Study Notes

Revelation 3:1-6

3:1 Sardis

This week, we were saddened to hear the news of the devastating earthquake in Turkey. As of this writing, nearly 12,000 people have been confirmed dead, and up to 35,000 are still trapped or missing under the rubble. At this point, estimates are that the death toll will rise to over 45,000 when all is said and done.

If you look at a map, you will realize just how close this earthquake was to these seven cities of Revelation 2 and 3. This morning, we are reading the letter Jesus dicated to the church at Sardis. The ruins of the ancient city of Sardis can be visited right outside the city of Izmir, which is in Turkey.

The day of the earthquake, Mustafa Aydogdu, a resident of Izmir wrote, "It is the worst day of my life. I couldn't reach my parents in Istanbul for hours. Now I'm happy to know that they are alive. But I was not able to hear anything from my aunt in Bursa. I know that hundreds of thousands are in the same situation.."

Mustafa feared that his parents were dead, yet were found to be alive. But sadly, ironically, about 1,900 years ago, just outside his city, everyone thought that the church in Sardis was alive, but it was really dead.

The Seven Spirits Of God

As with all of the letters He dictated to these seven churches, Jesus introduces Himself with certain specific titles. The first is "He who has the seven Spirits of God." Remember that back in chapter one, John told us that grace and peace comes from the Trinity of God:

Rev. 1:4-5 ...Grace to you and peace, from Him who is and who was and who is to come; and from the seven Spirits who are before His throne; and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the first-born of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

And we examined previously what that term "seven Spirits" meant. In the Bible, the number seven often represents "completeness." So in referring to the "seven Spirits," we are actually seeing the seven-fold complete picture of the Holy Spirit. Just so you don't think I'm making this up, turn to Isaiah 11, where Isaiah describes the seven-fold Spirit of God:

Isa. 11:2 And the Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

These seven descriptions (the Spirit of the Lord, wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord) encapsulate the entire work and ministry of the Holy Spirit. He is the seven-fold Holy Spirit of God. One Person, seven facets, or descriptions.

The Seven Stars

What about the seven stars? Again in chapter one, John saw Jesus holding seven stars in His right hand. He then explained to John what they represented.

Rev. 1:20 "As for the mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, ...the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches... "

So they are the angels of the churches. We also discussed the two possibilities as to the meaning of the term "angels." "Angelos" in the Greek, means "messenger." It usually refers to the celestial beings that we think of as angels, but sometimes speaks of a human messenger. For example, James wrote that Rahab,

James 2:25 ...received the messengers and sent them out by another way

These were the two spies sent into Jericho. Two humans called "angelos."

I personally believe that "the angels of the seven churches" are the pastor/teachers of each of these churches. My reasons are that they are first of all in His hand. Jesus said,

John 10:27-28 "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand."

Secondly, they are described as stars. We read in the book of Daniel that

Dan. 12:3 "...Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

So my personal conclusion is that the stars are the pastor/teachers, but it won't affect your understanding of the letters to believe that they are actually angels.

Not Alive, But Dead

In following the structure of the letters, we can find out significant points by seeing not only what Jesus does say, but also what He doesn't say. Usually, these letters begin with a to/from, and then a commendation for what that church is doing well. Not so here! Jesus immediately launches into what is bad in the church in Sardis. There was nothing positive to say about the state of the church. He says,

Rev. 3:1 " have a name that you are alive, but you are dead."

Think about it. They had a name that they were alive. That was their reputation. Today, we would see them as the church whose parking lot is full every Sunday, having a big youth group, a successful softball team, an active Awanas club. Their worship team is the hottest one around, the pastor can really preach, and they're working on a brand new building project! When Christians come to town and ask, "Where is the Lord really moving in this city?" the common response would be - "Oh, you've got to got to the church in Sardis - they're really alive!"

But man's sight and God's sight are often very different. It's too easy to be deceived looking at the outward.

When the Lord called the prophet Samuel to anoint a new king over Israel, one of the sons of Jesse, Samuel thought he had it all figured out. He looked at Jesse's son Eliab and thought,

1Sam. 16:6-7 ..."Surely the LORD'S anointed is before Him." But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God {sees} not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."

God was looking not at the outward signs of the church in Sardis' life, but at their hearts, and He knows that they're dead.

3:2 Wake Up

They word translated "wake up" means "become watching." What this dead church needed to do was to stop playing church, stop putting on a false religious front, and begin to watch for the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.

No matter how many things they were doing, no matter how many programs they were putting on, no matter what their reputation was for community involvement, Jesus said their deeds were incomplete.

You see, the idea of works-based religion is a lie. No matter how many good deeds we do, the truth remains,

Isa. 64:6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

Gal. 2:16 ...A man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus... since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified.

This religious, working church that seems so alive is dead. And Jesus is telling them that their deeds aren't sufficient for life. They must wake up and become watchful.

3:3 Remember, Keep, Repent

Jesus gives the same advice to this church in Sardis that He did to the church at Ephesus: Remember and repent.

Remember: Remember what you have received and heard. Remember all those times that the Lord ministered to and met your needs? Remember how close you walked with Him then? Remember all the times that the Lord powerfully spoke to you through the teaching of His Word? Don't you wish that you had that again? Don't you long for the closeness that you used to have with the Lord? Remember. Then repent.

Repent: Go back to where you were before. Get back to that place of intimacy with God.

There is an account in 2Kings that always reminds me of getting back to right relationship with the Lord.

2Kgs. 6:1-7 Now the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, "Behold now, the place before you where we are living is too limited for us. Please let us go to the Jordan, and each of us take from there a beam, and let us make a place there for ourselves where we may live." So he said, "Go." Then one said, "Please be willing to go with your servants." And he answered, "I shall go." So he went with them; and when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees. But as one was felling a beam, the axe head fell into the water; and he cried out and said, "Alas, my master! For it was borrowed." Then the man of God said, "Where did it fall?" And when he showed him the place, he cut off a stick, and threw it in there, and made the iron float. And he said, "Take it up for yourself." So he put out his hand and took it.

Just like these prophets began to cut down trees, so we too got to work, started a project. Signed up as a volunteer somewhere, or took on another job. No problem - we're more than able to do it.

But during the project, somehow we managed to lose the cutting edge - we lost contact with our Lord. And suddenly we realize that we're hitting trees with a stick instead of an axe! We panic - we don't know what to do! "Run to the man of God!" we think. "He'll know what to do!"

The first thing the man of God should ask us is, "Where did it fall? At what point did you lose the cutting edge? Show me the place where it fell." When was the last time you felt close to the Lord? When was the last time that your prayer life was blooming, and your Bible study was blossoming?

Then Elisha said, "Take it up for yourself." You know, nobody can do it for you. I can empathize with you, I can emphasize it to you, but only you can restore your right relationship to God. It comes down to humbling yourself before God, getting on your knees in prayer. That's the only solution - repentance. First remember what you've lost, then repent and get back to that place.

One way I recommend that you do this is at the table of the Lord. Remembering the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in communion. If you're like the church at Sardis, said to be alive, but really just continuing on in deadness, listen to what the writer of the book of Hebrews says,

Hebr. 9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Partake of His blood at His table - cleanse your conscience from dead works. God is alive - He is the living God. You don't serve an idea, a concept, or a long-dead Messiah. He is living and desiring fellowship with you right now.

I Will Come Like A Thief

Now if they won't remember and repent, Jesus says something quite scary:

Rev. 3:3 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.

Wow. What is He saying? For clarification, we turn to 1Thessalonians 5, where Paul writes,

1Ths. 5:2-9 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, "Peace and safety!" then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 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

So, if you are living a life right before Jesus Christ, this day won't overtake you like a thief. You'll be eagerly waiting with anticipation. One of the evidences of salvation that I see in the Word of God is a person who is earnestly waiting for Jesus Christ's return. Paul told Timothy,

2Tim. 4:8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

So, look for His appearing. He might be coming this very day - we don't know. Jesus taught His church from the beginning, 2,000 years ago, to be continually watching for His return. He taught in Matthew 24,

Matt. 24:40-44 "Then there shall be two men in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. 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."

So be alert, be on the watch. The day is rapidly approaching.

3:4-6 Soiled Their Garments

Clothing in the Bible often illustrates a person's character or condition. When you soil your garments, it is a picture of sin defiling you. Adultery, lying, drunkenness, carnality, gossip... all these kinds of things dirty your spiritual clothes. There were only a few left in Sardis that were walking in righteousness. And that's where the name Sardis comes to have a prophetic meaning, as did the other church's names. Sardis means, "remnant." There was, in that dead church, a small remnant - a few who had not sold out to sin. A few who were walking in holiness, righteousness, worthiness.

Clothed In White

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record that on the Mount of Transfiguration, while Jesus was praying, His garments became radiant and exceedingly white as light. This was Jesus in His glory. And someday, John writes, in our glorified bodies,An interesting thing to do is to keep that in mind as you read 1John 3, where it says,

1John 3:2-3 ...We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.

He who overcomes will be clothed in white - just as Jesus was. Notice that we are to be purifying ourselves. While looking forward to that day when we are sinless and holy, we should strive for purity, holiness. Will we be pure? No. Will we be holy and sinless? No. But think of it this way: when you have a dentist appointment, you tend to brush a little more vigorously, remembering to floss, and really paying attention to making your teeth as clean as possible. You don't eat a bag of Oreo Cookies right before you go in. So, since the Lord's coming back to make us pure, we should be purifying ourselves in anticipation of it.

Now there is a danger in complacency, because without the immediacy of looking for His coming, without the desire to purify ourselves, we may be demonstrating that we are not truly children of God. Listen to what Jesus taught in Matthew 22. He told a parable, telling us how a king gave a wedding feast for his son. But those who had been invited wouldn't come. As a matter of fact, some of them killed the servants that had been sent to remind them. This was an illustration of the Jews refusal to come to the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and the servants were the prophets who were killed. So the king brought judgment down on the people, and

Matt. 22:8-10 said to his slaves, 'The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 'Go therefore to the main highways, and as many as you find there, invite to the wedding feast.' And those slaves went out into the streets, and gathered together all they found, both evil and good; and the wedding hall was filled with dinner guests.

So we see a picture of God inviting everyone - Gentiles and sinners - to the marriage supper. But then we read an interesting turn of events:

Matt. 22:11-14 But when the king came in to look over the dinner guests, he saw there a man not dressed in wedding clothes, and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you come in here without wedding clothes?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'"

Again, I see a picture of a those who don't overcome, who don't endure to the end. The guy hadn't been clothed in white. Eagerly look forward to the Lord's coming - don't get caught up in the things of the world. Eagerly be purifying yourself in anticipation of being made pure. In doing so, you won't ever have to worry or wonder, "Am I truly a child of God?"

The Book Of Life

Jesus makes one more difficult statement here:

Rev. 3:5 "...and I will not erase his name from the book of life..."

What is the book of life? We find its purpose in Revelation 20:

Rev. 20:15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

From reading Rev 13:8 and 17:8, we discover that names have been written in the book of life from the foundation of the world. But not all people's names are written there. And apparently, Jesus is insinuating that the names written in the book of life can be erased if they do not overcome. Does this mean that a person loses his salvation and their name is blotted out? I don't believe so, because again, how does one overcome?

1John 5:4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith.

I believe that those whose names are blotted out were written in basically to give people "the benefit of the doubt." Those that appeared to walk with God, those who came to the wedding feast, but didn't put on the white wedding garments. Those who, like in the parable of the soils, had the word of God spring up quickly in their hearts, but the plants perished in the heat of the sun because they had no root.

Sobering thoughts. How do I know if my name in the book of life is written in pencil or pen? Be an overcomer - endure to the end. Long for His appearing. Purify yourself. And today, if you're dead, remember and repent.

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