NKJV Study Notes by Mike Sasso
Edited by Bob Caldwell
v. 1 to the Angel - aggelos (Gk.) means messenger. These letters were likely written to the pastors responsible over each church mentioned.
Sardis - A luxurious city in Asia Minor, the capital of Lydia. Located about 30 miles southeast of Thyatira, on an important trade route that ran east and west through the kingdom of Lydia. This city made its wealth through its many important industries. It was also a center of pagan worship and the site of a great temple to the goddess Artemis. Sardis was eventually destroyed by the Mongolian conqueror Tamerlane in 1402.
I Know Your Works - Jesus knows all the activities of all the churches. He is omniscient and knows the hearts of all men. There are no exceptions (Matt. 9:4, Luke 11:17, Acts 1:24).
You Have a Name that You Are Alive, but You Are Dead - Jesus' commentary here is that this church has a living reputation, but a dead character. A person who is spiritually dead will have no apparent struggles going on in their life.
v. 2 Watchful - gregoreuo (Gk.) awake, alert, vigilant, and on guard. The city of Sardis had a history of falling to conquering armies through overconfidence and a lack of watchfulness. A professing believer can feel overconfident because of the seemingly undefeatable doctrinal defense he sees erected around him. But it is the true condition of his soul that really matters. Jesus tells this church and each individual believer to pay attention and be watchful (Prov. 16:18, 1 Cor. 10:12).
Strengthen the Things Which Remain, that are Ready to Die - Jesus gives hope to this church. He encourages them that it is not too late. He does not say that they are completely dead. There are "things" or "good qualities" and characteristics that are still alive in this church. But even these things are about to die.
Works - ergon (Gk.) meaning business or employment. Just because a church or a Christian is conducting "business as usual" does not imply spiritual health. Every religion has a schedule of activities, rites and ceremonies. This activity does not necessarily indicate healthy spiritual life.
Perfect - pleroo (Gk.) to be full and complete
v. 3 Remember - mnemoneuo (Gk.) to be mindful of, to remember, to call to mind and hold in memory. Frequently the principal problem with any believer of any time can be forgetfulness (Heb. 2:1; 2 Peter 1:13, 3:1; Rev. 2:5).
How - pos (Gk.) can mean either how, what, or why
Hold Fast - tereo (Gk.) to attend to carefully, take care of and guard.
Repent - metanoeo (Gk.) to change one's mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one's past sins
Watch - threw (Gk.) to be alert and on guard
I Will Come Upon You as a Thief - This indicates a sudden and unexpected coming. The language used by Jesus here reflects the many references to the Second coming of Christ (Matt. 24:43, 1 Thess. 5:2, 2 Peter 3:10).
You Will Not Know What Hour - According to Jesus' words, even to those who are watching and ready, He will come "at an hour you do not expect" (Matt. 24:42, 44). To some this coming will bring swift judgment. To others it will bring swift deliverance.
v. 4 Few Names - Referring to a select group of specific individuals as opposed to the entire church. In Pergamos (Rev. 2:14) and in Thyatira (Rev. 2:20) there were a few bad among the good. But in Sardis there are a few good among the bad.
Who Have Not Defiled Their Garments - According to 3:18, true believers are to be clothed in white garments. White garments represent pure, clean, acceptable dress before the King (Rev. 4:4). In ancient culture, one was not permitted to come before royalty in soiled garments. And spiritually speaking, because clean and undefiled garments represent righteousness, you cannot appear before the King of kings in corrupted covering.
Walk With Me in White, for They are Worthy - Jesus declares that those who have stood against the tide of wickedness and have not defiled themselves with sin and heresy are worthy to walk with Him. The greatest reward anyone can ever receive is to walk with Jesus in white. This is a picture of complete innocence, acceptance, and intimacy with God. It is a picture of the "saved," those redeemed by the Savior (Rev. 3:18, 4:4, 6:11, 7:9-13).
v. 5 He Who Overcomes - Referring to those in the church of Sardis who overcome their plight of having a reputation that lives but a character that is dead (Rev. 2:1-2).
White Garments - Jesus makes a specific promise to those who overcome this situation of impending death. They will walk with him in white (v. 4). The Lord Himself will clothe them with these white garments (Matt. 22:1-14).
I Will Not Blot Out His Name from the Book of Life - The Book of Life is the divine register of all citizens of the kingdom. In ancient times there were two ways a person might have his name blotted out of the citizen role of the city in which he lived: either by death or by becoming a criminal. There is a Book of Life (Phil. 4:3; Rev. 21:27, 22:19) and it will be opened and referenced on the Day of Judgment. People's eternal destiny will be predicated upon whether their name is recorded in this book (Rev. 20:12, 15). There are five references in scripture to names being blotted out of the Book of Life (Ex. 32:32, 32:33; Ps. 69:28; Rev 3:5, 22:19). According to Deut. 29:18-20, If anyone stubbornly and presumptuously rejects the Lord in his or her heart and persistently determines to pursue other "gods" or even "follow the dictates of his or her heart" presuming that they themselves are immune and exempt from God's judgment, that person will be cursed with many curses and, "the Lord would blot out his name from under heaven" (Ex. 32:33; Ps. 69:28; Eze. 14:7, 8). Because salvation is by faith and not works this is a faith issue. The one whose name is blotted out of the Book of Life would have an apostate faith demonstrated by a rejection of Christ in heart and action.
I Will Confess His Name Before My Father - Before Christ confesses a man's name before the Father, that man must first confess Christ's name before men (Matt. 10:32, 33).
v. 6 He Who Has an Ear, Let Him Hear What the Spirit Says to the Churches - This exact saying is repeated seven times to seven churches (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). Notice Jesus doesn't say let each church hear the specific message that only applies to their particular church. Every Christian of every time should hear and heed the exhortations Jesus gives to each of these churches. These letters are written for every Christian.
v. 7 Philadelphia - Philadelpheia (Gk.) meaning, "brotherly love." This city had a very small population in John's day because it had been greatly troubled by frequent and violent earthquakes. As recent as 17 AD the city was completely destroyed by a great quake. John now writes to a small church in a small city, seeking to rebuild under unstable conditions. Perhaps what kept this city going was the fact that it was located on one of the greatest highways in the world leading from Europe to the East. The city of Philadelphia was the gateway from one continent to another.
He Who is Holy - Jesus is totally set apart unto God's priorities and plans and is completely without fault. He is the only perfect One.
He Who is True - Jesus is genuine. There is nothing false in Him. He is the Father's one authentic and legitimate representative. Furthermore, He is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). No other person in history can appropriately describe himself as "He who is holy" and "He who is true" (John 1:9, 6:32, 7:28, 15:1, 17:3).
Key of David - This is an allusion to Isaiah 22:20-22 where King Hezekiah's servant Eliakim was given great authority over his kingdom. As Eliakim had the authority to admit or restrict people from King Hezekiah's kingdom, so Jesus Christ has that sort of authority over the Kingdom of Heaven. He can grant admittance and He can exclude.
v. 8 I Know Your Works - To each of the seven churches Jesus says this same phrase (Rev 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). He knows all the activity of all men. He knows all works and activities, good or bad. But more than that, He knows the hearts and thoughts of all men (Prov. 15:11).
Open Door - The term "open door" was used often in the New Testament to describe an open opportunity to share the Gospel (1 Cor. 16:9, 2 Cor. 2:12, Col. 4:3). It makes sense that this city of Philadelphia that was situated in such a strategic highway that it was considered the gateway to the east, would also be used by Jesus as an open door of evangelism to the rest of the world.
You Have a Little Strength...Kept My Word - Jesus here compliments this church for their reliance upon God and faithfulness to Christ in spite of their weaknesses. We see here that it doesn't take great strength to keep God's Word and live in obedience. As a matter of fact, the Apostle Paul said that God's strength is perfected in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:7-10).
v. 9 Synagogue of Satan...Say they are Jews and Are Not - Prior to 70 AD, the greatest persecution of Christians came from the Jewish leaders. Jesus calls these hypocritical Jews the "synagogue of Satan." They thought they were God's chosen people pleasing in His sight, but they were not. They were living a lie. They were not true Jews any more than those who persecute Jews today are true Christians (Rom. 2:28-29).
v. 10 Persevere - hupomone (Gk.) a remaining behind, a patient enduring
Keep You from the Hour of Trial - Jesus promises that the one who remains faithful to Him will be spared from the coming time of great testing.
v. 14 Laodicea - This city was very wealthy for several reasons. It was a great banking center and produced a luxurious black wool that was used for both clothing and fine carpets and was widely exported. It was the location of a famous medical school, a producer of a medicinal powder used to treat a variety of eye ailments.
Amen - Amen means "so be it" or "it is done." Though this word is used more than 70 times in scripture, this is the only time it is used as a title or name. Jesus calls Himself "the Amen" indicating that He is God the Father's final word. He is God the Father's "so be it" (2 Cor. 1:20).
The Faithful and True Witness - Here Jesus contrasts Himself with the Laodicean church, which was neither faithful nor true. Only Jesus is the trustworthy and accurate witness of God (John 14:9).
The Beginning of the Creation of God - Some misinterpret this phrase to mean that Jesus was the first being that God created. But this English word "beginning" comes from the Greek word arche, which can also mean "origin." Jesus Christ is the origin of all created things (John 1:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Heb. 1:2; 3:3, 4). According to Colossians 4:16, the book of Colossians was passed along to the church of Laodicea. If they indeed read this epistle of Paul, they would already understand that Jesus Christ shared in the very act of creation with His Father and is Himself Deity (Col. 1:15-17).
v. 15 You are Neither Cold nor Hot - The Master Teacher uses a word picture they were sure to understand. The Laodiceans were well acquainted with the problem of not having hot or cold water.
I Could Wish You Were Cold or Hot - Some take this to mean that Jesus would rather have a Christian's heart hot for Him or cold against Him, loving Him or hating Him. The truth is that Jesus was merely making the point that He doesn't want them to be the same temperature as their environment. Everyone appreciates a cold class of water on a hot day. And most value a hot drink on a cold day. But a drink that is the same temperature as its environment is not refreshing. Jesus is saying to this church, "You are the same as your environment. You are no different than the world!" Those who are truly following Christ will stand out as different from their environment. They will not readily blend in with those who are lost without Christ.
v. 16 Vomit You Out of My Mouth - Jesus gives us a radical picture here of being so disturbed or sickened by the condition of a church that He would actually vomit them out. This is not so surprising in light of verse 20, which reveals that they have already expelled Him from their midst.
v. 17 Because You Say, "I am Rich, Have Become Wealthy, and Have Need of Nothing" - Wealth can impart a false sense of self-sufficiency. Prosperity can deceive you into thinking that you are in need of nothing. Jesus taught that those who have a humble view of themselves will truly possess the riches of heaven (Matt. 5:3). This church stands in stark contrast to the church of Smyrna (2:9). Though they were poor, Jesus calls them rich.
Wretched, Miserable, Poor, Blind, and Naked - The five words Jesus uses to describe this church's true condition are in contrast to what they thought of themselves. They thought they were rich and Jesus declared that they were actually poor. They felt that they were wealthy and in need of nothing. But Jesus reveals that they are actually wretched and miserable. They gloried in the fact that their city had established its fame and affluence upon their medical school, producing healing eye salve, and their textile industry producing fine black wool. But Jesus says, "You are blind and naked." A person's positive thinking and confessing can be completely mistaken and erroneous in the sight of God.
Wretched - talaiporos (Gk.) distressed, miserable
Miserable - eleeinos (Gk.) to be pitied
Poor - ptochos (Gk.) beggarly; destitute of wealth, influence, position, honor
Blind - tuphlos (Gk.) physically or mentally blind
Naked - gumnos (Gk.) poorly clothed, open, lay bare
v. 18 I Counsel You to Buy from Me - Jesus offers hope to one in such a sad condition. He offers His people "counsel" (Is. 1:18, 9:6). But the first thing the Church of Laodicea needed to do was realize that Jesus had something they needed. Because Laodicea was a city of great commerce, buying and selling, Jesus exhorted them that there was something they needed to "buy from" Him.
Gold Refined in the Fire - This is a familiar phrase in the New Testament. There is something of much greater value than gold: our faith. Faith can only be "refined" by going through the fire of trails and tribulations (1 Peter 1:7).
White Garments - Though they were proud of their precious, fine black clothing, Jesus says to the members of this church, "You need the white garments that only I can provide" (Is. 64:6, Rev. 19:8). White garments represent purity and righteousness.
Anoint Your Eyes With Eye Salve - Using an illustration from the very thing they were known for (the healing of blind eyes), Jesus points out here that they were spiritually blind (Acts 26:18).
v. 19 As Many as I Love, I Rebuke - Though this church has an overall nauseating attribute, Jesus does not hate them but loves them. And those God loves He corrects (Heb. 12:5-11).
Rebuke - elegcho (Gk.) by conviction to bring to the light, to expose; to convict, refute, confute
Chasten - paideuo (Gk.) to correct, disciple or punish for redemptive purposes
Zealous - zeloo (Gk) "to burn with zeal"
Repent - metanoeo (Gk.) to change one's mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one's past sins
v. 20 I Stand at the Door and Knock - Jesus is on the outside of this church knocking and desiring to come in.
If Anyone Hears My Voice and Opens the Door - Jesus' invitation here is to "anyone," indicating He is addressing individuals as well as the church as a whole. Notice it is the church's responsibility to open the door and let Jesus in.
I will Come in to Him - a very personal and intimate promise of Jesus (John 14:21-23, 6:56, 15:5)
Dine with Him - To "dine" with another has very intimate connotations in Jewish culture. To the Jew, to share a meal is to become one with the person you eat with.
v. 21 To Him who Overcomes I will Grant to Sit with Me on My Throne - Jesus promises to those who overcome this gloomy state of lukewarmness the hope of ruling and reigning with Him in glory. This is the worst of the seven Churches, and yet the most glorious of all the promises are made to it. This gives hope to one even in the most wretched spiritual state who would repent.
I Also Overcame - Jesus is our ultimate example of overcoming this world of sin and evil (John 16:33).
Sat Down with My Father on His Throne - Here is a strong case for the Deity of Christ. God will share His glory with no other (Ex. 34:14; Deut. 4:24, 6:15). Yet Jesus sits on His Father's throne and rules with Him (Eph. 1:20-22, Phil. 2:9-11).