The church in Philadelphia is commended – they are faithful! God loves faithful obedience over the long haul. Although they have little strength they have kept God’s word. They are facing opposition from non-Christian Jews but they will see victory and security, so John encourages them to keep going.
The key of David that Jesus holds represents the power of opening and shutting – and surpasses fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 22:20-25. The church has an open door for approaching the Father, for mission and standing firm. Their little strength may have tempted them to be insecure and terrified in the hour of trial that is coming, v.10. God owns us, seals us and protects us, Revelation 9:4. We are not immune from the normal ups and downs of life (Philippians 4:11-13), nor from persecution, but we are in the Father’s hand – Romans 8:28-39; John 10:27-30.
God writes his name on believers, v.12. In Revelation it is a sign of protection and ownership – compare God’s mark here and in 14:1 with the Beast’s mark, in 13:16.
Oh dear – the Laodiceans are rebuked thoroughly for complacency, self-satisfaction and self-reliance. They think they are rich and well supplied, which stops them relying on God for real riches and healing.
Their water supply came via pipes and was lukewarm and barely drinkable. In contrast neighbouring Colossae was supplied by a cold mountain stream and Hierapolis by medicinal hot springs. The church needs to be refreshing (symbolised by cold!) or healing, symbolised by hot. It would have been a biting rebuke as daily they had to drink water that was disgusting and inferior in their supposed richness and self-sufficiency. They would feel like spitting it out, so the vision uses the same image of spitting to express the worthlessness of their complacency.
They were a proud city – they had had earthquakes in the region and had refused help from the regional Roman authorities, priding themselves on sorting things out independently.
They are called to “buy” from the Lord:
- Gold – from the refiners fire, answering their self-sufficient boasting
- White clothes – ironic because the area was famous for black wool
- Eye salve – so they can see spiritually the mess they are in. Again the city was famous for its eye salve.
Love motivates the loving rebuke – “Those whom I love I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent”.
Revelation 3:20, often used as an evangelistic text, is a call to complacent Christians who need to open the door to relying on God again!