THE REVELATION OF CHRIST
Lesson Number 7
THE MESSAGE TO SARDIS
"And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars, says this: 'I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 'Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. 'Remember therefore what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. If therefore you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you. 'But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white; for they are worthy. 'He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels. 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.' (Rev 3:1-6, NASB)
The book of Revelation is a commissioned book, charged by the glorified Christ Himself to be written and sent to the seven churches in Asia. "Write in a book what you see, and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea" (Rev 1:10, NASB). These churches, we will find, represent bodies of professed believers from all ages and in all places. In them conditions are found that are by no means confined to Asia. There are strengths mentioned that can be found wherever the name of the Lord is embraced. There are also deficiencies that are common in all ages--deficiencies that are the direct result of succumbing to delusive assaults of the wicked one.
Because of these common circumstances, the message to all seven of the churches is solemnly concluded with the words, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22). This exhortation is even found in the very heart of the book (Rev 13:9). No believer is excluded from the blessing of this book. Its message is pertinent to all churches, regardless of their condition, and to every individual with a capacity to hear what the Spirit declares in Scripture. Let no one fear to take up this book because of the symbolic terms and figures found there. The heart of the message is not found in symbolism, but in the spirit of the book.
Later, we will read of a "dragon" (12:3,4,7,9,13,16,17; 13:2,4,11; 16:13; 20:2), two "beasts" (11:7; 13:1-4, 11-18; 15:2; 16:2,10,13; 17:3,7,8,11-17; 19:19-20; 20:4,10), and a "false prophet" (16:13; 19:20; 20:10). There will be reference to a prostitute enjoying apparent unrestrained success (17:1.15,16; 19:2), and a corrupt city that has forged an alliance with the wicked kings of the earth (14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2,10,21). We will read of "trumpets" (8:2,6), "thunders" (10:3,4), and "vials" of Divine judgement (16:1; 17:1; 21:9). The Spirit will tell us of the "dragon" spewing out a destructive "flood" designed to destroy a "woman" (12:15-16). The book contains reference to a "bottomless pit" (9:1,2,11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1,3), "locusts" (9:3,7), and four horses with riders (6:2-8). We will be exposed to the "souls" of those beheaded because of their testimony (6:9). There is even reference to "the mark of the beast" (13:16; 16:2; 19:20), and a dreadful exhibition of Divine wrath that results in a flow of blood from a winepress that is up to the horses' bridles (15:19-20). We will read of miracles being wrought by the enemy of the saints (13:14-15), and authority being given to a blasphemous beast to make war with the saints and overcome them (13:5).
For many, this makes the book irrelevant. However, we must not allow ourselves to be intimidated by these figures. This is a message to the churches--a needful message. This is a revelation God gave to Jesus, to give to an angel, to give to John, to give to the churches! It is not a novel, but a revelation. There is a most serious tone throughout the book. You will also find a remarkable number of promises, and references to the future of the righteous. The first part of the book (chapters 1-3) are calculated to capture our attention, producing introspection and a hearty appetite for fellowship with our Lord. The special words to the messengers of the seven churches confirm the relevance of the rest of the book, which is the bulk of the message given to them.
Throughout this book, the message is addressed "to the churches" (1:4,11,20; 2:7,11,17,23,29; 3:6,13,22; 22:16). The entirety of this communication relates to the relationship of the churches to the Lord Jesus Christ. It also has to do with preparation for eternity, the resistance of the devil, and the good fight of faith. We will read of the end of all things, and the events that attend that grand conclusion, i.e., 1 - the coming of Christ (1:7; 3:11; 16:15; 22:12,20), 2 - the resurrection of the dead (20:13a), 3 - the judgment (1:7; 6:15-17; 11:18; 20:11-15; 22:12), 4 - the reward of the righteous (21:1-5; 22:1-5), and 5 - the punishment of the wicked (6:15-17; 11:18; 14:9-11; 20:15). But this is not the heart of the book. In Revelation, Jesus is urging the churches to PREPARE for these things, i.e., to "prepare to meet thy God" (Amos 4:12). He alerts them to the nature of Christ's reign, and the tactics of their adversary, the devil. If, in our approach to this volume, we fail to remember these things, we will fall into the snare of Scripture-perversion.
With great solemnity, the Lord Jesus Himself warns those who dare to tamper with the words of this book. "I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God shall add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book" (22:18-19, NASB). That should provide sufficient incentive to keep a godly focus in our review of the Revelation of Jesus Christ.
This book is for churches who are meticulous in their approach to teaching, who will not allow false doctrines to creep it--but who have left their first love (Ephesus). It is also for churches that are under severe persecution, a condition requiring everything they have to stand (Smyrna). Churches who have become complacent in the teaching they allow must also give heed to this book (Pergamum), together with assemblies that tolerate the perpetration and holding of doctrines that are reprehensible to the Lord Jesus Christ (Thyatira). Now we will confront a church that appears to be successful and flourishing, but is actually spiritually dead and insensitive to its Lord (Sardis). The message is also for them, from chapter one through chapter twenty-two. Here is a word from Jesus to the saints of all generations, under all conditions, and in every spiritual state.
WHO IS SPEAKING?
"These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars . . . " (3:1). Four times "the seven Spirits of God" are mentioned in this book. (1:4; 3:1; 4:5; 5:6). We are told these stand before the throne of God: "there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God" (4:5). They are also associated with the Lord Jesus Christ and His activity: "having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth" (5:6). This is the heavenly view of the Holy Spirit of God.
In this book, the term "seven spirits of God" is contrasted with Satanic influences. "And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty" (16:13-14). The clear implication is that Divine power is superior to that of the devil: "seven spirits" versus "three unclean spirits." On the one hand, the Spirit of God is impressing redemptive truth upon the people of God, sanctifying and readying them for the world to come. Conversely, Satan's "spirits" send a flood of delusion into the world, "working miracles" that beguile and set those who receive them against the God of heaven.
The Holy Spirit, in His convicting and sanctifying work, is before the throne of God. That is, He is executing the will of God in the earth. The Spirit is also portrayed in association with the Lord Jesus Christ. It is "He who has the seven Spirits of God" (3:1). Here we see the Spirit working in strict accord with the "great salvation" being accomplished by the Son of God. He never departs from that salvation, and never work independently of it.
When Jesus identifies Himself as the One who "has the seven Spirits of God," He is declaring He holds the history and destiny of the churches in His hand. They will either fall or be exalted by Him! He is the Fulcrum and Director of the churches, whether they are aware of it or not. The Lord Jesus controls the Divine action taking place in the churches. If they are not in accord with Him, there is no possible way for the Spirit to work in or through them.
The expression "seven Spirits of God" emphasizes the completeness or thoroughness of this work through the Holy Spirit, and perfectly accords with the rest of Scripture. To refresh your mind on the glorious comprehensiveness of the Spirit's working, consider the following.
1 The church is made a habitation of God THROUGH THE SPIRIT (Eph 2:22).
2 Sanctification, or being set apart for Divine use, is an accomplishment OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2).
3 THE SPIRIT fortifies the human spirit so Christ can dwell within (Eph 3:16-17).
4 We abound in hope through the power OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (Rom 15:13).
5 The effectiveness of the Word of God is traced to the WORKING OF THE SPIRIT (Eph 6:17).
6 The circumcision of the heart is accomplished BY THE SPIRIT (Rom 2:29).
7 THROUGH THE SPIRIT, we put to death the deeds of the carnal nature (Rom 8:13).
8 The children of God are led BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD (Rom 8:14)
9 We are alive to God BY THE HOLY SPIRIT (Gal 5:25)
10 THROUGH THE SPIRIT, we anticipate the hope of being righteous (Gal 5:5).
11 BY THE SPIRIT, we were washed, sanctified, and justified (1 Cor 6:11).
12 The presence of Divine attributes within the believer is actually "THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT" (Gal 5:22-23).
When Jesus says, "These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars," He is alerting the church in Sardis to Divinely appointed means. First, He will work in the church through the Holy Spirit, convicting, strengthening, and activating. Second, He will do so through His messengers, who are His representatives. The Spirit will work through the message of the messengers upon all who hear "what the Spirit is saying to the churches."
The Holy Spirit is always before the Throne of God, executing His good pleasure in accordance with the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. No aspect of the Kingdom which we have "received" (Heb 12:28) functions independently of the Holy Spirit: He is always before the Throne. God accomplishes His purpose through the instrumentality of His Spirit. The Lord Jesus governs the Kingdom by means of the Holy Spirit, the heavenly Administrator. No person or church can afford to ignore the One Who stands before the throne, and Who works in strict concert with the reigning Son of God.
The Church of Sardis, then, is addressed by Him who controls and directs the Divine action in the Churches as they exist in the world, and who holds in His hand their messengers, with their history and their destiny. Their response to Him will determine where and how they will spend eternity.
THE CHURCH IN SARDIS
The book of the Revelation is the only place in the Bible we read of the city, or church, of Sardis, and the words of Jesus are the only assessment of it we have. Perhaps it would be better for all of us if this were the case with every church. I fear men have plagued us with extraneous and highly biased information about contemporary churches.
We do not know how or when this congregation was established, but Jesus was acutely mindful of it. Heaven and earth are rarely, if ever, in synch in their assessments. We have a classic example of that in the church in Sardis. Church history has largely walked around the church in Sardis. Some mention is made of one Melito, who was the bishop of Sardis in the second century, during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180). He was a prodigious writer and theologian, giving himself fully to the work of the Lord, and remaining single all of his life. He is credited with providing the first list of Old Testament canonical writings, in which he eliminated the Apocrypha writings.
This message accentuates the involvement of the Lord Jesus with His churches whether anyone else recognizes them or not. We have no idea how large this assembly was. But for the condition in which they were found, they were too large miserable representatives of the King of kings. Unfortunately, many churches have followed their example, and are altogether too prominent in our land.
The city of Sardis joined with Ephesus in abominable idolatry. They worshipped common goddesses, as represented by the figure #8. This condition made Ephesus' abandonment of their "first love," and the spiritually "dead" condition of Sardis, especially reprehensible. God's people are the solitary source of light among heathen cultures. As it is written, "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that I may rejoice in the day of Christ that I have not run in vain or labored in vain" (Phil 2:12-16, NKJV). We will find the church in Sardius was NOT working out its salvation with "fear and trembling." God was NOT working in them "to will and to do," and they were NOT without fault in the midst of a corrupt generation. We should therefore expect our Lord's analysis of this church to be stern, and with sharp tones and convicting.
A NAME THAT YOU LIVE
"I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead" (3:1b). "You have the reputation of being alive, even though you are dead!" (TEV). What a tragic assessment! Those who object to candid words will be offended by this one--but this is the way the Lord Jesus speaks. He recognizes the reputation of the church in Sardis, but declares it to be a false one. Here was a church that had all of the marks of a thriving organization. Stated in contemporary terms, they probably met in an impressive structure, and had a complete "staff." Imagine them with a "senior minister," "youth minister," "senior's minister," "counseling minister," and "events coordinator." Parallel them with a congregation supplying an abundance of activities for a wide variety of people: a weight loss program, ladies aide society, full range of athletics, and regular outings for retirees. They would be like a modern church that had youth programs, financial counseling, divorce recovery programs, and a multiplicity of training courses. Parallel them with a congregation having an upbeat "praise" service, and offering provisions for people of all persuasions. Mind you, it is not that such things are inherently wrong--God forbid! It is that they can all be done without Jesus, without the Spirit, and without being alive to God! The church in Sardis wore the name of Christ in a manner approved by the world, and were probably viewed as religious innovators. They had "the reputation of being alive." But the Lord Jesus denies the validity of this distinction. It was an erroneous one--they were not alive at all!
Think of these jarring words, and ponder them with great sobriety: "but you are dead!" It is alarming that this could be said to Christ's own church! Those who imagine you can lose nothing when once you come into Christ do well to consider these solemn words. This church was not always dead! It started out like all true churches begin, with spiritual life! "Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus . . . present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead" (Rom 6:11,13, NASB). "But God . . . even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:5-6). There are no still-births in the Kingdom of God! Everyone begins the same way. "And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him" (Col 2:13). Everyone in Christ begins with sensitivity to God, a purged conscience, and a determination to please the Lord. God gives us that beginning, and we are strictly charged not to depart from it (Heb 3:14).
The church in Sardis did not maintain their status. They did not protect their affiliation with Deity! They had a name they were "alive," but did a miserable job of fighting the good fight of faith and laying hold on eternal life (1 Tim 6:12). They did not continue to "walk in the Spirit" and "live by faith" (Gal 5:16,25; Rom 1:17; Heb 10:39). They did not quit doing things, but ceased to pursue "this ONE thing" (Phil 3:13). They had become like the Pharisees who provoked Jesus when He dwelt among us. Their pious looks and manners were deceiving, for they were "like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness." On the outside they seemed to be devout, but those looks were misleading. They were "like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness" (Matt 23:27,28).
Of old time, before the coming of Christ, Israel also fell into this grievous transgression. The Lord indicted these people through Isaiah. "Cry loudly, do not hold back; Raise your voice like a trumpet, And declare to My people their transgression, And to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet they seek Me day by day, and delight to know My ways, As a nation that has done righteousness, And has not forsaken the ordinance of their God. They ask Me for just decisions, They delight in the nearness of God" (Isa 58:1-2). There is no acceptable excuse for the church in Sardis, or any other church, becoming dead toward God. The examples of Israel as a nation, and the Pharisees as leaders, have been provided to show the possibility of going backward. The Lord has also clearly articulated the effect of such a condition upon Himself.
Having the reputation of being alive, yet being dead to God, is having a "form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" (2 Tim 3:5). It is, as the Spirit says of sensuous widows, "being death while she lives" (1 Tim 5:6). This is a circumstance where an unacceptable contradiction exists between appearance and reality, between the outward and the inward man. Actually, every person is dead and alive at the same time. For those choosing to live by faith, they are "dead to sin, but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom 6:11). For them, "the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness" (Rom 8:11, NASB). But the condition at Sardis was quite different. They had a name of being alive to God, but were actually dead to Him--two conditions that it are impossible to have simultaneously. When we were accepted by God in Christ Jesus, we were "made alive" to God, being delivered from a state of death toward Him (Rom 6:13; Eph 2:5; Col 2:13). In the new birth, individuals are delivered from the world, wherein they were "dead," and transferred into the kingdom of God's Son, wherein they are alive and sensitive to God (Col 1:13).
But Sardis had returned to their alienated and dead state! Jesus does not say they are nearing death, but that they ARE dead! The chord of life between them and heaven had been severed, according to their own will. God no longer heard them, and they no longer heard Him! O Sardis! You have mothered many a church! Our generation is cluttered with the spiritual wreckage of dead churches--congregations who live oblivious of Him who is speaking from heaven (Heb 12:25). Their programs are all in place, and the institutional machinery is well oiled and functioning impressively. Their names are in lights, so to speak, and the brotherhood looks up to them. But they are really "dead." God is not using them, and they are not seeking Him. They are an institutional blotch on the canvas of Divine purpose, attempting to live apart from the Lord Jesus, though ignorantly doing so.
Jesus is speaking about appearance without spiritual reality. This is promise without performance, and an outward show of strength that lacks both vigilance and assurance. Our Lord spoke of this condition when He "dwelt among us." His blistering words to the Pharisees provide insight into the effect such a state has upon the Lord of glory. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (Matt 23:27-28, NASB). Luke's Gospel states the condition in arresting words, showing that men did not detect the corruption of these pretended leaders. "Woe to you! For you are like concealed tombs, and the people who walk over them are unaware of it" (Lk 11:44, NASB).
The church in Sardis looked good, but was corrupt. It appeared to excel, but had lapsed into a state of spiritual death. It wore the name of Jesus, but had incurred His indignation. It existed outwardly, but was void of the life of God. It is particularly important that we consider this church because of the popularity of outward display in our time. Our Lord has spoken to this subject frequently, and with great clarity. First, things that rank high with men are an abomination with God. "That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15b, NASB). We must never forget that natural men, or those who are not born again, are alienated from God. They are not capable of making a proper assessment of things pertaining to God. Their thoughts are foolishness, and they cannot please God in their thoughts, words, or deeds (Rom 8:5-8). It is easy enough to gain a name for being "alive" before such people. They are too easily impressed, because they consider only what they see with their eyes. The solemn confession of those who live in the Spirit is quire different. "We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor 4:18, NASB).
Those who are "alive" are being transformed by their spiritual vision. As they "look to Jesus" (Heb 12:1-2), they are changed by the sight. This is the process described in Second Corinthians 4:6. "For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." A moral and spiritual change takes place as we focus upon the Person and accomplishments of the Lord Jesus Christ. That transformation is accomplished by the Spirit. As it is written, "But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (3 Cor 3:18). Those involved in this process are "alive." They are in communion with the Lord, and are being oriented for the world to come.
The church in Sardis, however, was "dead." They were not concentrating on Christ, and were not being "transformed by the renewing of their mind" (Rom 12:1-2). Their eyes were slanted toward the earth, and thus they incurred the wrath of the Lamb. Jesus did not die, nor was He exalted, in order that a mere appearance of religiosity might be maintained by His people. He is bringing us to God (1 Pet 3:18). That task, however, cannot be accomplished in insensitive souls. Where individuals are anaesthetized toward God, the channel of Divine communication is broken. O that this were more fully known by the professing church. Legion is the name of those who are dull and obtuse concerning spiritual things, but have an acute awareness of "the world and the lust thereof!"
I am reminded of the word to some spiritually lethargic Ephesians. "Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light" (Eph 5:14). Mind you, spiritual life begins by being quickened, or made alive, from the dead. As it is written, "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins . . . even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Eph 2:1-6, NKJV). I cannot conceive of a more serious condition than one which requires that the Savior, in consideration of one of His own churches, says, "YOU ARE DEAD!" The church in Sardis had lapsed back into the state from which they were once recovered! What a tragedy! There is nothing absolutely nothing about salvation that contributes to such retrogression. It is the result of neglect and slovenly spiritual manners. Those in such a condition are not given a lengthy period to recover. They must rise from the dead spiritually like Jairus' daughter, the widow of Nain's son, and Lazarus.
Men have grown accustomed to "dead" churches, but Jesus has not. Some theology would say the church in Sardis was "dead" because it was never really alive. But that is only a contrived explanation required by a flawed theology. This was a legitimate church, with a legitimate messenger. Jesus declares Himself to be walking "in the midst" of the churches, in which Sardis was found. They had "received"and "heard" the blessed Gospel, and were numbered among "the churches" to whom the Spirit spoke.
The word translated "dead" (nekros, î is used 132 times from Matthew through Revelation. It consistently means a state of separation and inactivity, referring to the condition from which all men will be raised in the last day, the death of Jesus Himself, a state of spiritual alienation from God, and the spiritual relationship of the believer to sin (;Mat 8:22; 10:8; 11:5;14:2; 17:9; 22:31,22,32; 23:27; 27:64; 28:4,7; Mk 6:14,16; 9:9,10,26; 12:25,26,27; Lk 7:15,22; 9:7,60; 15:24,32; 16:30,31; 20:35,37,38; 24:5,46; John 2:22; 5:21,25; 12:1,9,17; 20:9; 21:14; Acts 3:15; 4:2,10; 5:10; 10:41,42; 13:30,34; 17:3,31,32; 20:9; 23:6; 24:15,21; 26:8,23; 28:6; Rom 1:4; 4:17,24; 6:4,9,11,13; 7:4,8; 8:10,11; 10:7,9; 11:15; 14:9; 1 Cor 15:12,13,15,16,20,21,29,32,35,42,52; 2 Cor 1:9; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:20, 2:1,5; 5:14; Phil 3:11; Col 1:18; 2:12,13; 1 Th 1:10; 4:16; 2 Tim 2:8; 4:1; Heb 6:1,2; 9:14,17; 11:19,35; 13:20; James 2:17,20,26; 1 Pet 1:3,21; 4:5,6; Rev 1:5,17,18; 2:8; 3:1; 11:18; 14:13; 16:3; 20:5,12,13). I have taken the time to list these references to underscore the seriousness of the condition in Sardis. Recovery was imperative, else they would forever be cast away from the "presence of the Lord and the glory of His power" (2 Thess 1:9). There is not a single optimistic word in all of Scripture given to those who are spiritually dead--who are unresponsive to the Lord. Those who imagine a departure from the Lord will only bring the loss of a few rewards are in the grip of Satanic delusion. To a measurable degree, their very position has been produced by the spiritual death they presume to analyze.
Was a revivification of this church possible? Indeed it was! That is why this message is sent. They still had some vestiges of spiritual life. Although they were "ready to die," they could again be brought forward. They could once again "hold fast" and "repent," if only they would do so. Jesus sends no message to those who cannot be recovered! There is no word of exhortation or hopeful message for the devil and his angels. They are unrecoverable! When Jesus delivers a word to a person or a church, it is accompanied by Divine power. Remember, He said, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life" (John 6:63, NKJV). That word only needs to be embraced to become effective in the recipient. This is a Kingdom principle that opens a "door of hope" (Hos 2:15) in the most grievous of circumstances.
Long ago, the Divine nature was revealed in the Lord's attitiude toward recalcitrant Israel. "Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For though I spoke against him, I earnestly remember him still; Therefore My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, says the LORD" (Jer 31:20, NKJV). Now, with stirring words, the Lord Jesus calls this "dead" church to rise from the ash-heap of spiritual demise. He speaks in the capacity of the searching and empowering One, Who holds the messengers in His hand, and determines the destiny of the churches.
"Be watchful . . . ("Wake up," NASB)" (3:2a, NKJV). Because of "adversary the devil," who "walks about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet 5:8), watchfulness and alertness are imperative. It is not possible to survive the attacks of the evil one in a state of slumber, to say nothing of death. The church in Sardis was not doing well. It had fallen into the "sleep of death" (Psalm 13:3). Unless they recovered from this disgraceful condition, they would be pruned from the Vine (John 15:1-8). They had to awaken, get the "eyes of their heart" (Eph 1:18) opened, and recover themselves from the snare of the devil. No one will dwell forever with the Lord who dwells outside of the circumference of hearing. Already, they had drifted into treacherous waters, making recovery extremely difficult. Many a soul, and church as well, has lingered in a state of spiritual obtuseness and lethargy too long!
The Word of God speaks to this situation, sounding the alarm before professed believers digress into an unrecoverable state. "And this do, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light" (Rom 13:11-12). This admonition equates to "Be watchful!" or "Wake up!" The alarm sounded to the Romans is much like the one given to the church in Sardis. Watchfulness is required because of the imminent coming of the Lord! Already, they had succumbed to the artifices of the devil. They had been lulled into a state of spiritual insensitivity, where the return of the Lord was no longer prominent in their thinking! They must recover from this condition!
Watchfulness is frequently linked to the subject of Christ's return. "Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come" (Matt 24:42). "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh" (Matt 25:13). Because of the events that will accompany our Lord's return, faith "looks" intently for it to occur. "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ" (Tit 2:13). The posture that must be found in all believers is that of "awaiting eagerly the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 1:7, NASB). Jesus has apprized humanity that those who are not watching for Him will have their possessions plundered when He returns. They MUST be ready and watching. "But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will" (Matt 24:43-44).
Salvation is calculated to prepare the individual for the return of Christ! The Gospel proclamation produces and maintains an environment of spiritual illumination. Those who walk in that light will not be caught unawares by the return of their Lord. As it is written, "But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day should overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we are awake (living in the body) or asleep (have died), we may live together with Him" (1 Thess 5:4-10).
The church in Sardis had digressed into a condition that would condemn them if they did not recover. By Christ's own assessment they were "dead," even though they had a reputation for being "alive." One, and only one, alternative was open to them. The name they had among men was not recognized in heaven. They MUST recover, and rise from their spiritually dead state. As it is written, "Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you" (Eph 5:14). They did not need to develop a strategy for recovery, but to wake up and be watchful! The Lord was approaching, and they were not aware of it. Their assembly, whatever may be said of it, was not marked by an acute awareness of the Lord Jesus Christ. They stood like the man with the withered hand before the Lord's Christ. For them, waking up was equivalent to that man stretching out his withered hand at the command of the Lord.
Strengthen What Is About To Die
" . . . strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die . . . " (3:2b, NASB). There is a remarkable resilience to life given by God. This is seen in the effects of the tree of life, even after men were excluded from it. Adam lived 930 years, Seth 912 years, Enos 905 years, Cainan 910 years, Jared 962 years, Methuselah 969 years, and Noah 950 years (Gen 5:5,8,11,14,20,27; 9:29). There is also a remarkable durability to the aspects of spiritual life. The nature of life in Christ demands that this be the case. This stamina enables the believer to withstand fierce assaults by the evil one. Extended persecution has been remarkably endured by those in Christ Jesus. This resilience, however, also makes recovery from severe setbacks possible, like that of Sardis. The "smoking flax" can flame again, and the "bruised reed" can once be strengthened (Isa 42:3; Matt 12:20). The "great salvation" in Christ Jesus enables its recipients to make awesome recoveries. Thus it is written, "Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins, They will raise up the former devastations, And they will repair the ruined cities, The desolations of many generations" (Isa 61:4, NASB).
What are the remaining "things?" They are "things that accompany salvation" (Heb 6:9). The fear of God, a tender conscience, the joy of the Lord, the remission of sin, and access to God, are a few (2 Cor 7:1; Heb 9:14; 10:22; Luke 1:77; Eph 3:123). In a remarkable reference to regeneration, the Spirit speaks of "those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come" (Heb 6:4-5). Is it possible that such things could die within the very people receiving them? We may be sure that such a demise is not necessary. There is nothing about salvation that would cause or encourage such a dissolution. The death of such things would certainly dishonor the Lord Jesus and prove offensive to all who walk in the light as He is in the light. No valid reason can be adduced for the things in reference to be "ready to die." The situation in Sardis was much like that of a dreadful disease that had attacked the last remnant of hope, and was threatening to destroy it all.
There is a strain of teaching that denies such things can "die." Whether the church in Sardis had formally adopted the doctrine or not, it had embraced it in practice. This church was conducting itself as though the Lord Jesus was not needed. Their affiliation with Christ was in name only. The doctrine denying the possibility of losing these things is referred to in various ways. "Perseverance of the saints," "once in grace always in grace," "once saved always saved," and "eternal security," to name the more prominent terms. Others like to speak of "carnal Christians," another expression conspicuously absent from the Word of God. All of them, whether intentional or not, assume that Christ remains associated with those who are "dead" to Him a condition from which He saved them in the first place. Neither, indeed, can it be countered that the church in Sardis was really no church at all. It was recognized by Christ as a church one of the churches in which He stood, and whose messenger was in His hand.
How can dying virtues and graces be strengthened. First, it will require the interposition of Jesus Himself. It is He that will not "quench a smoking flax" or "break a bruised reed." The church must avail itself of His fellowship, into which it has been called. He must be the heart and soul of their message and the single objective of their quest. It took an immediate association with Jesus to save them in the first place, and it will take the same thing to restore them. That close posture must be maintained if they are to "strengthen the things that remain." There is no salvation at a distance form Jesus! The Spirit states the case this way, "As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving" (Col 2:6-7).
Second, the seven-fold Spirit must work to enliven and bring spiritual productivity. They must cease looking on things that "are seen" (2 Cor 4:17-18), thereby "grieving" and "quenching" the Spirit. They were being dominated by the "carnal mind," which is "enmity against God" (Rom 8:7). What few things that "remained" in Sardis would wither and die if they were not "strengthened." As it is used here, the word "strengthen" means make firm, or establish, primarily by resolution. Just as it takes a decision to "neglect so great salvation" (Heb 2:3) by a preference for other things, so determination is required to strengthen dying spiritual qualities. The church in Sardis began its spiritual life "in heavenly places," along with all other saints (Eph 2:6). That is the realm where the necessary strength will be acquired. The gifts of God flourish in the heavenlies, they die when men are dominated by the world and things that are seen.
Spiritual recovery can only be realized in the light of the Divine countenance. As we choose to live in the consideration and fellowship of God and Christ, unacceptable manners of life not only are apparent, they become repulsive. This results from walking in the light. "But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (1 John 1:7, NKJV). The church in Sardis will need Divine assistance to strengthen the things that remain. With strong intention, they must abandon religious life that does not require conscious involvement with their Lord. As it is written, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:8, NKJV).
Jesus has not asked an impossible thing of this church. There still remained a mustard-seed-life, capable of redirecting their entire focus. This was their last opportunity to recover, and they must do so with zeal! This requirement is wonderfully expressed elsewhere by the Spirit. "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth" (Col 3:1-2, NKJV).
Suffice it to say, the Spirit cannot dominate in the periphery of spiritual life. The less aware we are of Christ, the weaker we become. The more we are controlled by the things of this world, the less responsive we are to God. When anyone attempts to live in a manner that does not necessitate constant recourse to the throne of grace, what was received from Christ begins to die. It makes little difference what kind of theology is developed to allow for such conduct, God will not allow spiritual life to continue where there is no interest in or commitment to it.
" . . . for I have not found your deeds completed ("perfect," KJV) in the sight of My God" (3:2c, NASB). The Christian community has given a lot of consideration to "works." Much of its formalized thought, however, has been more reactive than productive. Knowing that we are not justified by works (Rom 4:2-7; Gal 2:16), some view them as completely inconsequential in salvation. Others, reacting to that perversion, have placed in inordinate emphasis upon them, even neglecting the grace of God.
It is incumbent that we see "works" as the Lord Jesus sees them. It is not enough to adopt a theological position on the subject. The church in Sardis had "works," but they were not adequate. The Lord Jesus reveals that His God did not consider them "complete." This means that "works" are more a process than simple deeds or actions. They are the result of our involvement with the Lord. How wonderfully this is seen in the word of the Lord to the Philippians. "Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Phil 2:12-13). The phrase "work out" reveals our participation in the process. "It is God who works" shows "works" are not ours alone. The "work" of God is to our "works" what the spirit is to the body. Our works without God's work are like a dead carcass.
"Works," or deeds, that are "not complete" are works in which God Himself is no longer active. They are the result of digression, not progression. Regardless of their number or the fervency with which they are produced, "works" wrought apart from faith are incomplete and imperfect. These are the kind of works Jesus exposed in Matthew 7:22-23. "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name? And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" Their works were "not perfect" "not complete." They came short of Divine expectation! Those who consider works completely inconsequential must reckon with this assessment.
A principle of the Kingdom is seen in this judgment. The Revelation reveals Jesus as "the First and the Last" (1:11,17; 2:8,19; 22:13). He is the Initiator of every aspect of "the salvation of God" (Acts 28:28). The experience of salvation itself, as well as every expression of it within the believer, finds its Source in Christ. But He is also "the Last," and everything in between. At no point does Jesus lose His absolute essentiality. From this viewpoint, works that are incomplete are those in which the Lord Jesus no longer participates. They lack Divine objective, and therefore are wrought without Christ. Legitimate works are not automatic, they require the effort of men and the influence of Christ. The church in Sardis performed duties of all kinds, but no duty completely. They were constantly beginning, but never brought any thing to a proper end. Their resolutions were languid, their strength feeble, and their light dim. They probably maintained their reputation before men, but their works were not perfect before God. Their works were their own expression, not that of Christ. It is not that they did not DO enough, they did not do it within the provision of Divine fellowship. Works wrought apart from Christ obtain no value or recognition by the Living Christ.
"Remember therefore . . . " (3:3a, NASB). Remember! those in a fallen state must reach back to the commencement of their life in Christ. The consideration of future glory alone will prove too challenging, for they have become insensitive to heavenly realities. Now, though they are "dead," they must recall their tender beginnings with Jesus. This recollection will provide an environment in which the Lord can work, and recovery can be realized.
How You received and Heard
"Remember therefore what ("how," KJV) you have received and heard . . . " (3:3b, NASB). There is a slight difference in the translations of this verse. Contemporary versions read "Remember . . . WHAT . . . ," while the older versions read "Remember . . . HOW you have . . . " In the former, the teaching heard and received is emphasized, while the MANNER in which it was received is the thrust of the latter. There is a sense in which both views are correct. The message itself is "the power of God unto salvation," and duly considered, it will provoke a return to the Lord. In another way, recalling the effectiveness of a whole-hearted embrace of the Gospel will provide an resourceful contrast with the deadness now engulfing them. In my judgment, the latter consideration more accurately portrays the "mind of the Spirit." Lexically, the word "how" ("what," NASB, NUV)comes from the word ã , which means, to determine how something happens how? in what way? by what means?
This "dead" church is admonished to remember how they "received and heard" the word of their salvation. Here is a church like the shallow and rocky soil on which the Word fell. "These likewise are the ones sown on stony ground who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and they have no root in themselves, and so endure only for a time. Afterward, when tribulation or persecution arises for the word's sake, immediately they stumble" (Mark 4:16-17, NKJV). Competing interests finally overtook them, even though they maintained a religious appearance. The "gladness" with which they once received the Word was no longer present. Now, they were not seizing the Kingdom with violence, as a prize to be grasped (Matt 11:12). Once, like the Thessalonians, they had heard and received the Gospel in a commendable and effective manner. With joy, they had "received the word of . . . as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe" (1 Thess 1:6, 2:13). Now Jesus calls upon them to ponder those precious beginnings.
Notice the order of the words: "received and heard," NOT "heard and received." This emphasizes the quality of their hearts when they heard. The Gospel cannot be heard discerningly by those whose hearts are unprepared. In His parable of the Sower, Jesus described "the good ground" as "those . . . with a noble ("honest," KJV) and good heart" (Luke 8:15). When, therefore, Jesus exhorts this church to remember "HOW" they heard, He is calling them to a consideration of their hearts at that time. They were more honest, and more open, to the Word of the Lord. Now, their religion had cast them into a deep sleep, and their hearts were neither honest nor good. They had to get back to the point where they COULD receive the Word of the Lord. The recollection of their beginning would provide an climate in which Jesus would assist them in making a recovery.
Hold Fast and Repent!
"Remember therefore . . . and keep it and repent. . . " (3:3c, NASB). Not only are those in Sardis to recall how they received and heard, they are to hold on to that reflection, retaining it in their hearts. They are to dwell upon it, and not allow it to escape their minds again. Many souls could have recovered from spiritual death itself, if only they would have dwelt upon the times when their hearts were sensitive to the Lord! Such memories, strengthened by the convicting Spirit and interceding Christ, will provoke repentance. When the heart makes a comparison between the blessings of our entrance into life with Christ, and the deadness of religion without Him, repentance is possible. There must be a reason to return to Christ a moral requirement is not enough! Jesus does not just urge them to repent, He provides them with an effective inducement to do so. All of this presumes nothing has been altered in the heavenly places, to which we are initially raised with Christ. Nothing has changed in that realm! If only the fallen can look up, and find their way back to an acute consciousness of Christ, their light will flame again! Tender soul, you do well to ponder often the effectiveness of your persuasion of Christ Jesus and His "great salvation." Such memories have a sanctifying influence because of their association with Divine workings. Then when we "received and heard" the Holy Spirit was convicting and enlightening us. The Lord Jesus Himself was appealing to our hearts, and the purposes of God the Father were being realized. Such sacred contemplation is like standing on holy ground! Naught but good can come from it
Jesus does not take a lack of response to Himself lightly. A serious condition requires stern Divine measures. Because contemporary religion has managed to obscure this aspect of Christ's character, it is particularly important that we give ear to His words. "If therefore you will not wake up ("watch, KJV), I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you . . . " (3:3e, NASB). Jesus has appealed to the will of those whom He assessed as "dead." A theology, therefore, that assumes the inability of those in the grip of death to respond to Christ, is a gross misrepresentation of the case. When Jesus says, "If therefore you WILL NOT watch" (KJV), He means, If you do not fervently want to watch, or awaken from the sleep of death . . . To say it another way, If you REFUSE to watch and be alert. The underlying supposition is that failure to awaken would be owing to their own stubborn and calloused will. Yet, it was possible for them to awake to respond to the Divine summons.
If the uninformed argue that the "dead" cannot awaken, due to their debilitated state, they must enter the throne room and readjust their reasoning. God commissioned Ezekiel to command a valley of bleached and dry bones to "hear the Word of the Lord" (Ezek 37). Jesus commanded dead Lazarus to come out of the tomb (John 11:43). He also commanded a man with a withered hand to stretch it forth (Matt 12:13), a lame man to take up his bed and go to his house (Matt 9:6), and summoned Peter to walk on water (Matt 14:29). Were any of these possible from an earthly point of view? The factor that makes obedience to the word of Christ possible is the power that accompanies His word. As He said, "The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life" (John 6:63). When Divine power meshes with the human will, nothing is impossible! For this reason, a refusal to respond to Christ's words will not be overlooked or excused!
Christ threatens decisive and destructive action! "I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you." That coming will not be to bless, rescue, or strengthen. It will be an hour of judgment and condemnation. It can be fulfilled in a judgment like that which fell upon Jerusalem because of its rejection of Christ (Luke 13:35), with dreadful disruption and consequences in the flesh. Ultimately, it will occur when the Lord Jesus "is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thess 1:809, NKJV).
Those who walk at a distance from Christ are lingering on the precipice of disaster. They are sure to encounter "the wrath of the Lamb" at an unexpected time. If the church in Sardis does not take Jesus seriously, giving heed to His words, they will not be able to recover from their condition! This is the circumstance to which Jesus referred when He said, "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil," and ""He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:18-19, 36, NKJV). There is nothing more fearful than facing an angry Christ! Yet, that is precisely what will happen to those who refuse to respond to His warning.
Some churches glory in their name, their position in the community, and the soundness of their doctrine. They have a name that they are alive, but their works are not the result of Divine fellowship! Others boast about their Scriptural order and pattern, yet are not noted for their sensitivity to Christ Jesus. Spiritual life is more important than all religious activity, regardless of the precision with which it is executed. Dead churches, if they do not recover in the strength of the Lord, will eventually sink into the mire of Divine forgetfulness. The epitaph over their tomb will be, "A dead church that had a name it was alive." I fear there are more such churches in our vicinity and time than we dare to imagine.
A FEW NAMES
"But you have a few people ("names," KJV) in Sardis who have not soiled ("defiled," KJV) their garments . . . " (3:4a, NASB). There is always a "remnant" a group of people who have not sold out to the devil. In Elijah's day, a remnant of 7,000 had kept the faith, though undetected by the prophet himself (1 Kgs 19:18). They were kept by God because of their faith. During a serious decline in Israel, when prophets prophesied falsely, priests ruled by their means, and the people robbed God, a remnant continued to gather and speak of the Lord (Mal 3:16-17). Even in Babylon, where the people of God has been carried captive, a "remnant" of four young men maintained their walk with God (Dan 3:16-18; 6:13). Wicked environments do not necessarily neutralize the faith of God's people. Paul kept the faith in a prison in heathen Rome. Joseph and Moses kept it in the idolatrous culture of Egypt, in which they were foreigners. Noah kept the faith when the entire world did not, as Enoch did before him. The land of Uz was noted for a single individual who stood strong for God when viciously attacked by the devil and he did so with no friends. This has always been the manner of the remnant.
In Sardis, there were "a few names" who did not succumb to the wave of death that had swept over that congregation. They probably were not popular with men, but they were with Jesus! He did not forget them, even though there were not many of them. They had kept the faith because of Him! But notice how Jesus refers to this faithful remnant. He tells the dead people about the living ones: "YOU have a few names . . . " Dead churches need to know about the people of God who are within them! They are not the ones invited to the conventions, nor are their names in the brotherhood journals. But their names are written in heaven, and some day they will judge the dead congregations in which they survived by God's grace. I must confess that, due to Divine enablement, I have also survived some dead environs. It took extraordinary effort to do so, but the labor was not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor 15:58). Think of it, those "few names" in Sardis had to overcome the church with which they were affiliated.
Too, this was not merely a group, but were referred to as "a few names." This is a more precise translation than "people," as found in modern versions. These were noted as specific individuals, not merely a group. Jesus said the "good Shepherd" called His own sheep "by name" (John 10:3), and elsewhere the Spirit testifies, "The Lord knows those who are His" (2 Tim 2:19). These were not sustained as a group, but as individuals. The value of their association was found in their individual faith and commitment.
The Lord's temple is made up of persons who are alive to God. Thus it is written, "you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house . . . " (1 Pet 2:5). This cannot be said of a religious institution! The value of an individual in an institution is found in their association with the organization. But that is not the case with the remnant. The "few names" in Sardis obtained value in spite of the institution! In God's kingdom, the worth of the group is determined by the spiritual condition of the individuals in it. That is how heaven assesses the matter.
These "few names" were noted for keeping their "garments" undefiled, or uncontaminated. They evidently "hated even the garment spotted by the flesh" (Jude 23). They had not allowed the deadness of the church in Sardis the one with which they were identified to effect them. That was a remarkable achievement! Jesus does not commend them for trying to straiten out the church, but for keeping themselves from being contaminated by it! The remnant had maintained "pure religion" in a dead religious environment. They accepted and obeyed the solemn commission to "keep" themselves "unspotted from the world" (James 1:27). O, that such fervor were more evident in our time! All about us are religious people with the taint of the world upon them. We cannot get away from them, but we had better not allow them to contaminate our lives.
The "garments" of which He speaks are "the garments of salvation" and "the robe of righteousness" (Isa 61:10). It is a way of speaking of our thorough acceptance with God (Eph 1:6). That acceptance MUST be maintained. How frequently this is urged upon us by the Spirit. "Keep yourselves in the love of God" (Jude 21) that is keeping your garments undefiled. "Abide in me, and I in you" (John 15:4) that is keeping your garments undefiled. "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you" (John 15:7)-- that is keeping your garments undefiled. The remnant refuses to allow worldly manners and thoughts to interrupt their fellowship with the Son. The "garments of salvation" have been given to them, and they are to keep them pure and clean! Jesus will not overlook them being soiled, nor will He overlook diligent ones who keep them clean, not allowing the "fashion of this world" (1 Cor 7:31) to corrupt their thinking.
They Shall Walk With Me
And what will the Lord do for those maintaining separateness from the defiling world order? "They shall walk with Me in white!" That is, their purity will become as evident to everyone as His own impeccable holiness! When Jesus returns, He will be "glorified in His saints" (2 Thess 1:10). The vital association He has had with them will become evident to an assembled universe! This is involved in the glorious affirmation, "When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory" (Col 3:4, NKJV). Centuries before Jesus, David expressed his anticipation of this condition. "As for me, I will see Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in Your likeness" (Psa 17:15). It is then, in our revealed identity "with" Christ, that the saying will be fulfilled, "Lo, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation" (Isa 25:9).
To "walk with" Christ "in white" is equivalent to, "so shall we ever be with the Lord" (1 Thess 4:17). It is the fulfillment of, "If we endure, We shall also reign with Him," (2 Tim 2:12), and being "joint heirs with Christ" (Rom 8:17). This is the grand culmination of faith, and that for which God's "great salvation" prepares us. How refreshing it must have been for the Sardis-remnant to hear these words!
They Are Worthy
Whatever you may think of being "worthy," you had best make provision in your thinking for the Divine vocabulary! Jesus affirms the "few names" who had kept themselves clean "ARE worthy." It is not necessary to attempt to step over or around these arresting words. They come from the King Himself, and strictly conform with the truth. Elsewhere, Jesus spoke of "they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead" (Luke 20:35). When speaking of the destruction of Jerusalem and a snare that would come upon everyone dwelling upon the earth, the Master said, "Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man" (Luke 21:36). The Colossians were urged to "walk worthy of the Lord" (Col 1:10), and the Thessalonians were admonished to "walk worthy of God" (1 Thess 2:12).
The Spirit also declared persecutions to be a Divinely appointed means of being "counted worthy of the kingdom of God" (2 Thess 1:5). Paul even prayed God would "count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power" (2 Thess 1:11). This is a worthiness undergirded by grace, but which also involves the perseverance of the saints under the pressures of this world. It is a precious promise indeed, "Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city" (Rev 22:14, NKJV).
It is a remarkable achievement to survive a surrounding of spiritual death. When the children of God engage in hearty efforts to keep their garments clean, and to be undefiled, their activity is logged in heaven. They will receive due recognition in the world come! The cognition of this reality will provoke sustained godly effort, something that is imperative for safe arrival at the appointed goal.
As is our Lord's manner, a declining spiritual condition becomes the occasion for lofty promises. Remember, it is through the "exceeding great and precious promises of God" that we become "partakers of the Divine nature" (2 Pet1:4). These provide the greatest and most effective incentive for recovery and spiritual stability. Again, the promise is only given to "He who overcomes . . . " (3:5a, NASB). No defiled or spiritually dead person can lay claim to this promise. It is only for the survivors those who stand fast under attack, and refuse to again be identified with the world.
Clothed in White Raiment
"He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments . . . " (3:5b, NASB). This is the promise of spotlessness in the presence of the Lord. It denotes the thorough acceptance of God, and the complete absence of moral and spiritual contamination. It is the declared objective of Christ's redemptive work. "Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish" (Eph 5:15b-27). The people of God are admonished to fervently seek this condition. "Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless" (2 Pet 3:14). Every vestige of sin will be removed in that day both personally and collectively. There will be no deficiency of any sort. The effects of transgression, so evident now, will forever be gone. Praise the Lord.
If this seems too far from you, do not lose heart! Salvation makes provision for this to happen! Hear the word of the Lord. "Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and for ever. Amen" (Jude 24-25). The church in Sardis must once again become conscious of Jesus! Even though dead, recovery in this world was possible, as well as eternal life in the world to come. Hear the promise of the Spirit. "And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints" (Rev 19:8, NKJV). A powerful incentive, indeed!
Name Not Blotted Out
These are hard words for those believing names cannot be blotted out of the book of life! " . . . and I will not erase "(blot out," KJV) his name from the book of life . . . " (3:5c, NASB). The "book of life" speaks of those who are recognized and received by God, through Christ Jesus. It is, so to speak, the heavenly log of those who are "alive unto God" (Rom 6:11). If those in Sardis, who had "received and heard" the good word of God, could not have their names "blotted out of the book of life," this is an absurd threat, and is to be ignored. Later, Jesus will tell the churches of the importance of this book. Those whose names are "not written in the book of life" will succumb to the deceiver, being unprotected by the Lord (13:8).
This book will eventually be opened, and its contents made known (20:12). The dreadful fate of anyone and everyone unlisted in this book has been revealed. "And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire" (Rev 20:15). We are told that "only those who are written in the Lamb's Book of Life" will enter into the Presence and glory of the Lord (21:27). Not to be written in "the book of life," therefore, equates to being condemned, or being cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death.
First of all, every person is to give diligence to have their name inscribed in this book. Second, every effort is to be expended to ensure it is not blotted out. Names are written here when people are made alive in Christ Jesus. They are removed when they become dead and the church in Sardis was told it was "dead." Jesus does not say their names could NOT be blotted out. Nor, indeed, does He say if they are lost in the end, that their names never were in the book. Those views are only the contrivances of men. Those who concocted them will answer to Christ for their wicked invention, and those who subscribed to them will answer for choosing to believe men over the "Author and Finisher" of their faith.
This book is being updated as long as the world stands. Names are being written in it, and names can be blotted out of it. At the very close of this book, Jesus sounds a solemn warning to anyone presuming to tamper with this very book. "If anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Rev 22:17). Notice, "HIS PART" in the book of life, the holy city, and the things (promises) written in this book would be taken away. It is possible to have a "part" in this book, and to lose it all to be alive to God, and to become dead! Sardis was in a most ominous situation!
Name Confessed Before the Father and His Angels But Jesus will do more for the overcomer than keep His name in the Book! " . . . and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels . . . " (3:5d, NASB). Here is a promise with great power. To be acknowledged by Christ before His Father and all of the holy angels is worthy of your extended consideration. Jesus mentioned this confession during His earthly ministry. "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven" (Matt 10:32, NKJV). Again He said, "Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God" (Luke 12:8). It is as though Jesus said, I will publically acknowledge to be a citizen of heaven and that before Judge. Overcomers will be recognized openly in that day, even though they were obscure and unacknowledged in this world.
Overcoming the world involves crucifying the desire for its recognition. Much of corrupted religion is the direct effect of seeking this world's approbation in some way. The preeminent consideration for every believer is the approval of Christ! On one occasion, Paul emphasized this requirement to Timothy. "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim 2:15, NKJV). You do not need to be concerned about Christ's acknowledge of you there, if you commit yourself being identified with Him here.
The significance of being confessed to the angels is marvelous. As with God, this confession will not be for the conveyance of information. All along, God knew those who were His. The angels also knew, because they are the appointed ministers for those who are the heirs of salvation (Heb 1:13-14). The confession is for our sakes a reward for fighting a good fight and keeping the faith. It is God's manner to give recognition to those who overcome the world. It is revealed in Scripture by the records of holy people. Think of the names that have been confessed by God in the Bible. Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the prophets, John the Baptist, the Apostles, Timothy, Titus, Philemon . . . etc. And what is the effect of that Divine acknowledgment upon the household of faith? It brings a profound appreciation for them, as well as great glory to God. It reveals the effectiveness of Divine workings, and the sustaining power of God. And what shall the confession of overcomers yield in that day? Great and extended praise of and glory to God. A swell of rejoicing shall rise among the triumphant ones that will reverberate throughout eternity. Too, a full confidence of Divine acceptance, and a sense of belonging will dominate that was never before realized. Make it your business to obtain this promise.
"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (3:6, NASB). No church or person can afford to ignore this word! The Spirit is saying this to the churches, not to the world; to the saved, not to the lost. The presence of this message in Scripture confirms we are still in the battle-zone still in the realm of danger. Our adversary stalks us with remarkable tenacity and craftiness. In his arsenal are the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. He uses the world, with all of its allurements, and energetically seeks to divert our attention to the seen. In his employ are demons, who disseminate doctrines that will condemn those embracing them. He uses wicked teachers who are disguised as "ministers of righteousness," and he himself comes to us as "an angel of light" (1 John 2:15-17; 1 Tim 4:1; 2 Cor 11:14- 15). Aside from this, we have the treasure of God in an "earthen vessel," and contend with "the law of sin" that dwells "in our members" (2 Cor 4:7; Rom 7:14-25). Anyone imagining they can navigate through those treacherous waters while they are spiritually asleep, or out of touch with the King, has already been deceived.
We are not to be intimidated by this condition, but rather seek to avail ourselves of Divine provisions by fighting the good fight of faith. Salvation brings supplies adapted for our very condition. The Holy Spirit has been sent into our hearts to fortify us for the battle, and provide needed resources. The Lord Jesus is seated on the right hand of God, mediating the New Covenant, which is orienting us for glory. Even the holy angels are engaged in ministering to us. There is no reason for any one to come short of the rest prepared for us. But it is all accomplished while close to the Son nothing is accomplished at a distance, or in a state of spiritual slumber. May this message sensitize your spirit to the jeopardy of being insensitive to your King!