All along His stay on the earth, the Son of God never condemned anyone, however dark his sins may have been. The woman caught and brought by the Jewish leaders before Him for adultery also was forgiven her sins and cautioned to lead a righteous life thereafter. His seven letters to the churches of that time and for those of the present and future age, till His second coming, are aimed at helping them identify their good points to hold on to and the weaknesses to work on. Even those who repeatedly offend Him by their evil deeds enjoy the period of grace now, with a chance to repent and surrender to His Divine authority.
Purpose of letter to the church at Philadelphia – The seven letters are not only about condemnation and rebuke for their faults but are also a means to encourage them for their good works and to provide ways to overcome their shortcomings along with a warning of judgment for failing to do so. This church, like all of us, needed commendation for their good works with a special opportunity for evangelism. Philadelphia means ‘brotherly love’ derived from Greek word ‘philos’ meaning ‘beloved, dear’ and ‘adlphos meaning ‘brother, brotherly’. This city was the youngest of the seven cities and was founded as a missionary outpost for the spread of Greek language, culture and way of life throughout the Asian provinces. This city was the gateway from Europe to the East along one of the greatest highways in the world. The beautiful buildings of temples to worship Olympian gods made this city to be called the ‘little Athens’. The inhabitants were required to vacate their houses very frequently due to earthquakes in the region.
To this church Lord Jesus revealed Himself as ‘He who is holy, He who is true, He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens’. His holiness and purity is His very essence for He is Yahweh and He alone is absolutely holy. The Greek word used here for true is ‘alethinos’ meaning ‘real or genuine’ and not fake. He is the real God and the real man. The prophecy regarding Eliakim, the priest, was about the Messiah being descendant of King David will have authority over his house (Isaiah 22:22). He alone would grant someone the blessing to enter or bar the way to the other, with no appeal to His decision for He alone has the rights of judgment.
Because of the great opportunities available to this church, Lord Jesus offered an ‘open door’ to reach out to the regions beyond with the message of the Gospel. They had served well through great difficulties and opposition and hostility from the Jewish people, ‘those of the synagogue of Satan who say they are Jews and are not, but lie’. The open door represents an evangelistic opportunity)1Corithians16:9). The open door could also be their entry into the heavenly kingdom, though excluded from the local synagogue and thus depriving them of protection from Roman persecution.
The church was identified by the Lord with ‘little strength’ but faithful in keeping His Word. Samson had great strength but poor dependability and Apostle Paul’s weakness was his strength through the grace of the Lord working in him ((2 Corinthians 12:9). Those self-righteous ‘spiritual persecutors’ would realize their mistakes and the Lord promised to ‘make them (the persecutors) come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you’. God’s promise to the Israelites about the Gentiles will be fulfilled for the church of Philadelphia and the false Jews will accept that the church is the Israel of God. Apostle Paul speaks of unbelievers falling down in the midst of Christians to worship God and they will then realize the love of God for all believers.
Because of the perseverance of these Christians, Lord Jesus promised to save them from the coming tribulation on the whole earth which was predicted already (Matthew 24:21). The church was then warned about the quick and sudden coming of the Lord and to ‘hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown’. They were to continue in their outreach programs and hold fast to, first, evangelistic work (the open door); second, reliance on God (their little strength) and finally faithfulness to the Lord (kept My Word and not denied My name). The loss of their crown would be through an attempt to hold on to what we cannot keep of this world while letting go of what is eternal. Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life’ (Proverbs 4:23). The warning means that no one but you yourself can steal your crown through waywardness and foolish pursuits.
The rewards to those who overcome were promised to be first, ‘pillar in the temple of My God’; second, they shall go out no more; third, bear the name of ‘My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem and finally bear Lord Jesus’ new name. Pillars represent strength, stability and define beauty while standing even when all else around us crumbles, and it was very relevant to the earthquake prone region. Pillar holds up the building, the church, while receiving strength from the foundation, Lord Jesus Himself and pillars are permanent fixtures with no going anywhere else. The pillar would also bear the names as a mark or badge of honour of intimacy with God, His city, Lord Jesus’ new name with His new role to be partners with Him in His reign. It is only when we remain focused on Lord Jesus, ‘the author and finisher of our faith’ that we can be what He desires us to be and that is the only way to overcome and receive the reward (Hebrews 12:2).
The Laodicean church versus church of this age – Laodicea was a famous commercial centre that prided itself on three things, financial wealth, a rich textile industry and a popular eye- lotion that was exported all over. In AD 60 after a great earthquake destroyed the city, the Laodiceans took no help from anyone but used their own resources to rebuild and rise again. Their only source of water was from the hot springs of Hierapolis through a 6 miles long aqueduct and it would turn lukewarm upon reaching the city.
The letter writer’s identity is of One who is ‘Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God’. Lord Jesus is the Amen or ‘so be it; the It is done’ and Apostle Paul declared this same fact that ‘the promises of God in Him (Lord Jesus) are ‘Yes’ and in Him ‘Amen’ for He as God represents and affirms the truth of God (2 Corinthians 1:20). He is faithful and True Witness of the truth and ‘of Him and through Him and to Him are all things’ for He is the beginning as Creator God and in Him all things are sustained as a Sovereign (Romans 11:36).
Lord Jesus revealed His knowledge about their lukewarm response to His kingdom works showing indifference and compromise. They were focused on their self-reliance in spiritual matters also as they were in their financial and social life and were living an empty religion like the Pharisees. Like lukewarm water they were unfit for use and ready to be spit out of the mouth. Hot water heals, cold water refreshes the weary soul but lukewarm water is useless and thus they had enough to satisfy their need for a religion but not enough for salvation. The thief on the cross was cold and felt his need; John was hot towards his Lord and enjoyed His love but Judas Iscariot was lukewarm following Him as a disciple but not surrendering his heart to Him. In their state they were warm enough not to feel the need of protection from the Lord and had they been cold they would have desired the heat of His love.
This is the only church addressed as ‘church of the Laodiceans’ instead of church in Laodicea for it was a church of the people, run by majority opinion in a democratic manner following popular opinion rather than the Word of God. A church is in the mouth of Lord Jesus for they spread His word and secondly that He as our Intercessor in heaven prays for us regularly.
Lord Jesus showed the three ways the Laodiceans looked at themselves, first, ‘we are rich’, second, ‘we have become wealthy’ and third, ‘we have need of nothing’. But He revealed their spiritual bankruptcy as ‘wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked’. The city with the best eye-lotion was blind to its real spiritual state and despite their best cloth market they were naked, without protection and unaware of it. What the Lord saw them to be was exactly opposite to what they thought of themselves. The prophet rightly showed the worth of our works, ‘we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags’ (Isaiah 64:6). The Laodiceans perceived them to be a wonderfully active group of believers but from inside their intents were for self-glorification and not for God’s glory.
The Savior Lord offered them ‘gold refined in the fire’ and ‘white garments that you may be clothed’. The Ark of the Covenant was to be made of Acacia wood and was to be overlaid with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it’ (Exodus 25:11). Gold is the only metal that does not get affected by the temperature of the hand when we hold it and it represents purity without suffering the ill effects of the surroundings. The body must be covered with purity of the gold of the Holy Spirit from within and by white clothes of forgiveness of sins outside to display the richness of life in the Lord. This was the offer and they had to set aside their self-sufficiency and surrender to the Lord to receive this state of holiness.
The next was about anointing of the ‘eyes with eye salve’ by healing of their spiritual eyes by the Lord to enable them to see all things in their right perspective. Lord Jesus expressed His love through this chastening, for the worst form of punishment from God is to leave a man alone. The Greek word for love used here is ‘phileo’ that is the love of a friend and this was His assurance to the Laodiceans of His deep personal affection. The final command for the church was to ‘be zealous and repent’. As a believer one cannot follow the Lord as a hobby or an occasional activity but only as a commitment. He who searches the hearts knows our deep inner thoughts and desires and will not accept lukewarm relationship.
How to receive the great promises? – Our Lord challenges all believers, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and dine with him and he with Me’ (Revelation 3:20). The church at Philadelphia was ‘the Church of the Open Door’ with great opportunities to witness while the Laodicean church was ‘the Church of the Excluded Lord Jesus’. The Great Invitation from the Lord is for everyone throughout the ages but we have to first introspect that how did the Lord get locked out? The prophecy of the ‘virgin birth’ and He being called Immanuel meaning ‘God with us’ was fulfilled by Lord Jesus (Isaiah 7:14). God’s promise, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ was never changed by God and He being truthful could only be expelled out by us (Hebrews 13:5). Before opening the door, it is necessary to understand how we turn to other gods, doctrines and other sinful activities including moving ahead of our Lord in our self-sufficiency.
His call is ‘if anyone hears My voice’, are we tuned into His desires and will for us or are we totally distracted by the noise of the world around us. Otherwise, we may never hear His voice or the knock at the door of our hearts. He wants to have a close, intimate and meaningful relationship with us that is full of love, to reach out and win souls. Our Lord respects the free will choice given to us and does not barge in or break open the closed doors and He can, but He does not. He stands and waits at the door, knocks by using mercies, reproofs and exhortations; He lifts up His voice through His Word, His ministers and His Spirit. The call is to anyone, individuals and not the church and the Greek word ‘deipnon’ for meal, means the main meal that is taken at leisure over long talks.
This knock at the door is for everyone down the ages and opening the door is submission in worship, prayer and supplications with faith in availability of His grace. The other promise is even more generous and is for the one ‘who overcomes’ and the fact is that He knows and expects all to overcome their present situation by staying connected to Him. The reward is unimaginable for all believers and especially since it is offered to the church with the worst record. Lord Jesus knows that even the worst sinner can repent, overcome indifference, compromise and self-reliance and become really productive members of His Divine family. The reward is to enjoy closeness with the enthroned and glorified Son of God by joining Him on His throne.
All the seven letters are to encourage all believers over the ages to recognize their shortcomings and overcome them to better serve the Lord. We are all required to meet with each other ‘in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching’ (Hebrews 10:24-25). This is the real key to overcome!
The LORD God sent His Son to be Immanuel for us to enable us to know Him and His true ‘image and likeness’ in which we were created. This was to help us be transformed daily, bit by bit, into that image. The devil is ever trying to separate man from each other as well as from God to disconnect him from the source of strength from within and from heaven. This is the only way that the darkness can overwhelm us and hinder our works of glorifying our Creator and Redeemer. We must remain continually on guard to thwart his plans.