Chapter 3: The Dominion Mandate

David Chilton

Narrated By: Daniel Sorenson
Book: The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of The Book of Revelation


Subscribe to the Audiobook

iTunes Google Spotify RSS Feed

Chapter Text

Sardis: Judgment on the Dead (3:1-6)

  1. And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars, says this: I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.
  2. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.
  3. Remember therefore what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. If therefore you will not wake up, I will come upon you like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.
  4. But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white; for they are worthy.
  5. He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments; and 1will not erase his name from the Book of Life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.
  6. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

1          To the bishop of the church in Sardis, Christ announces Himself as the One who has the seven Spirits of God. As we have seen (on 1:4) this is a term for the Holy Spirit who, as the Nicene Creed declares, “proceeds from the Father and the Son.” Christ also possesses the seven stars, the angels of the churches (1:16, 20). The rulers of the churches are owned by Him and are at all points accountable to Him. And the elders in Sardis desperately needed to be reminded of this, for they had allowed the church to die.

I know your deeds, the Lord tells them. You have a name that you are alive. The church of Sardis had a reputation for being an active congregation, “alive” for Christ. Undoubtedly it was well-known in Asia as the representative of the Christian faith in a wealthy and famous city. It was, perhaps, fashionable and popular in the community; there is no evidence that, in a period of growing persecution, the church in Sardis was coming under attack. In fact, the evidence is all the other way, indicating that the church had almost totally compromised with the surrounding culture. This busy, seemingly fruitful and growing church was, in fact, dead. We should note that the death of Sardis did not necessarily consist in a lack of youth activities or fellowship meetings (which is the reason why churches tend to be called “dead” today). Rather, the church had become, as Mounce correctly observes, secularized.[1] Its fundamental worldview was no different from that of the surrounding pagan culture. Its outlook was similar to that of those who are elsewhere in Scripture characterized as “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1-3). Sardis had “completely come to terms with its pagan environment.”[2]

2-3      The Lord gives Sardis two admonitions. First, He says, Wake up! G. R. Beasley-Murray points out some interesting history about the town of Sardis which serves as an appropriate background to this statement: “Sardis was built on a mountain, and an acropolis was constructed on a spur of this mountain, which was all but impregnable. Yet twice in the city’s history it had been taken unawares and captured by enemies. The parallel with the church’s lack of vigilance, and its need to wake up lest it fall under judgment is striking.”[3] Sardis is not quite completely dead, but these things are about to die. Although the Lord has not written off the entire church yet, the danger is real and immediate. The elders at Sardis must begin now to strengthen the things that remain.

At this point, some members of Sardis could have complained: “What are You scolding us for? We haven’t done anything!” And that was precisely the problem. Sardis had works; but they were not completed; they were unfulfilled in God’s sight. In fact, Sardis may have appeared to be the most “alive” church for this very reason: As a dead church, it experienced neither theological controversy nor persecution. “Content with mediocrity, lacking both the enthusiasm to entertain a heresy and the depth of conviction which provokes intolerance, it was too innocuous to be worth persecuting.”[4] Satan may have felt that Sardis was coming along rather nicely without his interference, and was better off left alone.

In His second admonition, Christ commands: Remember therefore what you have received and heard – the Gospel, the ministry and sacraments, and (in the case of the elders to whom this is specifically addressed) the privileges and responsibilities of officebearing in the Church of Jesus Christ. All these things they were to keep, to watch over and guard; and that meant that they must repent of their slothful attitude and conduct.

If therefore you will not repent, Christ warns, I will come upon you like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you. To repeat what has been painstakingly pointed out above (see on 1:7; 2:5, 16), the threat of Christ’s coming against a local church, or even against a nation or group of nations, is not the same as the Second Corning (i.e., the end of the world). Everyone is accessible to Christ the Lord at all times, and any disobedient individual, family, church, business, society, or nation is liable to have Christ come in judgment – a judgment which may include any or all the covenantal curses listed in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. In any case, the words upon you indicate a local coming; the failure of commentators and preachers to understand this simple fact is the predictable result of a flat, futurist hermeneutic bordering on Biblical illiteracy.

4-6      There were a few people in Sardis, however, who had remained faithful to what they had received and heard, and had not soiled their garments; they had not become secularized and conformed to the surrounding heathen culture. Of them, Christ says: They will walk with Me in white; for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments. The saints are seen in white garments seven times in the Book of Revelation (3:5, 18; 4:4; 6:11; 7:9, 13; 19:14), and it is obviously a symbol in Scripture for cleanliness and righteousness, with its ultimate origins in the sunlike brightness of the Glory-Cloud: In Christ, the saints are re-created in the image of God, and are clothed with the New Man, Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:27; Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10). Our being clothed in the white robes of righteousness, therefore, takes place definitively at our baptism (Gal. 3:27), progressively as we work out our salvation in daily obedience to God’s commandments, “putting on” the Christian graces and virtues (Col. 3:5-17), and finally at the Last Day (Col. 3:4; Jude 24). As with all the promises to the overcomers in Revelation, this too is simply a description of an aspect of salvation, in which all of God’s elect have a share.

In this letter’s second promise regarding the overcomer, Christ says: I will not erase his name from the Book of Life. This statement has been the source of controversy for generations. Can a true Christian fall away? Can you lose your salvation? At least three erroneous answers have been offered:

  1. Those who have been truly saved by Christ’s redemption can fall away and be lost forever. This is the classical Arminian position, and it is absolutely and categorically denied by Scripture. The nature of the salvation provided by Christ is eternal, and our justification in God’s sight is not based on our works but on the perfect, finished righteousness and substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. (See John 3:16; 5:24; 6:35-40; 10:27-30; Rom. 5:8-10; 8:28-39; Eph. 1:4-14; 1 Thess. 5:23-24; 1 John 2:19).
  1. All those who have “accepted Christ” will be saved; no matter what they do afterwards, they cannot be damned. This is the classic “chicken Evangelical” position, and it too is opposed by Scripture. Those who take this view are attempting to have it both ways: They don’t want the predestinating God preached by the Calvinist, but they don’t have the courage to affirm full Arminianism, either. They want man to be sovereign in choosing his salvation, without interference from God’s decree; yet they want the door of salvation to slam shut as soon as man gets inside, so that he can’t get out. But the Bible teaches that God has all things and rules sovereignly over all. He has infallibly chosen all those who will be saved, extending His irresistible grace toward them; and He has determined who will be damned, withholding His grace from them (see Matt. 11:25-27; 20:16; 22:14; Mark 4:11-12; Luke 4:25-27; 17:1; 22:22; John 6:37-39, 44; 12:39-40; Acts 4:27-28; 13:48; Rom. 9:10-26; 11:2, 5-10; 1 Cor. 1:27-31; Eph. 1:4-5, 11; 1 Thess. 5:9; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; 2 Tim. 2:10; 1 Pet. 1:1-2; 2:8-9; Jude 4).[5]

The Bible also teaches, however, that there are those who profess Christ, and by all accounts appear to be among the elect, who will finally apostatize from the faith and inherit damnation rather than salvation. Judas is the obvious example, but he is by no means the only one. The Old Testament provides countless examples of members of the Covenant who departed from the faith, and the New Testament warns us again and again of the wrath of God against those who break His covenant (see Matt. 7:15-23; 13:20-21; 24:10-12; Mark 4:5-17; Luke 8:13; John 15:1-10; 1 Cor. 9:27; 10:1-12; 2 Thess. 2:3, 11-12; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 3:1-9; 4:3-4; Heb. 2:1-3; 3:12-14; 6:4-6; 10:26-31, 35-39; 2 Pet. 2:1-3, 20-22; 3:17). As John Murray wrote: “It is utterly wrong to say that a believer is secure quite irrespective of his subsequent life of sin and unfaithfulness. The truth is that the faith of Jesus Christ is always respective of the life of holiness and fidelity. And so it is never proper to think of a believer irrespective of the fruits in faith and holiness. To say that a believer is secure whatever may be the extent of his addiction to sin in his subsequent life is to abstract faith in Christ from its very definition and it ministers to that abuse which turns the grace of God into lasciviousness. The doctrine of perseverance is the doctrine that believers persevere; it cannot be too strongly stressed that it is the perseverance of the saints. And that means that the saints, those united to Christ by the effectual call of the Father and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, will persevere unto the end. If they persevere, they endure, they continue. It is not at all that they will be saved irrespective of their perseverance or their continuance, but that they will assuredly persevere. Consequently the security that is theirs is inseparable from their perseverance. Is this not what Jesus said? ‘He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.’ “[6]

  1. Everyone in the world is written in the Book of Life, but unbelievers are erased from it after they have passed the age of accountability. This idea is so ridiculous that the Bible doesn’t even take the time to refute it directly (although the passages already listed demonstrate that it is pure poppycock, to put it nicely). Where in Scripture is there a shred of evidence for an “age of accountability”? Where does the Bible give any support whatsoever to the following little gem from a well-known Christian scholar?

Since Christ died for the sin inherent in every person conceived, a child who dies before becoming a deliberate and conscious sinner does not need to be “saved” from sin, since he has never sinned, and since Christ has made propitiation for his innate sin.[7]

There are at least five theological errors in that one sentence, but let’s zero in on the main point: the notion that children are basically sinless, or without “deliberate” sin, when they are born, and remain in that condition until they reach the mystical “age of accountability.” In the first place, the true age of accountability is reached at the moment of conception: All men, at all times, are accountable to God (see Ps. 51:5; Rom. 3:23). Second, all men are under the sentence of condemnation already; apart from the saving grace of God, they are condemned from the moment they exist (see John 3:18,36; Rom. 5:12-19).[8] Why else do babies die (Rom. 6:23)? Third, infants are deliberate sinners: “Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies” (Ps. 58:3; cf. Ps. 53:2-3; Rom. 3:10-12, 23; Eph. 2:1-3). Now, either the “age of accountability” doctrine is in error, or the Bible is wrong. Which are we to believe? The fact is that the idea of the essential sinlessness of infants is a pagan notion, unsupported by the Bible. It is merely antichristian sentimentalism, which refuses to hear the Word of God and attempts to replace it with the word of man – or, more likely, with the word of effeminate poets scribbling mushy greeting cards. It is right on the same level with the sentiment that every time a fairy blows its wee nose a baby is born.

To conclude this point: The threat stated by Jesus Christ here is very real. Those who are in the Book of Life – i.e., who are baptized Church members professing Christ, and are thus counted as, and treated as, Christians – must remain faithful to Christ. If they apostatize into heresy, immorality, or simply the “secularization” that plagued Sardis, they will be erased, written out of the record of the redeemed. But the Christian who overcomes these temptations, thus demonstrating that Christ has truly purchased him for His own, is in no danger – his name will never be erased.

The final promise to the overcomer reinforces the idea: I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels. This echoes Jesus’ statements in the Gospels: “Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33; cf. Mark 8:38; Luke 12:8-9). Many of the Christians in Sardis were denying Christ before their community, as they endeavored to be praised of men rather than of God. At the Last Judgment they would hear these words from the Son of God: I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness (Matt. 7:23). But those who overcame these temptations would be joyfully acknowledged by Christ as His own. This message is as important and needed today as it was 2000 years ago. Do we have ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches?

Philadelphia: Judgment on the Synagogue of Satan (3:7-13)


  1. And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:
  2. I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you ‘an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My Word, and have not denied My name.
  3. Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews, and are not, but lie-behold, I will make them to come and bow down at your feet, and to know that I have loved you.
  4. Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the Land.
  5. I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, in order that no one take your crown.
  6. He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the Temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the City of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.
  7. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

7          Like the church in Smyrna, the church in Philadelphia had been especially persecuted by the apostate Jews. Christ begins his message to the elders by declaring Himself as the One who is holy, an established Biblical term for God (cf. Isa. 40:25), and who is true, in contrast to the lying leaders of the Jews, who had rejected the truth. Jesus Christ also has the key of David: He opens and no one will shut, and He shuts and no one opens. This is an allusion to Isaiah 22:15-25, in which God accuses a royal steward of falsehood, of betraying his trust. God declares: “I will depose you from your office, and I will pull you down from your station” (v. 19; cf. Gen. 3:22-24). Moreover, God would replace the false steward with a faithful one (cf. 1 Sam. 13:13-14):

And I will clothe him with your tunic,
And tie your sash securely about him.
I will entrust him with your authority,
And he will become a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem

and to the house of Judah.

Then I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder:

When he opens no one will shut,

When he shuts no one will open. (Isa. 22:21-22)

Christ is thus announcing that the officers of apostate Israel are false stewards: they have been thrown out of office, removed from all rightful authority, and replaced by the One who is holy and true. The keepers of the door at the synagogue had excommunicated the Christians, declaring them to be apostates. In reality, Christ says, it is you of the synagogue who are the apostates; it is you who have been cast out of the Covenant; and I have taken your place as the True Steward, the Pastor and Overseer of the Covenant (cf. 1 Pet. 2:25).

8-9      And so the Lord can comfort these suffering Christians who, on account of their faithful following of Christ, have suffered wrongful excommunication from the Covenant. I know your deeds, He assures them. You have been shut out of the door by the keyholders, but you must remember that I am the One who has the key, and behold, I have put before you a door which no one can shut. The Lord of the Covenant Himself has admitted them to fellowship, and has cast out those who pretend to hold the keys; the faithful Christians have nothing to fear. The church of Philadelphia has only a little power – it is not prominent, stylish, or outwardly prosperous, in contrast to the impressive, apparently “alive,” compromising church at Sardis. Yet they have been faithful with what they have been given (cf. Luke 19:26): You… have kept My Word, and have not denied my name.


Therefore, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews, and are not, but lie – behold, I will make them to come and bow down at your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Again the apostate Jews are revealed in their true identity: the synagogue of Satan (cf. 2:9). Again, there is no such thing as “orthodox” Judaism; there is no such thing as a genuine belief in the Old Testament that is consistent with a rejection of Jesus Christ as Lord and God. Those who do not believe in Christ do not believe the Old Testament either. The god of Judaism is the devil. The Jew will not be recognized by God as one of His chosen people until he abandons his demonic religion and returns to the faith of his fathers – the faith which embraces Jesus Christ and His Gospel. When Christ-rejecting Jews claim to follow in the footsteps of Abraham, Jesus says, they lie. And, although they currently have the upper hand in Philadelphia, their domination of the true covenant people will not last long. Christ Himself will force them to come and bow down at the Christians’ feet. In this statement is an ironic reference to Isaiah 60:14, where God gives this promise to the covenant people, who had been persecuted by the heathen:

The sons of those who afflicted you will come bowing to you,
And all those who despised you will bow themselves at the

soles of your feet;
And they will call you the City of the LORD,
The Zion of the Holy One of Israel.

Those who falsely claim to be Jews are really in the position of the persecuting heathen; and they will be forced to acknowledge the covenantal status of the Church as the inheritor of the promises to Abraham and Moses. For the Church is the true Israel, and in coming into the Church, these believers “have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God” (Heb. 12:22). Apostate Israel has been pruned out of the tree of life of the covenant people, while believers in Christ from all nations have been grafted in (Rom. 11:7-24). The only hope for those outside the covenant line, regardless of their ethnic or religious heritage, is to recognize Christ as the only Savior and Lord, submitting themselves to Him. Unless and until the Jews become grafted into the covenant line by God’s grace, they will remain outside the people of God, and will perish with the heathen. The Bible does hold out the promise that the descendants of Abraham will return to the faith of Jesus Christ (Rom. 11:12, 15, 23-32).[9] But until they do, Scripture classes them with the heathen (with one major difference, however: the condemnation of the apostate Jew is much more severe than that of the unenlightened pagan; see Rom. 2:1-29).

10-11 Because the persecuted Christians of Philadelphia had kept the word of perseverance, their Lord promises in return to keep them from the hour of testing. Note well: Christ is not promising to rapture them or to take them away, but to keep them. In other words, He is promising to preserve them in trial, to keep them from falling (Jude 24). Although this is one of the verses that dispensationalists have claimed for support of the “pre-tribulation rapture” theory, on close examination it actually reveals itself to be nothing of the sort. In fact, it says nothing about the end of the world or the Second Coming at all: The “hour of testing” spoken of here is identified as that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the Land. It is speaking of the period of tribulation which, in the experience of the first-century readers, was about to come. Does it make sense that Christ would promise the church in Philadelphia protection from something that would happen thousands of years later? “Be of good cheer, you faithful, suffering Christians of first-century Asia Minor: I won’t let those Soviet missiles and Killer Bees of the 20th century get you!” When the Philadelphian Christians were worried about more practical, immediate concerns – official persecution, religious discrimination, social ostracism, and economic boycotts – what did they care about Hal Lindsey’s lucrative horror stories? By twisting such passages as these to suit their passing fancies, certain modern dispensationalists have added to the Word of God, and detracted from its message; and they thus come under the curses of Revelation 22:18-19.

No, the promised hour of testing was in the immediate future, as Scripture universally testifies; a mere hour of trial, to be replaced by a thousand years of rule (20:4-6). St. John uses the expression those who dwell on the Land twelve times in Revelation (once for each of the twelve tribes) to refer to apostate Israel (3:10; 6:10; 8:13; 11:10 [twice]; 13:8, 12, 14 [twice]; 14:6; 17:2, 8). In the Greek Old Testament (the version used by the early Church), it is a common prophetic expression for rebellious, idolatrous Israel about to be destroyed and driven from the Land (Jer. 1:14; 10:18; Ezek. 7:7; 36:17; Hos. 4:1, 3; Joel 1:2, 14; 2:1; Zeph. 1:18), based on its original usage in the historical books of the Bible for rebellious, idolatrous pagans about to be destroyed and driven from the Land (Num. 32:17; 33:52, 55; Josh. 7:9; 9:24; Judg. 1:32; 2 Sam. 5:6; 1 Chron. 11:4; 22:18; Neh. 9:24); Israel has become a nation of pagans, and is about to be destroyed, exiled, and supplanted by a new nation, the Church. The entire Roman world itself would be thrown into massive convulsions, part of which would involve the persecution of Christians by a crazed, self-deified emperor, with the aid of the Jews. Days were coming in which the devil – in both his Roman and Jewish manifestations – would attempt to destroy Christianity once and for all. The end result would be the destruction of Israel and Rome instead, but in the meantime there were hard times in store for the Christians, and many enticements to turn from the faith. Christ is here promising His faithful followers that they will be protected and enabled to persevere in the coming hour of trial. So again He reminds them: I am coming quickly – the promised judgment is not far off. Therefore, hold fast what you have, in order that no one take your crown. Christ has opened the door for the Church, granting it the privilege of royal fellowship with God as His priests and kings; and they must endure for His sake, while His coming Kingdom shakes the nations of earth and routs His enemies from their strongholds.

12-13 Again the promise to the overcomer involves a symbolic designation of salvation. First, Christ says, I will make him a pillar in the Temple of My God. This is related to the complex imagery of the Tabernacle and the Temple, whose architectural structures corresponded to the garments of the priests.[10] The two side-posts of the Tabernacle (the pillars of the Temple) are called shoulders, while the headdress of the priest, inscribed with the name of God, corresponded to the lintel which overarched the pillars.[11] Just as the two temple pillars were named He shall establish and In Him is strength (1 Ki. 7:20, so the shoulder-pieces of the high priest’s ephod were inscribed with the names of the sons of Israel (Ex. 28:9-12). All this is brought together in Revelation, where the faithful overcomer is conceived of as a pillar in God’s Temple. And he will not go out from it anymore: The people of God are characterized by stability and permanence (cf. Jer. 1:18; 1 Tim. 3:15). We have been redeemed from our wanderings.

Continuing this imagery, Christ says: I will write upon him the name of My God, and the name of the City of My God,… and My new name. All this speaks of the full restoration of God’s people to the image of God, as we see in the final chapter of Revelation: “And they shall see His face, and His name shall be in their foreheads” (Rev. 22:4). One of the basic blessings of the covenant is contained in the familiar benediction: “The LORD make His face shine upon you” (Num. 6:25); to see the shining of God’s face means to partake of salvation and to reflect the glory of God as His image-bearer (see Ex. 34:29-35; Num. 12:6-8; Ps. 80:3, 7, 19; 2 Cor. 3:7-18; 4:6; 1John 3:2). Similarly, as we have already seen, the name of God inscribed on the forehead symbolizes the restoration of redeemed man to the ethical and physical glory which belongs to the image of God (cf. Gen. 3:19; Ex. 28:36-38; Deut. 6:4-9; and contrast 2 Chron. 26:19).

The picture is completed as the Christian is declared to be a citizen of the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. The old Jerusalem, which had apostatized from the faith of Abraham, was under judgment, about to be destroyed; the old Temple, which God had abandoned, had become a sanctuary for demons, and was soon to be so completely demolished that not one stone would lie upon another (Matt. 24:1-2). But now the Church of Christ is declared to be the city of God, the new Jerusalem, whose origin was not on earth but in heaven. The citizens of the old Jerusalem were to be scattered to the ends of the earth (Luke 21:24), while the Christian’s relationship to God is so intimate that he could be described as a very pillar in the Temple, the dwelling-place of God – a pillar, moreover, that could not be moved from its place, for the Christian will not go out from it anymore. The children of the old Jerusalem were, like their mother, enslaved; while “the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother” (Gal. 4:26). Jesus had said: “Many shall come from east and west, and shall recline at the table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven; but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:11-12). And this was true of the overcoming Christians in Philadelphia. Although persecuted and discriminated against by the false Israel, as Isaac had been by Ishmael (Gen. 21:8-14; Gal. 4:22-31), they would see the false sons disinherited and cast out, while they through Christ received the blessings of their father Abraham, and inherited the world (Rom. 4:13; Gal. 3:29).

Laodicea: Judgment on the Lukewarm (3:14-22)

  1. And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:
  2. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot.
  3. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.
  4. Because you say: I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing; and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.
  5. I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rkh, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see.
  6. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent.
  7. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me.
  8. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.
  9. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

14       The wealthiest city in the region, Laodicea was another important center of emperor-worship. In His message to the elders of this church, Christ identifies Himself in three ways. First, Jesus says, He is the Amen. This is a familiar word to all Christians: We repeat it at the close of our creeds, hymns, and prayers.[12] It is generally understood to mean So be it; but its actual force, in terms of the theology of the Bible, is much stronger. It is really an oath: to say Amen means to call down upon oneself the curses of the Covenant (cf. Num. 5:21-22; Deut. 27:15-26; Neh. 5:12-13). As our “Yes and Amen” Jesus Christ is the guarantee of the covenantal promises, by His perfect obedience, atoning sacrifice, and continuing intercession in the court of heaven (2 Cor. 1:20; Gal. 3:13; Heb. 7:22-28; 9:24-28; 10:10-14). Thus, our Amen in liturgical response to God’s Word is both an oath and a recognition that our salvation is wholly dependent not upon our keeping of the Covenant but upon the perfect covenantkeeping of Jesus Christ, who placed Himself under the Covenant stipulations and curses in our place.

Second, this means that Jesus is also the faithful and true Witness, on whose Word we may eternally depend. “He is a faithful Witness because his witness is true; and he is a true Witness because in him is the complete realization of all the qualifications which constitute anyone really and truly a witness.”[13] And it is as this infallible and fully authoritative Witness that Christ bears convicting testimony against the church of Laodicea.

Third, Jesus says, He is the Beginning of the creation of God: He is the archē both the Origin and the Ruler of all creation, as Paul also wrote in a letter he specifically intended the Laodicean church to read (see Col. 4:16):

And He is the image of the invisible God, the Firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also the head of the Body, the Church; and He is the Beginning, the Firstborn from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything. (Col. 1:15-18)

Thus the One who speaks to Laodicea is the Amen, the great Guarantor of the Covenant, the infallible Witness who is Truth Himself, with all the authority possessed by the Creator and King of the universe. And He has come to bear testimony against His church.

15-16 Laodicea was lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold. This has often been interpreted as if hot meant godly enthusiasm and cold meant ungodly antagonism; but there is another explanation which suits the historical and geographical context better. Laodicea was situated between two other important cities, Colossae and Hieropolis. Colossae, wedged into a narrow valley in the shadow of towering mountains, was watered by icy streams which tumbled down from the heights. In contrast, Hieropolis was famous for its hot mineral springs which flowed out of the city and across a high plain until it cascaded down a cliff which faced Laodicea. By the time the water reached the valley floor, it was lukewarm, putrid, and nauseating. At Colossae, therefore, one could be refreshed with clear, cold, invigorating drinking water; at Hieropolis, one could be healed by bathing in its hot, mineral-laden pools. But at Laodicea, the waters were neither hot (for health) nor cold (for drinking).[14]

In other words, the basic accusation against Laodicea is that it is ineffectual, good for nothing. The Laodicean church brings neither a cure for illness nor a drink to soothe dry lips and parched throats. The sort of Christianity represented by Laodicea is worthless. The church provided ”neither refreshment for the spiritually weary, nor healing for the spiritually sick. It was totally ineffective, and thus distasteful to its Lord.”[15] Thus, says Mounce, “the church is not being called to task for its spiritual temperature but for the barrenness of its works.”[16] This explains Christ’s statement: I would that you were cold or hot. He is not saying that outright apostasy is preferable to middle-of-the-roadism; rather, He is wishing that the Laodicean Christians would have an influence upon their society.

The Hippopotamus’s day

Is passed in sleep; at night he hunts;

God works in a mysterious way –

The Church can sleep and feed at once.[17]

The Christian’s calling is not to blend in with a pagan environment but to convert it, reform it, reconstruct it in terms of the whole counsel of God as mandated in His Word. To cite but one example of a modern Laodiceanism, consider the many Bible-believing, evangelical churches – which would shudder at the suggestion that they are “worldly” or “liberal” – which continue on in their complacent lifestyle, organizing encounter groups and summer camps, completely oblivious to the murder of over 4000 unborn infants every day. Often, these churches are afraid of making “political” statements on the grounds that they might lose their tax exemptions. But whatever the excuse, such a church is disobedient to the Word of God. If a church is not transforming its society, if it is not Christianizing the culture, what good is it? “If the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men” (Matt. 5:13).

So because you are lukewarm… I will spit you out of my mouth. This is an echo of Leviticus 18:24-28:

Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. For the land has become defiled, therefore I have visited its punishment upon it, so the land has spewed out its inhabitants. But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you (for the men of the land who have been before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become defiled); so that the land may not spew you out, should you defile it, as it has spewed out the nation which has been before you.

The Laodicean lukewarmness is an abomination to the Lord. Because it is such a failure in making an impression upon the world (and thus conforming to heathen standards – or not making a fuss about those standards, which amounts to the same thing) the church is in danger of being cut off from Christ, its very leadership threatened with wholesale excommunication.

17-18 The city of Laodicea was proud of its three outstanding characteristics: Its great wealth and financial independence as an important banking center; its textile industry, which produced “a very fine quality of world-famous black, glossy wool”;[18] and its scientific community, renowned not only for its prestigious medical school, but also for an eyesalve (called “Phrygian Powder”) which had been well-known since the days of Aristotle. Using these facts to illustrate the problems in the church, Christ cites the general attitude of the Laodicean Christians: You say: I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing. In reality, despite the church’s wealth and undoubted social standing, it was ineffectual, accomplishing nothing for the kingdom of God. It is not a sin for a church (or an individual) to be rich – in fact, God wants us to acquire wealth (Deut. 8:18). What is sinful is the failure to use our resources for the spread of the kingdom. When a relatively poor church such as that at Smyrna (see Rev. 2:9) was having a rich effect upon its community, there was no excuse for Laodicea’s impotence. Her problem was not wealth, but disobedience: You do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.

Yet, in grace, Christ makes an offer of mercy: I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich; and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eyesalve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. The symbolism here should be obvious. True faith and genuine works of obedience are spoken of in Scripture in terms of jewelry, and especially gold (1 Pet. 1:7; 1 Cor. 3:12-15); nakedness is symptomatic of disobedience (Gen. 3:7), whereas being clothed in white robes is a symbol of righteousness, with regard to both justification and sanctification (Gen. 3:21; Matt. 22:11; Rev. 19:8); and blindness is a symbol for man’s impotence and fallenness (Lev. 21:18; Deut. 29:4; Matt. 13:13-15; 16:3; 2 Cor. 4:3-4; 1 John 2:11) apart from God’s restoration of him to true sight – the godly, mature ability to judge righteous judgment (Luke 4:18; Acts 26:18; 1 Cor. 2:14-15).

19-20 But Laodicea is not yet to be cast off by the Lord. Harsh as His words are, He still professes His love for His Bride. That, in fact, is the source of His anger: Because I love you, He declares, I reprove and discipline. A characteristic of those who are true sons of God, and not bastards (cf. Heb. 12:5-11) is their response to rebuke and discipline. All Christians need reproof and correction at times, and some more than others; what is important is whether or not we heed the warning, and mend our ways. As far as Laodicea has fallen, it can still be restored if it renews its obedience and becomes faithful to God’s Word: Be zealous therefore, and repent!

At this point Jesus speaks some of the most beautiful words in all the Bible, in what is perhaps the most well-known New Testament verse aside from John 3:16. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him, and he with Me. Several Reformed commentators have pointed out the widespread abuse of this passage by modern evangelicals, who rip the verse from its context as a message to the elders of a church, and turn it into a watered-down, Arminian request from a weak and helpless deity who is at the mercy of man. We must remember that Christ is speaking here as the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Creator and Sovereign Lord of all. He is not making a feeble plea, as if He did not rule history and predestine its most minute details; He is the King of Kings, who makes war on His enemies and damns them to everlasting flames. Nor is he speaking to people in general, for He is directing His message to His Church; nor, again, is he simply speaking to Christians as individuals, but to Christians as members of the Church. This verse cannot be made to serve the purposes of Arminian, subjective individualism without violently wrenching it from its covenantal and textual context.[19]

Nevertheless, there is a distortion on the other side that is just as serious. It will not do merely to point out the failures of Arminians to deal satisfactorily with this text, for Calvinists have traditionally been at fault here as well. Reformed worship tends to be overly intellectual, centered around preaching. In the name of being centered around the Word, it is actually often centered around the intellect. Reformed rationalism has thus produced its equal and opposite reaction in Arminian revivalism, irrationalism, and anti-intellectualism. People have fled the barren, overly intellectual emphasis of Reformed worship and have run into the anti-theology heresies of what is unfortunately known as evangelicalism (which has, indeed, precious little of the original evangel).[20]

What is the answer? We must take seriously the Biblical doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. We must return to the Biblical pattern of worship centered on Jesus Christ, which means the weekly celebration of the Lord’s Supper, as well as instruction about its true meaning and efficacy.[21] We must abandon the rank platonism which informs our bare, intellectualized worship, and return to a truly corporate, liturgical worship characterized by artistic beauty and musical excellence.[22]

For it should be obvious that in this verse He is extending to the Church an offer of renewed communion with Himself. The very heart and center of our fellowship with Christ is at His table (i.e., our earthly table which He has made His). The most basic, and most profound, offer of salvation is Christ’s offer to dine with us. In Holy Communion we are genuinely having dinner with Jesus, lifted up into His heavenly presence; and, moreover, we are feasting on Him:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in Him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me. (John 6:53-57)

21-22 The final promise to the overcomer is a promise of dominion with Christ: I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My Throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His Throne. Is this only a future hope? Assuredly not. The privilege of ruling with Christ belongs to all Christians, in time and on earth, although the dominion is progressive through history until the final consummation. But Christ has entered upon His Kingdom already (Col. 1:13); He has disarmed Satan and the demons already (Col. 2:15); and we are kings and priests with Him already (Rev. 1:6); and just as He conquered, so we are to go forth, conquering in His name. He reigns now (Acts 2:29-36), above all creation (Eph. 1:20-22), with all power in heaven and in earth (Matt. 28:18-20), and is engaged now in putting all enemies under His feet (1 Cor. 15:25), until His kingdom becomes a great mountain, filling the whole earth (Dan. 2:35, 45).

We have thus been faced again and again in these messages to the churches with the fundamental command of Revelation, that which St. John admonished us to keep (1:3): Overcome! Conquer! Even aside from the fact that the prophecy is not about the twentieth century, we will miss its point if we concentrate on persecutions or emperor-worship in the same way that the Hal Lindseys of this age concentrate on oil embargoes, common markets and hydrogen bombs: the basic message is about none of these, but rather about the duty of the Church to conquer the world. R. J. Rushdoony has well said: “The purpose of this vision is to give comfort and assurance of victory to the Church, not to confirm their fears or the threats of the enemy. To read Revelation as other than the triumph of the kingdom of God in time and eternity is to deny the very essence of its meaning.”[23]

great failure of what is commonly known as “amillennialism” is its unwillingness to come to terms with these dominical implications of the mediatorial reign of Jesus Christ. The New Testament writers constantly urge God’s people to “overcome” in the light of Christ’s definitive victory. Having been recreated in His image, according to His likeness (Eph. 4:24; Col. 3:10), and becoming more and more conformed to His image (Rom. 8:29-30), we are kings with Him now, in this age. He has given us legal title to all things (cf. Rom. 8:32; 1 Cor. 3:21-22), and on this basis we are to exercise dominion under His lordship in every area of life. Amillennialists, however, while professing to believe in the existence of Christ’s present Kingdom, often characteristically deny its practical relevance to this world. For example, Dr. Meredith G. Kline’s brilliant study Images of the Spirit has an excellent chapter on “A Prophetic Model of the Image of God,” in which he shows how the restoration of God’s image to the Church through Christ means that “all the Lord’s people are prophets” (cf. Num. 11:29; Acts 2:17-18).[24] Kline also has a superb chapter on “A Priestly Model of the Image of God,” a fascinating exposition of the priesthood of all believers in the image of Christ, our definitive High Priest.[25] But Christ is Prophet, Priest, and King – yet, significantly, Kline neglected to write an essay on “A Kingly Model of the Image of God.” But if Christians image Christ in His role of Prophet and Priest, they are kings as well, in the image of the King. That is precisely the burden of the verses under discussion: The Lord Jesus Christ shares His conquest and enthronement with His people. Because He overcame and sat down with the Father on His Throne, He now summons us to enjoy regal dominion with Him, inheriting all things.

[1] Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), p. 112.

[2] Ibid., p. 109.

[3] G. R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., [1978] 1981), p. 94.

[4] G. B. Caird, The Revelation of St. John the Divine (New York; Harper & Row, Publishers, 1966), p. 48.

[5] Those readers who would like to study this further should consult the following books, all published by the Banner of Truth Trust (P.O. Box 621, Carlisle, PA 17013): Arthur Pink, The Sovereignty of God; John Cheeseman et al., The Grace of God in the Gospel; John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied; J. Gresham Machen, The Christian View of Man; and R. B. Kuiper, The Bible Tells Us So.

[6] John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955), pp. 154f.

[7] Out of sincere respect for this God-fearing author, who has rendered the Church valuable service, I shall omit his name.

[8] This is the doctrine of the imputation of Adam’s sin (which should be distinguished from the doctrine of innate sin; but most evangelicals, including preachers and commentators, don’t seem to know the difference). A helpful exposition of this is in John Murray, The Imputation of Adam’s Sin (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, [1959) 1977).

[9] See David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1985), pp. 125ff.

[10] Meredith G. Kline has devoted an entire chapter to this subject. See “A Priestly Model of the Image of God,” in Images of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), pp. 35-56.

[11] Ibid., pp. 40., 44f., 54f.; cf. Ex. 27:14-15; 1 Kings 6:8; 7:15, 21, 39; 2 Kings 11:11; 2 Chron. 3:17; Ezek. 40:18, 40ff.; 41:2. 26; 46:19; 47:1-2.

[12] Unfortunately, many fundamentalists and evangelicals use the term nowadays to mean I feel good. Such usage. implicitly (though certainly not intentionally) bordering on blasphemy, is only one symptom of the subjective, man-centered attitude toward life which has become common during the past two centuries.

[13] A. Plummer in The Pulpit Commentary: The Revelation of St. John the Divine (London: Funk and Wagnalls Company, n.d.), p. 115.

[14] C. J. Herner, “Seven Cities of Asia Minor,” in R. K. Harrison, ed., Major Cities of the Biblical World (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985), pp. 246ff.

[15] 15. M. J. S. Rudwick and E. M. B. Green, “The Laodicean Lukewarmness,” in Expository Times, Vol. 69 (1957-58), p. 178; cited in Mounce, p. 125.

[16] Mounce, pp. 125f.

[17] From T. S. Eliot, “The Hippopotamus,” Collected Poems 1909-1962 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1963), p. 42.

[18] Charles F. Pfeiffer and Howard F. Vos, The Wycliffe Historical Geography of Bible Lands (Chicago: Moody Press, 1967), p. 377.

[19] Of course, the Lord offers Himself to people outside the Kingdom as well: Even the dogs are given crumbs from the children’s table (Matt. 15:21-28); and the king in Christ’s parable (Luke 14:23) sent his servants out to compel the Gentiles to come in. But Christ’s offer of salvation is never made outside the context of the Covenant, the Kingdom, and the Church.

[20] See James B. Jordan’s essay “Holistic Evangelism” in his Sociology of the Church (Tyler, TX: Geneva Ministries, 1986).

[21] See Geddes MacGregor, Corpus Christi: The Nature of the Church According to the Reformed Tradition (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1958); and Ronald S. Wallace, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Word and Sacrament (Tyler, TX: Geneva Ministries, [1953] 1982).

[22] One of the most helpful books on worship from a Reformed perspective is Richard Paquier, Dynamics of Worship: Foundations and Uses of Liturgy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967). For viewpoints from other traditions see Louis Bouyer, Liturgical Piety (University of Notre Dame Press, 1955); Josef A. Jungmann, S.J., The Early Liturgy to the Time of Gregory the Great (University of Notre Dame Press, 1959); Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1966); Luther D. Reed, The Lutheran Liturgy (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1947); Massey H. Shepherd Jr., The Worship of the Church (Greenwich, CT: The Seabury Press, 1952); and Cheslyn Jones et al., eds., The Study of Liturgy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978).

[23] Rousas John Rushdoony, Thy Kingdom Come: Studies in Daniel and Revelation (Tyler, TX: Thoburn Press, [1970] 1978), p. 90.

[24] Kline, Images of the Spirit, pp. 57-96.

[25] Ibid., pp. 35-56.