“I know thy works...”
In the first two chapters of this book we saw how Christ views sin. We look at the very same pastors and churches described and might wonder what all the fuss is about, for some appear to be sound and true to doctrine. Yet, Christ says otherwise and shows us clearly just how intolerant of sin God really is... for Him, no sin is ‘small’ or to be ignored. If you read the epistles that come before The Revelation, you will see this intolerance in some detail.
It is a fact that most of us have a very lax attitude towards sin, in others as well as in ourselves. To read the epistles and then The Revelation with any true sense of humility, is to receive a shock to the system, if we dare to relate what we read to our own lives! These books tell us that even the most ‘minor’ of sins can harm our whole lives, and can bring God’s wrath upon us.
Thus, read this book of The Revelation with due fear of the Lord, for He cannot and will not, allow us to continue in sin without chastisement. As I keep repeating, the most awful judgement we can have from God, is for Him to remove His presence from our lives, and I see this judgement daily displayed in the cult churches… Pentecostal, charismatic, etc., as well as in those churches, mainly reformed, who think of themselves in a good light! Beware (and I say this to myself, also), for Christ watches and sees our offences against His Holy Father. As He warned the seven churches of John’s day, so He warns us today. The only protection against our own foolishness is repentance and obedience.
“And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.
Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast and repent. If there thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.
Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.
He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
These words ought to chill the bones of many churches today, for how many claim to be sound, act as though they were sound, yet have dead hearts? Sadly, again, this charge can be levelled at many we call ‘reformed’. And what of those who so ardently attend and place their reformed pastors on pedestals?
The church at Sardis (‘red ones’) thought it was acting honourably. Capital of Lydia in Asia Minor and fifty miles north east of Smyrna, it was a royal city, so wealthy that when king Cyrus captured it, he took about £8,000 x million from its vaults (548 BC)! Though an important commercial city, it had this thriving church. Yet, Christ gave His warning – He knew the hearts of the people. His words suggest to us that the church was genuine, but their claim to authenticity was marred by their inward state.
Some churches, trying hard to stand against sin in the world, tend to become harshly theological, placing doctrine above love. Others go the opposite way and say that love is greater than doctrine. Scripture tells us that love is a part of doctrine, so there is no conflict. The church at Sardis probably began well. But, when John had his vision, Christ said the church had grown a veneer of truth over a cold heart and stale mind. Christ knew, because He held them in his hand and especially knew the pastor.
It could be argued that ‘dead’ meant the church was not saved. This cannot be the case, for otherwise Christ would not have spoken to them as He did. He did not tell them they were unsaved and needed salvation. Rather, He told them they were saved and needed to be ‘watchful’. They had to look at their minds and hearts and sort themselves out. They were to strengthen those aspects of their spiritual lives that were intact and build upon their strengths. Even these strengths, He told them, were on the very edge of death! Whatever they were doing, Christ said they were of no value to God. He did not find their works perfect. (If so, then what of OUR states, today?).
I truly believe that most works in most churches are of this kind. They are a delusion, given respectability by their ‘leaders’, who have come to think their works and beliefs are good. In reality, they and their works are close to death. I am constantly surprised by those Christians who, despite warnings of this kind, refuse to listen, or treat the watchman with disdain. It is strange, because the watchman is not gaining favours for himself (if anything, he only receives scorn and dislike), but is warning the churches that judgement is very close by. But, they have a ‘name’ for their orthodoxy and cling to it.
Christ tells this church to hearken back to their first estate and love, and to bear in mind how the Apostles first came to them and preached, mixing truth with love, seamlessly and flawlessly. They were to think back to this time and compare it with their current condition and ways, which were fossilised in rigid and harsh formality. In remembering, they were to repent, before they could go on in freshness and God’s love.
The alternative to their repentance and newness was the arrival of Christ suddenly, without warning, to crush the whole church for its disobedience. As has already been said in a previous study, the most fearful act of judgement would be the removal of God’s presence from the church (the candlestick), because He would never return.
Today, many churches actually choose disobedience! Thus, they have sealed their own fates and God is not with them. It does not matter that they have grown numerically, or that their pastors are well known, or that they have a ‘name’, for Christ says to them, ‘I know you inside out. I know that the image you present to the world is a farce. God is not with you!’ It is an easy task to identify most of these churches, but some are more difficult to discover except by holy discernment, because of their smooth and crafty exterior. Christ knows, even if we are deceived!
Christ goes on to say that ‘even in Sardis’ (a term of contempt if ever I heard one) a small handful of Christians had not ‘defiled their garments’. They remained true, despite what their fellow Believers and the pastor were doing. Only these few were worthy to walk with Christ in white. God help us all to attain to this worthiness, before He warns us, too.
Christ then throws out the last opportunity for the whole church at Sardis to repent, by saying that all who repented and returned to the true path would also be clothed in white. They would not be condemned, but would be counted as worthy before God on the Day of Judgement. (For an explanation of the meaning of being blotted out of the book of life, see the relevant article, A-097).
Again, as with the other churches, Christ calls on those who wish to hear His words, to listen carefully to what the Spirit was telling them. Note that whilst this message was specifically for the church at Sardis, it was also to be used as a benchmark by all other churches in all ages. Beware, if you think you stand!
“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth;
I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name.
Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee.
Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.
Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.
Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
The church at Philadelphia, on the other hand, was not warned by Christ, but was encouraged. Oh to be like this church, whose city name means ‘brotherly love’! 25 miles south of Sardis, and closer to Smryna, this place is almost 1000 feet up the slope of Tmolus. Even today it is called the ‘city of God’ (Allah-Shehr), though there is only a small population and the houses and streets are filthy, with the ruins of 25 churches.
Here, Christ was uttering His anger not against the Christians, but against the Jews who also lived there. Both the Jews and the Christians were rendered poor, because they contributed constantly to the costs of repairs to the city and its walls, which were regularly smitten by earthquakes. Yet, the Christians remained faithful.
The Jews, however, were not, and Christ speaks of His judgement against them. It might seem odd that Christ should consider the position of the Jews when He had supplanted the Jewish form of religion. But, perhaps we are being pedantic where Christ is not! Not much earlier, Paul referred to the Jews as chosen people who were temporarily out of God’s favour. Thus, though not walking as they ought, God’s eye was still on them, and He will take them under His wing once again in the near future. So, we must not be surprised that Christ still takes an interest in the Jews of the city.
Christ tells the Christians that He holds the key of David, denoting His power and authority. As such He opens and closes doors that will affect Christians and also the unsaved. Here we again come across the principles and truth of predestination and election, for whatever door Christ opens will remain open, and whatever door He closes will remain closed. We cannot change the mind of God. Once He has declared something, it will be. So, as the One Who has this power of predestination, He is cognisant of, and orders, what is to come, and knows the hearts and minds of all men.
He knew the works of the church in that place and commended them. Christ gave them His favour (re. open door) though they had but little power in the city. Even so, they were faithful and true. No-one in that church denied the name of Christ. This suggests they were constantly harassed by the unsaved. Probably the Jews and their synagogue were some of the worst offenders, judging by what Christ then says.
The Jews are referred to as the ‘synagogue of Satan’ who lied. About what? Possibly, about their own religion, but it seems more likely they were spreading rumours and lies about the church in Philadelphia. Hence the anger of Christ against them. It is unlikely Christ was against them because they were Jews, for the Jews as a nation had rejected the Messiah some years previously, so there was nothing new in that. But, for these Greek-orientated Jews to speak lies against God’s people when they themselves were under the judgement of God, was not acceptable to Christ.
These Jews, says Christ, will soon come and pay reverence to the Christians, for they will see Christ’s open favour in them. The Jews would fall to the ground in a posture of respect, before the poor Christians who were faithful. In doing so, the Jews would thereby pay indirect respect to Christ and thus to God the Father. I do not know when this occurred, but it must have taken place soon after the message was received, for this is the structure of the text.
For their faithfulness, the Christians in Philadelphia would be kept in the ‘hour of temptation’, or, time of trial. Obviously, then, as this was a message to the Christians in that church at that time, such a time of testing would soon be upon them. It could not refer to the far future. Why not? Because Christ was talking to the pastor of the church at that time, and to those who constituted its membership.
It is a theological/biblical fact that a local church is only as saved as its current membership. Therefore, for Christ to issue warnings of coming trials to a church that would not experience them, would be rather futile and without any kind of application. The promise of God’s protection was given to those who were alive and saved at that time.
Again, the structure of the text proves this point, e.g. the Jews in the city would bow in reverence to them; it is they who were faithful, etc. Christ tells them ‘that I have loved thee’… again an obvious allusion to those who were there at that time. And, if we look at the next chapter, John is invited to see what would happen ‘hereafter’ – indicating a time in the farther future.
So, just after they received this message, these Christians were subject to a time of great trouble, as was the rest of the ‘world’. In context this might be a reference to the further dispersal of the Jews (after the diaspora) following the sacking of Jerusalem. Whatever the situation, it would affect countless peoples at that time, as the text proclaims.
That is why Christ advises them to stay calm and faithful, so that wicked ones would not rob them of their crown (blessings and rewards from God). Those who remained faithful in the coming troubles would be made ‘pillars’ in the temple of God. That is, the main supports in the universal Church of God, who provide strength to others and will no longer be troubled. Christ would mark them out as special by giving them three new names – His own, the Father’s, and the ‘new Jerusalem’ (our heavenly estate).
When this new city will come down from heaven, it does not mean physically, but spiritually. Thus, the place where God is has come to earth in salvation and through Christ, and will become a place when God makes a new heaven and new earth (NOT a supposed millennium). Those who are faithful must listen to what the Spirit tells them/us.
“And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;
I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.
Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent.
Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
Now, Christ turns His attention to the church at Laodicea (‘justice of the people’), another royal city with huge trading gains as it lay on one of the great trading roads. Its inhabitants had great wealth (as the text says). However, the place was made desolate and remains so to this day, its extensive ruins testimony to what it once was.
John was to say that the ‘Amen’ gave the message. That is, the Truth, the Faithful One Who would make all things come to pass; the ‘beginning of the creation of God’. That is, the origin or cause of Creation.
With this pastor, and the church, too, Christ says that He knows them inside out. He sees what even they could not see and He sees a church that is lukewarm. These are the churches we all know and have attended; places that have neither a fire in the belly nor a frozen heart, but who simply exist in a status quo, not wanting any great excitement or loss of heaven! They are content to remain as they are, with minimal knowledge and no zeal. Sounds much like most churches today!
At times such places rise to a state of temporary fervour, usually brought about by some novelty or external event (the foul ‘Toronto Blessing’ and its many current guises being a good example). But, they soon wane again and resume their usual stupor, for that is their normal condition, their true state of heart. If they were totally cold, then God could at least fan them to life again. If they were too hot – having zeal without doctrine – then at least He could cool them down with the true doctrine. Being lukewarm, they show neither love for God nor lack of love, but indifference. So, like food without flavour or substance, they have no earthly value and have nothing to work on.
For this reason, Christ says He will ‘spue them out of’ His mouth. Bluntly, He will vomit them out of His mouth, a term reflecting His contempt for their state. Just as we will vomit foreign substance or poison from our stomachs, so Christ will vomit this church from His stomach, as something wretched and without value. Some make this out to mean that the saved can lose their holy estate, but this is not possible. Such a claim is Arminian and is intolerable, for it tells us we must do some kind of work to maintain salvation, which is something clearly not taught in scripture. Rather, this statement by Christ is about His temporal judgement on His own people; a judgement that does not alter their salvation. (Parallels are found plenteously in the Old Testament, with reference to the Jews).
Those with money and goods should carefully note this section, for it speaks to them. For our purposes please remember how I have defined riches previously (see other articles). The state of being rich is variable and on a sliding scale. However, if a man has sufficient to pay his bills and still has some left over, then he has riches. Anything left over after normal bills have been paid, is ‘riches’. The more ‘extra’ a man has, the richer he is, whether this is in cash, jewels, gold, houses, cars, or any other thing that is extra to what is needed to live on.
For one man £1 is the amount of his riches, if he has paid all his bills. For another, the amount will be £10, or £100, or £1000, or more. The degree of wealth does not matter. The principle is, that if we have more than is required to live on, then we have riches. If we tie-up those riches in real estate, or banks, or insurances, or pensions, it does not really matter, for we still have riches and are richer than many in society.
Christ is talking to men and women who had money riches, plus houses, and other goods in abundance. It is a fact that most people with ‘extra’ tend to think they are immune to many problems in life, and so they are. Without the constant worry of needing to find something to eat, or money to pay the rent or mortgage, they rest easy. They simply use their cards, or write a cheque. The more they are able to do this, the less likely they are to think of God, or to obey His commands. As Christ says, they ‘have need of nothing’. Their hearts grow cold and they enthuse over what is worldly, what they can buy; they join with others who enjoy riches or their lifestyle, and slowly disassociate themselves from Christians who have less.
But, says Christ, in the midst of their wealth, they do not realise they are ‘wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.’ That is, they are afflicted by their own wealth. They think they have it all and work hard to maintain their wealth and lifestyle, yet, in the eyes of Christ, they are afflicted, because they are unable to see beyond their need for money, the power it brings, and their assurances that all they accrue will be to their benefit later in life. They ignore what God says, because they buy their way in and out of problems. Who needs God when money does the job for them? Thus, they become grounded in their own mean, lowly, worldly values and beliefs. Nothing stands in the way of their striving for more.
Christ says they are ‘miserable’. They might not feel miserable, but they truly are. To be miserable is to be pitied, for their lack of compassion toward others with less, and for their inward view of life. They are to be pitied for their very selfishness, but, mainly, for their lack of God-wardness. They are also ‘poor’ in honour and aim and of true Christian values and desires. As they grab for more and think mainly of gain in this world, so their desire for God grows more dim and may be lost forever in some.
Their ‘blindness’ is of a mental and heart kind. Because of their love of money (not the money itself) the rich Christian is in grave danger of remaining blind, losing spiritual insight and love for God and fellow Christians altogether. Such are ‘naked’ to God: without the white clothes they ought to wear, symbols of purity and God’s acceptance, because they have been cast aside in favour of riches and what riches can bring in this world.
In this text is a severe warning to all Christians who have wealth. I hope that these men and women will take heed. There is nothing wrong with riches. What Christ is talking about is the man who simply accrues wealth for its own sake, and lives for wealth, not caring for God or for fellow Believers, many of whom are not gifted by wealth. Such will be as useless as vomit until he repents, which is what God is here saying. It does not say he can lose his salvation.
When a Christian has wealth it is a gift from God and, as with all other gifts of God, it is to be used for the benefit of the whole Body, the Church. This does not mean wealth must just be given away to the poor… this could be counter-productive and useless, for it means everybody becomes poor in the long run! No, it means the rich man must use his wealth wisely and for good. He may retain his money and goods, but must not think of them as his own. They are in his keeping for distribution as God sees fit and as He commands.
The rich Christian who keeps his wealth for his own use is an anomaly. When a rich Christian does not dwell on his wealth, but is open to whatever God says must be done with it, then he is accepted by God and his wealth is an asset, not a Satanic bind. It appears to be a truism, that when a man with wealth allows God to determine what to do with it, God usually gives that rich man even more wealth. The reason is, that the man understands that wealth is from God and for His use, and by showing his willingness to part with it, he attracts even more wealth from God, who knows that the man can be trusted with such a fine gift.
All ‘rich’ Christians are called upon to submit their wealth to God and to accrue the true, spiritual gold offered by Christ. Only this gold will make them truly rich. It is the best gold, purified time and again in the fires of trial and by the death of Christ. Along with this spiritual wealth comes the white garments that cover the spots of sin in our lives. And eye salve is offered to reduce the effects of sin on the eyes and mind and to give the soothing balm of Christ. Only when the sin-bathed eyes are soothed can the rich man see spiritually for the first time.
Christ goes on to say He is rebuking the rich Christians for their own benefit. He tells them off because He loves them, not because He hates them. He wants them to be chastened, to be corrected with words, in order to mould their character, enabling them to be more Christ-like. Once the rich man knows what Christ wants, he must repent and desire what is of Christ. Only then will his heart desire to use his wealth properly.
After this rebuke, Christ then applies love to the rich. The text is much abused by Arminian preachers, who apply it to the unsaved. The picture by Holman Hunt is wrong, for Christ is not here speaking to the unsaved, but to the saved. Christ is telling the rich Christians of the city to listen to Him and to wait for His knock at the door of their souls and hearts. When He knocks, they must open themselves to His bidding.
They can only hear His voice if they listen intently for His knock (conscience and discernment). If they thus give their lives over to Him, He will then come to them in love and share with them what He wishes them to do. The picture of Christ supping with them depicts the personal nature of the call. It shows us how Christ wishes to be personally involved in our lives on a continual basis.
Christ sits with God the Father in heaven. The rich Christian (and every one of us who obeys) who casts aside his own pretensions and desires for riches for their own sake, will know the presence of Christ in his life. Because such a one puts all his trust in Christ, Christ will let him sit with Him in heaven, just as Christ sits next to His Father. What a privilege, for giving over what will be taken from the rich man at death anyway!
In this way, then, Christ rebukes the rich Christian strongly, but follows it up with a promise of tender mercy, love and greater riches, if the rich man hands over what he has to God. It is a truth that the more we give back to God, the greater are His mercies and blessings upon us, to the point of overflowing. That is the message Christ had for the rich Christians of Laodicea. They were presently bound to their desire for wealth and could no longer see the God Who loved them. They needed to repent of their desire for wealth and instead desire Christ. Only then could they enjoy and properly use their wealth, which was a gift from God in the first place, for His own use, not theirs.
As with the other churches, Christ advises these Christians to listen carefully and to hear what the Holy Spirit was telling them. The section dealing with the seven churches of Asia Minor is now completed, as John is given another part of the vision. Let us all learn from the things said to those churches, for what was specifically for them at the time, also applies to us all.
© November 2001, Revised May 2013