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Revelation 3:1-13: Wake Up and Hold Fast Print E-mail
Sunday, 04 March 2012

Jesus is what the Church needs.  Our redemption is completely contingent upon Him.  Our mission is defined by His life, death, and resurrection.  Our hope rests in the promises that He has made us.  Our strength to persevere, our love for one another and the lost world, our patient endurance are all rooted in His person and work.  The letters to the seven churches in Revelation make this plain.  Each letter begins with a description of Jesus that has particular significance for the particular Church that is being addressed.  Who He is and what He has done informs and defines every aspect of the Church.  And just like those churches so many years ago, it still remains true that Jesus is what we need.  We look to Him to know who we are and who we are to be by His grace.  He is what we need.

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This morning we are looking at the letters to Sardis and Philadelphia.  Even though the order is rearranged in these letters, they still open with a description of Christ that these two Churches desperately needed to hear.  Sardis has not remained faithful and is dead and dying.  Yet, the Lord speaks to them and reminds them of the only path to life.  Philadelphia, like Smyrna, does not receive any correction but is encouraged to hold fast in the midst of great suffering and persecution.  Jesus is what these churches need.  As we look at what He says to them this morning, may we indeed hear what He is saying to us and how we are to follow Him.  We will follow the basic outline that we have identified for each of the letters this morning.

The Letter to Sardis (v. 1-6)

The introduction/description of Jesus for Sardis is found in the beginning of verse 1.  Look at that with me.  Jesus is the One who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.  As we said a few weeks ago, the Ďseven spiritsí most likely refers to the Holy Spirit who gives life and sustenance to the churches, which the Church at Sardis needed (as we will see).  We are told that the Ďseven starsí refers to the angels of the churches (see 1:20).  Jesus is in control of the churches.  They must look to Him for all that they need.

Unlike the other letters, the letter to Sardis begins with negative statements.  Look at verses 1b-2.  The Church is rebuked for two reasons.  First, instead of being alive they are actually dead.  Apparently, the Church in Sardis had the reputation of being alive.  Perhaps they looked like a healthy Church from the outside.  But their reputation was false.  They were actually dead and dying.  Instead of progressing like the Church at Thyatira, the Church at Sardis had stalled and was on the brink of complete destruction.  The second reason for rebuke is similar to the first: I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.  They evidently had done some works for the Lord at some point and were perhaps still doing some, but they were not complete.  They were apparently half-hearted and lacking what the Lord required.  It reminds me of a house that has been completed on the outside, but when you go inside the front door all you see is studs and wires and trash.  It might look good from the street, but you donít want to live there.  The Church in Sardis had serious problems and the Lord was not fooled by their false reputation.

Yet, a few remained faithful.  Look at verse 4.  There were some who had not given themselves over to sin and accommodation of the culture.  They had kept themselves unstained.  They had refused to follow what apparently the majority were doing at the Church.

So then, what commands are given to this Church?  Look at verses 2a and 3a.  They are told to wake up.  Sardis was a city that was located on a high bluff that was only accessible from one direction.  Such a location provided the city protection from attacking armies.  This caused them to grow lax in their defenses.  Yet, twice in their history, they had been captured by people finding other ways to attack the city and take advantage of their weak defenses.  Both attacks were carried out at night.  Thus, the call to Ďwake upí should not be lost on this city.  Like the cities defenses, the Church had grown lax in its defenses and opened itself up to imminent destruction.  For their own survival Jesus tells them to wake up and strengthen what remains.  Like the Ephesians (see 2:5), they are to remember what they had done before, repent, and return to their former ways.  If they do not, then the Lord will judge them.  Look at verse 3b.  Normally the simile of the thief in the night is a reference to the final judgment, but here it seems to refer to an immediate judgment of the Church (which still points to the final judgment).  The Church in Sardis must wake up.  They must repent.  If not, then they will be judged.

But what about those who have remained faithful and those who do repent?  Jesus promises to those who have not stained their garments that they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy (v. 4b).  They are worthy because they have not forfeited their faith and shown themselves to be unbelievers.  They have persevered and the Lord will grant them to be with Him forever, justified and dressed in white.  This is what awaits for those who conquer.  Look at verses 5-6.  Jesus gives them three promises.  First, they will be dressed in white, they will be justified and pure.  Second, their names will not be removed from the book of life.  Let the world and the Devil do their worst, they have no control over Godís book of life.  Some take this to mean that people can lose their salvation, but that is not the point of the verse.  Rather, it refers to the security that we have in Christ by stating it negatively.  Third, Jesus will confess the name of all those who conquer before my Father and before his angels.  If we do not deny Him, then He will not deny us.  He will bring us into the presence of the Father.

The letter to Philadelphia (v. 7-13)

Philadelphia and Smyrna are the only two churches that do not receive a rebuke.  And apparently their situations were similar.  The introduction/description of Jesus is found in verse 7.  Look at that with me.  Jesus is described as the holy one, the true one.  These are terms that are applied to God in the Old Testament, demonstrating Jesusí deity.  He is also the One who has the key of David.  This reference likely points to the passage from Isaiah 22 that we read earlier.  Isaiah describes how authority was taken from Shebna and given to Eliakim.  Jesus uses it here to point out that He is the One who has true authority over the New Jerusalem.  He opens the doors and He shuts the doors.  He has authority over who is in and who is out of the Kingdom.  No one can thwart His control, which is a great comfort to the Church in Philadelphia, as we will see.

The Lord commends the Church in verse 8.  Look at that with me.  The Church in Philadelphia was not big and they had little power, but even so, they had remained faithful to Christ.  They had kept His word and not denied His name.  In contrast to the Church in Sardis, they had no reputation, but the Lord knew that they were faithful to Him. 

Because of their faithfulness, the Lord tells them what He is going to do for them.  First, He is going to deal with their enemies.  Look at verse 9.  As in Smyrna, the Jews were persecuting the Christians in Philadelphia.  Some argue that the Jews had probably forced the Christians out of the synagogue, which symbolized them being thrown out of the Kingdom.  Yet, what has Jesus just told them?  Only He has the power over who is in and who is out of the Kingdom.  And He has opened a door to them which no one is able to shut (v. 8).  These false Jews cannot keep them out of the family of God.  In fact, by rejecting Jesus they have shown that they are not truly a part of the people of God.  And one day this will be clear to all.  The Lord will cause these enemies of the faith to bow at the feet of the faithful.  They will know on that day that the Lord has loved those faithful to Jesus.  He has set His affection on them.  What a thought!  Second, Jesus is going to preserve them through the coming trials.  Look at verse 10.  These believers were patiently enduring.  Thus, the Lord will see them through the coming trials, which probably refers to the difficult days that will precede Christís return.  Yet, it also points to the continual trials that the believers in Philadelphia will face along with all believers until Christ comes.  Christ will guard His own through the darkest of days and worst of trials.

What commands does Jesus have for this Church?  Look at verse 11.  The believers are to hold fast what you have.  Again, this probably refers to them holding fast to the gospel.  Christ has come in the flesh to die on the cross for our sins.  He is coming again for all of those who turn from their sins and trust in Him.  The good news that has saved them is the good news that will see them through.  They are to persevere in believing it, practicing it, and proclaiming it, for He is coming soon.  Any who do not persevere will show themselves to be unbelievers and forfeit their crown. 

Those who conquer are given two promises at the end of this letter.  Look at verses 12-13.  First, they are promised to be a pillar in Godís temple.  What does this symbolize?  The pillar symbolizes the permanence of the believerís access to Godís presence.  They will be with Him forever and they will never have to leave it.  Second, they are promised to be given the name of God, the name of His city, and the name of Christ.  All of these point to the intimacy and permanence that believers will enjoy with God.  He will give us His name.  We will dwell with Him in His city, the New Jerusalem, which John will describe more at the end of the book.  He will give us the name of our victorious Savior, who had died and rose again and is now seated at the right hand of the Father.  All these names will be written on the one who conquers.

Only a handful of faithful believers remain in Sardis.  The Church in Philadelphia is faithful, but it has little power.  The Church in Sardis in on the brink of death since the majority has grown lax in their faith.  The city of Philadelphia contains a group of Jews that are intent on persecuting the Christians.  So what are these Churches to do?  What are the believers to do?  They must look to Christ!  They must remember that He is in control of all things.  To those who remain faithful in spite of the apostasy of the majority will walk with Him in white.  He will bring them into the presence of His Father.  To those with little power who continue to hold fast to the gospel, He will open a door that no one can close.  He will bring them permanently into the presence of God.  He will write His name on their lives and their eternities.  So then, let us with them be awake and hold fast.  Our lives rest firmly in the One who holds the seven stars and the key of David.  He is sovereign over all.  Look to Christ, be awake, and hold fast, for He has told you: I am coming soon.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 14 March 2012 )

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