Revelation 3 – Letters to the Seven Churches (part 2)

Read Revelation 3

The Church in Sardis

Sardis was a capital city known for its great wealth and fame.  There is not much written about the city of Sardis other than that, but I have often related this particular letter most readily to the church in North America.  Jesus says, “You have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead.”  In a country where great wealth and fame are what defined and viewed as important, the church seems to have taken a back seat.  Because of our country’s place in the world, we may assume that this too is where the church is the strongest… but in reality, the church is declining in the U.S. faster than any place in the world.

The question that this letter poses to the church in North America is what it looks like to be faithful in the midst of this.  How indeed can we actually be alive?  How do we live as those who haven’t “soiled ourselves” and stand with the one who is victorious before the Father?

The Church in Philadelphia

Philadelphia was a city known for its trading located on the main trade route from Rome into the province of Asia.  As such, the city was a main place for pagan worship and church persecution.  In the midst of this, Christ’s points to an “open door” that He has placed before them.  While the church here had endured a great deal, their direction was clear.  Interestingly, this has almost always been the case for the church when it faces persecution.  In these difficult times, the Gospel spreads and the church grows.  Perhaps this is what Scripture is referring to here.

The change of name imagery that we see here is one that is often found in Scripture.  Many people have undergone these changes at pivotal times in their lives.  Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel, Saul becomes Paul.  Each time the change represents God’s calling on their life and the new life that it brings about.  Here, Jesus promises to write the name of “God” and “the city of God” on them.  This too is a symbol of new life and new calling reflective of what we see in Scripture.  Those who God calls, who place their faith in Him, are marked as Christ’s own forever.

The Church in Laodicea

Laodicea was also a city of great wealth and influence known for banking establishments, medical schools, and textile industry.  The many water references in this letter come from the fact that the city had no source of fresh water.  Jesus’ reference to the “one true God” is perhaps an allusion to that here in his discussion about their “lukewarmness.”  It is important that believers find their source of spiritual water from the only source of true living water, that being Jesus Christ Himself.

Jesus’ words here also challenge the church in its action.  The church of Laodicea has not hot, possibly referring to the hot water used in medicinal practice, or cold, possibly referring to the refreshing and thirst-quenching ability of fresh water.  The only way to get either would be to return to the source, not having it shipped in or pumped in through other means.  This too is a good word to the church in North America, which has spent an inordinate amount of time pumping in water from culture, government, and any number of other places rather than returning to the source our healing and refreshing: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.