This city was built even higher than Pergamum: it rose 1,500 feet about its surrounding valley and was a natural fortress. As a city it was wealthy and famous. Like the city, its church had fame too. But Jesus knew better: this lively church was, in fact, dead! In spiritual terms, being dead means being asleep to all the good things that God is doing and is wanting to do in your lives. It means failing to be a witness to the gospel of Christ in its surrounding area. The answer is to ‘wake up’! Reverse the process of dying and give spiritual strength to the members of this church before it is too late.
This church had received much teaching in the past but had put little of it into practice. Just like the complacent citizens of Sardis, who had no reason to be on their guard against attack, the church was also complacent and unwilling to watch or to pray or to obey. Jesus did not tell them to just hold on to what they already had, but to wake up and get moving! Otherwise, he himself would turn up ‘like a thief in the night’. This cannot refer to his final Return, but simply a visit to judge and punish his people.
The faithful ones will walk with Jesus ‘dressed in white’ – which indicated purity and righteous deeds. They would always remain on heaven’s ‘role of citizens’ (which every Roman city had to have). Because they had acknowledged Christ, he will always acknowledge them.
Founded in the second century BC, it was an important commercial and geographical gateway to the centre of Asia Minor. Philadelphia means ‘brotherly love’. Jesus presents himself as the ‘Holy and True One’, who ‘holds the key of David’ – i.e., Jesus is the Messiah. He presents them with an ‘open door’ to the Kingdom of Heaven; one that no one else can shut. In other words, he offers a ‘heaven-sent opportunity’.
The church is small, but it is pure and faithful. Persecuted by a nearby Jewish community, Jesus promised that one day, these persecutors would be forced to acknowledge Jesus and his faithful people as being right. Jesus will also keep his church safe during short intense periods of testing and persecution.
Having worked so hard to achieve a ‘crown of glory’, let’s not throw it away! If we stay the course, he will make us a permanent part of his heavenly kingdom, with large responsibilities and respect (= the metaphor of a ‘pillar’). We will forever be marked with His Name and the Name of his Bride!
This was a fabulously wealthy city, known for its banking and textile industries and for its medical school. The city suffered from having a poor water supply and needed to have water piped in from other nearby towns like Hierapolis.
Jesus announces himself as the ‘Amen’ (the final word on everything), the faithful witness and the ultimate ruler. He is straight in with his criticism: The church is ‘lukewarm’ like its water supply – neither cold and refreshing nor hot and healing – fit only to use as an emetic. Having seen the state of the church’s members, he had apparently already taken a large drink of that water!
The problem was pride and complacency – the general population were probably working harder than the church. Here, Christians were apparently the wealthy ones, with private medical plans and gold-plated pensions, clothed in the sharpest suits and driving the flashiest cars. There was emphatically a ‘prosperity doctrine’ that spoke of Christians being ‘entitled to the very best’.
Jesus disagreed. Through his x-ray eyes he could see that they were lacking in all the things He regarded as most important. To encourage the church to repent, he uses metaphors that everyone would relate to in that city: get gold (= banking), clothes (= textile wealth), and eye salve (= medical products). Except that these were spiritual qualities, not the material wealth of the city. These might symbolise genuine faith, righteous deeds, and spiritual insight.
These rebukes come from a loving and generous heart, says Jesus. He cares enough to discipline us (Hebrews 12). He opens for the church a ‘door of opportunity’ to rebuild true fellowship with him, to truly know him. If we are victorious, we will rule and reign with him forever!