TEXT: Revelation 3:14-22, NIV84
- This ends the reading of God’s Word.
- The Word of God for the People of God.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:
Eternal God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, grant us Your Holy Spirit who writes the preached word into our hearts so that we may believe it, and be gladdened and comforted by it in eternity. Glorify Your Word in our hearts. Make it so bright and warm that we may find pleasure in it, and through Your inspiration think what is right. By Your power fulfill the Word, for the sake of Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen. 
I love the Rocky movies and Rocky 3 is one of my favorites. In Rocky 3, Rocky Balboa has been the heavyweight champion of the world for several years. The once obscure and impoverished street fighter from Philadelphia is now living in a Hollywood style mansion. He’s enjoying a life of wealth, fame, and self-indulgence. The day he plans to announce his retirement, he is challenged by an unknown behemoth named Clubber Lang played by Mr. T.
Rocky accepts the challenge. He trains for the fight in a circus-like atmosphere. He signs more autographs than he hits punching bags.
Meanwhile, Clubber Lang is in a meat locker, punching sides of beef and knocking around dock workers.
When the fight time comes, we might wonder whether Rocky can reach down and pull out one final victory, even though he is no longer at his peak.
Clubber Lang destroys Rocky in just three rounds, humiliated and dejected, Rocky tries to figure out what went wrong.
Apollo Creed, his opponent in the first two Rocky movies, tells him what his problem is. He said, “You used to have the eye of the tiger. You used to be hungry to win. You used to have the want-to. You used to be willing to pay the price to train. You used to fight with abandonment. You used to, but winning led to fame, and fame led to affluence, and affluence led to indulgence, and self-indulgence led to weakness, and weakness led to defeat.”
This morning as we look at the church at Laodicea, we will see that they have a similar problem. They are affluent, they are confident, and according to Jesus they say that they have need of nothing, but as we see their big problem is that they’re in denial about their condition.
When it comes to getting help for drug or alcohol addiction we’ve always heard that the first step to help is admitting that you have a problem. Well, the church at Laodicea doesn’t seem believe that they have a problem, and the you can’t help people that won’t admit that they have a problem.
Even when Jesus saves us, He first causes to see that we have a problem, and He is our solution. So, the first thing that needs to happen is that the church needs to see is their problem.
As we look at the text, we’ll see 2 Problems with the Church, 3 Things The Church Needs, and 3 Signs of Hope for the Church. So, if you’re keeping count, we have 8 points to cover.
2 Problems with the Church (v. 15-17)
“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.” – Revelation 3:15-16, NIV84
Problem #1: Lukewarm
Sometimes in order to understand what a text means we have to rule out what it doesn’t mean first.
- When Jesus is saying “You are neither hot nor cold, I wish you were one or the other.” What we think that means is that Jesus wants would rather us be red hot, on fire for Him or He would rather us be cold and completely against Him, than to be completely indifferent, but that’s not the case.
- Jesus isn’t talking about our passion, or how we might feel about Him. He’s talking about our usefulness.
Laodicea was a city that had two major springs near it, one was a hot spring that came down from Hierapolis, and the other was from a cold spring that came down from the side of Colossae, and by the time the water came together from where they would pipe it in near Laodicea  it became lukewarm and it was undrinkable. 
On a hot day, you can use a cold glass of ice water to cool you down, and you can use hot water to shower with, but you can’t hardly use lukewarm water for anything.
Here’s another way of thinking about it: here in the south, we consume a lot of tea. We can drink iced tea or we can drink hot tea. (Whenever we go to a mall in Little Rock or Fort Smith, my wife loves going to Teavana and getting different kinds of hot tea to make at home.) Hot tea and cold tea are both pretty good, but who likes lukewarm tea? Nobody.
Jesus is saying, “If you’re hot I’ll use you, if you’re cold I’ll use you, but I won’t use you if you’re lukewarm. I’ll spew you out of my mouth.”
- The main question for us is: Do we want Jesus to use us?
If we want Jesus to use us, then we have to be honest about who we are, and that leads us to the second problem.
Problem #2: Self-Deception
“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
– Revelation 3:17, NIV84
This is the source of all their problems. This is the very reason that they are lukewarm. When the people in Laodicea looked at themselves, they saw the perfect church. They were wealthy, powerful and they had arrived.
- The city of Laodicea itself was so wealthy that when an earthquake hit in 61 AD and destroyed the whole city, Caesar offered troops, money, resources, and anything else he could think to help them rebuild. They refused all of it, and they rebuilt the city on their own. They didn’t need anyone’s help. They were self-sufficient. Now, there’s nothing wrong with being self-sufficient in the sense that you live on your own, pay your own bills, drive yourself back and forth, etc.
- It’s one thing to not have to depend on other people in that manner, but when you have so much that you think you don’t need what God has to offer, then you’ve got a problem.
They looked at their position, their possessions and their power and they said, “We have everything!” Reality is that they were indifferent, apathetic, and unmoved and they believed they were in good shape.
You can be sure that the road to destruction begins when you say, “Nah, I’m good, fam. I don’t need Jesus.” Every time we think that we don’t need Jesus, every time we think our own righteousness, and our own works are enough to satisfy God, it’s because we have deceived ourselves.
If we were Laocedia and we were listening to this being read in our church, this is where we need to start asking ourselves, “Okay, what needs to be done to change this?”
- Well, Jesus, in His mercy, tells us what to do.
3 Things We Need
“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.” – Revelation 3:18, NIV84
There’s three things here that Jesus says we need, and gives the reason as to why we need each of these.
Faith Worth More Than Gold
Here’s the question: what kind of gold is Jesus offering? Obviously this represents something. Jesus isn’t giving us real gold… you know, unless you believe the prosperity gospel.
- I believe gold here represents faith. Jesus gives us faith as a gift, and not only does he give it to us freely, but it’s a real faith that can be put to the test because Jesus says that it’s gold that’s been refined in the fire.
- In 1st Peter 1, Peter talks about how we can rejoice now in the inheritance that Jesus because we will suffer trials, and he says in 1 Peter 1:7, “These [trials] have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
Jesus is telling us to get faith from Him that can be tried in the fire. What does this look like? It looks like that man in Mark 9 who says to Jesus, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.” That’s how you get more faith. You go to the source of faith Himself, and say, “Lord, I need more faith. Help my unbelief.”
Clothed in His Righteousness
The next Jesus wants give us is “white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness.”
- These clothes white clothes are the righteousness of Christ.
We already talked about it a little bit earlier, but in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve cover themselves up with fig trees, and God decides that that’s not good so Genesis 3:21 tells us, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” The assumption is that God kills something and uses the death of whatever animal this was from to cover up Adam and Eve’s shame.
- Why couldn’t they have just sewn together fig leaves? Because the work of their hands would never be good cover themselves up before God.
In Genesis 4, Adam and Eve have two boys. The boys names are Cain and Abel.
Cain is a tiller of the ground, Abel is a keeper of the animals in the field.
So, they both bring God sacrifices of their respective jobs. Abel sacrifices an animal, and Cain brings a sacrifice from the ground.
Well, God accepts Abel’s sacrifice, but not Cain’s. Why? Nothing died! Cain didn’t kill anything. Cain thought he could get by with the work of his hands, and that didn’t cut it. Something or someone has to die in order for your sins to be atoned for.
Well, for us, in this administration of the covenant, Jesus has died in our place for our sins, and He says, “Your righteousness isn’t good enough. Wear mine.”
And whenever Jesus gives us His righteousness to put on that’s a theological term called “imputation.” R.C. Sproul defines it this way, “Imputation means that the righteousness of Jesus is counted for me the moment I believe in Jesus Christ. That’s what Luther said. That that righteousness an “iustitia” alien—an alien righteousness. A righteousness that’s “extra nos.” A righteousness that’s apart from me, it’s not mine inherently. It belongs to Christ. And what Christ does is when I put my trust in Him, He imputes or counts to me His righteousness. And on the basis of that imputed righteousness, God declares me just right now.”
The third thing that Jesus wants to give us is salve for our eyes.
Sight for Vision and Direction
This is the root problem for Laodicea, and it could be the problem for some of us, they’re blind, and Jesus wants to give them sight.
The third thing Jesus wants to give us is eyesalve so that we can see.
If you study the history of Laodicea as a city, then you know that all of these things – gold, cloth, and eyesalve – are all things had and produced in abundance. They were wealthy, they produced the finest cloth, and they were the leading producer of all kinds of medicines.
So, Jesus says, “If you think what you have is good, what I’m offering is better.”
Jesus says, “You can only heal people’s bodies, you can only appeal to their materialistic wants, but what I have is for their souls, people actually need what I have.”
And when we realize that, that’s when our eyes are opened. And the beauty of that, is that we Jesus opens our eyes we not only see where we are, but where we are going.
- Jesus wants the church at Laodicea to see that if they continue to down this path of pride and self-sufficiency, then they are headed straight for destruction.
But see, out of all the problems with the church, there’s still three more things that should give us hope.
3 Signs of Hope for the Church
A Warning of Chastisement
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.” – Revelation 3:19, NIV84
Compare what Jesus says here to what Solomon says in Proverbs 3.
“My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, 12 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
– Proverbs 3:11-12, NIV84
If you fast forward to Hebrews 12 in the New Testament, the author of Hebrews actually tells us what it means for us to be disciplined and chastised by the Lord.
“In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
7Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! 10Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:4-11, NIV84
The writer of Hebrews seems to be telling us that God allows hardships in our lives for the sake of disciplining us.
So, when Jesus tells the church at Laodicea “whom I love, I rebuke and discipline,” he’s giving them the rebuke now, but the discipline is coming, and the discipline is coming in the form of hardships.
The Church has had it easy, but it will not always be that way. That’s one of the reasons why this letter is so relevant for our day. We’ve had it easy, and we’ve got it easy now, but it will not always be this way and we need to be ready.
The fact that Jesus is giving this rebuke is a sign that He’s still holding on to them. They are still his, and He’s not letting go.
The second sign of hope is that He invites them to fellowship.
An Invitation to Fellowship
“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 him, and he with me.” – Revelation 3:20, NIV84
We’re all familiar with the painting of Jesus standing on the outside of the door, and we all know the symbolism of the painting and how there’s no doorknob because we have to let him in, etc.
But this invitation is to the church. We’ve heard evangelists take this verse out of context and tell us, “Oh, sinner, just open the door to your heart and let Jesus in. Can’t you see that He’s knocking on your heart’s door?” Listen, every once in a while Jesus kicks down some doors.
Jesus is showing up and saying, “I’m at the door and I’m coming in. You can either fellowship with me and benefit from that fellowship or you can be like Laodicea and believe that your own resources are good enough.”
Jesus has told several churches so far that He is coming and they had better be ready, but here Jesus is telling Laodicea that He’s so close that He’s at the door, and they had better be ready to fellowship with Him.
- Jesus is coming to dinner, and He’s the bread of life. If we want life, then we need to run to Jesus and feed off of Him. We can’t feed off the world expect to be sustained. We have to take our food from Jesus, and the good news is that Jesus is inviting us to do just that.
- He’s not withholding Himself. John 6:37, “Everyone the Father gives me will come to me, and the one who comes to me I will never cast out.” That’s a promise straight out of Jesus’ mouth.
The Promise for Overcomers
“To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” – Revelation 3:21-22, NIV84
If we’re being honest with ourselves, we hear that and we think, “How can I possibly overcome when I feel like I’ve been defeated so many times by temptation, by sin, and by my suffering. Sometimes I feel like that soil in Mark 4 where the seed of the word has been choked out by the cares of this life. How can I overcome?”
- If you’re fighting on your own, then you never will overcome, but if you trust in Christ, then you will overcome because He already has.
“…those who are conformed to Christ in his trials and victories shall be conformed to him in his glory; they shall sit down with him on his throne, on his throne of judgment at the end of the world, on his throne of glory to all eternity, shining in his beams by virtue of their union with him and relation to him, as the mystical body of which he is the head.” – Matthew Henry
How are you conformed to Christ? By being made new. If you’re a new creature in Christ, then this victory is already yours. All you have to do is trust Him.
So, the next logical question: how can we trust Him?
Look at what Jesus says about Himself at the end of verse 14: “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.”
- CSB – “originator of God’s creation”
According to what the Apostle Paul says about Jesus: He is God’s ‘yes’ and ‘amen’ to everyone of His promises. (2 Corinthians 1:20) How do you know God will keep His word? Because Jesus, who is Himself God in the flesh, died and rose again.
- Revelation 19:11 even tells us that one of the names of Christ is Faithful and True. So, can you trust Him? Yes, you can.
Heavenly Father, sometimes we’re flawed, we’re faulty and we’re unreliable, but Lord, You are Faithful and True. You are consistent when we are not. If you change us, and conform us to the image of Your Son, then we’ll be faithful and true to You. Lord, we are physically made in Your image, but conform us spiritually to the image of Your Son, in His in holy name we pray. Amen.
- Luther’s Prayer to Receive the Word
- NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible
- Sermons and Outlines, https://www.sermonnotebook.org/new%20testament/Revelation%203_14-22.htm
- “An Alien Righteousness.” Ligonier Ministries, http://www.ligonier.org/blog/alien-righteousness/.
TEXT: Revelation 3:7-13, NIV84
- This ends the reading of God’s Word.
- The Word of God for the People of God.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:
Almighty God, we bless You for the things we have read today concerning our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray that You would direct our meditations in light of the knowledge of Your glory in the face of Christ. We we would see Jesus, and it’s in His name we pray. Amen.
There’s one thing from last week’s message that I want to clarify. Go back to Revelation 3:3 from last week’s passage. Look at the a clause.
“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent.”
– Revelation 3:3a, NIV84
What’s Jesus talking about? I believe He’s talking about the Gospel. I believe He’s talking about the good news concerning Himself, and concerning His kingdom. Now, we don’t often think about the Gospel (the good news) as something that needs to be obeyed, but it is.
- Even the Apostle Paul says so in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10.
“God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.” – 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10, NIV84
So, why am I bringing all this up? I feel after looking at today’s passage in Revelation 3:7-13 that the church at Philadelphia is one that has obeyed the Gospel.
- They have believed God, and it has paid off for them. Believing in God and staying faithful to Him always results in a divine reward. It may not result in an earthly reward, but it will always result in a divine reward.
So, first thing we’ll see here is how Jesus presents Himself to this church.
“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.” – Revelation 3:7, NIV84
First of all, we need to see Jesus’ character. Jesus is holy and true, and it’s for these reasons you can trust Him. Not only that, but He describes Himself as holding the key of David.
- Philadelphia was highly populated with Jews, and so most of the converts coming into the church at this time were Jews.
And because there were a lot of Jews in this area, they would often persecute the Christians, and they would hold it over their head that they were the ones that God brought out of Egypt, they were the ones that God provided for, etc.
- And technically, they weren’t wrong that God had done all those things for their people, but He provided them a way of salvation in Jesus as their Messiah and they completely rejected Him.
- In Deuteronomy 7:7-8, God describes His election of the people of Israel by saying, “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the Lord loved you…”
The Jews were using their election as a weapon, but it was in the plan of God the whole time to have a people worshipped and loved Jesus as their Messiah, and it all has to do with the fact that God loved us before the very foundations of the world were laid according to Ephesians 1.
- God electing love that He has placed us is not meant to be used as a weapon. It’s to make us humble.
- There are some people, and some of those people are here this morning who might say, “Of course God loves me, I’m nice, I’m cute. I do everything right. I’m in church every Sunday morning. I pay my tithes on the gross and not the net. Why wouldn’t God love me?”
- But the very thought of God’s electing love should make you say, “Me? He really loves me? He knew I would be a screw up and He loves me anyway?”
He loved us before we even knew what love was.
- Listen, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so” not “Jesus loves me this I know for I deserve it”
James Burton Coffman does a really good job of summing up the situation in Philadelphia:
“Secular Israel is still in power [in this part of the world] over the Jews in a religious sense, still pretended to have final right of determining who should or should not enter heaven, sternly resisting the claims of the Christians that they, the Christians, were the true Israel of God. To enforce their claims, the Jews cast out of their synagogues all Jews who accepted Christ… This passage emphasizes the truth that, “It is Christ alone… who can give men entrance into the messianic kingdom.” “Christ speaks as He by whom alone comes entrance to the Church, the spiritual house of God.” The imagery of “key of David” and other expressions here is from Isaiah 22:25, where the king of Israel deposed Shebna and appointed Eliakim as the chief-steward.” – James B. Coffman
The implication is clear: Jesus is showing the church at Philadelphia that He is the true king, and He holds the key of David.
- So, what does the key of David mean? Think about it like this: This is Jesus’ authority to open and close the kingdom of heaven, and he’s saying to this church here: “The door is wide open! Go out into the highways and byways, and compel people to come in.”
- So, what’s Jesus saying to us at Mount Carmel? “The door is wide open! Go out into the highways and byways, and compel people to come in!”
Jesus hasn’t sustained this church since 1883 just so we can have a neat little place for our family. This church isn’t simply for our individual families, it’s for His one big family, and we have an opportunity to invite more people into the family of God.
“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.” – Revelation 3:8, NIV84
I think the second part of verse 8 is very profound – “I know you have a little strength.”
- I asked you last week if you had an active and living faith. I didn’t ask you if you had a lot of faith, or even strong faith. All I asked you was if your faith was active and living. Why? Because that’s all it takes.
“The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”
– Luke 17:5-6, NIV84
So, what’s the idea that Jesus is communicating? He’s telling us that our faith isn’t based on how we feel or how big it may be. It’s not about the size of our faith, it’s about the object of our faith.
We may have a little strength, and we may have a little faith, but as long as our little faith is in our great big God, then He will supply all of our needs. (Philippians 4:19)
Jesus commends them more by saying, “yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.”
They’re not like the church at Sardis that blends in so well that they’re not persecuted. They’re not compromising like Thyatira. They are faithful.
So, if we’re going to be faithful like them, what do we need to do?
- We need to keep God’s word, and be faithful to His name.
Keeping God’s Word
- Mainline liberal churches are dying, and churches with a more faithful approach to Scripture are growing.
When Mark Driscoll started Mars Hill Church in Seattle it, they didn’t start the church with the intention of it being a big church. They just wanted to start a Bible study because there weren’t that many churches up there to begin with, and the few churches there were, didn’t even act like they believed in the authority of Scripture.
They interviewed a newly married couple that started attending there not to long after Mars Hill started and the husband said, “I’ve been church since I was a little kid and this is the first place where the pastor actually reads more than half a verse when he preaches.”
- We have to be faithful to the word of God if we’re going to be the kind of church that Jesus commends.
And not only do we have to be faithful to the word, but we have to be faithful to Christ’s name.
Faithful to Christ’s Name
Jesus tells the Church at Philadelphia at the end of verse 8, “you have kept my word, and have not denied my name.”
This means that the message we preach is Jesus. Paul said we preach Christ crucified. That’s it! (1 Corinthians 1:23) The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only way that people are saved, and if they turn their backs on us and reject us let be because they are rejecting Jesus.
I am reminded of what Paul said in his introduction to Romans.
“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God 2 the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures 3 regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, 4 and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. 5 Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” – Romans 1:1-5, NIV84
This is what it means to be faithful to His name!
- The Holy Spirit empowers us to speak the same Gospel of God the Son that God the Father had promised since the beginning of redemptive history.
- This message goes back to Genesis 3:15 when God told Satan, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head and you will strike his heel.”
And the most beautiful part is that the Gospel is not God’s Plan B! Satan was already defeated as soon as he got Eve to partake of the forbidden fruit.
- Our Gospel, our message that we preach, is Christus Victor! Jesus is victorious over Satan, over sin, over death, and over Hell! And it’s because of His victory that we can bow before Him and call Him Lord.
So far, we’ve looked at Christ’s Character, and Christ’s Commendation, but now we’re going to see The Church’s Vindication.
THE CHURCH’S VINDICATION
“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.” – Revelation 3:9, NIV84
If you remember, when we covered The Church in Smyrna, in Revelation 2:8-11, the problem there as well was that there were these people who were Jews and Jesus says they are of the synagogue of Satan. Jesus says that they claim to be Jews and they are not.
- The issue is not that they are pretending to ethnic Jews and they’re actually Gentiles, the problem is that they are trying to cast doubt in the face of Christians by flouting their heritage.
- This shouldn’t be too hard for us to imagine since this is exactly what happened during Jesus’ ministry in John 8.
- In John 8:39, the Pharisees were claiming that because they were sons of Abraham they’ve never been enslaved to anyone, and Jesus took them to school, and told them that they were actually children of their father, the devil. (John 8:44)
- So, this begs the question? Who are the real sons of Abraham? Who are the real Jews? This might ruffle some feathers, but real Jews are those who believe that Jesus is the Messiah. I’m not going to walk through it right now, but that’s what Galatians 3:6-29 tells us. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness (Galatians 3:6) and so those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham. (Galatians 3:9)
This church is living in Philadelphia, among a people thrive on oppressing them, and yet, Jesus says that these false Jews will fall at their feet and acknowledge that Christ has loved them as His own people.
I think Sam Storms is spot on here when he says, “Literally, Jesus says he will “give” these false Jews of the synagogue of Satan to the church at Philadelphia, i.e., he will cause them to bow down at their feet and to know that Jesus has loved them. Does this imply that these Jewish opponents will become Christians? Some say Yes and contend that the “open door” of v. 8 pertains specifically to evangelistic opportunity and success among the Jewish population of the city.”
Oppression in any form is an opportunity to love our enemies and share the Gospel with them.
One of the most interesting things about verse 9 is if you know the Old Testament fairly well, then you remember that there are many promises about the Gentiles coming to bow down before Israel in the last days, like in Isaiah 60:14 where it says “they” (the Gentiles) will call “you” (the Israelites) “the city of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel” and yet, here in Revelation 3:9, Jesus seems to be saying the opposite that these Jews are going to bow down at the feet of these believers.
But what Sam Storms believes is that what the Old Testament prophets like Isaiah saw was the fulfillment of the Church as God’s people, and that there will be Jews who come into the Church because they finally see Him as their Messiah and their Savior.
And this is ultimately our goal. We want people to see Jesus in us, and realize, as Augustine said, that’s there’s a God-sized hole in their hearts and only Jesus can fill it.
Maybe you’re here this morning, and you realize your need for Jesus.
Maybe you already see your need for Jesus and you’re already following Him faithfully, but you need more power, more strength, and more encouragement.
I’m not going to walk you through the Sinner’s Prayer or have you sign a card, but I will pray for you and with you if you would like. We have elders here who will pray with you and for you.
Maybe you need healing, we believing in anointing with oil, and we believe that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much, and that the prayer of the faith shall save the sick.
We believe all of these things because Jesus has done all of these things for a lot of us in this room at one time or another. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, we think about the promise You spoke to your prophets when You said, “I will be their God, and they will be my people” and we think, “That’s us? Really? We’re the best You could come up with?” But we quickly realize that You didn’t choose us because we were the best or even because we were good, but You chose us in Christ before the foundations of the world because You loved us. We don’t have to understand it, but we have to accept it for what it is.
 Storms, Sam. “The Letter to the Church at Philadelphia (3:7-13).” Sam Storms: Oklahoma City, OK, http://www.samstorms.com/all-articles/post/the-letter-to-the-church-at-philadelphia–3:7-13-.
TEXT: Revelation 3:1-6, NIV84
- This ends the reading of God’s Word.
- The Word of God for the People of God.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:
Almighty and Everlasting God, since we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from Your mouth, make us hunger for this heavenly food, that it may nourish us today in the ways of eternal life; through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven. Amen.
Pastor Donald Grey Barnhouse offered a scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say, “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am,” and the churches would be full every Sunday . . . where Christ is not preached.”
Honestly, this is what some of us might want. We like the idea of clean streets, respectful children, and everyone being all clean and tidy.
After all, this is what we want, right? We want the nice, pristine picture of a simpler time when everyone was clean-cut, children who act like Beaver Cleaver.
“Big deal that Christ isn’t being preached in our churches, at least they’re not out in the streets listening to rock music and doing drugs, right? At least they’re in church, right?” That would be out rationale anyway.
This is the city of Sardis, this the condition of the church of Sardis. They’re having church every week. They’ve got programs for church members of all ages. They’ve got Bible studies and Sunday school classes. They’re doing all the busywork that makes them look very much alive.
- Do you know what busywork is? Back when I worked in the convenience store business, I was the master of busywork. Busywork is the kind of work you do when you want to look busy. There was always a spot on the counter at Exxon that was so shiny you could see your reflection in it because I wiped that thing down when I got done with everything else because I knew if I didn’t, my manager would feel the need to get up from his easy chair in his office and tell me to find something to do.
- This is what the Church of Sardis is doing! They look busy, they look alive, and Jesus says they’re dead as a doornail.
A Picture of Jesus
“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.”- Revelation 3:1a, NIV84
I mentioned last week that each of these pictures of Jesus that we see in these seven letters reflects the initial picture of Jesus that John saw in Revelation 1.
In Revelation 1:12-13, John sees Jesus walking through seven golden lampstands, and then John sees Him holding seven stars in Revelation 1:16, and then in Revelation 1:20, Jesus tells Him what these mean.
“The mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand and of the seven golden lampstands is this: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.”
– Revelation 1:20, NIV84
Now, if we interpret Scripture with Scripture, and compare Revelation 1:20 to our text, then we see Jesus walking among seven lampstands, holding seven stars, and holds the seven spirits of God.
- Seven stars – Angels/Messengers/Pastors
- Seven lampstands – churches
- Seven spirits of God – a picture of the fullness of the Holy Spirit
Jesus gives both the Holy Spirit and the word to His messengers, (“to the angel of the church of _____ write…”) and His messengers give the word of God to the churches, and the churches relay the word of God to the world, and Jesus is the head of it all. Jesus is involved in all of it.
Jesus is the one who sees His church, and is walking among the churches. He is the One to whom we, as the church, must give an account.
The Problem of the Church
“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.”
– Revelation 3:1b-2, NIV84
Thom Rainer, a pastor and church revitalizer, wrote a book a couple of years ago called Autopsy of a Deceased Church. Basically, this book is a compilation of the most common reasons he’s found as to why churches go under, and this written from 30+ years of ministry experience.
In his book he talked about a few things that contribute to the death of a church, and I’m just going to run through three of them, and then I want us to see the common thread that runs through all of these.
- The Past is the Hero – Churches that have the past as their hero are blind to the reality of the declining church. Areas that they cling to are:
worship styles, facilities, pastors of the past, our own needs rather than the needs of those without Christ, the way we have always done things so we are comfortable.
- Refusing to Look Like the Community – Losing the children and grandchildren of those in the church, when the church does reach out, they ask the community to come to them rather than the church going to the community, the church becomes a fortress, keeping people and possessions on the inside safe while keeping people on the other side out. The church stops reaching and caring for the community.
- Preference-Driven rather than a Gospel-Driven – Attitude is self-serving, self-giving, self-entitled. A church by definition is a body of believers who function for the greater good of the congregation. When church members increasingly demand their own preferences, the church is steadily not becoming the church. The church dies because its members refuse to be the church.
- Pastoral Tenure Decreases – The pastor comes to the church and leads in a few changes. The members don’t like the changes and resist. The pastor becomes discouraged and leaves. The cycle repeats.
Now, when we think of a dead church, we might think of one where the building is only open once a week for one hour on Sundays, and no programs, but there are many dying churches that have an abundance of programs, but it’s all busywork.
The common thread that runs through all of these is a lack of correct focus.
- A church should be more focused on whether or not they’re actually pleasing God in worship than whether or not the songs they’re singing is coming out of the hymnal.
- A church should be more focused on whether or not a family down the road might not have enough groceries to get through the week than whether or not they can build a new building or remodel their bathrooms.
There’s two passages of Scripture that really show us where our focus should be. I’m going to read these passages, and what I would encourage you to do is write these down or print them out somewhere where you can see this every day.
“Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37-40, NKJV
“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” – Philippians 2:3-4, NKJV
When we talk about success we always think about it in terms of results – how much money we make, how big our building is, how nice of a job we have, but a truly successful life is made of you loving God, loving your neighbors, and putting other people’s interests ahead of yours, and I can guarantee you that that was the problem is Sardis. They weren’t successful in the things that mattered.
- You can’t love God, and love your neighbor and be a dead church. It’s impossible. So, if you’re Sardis, and Jesus says that you’re dead, then there’s something wrong with how you’re loving God and neighbor.
Part of the problem with Sardis is that they were really comfortable and secure.
The Church at Sardis didn’t suffer any persecution, and the reason for that is because there was a wealthy community of Jews in Sardis and Christians blended in so well that almost everyone outside of Sardis thought the church there was just a sect of Judaism.
- G.B. Caird called the church at Sardis “the perfect model of inoffensive Christianity.”
- I wonder how many of our churches we could say that about today. I wonder how many of our lives might reflect that statement.
- “Jesus is Lord… but that’s just my opinion.” – This isn’t like our political opinions where we can just pick a side based on what think benefits us most, this is a matter of real truth.
“Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.” – Revelation 3:2, NIV84
- The city was located on a hillside, and it had a big city wall around it so if you were an enemy and you wanted to take the city, it would be very difficult. You would have to scale the mountain, and then find a way up, over, or through the wall.
- Up to this point in the entire city’s history they had only been under siege twice, and both times it was because they got comfortable.
- They were not watching, they were not on guard, and they were not prepared for the enemy.
When the members of the church at Sardis would heard this letter they would know that Jesus is making a direct reference to them being overtaken, and what Jesus wants them to know and us to know is this: “If you think being overtaken by natural enemy is bad, it’s nothing compared to being overtaken by the devil.”
You heard me quote John 10:10 last week, and I’ll say it again: the devil’s job to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus has come that you might have life, and life more abundantly.
- So, what do you want? Do you want life or destruction?
If you want life, then run to Jesus, trust Jesus, sit at the feet of Jesus, and have an active and living faith in Jesus!
If you want destruction, then do what Sardis did:
- live off your reputation
- get comfortable in your pew
- Lose your edge
The reason G.B. Caird said that the church at Sardis is the perfect example of inoffensive Christianity is because according to the Apostle Paul, the preaching of the cross is offensive foolishness to those who are perishing.
- So, when the cross loses it’s offense, it’s because we’ve stopped preaching it properly.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
– 1 Corinthians 1:18, NIV84
- When someone hears the Gospel and believes that they can stay the same afterward, it’s because they are perishing, but if they hear the Gospel and want to be changed, and they want the life that Jesus offers, it’s because they are being made alive!
The Solution Jesus Provides
And so, what does Jesus do? Is there any hope for Sardis?
“Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” – Revelation 3:3, NIV84
Now, if you remember, this is very similar to what Jesus told the church at Ephesus back in Revelation 2:5. Remember?
“Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” – Revelation 2:5, NRSV
This is almost the same threat. In Ephesus, He tells them that if they don’t repent He’ll remove their lampstand, and here in Sardis, He says that He’ll come like a thief. I think the message is clear.
Jesus is promising judgement to those who are not repentant.
Jesus is promising to judgement to people live off their reputation.
- “Well, I prayed the Sinner’s prayer once and signed the back of my Bible.”
- “I went to Vacation Bible School.”
Do you have an active faith in Christ now? I’m not asking if once had. I’m not asking if you prayed a prayer or became a member of the church. I’m not asking if you were baptized. I’m asking you right now, in this moment: can you look at Christ in faith and see Him as your Savior or do you see Him as your judge?
The question is very simple: are you alive? Is your faith alive?
- I’m not asking if your faith is strong, I’m asking if it’s there. You can have a weak and puny faith, but God can work with that.
- But if you have a dead faith, then you will come under the divine judgement of God unless you are made alive in Christ.
“Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.” – Revelation 3:3-5, NIV84
If your faith is alive even if it’s puny, then there’s a reward for you because you’re holding on. And the reason you’re holding on is because God is holding on to you because Jesus says, on no uncertain terms, “I will never blot out his name from the book of life.”
- Hear me loudly and clearly: there is no possible way that you can twist this text to say that God will remove the names of His children from the Lamb’s book of life. If you’re a genuine believer with an active faith in Christ, then your name is there and it’s there to stay. Anything else is a lie from the pit of Hell and it smells like smoke.
- If you’re a faithful believer and you’re stuck in a church like Sardis, then this is what you need to hear from Jesus. You need to know that your perseverance in not in vain.
- You need to know that all those days you’ve spent believing in the Light in spite of the darkness around you isn’t for naught.
Jesus is saying, “Hold on, you can’t let go now! I’m going acknowledge you before my Father in Heaven.”
Do you realize the significance of that?
The end of verse 5 is a direct reference to Luke 9:26 when Jesus says, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and in the glory of the Father of the holy angels.”
This is right after Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
If you’re not ashamed of bearing the shame of the cross, then there’s a reward for you. This is exactly what we sing in The Old Rugged Cross.
To the old rugged cross/I will ever be true
It’s shame and reproach gladly bear/Then He’ll call me some day
To my home far away/Where His glory forever I’ll share
This kind of proclamation is strange to the world, but this is power for us. The proclamation of the cross is what causes us to see Jesus dealing with our sin by His death and resurrection.
- We can’t afford to blend in like Sardis and live off of our reputation.
- We can’t afford for the world to look at us and just assume we’re like everybody else.
We have to make our stance clear: we are a people that believe that Jesus has come in the flesh, Jesus has died, Jesus has risen, and He will return in power and glory to judge the living and the dead.
Heavenly Father, we come before You, and our hearts are exposed. You see all of our faults, our failures, and our shortcomings. You see everything laid out before You. We ask You to forgive us. Cleanse us by Your blood, and make us new creatures. Grant us life and repentance, and it’s in the name and by the power of Your Son, Jesus Christ, that we pray these things. Amen.
- Horton, Michael Scott. Christless Christianity: the Alternative Gospel of the American Church. BakerBooks, 2012.
TEXT: Revelation 2:18-29, NRSV
- This ends the reading of God’s Word.
- The Word of God for the People of God.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of His salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 
Between 1933 and 1936, the Spanish Civil War raged on and toward the end of that three year conflict, the fascist general Emilio Mola addressed a buttoned down Madrid, warning of the Republican government’s impending fall. He told of four army columns moving on Madrid, and then coined a term that has become synonymous with clandestine, subversive activities. He said that as the four regular columns marched on Madrid, within the capital his militant supporters whom he dubbed his “fifth column” would undermine the government from within the city. His prediction came true.
Since that time, others have used the term fifth column to refer to a group or organization within a country or political organization where their loyalty was expected, but instead, undermining and subverting from within. By the perception of loyalty, they carry out their plans of political anarchy or destruction.
Such a fifth column in the followers of the prophetess Jezebel was found in Thyatira, and exposed by Jesus Himself. This church so far, had done well in the face of opposition. But, unless the church took action, they would collapse from within.
Jezebel’s fifth column militants regularly infiltrate churches with an aim to destroy. It’s not that all realize what they are doing. They may lack any external structure for what they do. There may be no conspiracies or organized threats to the church. It’s just that they find the gospel too narrow, the Bible too outdated, and the sufficiency of Scripture too limiting; so that they eat away at the biblical foundation of the church like a horde of termites consuming wood. 
Of the seven cities of Revelation 2-3, Thyatira was the least important. And that’s where we need to begin.
To help us understand this, perhaps we should find some modern-day counterparts.
- For Ephesus, we might think of a city like Dallas, Texas. Lots of commerce and religion.
- For Smyrna, think of a city like Cairo where the Coptic Christians are regularly under persecution from the Islamic community around them.
- For Pergamum the closest equivalent might be Washington, D.C. with its worldly power and marble monuments.
What, then, would correspond to Thyatira? Perhaps we might think of Russellville.
- Population of both is around 20-25,000 
- Both are fairly ethnically diverse
- Both are industry cities. Most of the people in the River Valley (not all, but most) that have been at the same job for a long time are either factory workers or they have a trade.
- Although they didn’t have factories in Thyatira, they had a lot of trade guilds, and these guilds basically functioned as worker unions, and these guilds had members who practiced their trade and that contributed to their economy.
This morning, there’s a few ideas I want us to see here, hopefully we’ll see more than a few, but we’ll cover at least a few.
Jesus Sees His Church (v. 18)
First of all, notice the picture of Jesus that we see here. His eyes are a flame of fire, and his feet are burnished with Bronze.
If you didn’t know this already. Each of the images in the Seven Churches are connected to the description of Jesus that John gives back in Revelation 1.
“I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”
12 Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. 14 His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.” – Revelation 1:10-16, NRSV
Each of these images are significant and they say something about Jesus.
- When I think of eyes flaming like fire and feet with burnished bronze, I think that Jesus knows what’s going on. I don’t see Him sitting and gazing at the earth like some psychic might try to gaze into a crystal ball, He really knows what’s going on.
- One of God’s qualities is omniscience – His all-knowing ability. This means He doesn’t learn anything new because He already knows everything. He doesn’t change His plans on the fly because we do something with our free will that He didn’t expect, and I don’t we can comprehend that, and honestly, I don’t think we’re supposed to.
- That’s a lot of things we just don’t about what it’s like to be God, and that’s because it’s none of our business.
So, Jesus sees what’s going on, and because Jesus sees what’s going on, His feet are burnished with bronze. He’s ready for action.
- As I was reading the text, I thought of Romans 10:15 where Paul quotes Isaiah 52 by saying, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” And then in Ephesians 6:15 when Paul is listing of the different pieces of the armor of God, he says we should have our feed shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.
Now, in both of those passages, Paul is talking about how we should be ready to carry the Gospel, but think about the picture of Jesus’ feet here in Revelation 2. He’s getting to bring the Gospel of peace.
- You might ask, “Well, how is that?” Jesus creates peace by getting rid of those who are against the peace that He seeks to establish. Now, you can get rid of those people in two ways:
- You can convince them that what they’re doing and how they’re thinking is wrong, and they should repent, and fall in line with God’s Word.
- Or, you can directly remove them, and that’s what Jesus is threatening to do in verses 22-23 when He says things like, “I am throwing her on a sick… I will strike her children dead…”
I said a couple of weeks ago that we like the idea of Jesus being able to see us in our weakness because He can identify with us and help us as Hebrews says, and that’s true, but we often don’t like the idea of Jesus seeing us in a state of unrepentant sin because then we can’t get away with it anymore.
- Jesus sees us, and there’s mercy for us to repent, but there awaits judgement for us if we do not.
- Notice, I didn’t say, “mercy for us when we repent.” God’s mercy meets us where we are even in our sin, that’s why Jesus says about Jezebel, “I gave her time to repent.” You have mercy all the way up until it’s time for judgement, but when judgement comes it’s too late. When judgement comes every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10-11). You can repent of your sins and bow the knee to Him now while you have mercy because if He has to make you (and He will if you refuse now), then the time for mercy is over.
If you live your entire life never knowing Jesus, and never repenting of your sin, then your entire life is lived as what Jonathan Edwards would describe as “a walk over the pit of Hell with a rotten covering.”
But back to the main idea here: when we talk about Jesus seeing His church what we’re describing is Jesus’ to see not only the bad and the ugly, but also the good.
- Jesus is taking everything into account.
Jesus Sees the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (v. 19-23)
“I know your works—your love, faith, service, and patient endurance. I know that your last works are greater than the first.”
– Revelation 2:19, NRSV
Jesus acknowledges that they are a disciplined people, and here’s what I mean by that: faith, love, service, and endurance are things that our Christian life should be known by.
- It’s weird living in an area of the country called the “Bible belt” because I don’t think we’ve earned it. I’d be more comfortable calling this area the “church belt” maybe, but we’re certainly not a Bible belt.
- You all know what happened in New York this last week. The south is just as secular as they are, they’re just more honest and open about it up there. We can’t think that just because we’re a red state, and all our friends on social media are talking about being pro-life that we’re not living in a secular region. The only difference between Arkansas and New York is that many of us below the Mason-Dixon line are just using Christian language and sub-culture as a facade.
- There’s a church on every corner here, and if we really lived up to the name ‘Bible belt’ then, homelessness and healthcare wouldn’t be issues.
Well, I think I’ll meddle just a little bit. Read Matthew 5-7; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Timothy 5-6; and the entire book of James. After you’ve read all of that, be honest with yourself, “Does modern-day Christianity really look like this?”
A recent survey said that there are 2.19 Billion Christians in the world. The World population is about 7.5 Billion. If you do the math, that puts ⅓ of the population as professing Christians.
- If I took 1 pound of hamburger meat and seasoned it with ⅓ pound of salt, then that stuff would be so salty that you couldn’t eat it. So, don’t tell me that the body of Christ can’t do more to alleviate some of the suffering in our world.
If you don’t believe me, then find someone with a problem this week and help them find a solution. It doesn’t matter who it is, and it doesn’t matter what the problem is, big or small. Help someone find a solution to problem this week, and then watch what happens.
- Then magnify that effect by billions and tell me we can’t do more.
So, again back to the text, Jesus sees their faith, their love, their service, and their endurance. And not only does He see these things in them, but He sees them improving because He says, “I know your last works are greater than your first.”
- Jesus recognizes and affirms that there’s progress happening, and this is good news because sometimes growing up, we didn’t always get the affirmation that we needed from our fathers, but God is a perfect father, and He recognizes when we’ve done well.
Now, even though Jesus sees the good, he also sees the bad and the ugly.
“But I have this against you: you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet and is teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21 I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her fornication. 22 Beware, I am throwing her on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.” – Revelation 2:20-23, NRSV
I mentioned earlier that Thyatira had guilds, and these guilds were basically workers unions. Now, if these guilds had simply been worker unions of their time, then there would have been nothing wrong with that. After all, we have work unions now.
But these weren’t simply labor unions, according to Leon Morris, “membership involved attendance at guild banquets, and this in turn meant eating meat which had first been sacrificed to an idol. . . . That these meals all too readily degenerated into sexual looseness made matters worse.”
There were people in the church who were leaders, Jesus identifies them as Jezebel, and they were telling people that it was perfectly acceptable to participate in these festivals and ceremonies where guild members would act out in fornication and idolatry because after all, “these are times we’re living in, you gotta make a living somehow.” At least, that’s how I imagine they justified it.
And if you worked in a trade in Thyatira and you weren’t a member of a guild, then it was very hard to make a living, and if you did somehow manage to generate a lot of business, the guild members would either pressure you into joining the guild or run you out of town.
And even if you did join the guild, it was considered a major insult to abstain from engaging in all the drunkenness and debauchery.
I want you think about this: last week Jesus’ problem with the church at Pergamum was that they tolerated people who held to the teaching of “Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication.” (Revelation 2:14)
This week, Jesus is talking to the church at Thyatira, and what’s the problem? They tolerate Jezebel, another negative Old Testament figure, who is leading people to do what? She is “teaching and beguiling my servants to practice fornication and to eat food sacrificed to idols.”
So, what’s going on here? What’s the big deal about eating meat sacrificed to idols? According to Paul in 1 Corinthians 8:4-9, there’s nothing wrong with eating meat sacrificed to idols in and of itself, listen to what he says:
“So, what about eating meat that has been offered to idols? Well, we all know that an idol is not really a god and that there is only one God. 5 There may be so-called gods both in heaven and on earth, and some people actually worship many gods and many lords. 6 But for us,
There is one God, the Father,
by whom all things were created,
and for whom we live.
And there is one Lord, Jesus Christ,
through whom all things were created,
and through whom we live.
7 However, not all believers know this. Some are accustomed to thinking of idols as being real, so when they eat food that has been offered to idols, they think of it as the worship of real gods, and their weak consciences are violated. 8 It’s true that we can’t win God’s approval by what we eat. We don’t lose anything if we don’t eat it, and we don’t gain anything if we do.
9 But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.” – 1 Corinthians 8:4-9, NLT
Eating meat sacrificed to idols holds no real power over you because the idols aren’t real gods. They don’t exist.
- The real question isn’t “Will this sacrificed meat harm me spiritually?” The obvious answer is ‘No.’ The real question is, “Will this offend my brother who is from a pagan background?”
Now, let’s bring this back to our passage in Revelation 2. In Corinth, you might have been able to get away with having a Diana burger and some Zeus fries without bowing down at their altars, but this wasn’t an option in Thyatira or any of the other surrounding areas like Pergamum and Ephesus.
- If you were eating their food then you were worshiping their god, and if you weren’t eating their food this was an insult.
On top of all of this, you have a figure who is in leadership in the church, and she’s encouraging people to participate in paganism.
- It’s awfully hard to read this letter and not think of our current state of affairs.
You have people going to divinity school who are training to become pastors and priests who aren’t even saved, and they want Christians to have some commonalities with the world.
- I’ve been binge-watching Stanley Haurwas lectures for the last two days (some of you have probably seen some of his quotes that I’ve posted), and he was talking about giving a lecture at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas some years ago, and after his lecture, there was an extremely liberal theology professor who approached him (obviously angered by something he had said), and said, “Dr. Haurwas, may I ask why you failed to provide us with a theory of Christ that would allow Christians to have an open dialogue with Buddhists?”
- Stanley Haurwas said, “Exactly how many Buddhists do you have in Conway, Arkansas? And even if you had a theory, what good would a theory do you?”
People need the real deal. People need the real Jesus, they don’t need a theory.
The question we need to ask ourselves is are we giving people the real Jesus? Or are we just giving them a Jesus who looks and sounds like us and always agrees with us?
- If God always agrees with you, then maybe there’s something wrong.
Or maybe I should say it the same way Anne Lamott did, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
- Now, our problem when we hear something like that is to say, “Well, I don’t hate anybody” because we’ve been taught rightly how bad of a sin hate is, so instead we just mask our hate with a thing we’ve called ‘dislike’ and Ta-Da! Jesus doesn’t see it anymore because now it’s a socially acceptable prejudice.
Here’s the thing: if the Jesus we’re offering is one created in our own image then we’re no better than the Jezebel in Thyatira. It’s something we ought to give some serious thought to.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there.
Jesus Offers Encouragement and a Promise to Conquerors (v. 24-29)
“But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call ‘the deep things of Satan,’ to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden;” – Revelation 2:24, NRSV
- Remember Jesus is doing the same thing here that we saw last week, he’s making a distinction between the wheat and the tares. He knows which ones are the sheep and which ones are the goats.
“only hold fast to what you have until I come. 26 To everyone who conquers and continues to do my works to the end,
I will give authority over the nations;
27 to rule them with an iron rod,
as when clay pots are shattered—
28 even as I also received authority from my Father. To the one who conquers I will also give the morning star. 29 Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.” – Revelation 2:25-29, NRSV
If you’re not falling for the nonsense, then the best thing you can do is keep on keeping on because it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
“It is I, Jesus, who sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.” – Revelation 22:16, NRSV
In the end: we get what we started with: Jesus!
“Our Lord promises us Himself with all of His fullness and glory. What more could we dream or hope for? Listen, those of you who have ears to hear. The Spirit is talking to all the churches. We all need this reminder. We all need to hold on to this hope.” – Danny Akin
Heavenly Father, grant us life and peace as we pursue You and the life You have for us in Yourself. Remove all of the sin in our lives that builds barriers between us and You and us and one another. Give us a genuine love and appreciation for one another as we seek glorify You. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
- Book of Common Prayer, pg. 215, Third Sunday after Epiphany
- “South Woods Baptist Church.” Sermons from the Book of Revelation, archive.southwoodsbc.org/sermons/revelation_02.18-29.php.
- “The Church at Thyatira.” Faithlife Sermons, sermons.faithlife.com/sermons/46100-the-church-at-thyatira.
- Akin, Daniel L., et al. Exalting Jesus in Revelation. Holman Reference, 2016.
TEXT: Revelation 2:12-17, NRSV
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:
God of all Wisdom, we have gathered before You to read your holy Word and to be guided by it. Send your Spirit to this place that we might feast upon Your word and digest its meaning to fill our souls with Your wisdom and truth. In name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. 
If you were to travel to the West African country of Liberia 25 years ago, the danger was clear and present. Civil unrest. Armed insurgencies. Political instability. In the 1990’s, the country had become a killing field. But if you would have traveled to Liberia just five years ago, the danger would not have been so obvious. Most likely, you would not find yourself looking down the barrel of a machine gun. But 5 years ago, a simple sneeze could have killed you. As we now know, the Ebola outbreak was just beginning. As of October 2014, almost 2500 Liberians had died from the disease.
This morning, as we once again explore the book of the Revelation together, we will also discover that sometimes, we can become blind to what is truly dangerous. 
Some of the most dangerous poisons are the ones that go undetected until it’s too late. Nothing will poison the body of Christ like the poison of compromise. 
Just listen to what some of those who have gone before have us about this.
“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…” – C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters
“A new Decalogue has been adopted by the neo-Christians of our day, ‘Thou shalt not disagree,’ and a new set of Beatitudes too, ‘Blessed are they that tolerate everything for they shall not be made accountable.’” – A.W. Tozer
“Truth always carries confrontation. Truth demands confrontation; loving confrontation nevertheless. If our reflex action is always accommodation of the centrality of the truth involved, there is something wrong.” – Francis Schaeffer
THE SWORD OF HIS MOUTH
“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword” – Revelation 2:12, NRSV
We know from the context clues of the rest of Scripture (Revelation 1:16; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 19:11-16), that this sword is God’s authoritative word.
- Whatever God speaks, happens. His word doesn’t go forth void.
What the Sword Means
- According to Paul in Romans 13:4, governments bear a sword.
- Swords are symbols of authority, and unless someone isn’t using their authority correctly or their being immoral (etc.) then you typically shouldn’t argue with someone that God has given authority to.
- Just like guns are typically (not always) symbols of authority. A police officer pulled me over on Friday and he said I was going too fast. I didn’t believe him, but I don’t think it would have behooved me to argue with someone who wields a firearm.
- Jesus is telling them to fear the sword of God rather than the sword of the government.
“As the earliest Christians found in Acts, the church always has to be able to say ‘We must obey God rather than human authorities’, even if the ‘authorities’ in question are not the official magistrates (though the magistrates, too, may pose a threat if the Christians refuse to join in with state religion) but simply the insidious pressures of people saying ‘but this is what everybody does’.
Jesus’ response is clear. The Roman governor may wield the sword, but Jesus has the sharp two-edged sword coming out of his mouth (verses 12, 16, as in 1.16). His word will cut through the half-hearted spirituality that is happy to face both ways at once.“ – N.T. Wright, Revelation for Everyone
What the Sword Does
This sword that’s coming out of Jesus’ mouth is the word of God.
God’s word is His is message to us, but it’s not just His message, it’s His authority, and listen to what it does.
“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” – Hebrews 4:12-13, NRSV
- The word of God reveals everything when it gets inside of us, and it has to. When you go into a room in your house to clean it out, you’ve got to turn on the light to see what’s in there so you know what to throw away, and that’s what God’s word does with us.
- According to James 1, the word of God is like a mirror and when look at it, and don’t do what it says it’s as if you look at yourself in the mirror and then walk away forgetting what you look like.
But our passage in Revelation 2 describes the word of God as a two edged sword. The two edges of the sword are God’s ability to kill and make alive by His word. Look at Deuteronomy 32 just a minute and listen to part of the song of Moses.
“See now that I, even I, am he; there is no god besides me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and no one can deliver from my hand. 40 For I lift up my hand to heaven, and swear: As I live forever, 41 when I whet my flashing sword, and my hand takes hold on judgment; I will take vengeance on my adversaries, and will repay those who hate me.”
– Deuteronomy 32:39-41, NRSV
Now, the question is which edge of the sword are you going to get?
Some might say, “Well, that’s just Old Testament stuff. We’re under the new covenant now. God was mean and nasty then, but since Jesus came along He’s really chilled out.”
- A lot of people really interpret Scripture that way, but God hasn’t changed.
This is what’s going to happen, according to Revelation 19, in the New Testament.
“Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war… 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God… 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” – Revelation 19:11, 13, 15-16, NRSV
This is what Jesus means in verse 16 of our text when He says, “Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.”
A TESTIMONY OF FAITHFULNESS
“I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name, and you did not deny your faith in me even in the days of Antipas my witness, my faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan lives.” – Revelation 2:13, NRSV
The commendation here is simple: considering, you live where Satan lives, you’ve been faithful.
“Pergamos was the first city in Asia to build a temple dedicated to the worship of a living emperor. Hence, Satan’s throne, where he holds court, can also indicate the altar where Caesar was worshiped as lord, and/or where the Roman governor sat in his judgment seat, dealing out capital punishment by the “law of the sword.”
– Orthodox Study Bible
- As I said last week, in that time and in that part of the world, there was no separation of church and state. In that time and place, the state was the church, and caesar was their god. The motto of the state was “Caesar is Lord.”
- The phrase “Jesus is Lord” is not simply a religious message, it’s a political message. It’s political message that says we will have no king, but Christ.
“According to tradition, the early martyr Antipas was bishop of Pergamos and was martyred in AD 92 by being burned to death in a heated bronze bull, having witnessed before the Roman governor that Jesus is Lord.” – Orthodox Study Bible
We need pastors and church leaders like Antipas with a backbone who will stand up and say, “Hello, World! Jesus bought this place with His blood. Deal with it.” (Tony Sumpter, Blood-Bought World)
So, so far we see that they have a Testimony of Faithfulness, but unfortunately, they also have a Tolerance for Corruption.
A TOLERANCE FOR CORRUPTION
“But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the people of Israel, so that they would eat food sacrificed to idols and practice fornication. 15 So you also have some who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” – Revelation 2:14-15, NRSV
The first problem Jesus addresses is that there’s people who hold to the teaching of Balaam.
- In order to really understand that you have to go back and read chapters 25-31 of Numbers. Basically, Balak is a king of Moab and he’s afraid that the people of Israel are going to come in and take up his land. What he doesn’t know is that God commanded Israel earlier not to touch anything that belonged to Moab.
- So, he acts out of fear and contacts a man named Balaam. Balaam is a Moabite, he’s not an Israelite, he’s a pagan Gentile. Brandon Hanson actually describes Balaam like this: “He was a thief and a trickster who meddled with powers beyond his comprehension… He was one who regularly dealt with demons disguised as various deities, making deals and inquiring of them for the knowledge he needed to perform spells and incantations, blessings and curses. Like Prometheus who stole fire from Zeus, Balaam sought to steal “fire” of his own—divine knowledge for his personal gain.” 
- Balaam was the kind of guy you would contact if you wanted a voodoo doll made. He was a Hocus Pocus Hitman.
- Balak contacts Balaam to put a curse on Israel, and Balaam soon realizes that he can’t. God speaks to him several times and actually causes him to bless Israel instead of curse them. Balak finally parted company with Balaam who could do nothing but bless Israel. But as Balaam is leaving, he offers one last piece of advice: Moab might defeat Israel if he told the Moabite women to prostitute themselves amongst Israel and invite them to worship their gods, eat their food offered to their idols, and sacrifice.
- What Balak is really saying is “If you can’t put a curse on them, then maybe you can get them to do things that are conducive to a curse. All you have to do is get them to do things that will invite chaos and destruction into their life, and they will take care of themselves.”
Satan doesn’t have to come into your house and knock stuff around for you to be under a curse. All he has to do is get you to do things that invite chaos into your life, and I’m not talking about something stupid like yoga or whatever.
- Pride, Envy, Lust, Wrath, Greed, Sloth, Gluttony – There’s a reason the Catholic Church called these the seven deadly sins. Every time you sin, it’s because you give in to one of these seven things.
- The cycle of sin is usually the same: we think we’re entitled to something, or we think we deserve better than what we have (pride), so we want something we can’t have (envy, greed, lust), so we lash out at those around us (wrath), and then we’re depressed and we overindulge in the things that we can have (sloth and gluttony.)
So, what then is the teaching of Balaam? The teaching of Balaam is that if you don’t like God’s Word, then just change it. Believe a different word. Balaam basically told Balak that if he didn’t like God’s word of blessing, then maybe he could get Israel to go whoring after other gods and get them to believe a different, a word other than the one God has spoken.
- This is what people do when they don’t like God’s word, they try to change it. This is what society does when they say, “Well, I identify as…. Whatever.” God has established reality, and whenever people think they do something like change their gender, what they’re saying is, “I don’t like what is true so I’m going to change it.” What else do you expect from a society that believes truth is all relative?
- The cry of much of the LGBT community is “Live your truth.” No, live THE truth. There’s only one truth, and you can’t change it.
One more thing that I thought was so profound about this passage is the way that Jesus addresses the church.
- He doesn’t say, “You people are a bunch of heretics and Nicolaitans and heretics.”
- Instead He says, “You have heretics and Nicolaitans among you.”
And what this reminded me of was Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares. That kept coming to my mind all week while I was reading this passage. I want us to think about the parable and see if there’s some comparisons that can be drawn here.
We remember the parable of the wheat and tares, right?
- You’ve got a wheatfield. And then while everyone is asleep an enemy comes in and plants tares or weeds among the wheat.
- One of the slaves notices it and said to the owner of field, “I know you have sown good seed, but an enemy came in and planted these weeds.” And the slave asks, “Do you want us to pull up the weeds?”
“But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30 Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” – Matthew 13:29-30, NRSV
So, what you have here is a congregation that has wheat and tares.
- Jesus is addressing the wheat, and He’s saying, “I have this against you that you have some here who are tares.”
And what is Jesus’ solution to all of this? He doesn’t say, “Kick these people out.” He doesn’t tell them to go on an inquisition in an effort to “cleanse” the church – He simply tells them to repent.
THE INVITATION TO REPENT AND LISTEN
“Repent then. If not, I will come to you soon and make war against them with the sword of my mouth.” – Revelation 2:16, NRSV
What Jesus says is very simple – repent. He doesn’t lay out a 5 step church growth program or anything like that, just repent.
- Repentance means turning to Christ, and turning away from your sin. When the church as a whole begins the process of repenting together, then you won’t have to weed out the tares, they’ll weed themselves out.
People who don’t want the uncensored, unfiltered Gospel of Jesus Christ won’t stay in a place where it’s preached for very long.
Here’s the invitation.
“Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.” – Revelation 2:17, NRSV
Why hidden manna? Why a white stone with a new name?
It’s simple. They’re living in a secular, pagan wilderness where they are in danger of being killed for their faith, and while everyone else is out in the open, running to the temple of Caesar, and worshipping at the altar of Zeus in search of some blessing, they don’t need a temple. Their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Their sacrifice is one of praise and reasonable service. (Romans 12:1-2; Hebrews 13:15)
It’s the same for us. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, we have been bought with a price, and our sacrifice is one of worship and reasonable service.
- And part of our reasonable service to proclaim to the world that Jesus bought this place with His blood, and He sits on His throne.
Think about it, Jesus tells the church, “You live where Satan’s throne is.” Their job was declare that is Jesus is on His throne even though Satan was on his throne. That’s bold, and that’s possible because Jesus already defeated Satan 2,000 years on an old rugged cross, and Jesus got up three days later to affirm that victory. Jesus lives and because He lives, so do we. Let’s pray.
Heavenly Father, Your Word is life and light. Give us the power to declare Your name even in the darkest of places, even where Satan’s throne is. Give us strength to share Your victory with those feel as those they’re defeated. In the name of Your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
- Based on the Prayer for Illumination found here: “Prayer for Illumination | Epiphany 3C | January 24th, 2016.” Liturgy & Hymns By Stephen M. Fearing, http://www.stephenmfearing.com/liturgy//prayer-for-illumination-epiphany-3c-january-24th-2016.
- Church Plant Media. “Pergamum: Constant, But Compromised (Revelation 2:12-17).” Way of Grace Church: Buckeye, AZ, http://www.wayofgracechurch.com/sermons/sermon/2014-10-19/pergamum:-constant-but-compromised-revelation-2:12-17.
- Akin, Daniel L., et al. Exalting Jesus in Revelation. Holman Reference, 2016.
- Wright, N. T. Revelation for Everyone. Westminster John Knox, 2015.
- Hanson, Brandon. “Revelation 2:12-17 | To the Church in Pergamum: Part 2 | 016.” Christ Hold Fast, 16 Jan. 2019, http://www.christholdfast.org/blog/revelation-212-17-to-the-church-in-pergamum-part-2-016.
- ” “
There’ll be singing, there’ll be shouting
There’ll be sorrow, there’ll be pain;
There’ll be weeping, there’ll be praying,
When our Lord shall come again.
Words to hymns like these filled the air every Sunday morning, and every Sunday and Wednesday evening. In those days, we didn’t have to wait for our Lord to come again hear singing, shouting, weeping, and praying. In those days you never knew what was going to happen, what songs were going to be sung, or who had “the key to the service.”
We would be in a worship service and the pastor of the church (usually) would stand up in the middle of the service and say, “Someone has the key to this service! All you have to do is obey God!” And then sure enough, someone would spontaneously shout, dance, pray for someone who was sick, share a testimony of their salvation, or sing a song, and the whole atmosphere be filled with the peace of heaven.
As much as my hardshell Calvinistic theology would like to inform me that this goes against the “regulative principle of worship” or that “things simply don’t happen like that,” I’ve seen an entire congregation come to life with godly joy over someone simply coming down to the altar for prayer.
There wasn’t a “repeat this prayer and you’ll be saved” kind of rhetoric (most of the time). There were genuine, Jesus-loving people who want to help you communicate with God in prayer.
Tim Challies wrote an article about a well-known leader the early Pentecostal movement, and someone who commented on the article was disparaging their own Pentecostal upbringing (they are Reformed now). I am also Reformed now. I’m a Calvinist, and I hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith (with some minor caveats), I can’t disparage my roots. Maybe their experience was bad, but mine wasn’t. Granted, I’m not going to say that everything I witnessed go on in a Pentecostal church during a worship service was right and biblical because it wasn’t, but overall, I feel as though my upbringing helped me more than hurt me.
My grandparents taught me the Bible. By the time I was in my teens I could quote more Scripture from King James Version of the Bible than anybody my age, and it wasn’t because I participated in Bible Quiz Bowls or sword drills. My grandparents didn’t pressure me to memorize verses or play with Bible flash cards. They didn’t do in-home discipleship, family worship, devotions, or anything like that. They simply lived godly lives at home in front me, and as a result, I learned the Bible by watching how much they valued the Bible. I learned hymns by listening to my grandma sing while she was doing chores around the house. When she taught me to play piano, she taught me to play hymns and southern gospel because that’s all she knew.
When other people talk about their bad experiences in Pentecostalism, I have to sigh and unfortunately say, “I know.” I’m all too familiar with the legalistic horror stories of young women being called whores because they had a little blush on or because they wore a pair of knee-length shorts that might cause someone “to stumble” *eye rolls* …whatever.
In those moments, I can only wish they had had my experiences. My experiences weren’t completely free of legalism and unwarranted insecurities, but those things didn’t matter when the worship service would start (or at least, those things didn’t matter to me).
I was free and somehow, I knew it.