A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
The letters to the churches of Philadelphia and Laodicea will bring our study on the Seven Letters to the Seven Churches of Revelation 2 and 3 to a conclusion.
To the Church in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13)
“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:
Philadelphia means brotherly love.
In the chronicle of church history, Philadelphia represents the evangelical church born in the 1800s during the 2nd Great Awakening. (The first took place about 100 years earlier primarily in the Northern colonies.)
For centuries scholars had taught an allegorical interpretation of scripture, especially prophecy, but in the mid-1800s, the rank and file were energized by a return to the literal interpretation. The pre-tribulation Rapture and 1000 year reign of the Lord on Earth, views that were prevalent during the 1st Century but abandoned with the allegorical interpretation, were once again popular. The church was born again.
[Title] 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.
Jesus is the Messiah who holds the keys to the Davidic Kingdom. He alone has the authority to grant and refuse entry.
[Commendation] 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. 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.
The open door is the one through which John will enter Heaven in chapter 4 to stand before the Throne of God, a type of the Rapture. The Church in Philadelphia, receiving no criticism, is also granted admission. This is symbolic of the fact that for those saved by grace through faith, it’s as if they’ve never committed a single sin. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21)
In the 1st Century, Philadelphia, like other gentile churches of the day, was beset by “Judiazers.” They insisted that before a Gentile could become a Christian, he had to become a Jew and keep the law. They’ll be forced to admit that the path to Christianity did not lie through Judaism, but went straight to the foot of the cross.
In the latter days, the advocates of Replacement Theology (those believing the church has replaced Israel) and other groups claiming Israel’s inheritance as the favored children of God, will also be required to bow down before the true church and admit the error of their ways.
[Admonition] Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth.
This the Lord’s promise of a pre-trib rapture. The Greek word translated “from” in this passage literally means “out of altogether” and excludes us from the time, place, and cause of the end times judgments. Only one “hour of trial” is prophesied to be world-wide, and only one is designed for the Earth dwellers. It’s the Great Tribulation. Throughout the balance of Revelation, the church is referred to as those who dwell in Heaven.
[Call] I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
Here’s one of those places that distinguishes the free gift of salvation from the crowns we’ll earn as prizes for things we do in the Lord’s name out of gratitude for His gift. One of those crowns is reserved for those who long for His appearing (2 Tim. 4:8), and that describes the attitude of the Church in Philadelphia perfectly.
The Greek word translated soon in the NIV actually means speedily. When He comes, He’ll come suddenly, without warning. Don’t let anyone talk you out of the promise of His coming. Don’t lose hope!
[Challenge] Him who overcomes I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will he leave it. I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on him my new name.
Who is it that overcomes the world, John asks? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:5) Throughout the seven letters, the overcomers are those who resist the additions and deletions humanity has made to the Lord’s salvation equation and remain steadfast in the belief that we’re saved by grace alone.
The New Jerusalem is the home of the church. Nothing impure can ever enter it, only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. (Rev. 21:27) With all that identification, there will be no doubt as to who is authorized to live there.
[Promise] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Once again, we’re admonished to stick to the basics of the Gospel. Keep to His Word. Don’t deny His name. Hold on to your convictions. Keep looking up.
It was a clear and beautiful day when we arrived in Philadelphia, modern Alashehir, just after lunch. Perfect timing, I thought, since historical sites in Turkey often close at 3:00 PM. We spotted the signs pointing the way to the church site and arrived without difficulty about 1:30. It was a quiet neighborhood, and the site itself was like a park, green and clean.
The sign on the gate told us we were there during visiting hours, and, like the other sites we had visited, there was a little office for collecting fees and distributing literature. The door was open, and we entered the site. But unlike every other place, though we stayed for almost an hour, we saw neither visitor nor employee. It was as if everyone from the Church in Philadelphia had disappeared, just like the Lord promised.
To the Church in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22)
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
Laodicea means “the people rule.” The Laodicean church represents the apostate church at the end of the age. Many in the New Age and Emergent Church movements are part of this church.
[Title] These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.
He’s letting them know that they don’t rule the church, He does.
[Criticism] I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 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.
The church in Laodicea receives no commendation, only this criticism, rich in symbolic sarcasm. Laodicea got its water from nearby Hierapolis, a hot spring resort that still flourishes today, now called Pamukkale. The water came across the valley in an open aqueduct. Having begun its journey fresh from the hot springs, it was lukewarm by the time it arrived. Too cool to be used for cleaning or bathing, and too warm to be refreshing, it was unfit for use until it could be either heated up or cooled down.
The fire of the Spirit had gone from the Church in Laodicea, leaving its members engaged in “form without substance” ritual. Not that they minded. They were happy as clams with their no commitment, no responsibility religion. So it is in much of the emergent church today. They look like a church and do some things that a church does, but you won’t detect the power of the Holy Spirit there, and the Gospel of our salvation is only obvious by its absence. Even though their congregations are often large and well-financed, their spiritual condition is one of poverty.
[Admonition] 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.
Laodicea was a prosperous regional banking center, also famous for a rich black wool cloth its residents produced, and a soothing salve that helped reduce the painful effects of eye strain caused by astigmatism. They were rich in the worldly sense but poor in the things of the Spirit, thought themselves well dressed in their shiny black wool, but lacking the white robes of righteousness they were actually naked, able to see all the opportunities for worldly gain, but in need of a healthy dose of the Lord’s eye salve to restore their eternal perspective. Sound like anyone you know? The Church of Laodicea is alive and prospering in the 21st Century.
[Call] Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 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.
Often called the great evangelistic call, this passage screams out one extraordinary fact. The Lord’s standing outside! He’s knocking on the door trying to get in, hoping (dare I say praying?) that someone, anyone, will hear His voice and invite Him in. If they do, He’ll say, “Better change your mind about your need for a savior. Time’s about up.”
[Challenge] 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.
Right up until the time of the Rapture, anyone in the Church of Laodicea can recognize his or her need for a savior and look to the Lord for salvation. And even if it makes them the very last member of the Body of Christ, they’ll receive full rights and privileges. The number’s almost complete. If you’re a Laodicean reading this, you just may be the one we’re all waiting for.
[Promise] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
There’s a bit of the Laodicean in all of us. Some part of the Word we’re lukewarm about, some area of our life where we think we’re self-sufficient, some sin we’ve blinded ourselves to. Let’s get right about it while there’s time.
As we stood beside the Greek amphitheater that morning (Laodicea has both Greek and Roman amphitheaters), it was clear that the Laodiceans did not hear the Lord knocking at their door. What remained of the church was but an empty shell.
Let’s Get Personal
As you sit in your seat each Sunday, regardless of the sign on the church door, you’re joined by folks from Thyatira. They’re the ones who add to the Gospel: Jesus plus someone or something else, grace plus works, scripture plus tradition. There are also some from Sardis. They subtract from the Gospel. “You don’t need to be born again, just join the church, give some time and money, you’ll be fine.” And then there’s the group from Laodicea. “Jesus was a great man and teacher. He lived a life of such gentleness and grace that it’s ALMOST as if he was God. Just love everybody like he did. The good life you live is an obvious sign of your favor with God, and everyone knows there’s no real heaven, I mean come on.”
But if you know you’re a sinner and have given your heart to Jesus because He gave His life for you, then you’re from Philadelphia. There may be some others there with you, but you’ll never really know for sure how many till you all vanish together someday soon. And don’t be surprised when you’re joined by some who are Catholic, some who are Protestant, some conservatives, some liberals, and even some who didn’t appear to attend any church at all. After all, it’s not what you say you are, but what you believe in your heart that matters.
Next time we’ll begin part three of the Revelation, “the things that will be after this.” See you then.