(3: 1) “And unto the angel of the church in Sardis, write; These things saith He that hath the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.”
Christ claims intimate control over the seven spirits and seven stars. We’ve already looked at the former term, and seen that it probably denotes those seven angels who stand before the throne of God to do His bidding. As for the seven stars, these are the ministers of the congregations.
What wonderful grace these ministers are to have; their being held in Christ’s hand tempts us to think that the churches here described are operating under a renewal of the apostolic graces. Yes, Christ has great work to do among His people, and part of this is, we think, the pouring of the Spirit from on high in measures of which can can scarcely now dream. Among Pre-Millennial circles, this has been called the “latter rains.”
The saints of Sardis are recognized for their works. However, it appears the church is suffering from spiritual apathy, and that it is lively in appearance only. As a Baptist minister, I’ve often been to churches characterized by an intense and fervent activity; and yet of such a nature as to have made it a substitute for growth in spiritual grace. There is a sort of Christianity that thrives on doing, placing little or no emphasis on inner spiriual communion with God. Such Christianity ignores that gentle reproof that Christ gave to Martha in Luke 10: 41-42.
Yes, service is important. But Christians too often place an undue emphasis on the purely mechanical aspects of the kingdom; whereas they are taught to seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness (Matt. 6: 33). It is this which constitutes our first duty. And no amount of works will make up for lack of that spiritual preparation needed to meet the Bridegroom when He comes. (See Matt. 25: 1-13).
(3: 2) “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.”
In this verse Christ reveals to the church the true value of those works which are done without regard to the spiritual condition of those who do them. They are found “not perfect;” as much as if the Lord said: “Sardis! thy fervent and zealous works, upon which thou hast set thy hope, have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting.” It is simply not enough to rely on mere works. We must be watchful; that is, like the ten virgins of the parable, we must make preparation for Christ’s coming–an event which no saint can view lightly. Remember, it was the five who “slumbered and slept” (that is, neglected the doctrine of the Second Advent) that were caught unprepared (Matt. 25: 8). These were shut out of the Kingdom.
The phrase “be watchful” literally means “become watchful.” The saints of Sardis are depicted as being active in their social and community endeavors, but torpid in their expectations of the coming kingdom. Christians who place a high premium on earthly matters will often fall into the same state. While the saints are told to consider themselves mere pilgrims and sojourners on earth, looking for a better country, (that is an heavenly,) the church of Sardis has its interests wrapped around the things of this life. But Paul says: “the night is far spent, the day is at hand” (Romans 13: 12). This present condition of things will not last forever; indeed, it is about to end. Therefore, become watchful.
(3: 3) “Remember therefore how thou has received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.”
Keeping the received faith is always a sure safeguard against spiritual apathy. Christians are begotten by the Word of God (1 Peter 1: 23; James 1: 8), when they hear it come with power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance (1 Thess. 1: 5). It is this saving Gospel that we must keep in its purity.
The church of Sardis has grown cold in regard to the reality of those truths which once saved and healed them. Perhaps they’ve fallen into a philosophical/humanistic kind of Christianity, which is viewed as an “advancement in knowledge” above their former simplicity. Judging from the epistle, their main fault appears to have been a neglect of the doctrines concerning our Lord’s second advent. But Jesus Christ is warning them to remember how they received and heard, and to repent. Yes, repentance is required of those who have embraced a different Gospel. And no amount of outward profession will make up for a laxity in spiritual preparedness.
There is an urgent practical reason why the church of Sardis must repent, become watchful, and hold fast that which it has received and heard. The day of the Lord cometh like a thief in the night (Matt. 24: 43-44; Luke 12: 39-40; 1 Thess. 5: 2; 2 Peter 3: 10). The coming dispensation of of judgment may break forth upon the world at any given time. It will come in an age when men are eating and drinking, buying and selling, marrying and giving in mariage. All the need, therefore, to be diligent in the cultivation of our spiritual graces.
(3: 4) “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.”
The message is crystal clear. To defile one’s garments signifies to walk after the things of the flesh (see Jude 23). The fervent activity of the church in Sardis is therefore not being done in the Spirit, but in the flesh. Had they taken time to fill their lamps with precious oil, there would have been no need for these reprovals and admonitions.
Nevertheless, there are a few in their communion which have maintained the spiritual side of religion. The probability that the rest of the members know little if anything about these individuals gives us a sad indication of how truly separated we are from each other, even in the midst of such a busy church life as Sardis enjoyed. In the end, each man must bear his own burden (Gal. 6: 5). Death is a lonely journey. And only those who keep the “first works” and their “first love” will be deemed worthy to walk with Christ.
(3: 5) “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before His angels.”
From the time Adam and Eve were evicted from Eden, man has needed a garment to cover his nakedness. As we recall, the penalty of eating the forbiden fruit was death that very day (Gen. 2: 17). The reason Adam and Eve didn’t die that day is because a “ransom” was found for them, a live creature (probably a lamb–certainly a type of Christ) having been slain in their place. When they left the Garden, they were clothed in coats of skins (Gen. 3: 21). Blood had been shed to expiate their guilt; and hence Jesus Christ is called the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13: 8).
The day they Adam and Eve left the Garden, the day/age scale went into operation, and a day was extended to a period of 1000 years. Judgment called for immediate death. But mercy, rejoicing against judgment, and awakened by the propitiation of the blood, allowed man’s day to be prolonged. Adam lived to be 930 years old, and so died within the limits of the first day (Gen. 5: 5).
What the slain-beast garments tell us, then, is that all life is based on the atoning blood. As sinners, all are guilty of death (Romans 6: 23). However, what prevents men from dying right away? Certainly the blood shed by Jesus Christ; which gives us the reason why all men shall be raised by Christ in the day of judgment. Jesus Christ’s blood has power to annul completely, in a corporate Adamic sense, the death of all men. For He is the true antitype of the lamb slain for Adam. Notwithstanding, only those who “take hold of His covenant” and persevere unto the end (through the power of the Holy Spirit) will be saved (see Psalm 50: 5; Isaiah 56: 4-7).
This brings us to the meaning of that promise that overcomers will not have their names blotted from the book of life. Its meaning may be learnt in Exodus 32: 32-33. Israel, God’s visible church, was led out of Egypt by the merits of Jesus Christ and the application of His blood. But not all came into the land of Canaan. Many, indeed, fell in the wilderness. Many of those to whom the promise of eternal inheritance was held out, failed to make their calling and election sure. Because they had not faith, they revealed themselves as being “out of Christ.” (See Hebrews 4: 1-2). Their enrollment in the book of life was a temporary thing.
The church is now grafted into Israel. Our names are enrolled in the book of life when we are baptized and enter the visible church. From thenceforward is a time of trial and wilderness-testing. Only those who have God-ordained and Christ-implanted faith will make it into the land of Canaan–that is, the First Resurrection.
Those who fall away will have their names blotted out of the book of life. To understand this doctrine better, it is suggested that the reader study Christ’s parables of Matthew 13 very carefully: especially that of the sower, the wheat and the tares, and the dragnet. Christ’s visible church is always likened to a mixed body of professors and possessors. And it is this visible church that Paul is addressing in the book of Hebrews. Read Hebrews 6: 4-9, and compare with 1 Cor. 10: 1-12.
Being clothed in white raiment means being completely cleansed of sin. See Isaiah 1: 18. While on earth, our garments are sprinkled with the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1: 2); and it is this sprinkling of the blood of the New Testament that renders us worthy in the sight of God. But in the First Resurrection, when the blood shall have finished its work of cleansing, we will be presented to Christ “holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5: 27).
In the marriage supper of the Lamb, we will have on wedding-garments of completed sanctification (see Rev. 19: 8). Hence, the necessity for keeping our present garments undefiled. They who come to the wedding supper without an appropriate garment will be bound hand and foot, and cast into outer darkness; for “many are called, but few chosen” (Matt. 22: 11-14).
(3: 6) “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.”
Have we an ear to hear these things? If so, then let us lay aside all earthly cares and fight the good fight of faith, knowing that the Master must shortly appear. Let us heed the words of this epistle, awaken of of our sleep, and put on the whole armor of righteousness, that we may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand (Eph. 6: 13). They who take these messages to heart are they love Jesus Christ. And these shall receive white garments, and be made partakers of the Divine nature, when they see Him coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory, all His holy angels with Him. Amen, and amen.