Sardis – “the remains” v1, The Roman historian & senator Tacitus records that in 17AD Sardis was hit hard by an earthquake, he writes, “…fires blazed out amid the ruins. The calamity fell most fatally on the people of Sardis, and it attracted to them the largest share of sympathy”. While it used to be the ancient capital of Lydia, and had it’s own Temple of Artemis, it was very likely still fresh in the memory of the older Christians that remained during the time the congregation received the Revelation appx 95AD. It had an established Jewish Synagogue
“a name of being alive” v1, it seems most of the congregation were Christians in name only. “not found your works complete” v2, How few can say with the Master, “I have finished the work” 2nd Tim. 4:7 and of whom can it be said, like Paul, “He fulfilled his course”! Acts 12:25.
“white clothes” v4, This may suggest the Transfiguration, Mat. 17:2, On the holy mount, the plain garments of Jesus shone with light; and so the inner purity of the living Christian shines through and glorifies our simplest acts. The holiness we love in this life will be rewarded by the white robes.
“confess his name before my Father”, v5, reminiscent of the promise Jesus made to his first disciples, Matthew 10:29-33 and so through the centuries we can take this personally, if we are overcomers feeding our faith and sharing His message of love & justice. The “Book of Life” had already been revealed to the church in Philippi by Paul, (Php. 4:3) and John has now mentioned it to those in the context of being a threat of being blotted out of it, it is also entitled the Lambs Book of Life in Rev. 21:27, and in 13:8 the SLAIN Lamb’s book. It leads us to wonder if our names were written by Jesus himself, the author of Life, which the Jews had killed, Acts 3:15. What kind of name will be written in this book? Is yours in it?
Philadelphia – “brotherly love” v7, The city had both ancient and current connections with Kings, it’s name came from King Eumenes giving its name in honor of the love he had for brother Attalus since 189BC, and during the church’s lifetime it had been granted riches from the Emperors Caligula 39AD and Vespasian 71AD, the citizens of which, were free from paying taxes!
“has the key of David” v7, This is a quote from Isaiah 22:22 and Jesus has already referred to it in Matthew 16:19. These Christians knew the King of kings and his authority was in their hearts and minds, which affects not only our thinking, but also our actions!
“an open door” v8, later in Revelation 21:24-27 the gate of the new Jerusalem is declared permanently open with access for the Kings of the earth to bring in their glory, and only purity enters. This is only the second church which has no criticisms listed by Christ, and he explicitly states his love for them, v9. It is interesting that the only other church with nothing but praise from Christ, is the one in Smryna, and both of them have won a victory over being infiltrated by the “synagogue of Satan” In some way Christ will make his approval obvious to the sinful Jews of Philadelphia, so much so, that they will be forced to show them adoration. 1st John 1:6 was literally true for their Jewish neighbors.
“that no man take your crown” v11, Paul didn’t want Timothy to lose his crown, 2nd Timothy 4:8, and neither does Jesus want anyone in Philadelphia to lose their crown – gk – “stephanos”, the victors wreath as a crown. An obvious allusion to winning a race wherein you exhibit both strength & skill. Why? Because we are in Christ who has removed barriers and distractions, it is his victory that he gives us who persevere, v10.
“make him a pillar in my temple…my own new name” v12, Columns or pillars in the ancient world were obviously supportive, but they were also renown for being ornamental, and being for a Temple had the clear idea of the beauty of holiness, see 2nd Chronicles 20:21 & Psalm 96:9. Paul instructed Timothy that the whole church was a type of pillar, 1st Timothy 3:15. Are you supportive of the truth, or simply feeding on it?