Revealing Jesus 4: Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea

7.23.17 Sermon: Revealing Jesus: Jesus in the book of Revelation, Part 3 


An artist was once asked to put on canvas what he considered to be the picture best symbolizing a decaying and dying church. After several months, he returned and reported that he had finished the task. The hour finally arrived when the painting was to be unveiled. Several people standing around the easel had already given their description of what they thought the church would look like. Some had said it would be a rundown building in great need of repair and paint. Weeds would be growing in the church yard, and there would be some broken window panes. Everyone in the group seemed to have a similar picture in mind. However, when the cloth was removed, a hush fell over the group. Everyone was stunned. Before their eyes was an absolutely beautiful church building. The grounds were well kept and the exterior of the building was in excellent condition. After a few minutes, one person stepped forward and said to the artist, “I thought we asked you to paint a dying church?” The artist smiled and invited everyone to step closer to the painting. He pointed through the windows to the empty pews and to the collection plate on the table. There was nothing in the plate but cobwebs. Without ministries being conducted, the mission of the church cannot be carried out. If the mission of the church is not carried out, the church is purposeless and dead.

(From a sermon by Terry Blankenship, Igniting a Lifeless Church Service, 2/7/2011) 


A church can be successful.   It can be full of people that have degrees and stripes and are climbing the corporate ladder.  But if we forget the mission…the mission of winning souls….then we are not living our purpose.  If we are not passionate about this mission, then our purpose as a church has been lost.  Let us see what Christ said to the church at Sardis as a warning to them, and to us.  

Revelation 3:1-6 (NLT)

3 “Write this letter to the angel  of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars: “I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. 3 Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.  4 “Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5 All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine.6 “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.



Even though Christ called Sardis a dead church, he also acknowledged the handful that were consistent believers. If you find yourself in a dead church, Neighborhood folks, make sure you preserve your own faithfulness. Never let the inconsistency of another Christian or group of Christians affect your consistency.  Ask God to intervene. Ask God to help you find other solid, serious believers, and pray together with them for an awakening of your church. 

The message of Christ to Sardis and to us is to stay woke and strengthen what remains. 

 Stay woke & strengthen what faith you have —- Stay woke is a slang term meaning stay on top of political, ethical and social justice matters.  We gotta stay woke when it comes to those things and also to spiritual matters. 

 I desire to have both heaven and hell ever in my eye, while I stand on this isthmus of life, between these two boundless oceans; and I verily think the daily consideration of both highly becomes all men and women of reason and religion — John Wesley

Daily then, to stay woke means to be thinking about heaven and hell and the eternality of both of these places.  That’s heavy stuff, but I hope we remain alert concerning our spiritual conditions and the spiritual conditions of those around us.   We all want to be written in that Book of Life.  The names of all believers are registered in the Book of Life, and Christians can have no greater reward than to stand in heaven with Christ and have him announce to the entire assembled host, “They are mine.”

Again Christ emphasizes the importance for the readers of Revelation in his time to listen and understand. The message in this letter is also for us, 2,000 years later. 

Now I love this next letter because the name of the church is the name of the city where my mom’s side of the family is on.  So like the popular city of brotherly love in Pennsylvania, this next letter is addressed to the church in ancient Philadelphia.

Revelation 3:7-13 (NLT) 7 “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia.This is the message from the one who is holy and true, the one who has the key of David.  What he opens, no one can close; and what he closes, no one can open: 8 “I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed my word and did not deny me. 9 Look, I will force those who belong to Satan’s synagogue—those liars who say they are Jews but are not—to come and bow down at your feet. They will acknowledge that you are the ones I love. 10 “Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world. 11 I am coming soon.  Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. 12 All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.

13 “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.


About twenty-five miles southeast of Sardis on a high plateau sat the city of Philadelphia. The city was also about one hundred miles due east of Smyrna (another city on the letter carrier’s route).

Christ had no words of rebuke for this church. Though small and struggling, the church in Philadelphia had stayed true to Christ, and he told them simply to hold on to what they had.

Philadelphia was a small church in a difficult area with no prestige and no wealth, and was discouraged because it hadn’t grown. But Christ had no words of rebuke for this small, seemingly insignificant church, and he described himself to the church in Philadelphia as him who is holy and true. For Christ to hold the key of David means that he has the authority to open the door to his future kingdom. After the door is opened, no one can shut it—salvation is assured. Once it is shut, no one can open it—judgment is certain.

The meaning, however, may refer to the Jewish believers who had been excommunicated from the synagogue for their faith in Christ (see 3:9). While the door to the synagogue may have been closed to them, Christ had opened a door … that no one can shut. 

Jesus promised protection for the obedient church at Philadelphia (3:10). We cannot interpret from this verse when or for how long Christians will experience the “hour of trial.” Today, millions of Christians are suffering and dying at the hands of godless tyrants throughout the world. To them, the “hour of trial” has already begun. But whenever Christians suffer, Christ promises protection of their eternal souls. The reward for the faithful, no matter whether they are persecuted or not, will be a crown— Christians have differing gifts, abilities, experience, and maturity. God doesn’t expect believers to all be and act the same, but he does expect us to “hold on” to what we have, to persevere in using our resources for him.  Christ also gives these victorious believers three further promises:

1. He will writeGod’s name on them.

2. They will be citizens in … the new Jerusalem.

3. They will have Christ’s new name inscribed upon them.

This “new name” of Christ has not been revealed, but those who are victorious and persevere will have this new name inscribed upon them. For more on the new Jerusalem, see Revelation chapter 21.

This closing is the same as for the letters to the other churches: all should listen to the Spirit and understand what is being said.  Christ has given us many promises in Revelation, but we gotta stay in the fight in order to receive them. 

 We will be pillars, get new names & be heavenly citizens IF we endure

All of these things, these wonderful promises are for those who persevere.  This is what separates the privates from the generals right here, the boys from the men, the women from the girls.  Christ is not calling for perfection, but consistency.  We will be pillars in the temple of God.  This means we will be permanent fixtures in God’s presence.  We will be permanently in God’s presence.  Philly was constantly having earthquakes.   I know all of us can relate to quakes living here in Japan. Because of tremors and minor quakes, the people would evacuate the city and stay in temporary dwellings in the rural areas. Sometimes the pillars would be the only thing left standing after an earthquake. But Jesus promises the people that they won’t ever have to leave heaven for something temporary ever again.  We will never be kicked out of the garden EVER again.  

Everything will be new, pure, and secure. I personally cannot wait. 


Now I want you to think about something this week, I mean really think about it…..when you get to heaven, who are you waiting to meet? Relatives that have passed on before you? The prophets? The apostles? Saints in Christian history? And finally, think about what it’s gonna really be like when we see the Lord? Will he have a sense of humor? Think on these things, as they are soon to come… and while we are speaking on this, the book of Revelation should be a book of motivation and inspiration, because as we will see with this next church, no believer wants to hear the words that Christ had for the Laodicean church.

Revelation 3:14-22 (NLT) 

14 “Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation: 15 “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! 16 But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! 17 You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. 18 So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see. 19 I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.  20 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends. 21 Those who are victorious will sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat with my Father on his throne.  22 “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”

At the end of the route was Laodicea, about forty-five miles southeast of Philly. 

Laodicea was the wealthiest of the seven cities. The city was known for its banks, its manufacture of a rare black wool, and a medical school that produced eye salve. Laodicea lay at the juncture of two major trade routes between Rome and Asia. The main road from Ephesus on the coast into Asia ran through Laodicea, as did the route from the capital of the province in Pergamum to the Mediterranean coast.

It is not known whether Paul ever visited the city, although he did write them a letter which is now lost, and the letter to the Colossians was read by the Laodiceans (Colossians 4:16).

To this church, Christ is described as the Amen, the faithful and true witness. The word “amen” means something true and binding. Christ was true and faithful, but the Laodiceans were not. They were rich and powerful, but they were not “faithful and true.”  Christ’s mention of the water supply is a fitting metaphor for the activities of this church. Laodicea had always had a problem with its water supply. The city of Hierapolis, to the northwest, was famous for its hot mineral springs. An aqueduct had been built to bring water to the city from the hot springs. But by the time the water reached the city, it was neither hot nor refreshingly cool—only lukewarm and filled with minerals (impure), so it tasted terrible. According to Christ, these believers were neither cold nor hot; instead, they were merely lukewarm.  Many have thought that this cold and hot refers to spirituality—and that Christ would rather have “cold” people (without faith at all, or without any sort of growth) than “lukewarm” believers (who believe some). They take the word “cold” to be negative and “hot” to be positive, with “lukewarm” in between. Instead, both “cold” and “hot” should be taken as positive. Christ wished that the church had cold, refreshing purity or hot, therapeutic value, but it had neither. The church had become distasteful and unusable like the city’s water. Lukewarm water makes a disgusting drink. But you know what? In this Starbucks generation, isn’t lukewarm coffee disgusting? Most of us would agree..

No one likes a nasty room temperature coffee, do they? They either drink an ice cold one in the summer or a nice, piping hot one in the winter.  In the same way, we need to be a source of ice cold living water in a barren world.  And we need to be a blazing fire to those who are cold hearted to spiritual matters. 

Christ told the Laodiceans to buy their gold from him; then they would have real spiritual treasures (see 1 Timothy 6). They had fool’s gold in their bank accounts; nothing in this life outside of living for Christ, where get you anywhere in the life to come.  The city was proud of its cloth and dyeing industries. They had developed a black wool that had become famous all over the Roman Empire and was bringing huge prices. Although they had wealth in their clothing, Christ told them to buy white robes (his righteousness) from him. That alone would keep the shame of [their] nakedness from being seen.

Laodicea prided itself on its precious eye salve that healed many eye problems, but they were spiritually blind. Christ told them to get salve from him to heal their eyes so they could see the truth (John 9:39).

Christ was showing the Laodiceans and us, that possessions and achievements were valueless compared with the everlasting future of Christ’s kingdom.  

 Don’t let comfort and indifference cause Christ to spit us out —- You know, I have to apply this to my own life.  For three and a half years here in Misawa, Chi and I have been not only pastoring full-time, but also working on base full-time as well.  I could easily, EASILY go into vacation mode in Germany.  I could easily let thoughts of traveling all over Europe be my primary source of excitement over our upcoming excitement.  But I can’t forget the mission, the mission of souls.  Yes, Europe will be beautiful! But how beautiful are the feet of those that spread the Gospel, the good news of salvation, throughout Europe.  And not just humanitarian work.  I can go to homeless shelters and I can help out the refugees and give them food and clothes and help them find jobs.  But while I’m giving them jobs, I must give them Christ most importantly.  Folks, I can’t get so caught up in being in Europe that I don’t have a heart FOR Europe, that is seeing people turn from sin and darkness to the living God.  

 I also am sorry for preaching that teaches us that economic success means God is pleased with our lifestyles.  We could be making rank, but we could getting stripes taken in our spiritual lives or we could be stuck at the same rank.  What if God is saying, “do not promote” on our heavenly EPRs? Plain and simple, only spending quality time with God on our knees will reveal his will for us. While, I can tell you what the Bible says about God’s will for all Christians, your specific calling that is more individually tailored to your life is revelation that is just for you.  He might show me, and he might not.  I can’t preach you into God’s calling for you.  Only you can pray you into God’s calling for you. 

 The wonderful thing about God is the overflowing grace and love that he gives to us.  He is the God of third and fourth and 5th and 6th and 29th chances to get it right!!

There was a second chance for this church; Christ offered them the opportunity to repent. His rebuke and discipline came because of his love for the church. “For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12 nlt). Christ will “spit out” those who disobey (3:16), but he will discipline those he loves. “When we are judged and disciplined by the Lord, we will not be condemned with the world” (1 Corinthians 11:32 nlt). Because of such mercy, believers should willingly repent, realizing their need for Christ in every part of their lives and ministry. Then they will be effective for him.

God would discipline this lukewarm church unless it turned from its indifference toward him (3:19). God’s purpose in discipline is not to punish but to bring people back to him. Are you lukewarm in your devotion to God? God may discipline you to help you out of your uncaring attitude, but he uses only loving discipline. Just as the spark of love can be rekindled in marriage, so the Holy Spirit can reignite our zeal for God when we allow him to work in our hearts. 

At the end of each message to these churches, believers were urged to listen and take to heart what had been written to them. Which letter has the greatest bearing on your own spiritual condition at this time? How will you respond? Before I close, I will leave you with this quote from J.C. Ryle:

 ”It costs something to be a true Christian. Let that never be forgotten. To be a (lukewarm) Christian, and go to church, is cheap and easy work. But to hear Christ’s voice, follow Christ, believe in Christ, and confess Christ, requires much self-denial. It will cost us our sins, our self-righteousness, our ease, and our worldliness. ALL must be given up. Our Lord Jesus Christ would have us thoroughly understand this. He bids us count the cost.”–J. C. Ryle

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