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My Notes on Revelation 3:1-6, Letter to Sardis

Updated on January 16, 2019
marcelocarcach profile image

Marcelo holds a B.A. in Bible and a M.S. in education. He has ministry experience and is collaborating with church planting in MD.

Worship at The Throne of God

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Revelation 3:1, The Authority of Jesus

In my previous post, I explained that the angels of the churches are humans who read the Bible to the congregation and who had a position of leadership in the church. As such, the angel represents the congregation before the Lord.

It is interesting that the angel of the church at Sardis is not separated from the problem of the church: he may be a part of the problem. If this is the case, this situation lends support to the view that the angels are humans.

To the angel of Sardis (and to the rest of the church), the Lord identifies himself as the one who has the Seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. Having the angels and the Spirits of God is a reference to the Lord's authority. Not only do the angels (leaders) of the churches belong to him, but the Spirit of God also belongs to him: after all, the Lord is he who baptizes with the Spirit of God (John 1:33).

Thus, if the churches are in need of God's Spirit, Jesus is the one who can supply the Spirit to them.

Revelation 3:1-2, Church of the Dead

The Lord tells this angel that he knows his works (he knows the works of everyone in the church). The Lord's ability know everyone's activities is a divine quality (Psalm 139:1-13). But whereas the Lord's knowledge brought comfort to the psalmist, the Lord's knowledge should make this church tremble, for the Lord knows this church's true spiritual state: while they identify themselves as living they are really dead.

Throughout church history, and even in our own times, there have been individuals and groups who identify themselves as Christian and as churches, by they are not.

A few months ago I learned about a church (unfortunately, I do not remember the name of the church) that welcomed everyone, used church language, and even taught from the Bible. However, this church did not teach the gospel.

This church did not teach that Jesus is the eternal Word of God, that he became a human being, that he was born of a virgin, that he lived a sinless life, that he performed miracles, that he died for our sins, that he rose from the dead, and that he ascended to heaven. Instead, this "church" presented Jesus as a moralist and a social reformer. They were interested in effecting social change through dialogue and by pointing out hypocrisy. But the other things that Christians normally believe in, this church called dogma.

Clearly, this church presented itself as group that is spiritually alive, but they are not. They are not spiritually alive because they have not understood the gospel: who Jesus is and what he has done to save humanity and reconcile us with the God of the Bible. Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is a Christian.

The church of Sardis may have been like this modern church. They may have identified themselves as Christian, but in reality they were not: they weren't really following the Lord's gospel. Instead, they were caught in a fad.

It is interesting to note that there is a discernable decline in the spiritual health of the churches as we read through the letters (though with the exception of Smyrna). Ephesus had abandoned its first love, but it did not allow false prophets and the Nicolaitans; Pergamos, on the other hand, allowed the Nicolaitans and the followers of Balaam to remain in the church; then Thyatira allowed Jezebel the false prophetess to teach and seduce the Lord's servants; finally, Sardis is spiritually dead. As the presence of wrong doctrine in the church intensifies, the spiritual health of the churches declines to the point that the church is large composed of spiritually dead people.

Thus, the Lord instructs them of Sardis to be watchful and to strengthen the things that remain, for these things are about to die. The idea of being watchful is tied to the Lord coming as a thief upon this church, and strengthening the things that are about to die represents guarding oneself against loss. When the Lord comes to judge this church, they will suffer loss.t

The Lord also tells them that he has not found their works perfect before God: their works are incomplete, something in them is missing, and their works are no acceptable to God.

Revelation 3:3, Remember What You Have Heard

It is not surprising, therefore, that the Lord instructs this church to (a) remember what they had heard, (b) to hold fast what they had heard, and (c) to repent. What then could the Lord be talking about?

Given the previous reference to the instructions of the Apostles and the Elders at Jerusalem unto the gentile churches (see my notes on Revelation 2:24-25), it is likely that the Lord is here referring to the gospel and the teachings of the Apostles (Acts 2:41-42, Ephesians 2:20, 2 Timothy 4:15). After all, what could give life to the dead, if not the preaching of the gospel? Clearly, the Lord is calling this church to rediscover what Christianity is all about!

Thus, the Lord warns this church that if they do not watch, the Lord will come upon them as a thief, at a time they do not know. This warning reminds us of the Lord's words in Matthew 24:37-44 and in Luke 12:39-40, where the Lord warns Israel concerning his coming: he will come unannounced as a thief to remove from his kingdom all those who have not believed in him.

Therefore, we can conclude that the Lord is telling this church that if they do not repent and turn to the gospel and the doctrine of the apostles, he will come on them and remove them also.

Revelation 3:4, The Names of The Worthy

The Lord Jesus tells the angel of the church in Sardis that there are within this church a few names who have not defiled their garments. The word names is used to refer to individuals because in the following verse the Lord will discuss the names that are written down in the book of life.

These individuals have not defiled their garments: they have not soiled them. In Zechariah 3:3-4, soiled garments represent iniquity. In the context of this letter, this means that these individuals did not participate in the errors of this church; instead, they had embraced the gospel and the doctrine of the apostles. For this reason, they will walk dressed in white next to the Lord. The white robes mean that they had washed their garments in the blood of Christ, and thus they are righteous (Revelation 7:14, 19:8). Again, an acceptance of the gospel is signified: this is what has made them worthy. Moreover, their proximity to the Lord while walking with him points out to their fellowship, friendship, with him.

Revelation 3:5, Blessings of the Saved

The Lord now makes general promises for everyone who overcomes. Those who overcome are those who have believed in Jesus Christ for the salvation of their souls (1 John 5:4-5). Those who believe in Jesus Christ will be given white raiment, which represents that they have been made righteous by the blood of Christ applied to them (Revelation 7:14, 19:8).

Moreover, the Lord will not blot out their names from the book of life. The book of life contains the names of true Christians (Philippians 4:3), of those who will not be cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15), which is the second death (Revelation 20:14). By promising that their names will not be blotted out from the book of life, the Lord is promising believers security of salvation. Our salvation is guaranteed, amen!

The Lord also promises to confess the name of these individuals before the Father and the angels. These words are clearly a reference to Mark 8:38 and Luke 12:9, where the Lord promises to deny before the Father and the angels those who deny him. Thus, in Revelation 3:5, the Lord promises the opposite: before the Father and the angels, he will confess the names of those who believe in him: they will be saved and given eternal life, amen!

Revelation 3:6

The Lord completes his letter by repeating the refrain that is common in the letters to all seven churches. This refrain is based on a saying the Lord used several times during his earthly ministry (Matthew 11:15, Mark 4:9, Luke 8:8, and Luke 14:35). It means that the message is intended for everyone who hears his message: in this case, for everyone in the church.

Once again, this is a message given through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16).

Questions for Reflection

  1. How can a person be saved? What are they saved from?
  2. What is the gospel? What are the essential and indispensable elements of the gospel?
  3. How can we recognize a true Christian?
  4. Are all church members true Christians?
  5. What Christian groups do you think are not real Christians? Why?
  6. Are believers in Christ guaranteed salvation, or can they lose it?

Prayer

Lord Jesus, I believe in you. I believe you are the Word of God, one being with the Father and the Holy Spirt; I believe you were born of the virgin Mary; I believe you lived a sinless life, taught about God, and performed miracles as recorded in the Bible; I believe you died on a cross for my sins and the sins of the whole world; I believe you rose from the dead (you resurrected!); I believe you ascended to Heaven and are seated at the right hand of God. Thank-you, Lord, for all you did! Thank-you, Lord for securing eternal life for me and for everyone who believes in you. Amen.

© 2018 Marcelo Carcach

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    • Oztinato profile image

      Andrew Petrou 

      7 weeks ago from Brisbane

      I see a majority of symbols in revelations, but not just symbols.

      It is many things. One of which is predictive of certain cyclical historic trends. It's style is that of a mystic trying to explain his vision.

      It appeals to the imagination so it is also highly poetic. Some of it's imagery is still very popular in media forms.

      Certain symbols have the power to even move the thoughts and feelings of an atheist or agnostic.

    • marcelocarcach profile imageAUTHOR

      Marcelo Carcach 

      7 weeks ago from Westminster, MD

      Well, there are different interpretive models for Revelation: historicist, idealist, preterist, mostly futuristic, and moderately futuristic. I would fall in the mostly futuristic perspective. Would I be right in saying that you fall in the idealist perspective?

    • Oztinato profile image

      Andrew Petrou 

      7 weeks ago from Brisbane

      What I mean is, that certain parts of the Bible need to be taken symbolically. Revelations helps us not to take the entire Bible literally which causes confusion.

    • marcelocarcach profile imageAUTHOR

      Marcelo Carcach 

      7 weeks ago from Westminster, MD

      Thank-you for commenting. Would you elaborate on what you mean with taking the book symbolically and not literally? I think there are many symbols in the book of Revelation, but these symbols are often borrowed from the Old Testament and like them were meant to have specific meanings. For example, in Daniel 2:36, Daniel interprets the symbols Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Andrew Petrou 

      8 weeks ago from Brisbane

      One of the lessons of Revelations is that it can't be taken "literally" but only symbolically. This allows us to open our minds to the other symbolic meanings in the rest of the Bible

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