Author: Ron Graham
The Revelation of Christ (Revelation 1-5) >Seven Churches >Fifth Message, Sardis
We continue studying the seven messages to the churches of Asia. In this lesson, we look at the message to Sardis, the dead church (Revelation 3:1-6).
Sardis A very ancient city, originally the capital of the Lydian empire. Pillars of a Greek temple still remain there.
¶“1To the messenger of the congregation in Sardis, write: the one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars is saying, 'I know your works, how you have a good name for being alive, but you are dead. 2Be on watch, and make strong what you still have, which is ready to die. I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God” (Revelation 3:1-2).
¶“3So remember what you received and heard. Guard it well and repent. If you won't watch, then I will come upon you like a thief. You will not be expecting me, at the hour I come upon you” (Revelation 3:3).
¶“4Even in Sardis, a few can be named who have not soiled their robes. They shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5Those who overcome shall be dressed in white, and I will not blot out their names from the book of life. Rather, I will acknowledge their names before my Father and his angels' ” (Revelation 3:4-5).
He who has the seven Spirits... Jesus calls himself "He who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars..." . We have previously discussed the seven spirits and the seven stars. You will recall that the seven stars represent the "angels of the seven churches" (Revelation 1:20).
The seven Spirits of God are mentioned in Revelation 1:4, Revelation 4:5, Revelation 5:6. As previously discussed, each Spirit is a representation of the Holy Spirit's personal work through prophets in one of the seven churches, delivering to them the God-breathed testimony or gospel of Jesus. The expression "the seven Spirits of God" (Revelation 5:6) is parallel to the expression "the God of the spirits of the prophets" (Revelation 22:6).
The gospel comes...
Jesus rebukes most of the seven churches for being weak links, unfaithful to the gospel. One of the purposes of Revelation is to strengthen the link that is weak. It is appropriate in addressing the Sardis church, that Christ represent himself as "He who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars..." . The church at Sardis was a weak link. It needed to "strengthen the things that remain" (verse 2).
I know... Superficially, the church seemed alive and active, and had a reputation for being so. However it was dead according to the Lord. This is disturbing. What people say is "a great church" may not be so at all. We need to look for the marks of the true church —those characteristics by which Jesus identifies a church as belonging to him. A church that appeals to us, a "feel good" church, may not be a true and living church at all.
Things that remain Digression and apostasy never happen all of a sudden. It is a slow process, and for a long time there will still be a presence of good things. However that remaining presence will not be valued, and will become weaker and weaker. This is like an endangered species of animal. If we recognise it is endangered, and value it, we can build up the population of that animal. If we don't, it becomes extinct. The marks of the true church are like that.
Deeds not completed Have you ever given someone a task to do, and they did not get it done properly? They left parts of the task undone, and did other parts in a sloppy fashion? Did that person still expect credit for the work? That's how some people serve God. And it just won’t do.
My God Here Jesus calls his Father "My God". Earlier, John speaks of the Father of Jesus as "His God and Father" (Revelation 1:6 cf Romans 15:6). This is not a denial that Jesus himself is God, but an acknowledgment that he is subject to his Father. It also reflects the human nature of Christ whereby Jesus Christ the Son of God is also "a son of man" (Revelation 1:13). Therefore he obeys and worships the heavenly Father as all men should.
Remember... keep... repent Have you ever been given something which meant a lot to the giver, but after a while you forgot about it, and it got lost? One day you come across it and the memory is awakened? Some people at Sardis had done that with the gospel.
Like a thief A thief does not announce his coming. So we don't know when a thief is coming. Likewise, we don't know when Christ is coming (Luke 12:39-40, 1Thessalonians 5:2-4, 2Peter 3:10-11).
A few people In most churches there seems to be a "faithful few" who hold to the truth while others are letting it go. The few work hard in the gospel and in supporting the church, whilst others just use the church as a free service to satisfy their wants and wishes. Occasionally however, you find a church where a solid majority are faithful and energetic. Unfortunately this wasn't the case with Sardis.
Two Gates, Two Roads The Sardis church was an example of the two gates and two roads parable (Matthew 7:13-14). When interpreting that parable, we usually think of the church as being in the narrow way and the world being in the broad way. However, it is also instructive to think of the parable as describing not so much the church versus the world, but two kinds of members in such churches as the congregation at Sardis. This interpretation fits better with what Jesus goes on to say in (Matthew 7:21-23). The church at Sardis had a few who stuck to the narrow way, and these few alone were struggling to keep the lamstand in its place. And Jesus said of these few...
They are worthy The idea of a person's worthiness to walk eternally with Jesus, is heresy to most teachers today. Yet here is Jesus plainly saying people will walk with him in white because they are worthy! Paul more than once uses the expression "walk worthy" (Ephesians 4:1, Philippians 1:27, Colossians 1:10, 1Thessalonians 2:12). Of course, the worthiness there originates in God, and we "walk worthy" in the sense that our conduct befits the worthiness of the Lamb (Revelation 5:12).
We cannot be worthy in our own right without the Lamb's sacrifice of himself for our sins. On the other hand, we are "counted worthy" (2Thessalonians 1:5,11-12) through his sacrifice by which God has "made us accepted in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:6 KJV).
Therefore we "are worthy" (Revelation 3:4) and it is contradicting Christ to say that we are not —unless we make it very clear that we are thinking of ourselves theoretically and hypothetically as being apart from Christ and standing on our own merits.
However, since that is not true, and we are really in Christ and standing on our faith in him, then we must say "we are worthy" because that's exactly what Christ says, and that's exactly what we have become through him. We should hold on to this worthiness at all costs, for this gift is our most precious possession by far.
Clothed in white garments In warm climates people wear white. It may be that Jesus and his disciples had walked together in the gardens dressed in white, and this was one of Jesus's lovely memories of his time on earth.
The white garments represent forgiveness and purity. We must not soil these garments by going back into a sinful life. We are among "those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Revelation 7:14). We must work hard, and suffer much, to keep them that way with God’s help.
The symbol of the white garment is very strong because it emphasises that through Christ the impossible became possible, and was done. How could a garment be made white by washing it in blood? Impossible? Yes, yet it is done! How could our sins be taken away by someone else shedding their blood? Impossible? Yes, except through Christ it was possible. What is impossible for us, God was able to do, though even for him it was far from easy.
Book of life The book of life here is mentioned again in Revelation 13:8, 17:8, 20:12-15, 21:27, and 22:19 KJV. We would be inclined to think that we should get our names written into that book. But Jesus is emphasising not the writing in of names, but the erasing of them.
Names Entered. It is a shock to find that one's name was written into the book of life not when one was converted, not even when one was born, but as far back as "the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8). In plain words, it was God's purpose, even before the world was created, that mankind should have the gift of eternal life in heavenly glory.
Names Erased. When a person comes into the world, that person's name has already been in the book of life "from the foundation of the world". But when that person sins, the name is erased, and the continuity is lost. Their names are now "not written from the foundation of the world".
Names Reinstated. We can take heart however: God wants the erasure cancelled, and the continuity restored. He has made it possible for the name to be fully reinstated. The name is regarded, once again, as having been in the book from the foundation of the world. How completely Jesus can forgive and cancel our sins! Realising this enormous blessing, we should determine never again to have our name erased from the book of life.
The Calvinist tradition holds that many people have never had their names written in the book of life and their names can never be written there. Others, according to the tradition, have always had their names written in the book of life, and their names can never be erased. This does not fit in at all with what is said in Revelation about the book of life.
I will confess his name... By “name” Jesus does not mean merely a string of letters, but the whole identy of a unique person. Most of us don't have unique names, but we are each unique persons and Jesus knows us unmistakably. Nobody can go into heaven unless their name (identity) is confessed in heaven by Christ. If Christ does not recognise and vouch for us, then the Father and his angels will not recognise us. We shall be excluded from heaven.