A Bible Lesson on Revelation 3:7-22

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

This lesson concerns the letters to the churches at Philadelphia and Laodicea, the last two of the seven churches of Asia.

Philadelphia was a city built as an outpost of Greek culture, and it had been very successful in that mission. Its nickname, “the city of brotherly love,” derives from the fact that its founder (one Attalus II Philadelphus of Pergamum) was famous for his love for his younger brother.

Revelation 3:7 “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.

This letter identifies Jesus as the one who is “holy and true.” Those are adjectives most fundamentally reserved for God alone. Again in this salutation Jesus is identified as God. Jesus is holy, completely “other,” separate. And He is “true.” This adjective means “real.” Jesus is the ultimate reality. And this Jesus holds the “key of David.” This is an allusion to Isaiah 22:22 and Hezekiah giving Eliakim, son of Hilkiah the faithful priest, the key to the “the house of David,” possibly referring to the royal palace. The notion is one of a faithful servant controlling access to the presence of the king and participation in the community. And the point is that this risen Christ has that kind of authority. He governs who enters God’s presence and who does not and who is part of the chosen race and who is not.

8 “‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

“I know your works/deeds.” Most of these letters begin this way. The issue is what these people have done, and these at Philadelphia have done well. The risen Christ who has the authority of entrance into the presence of the Father and membership in God’s people has set the door open before the saints of Philadelphia. Why? It is because they have been faithful. It seems like they may be few in number and of no great standing in the community, but they are keeping on. They are faithfully declaring the Lordship of Christ.

The “have not denied” would make it seem like they are under pressure from either the pagan Greeks, or more likely the Jews in Philadelphia. In fact

9 Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.

Here again is the phrase “synagogue of Satan” in contrast to the way that the Jews thought of themselves, as God’s special people and exclusive heirs of His promises. Jesus says that by their rejection of Him, their Messiah, they forfeit their place and in fact things are turned topsy turvy. The Jews expected at the last day to have the gentiles falling down at their feet and acting as their servants. The reality is going to be quite different. They are going to fall down before the Christian church that they have persecuted and acknowledge that the Messiah has loved the church.

10 Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth.

Christ endured patiently the suffering that brought us salvation. He in turn asks us to endure patiently those troubles that come to us as His people. His promise to us is His presence. The word translated “from” the hour of trial here is just as plausibly/correctly rendered “through/in” the hour of trial. People of different eschatologies want it rendered differently. What is clear is Christ’s promise that He will ultimately deliver.

11 I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.

Hold on. Keep on keeping on, so that no one will take your crown/garland/victor’s wreath. No one can take from a person his or her standing with Christ, but we do have the power to forfeit it of our own choice.

12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.

The background of this verse may well be the practice of a provincial priest commemorating a term of service by erecting a pillar in a pagan temple and inscribing his name on it and that of his father. Here Christian people are the pillars and in fact make up the temple of God’s Spirit. On them is written the name of Christ and the Father and the community of faith.

13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

Take heed.

Now Christ speaks to the church at Laodicea. This was an extremely wealthy city, a center of banking. It was also famous for its production of lustrous black woolen goods and garments, and for its medical college and special eye medicine made from “Phrygian powder.” Interestingly enough, its biggest civic problem was a poor water supply. Apparently water was brought in by aqueducts from hot mineral springs at nearby Hierapolis and a good cold water supply at Colossae. Water from neither of these sources likely arrived in Laodicea in its original condition.

14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

“Amen” is literally, “it is true.” What is said is to be utterly relied upon. This may go back to Isaiah 65:16 where God is called the God of truth or literally “the God of Amen.” Jesus is utterly reliable. He is the “faithful and true witness.” (Recall Revelation 1:5.) This stands in sharp contrast to the unreliability of Christians in the city. The word translated “beginning” carries the meanings of having supreme authority and being the origin of God’s creation.

15 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!

“I know your works/deeds.” Again, the risen Christ sees how they are living in Laodicea. They are neither hot nor cold. There is probably the picture of the two water sources is here. Laodicea is neither hot nor cold, neither fish nor foul. Barclay points out that the words for hot and cold here are intense ones. The Laodicean church seemingly was rather an indifferent, lackadaisical, complacent one, and Christ says something to it that we in the west just plain do not believe. Christ says the condition is worse than being at any extreme in relation to Him. We simply don’t see much of anything wrong with trying to mix hot and cold water, a little of the world with a little of Christianity, trying to work both sides of the street. But if you mix hot water and cold and you have neither. You have something else, good for the purposes of neither. A nominal Christian isn’t a real believer, but isn’t even an honest pagan. The person brings dishonor to the name of Christ and is effectively immune from the gospel message because he’s already pretending to belong. That state is repugnant to Christ.

16 So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

“I will spit, am about to spit,” says Christ. Christ’s reaction is imminent, but not yet at this point inevitable, but fundamental Laodicean attitudes must change.

17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

These people, like the church in the west in the 21st century, have taken on the attitudes of the secular people of their city. Their material wealth seems to assure them that all is well. It’s an interesting fact that this area was subject to earthquakes and that when one of them had destroyed Laodicea, the city was so wealthy that it had declined “federal aid” (aid from the Roman empire) preferring to rebuild using only its own resources. As a people, they literally figured that they didn’t need a thing. But their perception doesn’t match the reality. The reality is that they are wretched and pitiful, like all of us outside of the gracious action of Christ. And all they pride themselves on in Laodicea is backwards from the reality. Instead of being rich because of their banking industry, they are poor. Instead of having eye healing medicine, they are blind. And instead of being clothed with elegant black wool, they are naked before the God who sees all. The only cure for all of this is in Christ.

18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.

It is in Christ that there are true riches. His righteousness becomes the pure white garment that covers our sin and it is by His work that we truly see what is.

19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

This letter is not hopeless, because of God’s love and seeking mercy. Christ says to these arrogant, complacent people at Laodicea that He loves them. The word for “reprove” here is the kind of rebuke that causes a person to see the error of his or her ways. The perfect Biblical example is Nathan’s rebuke of David after his sin with Bathsheba. The right reaction is David’s reaction. It’s to admit “Yes Lord, it’s me,” and to repent. This reproof doesn’t call for minor adjustments but rather a complete change of course.

By the way, the “those” is an “all who.” It is all inclusive. The Laodiceans are in serious danger, but His rebuke and discipline is universal to those who He loves.

20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

We usually quote this verse out of context as a general invitation to salvation. In the context, it is more the request of a gracious Savior, that those who name His name would in truth fellowship with Him. Though He is the one with the keys of the kingdom, He will stand and knock, not forcing His way in. But His desire is to share with us the big evening meal, that was lingered over and was a time of intimate fellowship. (The “eat” refers specifically to this meal.)

21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

The Christian does the works of Christ, and by the grace of God shares the benefits secured by Christ.

22 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.'”

Take this seriously.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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