Emperor’s Clothes

“You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realise that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.”
Revelation‬ ‭3:17‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Jesus continues with His observations about what was going on at Laodicea. He has already exposed their apostasy, their spiritual lukewarmness, and how much He hates it. And He now points out that the Laodiceans were guilty of being complacent. The people in that church were comfortably off, it seems, and their wealth seems to have corrupted their spiritual life to the extent that they felt they had no need for God. 

There is obviously a difference between our earthly and spiritual lives. On earth, the natural man and woman work so that, in return, they can receive or purchase the supplies, food, clothing etc., they need for life. A fundamental reality that started when Adam and Eve were ejected from the Garden of Eden. But in the spiritual, there is a different economy at work. All that is needed for spiritual life is supplied through a relationship with God. And it looks as though the Laodiceans were unaware of their spiritual needs and instead were perhaps rationalising that their wealthy state was God’s blessing. And by so doing they were totally missing what being a Christian was all about.

Jesus goes on to point out that they were “wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked”. Jesus was of course referring to their spiritual state as history hasn’t recorded stories of blind and naked people at that time forming a church. You would think that anyone told this would be aware of it, but it seems the Laodiceans were so spiritually dead, that they were walking around in blissful ignorance, anaesthetised by their comfortable life and wealth. Jesus pointed out five attributes that marked out their relationship with God. They were “wretched and miserable”, a reference to an unhappy life. Isn’t it strange how people can apparently have everything but still feel within themselves a desperate unhappiness? They were “poor”, meaning they were spiritually bankrupt. Incidentally, how many rich people reach the news, wealthy beyond what most of us can ever dream of, but are still desperately needy? Rich in possessions and money, but spiritually poor. In his first letter to Timothy, his son in the faith, the Apostle Paul wrote, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10). The reference to being “blind” perhaps related to their lack of a vision. Proverbs 29:18 (NASB) reads, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, but happy is he who keeps the law“. Finally, Jesus said they were “naked”, exposed for what they had become. Without the spiritual covering of a relationship with God. I’m reminded of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale of the emperor who was deceived into thinking he was wearing a marvellous suit of clothes but in fact was naked before his people, deceived and vain.

Today’s pilgrims, in our comfortable Western societies, need to take note of today’s verse. We must frequently ask ourselves relevant questions about our spiritual status because it is so easy to fall into complacency. We must always be aware that we are at our most vulnerable when we don’t think we need anything. I can remember two specific periods in my life when I was in a desperate situation, so desperate that only God had the remedy. And that was when I was closest to God. My spiritual vision was sharp and focused. Prayers were answered. My pain was replaced by an assurance that God was in control. And He was.

Pilgrims also need to have a vision. A church or fellowship of believers need a clear vision of where they are going and how they are growing, as a group of Christ’s followers. We cannot go through life without one, because otherwise we will just spiritually drift. If we’re unsure we ask God. That is a prayer He will always answer. 

Dear Lord God. Thank You for reminding us that without You we quickly find ourselves in dangerous territory. Not for us are emperor’s clothes. We want to be clothed in Your love and grace, close to our Source. Please help us on our journey. Amen.

The Lukewarm

“I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!”
Revelation‬ ‭3:15-16‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This is a verse that sometimes makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. An internal “Oh dear!” and a heavy sigh starts a few minutes of self reflection that usually ends up with me mentally on my knees before Jesus. Asking once again for forgiveness. And His love and grace floods over me once again.

Jesus used the analogy of water and its temperature and it would have been a significant metaphor in that culture. Lukewarm water in 1st Century Laodicea would have been a bit suspect. It brings to mind the picture of glass of water that has been sitting out in the sun, and consequently didn’t taste very nice. And, as well, it may have become polluted by whatever was flying around near it. One mouthful, and perhaps a response would be to spit it out. On the other hand, cold water was refreshing and wholesome, probably sourced from an underground spring. Hot water would have been used for cooking or for washing, with the benefit of knowing that it felt good through cooked food or through the refreshment washing brings.

So to translate that into spiritual terms, what do we get? What is the optimum temperature for a follower of Jesus? Obviously, being lukewarm is not an option – Jesus made very clear that His palate rejects it. Perhaps, a lukewarm “Christian” is someone who goes through the motions of church life, failing to engage with the spiritual aspects, but putting up with them so that they can enjoy the benefits of the fellowship and any secular activities that take place on their church premises. A lukewarm person is someone who knows all about the liturgy and even Bible passages, but tends to ignore them, being more interested in the display of flowers, how the chairs are laid out, the length of the sermon, or what they should wear to church. They see no reason to engage with our wonderful and amazing Heavenly Father in an abundance of praise and worship, in thankfulness and reverence. These people may also be resistant to responding to the Gospel, having hearts that are hardened against Biblical truth, or prayer and worship. Jesus doesn’t want them in His church – He will eject them forcibly.

A person who is cold is someone who has no desire to get involved with anything to do with God. They probably won’t darken any church with their presence, unless the service is a wedding, funeral, or christening/baptism. They may confess atheism or be an agnostic. I was one myself until God, through His Spirit, connected with me. He brought me into a situation where I had to decide and one night, in response to an anguished prayer, He graciously allowed me to know His reality and love. So a cold person can be reached by the Gospel, and warmed by the power of God. God’s grace extends to them – they only need to reach out and accept Him. Salvation is all by His grace and it’s a free gift, costing us nothing, though it cost Jesus His life.

A person who is hot, is someone who has fully and totally embraced the Gospel. And through faith he or she fervently pursues God, reading the Bible, praying, evangelising and serving God in the way He wants them to. When times are troubled their faith carries them through. And their pilgrimage through life bears fruit, both in their own lives and the lives of others. 

Jesus said He knew everything the Laodiceans do. Of course He did. And unlike the other 6 churches He had no praise or encouragement for them. At least the church at Sardis had a few dying embers that were possible to revive, but the Laodiceans had absolutely nothing – they had reached a spiritual entropy.

A sensible pilgrim will occasionally do a spiritual check up, just to make sure they’re still “hot” and not heading for being lukewarm. As water cools to room temperature and becomes lukewarm, they too will do the same unless they put in place the spiritual safeguards necessary to maintain temperature. But we must never forget our relationship with God. He is our loving Heavenly Father. Through Jesus He has welcomed us into His family. He has made it possible for us to live with Him for eternity. So how can we ever grow cold in our faith? And neither must we forget that he has given us the special task of sharing His grace and love with the lukewarm and cold people around us. While there is still time.

Dear Lord God. How can we ever forget You, the One who has graciously done so much for us. For our salvation and our adoption into Your family we are so grateful. We pray that You will never allow our hearts to grow cold. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Amen

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Laodicea. This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation”
Revelation‬ ‭3:14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Jesus’ message through John moves on to address the “angel of the church in Laodicea”.This was the last of the seven churches addressed by Jesus in these early chapters in Revelation.  Laodicea was another Western Turkey church established, it is thought, by Epaphras, one of the Apostle Paul’s disciples. Laodicea was a wealthy city, active in textiles and banking, as well as being located on important trade routes.

Jesus, in declaring His credentials, said He was the “Amen” and the “faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation”. There are several thoughts to unpack in this verse. Firstly, what does being an “Amen” mean? The word “Amen” has within its meaning concepts such as truth and certainty. We use it at the end of a prayer or hymn as a concluding word, meaning “so be it” or “it is so”. So when Jesus described Himself as the “Amen“, He was declaring that He was the final Word. That what He said was truth and would certainly happen and He would be faithful to all His promises. There is nothing to add to Jesus. He is everything.

Jesus also described Himself as the “faithful and true witness”. A witness is a person who has observed an event and is prepared to announce what he witnessed. In a court of law, a witness will tell the court about something that happened when he or she was watching. But this statement can be subjective because the event or situation being described will only be from the witness’s perspective and could be filtered through their prejudices or affected by external factors such as bad lighting. Not the case with Jesus. His witness statement is both “faithful and true”. Faithful because that quality is who He is. In 2 Timothy 2:13 we read, “If we are unfaithful, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny who He is“. And Jesus is true – He said so Himself in John 14:6, “…“I am the way, the truth, and the life…“. So Jesus is the ultimate, absolute witness, faithful and true.

Jesus also said He was the “beginning of God’s new creation”. We read in Colossians 1:18, “And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy”. In Romans 8:29, the Apostle Paul said that Jesus was the firstborn of many siblings. Through Jesus, the world as we know it was created, but one day He will come again, at the forefront of the new creation. Because He is the new creation. 

So to our pilgrim plodding through life, is there any relevance in this verse? There is of course, because we have on record the words of Jesus, post resurrection, declaring that he is still alive and active, getting things ready for the new order, the new world, to come. Jesus is so dependable. He is unchanging. He is faithful and true. He is our Lord and Saviour.

Dear Lord. We thank You that You came to this world bringing salvation and hope to all who believe in You. And we thank You, in faith-inspired anticipation of our lives in the world to come. We echo the words at the end of Revelation, “Come Lord Jesus”. Amen.

Our Identity

“All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of My God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of My God, and they will be citizens in the city of My God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from My God. And I will also write on them My new name. Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.
Revelation‬ ‭3:12-13‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Those who are victorious are once again mentioned and honoured in this verse. As a reminder, the victorious are those who have persevered over their difficulties. Over the persecution that came from the Jews belonging to “satan’s synagogue” just down the road. The victorious were those who were holding onto their faith, obeying Jesus’ command to persevere. And as a reward Jesus said they were to become “pillars in the Temple of My God”. But we’re not talking here about a physical column of stone, propping up the roof of a building used for worship. We read in Revelation 21:22, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple“. So without a Temple in the new Jerusalem, what are the “pillars“? Surely God doesn’t need propping up?

In any building, the part of it called a pillar indicates something important, foundational, and necessary for the structural integrity of the building. And that is exactly what the Philadelphians were to become. Those that are victorious anyway. They were the people of that generation with whom Jesus was building His Church. People described as “pillars” crop up everywhere in our churches. They are the “glue” that maintains the integrity and cohesion of their fellowships. They are dependable, hardly ever missing a meeting. When something needs to be done, they volunteer, no matter how menial the task. When trouble comes their way, they persevere and overcome the difficulties. And from today’s verse, we see how Jesus views them. He will treasure them, writing on them the names of God and a new name for His Son, Jesus. They will be given a special identity.

In the new Jerusalem, the “pillars” will have a special role close to God. They are guaranteed citizenship. They will never have to leave. There will be something amazing about being in the company of these saints. What stories they will have to tell!

In our societies, we often feel our identities can be lost in the crowds. Or so we think. On our life-pilgrimages, the enemy will try and demoralise us. He will tell us that we are insignificant. That we don’t matter. He will attack our identities. At such times as these we can remind him that we already have a special identity – we are children of God. The writer of Revelation also wrote this in 1 John 3:1, “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us His children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognise that we are God’s children because they don’t know Him“. So by faith, we know we already have an identity, that is eternal and indestructible. We can’t be any more special, or significant, than being a son or daughter of God.

And to those who are not Christians, many nevertheless still strive to make themselves significant. Perhaps by committing a crime so that the authorities notice them. Or by entering politics with the hope that one day they will be up there, making the news with the rest of the politicians. Or by succeeding in business like some of our high profile company owners. Even in issues of sexuality and gender some may perhaps be trying to find a new identity, becoming, if only in their eyes, someone significant. But all these people are chasing the wind, because one day their earthly identities will die with them. In their earthly lives, they are attempting to counterfeit what God instead truly designed people to be.

Pilgrims today, as they have been in previous generations, can relax secure in their God-given identities. We have no need to try to be something else. When we look in a mirror, what do we see? Regardless of what the enemy tries to tell us, there’s a child of God looking back. Look closely – you may see a pillar in the image somewhere as well.

Dear Lord. Thank You that through Your love You have not only redeemed us, but You have elevated us to the role of being Your adopted children. Our identities are now in You and nowhere else. We are so grateful. Amen.

Hold On

I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown.
Revelation 3:11 NLT

The Philadelphians would have been encouraged by the message that Jesus was coming soon. Their expectation was probably that Jesus was just waiting in the wings, ready to return in the same way as He departed, from the skies. But the hours and days would have extended into weeks and months. Years would have rolled by, and some of their number would have passed on to eternal life. Did they experience disappointment? Did they turn on their leaders, demanding an explanation, or a definition of what “soon” really meant? We don’t know.

Jesus was clear that He didn’t know when He would return to earth again. We read in Matthew 24:30b, “…And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory“. And Matthew 24:36, “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows“. But Jesus, in His message to the Philadelphians, used the word “soon“. In our earthly, time-dominated, lives, the word “soon” means something is about to happen imminently, or in a few days. But from the perspective of eternity, where time as we know it doesn’t exist, “soon” takes on a different meaning. We are living in a time of unmerited grace. God is giving more and more people, generation by generation, the opportunity to embrace His Son and all that that means. After all, if “soon” had meant that Jesus returned sometime in the first century, I wouldn’t be writing these words, and you wouldn’t be reading them. But there will come a time when “soon” converts into the reality of God saying to Jesus that now is the time. In Romans 13:11-12 we read, “This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here…” One day, perhaps sooner than we expect, Jesus will return. “For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labour pains begin. And there will be no escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-3).

John’s message continues. He wrote, “Hold on to what you have”. The Philadelphians, at face value, would seem to have very little. But Jesus wasn’t encouraging them to hold on to their material possessions. In the Kingdom of God materialism has no worth. In the earthly kingdom gold has value, but in the Heavenly Kingdom, gold is used to pave the roads. No, Jesus was referring to the spiritual treasure they were accumulating. The spiritual gifts they had received. The treasure they were storing up in Heaven. Jesus taught about the difference between treasure in the two kingdoms. In Matthew 6:19-21 we read, “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be“. Jesus would also have been encouraging the Philadelphians to, quite simply, hold on to their faith. To not give up, even when the going was tough. When persecution was sapping their strength. 

And Jesus continues to remind them that if they hold on to what they have then “no one will take away [their] crown[s]”. What are these crowns? James 1:12 refers to the crown of life, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him“. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy about the crown of righteousness, “And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of His return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to His appearing“. (2 Timothy 4:8). But whatever it is, the crown awaiting those who hold on to their faith is going to be amazing. 

To today’s pilgrim, we must take on board the message to the Philadelphians. We too must hold on to what we have. Even when the road before us seems long and difficult. Even when the temptation is there to give up, and perhaps just take an easy option. We must never forget that turning back, even just for a short time away from the difficulties of doing life God’s way, can turn very quickly into a worldly lifestyle. Sadly, I know so many people who have decided, for one reason or another, to turn their backs on their faith, and they now do other things. They have lost sight of their Heavenly treasure and the crown awaiting them. We must never give up holding on to our heritage, our faith, our Lord.

There is an old Gospel song – these are the lyrics.

  1. I have decided to follow Jesus;
    I have decided to follow Jesus;
    I have decided to follow Jesus;
    No turning back, no turning back.
  2. The world behind me, the cross before me;
    The world behind me, the cross before me;
    The world behind me, the cross before me;
    No turning back, no turning back.
  3. Though none go with me, still I will follow;
    Though none go with me, still I will follow;
    Though none go with me, still I will follow;
    No turning back, no turning back.
  4. My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
    My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
    My cross I’ll carry, till I see Jesus;
    No turning back, no turning back.
  5. Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
    Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
    Will you decide now to follow Jesus?
    No turning back, no turning back.

Dear Lord Jesus. Please help us never to give up on living life Your way. We know that no-one else has the words of eternal life. No-one else can gift us salvation. We will follow You to the end. Thank You. Amen.

A Time of Testing

“Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world.”
‭‭Revelation‬ ‭3:10‬ ‭NLT

Again the Philadelphians were commended for their obedience in obeying Jesus’ command to persevere. But what does perseverance look like? Jesus gave us a glimpse, as recorded in Matthew 10:22, “And all nations will hate you because you are my followers. But everyone who endures to the end will be saved“. The disciples were under no illusions as they mulled over this statement from the Master. Being a Christian, a follower of Christ, is not a popular life choice. It means living a life that does not conform with the lives of those unbelievers in the world around us. A Christian reaches out to them with love and acceptance, but receives hatred, animosity, and even violence in return. Why should that be? Because the kingdom of the world is devil-run, and the Kingdom of Heaven, the domain of Christians, is God-run. Two opposing forces. We know who wins in the end, but for the Philadelphians, living their daily lives, it must have been a constant temptation to give in to the worldly pressures and swap sides. But they persevered in the face of the persecution, being obedient to Jesus’ command. That’s what perseverance looks like.

There is no difference for today’s pilgrim. The same battle continues. The longest battle in history. The clash of the two kingdoms is no short military campaign. It will only cease when Jesus comes again, when all the nations will declare His Lordship. And we are given the same command as the Philadelphians – persevere to the end. Jesus’ half-brother James wrote right at the start of his epistle, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything”. I don’t know about “pure joy” but the message is clear – we will face many trials in our Christian lives and at times our faith will be sorely tested, but we have to persevere. There is no other way. We cannot flip-flop between the two kingdoms.

John goes on to write about a “great time of testing”. I can hear the protestations. Surely we are being tested enough, you say. The Philadelphians would have been alarmed when they heard these words read out to them, but also relieved when they were told that it would pass them by. There was no explanation for them about what the “great time of testing” would be, though they would have had access to Old Testament scriptures such as Daniel 12:1, “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people – everyone whose name is found written in the book – will be delivered”. Christians today also have the benefit of reading what else John wrote in his Revelation, and we will come to that in a few blogs time. Suffice to say, that there is coming a time of testing, called by many the Tribulation – perhaps that is what John was writing about in his message to the Philadelphians.

We Christian pilgrims are continually tested in this life, because the kingdom of darkness is always trying to win over the Kingdom of Light, and for most of the time, that battle is taking place within us. The Apostle Paul very clearly and eloquently set out the dilemma we all face in Romans 7:22-24, “I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death”? But thankfully, verse 24 is followed by verse 25. “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord….” So, with Jesus’ help, we persevere in this life of strife, being obedient to Jesus’ commands. One day, there will be a “great time of testing that will come upon the whole world“. Something we may have mixed feelings about. But as I have said before, we may not know what the future holds, but we do know who holds the future. 

Dear Lord. Thank You that You have our future all planned out. You know the beginning from the end. We worship You, deeply thankful for all You have done in our lives, and all that You will do as we remain faithful to Your commands. Amen.

Little Strength

“I know all the things you do, and I have opened a door for you that no one can close. You have little strength, yet you obeyed My word and did not deny Me. Look, I will force those who belong to Satan’s synagogue—those liars who say they are Jews but are not—to come and bow down at your feet. They will acknowledge that you are the ones I love.”
Revelation‬ ‭3:8-9‬ ‭NLT

Encouragement and love. Jesus’ message to the Philadelphians couldn’t have been better. And there is that door again. Jesus is holding it open for them and we know from the previous verse that only He has the key to this door. “You have little strength” conjures up a picture of a small group of inoffensive but determined Christians. Physically they lacked the ability to defend themselves. They probably lacked influence in their society. A number of them may have been slaves. The reference to “Satan’s synagogue” indicated that they were perhaps suffering persecution. But in all of this they stood firm in their faith. Staying obedient to God’s Word. And always declaring His Lordship in their lives. What an example. And Jesus said He would vindicate them, by forcing the false Jews to bow down to them, acknowledging that the Philadelphians were the ones that Jesus loved. 

There are several examples of “little strength” in the Bible. I’m reminded of Jeremiah, who stood up against the religious leaders of his day, pointing out their corruption and apostasy, receiving threats and even direct action in return. We read in Jeremiah 20 how he was whipped and put in stocks, because of his faith. He had “little strength” but persevered in faith. And there is that wonderful chapter in Hebrews about the faithful, those with “little strength”, who suffered greatly in the face of persecution. In 1 Corinthians 1:27 we read, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong”. The Philadelphians knew by faith that with God on their side, they were invincible, even though they had “little strength”.

Jesus had strong words for the local Jewish synagogue. A place of worship and connection with God instead appeared to be populated by Jews who were worshipping someone else. How did that come about? Jesus Himself encountered people in synagogues who were so fixed in their ideas that they were unable to accept a visitation from God Himself. We read in Mark 3:5-6, “He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus”. A synagogue containing leaders who were so hardened in their hearts that they wanted Jesus to be killed for breaking their sabbath laws. Sadly, I know churches today that would be unable to accommodate a Jesus in their midst. Upsetting their liturgies. Disturbing the furniture. Challenging the status quo.

For the pilgrim today, God knows that we have “little strength”. But all He asks of us is that we are obedient to Him and His Word, and that we don’t deny Him in the face of difficult situations. Thankfully, in our Western societies we don’t suffer the physical persecution experienced by our bothers and sisters in places like Afghanistan or North Korea, but we can still come up against others hostile to our faith. There are always some who ridicule us in our workplaces, schools and universities. And, sad to say, even in our churches. But God sees the big picture and He knows our hearts and one day we will hear those wonderful words, “Well done, My good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:23).

Dear Lord Jesus. We thank You for Your encouragement. We thank You for standing with us when the going gets tough. And we thank You for equipping us with Your Heavenly resources, day by day. Amen.

Key of David

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Philadelphia. This is the message from the One who is holy and true, the One who has the key of David. What He opens, no one can close; and what He closes, no one can open.”
Revelation 3:7 NLT

In his revelation from Jesus, John moves on to the church at Philadelphia, addressing the angel there with his message. Philadelphia was a city in what is now Turkey, and in those days it was on a trade route of strategic importance. Not much remains of the First Century city because of earthquakes in the region, but when John wrote his revelation it was a thriving place extending Greek culture to surrounding nations.

In Revelation 3:7, Jesus once again establishes His credentials. He is the holy and true One. In Hebrews 7:26 we read, “He is the kind of high priest we need because He is holy and blameless, unstained by sin…“. He is true as we read in John 14:6, “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life..””. But what is this “key of David“? Jesus was repeating the prophecy made about Himself from Isaiah 22:22, “I will give him the key to the house of David—the highest position in the royal court. When he opens doors, no one will be able to close them; when he closes doors, no one will be able to open them“. Jesus was often referred to in Biblical literature as being the Son of David, indicating His royal ancestry.

So what is it that only Jesus can open and close? The Isaiah prophecy mentions doors, and that would seem an obvious target of Jesus’s keys. But doors to what? And what is so important that only the Son of God has access to them? In Matthew 16:19 the words of Jesus, in a conversation with Peter, were recorded: “And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven”. So perhaps this “key of David” unlocks the door into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Heaven is a special place, of complete holiness and purity. A place where God lives. A place that, although we only get a glimpse of it through the Bible, we still gain something about its wonder and ultimate desirability for our eternal home. There is a script used much in old cartoon films and pictures, of a person who has just died arriving at the gates of Heaven. Everything is white and shining, and Peter is sitting behind a desk looking down at the person, consulting books to see if he can be allowed in. But nothing can be further from reality, from the truth. The door into Heaven isn’t opened by a key when we die. There is no Peter, or even Jesus, waiting to let us in, in that respect. There is a process that has to be gone through first. A process that will unlock the door ready for us at some time in the future.

Jesus, while He walked the paths in Palestine, didn’t focus on the place called Heaven so much as He talked and taught about the Kingdom of Heaven. We have to understand that there is no sudden transition between life and the after-life, between our earthly kingdom and the Heavenly kingdom to come. There is a choice to be made, and Jesus was teaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is here right now and we can access it, and live in it, through the One who has the keys to open its door. We start our journey to enter Heaven at the Cross, where Jesus went through a horrible death so that we would gain entry into His Kingdom. By accepting in faith that He is the Son of God, believing in our hearts that He died for us and only salvation comes through Him, then Jesus will unlock and open the door for us, into His Kingdom.. 

There are only two kingdoms accessible to us in this life. The kingdom of darkness, or the Kingdom of Light. The devil’s kingdom or God’s Kingdom. The earthly kingdom or the Heavenly Kingdom. Whatever we call them, there are only two kingdoms. And there is a sobering and important fact about these kingdoms – the default kingdom is not God’s. If we want to spend eternity with God then we can only enter His kingdom by choosing to do so.

Going back to our Scripture in Matthew 16, Jesus very publicly gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. If we read a few verses before, we see that Peter had just made a statement declaring Jesus’ divinity. We read in verse 16, “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God””. On the back of that statement of faith, Peter went on to make very effective use of the keys to the Kingdom – after he preached his Acts 2 sermon, 3,000 people were added to God’s Kingdom that day. He unlocked the door into the Kingdom of heaven for them and they subsequently chose to enter.

But Peter is long dead. Did the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven die with him? Thankfully not, because when we become a child of God, we not only receive the free gift of salvation, we also receive the key that will enable us to unlock the door into God’s Kingdom for anyone we meet. We have a responsibility to fulfil our Kingdom commission by firstly telling others about the Kingdom of Heaven and secondly by telling them how to enter. That is unlocking the door. And for those who reject the free gift of salvation from God, the door remains locked. By default, they will continue to live in the earthly kingdom, and will find, when they cross the Great Divide, that the door into the Heavenly Kingdom is locked and they cannot enter. Instead they will join the devil in the other place. For eternity. 

One last thought today. We are living in a period of unmerited grace. A time when God has graciously made entry into His Kingdom possible for all. There is no monetary charge for entry – salvation is a free gift. In Romans 10:10 we read, “For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved”. That’s what God requires. A choice that will allow Jesus to unlock the door for us. So the question for everyone today is this. Which kingdom do you want to live in? please, folks, make the right choice before it is too late.

Dear Lord. How can we ever thank You enough for Your amazing grace and mercy. Please bring to us those who are open to the Gospel and who are looking for the Kingdom of God, so that we can show them the way. For Your sake. Amen.

Clothed in White

“Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.“”
Revelation‬ ‭3:4-6‬ ‭NLT

What comes to our minds when we read about being clothed in white? The image of a TV evangelist perhaps, a man wearing a white suit. Another image is of a beautiful bride wearing an expensive creation of white lace and finery. White is a symbol of purity. And if we want to be counted among the “victorious” then we had better get used to the idea that we will be clothed in white, and it will be a garment whiter than any man-made product. The popular image is that a white garment will be some form of gown; Jesus is mostly portrayed in artist impressions as wearing a shoulder to ground loose-fitting robe. In Mark 9:3, we read, “Jesus’ appearance was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them“. There will be something about the whiteness of our garments that will surpass anything we can imagine today. In his book The Great Divorce, C S Lewis describes the inhabitants of Heaven as being the solid bright people, exuding a dazzlingly white purity contrasting with the wispy dark and evil wraiths that were the ghosts on a day trip from hell.

But however we imagine what our Heavenly clothes will be like, of one thing we will be sure – they will be white. That is, of course, assuming that we don’t sully them with dirt that has stuck there through our contact with an evil world. It seems from these verses that the inhabitants of Sardis were already wearing their white Heavenly clothes, because Jesus warned them not to get them dirty. And in a sense we too are wearing our garments of white. Thankfully there is a process there for laundering. Our humanity sadly acts like a “dirt magnet”, our worldly behaviour soiling our white garments far too often. And only repentance and forgiveness, with washing in the blood of Jesus, will restore their whiteness – Isaiah 1:18 reads, ““Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool”“. Only Jesus can restore the whiteness of our garments.

We also read that Jesus will never erase our names, the names of the victorious, from His Book of Life. What is this Book? It contains the names of everyone destined for Heaven. And we really do need our names to be there. The implication from today’s verses is that perhaps the names of some can be erased from it. Some people believe that once written in the Book of Life, the name can never be erased, regardless of subsequent behaviour, because it’s written in spiritually indelible ink. Others believe that those who fall away from the faith, who allow their clothes to be soiled by evil, and who reject God, will find that their names will disappear. But whichever viewpoint we believe, we really do need our names to be written in this Book of Life. Personally, the thought that a person can come to faith in God, confessing their sins and obtaining His forgiveness, with their names recorded in the Book, only to then live their lives in a sinful way, turning their back on God, but still expect their names to remain in the Book, is a somewhat bizarre assumption. But that’s just my opinion.

Jesus said He will never rub out the names of His victorious ones, removing them from His Book of Life. And more, He said that He will announce them publicly in the vaults of Heaven. Before God and the angels. I can imagine the scene. A doorway into Heaven opens up with Jesus waiting there, ready to announce my name. A hush descends on Heaven as God and the angels all wait to see who this is, who is about to come through the door. And Jesus, beaming away, His arm around my shoulder, announces my name before the gathered assembly. He then declares that I am His, an overcomer, victorious and with my name recorded in His Book. Wearing spotless, dazzlingly-white clothes. Is that a scene too far-fetched and too good to be true? Perhaps. But if the angels have a party every time someone is saved, then can we imagine what it must be like when that saved person finally reaches Heaven? We read in Luke 15:10, “In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents“. 

So, fellow pilgrims, we must learn from the church in Sardis. Once again we have found a church where some are faithfully following Jesus, but others have fallen away, still going through the motions but the connection with their wonderful Heavenly Father has been lost. We too must be careful we fall into the right camp, wherever we worship. And we must be careful to keep our Heavenly clothes clean and white.

Dear Lord. We are so grateful for Your encouragement in our daily walks with You. Please help us to stay close to Your cross, worthy servants of the Living God. Amen. 

The Living Dead

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars: “I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.”
Revelation‬ ‭3:1-3‬ ‭NLT‬‬

The church in Sardis had an angel as did the others listed in Revelation 2 and 3. And Jesus had a message for him. Sardis was another city in what is now Turkey, and was extensively excavated during the early part of the 20th Century. Several church buildings were found there, but of the original church and its congregation there is no information. Jesus had a message for this congregation that would have been hard to receive. He started His message by establishing His credentials. He “has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars”. Regarding the sevenfold Spirit of God, this may have been a reference to Isaiah 11:2, which reads, “And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord“. Isaiah’s prophecy pointed to the coming Messiah and here He is delivering His message to the people of Sardis. Jesus held the seven stars in His right hand and it is thought these are His messengers to the seven churches; perhaps they represent their pastors or leaders.

But John continues to relay Jesus’ message. And it makes for grim reading. Jesus knows what they are about. He’s had His eye on what they have been doing. And He points out that although to an outsider their church seems full of life, in fact it is just going through the motions. They are really spiritually dead. Well almost. It seems that there are a few dying embers still in the grate, but unless they are quick, they too will die away and become the ashes of another dead church. 

So there are some question here. And they are very relevant to us today. First of all, are we guilty of going through the motions of our liturgies, singing the great songs and hymns, sharing Holy Communion, reading the Bible and praying lustily, but our hearts are not in any of it at all? We are thinking of other things, caught up in the worldliness of life around us. About what films or TV we are watching, or games we’re playing. Yes, to an outsider, they might be impressed with the size of the congregation or the volume of the singing wafting across the graveyards, but deep down there may be more life in the tombs than there is in the sanctuary. Perhaps that is what Jesus was meaning. But we have to personalise it as well. Putting our own names in the frames. Are we more spiritually dead than alive? Perhaps we need to ask God for what He thinks. And be prepared for a shock. 

The solution to a dead or dying church, or individual, starts at Calvary. Where the Son of God gave His life so that we could find life. At the place where we ask for forgiveness and turn from our sins. And where we find a loving God delighted that we have turned away from a life of feeding pigs and eating pig swill, to one embraced by our loving Heavenly Father, who has been looking out for us to come home, a place where we can enjoy His presence and the richest of food forever. 

Another question is about where our actions do not measure up to God’s requirements. What are we doing that God doesn’t approve of? Have we allowed worldly activities to use up our time in the church? Perhaps by holding jumble sales when we should be having prayer meetings? Or by focusing on the flowers instead of their Creator. It’s all about priorities. Many activities we get involved in are not bad in themselves but, as with the Sardinian church, they don’t measure up to God’s requirements. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves the questions, “Is what I am involved in furthering the Kingdom of God or just using up my time”? Or, “Is there any Kingdom fruit from what I am involved in”? We can fill our lives with worldly busy-ness rather than God’s business.

Jesus ends verse 3 with a sobering thought. We could be sailing along oblivious to the coming Kingdom, busy with our daily lives, and end up totally unprepared for the sudden arrival of Jesus when He returns. We never know when our house would be burgled until after the event. So it is with the coming of Jesus – but knowing after the event will be too late.

So back to Calvary, where we can gaze upon the One who gave His life for us. His sacrifice is all-sufficient. At the Cross we can fall on our knees in repentance, tearfully reaching out to the only One who can connect us to a life with God. It’s no good turning to Allah or Buddha, or any other world religion. They can’t help us. The only solution to our lives of sin is forgiveness from Jesus, the Son of God. He said in John 14:6,  “… I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me“. Only Jesus has the words of eternal life.

Dear Lord. We confess before You today our sins. We confess that we have allowed our hearts to grow cold. Please forgive us and help us to return to the place You have prepared for us. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.