Revelation 5:1-7 The Lion and the Lamb

In the previous chapter, John the apostle was caught up into heaven, where he saw the throne of God and the court of heaven. Now, in Revelation 5, the scene is still heaven, but the theme changes. From a theme of worship of God the Creator, we shift to the theme of worship of the Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

The first questions verses 1-4 suggests are, “What does the scroll represent? Why is it sealed? As we shall see in Revelation 6, the opening of the seals and the unrolling of the scroll will reveal a series of momentous events which will shake the earth to its foundations. In fact, the events described in this scroll will continue to unfurl throughout chapters 7, 8, 9, and 10. What does the scroll signify? We are given a clue in Revelation 10:7, where John is told, “The Mystery of God will be accomplished.” The scroll, then, is a “mystery” book. It answers all the great unanswerable questions people have been asking for generations.

Perhaps the most persistent and vexing of these questions is “Why can’t humankind solve its own problems?” Everyone wants Utopia, but no one knows how to achieve it. Everyone wants an end to war, crime, evil, and prejudice, but no one knows how to end the misery to our humanity. We continue to make rapid technological and scientific progress that the amount of combined knowledge amassed within the libraries, archives, and data bases of the human race literally doubles every dozen years! One would think humanity, having made such amazing strides, would be on the verge of physical, intellectual, and moral perfection. Why, after all our progress and increased knowledge, can we not solve our most basic human problems? The scroll of The Mystery of God holds the answer.

The appearing of this scroll raised an immediate problem, however. John “saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seal?’” (v. 2). He realizes that there must be one with the worthiness and right stand before God, receive the scroll, and open its seal. Unless this could happen, the content of God’s book would not be revealed and the will of God for history would not be performed. John lamented because “no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it” (v. 3). The realization shattered him: “and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it” (v. 4). Undoubtedly, part of the reason for John’s weeping arose from his awareness of his own unworthiness and that of the entire human race.

In verse 5, John learns to his amazement that the problem has already been solved! The twenty-four angels of the heavenly council around God’s throne know the answer, and one of them discloses the answer to John. “The Lion of the tribe of Judah” and “the Root of David” are significant Jewish titles. They refer to prophecies from the Old Testament which predicts that there would come one from the tribe of Judah and from the family of David who rule over the earth and put and end to all the earth’s pain and sorrows. These two titles refer to the King of the Jews – the same title which Pilate had posted over the cross of Jesus. It is the King of the Jews, the Redeemer Himself, who has gone through death and suffering in order to conquer death and suffering, who is destined to bring about God’s kingdom on earth.

And now we come to one of the most decisive moments in all Scripture. What John has heard is the announcement of the Lion. However, in verse 6, John turns and sees a Lamb! The body of the Lamb is wounded, as if it had been put to death. John is to hold what he has heard in his head while gazing at what he now sees; and he is to hold what he is seeing in his head as he reflects on what he has heard. The two seem radically different. The Lion is the symbol both of ultimate power and of supreme royalty, while the lamb symbolizes both gentle vulnerability and, through its sacrifice, the ultimate weakness of death. But the two are now to be fused together, completely and forever.

From this moment on, John, and we as his careful readers, are to understand that the victory won by the Lion is accomplished through the sacrifice of the Lamb, and in no other way. Therefore, when John saw that the Lamb “went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne” (v. 7), he was witnessing the exaltation of Christ to the seat of authority in heaven with the Father, after His atoning death and victorious resurrection from the grave. No wonder that John should “weep no more” (v. 5), since the enthroned Lamb will open the scroll of God’s will. Moreover, John saw that despite his own failure and failure of our entire race in sin, the Lion of Judah will rule with power to save those joined to Him through faith.

In observing Jesus conquering not with the Lion’s teeth but with the Lamb’s dying wounds, Christians gain important insights into how we are said to conquer with Him through faith. In each of the seven letters to the churches in chapters 2-3, Jesus exhorted the readers that salvation would come only “to the one who conquers.” It is from the vantage point of chapter 5 that we can more fully understand what it means to conquer through faith in Christ.

Since Jesus conquered by dying for sin, the first step in our spiritual victory must always be to receive His saving work through faith alone. Before we do anything with or for Christ, we must be saved by His conquering work (1 John 1:8-9, 2:1-2). Having first been saved, only then are we to conquer in the example of Christ, ministering and serving not only as lions but also as lambs. The combination that we see in Jesus is possible in us only through the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit; it is in fact a sign of true spirituality for Christians to wield the Lion’s spiritual power in the gentleness and meekness of the Lamb. We are to be lions in spiritual strength and faithfulness and lambs in our manner of dealing with sinners and sin. To conquer as followers of Christ is to suffer for the gospel, placing the eternal well-being of others – even enemies – ahead of our own earthly good.

John rejoiced to see Jesus as the Lion who conquered as Lamb. Through faith in Him, Christians conquer in many ways. We repent of sin, we uphold biblical truth, and we witness and lead others to salvation. The power of the Lion upholds us through many trials. But we are most like Jesus when we conquer through the mercy and sacrificial love by which He took up the cross as the Lamb, forgiving those who sin against us and reaching out with grace for those who are lost. Surely it was especially for those who follow in the meek submission of the Lamb who was slain that Jesus promised: “The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev. 3:21).

Revelation 5:1-7 Study Questions:

What does John see in the right hand of the one sitting on the throne and how does he describe it (v. 1)?

We rightly guess that the scroll contains God’s secret plan to undo and overthrow the world-destroying projects that have already gained so much ground, and to plant and nurture instead the world-rescuing project which will get creation itself back on track in the right direction. What would it take for someone to be “worthy” to read such a proclamation?

Why does John burst into tears and weep bitterly (v. 4)?

How does John’s reaction resonate with us as we look around at our world?

In verses 5-6 we come to one of the most decisive moments in all Scripture. What John has heard is the announcement of the Lion. What he then sees is the Lamb. What are the differences between these two animals? What does each one symbolize?

Revelation 4:6-11 The Weight of Glory

In the previous study it was asserted that Revelation 4 should be considered one of the Bible’s greatest chapters. The reasoning is that it presents what is perhaps the most informative vision of the glory of God as He reigns in heaven. Many other chapters considered among the Bible’s greatest – Psalm 23, Isaiah 53, and Romans 8 – focus on the vital subject of what God has done and continues to do for our salvation. But Revelation 4 presents us with God Himself in the radiant glory of His enthroned being.

In order to see some of the greatness of this chapter, here are some themes that should enflame our minds. The first impression we should glean from this vision is the surpassing preeminence and majesty of God. Nothing is more important or interesting than God. No subject is so mind and soul expanding as God. No earthly pastime should loosen the grip of our imagination from the wonder of contemplating God’s glory. One way to approach the preeminence of God is to understand the Hebrew word for glory. The basic meaning of the word kabod is “weighty.” The point is that God is consequential: a heavyweight, not a lightweight.

A second impression we gain from this vision is the right longing of the human heart for glory. Christians sometimes see the Bible’s call to humility as opposed to a wholesome craving for glory. In fact, man was made for glory. We were designed to be glory-seekers. This is why people exult in movie stars and sports icons. But the quest for glory itself is implanted in the human heart by God in order to be satisfied by none other than Himself.

In a memorable essay, The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis noted that believers are currently on the outside of the glory we see reflected in nature. But he urges us to look on nature’s lesser glory – the blazing sunrise or the burning autumn leaves – and realize that we will soon be within the true glory they signal. We should, Lewis says, “take the imagery of Scripture seriously, [and] believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause us to put on the splendor of the sun.” We see the echoes of a coming glory in the beauty of nature, yet we cannot now “mingle with the splendors we see.”

The third impression we can get from Revelation 4 pertains to the beauty that is so integral to this vision. Notice that the sights of this vision are surpassingly beautiful, and no doubt the angel voices, together with those of the twenty-four elders, excels the loveliness of any sound heard on earth. All this reminds Christians to value and cultivate the classical triad of virtue: the good, the true, and the beautiful. The most important form of beauty for Christians to cultivate is “the beauty of holiness” (Ps 29:2), reflecting back to God the loveliness of His own character as His grace has formed it in our hearts. Revelation 4 reminds us that we are a race designed by God to bear the image of the beauty seen in this vision: in our bodies, our character, our relationships, our deeds, and especially our worship.

Did you know that all of nature worships God? Even inanimate objects – stars, stones, trees, flowers, waters – give Him praise. When we think of worship, Christians should realize our great need for biblical models in honoring God. Revelation 4 provides insights into the worship of God in heaven. Its most basic principle is that worship is praise in response to God’s revelation of Himself. We see this in the worship of the four living creatures, who “day and night…never cease” giving praise to God (v. 8).

The worship of the four living creatures highlights the holiness of God: “They never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy’” (v. 8). This scene echoes the angelic worship shown in Isaiah 6. The four living beings are compared to the cherubim of Ezekiel 1, but they are also like the worshiping seraphim of Isaiah’s vision. In the Bible, repetition marks special emphasis, and of all of God’s attributes, only holiness receives threefold repetition. The living creatures also praise God’s power, calling Him “Lord God Almighty.” The third attribute for which God is praised is His eternity: “who was and is and is to come!”

God is praised not only for what He is, but also for what He does. Revelation 5 will praise God for His redeeming work in Christ. Chapter 4 praises God for the glory of His work as Creator. We see this in the worship of the twenty-four elders: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (v. 11). God made and even now upholds all that there is, and for this He is rightly to be praised. When we consider how great is God’s glory as Creator, we remember why our praise is given to Him alone. The Christians of the first century refused to acclaim Caesar as God, suffering death for their exclusive devotion to Christ as Lord. So must Christians today in the twenty first century refuse to bow before the idols of our age. The logic of Revelation suggests that the best way to keep ourselves from idolatry is to gather with fellow believers to praise the holy, almighty, and eternal Creator God.

Having seen what worship is from John’s vision of heaven, we should conclude with observations about what worshipers do. The four living creatures and the enthroned elders show us three things. First, their example urges us to humble ourselves in the presence of the holy, almighty, and eternal God. When God is lifted up, human pride is always cast down, and so it should be in worship, our hearts ought always to be prostrate before God, especially in gathered worship.

Second, God’s people rejoice in worshiping Him. This attitude is urged throughout the Psalms (Ps. 97:12). We can infer joy in Revelation 4 through the songs that the worshipers were singing. These are the first of the many hymns recorded in Revelation, all of which joyfully celebrate the glory of God’s person and works, especially as He saves His beleaguered people. Congregational singing in praise to God should thus be one of our chief joys this side of heaven.

Finally, we worship God by confessing Him as Savior and Lord. The twenty-four elders gave their confession by “casting their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are you, our Lord and God’” (vv. 10-11). They were acclaiming their submission to God as the only true Sovereign. They were confessing that any glory of their own as Christ’s people has come from God and is for His praise only. How exciting it is for Christians to realize that by God’s grace in Christ, we are in this life gaining crowns to cast at His feet, adding the testimony of our lives to the praise of the entire creation forever.

One day each of us will stand before God. If you are not a Christian, cleansed from your sin by the redeeming blood of Christ, you will hear God’s dreadful pronouncement of your guilt and eternal punishment. If you are a believer in Christ, you will rejoice to hear God’s admission into the holy courts of eternal praise in heaven. Will you have a crown to lay at God’s feet on that day? Surely we will realize then what now so few seem to know: that our chief end and our greatest blessing is to live for the praise of God forever and be able to say, with rejoicing in our hearts, “To God alone be all the glory!”

Revelation 4:6-11 Study Questions:

How does John describe the four creatures surrounding the throne (vv. 6-8)?

Twice John tells us that these creatures are “full of eyes,” what is implied by this image?

Which of God’s attributes do the creatures emphasize in their song of praise?

According to the song of the elders (v. 11), why is God worthy of worship?

What can we learn from this passage about praising God as the Creator of all things in our private prayers and public worship?

Humans are given the capacity to reflect, to understand what’s going on; and in particular, to express that understanding in worship. How might we be more intentional about allowing our thinking about God to inform our praise?

Revelation 4:1-8 A Throne In Heaven

As we come to Revelation 4, we stand at the beginning of the third division of the book. In Revelation 1:19, we learned from the Lord Himself that this book properly divides into three sections. There He told the apostle John, “Write, therefore, [1] what you have seen, [2] what is now, and [3] what will take place later.” Part 1 compromised Revelation 1, Part 2, Revelation 2 and 3; and Part3 begins with Revelation 4 and continues to the end of the book – the part that Jesus calls “what will take place later.” Revelation 4 is justly considered one of the great chapters of the Bible, alongside John 3, Romans 8, and Hebrews 7. It shows not only the sovereignty of God over all history, but also the worship of God as the central activity of history. This point is depicted in verses 4-6.

In verse 1, notice that this passage begins and ends with two words, “after this.” These words form the hinge of Revelation. In Chapters 2 and 3, Jesus addressed the burning issues of the age of the church. But now we reach a transition. The scene shifts abruptly from the church to events that take place “after this.” These words signal to us that what John is about to see is a vision of events which come after the church has finished its course, after the church has been removed from the world.

John first sees an open door, and through that door he catches his first glimpse of heaven. He isn’t the first biblical prophet to have the privilege of standing on earth and looking into heaven. The Old Testament prophets Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Daniel also did so. But in John’s case, there is and important difference: John, unlike all the other prophets who looked into heaven, is actually summoned into heaven. No prophet in all of Scripture was ever allowed to enter heaven to report what he saw except John.

What is the significance of this fact? Many Bible scholars believe that John the apostle, as he is summoned into heaven, represents the church which will be called out of the world and into heaven at the end of the Laodicean age in which we now live. What John sees during the rest of Revelation is what the church will see from its heavenly vantage point after it is caught away to be with Christ. This means that as we read through the book of Revelation, we no longer see events from the standpoint of time but from the standpoint of eternity. In eternity, there is no set yardstick or sequence of events as there is in time. This fact makes the book of Revelation difficult to interpret in many ways, but it also adds to its fascination.

The first thing John saw, dominating everything else in this scene, was a great throne and someone seated upon the throne (vv. 2-3). The throne is a central theme of the book of Revelation. Out of the 22 chapters in the book, there are only five chapters in which the word “throne” does not appear. This fact impresses us with the truth that the government of God towers over all human events. Everything that we read about and see on our TV screens, however awesome, saddening, or triumphant, takes place in the shadow of the sovereign throne of God.

The next observation John records is that there was someone seated upon the throne. As we read his words our expectations are immediately heightened: At last, we think, we shall learn what God looks like! John is permitted to actually see the Lord of the universe on His throne. And how does the apostle describe what he sees? Colors! Pure, flashing, jewel-like colors, like the blazing radiance cast off by a prism. John records that God manifested Himself in spectacularly colored light. These colors are full of rich significance and meaning. From these colors we learn several important things about the figure upon the throne.

First, we learn that it is not merely God the Father whom John sees upon the throne. There are actually three Persons manifested there. The first is signified by the stone jasper, which is really a diamond, the most beautiful and precious of all gems, highly prized for its ability to capture and refract light into a brilliant display of intense colors. The brilliant crystal John describes here symbolizes the dominant attribute of God the Father; His holy perfection. The second stone is the carnelian or sardius, which is a beautiful glowing, blood-red stone. This stone immediately suggests the Son, who gave His blood for us as atonement for our sins. The third stone is the emerald. John saw a great rainbow encircling the throne, green as an emerald. Green is the color of nature, the color of creation. The rainbow in John’s vision, brilliant in varying shades of emerald green, circling the throne of heaven, symbolizes the Holy Spirit administering the holiness and redemption of God to all creation.

Secondary to the powerful, colorful image of God’s glory, John then noticed that there were others seated in the Supreme Headquarters of heaven (v. 4). There has been much debate over what these twenty-four elders or ancients mean. Many Bible scholars consider them to be redeemed saints, both of the Old and New Testaments: twelve elders of Israel, representing the twelve tribes, and twelve apostles. I used to hold this view myself, but one nagging detail of this view always troubled me: If twelve of these elders are the twelve apostles, then one of them would have been John himself. Does he see himself seated there? Does that make sense? I don’t think so.

Who then are these twenty-four elders in verse 4? I believe they are angels who have been put in charge of this present age. They are a body of twenty-four intelligent, powerful angels associated with the government of God. They wear crowns because they are victors in their battles with Satan. They wear white robes because they are righteous angels who refused to join the rebellion of the devil.

As John continued to look, he saw still more symbols – awesome, powerful symbols, both sights and sounds (vv. 5-6a). Understand that these are symbols which stand for a hidden reality. The real form of the deep things of God is undoubtedly far beyond our ability to comprehend, so He communicates to us through pictures. These pictures are helpful and instructive and tell us all we truly need to understand – but these pictures should not be confused with the deep reality they represent. Note, first of all, that John relates that “flashes of lightning, rumblings, and pearls of thunder” came from the throne. These are sights and sounds associated with the moment God gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. These are symbols of the judgment of God.

The symbols of lightning, rumblings, and thunder are repeated several times throughout Revelation. Each time you see these symbols you can be certain that they accompany scenes of God’s final judgment against the world’s evil. The other symbols which appear in verses 5 and 6 represent the Spirit of God, the instrument of God’s judgment. John saw seven burning lamps, blazing with divine vengeance. The lamps represent the Spirit of God.

What we have to understand about the book of Revelation (and what will become abundantly clear the more deeply we explore this book) is that this book describes a time when God’s dealings with mankind enter a new phrase. At the end of human history God at last turns from grace to judgment. All through the Bible God has demonstrated the gracious dimension of His personality. Now however, we see at last what results when people reject God and cling to their self-will and sin. Now we see the just and righteous dimension of His personality. We see God in His role as sovereign judge over all people.

John also saw a crystalline sea before the throne. Again crystal speaks of purity and holiness. The sea is the Spirit of God in His holy perfection. That’s why we call Him the Holy Spirit. Anyone who comes into the presence of God must be holy. As the book of Hebrews tells us, “Make every effort…to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” The Spirit of holiness stands before the throne of God like a brilliant, crystalline reflecting pool, mirroring the holy purity of God.

Next we are introduced to four weird, wonderful symbolic creatures (vv. 6b-8). These are bizarre creatures, unlike anything that has ever existed on the earth. Who are these creatures and what do they represent? Again, if you turn to the Old Testament book of Ezekiel you will find a close parallel to the description in the book of Revelation. In Ezekiel 1, we find very similar creatures, which the prophet calls “cherubim.” In Isaiah 6, we find such creatures again, and Isaiah calls them “seraphim,” which means “burning ones.” Small details of the descriptions vary from account to account. Sometimes they have six wings, sometimes only four.

Ezekiel and John both mention the fourfold faces of these creatures – faces of the lion, the ox, the eagle, and man. Four is always the number which symbolizes government. These creatures, therefore, are somehow associated with God’s government, both of human affairs and of the created universe. Many eyes of John’s description symbolize discernment and knowledge. The wings describe soaring strength and rapidity of movement. The faces symbolize the qualities and forces of life in the created universe. The lion’s face speaks of power; the ox of patience; the eagle of swiftness; the man of intelligence. What is the function of these four wonderful creatures in heaven? In Revelation 6 they will summon the four horsemen to action with the command “Come!” But in this chapter their function is to call all of creation to worship the Creator.

Revelation 4:1-8 Study Questions:

What is meant by the invitation John is given (v. 1)?

“Heaven” and “earth” are not separated by a great gulf in the Bible as they are in much popular imagination. Heaven, God’s sphere of reality, is right here, close beside us, intersecting with our ordinary reality. How might this understanding shape the way we think about the “door in heaven” that John sees?

What difference does it make in our everyday life of faith to embrace the fact that God’s sphere of reality is not so far away at all?

Take a moment to read and reflect on Genesis 9:8-13. Why is it significant that John describes the rainbow (v. 3) as being visible in the throne room – encircling the very place where God is seated and rules over the earth?

Who sits on the thrones gathered around God’s throne and why is there twenty-four of them?

Behind the ambiguous struggles and difficulties of ordinary Christians – there stands the heavenly throne room in which the world’s Creator and Lord remains sovereign. Spend a few moments contemplating John’s vision of this reality. How does it help you to understand better our own present circumstances?

Revelation 3:14-22 Neither Hot nor Cold

The city of Laodicea was located about 100 miles directly east of Ephesus. It was part of a tri-city area, closely associated with Colosse (to which Paul’s letter to the Colossians was written) and Hierapolis. Laodicea was famous throughout the Romans province of Asia as a center of wealth, or bustling commercial activity, and of the medical profession. It was the most prosperous of the seven cities of Revelation.

Many large, beautiful homes were built is Laodicea, the ruins of which can still be visited. Some of those expensive homes were probably owned by Christians. A textile and clothing industry flourished in Laodicea. A special breed of black sheep was raised in the area, producing highly prized, glossy, black wool. The city was also known for its eye salve, produced by the medical school of Phrygia located there. Laodicea had one main problem: it lacked a good water supply. Nearby Hierapolis had medicinal hot springs and Colosse was blessed with a source of pure, cold water. Laodicea had to bring its water by an aqueduct from hot springs five miles away. The problem was that the water arrives tepid and brackish. Jesus picked up on this issue in writing to the Laodicean church: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were one or the other” (v. 15).

As the center of wealth, commerce, and medicine, Laodicea was kind of a first-century Bank of America, Macy’s, and Mayo Clinic rolled into one. An understanding of the social and economic setting of the church in Laodicea will help to explain some of the references we find in this letter.

The problem that Jesus notes in Laodicea was not persecution, gross sin, or false teaching. In terms of its circumstances, it seems, Laodicea was singularly blessed. For this reason, however, the people had lost their zeal for Christ. It was a spiritually apathetic church. The people gathered for worship, but they came like those today who look more frequently to their watches than to the Bible. They probably believed the right things, but those truths did not affect them deeply. When it came to Jesus, they were believers, but only lukewarmly so.

How did the Laodiceans become so lukewarm? Jesus answers that they had come to a false estimation of themselves on the basis of their wealth (v. 17). The Laodiceans looked on their favorable circumstances and considered their riches as true wealth. In fact, Jesus observes that by trusting in money and living for the things of a dying world, they were wretched, pitiable, blind, and covered with shame. The problem wasn’t their wealth but what their riches had done to them.

Notice that the Laodiceans drew their attitude from the secular culture around them. This happens frequently to Christians. In a sophisticated culture, Christians take on airs of superiority. In a patriotic setting, we become preoccupied with earthly kingdoms. Among pleasure-seekers, Christians live for the sake of the latest consumer goods. The rich arrogance of Laodicea had infected the believers’ attitudes, making them spiritually poor, blind as to heavenly realities, and disgraced by a shameful absence of good works and a faithful witness. Christians should therefore be on guard against adopting the spirit of the age and of the place where we live, instead cultivating a biblical ethos and the agenda of Jesus Christ. If we don’t, the danger is so great that Jesus said He would spit the Laodicean church out of His mouth. Undoubtedly, this indicates that many in that church were not saved. Apathetic Christianity often masks a spiritually dead unbelief.

Christ’s letter to Laodicea is one of the harsher portions of Holy Scripture, and we may therefore be surprised to see the tenderness and love that Christ shows to this church in verse 19. Here, there is hope in light of our many failings and sins: Christ’s love for His church. It’s not surprising then, that the remedy for the Laodicean malaise comes from Jesus Himself (v. 18).

The Christians were to stop expecting their spiritual needs to be met from the Laodicean marketplace and were instead to come to Christ and do business with Him. One thing they would find is that Jesus runs a completely different economy from that of the world. This is what Jesus meant in saying that we should “buy from” Him: not that His saving blessings are up for sale, but that we should come to Him for the divine blessings that will save our souls. He alone can enrich our poverty, clothe our nakedness, heal our blindness, and give life to the spiritually dead.

Jesus adds to His loving counsel a most tender appeal in verse 20, which is all the more remarkable in that it is given to a church for which He has expressed disgust. This verse is frequently seen as an evangelistic appeal, but the context shows that this is not the case. The text does not urge unbelievers to “ask Jesus into your heart”; instead, Jesus is speaking to His church that has closed its door to Him. Jesus teaches that we must hear His voice and open the door. This means that Christ calls to us today through the Word, urging His people to awaken and respond with a zealous and repentant faith.

Jesus adds a promise to His call: “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (v. 20). This is an offer of enriched personal communion with Jesus. The Greeks had three meals each day, the chief of which was the evening meal where people lingered and shared the experiences and thoughts of their day. This is the meal that Jesus mentions. He offers us a living communion in daily discipleship. Christ knocks as Lord, and Christians who do not open wide the door of their hearts will miss out on the rich blessing of communion that He offers.

Jesus is able to renew our church and restore our lives with His omnipotent, saving power. It is in this capacity that Jesus concludes His messages to the seven churches of Asia with a final offer of salvation in verse 21. The seven messages of Revelation have included stern words that are uncomfortable for us to hear, not least the rebuke to the lukewarm church of Laodicea. But we are reminded that Jesus speaks as One who knows His church intimately and loves His people. His challenge is not for us to miss out on the best in life by yielding to Him but rather to raise us up through our faith to a high communion with Him. He declares that He is going to seat us beside Him on His throne of glory and authority, to join His own victorious communion with God the Father forever.

For this reason, we must conquer in faith, drawing from Jesus’ own victory as the One who says, “I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (v. 21). We conquer only in His power, with great reward of spending eternity not merely in Jesus’ heaven but, He says, “with me on my throne.” This is the high and glorious destiny to which Christ calls His church and His people now, saying, as John put it, “This is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (1 John 5:4). Christ’s calling is for us today no less than for the ancient believers of John’s day. Jesus thus speaks to each of us with urgency: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (v. 22).

Revelation 3:14-22 Study Questions:

Often being even-handed and moderate in difficult situations is a virtue. Why is that not the case for the church at Laodicea (v. 16)?

When an earthquake in A.D. 61 did major damage to several cities in the Lycus valley, to the south of Philadelphia, one city was able to refuse imperial help. It was a proud thing to do. Most would have jumped at the offer. But Laodicea reckoned it didn’t need outside help. Apparently the smug well-off attitude of the town as a whole had rubbed off on the Christians. How were the Laodicean Christians blinded by their riches?

In what ways are we overly influenced by the attitudes and opinions of those around us?

What does it mean to you that Jesus would come and sit down and have a meal with those who hear His voice (v. 20)?

Revelation 3:7-13 An Open Door Before You

The biblical Philadelphia was located about 28 miles southeast of Sardis. It was the youngest of the seven cities of Revelation, having been founded about 150 B.C. by King Attallus Philadelphus of Pergamum. The name Philadelphus, meaning “lover of a brother,” was actually a kind of nickname. King Attallus was noted for the great affection and admiration he had for his brother Eumenes and the city of Philadelphia was named in his honor.

The church in Philadelphia is unique among the seven churches in that it is the only church against which the Lord registers no complaint – not one. Here is a church that delights the Lord! As we take a close look at the Lord’s message to the believers in Philadelphia, notice the unusual way He addresses this church, as compared with the other six churches of Revelation.

Each of the seven messages to the churches in Revelation had the purpose of focusing the believers on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Christ Himself was to be the great reality that shaped their thinking, whether they were anticipating persecution or standing up for false teaching and temptation into sin. In the sixth message, to the church in Philadelphia, Christ presents Himself to a congregation that is reminded of their calling to spread the gospel. To “the angel of the church in Philadelphia,” John was to write: “The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens” (v. 7).

Jesus is presented as holy and true. As “holy,” Jesus is set apart above all others, pure and spotless in righteousness. As the Holy One of God, He commands the reverent attention of His people. He is also “true.” This can be taken to mean that Jesus is the genuine Lord and Savior of His people. Jesus is the holy and faithful Sovereign as He stands before His church in Philadelphia.

The most significant feature is that Christ “has the key of David.” To possess a key is to control access and entry. In 1:18, Jesus said that He has “the keys to Death and Hades,” referring to His conquest of death and His control over eternal life. Here, Jesus refers to the salvation kingdom over which He reigns as the heir of David. Jesus has the key to the household of God and the ancient covenant blessings promised to Israel.

This description makes two essential statements. The first is that salvation comes only through Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved” (John 10:9). “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” He insisted. “No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6). We can therefore enter into God’s kingdom of salvation only through faith in Jesus, God’s Son, the Holy and True One. This teaching was especially significant in Philadelphia, where the Christians were opposed by Jews who denied Jesus Christ. Yet Jesus, as David’s royal heir, possessed the only key, and He alone could open the way into the kingdom of God.

Second, since Jesus holds the key to salvation, opening and shutting the door to God’s kingdom, the church relies on Christ to grant success to its ministry. Realizing this, the church must faithfully preach the gospel. We must pray to God in Christ’s name for saving power. And what exciting news it is that Jesus holds the key to God’s kingdom of salvation, since He is the Savior who has proved His love for sinners by His atoning death on the cross. Christ the heir of David, who holds the keys, calls us to minister His gospel. He grants us the great privilege of knowing that as we tell others about His saving love, we are being used by Him to grant eternal life to those who believe.

If we understand what it means for Jesus to hold the keys to God’s kingdom and grant success to the gospel, the message that He gave the Philadelphians is thrilling. Given opposition from the Jews, many of them would likely have been cast out of the synagogue for their faith in Christ. But though the synagogue door was closed, Christ opened to them the door to heaven, which none can shut (v. 8). Not only would the weakness of the church not hinder Christ’s open door for the gospel, but neither would the opposition that the believers faced (v. 9).

When Jesus refers to “the synagogue of Satan,” He means that the Jewish community was mocking the faith of Christians just as the Pharisees and scribes had denied the claims of Jesus. Moreover, as the Jewish leaders had delivered Christ to the cross, the synagogue rulers sought for the Romans to persecute the church in Philadelphia. Not only does Jesus reject the false faith of unbelieving Jews, but He promises that their opposition will not hinder the gospel’s witness to them.

Christ’s open door ministry would not be hindered by the weakness of the church, by opposition against the church, or by God’s judgment at work in the world in which the Philadelphians lived (v. 10). The hour of trial to which Jesus refers does not seem to be a local tribulation, as Jesus had foretold for Smyrna (2:10). Jesus uses a word for world that means its “inhabitants,” and says that it will be “the whole world” that is tried. For this reason, most scholars believe that Jesus is referring to the worldwide tribulation foretold before the coming of Christ at the end (see 2 Thess. 2:3-12).

If Christ’s message of an open door was thrilling to the believers, their blessing was compounded when He concluded with promises for those who endure victoriously in faith (vv. 12-13). Jesus promises that His faithful followers will never lack spiritual stability. Jesus promises to make every conquering Christian “a pillar in the temple of my God” (v. 12). The idea is that Christians who endure will be permanent fixtures and beautiful ornaments in the eternal temple, the church of Christ, in which God will dwell forever. Jesus further gave a threefold promise involving a new name for the faithful believers (v. 12). Finally, Jesus promises that the faithful believer will be marked with “my own new name” (v. 12). This new name is not unknown to believers, since Revelation 19:16 points this out. By saying that believers will receive His new name, Jesus means that through faith they are made certain of His ownership and protection, and are thus assured of the blessings of eternal life in glory.

The same Jesus who spoke to the church in Philadelphia, saying, “Behold, I have set before you an open door,” speaks now to us through the book of Revelation. We should observe that Christ said this in the perfect tense, meaning that a past completed act has created an enduring present situation. The past act was Christ’s death on the cross for the atonement of sin. The present reality is the open door for salvation to all who will confess their sin, believe the gospel, and come to Jesus in a true and living faith.

But a warning goes with the opportunity of Christ and His gospel. Jesus said that no one can shut the door that He has opened. Yet Christ Himself will one day shut the door, after which no one will ever come in. Finally, Jesus gives an instruction to the believers in Philadelphia and to us today: “I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown” (v. 11). It is clear that Christians do not conquer in our own strength, since Jesus knows that we have “little power.” Christians do not cast down opposition but need to be kept by Christ in the tribulation of this world. Yet there is something we must do. We must “hold on”. We must never give up. Jesus declares, “I am coming soon.” We say in answer, “Jesus, with your strength, I will go the distance.” As we trust in Him, no one will seize our crown of eternal life.

Revelation 3:7-13 Study Questions:

Why does Jesus praise the Philadelphian church (vv. 8, 10)?

As in the letter to Smyrna we have an indication that the synagogue community was using its civic status to block the advance of the message about Israel’s Messiah, Jesus. Why did some Jews find the message of Jesus to be very Jewish and others find it to be challenging to the Jewish faith?

The first Christians, partly because of Jesus and partly because of the gift of the Spirit, regarded themselves as the true temple, the place where the living God made His home. Sometimes the Jerusalem leaders had themselves been called pillars. But it is the ordinary Christians in Philadelphia who are to be pillars (v. 12) – in the city notorious for danger from earthquakes! Why might this have been a promise the Philadelphians would cherish?

Equipped with regal power, Jesus has opened a door right in front of the Philadelphia Christians (v. 8) and He is urging them to go through it. The meaning is almost certainly that they have an opportunity not just to stand firm but to make advances, to take the good news of Jesus into places and hearts where it has not yet reached. What open doors is Jesus setting before us today?

Revelation 3:1-6 How to Revive a Dead Church

Sardis was once one of the greatest cities of the world. It was at one time the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, and today its ruins can be visited near the city of Izmir, Turkey. In the sixth century B.C., Sardis was ruled by a fabulously wealthy king whose name, Croesus, became a byword for unimaginable wealth. Sardis was built on a mountain spur about 1500 feet above the valley floor. It was regarded as virtually impregnable against military assault. Many armies laid siege to Sardis, but only two – the Persians ad Greeks – ever succeeded. Both victories were achieved by stealth, not force, because the overconfident military of Sardis failed to post an adequate guard by its “impregnable” walls. Both times, small bands of spies climbed the sides of the ravine and entered an unwatched gate. So if there is one observation we could draw about the character of Sardis, it is that the city possessed a smug, complacent spirit.

Seeing how Jesus uses the local history and terrain of the churches in Revelation as material for His letters reminds us that these messages were intended for actual churches in the time of the apostle John. In challenging the church of Sardis, Jesus uses the well-known history of that city (v. 1). Sardis was known for being overconfident and boastful. Yet behind the reputation there was no substance. This was all name and no reality, all reputation and no life. Perhaps it was the financial stature, or the worldly influence of its members, or a great deal of activity and programs, that gave the church in Sardis its reputation for life. The reality, however, was very different: “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (v. 1).

Today we would call the Christians at Sardis “nominal Christians.” They were Christians in name only. The church of Sardis was made up largely of people who outwardly professed Christ, but who possessed no real spiritual life. Unfortunately, such churches have only grown more numerous in our own day. It is churches such as these which have largely created a negative image of Christianity in the world today. People see the outward profession of Christianity and hear the pious-sounding words – but they see no life, no reality, to back it up.

The letter to the church of Sardis is the most dire and somber of the seven. There are serious issues at stake in this letter – eternal issues. There was a time when the Sardis church was truly alive, quickened by the Spirit of God. The people in the Sardis church once served the needy out of a genuine love for Jesus. They worshiped out of a heart of devotion to their Lord. As a result, they won a reputation for being active and alive. But as the book of Revelation was being written, the life had departed.

The Lord has a message for the church at Sardis – and for you and me. The message is “Wake up!” It is an urgent alarm for a dead church to rouse itself back to life (vv. 2-3). The first need of a church that is dead or near death is to “wake up” to its desperate condition. The words of Jesus’ message to Sardis are sharp commands in the original Greek. They are like a slap in the face, a splash of cold water, a sniff of ammonia, a shout of an urgent cry of alarm. As Christians we must not shrink from the convicting words of the letter to Sardis. Rather, we must bravely face them and ask ourselves “What has gone wrong with my spiritual life? Why does my worship and Christian service seem so dreary? Why does my church seem so lifeless and unattractive? Why don’t people want to come?” As individual Christians and as collective bodies of believers, these are the questions that confront us in the letter to the church at Sardis.

If the first need of the church at Sardis was to rouse itself and wake up to its dying condition, the second is to strengthen what remains. We may wonder what was left at Sardis worth strengthening. But remember in verse 1, Jesus said, “I know your deeds.” Clearly, the church at Sardis was doing some good deeds, or else it wouldn’t have had a reputation (however misplaced) for being “alive.” The Christians at Sardis were doing good works, but these works were incomplete, unfinished. Their actions were right, but their motives were wrong. By doing the right things for the wrong reasons they robbed their good deeds of power.

The Christians at Sardis were like so many Christians today – busy doing good things, but doing them primarily to impress people. They were trying to enhance their reputation for being alive. But as Jesus warned them, even these good works, as incomplete and falsely intentioned as they were, were about to die. Soon the church at Sardis would end up bereft of even its flimsy reputation and phony good deeds. All through the Scriptures we see that God judges not merely our actions but the intentions of our hearts. Often, the same activity that is done out of love and gratitude toward God also be done for the reasons of our own pride and our desire to impress others. God is watching not only our behavior but our hearts, monitoring whether we are living to please ourselves or to please Him.

Many Christians have the gospel, but do not seem to have the life-giving presence of the Spirit. How do we bring the Spirit’s life back into our lives and our churches? According to this letter from Jesus, there is only one way: Remember, obey, and repent! Look at yourself, your wrong outlook, and your tainted motives. Recognize that all your prideful religious busyness is a little more than a covering of filthy rags for your poverty and sin. Cast yourself upon the grace of the Lord Jesus, believe, and receive His grace. Let it take root in your heart, and then He will give you the life of the Spirit of God. That is what the Christians in Sardis needed. And that is what you and I need today as well.

Another thing they needed at Sardis was to recover the hope of the Lord’s return. “If you do not wake up,” says the Lord, “I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” The hope of the Lord’s return is alluded to many times throughout the New Testament and particularly in the book of Revelation. But Sardis had lost its expectation of that coming. Without this hope the church was dead. In every age in history and in Sardis-like “dead” churches, there are usually a few faithful believers. It is to these faithful few that the Lord delivers a special promise (vv. 4-6).

White garments are always a symbol of redemption in Scripture. In Revelation 7, we will read of great multitudes who emerge from the great tribulation, and who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Clearly, white garments are a sign of being redeemed and saved by the grace of God (see Isaiah 1:18). In Sardis, and in other dead churches, there are usually a few believers who walk with Jesus, dressed in white. God calls them “worthy” – not for any works of righteousness they have done, but because they are covered by the righteousness of Jesus.

These, then, are the models for those in the church who wish to be “overcomers,” as mentioned in verse 5. To these believers, the Lord promises three things: (1) They will be dressed in white, the righteousness of Jesus; (2) their names will not be blotted out of the Book of Life; (3) Jesus will acknowledge them before His Father and the angels.

Here, the Lord calms the fears of the redeemed. To anyone who worries that he might lose his salvation and the grace of God, Jesus says, in effect, “Those who place their trust in Me rather than in their own efforts, those who are covered by My righteousness, can never be blotted out of the Book of Life. Their names are written in indelible ink and sealed with the seal of My own promise.” The word “never” in the original text is the strongest negative possible in the Greek language. To convey the true force of this word the passage should actually be rendered, “I will never, ever, under any circumstances, blot out your name from the Book of Life!” And when, in eternity, the book of our lives is opened, and everything we have done in our earthly lives comes spilling out – the good, the bad, and the ugly – Jesus will be there to acknowledge us before the Father and the angels.

Church attendance is good, but church attendance won’t save you. Church membership is good, but church membership won’t save you. Giving money to the church is good, but giving won’t save you. Activity in the church – teaching, serving, leading, witnessing – all of this is good, but being active in the church won’t save you. You can only be saved when you repent of your self-reliance and self-will and self-centered pride. You can only be saved when you place your trust in the One who settled it all for you on the cross. We who have ears to hear, let us hear what the Spirit says to the church of Sardis, and to us.

Revelation 3:1-6 Study Questions:

What are the charges against the church at Sardis (vv. 1-2)?

What does it mean that this church’s works were “incomplete” in God’s sight?

What words of Jesus in this letter are intended to remind the church at Sardis the lesson from their history?

How might we heed the call to wake up and strengthen what remains of our own works before it’s too late?