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The Church of the Living Dead. Revelation 3:1-6
March 11, 2018

Once again, approximately 34 million Canadians have lost an hour of sleep in the service of the grand national experiment called Daylight saving time. First introduced to Canada 100 years ago as a way to save coal, the project is now an annual eight-month ritual tolerated purely due to the belief that it’s good for us. Research has shown however that it makes us less productive, has a detrimental effect on moods, it increases accidents at work and more fatal road crashes. In a 2001 paper in the Journal of Sleep Medicine, researchers analyzed 21 years of U.S. collision data and found a 10-per cent-increase in fatal crashes around the “fall back” change. Researchers chalked this up to “behavioural responses to forced circadian changes.” Basically, scientists theorized that people are staying out extra late on the night before the clock change, resulting in highways full of extra-tired drivers. In essence, drivers in a zombie like state.


Of the seven churches in the Book of Revelation, Sardis was among the lowest in spiritual fervor. It was the Church of the Living Dead. Its accommodation to its religious environment shielded the church from persecution, for hardly anyone took notice. Its inoffensive lifestyle yielded religious peace with the world but resulted in spiritual death in the sight of God. Apart from a few faithful members who kept the fire of the gospel burning, the church itself was gradually dying, like a fire that lacks fuel and air. Yet among the smoldering ashes were a few glowing embers (Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953-2001). Vol. 20: New Testament commentary : Exposition of the Book of Revelation. New Testament Commentary (149). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.).


In letter to Sardis, Christ shows that the Christian never moves or advances beyond the need for forgiveness and, in fact, the vigilance that this letter demands is precisely that vigilance of remembering that every Christian man or woman must live a life of daily relationship and of daily forgiveness and of daily joy. Repentance must be a present reality. It is not a transaction that we are able occasionally to acknowledge as we would the illustrious victories and achievements of our ancestors. Our salvation is a daily, living, dynamic relationship (Palmer, E. F., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1982). Vol. 35: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 35 : 1, 2 & 3 John / Revelation. The Preacher's Commentary series (140). Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.).


In seeing the distinction between a faith devoid of works, and a daily, living, dynamic relationship with Christ, Revelation 3:1-6 shows the: 1) The Church, City & Correspondent (Revelation 3:1a, 2) The Concern & Command (Revelation 3:1b-3), and 3) The Commendation & Counsel (Revelation 3:4-6).


To avoid become a Church of the Living Dead we need to understand:

1) The Church, City & Correspondent: (Revelation 3:1a)

Revelation 3:1a  [3:1] "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: 'The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.  ("'I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead). (ESV)


Though the details are not recorded in Scripture, the church at Sardis was probably founded as an outreach of Paul’s ministry at Ephesus (Acts 19:10). From the description given of the church, it appears that its members, with the exception of a small remnant, were almost entirely secularized. Though occupying a correct position in respect of creed and worship—having the name of life, therefore—the faith of the church was a dead faith, and its life of that worldly ..( Lange, J. P., Schaff, P., Moore, E., Craven, E. R., & Woods, J. H. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures : Revelation (125). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) Once a church has a good reputation in the public eye, it is possible to mechanically continue in the same activities but lose the original motivation that made it great. The incentive to good works can shift from a desire to serve and please God to simply a desire to maintain the good public face that the church has come to enjoy (Gregg, S. (1997). Revelation, four views : A parallel commentary (Re 3:1–6). Nashville, Tenn.: T. Nelson Publishers.).


City Slide: In the sixth century B.C., the City of Sardis was one of the most powerful cities of the ancient world. Yet by the Roman period it had declined to the point that Ramsay could describe it as a relic of the period of barbaric warfare, which lived rather on its ancient prestige than on its suitability to present conditions. It was located some fifty miles east of Ephesus on a northern spur of Mt. Tmolus overlooking the broad and fertile plain of the Hermus. The acropolis, with its nearly perpendicular rock walls rising 1,500 feet above the lower valley (on all but the south side), was essentially inaccessible and provided a natural citadel. As Sardis grew, it became necessary to develop a lower city to the north and west of the acropolis on the banks of the Pactolus, a southern tributary of the Hermus. Roman gymnasium Slide: Shown here are the impressive restored remains of the entrance to the Roman gymnasium complex at Sardis. Activities related to the imperial cult may have been held here (Duvall, J. S. (2014). Revelation. (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.) (p. 66). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.).


Deity Slide: Excavations in the lower city have unearthed a Roman theater and stadium as well as an exceptionally large (160 by 300 feet) temple dedicated to Artemis. One of the patron deities of the city of Sardis was Artemis, who was worshiped as a fertility goddess both there and at Ephesus. Her image is shown here (Duvall, J. S. (2014). Revelation. (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.) (p. 64). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.).


Temple & Column Slide: The temple of Artemis had seventy-eight Ionic columns (of which two are still standing) are each fifty-eight feet in height. Built on the sixth-century-b.c. foundations of an ancient temple constructed by Croesus, it was destroyed in 499 b.c. and reconstructed but never completely finished in the time of Alexander the Great. It was dedicated to a local Asiatic goddess usually referred to as Cybele, who was identified with the Greek Artemis. This patron deity was believed to possess the special power of restoring the dead to life (Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (91–92). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).


Its seemingly impregnable location caused the inhabitants of Sardis to become overconfident. That complacency eventually led to the city’s downfall. Through carelessness, the unimaginable happened: Sardis was conquered. (Colin J. Hemer, The Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in Their Local Setting [Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1986], 133). Sardis never regained its independence, eventually coming under Roman control in 133 b.c. Why did both Jews and Romans leave this church undisturbed (unlike some of its neighbors)? The answer may well be its lack of aggressive and positive Christianity. ‘Content with mediocrity, lacking both the enthusiasm to entertain a heresy and the depth of conviction which provokes intolerance, it was too innocuous to be worth persecuting’ (Caird G. B. Caird, A Commentary on the Revelation of St. John the Divine (Black, 1966; Black’s New Testament Commentaries).


Please turn to Zechariah 4 (p.794)


The descriptions of the divine author or Correspondentin each of the seven letters are drawn from the vision of 1:12–17. The letter to Sardis draws an additional component from the salutation in 1:4, where the phrase seven Spirits also appears. In our introduction to Revelation we looked at Isaiah 11:2, where the Holy Spirit is described as:the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD”. (Isa. 11:2). This is all a representation the Spirit’s fullness


It also refers to the symbolic depiction of the Holy Spirit as a lampstand with seven lamps (a menorah), presented in Zechariah 4:

Zechariah 4:1–10And the angel who talked with me came again and woke me, like a man who is awakened out of his sleep. And he said to me, “What do you see?” I said, “I see, and behold, a lampstand all of gold, with a bowl on the top of it, and seven lamps on it, with seven lips on each of the lamps that are on the top of it. And there are two olive trees by it, one on the right of the bowl and the other on its left.” And I said to the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me, “Do you not know what these are?” I said, “No, my lord.” Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts. Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain. And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ ” Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. 10 For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel. (ESV)

  • The oracle is addressed to Zerubbabel, the governor, who along with Joshua the high priest had been charged by the prophet Haggai with the task of rebuilding the temple (Ezra 5:2; Hag. 1:1). God’s word to him is a reminder that the obstacles that face him in the rebuilding task will not be overcome by conventional resources of might or power. Instead, the resources will come from an outpouring of God’s Spirit (see Hag. 2:5). The growth of the building begun under Zerubbabel would be a challenge to those who thought of their times as a day of small things. God’s work may start in small and unobtrusive ways, yet reach a glorious conclusion (Matt. 13:31–32).The seven lamps on top of the lampstand are the eyes of the Lord, representing his watchfulness and awareness of everything that is going on through the whole earth. (Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1757). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.).
  • The Awakening of the dead church is Sardus will not come from human ingenuity,  marketing or grand human endeavors. Their failure, is a failure of watchfulness. Their failed to watch for dangers inside and out which resulted in their spiritual death. This is countered with God’s watchfulness of them.


Revelation 3:1 Jesus Christ is represented in His church through the Holy Spirit. Mention of the seven spirits of God reminded this church that the Holy Spirit has all the power they needed to be able to achieve what Christ was asking of them. They were not dependent on their own resources but were failing because they were not using the resources available to them, resources which all Christians have in the Holy Spirit (Mills, M. (1997). Revelations : An exegetical study of the Revelation to John. Dallas: 3E Ministries.).


The seven stars are the seven messengers or elders (cf. 1:20), one from each of the seven churches, who likely carried a copy of the book of Revelation back to their respective churches. The imagery shows Jesus Christ, as the One who sovereignly works in His church through the Holy Spirit and godly leaders. That introduction served as a reminder to the Sardis church of what they lacked. Devoid of the Spirit, the church at Sardis was dead, populated by the unredeemed. So unlike the city of Sardis, and apparently unlike the church in Sardis, Jesus is fully alert, fully informed, and completely aware of all that takes place in Heaven and on earth. As the one who has the seven spirits and the seven stars, nothing escapes his notice (Hamilton, J. M., Jr. (2012). Preaching the Word: Revelation—The Spirit Speaks to the Churches. (R. K. Hughes, Ed.) (p. 105). Wheaton, IL: Crossway.).


Illustration: A Dead Star

Astronomers tell us that the light from the polar star takes years to reach the earth A light year is the distance light goes in a year, moving at 186,000 miles a second. If  one particular star that astronomers estimate is 33 years away from earth. It would therefore take 33 years for that light to reach earth. That star could have been plunged into darkness 25 years ago, or died but light would still be pouring down to earth. It would be shining in the sky tonight as brightly as if nothing had happened. It could be a dead star, but we wouldn’t know it was dead. The church at Sardis was like that. It had a name. The name appeared to say it was alive. It was shining solely by the light of its brilliant past. But in the present it was dead. It’s a common tragedy. There are many churches that still have some light from their shining past but the reality is they are now dead. It is death under the guise of life. The church, by definition, is to be alive. It is a place where God lives, where Christ lives, where the Holy Spirit lives, where believers are alive. They’ve been given life. A church is to be the fellowship of those who posses eternal life. (MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2014). John MacArthur Sermon Archive. Panorama City, CA: Grace to You.).


To avoid become a Church of the Living Dead we need to understand:

2) The Concern (Revelation 3:1d, 2b) & Command (Revelation 3:2a-3)

Revelation 3:1b-3   [3:1]"And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: 'The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.)  "'I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. [2] Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. [3]Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. (ESV)


Because the Sardis church was dead, Christ skipped the usual commendation for the moment and went directly to His concerns for it. Though its outward appearance may have fooled people since it had a reputation/name, a reputation of being alive), the Sardis church could not fool the omniscient Lord Jesus Christ, who knew its works/deeds. Like the unfinished temple of Artemis, the works of the church constantly fell short of completion. They lacked the appropriate motivation and spiritual orientation, without which all external activity is morally impotent (Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (94). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).


With His infallible knowledge, Christ pronounced the Sardis church to be dead. Like so many churches today it was defiled by the world, characterized by inward decay, and populated by unredeemed people playing church. Spiritual death in the New Testament is always connected with its causesin. Ephesians 2:1 describes the unregenerate as: Ephesians 2:1-2   [2:1]And you were dead in the trespasses and sins [2]in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- (ESV) (cf. Luke 9:60; 15:24, 32; Col. 2:13; 1 Tim. 5:6; 1 John 3:14).

  • Just as was instructed to the Ephesians, although dead, people may still walk, and they do so following the prince of the power of the air, which is Satan.
  • The church at Sardis was like a museum in which stuffed animals are exhibited in their natural habitats. Everything appears to be normal, but nothing is alive. Sin killed the Sardis church.


In verse 2, Christ addressed the command to the faithful remnant of true Christians at Sardis; there is no point in talking to those who are dead. If their church was to survive it desperately needed life. Christ laid out for them the path to spiritual restoration by giving them five steps to follow. First, they needed to wake up. This is an imperative command to “show yourself to be watchful”.The use of γίγνομαι implies that the watchful state is not the (current) onea change is needed before the watching can come about (comp. ch. 1:9, 10, 18; 2:8; 4:2; 6:12, etc.). The use of the present participle instead of an adjective (“watching” for “watchful”) makes the charge more definite; not merely “be of a watchful character,” but the Greek tense indicates they need to wake up and continue to watch (comp. ch. 16:10; Mark 1:4; 9:3, 7; Heb. 5:12) (The Pulpit Commentary: Revelation. 2004 (H. D. M. Spence-Jones, Ed.) (107). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) “Wake up.” Γρηγορῶν is often used eschatologically to depict the spiritual watchfulness that is necessary to be ready for Christ’s return (Mark 13:35, 37; Matt. 24:42; 25:13; Luke 12:36–38; 1 Thess. 5:6) (Osborne, G. R. (2002). Revelation. Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament (174). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.) It is especially easy for people to become so focused on a particular task to lose sight of other important responsibilities 1 Corinthians 16:13  [13]Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. (ESV)

  • Every Christian must be on guard against Satan’s attacks and their weakness within. It often happens that when we are most busy, we are least watchful.


Please turn to 1 Corinthians 10 (p.957)


This exhortation to watchfulness would carry special weight in Sardis because twice in its history the acropolis had fallen to the enemy due to a lack of vigilance on the part of the defenders. In 549 b.c. Cyrus captured the acropolis by deploying a climber to work his way up a crevice on one of the nearly perpendicular walls of the mountain fortress. Late in the third century the city was again captured in the same way. A Cretan by the name of Lagoras discovered a vulnerable point and with a band of fifteen men made a daring ascent, opened the gates from within, and allowed the armies of Antiochus the Great to overpower the rebel Archaeus (216 b.c.). As in history, so in life, to consider oneself secure and fail to remain alert is to court disaster (Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (93–94). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).


Paul calls for this vigilance in 1 Corinthians 10:

1 Corinthians 10:1-14   10 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (ESV)

  • By either arrogance or neglect, the moment we rest our guard we become vulnerable to a) our own sloth, b) false teaching to creep in from among us, or c) the burden or external demands to distract us


For the Church at Sardis, there was no time for indifference; they could not just go with the flow, they had to reverse it. The believing remnant needed to look at what was happening in their church, evaluate the situation, get involved in changing things, confront sin and error, and make a difference. It speaks of the “danger of [believers] reducing their full commitment to God through Christ and of allowing themselves to be seized by things of lesser value” (Nützel, EDNT Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by H. Balz and G. Schneider, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990–93).

  • The first step toward renewal in a dying church is honest awareness that something is wrong. When an organism is alive, there is growth, repair, reproduction, and power; if these elements are lacking in a church, then that church is either dying or already dead (Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Re 3:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.).


Second, they needed to strengthen what remains, and is about to die. Although some members are still active, the works that they have undertaken are incomplete and in danger of becoming altogether inactive. Christ exhorted the true Christians at Sardis to fan into flame the dying embers of the remaining spiritual graces in their church (Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953-2001). Vol. 20: New Testament commentary : Exposition of the Book of Revelation. New Testament Commentary (151). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.)


Quote: Vance Havner said that spiritual ministries often go through four stages: a man, a movement, a machine, and then a monument. Sardis was at the “monumentstage, but there was still hope! (Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Re 3:1). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.)


The congregation at Sardis was performing works/deeds; they were going through the motions. But those works/deeds, Christ declared that they were not complete in the sight of My God. Though sufficient to give the Sardis church a reputation before people, those works/deeds were insufficient and unacceptable in God’s sight. They were but the pointless, lifeless motion of corpses; the Sardis congregation’s good works merely grave clothes of the unregenerate. The spiritual zombies (cf. Eph. 2:1–2) populating the Sardis church were living a lie. There were works/deeds, there was activity—but there was the vital ingredient lacking: true spiritual life. There was form without power. There were lots of dead people hard at work! (Brooks, R. (1986). The Lamb Is All the Glory (p. 44). Darlington, England: Evangelical Press.)


The third step was for the faithful remnant as it says in verse 3 is to remember, then, what they had received and heard. The church is called upon to bear in mind (present imperative)what they had received and heard. The change in tense between “have received” (perfect) and “heard” (aorist) is instructive. Members of the church had received the faith as an abiding trust at the moment faith came by hearing (Mounce, R. H. (1997). The Book of Revelation. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (94). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).  The believers at Sardis needed to reaffirm their belief in the truth about Christ, sin, salvation, and sanctification.  In the words of Paul to Timothy: 1 Timothy 6:20   [20]O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called "knowledge," (ESV)

  • They needed to recognize the scriptures that they received as the solid doctrinal foundation to serve as a base for renewal.
  • One of the most destructive yet prevalent tendencies of our day is for people to use business models in an attempt to bring revival to the Church. The model of worldly success and what God considers health, are two different things.


Christ calls on them to remember what they had been taught. Remember (mnēmoneue) is a present imperative with the meaning ‘bear in mind’ (rather thanrecall’). Christ is calling them to not just recall with fondness their past glory and reminisce, but presently bring to the forefront of their minds the truths of the Word of God, remembering the gospel and the teaching of the apostles. Having the directive truths of God's word as primary marching orders for obedience is a positive directive instead of passive sentimentality. (Morris, L. (1987). Vol. 20: Revelation: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (79). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.)


Fourth, having gone back to the truths of Scripture, they needed to keep them. This is a present imperative of obedience focusing on a continuing activity.  Orthodox theology apart from obedient lives would not bring about renewal (Morris, L. (1987). Vol. 20: Revelation: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (79). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.).

  • Knowingthe truths of the Gospel and the command to evangelize does little good if we fail to do what we know and evangelize.


Finally, they needed to repent. With remorse and sorrow, the believers at Sardis were to confess and turn away from their sins.


These five steps, if diligently practiced, would bring about revival. The consequences if revival did not come would be severe. Christ warned them if you will/do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. The picture of Jesus coming like a thief always carries the idea of imminent judgment (Matt. 24:43; Luke 12:39; 1 Thess. 5:2, 4; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 16:15). The evidence of conversion is a change of lords, from placing one’s confidence in the security of the city-state, destroyed by an enemy that came “like a thief in the night,” to the returning Christ, who comes like a thief as the Lord over lords. The threat here is not related to His second coming, but is that the Lord would come and destroy the Sardis church if there is no repentance. It can also be extrapolated into a warning of the judgment that faces all dead churches at Christ’s return. (Wall, R. W. (2011). Revelation (p. 81). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.)


Quote: What are the danger signs that a church is dying? One author has said that: "A church is in danger when it is content to rest on its past laurels, when it is more concerned with liturgical forms than spiritual reality, when it focuses on curing social ills rather than changing people’s hearts through preaching the life-giving gospel of Jesus Christ, when it is more concerned with material than spiritual things, when it is more concerned with what (people) think than what God said, when it is more enamored with doctrinal creeds and systems of theology than with the Word of God, or when it loses its conviction that every word of the Bible is the word of God Himself. No matter what its attendance, no matter how impressive its buildings, no matter what its status in the community, such a church, having denied the only source of spiritual life, is dead (MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (107–116). Chicago: Moody Press.).


Finally, to avoid become a Church of the Living Dead we need to understand:

3) The Commendation & Counsel: (Revelation 3:4-6)  

Revelation 3:4-6 [4]Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. [5]The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. [6] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.' (ESV)


In the midst of this dead church, filled with unregenerate people, a true remnant, a few true Christians were scattered like flowers in a desert. There were not enough of them, however, to change Christ’s overall evaluation of the church as dead. But He had not forgotten those who remained faithful to Him and will preserve them (Rom. 11:1-5. cf. Mal. 3:16–17; Heb. 6:10).God had His remnant even in the dead church at Sardis. There were a few sincere among the hypocrites, a few humble among the proud, a few separated among the worldly, and a few stalks of wheat among the tares.  Hope for revival is in the fact that a few namesalert and unstained disciplescan still be found in this church (Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2467). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.).


Christ described the faithful remnant as those who have not soiled their garments. Soiled is from molunō, which means “to stain,”to defile,” “to smear,” or “to pollute.” It was a word that would have been familiar to readers in Sardis because of the city’s wool dyeing industry, which originally meant to dye fabric. In the pagan religions it was forbidden to approach the gods in garments that were soiled or stained (Barclay, Seven Churches, p. 77). Soiling seems to be a symbol for mingling with pagan life and thus defiling the purity of one’s relation to Christ (14:4; 1 Cor 8:7; 2 Cor 7:1; 11:2; Jude 23).Garments symbolize character in Scripture (e.g., Isa. 64:6; Jude 23). The faithful remnant could come into God’s presence because they had not defiled or polluted themselves, but manifested their godly character. Ironically, the Sardians were occupied with their outward appearance, but they were not concerned with inner purity toward Christ and their outward moral life in a pagan society. (Johnson, A. F. (1981). Revelation. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews through Revelation (Vol. 12, p. 449). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.)


Specifically, Christ says of them that they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. In ancient times, such garments were worn for celebrations and festivals. Because they refused to defile their garments, Christ would replace those humanly preserved clean garments with divinely pure ones (cf. 7:14). The worthiness of Christ, the exalted Lamb to open the scroll and break its seals was based on his faithfulness to a redemptive God, even unto death (cf. 5:9). Likewise, the worthy remnant are characterized by their dress, made white by the blood of the Lamb, (this was seen in) their vigorous faithfulness to God…(Wall, R. W. (2011). Revelation (p. 81). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.).


By way of encouragement in verse 5, Christ described the rewards awaiting those who participated in the revival by providing His Counsel. True Christians, as already noted, will be clothed thus in white garments/robes. In the ancient world, white garments/robes were also worn for festive occasions such as weddings. True Christians will wear theirs at the marriage supper of the Lamb (19:7–9). White robes were also worn by those celebrating victory in battle; all true Christians are victorious through Christ over sin, death, and Satan. But, as noted earlier in the discussion of verse 4, primarily believers’ white garments/robes represent purity and holiness. Christ promises to clothe Christians in the brilliance of eternal purity and holiness. Therefore, behind the image of receiving “white garments/robes” in 3:4b–5a, as well as elsewhere throughout Revelation, stands the idea of a purity that has resulted from the fidelity of the faithful being tested by a refining fire(Beale, G. K. (1999). The book of Revelation: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 277). Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press.).


Synagogue Slide:Christ further promises every true Christian that Christ will never blot/erase his name out of the book of life. In John’s day, rulers kept a register of the citizens of a city. If someone died, or committed a serious crime, their name was erased from that register. Jesus promises that the faithful believers at Sardis will never have their names removed from his heavenly registry, whose names werewritten from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Rev. 13:8). This would have special meaning to those from Jewish backgrounds who may have had their names erased from the synagogue registry when they became followers of Christ. Shown here is the restored synagogue at Sardis, dated to the fourth century AD. (Duvall, J. S. (2014). Revelation. (M. L. Strauss & J. H. Walton, Eds.) (p. 68). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.)

  • A person may have his or her name on a church roll, but not be saved. What surprises there will be when “the books are opened”! (20:12) (Wiersbe, W. W. (1997). Wiersbe's expository outlines on the New Testament (804). Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books.)


Please turn to Matthew 10 (p.815)


Christ will confess every believer’s name before God the Father and before His angels. He will affirm that they belong to Him. In Matthew 10, Christ reaffirmed the promise He made during His earthly ministry:

Matthew 10:26-33   26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (ESV)

  • A Christian can easily avoid persecution by denying that he or she is Jesus' disciple. But the true disciple does not fear death (Mt. 10:28) and will publicly acknowledge and confess Jesus. The eternal consequence for those who deny Christ, in fact, will be far worse than the persecution that they sought to avoid (Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (2468). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.).


The letter to Sardis ends in Revelation 3:6, like the other six, with an exhortation to heed the counsel, commands, and promises it contains: He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The spiritually dead zombies playing church needed to heed Christ’s warning of impending judgment. The indifferent believers needed to wake up before it was too late to save their church. And the faithful few could take comfort in the knowledge that their salvation was eternally secure. What happened to Sardis? Did they heed the warning? Did revival come? That such a prominent man as Melito who served as bishop of Sardis several decades after John wrote Relelation argues that at least some revival took place in Sardis. Until Christ returns, it is not too late to find the path to spiritual renewal.


(Format Note: Outline & some base commentary from MacArthur, J. (1999). Revelation 1-11 (107–116). Chicago: Moody Press.)


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