds can comprehend and the faith to accept His Word correctly interpreted, although at times it seems paradoxical, as always absolutely true. The rational mind cannot accept what it cannot understand, but faith can.  That's why very few who are "wise [relying on their own logic and understanding] according to the flesh" will get into the kingdom of Heaven (1 Corinthians 1:26).

e. Cf. Matthew 10:32

f. There is really no such thing as a “secret sin” or a “secret good deed,” for we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses—all the heavenly host (cf. Hebrews 12:1). The angels look with great interest on how the Yehovah’s People handle the trials and tribulations of life.  And if we do not deny the Messiah before men, either by our words or by our actions, He will proclaim that we are His, not only before Yehovah the Father but before all the angels.

g. The assembly at Sardis represents the virtually spiritually dead assembly.

3:6 “
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the [assemblies].”

“And to the angel of the [assembly] in (a) Philadelphia write, ‘These things says (b) He who is holy, He who is true, (c) “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens:

a. Philadelphia was a Roman-built city 28 miles southeast of Sardis and 100 miles east of Smyrna. The main “god” of the Romans was the emperor—Domitian at the time of the writing of the Revelation about 95 ABM (After the Birth of the Messiah). Because they refused to worship him, the persecution of the Disciples of Yeshua was strong during the reign of Domitian. Hence, most expositors believe that John was on Patmos because he was banished there by the Emperor.

b. These are more identifiers of Adonai Yeshua: holy, true, having David’s keys. 

c. Since David was the King of Israel from whose throne the Messiah was prophesied to rule forever (cf. Jeremiah 33:17, et al.), these are the keys of the Kingdom, which the Messiah will open or close to whomever He pleases.

3:8-9 “I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews [Israelites] and are not, but lie - indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know I have loved you.

The assembly at Philadelphia is commended because, although she is weak, she has kept Yeshua's Word and has not denied His name although she probably has been under considerable persecution by both the Romans and the false Israelites (the “synagogue of Satan,” as in 2:9). So, He has opened a door to the Kingdom for her, where the persecuting Jews (Israelites) will have to worship at the Philadelphia Believers’ feet, admitting that they are the true People of Yehovah - the ones He has loved.  Today, this is a warning not only to Jews who persecute "Christians" but to all who consider themselves the "New Israel" or descendants of the "ten lost tribes" of Israel not to look down their noses at those called Jews in Israel or other places who have been temporarily blinded to who the Messiah is, but in the the end will be saved, lest, in the end they be cut off from spiritual Israel (the true believers in the coming Messiah) (cf. Romans 11:18-22; Ephesians 2:11-14). 

3:10 “Because you have kept my command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.

This is a controversial verse. Let us see if, by the grace of Yehovah, we can sort it out. 

The assembly at Philadelphia is also promised that, because she has persevered although she is weak, Yehovah will “keep [her] from the hour of trial.” Some expositors say this means that the world-wide Assembly of Believers in Yeshua will be removed from Earth prior to the seven years of “tribulation.”  This is the pre-tribulation rapture doctrine. However, common sense protests that interpretation: Why are not the other assemblies, especially the poor, persecuted assembly at Smyrna about whom Yehovah had nothing negative to say, given the same promise? Also, as will be shown later, the only part of the seven years that is described as a time of special tribulation for the Assembly is the Great Tribulation (cf. 7:14 and Matthew 24:24), which is a limited period of time within the seven years. And the Great Tribulation is the time of severe persecution of Yehovah’s people, not of the whole world, as this verse is falsely interpreted to state. Thirdly, this is the hour of temptation or testing (Greek: peirasmos) that will come on the world, not the tribulation (Greek: thlipsis), oppression, or affliction that will come on Yehovah’s People. So, what Yeshua is saying here is that because the members of the assembly at Philadelphia are persevering in Yehovah, He will keep them (protect them) from giving in to (rather than take them out of) the temptation or testing that will come on the unsaved world. Yeshua never promised His Disciples that they would not suffer physically or that He would take them out of the world so that they would not have to suffer, but He did promise them that He would always be with them, comforting and protecting them spiritually (cf. Hebrews 13:5).  Also, as will be explained later in this commentary, the most powerful testing of our faith during the Great Tribulation will be the incredible deception of the false messiah ("Antichrist").  All but those who are genuine followers of the true Messiah will give in to that deception and follow the false messiah to their destruction.  So, keeping the believers of the Philadelphia congregation from the hour of temptation (testing) refers to keeping them from giving in to the deception of the false messiah rather than to taking them out of the world.

3:11 “Behold, (a) I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, (b) that no one may take your crown. (c)

a. Although you are weak, do not give up! Hold on. I am coming quickly! Yeshua continues to encourage a sense of imminence. Although, from Earth’s perspective, it may be thousands of years until His return, from Heaven’s perspective, it is very soon, a puff of smoke compared to eternity.  Also, none of us knows when our time on earth will end, do we?

b. Although the Kingdom of Elohim ("God") is not yet physically actualized, the true Assembly is seen by Yehovah as royalty in the Kingdom (cf. 1:6). And He reassures the assembly at Philadelphia that if she will “hold fast,” He will personally return to see to it that no one takes her crown.

c. The assembly at Philadelphia is the inconspicuous, not very powerful assembly who, nevertheless, faithfully holds to the Truth and refuses to deny the name of Yeshua, even in the midst of persecution.

3:12 “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My [Elohim], and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My [Elohim] and the name of the city of My [Elohim], the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from [Yehovah]. And I will write on him My new name.”’”

This is a preview of the faithful believer’s place in the ultimate, fantastic Kingdom of Elohim/Kingdom of Heaven, where all becomes one in Yehovah. The new name that no one can understand except the one who receives it (2:17) is the unknown name of Yehushua.  The mystery is that the name of Elohim the Father and the name of Elohim the Son are ultimately the same - Yehovah (cf. Genesis 1:1; 2:4; and John 1:1-3). See Chapters 21 and 22 for more details about how the redeemed are identified with the Temple and the New Jerusalem that come down out of Heaven.

3:13 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the [assemblies].”

3:14 “And to the angel of the [assembly] of the (a) Laodiceans write, ‘These things say (b) the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of [Elohim]:

a. Laodicea, 56 miles southeast of Philadelphia and about 90 miles east of Ephesus, was originally a Greek city named Diospolis, the “City of Zeus.” Later, after being taken over by the Romans, it was on a major trade route between the Middle East and Ephesus, and was a very worldly, wealthy city. The assembly at Laodicea was one of the earliest to be established in Asia, probably because there was a large population of Jews (Israelites) there. The apostle Paul directed that his letter to the assembly at Colossae, which was only eleven miles from Laodicea, also be read in the assembly at Laodicea (Colossians 4:16).

b. Adonai Yeshua ("the Lord Jesus") again (cf. 1:8) introduces Himself as the Beginning and the End - the final Word (“Amen”) and the Beginning of Creation (cf. John 1:1-3) - and also as the True Witness (cf. John 8:14).

3:15-16 “I know your works, that (a) you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, (b) I will vomit you out of my mouth.

a. The Laodicean assembly was passionate neither for the truth and righteousness of Yeshua nor against falsehood and evil. They were disgusting to Yehovah.

b. This is the harshest sentence passed on any of the seven assemblies - total rejection by Yehovah.

3:17-19 “Because you say, (a) ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ – and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked – I counsel you to buy from Me gold (b) refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. (c) As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore, be zealous and repent.”’” (d)

a. The contrast between material wealth and spiritual riches is striking in the assembly at Laodicea. The Laodicean assembly was affluent in the things of this world, so much so that she was blind to her spiritual poverty and insensitive to her own miserable condition, lacking the fruit of the Spirit - the peace, love, and joy of Yehovah. 

b. Yehovah’s solution is to “buy from Me gold refined by fire,” which simply means to give sacrificially and to suffer hardship for the sake of the Kingdom of Elohim. For materially wealthy people, this has to be voluntary; it will not occur just because of the circumstances in which they are comfortable. The way Yeshua put it was, “Deny [yourself], and take up [your] cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). In other words, the Laodicean assembly had to release her grip on her possessions and dedicate them to the Gospel if she wanted a real, spiritually vibrant relationship with Yehovah. Other solutions were to be clothed with the righteousness of Yehovah so that her covetousness not be revealed and to clear her vision with the Truth so that she could see her nauseating condition and what to do about it. 

c. Finally, to avoid the loving chastening of her Heavenly Father (cf. Hebrews 12:6), the Laodicean church is exhorted to exercise the zeal that she lacks, in repenting of her insipid ways.

d. Of all the seven assemblies, the materially prosperous but spiritually impotent, insipid assembly at Laodicea most typifies the American assembly of Believers in Yeshua (the "Christian Church").

3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and dine with him, and he with Me.

This promise is directed to the individual members of the Body of the Messiah. It has been used in witnessing to the unsaved, but in context, it carries the sad implication that affluent, worldly, lukewarm Believers, like those in Laodicea, have shut the Messiah out of their lives. But because He loves them so much, He is still knocking at the door of their hearts, offering to come back in and fellowship with them in the Spirit if they will repent and open the door.

3:21-22 “
To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the [assemblies].”

As with the letters to the other six assemblies, this final exhortation and promise is to the individual believers in all assemblies of the Messiah. And the promise to the Overcomers in the Assembly of the Messiah is a wonderful one: We will sit on His throne with Him and reign with Him (See the end of the Revelation - 20:6; 22:5).

And again, as is emphasized over and over in the Revelation, life in the Messiah is not a passive religion. It is a religion for workers and overcomers,
“until the end,” in the Kingdom of God. Yeshua does not say, “If you love Me, just sit still and wait for My return,” does He? He says, “If you love Me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). He does not say, “If you will just have faith, you will be saved,” does He? He says that he who exercises patience and labors for His name’s sake and does not become weary (2:3) and repents and does the first works (2:5) and hates the doctrines and deeds of the false teachers and prophets (1:6, 15) and holds fast to His name and does not deny His faith (2:13) and works and loves and serves (2:19) and holds fast to what he has (2:25; 3:11) and keeps His works until the end (2:26) and is watchful and strengthens the things that remain and is ready to die (3:2) and remembers how he has received and heard (3:3) and keeps His command to persevere (3:10) and buys from Him gold refined in the fire and white garments and eye salve (3:18) and is zealous (3:19) and hears His voice and opens the door (3:20) and finally, overcomes (2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21), to him, He will grant to sit with Him on His throne (3:21). 

Again, some may object, “But that’s a work-your-way-to-Heaven religion,” to whom the reply is, “You do not understand the grace of Yehovah and the relationship of the true Believer to Yeshua the Son, who said, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).”  Good works by the grace of Elohim and in the power of the Holy Spirit are not the cause of our salvation, but they are the inevitable results and evidence of our salvation.  That's why James wrote, "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:17).  A dead faith cannot save us, can it?

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