The Letter to the Church of Sardis (Rev 3:1-6)

November 28, 2016 — Leave a comment

I. INTRODUCTION

A. Summary of Past Lessons

The Letter to the Church in Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7)
The Letter to the Church in Smyrna (Rev 2:8-11)
The Letter to the Church in Pergamum (Rev 2:12-17)
The Letter to the Church in Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29)

B. Text of Rev 3:1-6

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars: ‘I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief. “Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”’” (Revelation 3:1–6, NLT)

The Letter to the Church in Sardis (3:1-6)

“Letters to the Churches of Sardis and Philadelphia” Bamberg Apocalypse Bible

C. Background and History of the City of Sardis

Sardis was an important and wealthy city located on the trade route which ran east to west through Lydia (which Sardis was the capital of). Much of the city’s wealth came from its textile manufacturing, dye making, and jewelry trade. The city practiced pagan worship, maintained mystery religions, and had secret religious societies. Similar to the city of Ephesus, Sardis had large temple to the Greek goddess, Artemus. The temple was 160 feet by 300 feet with columns 48 feet high. (Walvoord, Revelation, 78; Mulholland, Revelation [2011], 446).

II. CORRESPONDENT (3:1a)

“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. This is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars: ‘I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead.’” (Rev 3:1, NLT)

Here is another mention of the “sevenfold Spirit of God” which most people believe is a reference to the Holy Spirit (R. M. Mulholland, Revelation, 444-445).

A. Nomina Sacra Support for Holy Spirit

Additional reference that this is the Holy Spirit is based on a feature that is seen only in the original Greek manuscripts. This feature is what is called “Nomina Sacra.” Nomina Sacra is something that either the writers themselves or the very earliest copyists did to shorten specific divine names, titles, and phrases that are used in the New Testament.

For example, “in Christ” or “for Jesus” are phrases that were written with a Nomina Sacra. According to Philip Comfort, “Either the writers themselves or the very earliest copyists used a special written form for the divine names” (Comfort, A Commentary on the Manuscripts and Text of the New Testament, 31). In the case of Rev 3:1, the word “Spirit” is written in a Nomina Sacra in one early manuscript (א which is dated to A.D. 350-357). (Specifically, the Nomina Sacra is ΠΝΑ [with a line across the top] instead of ΠΝΕΥΜΑ).

To learn more about Nomina Sacra see Comfort, A Commentary on the NT, 31-42; Tomas Bokedal, “Messiah, Critical Issues,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary; Bruce Metzger and Bart Ehrman, The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption, and Restoration, 23-34.

B. Book of Revelation Support for Holy Spirit

Within the book of Revelation, this reference, “seven-fold Spirit” has already been seen in Rev 1:4-5 and will be referenced again in Rev 4:5. Other brief mentions of the Holy Spirit in Revelation are seen in 1:10; 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22; 4:2; 14:13; 21:10. Also see the sevenfold character of the Holy Spirit given in Isa 11:2-5. The “seven-fold Spirit” is identified as the Holy Spirit by Osborne, Revelation, 173.

III. COMPLIMENT (3:1b)

“I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead.” (Rev 3:1, NLT)

Similar to the Laodicean church, there is little in the church for Christ to commend. Therefore, only half a verse is used here to compliment the church on its good work. However, this was still better than the Laodicean church which received no positive remarks from Jesus.

IV. COMPLAINT (3:2-5)

A. Falling Short (v. 2)

“Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God.” (Rev 3:2, NLT)

The church in Sardis is struggling so badly that it is on the verge of spiritual death. It was almost no longer a community of faith. The truth is that all of our actions do not meet the requirements of God, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Rom 3:23, NLT). We need to be consciously trying our best to live a righteous life as a response to the good work Christ has done in our lives, but that righteous life needs to be based on an active relationship with God.

B. Return and Repent for Jesus Will Return (v. 3)

“Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief.” (Rev 3:3, NLT)

Those in church who still had true spiritual life are warned to watch against further invasion of spiritual deadness.

1. Return (v. 3a)

Return to the things you believed at first. It is easy to become jaded and calloused in the older age of Christian life.

2. Repent (v. 3b)

Acknowledge what you have done and ask for God’s forgiveness.

3. Jesus Will Come (v. 3b)

Jesus is a righteous God and he will provide punishment for those who do not repent and return to their previous ways of love. He will come unexpectedly and bring devastating judgment on them.

In addition to Jesus’s promise to give judgement, he also promises that he will return in an unexpected way. While believers do not know the time when Jesus will return (Mark 13:32), New Testament passages affirm Jesus’s brief statement here in Rev 3:3:

  • “So you, too, must keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (Matt 24:42–44, NLT)
  • “For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. When people are saying, ‘Everything is peaceful and secure,’ then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape. But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded.” (1 Thess 5:2–6, NLT)
  • “But the day of the Lord will come as unexpectedly as a thief. Then the heavens will pass away with a terrible noise, and the very elements themselves will disappear in fire, and the earth and everything on it will be found to deserve judgment.” (2 Peter 3:10, NLT)

C. Some Are White in Their Walk (v. 4)

“Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.” (Rev 3:4, NLT)

In the Roman world people were identified by the clothes they wore. For example, only the emperor and patrician class (those who had wealth, influence, and power) could wear togas with purple. The equestrian class (those who worked below senators) could wear red. A person’s clothing was an outward statement of who the person was.

Why “white”? What does “white” mean? White garments were often worn in the ancient world at weddings and other festive occasions. Additionally, white normally represents the purity of God’s people as they are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Later in the book of Revelation the believers who share in the marriage supper of the Lamb wear white robes (Rev 19:7-9). White robes worn here are seen as a token of the believers’ acceptance by God (John Walvoord, Revelation, 80).

D. Those in White Are in the Book of Life (v. 5)

“All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine.” (Rev 3:5, NLT)

1. The Book of Life in Revelation

My interpretation is that the Book of Life is a book that contains the names of all true believers. While the Book of Life has numerous references throughout the Old Testament (Exod 32:32-33; Pss 56:8; 69:28; 139:16; Dan 12:1) and New Testament, no book in the Bible provides as much emphasis on the Book of Life as Revelation.

The Book of Life was written before the world was made (17:8), but is first mentioned in Revelation here in Jesus’s letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. Jesus contrasts those who have soiled their clothes with evil (3:4) to those who are clothed in white. Those clothed in white will never have their names erased from the Book of Life (3:5). These people whose names are written in the Book of Life will be announced that they are Jesus’s people by Jesus before the Father and his angel (3:5).

Revelation also makes it clear that the book belongs to the Lamb (13:8; 21:27). In the midst of the trumpet judgements and bowl judgements John says that the people who worship the beast are the ones whose names are not written in the Book of Life (13:8). Nearing the end of Revelation that Book of Life is one of the books opened at the Great White Throne Judgment (21:11-15). Anyone’s name that is not found in the Book of Life is thrown into the lake of fire (21:15). Lastly, in the new Jerusalem the only people allowed to enter the city are those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (21:27).

2. The Book of Life Is a Promise

With regards to the Book of Life it is important to remember that this is a “promise,” not a “threat.” By that the text says that Jesus will never erase their names from the book of life. Remember, this is Jesus’s promise that if someone’s name is written in the book, there name cannot be erased.

3. Additional Support for Assurance of Salvation

While some commentators take Rev 3:5 as proof that believers names can be erased from the Book of Life (Mulholland, Revelation [2011], 447), the abundance of support from the New Testament indicate that once someone is saved he or she is always saved.

  • “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:12, NLT)
  • “For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, ‘For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.’) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:29–39, NLT)
    “For God’s gifts and his call can never be withdrawn.” (Romans 11:29, NLT)
  • “And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30, NLT)
  • “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6, NLT)
  • “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.” (1 Peter 1:3–5, NLT)
  • “Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come. These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us.” (1 John 2:18–19, NLT)

Some passages that seem to indicate that believers do not have assurance of salvation are Heb 6:4-6, John 15:1-6, Matt 12:32.

4. Eternal Security and Assurance Is Like a Skydiver

How I think about the topic of eternal security and assurance is like a skydiver. In Genesis 1-2 everyone is flying in an airplane. People are content, happy, and headed in the correct direction. However, with the fall of man and woman in Gen 3:6-7, every person on that plane is thrown out falling to their death. However, each person has a parachute strapped to his or her back. That parachute is the work of Christ that is available to them if they accept Jesus and follow him (Luke 18:9-14; Rom 1:17; 3:19-26, 28; 4:1-5; 5:1, 9). Once they accept and follow Jesus the cord of the parachute is pulled. In which, those whose parachutes are pulled get to safely glide and gently fall down to the new heaven and new earth (Rev 21-22).

With that said, once the cord of the parachute has been pulled the parachute cannot be pushed back into the backpack. The offer of a parachute and the pulled cord are free gifts given to each person but once pulled it cannot be changed (John 1:12; Rom 8:29-39; 11:29; Eph 4:30; Phil 1:6; 1 Peter 1:3-5; 1 John 2:18-19).

V. COMMAND (3:6)

“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” (Rev 3:6, NLT)

This is the reason that we need to study Revelation today.

VI. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

Assurance of Salvation

As believers who have fully committed our lives to Christ it is important to remember that will be with God in heaven. This is a promise! Our names cannot be erased from the book of life and because of that it should give us assurance of our salvation.

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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