Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.CHAPTER 3
Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea
We have traced briefly the decline during the 1450-1500 years of Church history. The climax is reached in Thyatira, prophetically the Roman abomination and apostasy. In Sardis we see the progress of evil stayed. Roman Catholicism, as already mentioned, is a fixed and unchanging religious system. Rome will yet have for a brief season a startling revival and get back her place as the mistress of the nations. But in Sardis we see a reaction. Sardis means “those escaping.” It is the Reformation period, the movement which produced Protestantism. The Reformation itself was of God and the great men who were used were the most mighty instruments of the Holy Spirit. It was the greatest work, up to that time, since the days of the apostles. But out of it came the human systems which go by the name of Protestantism. The Reformation began well, but soon developed in the different Protestant systems into a dead, lifeless thing. They have a name to live but are dead. This is the verdict of our Lord upon the churches which sprung out of the reformation: “Thou hast a name that thou livest and art dead.”
Philadelphia means “brotherly love.” As Sardis came out of Thyatira, a protest against it, so Philadelphia comes out of Sardis and is a protest against the dead, lifeless, Spiritless condition prevailing in Protestantism. Out of the deadness of the state churches over and over again came forth companies of believers, energized by the Holy Spirit. Philadelphia has been variously applied to early Methodism, the evangelical movements, missionary efforts and to the revivals of the nineteenth century. But it is more than that, It is a complete return to the first principles. The message makes this clear. It is the one message (besides Smyrna) in which the Lord does not say, “I have against thee,” it is that which pleases Him and which He commends. It is a revival and turning back to the first love. The Lord Jesus Christ is once more as the all absorbing object before the heart; Philadelphia repudiates all that dishonors Him and owns alone that worthy, ineffable Name. It is a faithful remnant gathering around His Name as there was a faithful remnant in the closing days of the Old Testament (Malachi 3:16-17). All human pretensions are rejected. The truth of the unity of all believers is owned and manifested in brotherly love towards all the saints. They walk in the path of separation, in self-judgment, in lowliness of mind; they have a little strength, which means weakness; they are a feeble few. Twice the Lord speaks of obedience to His Word. “Thou hast kept My Word”--”Thou has kept the Word of My patience.” And the Philadelphian does not deny His Name.
These are the two chief characteristics of this phase of Christianity during the closing days of the professing Church on earth: Obedience to His Word and faithfulness and devotion to His Name. The Word and the Name are denied in the last days. The apostasy of Christendom consists in the rejection of the written Word and the living Word. And turning their backs upon a dead profession, going on in confessed weakness are such paralyzed in their service? Far from it! The Lord promises to open the door for service which no man can shut. Every child of God may test this. True and continued service is the result of true and continued faithfulness to the Lord. Especially is this service to be blessed to those who hold to a perverted Judaism (Revelation 3:9). And there is the great promise, which they believe and hope for, the coming of Himself to keep them out of the great tribulation (Revelation 3:10). In Philadelphia there is a revival of prophetic truth, an earnest waiting for the coming of the Lord. Philadelphia is not a defined church-period, but rather a description of a loyal remnant called out by the Spirit of God and bearing the final testimony to the whole counsel of God by word and deed. If the reader desires to please the Lord, then study the details of the message to Philadelphia and walk accordingly.
Laodicea means “The judging or rights of the people.” It is opposite of Nicolaitanism. The domineerers of the people still go on in Rome, but in Protestantism the people (the laity) arise and claim their rights and do the judging. This condition was also forseen by the Apostle Paul. “For the time will come when they (The laity) will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts they shall heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2Timothy 4:3). We see in Laodicea the final religious and apostate conditions of Protestant Christendom and the complete rejection of the professing body. “I will spew thee out of my mouth.” He Himself is seen standing outside, which shows that He is rejected. But infinite grace! He knocks and is still willing to come in and bestow the riches of His grace.
The Philadelphian Christian, who is separated from the Laodicean state, whose heart is filled with the love of Christ can learn a lesson here. If our Lord stands outside and yet knocks and waits in patience, we too with Him outside of the camp where He is disowned, can try to gain admittance to the Laodicean hearts. Epaphras did this (Colossians 4:12-13). Laodicea consists in a proudly boasting spirit with total indifference to the Lord Jesus Christ and to His Name. It is a religiousness without any truth nor the power of the Holy Spirit. Lukewarmness expresses it all. “Lukewarmness, a perfect jumble of sacred and worldly matters. The word does not point chiefly to half heartedness. But as lukewarmness is produced by pouring of hot and cold water together in the same vessel, so in the Laodicean state, intense worldliness will be varnished over by plausible and humanitarian and religious pretences.”
Great reformation movements for the advancement of religion and the betterment of the world, the rejection of the gospel as the power of God unto salvation, are characteristic features of this final phase of Christendom. It will continue and wax worse and worse till His patience is exhausted. Then the true Church will be caught up with the departed saints to meet Him in the air, and Laodicea will be spewed out of His mouth. It is important to notice that Thyatira (Rome), Sardis (Protestantism) and the two phases of Protestantism represented by Philadelphia and Laodicea co-exist. They go on together. This is seen by the fact that in each our Lord speaks of His second coming (2:25; 3:3; 10-11, 16). The Lord takes His own to Himself. Rome and an apostate Protestant Christendom continue on earth during the period of judgment, preceding the visible coming of the Lord.