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Letters to Philadelphia and Laodicea

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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June 9, 2023 12:01 am

Letters to Philadelphia and Laodicea

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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June 9, 2023 12:01 am

The book of Revelation issues a recurring call to be faithful. Yet not all of its first readers heeded that call. Today, W. Robert Godfrey contrasts the letters to the churches in Philadelphia and Laodicea, urging us to hear our Lord's warnings.

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Here's a church that has become worldly, and Jesus is saying to this church here, you are actually the very opposite of what you think you are. You think you're rich, but you're poor. You think you've arrived, but you haven't.

You're about to lose everything. Of all of the letters to the churches in Revelation, perhaps it is the letter to the church in Laodicea that's the most well-known. They were neither hot nor cold. They were lukewarm, and it was to this church that Jesus said he stands at the door and knocks. Hi, I'm Nathan W. Bingham, and thank you for joining us today for Renewing Your Mind. Today we come to the end of our study of the seven letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, as W. Robert Godfrey considers the final two letters, one to the church in Philadelphia and another to the church in Laodicea. These two letters couldn't be more different, one to a faithful church and another to a worldly church. Here's Dr. Godfrey.

Well, we come back to our first cycle to look at the last two letters in that cycle. Remember, I'm arguing the whole book is organized around seven cycles, and each cycle has seven subdivisions, sometimes with an introduction to the seven, sometimes not, but here we're looking at those seven subdivisions, which in this case are seven letters to the churches. And we've come to the sixth letter to the letter to the church in Philadelphia, parallel to the letter to the church in Smyrna in terms of being a church entirely commended and not criticized. So, and to the angel of the church in Philadelphia 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.

I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not but lie. Behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you. Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to try those who dwell on earth.

I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem which comes down from my God out of heaven and my own new name. He who has an ear to hear what the Spirit says, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Well, here's another wonderful picture of encouragement that Jesus is offering to the church at Philadelphia, which He says has little power. Now that may mean it was a little church.

It may mean that there was great opposition outside the church to the life of the church. We don't know entirely, but what He's really saying is even though you are insignificant to the world, you are very significant to Me. And I'm using the key of David to preserve you, to bless you, to encourage you, and I want to assure you that although you seem powerless and although you seem at risk constantly by those who oppose you, I will make you more than conquerors. I will make you to be recognized in the world as those who belong to Me.

I recognize you, and one day the world will recognize you. So here's a letter to Philadelphia about faithfulness. They have been faithful, and He calls them to continue to be faithful in their life before Him. He describes Himself as holy and true, and the implication is you too continue to be holy and true.

You have modeled your life after Me, and I call upon you now to continue that. And then He says, and then when the hour of trial comes on the world, you will not live through it. Now what does He mean by that?

That's very interesting. We see that there in verse 10, because you have kept My word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world to try those who dwell on earth, to try those who dwell on earth. Well, what does He mean when He says those who dwell on earth? Well, we think that's one of the simple things in the book of the Revelation. We don't need to gather for a class to know that. Those who dwell on earth, they're those who dwell on earth.

I mean, you know, some things are obvious, aren't they? Or do we have to make even something like this strange and difficult and peculiar? Well, in point of fact, in the book of the Revelation, the phrase, those who dwell on earth, always means those who do not believe in Jesus. It never means just those who dwell on earth.

It is the equivalent as if we were to say those who are earthly minded or those who are worldly. The hour of trouble is coming on the worldly, not on the faithful. And this is the promise of Jesus here. And throughout the book of the Revelation, we'll see that believers are regularly pictured, not so often labeled, once or twice labeled, but are often pictured as those who dwell in heaven. And this is sort of the paradox of the New Testament vision of who we are as Christians.

Where do you live? Well, my real citizenship is in heaven, Paul says. In Ephesians and in Colossians, he makes that same point. We are seated in the heavenlies with Christ. And I think sometimes we read over that quickly and don't really pause to think a lot about it and maybe think, well, that means we're really, really loved by Jesus. No, he really, really means right now our true home is with Him in heaven. Our true existence is a heavenly existence, not in the sense that we don't live in the body on the earth, but in the sense that our real identity is in Christ and in His heavenly glory, not in the earthly reality that we live in. And so we don't dwell on earth, as paradoxical as that seems. We are not those who are worldly. We are those who belong to Christ.

And because we belong to Christ, we will not go through the hour of trial in the way that the wicked will. And so this is really a wonderful picture and a wonderful promise that he makes. I'm coming soon. There's that theme again.

I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Now, if you're a literalist, what does that mean, that one day we'll all be turned to stone? That doesn't seem promising.

No, not at all. What it means is we'll be a support, we'll be a beauty in the spiritual temple that God is building. And I think this is crucial too because it makes us think about what is the temple we should look forward to. A lot of dispensationalists, a lot of futurists look forward to a rebuilding of the physical temple on earth.

And I know why they do that. It's because of the way they interpret certain Old Testament prophecies. But I would submit to you there's really not a hint in the New Testament that a physical temple is going to be rebuilt on earth. What our hope is is the heavenly temple that already exists in heaven of which we are already a part and a pillar and that we can already see by faith because Jesus walks amongst the lampstands. And indeed, when we get to chapter 4, we're going to be treated to a further vision of that heavenly temple.

That's what's contained here. Now, some of our dispensational friends, and they are friends, they sometimes say, well, if you don't accept our interpretation that there's going to be a literal fulfilling in the land to the Jews of all the promises of the Old Testament, then you hold to a replacement theology. Israel is replaced by the church. And I would just like to say to you that no Reformed person has ever called our theology a replacement theology. We don't believe in a replacement theology.

That's not the way we describe ourselves. I would say what we believe is a fulfillment theology, that God made promises in the Old Covenant that He has now fulfilled in the coming of His Son. And that fulfillment, as is said over and over again in the Scriptures, is in terms of Gentiles now sharing in the blessings God has given to the Jews with the coming of Christ. So it's not that Jews are displaced or replaced. It's that the Jews are now joined with Gentiles who enjoy the blessings that God had always intended for Jew and Gentile alike. The coming of Jesus was not a failure with the Jews. It was a success with the Jews.

We believe that, don't we? When Jesus came, He succeeded in everything He set to do. And then we look at the Old Testament, and what was the promise to Abraham? It was that all the nations of the earth would be blessed in Him. All the families of the earth would be blessed in Him. This is not some latter-day add-on that the Gentiles are brought in.

That was the purpose right from the beginning. And then you turn to a psalm like Psalm 87, which is one of my really favorite psalms because it is so clear about this as the anticipation already in the old covenant. Psalm 87, verse 4, Among those who know me, I mention Rahab and Babylon, Rahab meaning Egypt and Babylon, behold Philistia and Tyre and Cush. This one was born there, they say, and of Zion it shall be said, This one and that one were born in her, for the Most High Himself will establish her. The Lord records as He registers the peoples, this one was born there. What this is saying so remarkably is a day is coming when Egypt and Babylon and Philistia, our great enemies historically, will be numbered among us. And we'll say of them, Well, they're immigrants we let in.

We didn't really want to, but we had to. No. We'll say of them, Well, they're not true born members of the community, but they're naturalized members of the community.

No. It says the Egyptians and the Babylonians and the Philistians and the Cushites, meaning way far away people, will be counted as the same as those who were born in Zion. That's the vision. That's the hope that the people will incorporate into it the peoples. Now, some of us here may be Jewish but most of us aren't, so we're all envisioned in that Psalm from a Jewish point of view, all the ethnic differences among us don't matter, a pound.

We're all them, and now we're being called us. And that's what's being talked about here in this letter. We're going to be part of that spiritual temple that God is building of living stones who are redeemed by Jesus Christ, and every believing Jew and every believing Gentile will be included in that spiritual temple. And one day that heavenly temple is going to come down to earth as a spiritual temple, not one that we're going to build in the earthly Jerusalem, but that God is going to build in the new heaven and the new earth.

Well, that would take us all the way to cycle seven. We're skipping way too far ahead, but this is the picture that's repeated over and over again, not just by John, not just by the book of the Revelation. It's what we see in Hebrews. It's what we see in Ephesians. It's the picture of the New Testament. When Ephesians 2 talks about breaking down the wall of division, it's so that the Gentiles may be brought in, not so the Jews may be kicked out. When Paul in Romans 11 talks about certain branches being broken off that others might be grafted in, what are the Gentiles grafted into?

They're grafted into the tree of Israel. And so that's the picture that's being presented here, and what a beautiful one it is, the crown that will be ours, in the temple that will be ours, in the city that will be ours because of the God who is ours. That's the encouragement that Paul is trying to bring to these Philadelphians who don't have much, but they have everything, and that's the blessedness that we have here. And so then that brings us to the seventh letter to the seventh church, Laodicea. And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God's creation, I know your works. He said that several times in these letters, hasn't he?

I know your works. You are neither cold nor hot. You were either cold or hot, so because you are lukewarm and neither cold or hot, I will spit you out of my mouth. So this is a very negative letter.

Last letter, first letter, the negative letters. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourselves, and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with me.

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. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Well, here's a church that has become worldly. And again, Dr. Biel in his commentary is very helpful in saying the Laodiceans as a people, not the church now, but the whole city were incredibly proud people and very proud of the industries they had there. And the three prime industries in Laodicea were banking and textile manufacture and medicines.

So this was a kind of manufacturing town, a productive town in the ancient world, and they had become rich from what they had to export. And Jesus is saying to this church here, you are actually the very opposite of what you think you are. You think you're rich, but you're poor. You think you've arrived, but you haven't. You're about to lose everything.

And then do you notice what He particularly promises He will give them if they repent? I will give you pure gold. All you bankers, you think you already have gold? You don't have gold that's going to last, but I can give you gold that lasts, and I'll give you a pure garment. You textile makers, you think you have fancy clothes you've made for yourself?

I'll give you better clothes. And then you, people who think you create medicines to treat diseases, I'll give you the salve you need for your eyes so that you'll see. Isn't that beautiful the way He structures that?

And this is why great commentators like Greg Beale are so useful. They pick out of what we know from the historical record from a place like Laodicea and really help deepen our understanding of the text in that way. Now, we could still profit from this text if we didn't know that, right? I mean, the promise of gold and clothing and the ability to see, those are wonderful promises even if we don't know anything about the city of Laodicea, but it deepens our understanding, and that's what we have here. And then Jesus closes with that remarkable image. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. Their door is closed to Him. The door at Philadelphia was wide open, remember?

He said that. The door at Philadelphia is wide open. The door here is closed. The church has really closed itself off against Jesus, but He hasn't given up on them.

He's standing at the door, and He says, open the door and I'll come in and sup with you. So, is this seventh letter the Arminian letter? No, not at all. But throughout the whole book, and we see that very clearly in these letters, Christians are responsible to believe and to repent. Christians are responsible to listen and to follow, and if we don't do that, we'll be held responsible. If we do do it, we see it's a gift of His grace. So, every time we read a command in the Scripture, we shouldn't say, well, if I really believe that command, am I becoming an Arminian?

No. God relates to us as people. He speaks to us.

He expects us to respond, but He knows we won't be able to respond unless His grace works in us. One of the remarkable things in the book of the Revelation, it can almost become a troubling thing, is that the whole book of the Revelation is about us and them. No one hardly seems to change sides in the book of the Revelation. There are those who are for Christ and those who are against Him, because this is all about encouraging those weak, few, faithful followers to remain faithful in face of a world that's so opposed. And so, the real focus is on encouraging the faithful, and sometimes we might wonder, well, shouldn't there be a little more evangelism? Well, it's really not an evangelistic book. There's other evangelisms in the New Testament, and there's a little evangelism in the end, as we'll see. But the great call here is to be faithful, to be faithful, and that's the blessing of the first cycle.

Blessed are those individuals in churches who remain faithful. And what a wonderful lesson that is. Now you might say, well, don't we already know that lesson? Well, yeah, we already know a lot of the lessons we learn in church.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't keep listening, because listening is the path to following, and we need that constant recurring encouragement. So this is the first cycle. Now, one of the things that's tempting about the book of the Revelation is, is there still more? And this is a little speculative, but is it possible that these seven letters of the first cycle correspond then to what happens in the rest of the book? Because although we only have six cycles, we do have a conclusion. So what if letter one has a relationship to cycle two, and letter two has a relationship to cycle three, and so on?

Now you say, rightly, you're going to run out of cycles. Well, maybe letter seven relates to the conclusion, and I think, actually, we can see elements of relationship here. Now we don't have time to go into all that. It becomes too detailed, but it suggests there's a lot more going on in this book than we all immediately recognize.

And this maybe, since you've been very, very good, this is your treat. This maybe gives us a tiny hint about the Nicolaitans, because the Nicolaitans are mentioned in letters one and three, right? Well, if they're mentioned in letters one and three, then that would correspond to cycles two and four.

Now I'm not betting any money on this. I'm just saying, think about this with me for a minute. What correspondences do we have between these two cycles? Well, one of the important ones is that in these two cycles alone, do we have the 144,000? In cycle two and in cycle four, we have reference to 144,000. And I think that 144,000 is used in those cycles to refer to the completeness of the elect saved and gathered. Again, it's a symbolic number because it's 12 times 12 times 10 times 10 times 10.

A lot of symbolism going on there. And I think it is possible, tiny bit possible, that this point is that God is going to preserve His elect. Not one will be lost. That was one of the great promises in the Gospel of John. Not one lost.

He will not lose one. Now the Nicolaitans' name begins with the first three Greek letters of the word for conquer. Is it possible the Nicolaitans came along teaching, if you don't conquer, you'll be lost? If you depart from Jesus, you'll be lost?

You have to add to the grace of God to conquer. In other words, maybe the Nicolaitans were Arminians. Now maybe that's a stretch, but it's kind of interesting. If the Nicolaitans are mentioned only twice, if 144,000 is the complete number of the elect is mentioned only twice, maybe that's a hint for us that the Nicolaitans were those who said the number of the elect isn't fixed. Now that's very speculative, and it's the kind of trap you can get into with the book of the Revelation.

But it's sort of fun at the same time, and at least possible, and best of all, as far as I'm aware, it's not absolutely heretical. But it is what gets tempting with Revelation to sort of get every drop of stuff out of it, and the more you look at it, the more you find. Well, there's the first cycle, and the important thing to remember is the first cycle calls us to be faithful, to persevere, to overcome, to stand with the Savior, to enjoy all the greatness of His benefits. So many practical insights this week as W. Robert Godfrey walked us through the seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind this Friday, and today is the final day that you can request Dr. Godfrey's overview of the book of Revelation, Blessed Hope, for your donation of any amount. When you give your gift at, this complete series will be added to your learning library so you can stream it in the free Ligonier app or at We'll also send you all 24 messages on three DVDs so you can add it to your physical library or share it with a family member or friend. So give your gift today at or by calling us at 800 435 4343, and as always, you'll receive digital access to the study guide to help you go deeper in your study with Dr. Godfrey. Next week, we'll be featuring some of the most beloved messages from R.C. Sproul, so join us beginning Monday here on Renewing Your Mind. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-09 04:02:18 / 2023-06-09 04:11:45 / 9

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