Updated: Apr 21, 2021
Philidelphia (Revelation 3:7-13)
We come to the last two churches of the seven and we hear of one that receives lots of praise and one that is the furthest from God of the seven. The church at Philidelphia has been expelled from the synagogue and is therefore no longer protected under Roman law. Similar to the church at Smyrna, we see that some Jews are reporting on the Christians to Roman officials. But Jesus tells them that He is the one that holds the keys - the keys of David. This is a reference to the royal palace, which is a metaphor for the Kingdom. These words of encouragement are to help provide a new identity to the group, who have lost their identity and heritage with the expulsion. We are now citizens of heaven and the promise of the future world. He wants them to know that they are His people and that He loves His people. His people are one temple, and we, individually and collectively, (Jew and Gentile) are the pillars of this temple. Through this, we are to keep His word and we must continue to stand fast in the faith. This faithfulness means that we will be excluded from things of the culture, but Jesus will protect us through our trials and our suffering.
Verse 10 is often used to support the Pre-Tribulation Rapture theory. The rapture is an event where Jesus Christ will appear in the air, the trumpet will sound, and all believers in Christ will leave this earth. Those who have died since the resurrection of Christ receive their resurrected bodies. Those that are alive will also be transformed and depart this world. The most vivid description of this event is found in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. The words "keep you from the hour of trial" in verse 10 supports that this event will happen before the Great Tribulation. This is a seven-year period (Daniel 9:27), where true believers in Christ will not see the wrath of God, (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). However, elsewhere in the Bible God teaches us that, as followers of Christ, we are not removed from suffering, but rather receive protection through it. This topic is not to divide Christians but rather encourage us that we have already received victory through the Lamb that has been slain - Jesus Christ.
This favorable letter to the church at Philedeliphia reminds us that we are to serve God and others and to live a life that glorifies God. True believers are unable to withhold the honour due to God and because of this, we are to worship and proclaim His Holy name.
Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22)
The famous words, "you are neither cold nor hot" points to their physical location. They sit in a valley without their own natural water supply. They have to rely on water supplied from Hierapolis 10 kilometers away. Hierapolis is known for its hot springs and so the water once it travels along the aqueduct becomes lukewarm. The hot spring water was rich in calcium and formed white balconies that had healing qualities. By the time the Laodiceans received the water they couldn't bathe in it, but they also couldn't drink it, because it was "chalky" and tepid. Jesus uses this situation to reflect back to this church that they are like the water that they complain about, useless. Can't bathe in it and can't drink in it and therefore does not serve a purpose. This lukewarm water is used in the same way as rotten food was from the Old Testament, it is disgusting and used to show the rejection of God.
Laodicea is the most independent of these churches in relation to Rome's authority over them. It was a strong banking centre and when it suffered an earthquake (in 60AD), they refused to take financial support from Rome to rebuild. They prided themselves on being self-sufficient. They did not need outside help (laughable in light of their water situation). This pride left no room for God as they fully reflected the values of the culture around them. They had a strong wool industry, famous for its black dyed clothes. This, along with having a famous eye doctor, is used to point to their need for God, i.e. verse 17, they are naked and blind.
There was however hope! Jesus tells them to be earnest and repent. That whoever hears Jesus's voice when He knocks and opens the door to Him will enjoy dinner with Him and will reign with Him - victorious. The solution here is repentance, for the church and for each of us. For all those that have turned away from God, repent. Our culture makes it easy for us to think of ourselves as self-sufficient. We have wealth and we have prosperity, our idol is materialism. A lack of devotional and prayer time might be all it takes for us to be lukewarm. Our indifference to those that are persecuted and suffering is a result of our tepid nature toward God.
I pray that we see and hear ourselves in these seven churches and that we discern and make the right course corrections. We must see standing firm in faith and in His Word and suffering for it, as a blessing, while the warning that we are not to be influenced by the world around us is very clear throughout these letters. Greek and Roman culture may have passed, but our culture should cause us concern and we must be on guard. Being self-sufficient and full of pride causes us to see no need for God, and that is when we need Him the most.