The second and third chapters of Revelation record Jesus’ communication to seven of the churches in Asia. This article is the fifth in a series of seven reviewing these chapters. Although Jesus spoke specifically to each church, his message is of great significance to all who want to enter the Kingdom of God.
"To the angel [messenger] of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: 'I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. (Revelation 3:1)
Their appearance and reputation were that of a vibrant church, but Jesus knew what was real. They looked alive but were really dead. Jesus’ characteristics displayed in Sardis were those that enable Him to see the truth. The façade of their church may have fooled the world but not our Lord.
The seven stars are identified in Revelation 1:20 as the messengers for each of the seven churches. The seven spirits are first mentioned in 1:4.
John to the seven churches that are in Asia: 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,
Like God, they share in the salutation to the church indicating they are beings and not inanimate objects or virtues. Our attention is drawn to the behind the scenes spiritual realm. The living spiritual beings spoken of in the Scriptures are cherubim (Ezekiel 1:19 and 10:16), seraphim (Isaiah 6:2), four living creatures (Revelation 5:6), 24 elders (Revelation 5:8), myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands of angels (Daniel 7:10 and Revelation 5:11). The seven spirits appear to be living beings among many. The second of four occurrences of the seven spirits is the one under consideration. The third is as follows:
Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder. And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; (Revelation 4:5)
While the book of Revelation does not have a single direct quotation from the Old Testament, there are hundreds of allusions to it. Such is the case with the seven lamps that represent the seven spirits. The tabernacle in the wilderness and later the temple in Jerusalem had a compartment called the holy place. Prominent in there was the menorah, a sacred candelabrum with seven branches with seven lamps that provided the light. The tabernacle was type for God’s throne room and now we see that the seven lamps represented the seven spirits that are before the throne of God. Few have such close access to Yahweh. The last mention of the seven spirits is in Revelation 5:6:
And I saw between the throne (with the four living creatures) and the elders a lamb standing, as if slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God, sent out into all the earth.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, he sat down at the right hand of Yahweh. From this location, he was granted all authority in heaven and earth. 1 Peter 3:22 summarizes this well: “having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to him.” Only Yahweh is above Jesus. The seven spirits are his horns representing power and eyes representing spiritual perception. They are sent out into the earth perhaps one to each of the seven continents or to each of the seven churches. The point is that Jesus knows their deeds because he walks among the churches, and the seven spirits apparently see what is really going on – “that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.”
Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. (Revelation 3:2)
The church in Sardis was experiencing something that every Christian must battle at some point in life, if not a number of times throughout life. Because we live in an evil world and still have our old nature, we are tempted to lose the enthusiasm and determination necessary to maintain godliness. When we focus more on self and the world rather than God and our Lord, we become sluggish and apathetic. Jesus warned his apostles to stay on alert looking for the coming of the Lord.
"Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come.
It is like a man away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert.
Therefore, be on the alert-- for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether in the evening, at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning-- in case he should come suddenly and find you asleep.
What I say to you I say to all, 'Be on the alert!'" (Mark 13:33-37)
The churches in Rome, Ephesus, and Thessalonica were also warned to wake up.
Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now, salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.
The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore, let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. (Romans 13:11-12)
For this reason it says, "Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you."
Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise,
making the most of your time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:14-16)
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. (1 Thessalonians 5:5-6)
The exhortation to believers at Sardis was to wake up before they lost everything.
So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. (Revelation 3:3)
“Come like a thief” is a proverbial expression for unexpectedness (Matthew 24:43;
1 Thessalonians 5:2; 2 Peter 3:10). His coming is not necessarily talking about the second return; it could be in judgment of that church.
But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.
“White” symbolizes purity, goodness, openness, truth, justification, and victory. The head and hair of Jesus are white in the first vision in Revelation 1:14. Those who walk with Jesus have white garments, Revelation 3:4 and 18, implying that our behavior has an influence on our holiness or cleanness. The 24 elders before the throne are dressed in white garments (Revelation 4:4).
He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:5-6)
“White” also symbolizes new beginnings. Those waiting in the grave are given white robes (Revelation 6:11). The blood of the lamb makes the robes white (Revelation 7:9, 13). Those who come out of the great tribulation have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14).
The book of life is first mentioned immediately following Israel’s worship of the golden calf. After Moses confronted them, he spoke to Yahweh endeavoring to make atonement for their grievous sin.
Then Moses returned to Yahweh, and said, "Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves.
But now, if You will, forgive their sin -- and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!" (Exodus 32:31-32)
The sincerity of Moses’ devotion to Israel and his confidence in communicating with Yahweh are breathtaking. Is he really saying if you are going to discard Israel, blot me out too? The book that God has written has all the names of those destined for eternal life. This book is most often called the “book of life”.
Yahweh said to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.” (Exodus 32:33)
God, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe (Deuteronomy 10:17) and is always righteous, decides who is in or out of the book of life. Those who fear Yahweh and live according to His word will be written in this book of remembrance.
Then those who feared Yahweh spoke to one another, and Yahweh gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear Yahweh and who esteem His name.
They will be Mine," says Yahweh of hosts, "on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.
So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. (Malachi 3:16-18)
Those who disrespect Yahweh and disobey His word will be excluded from the book of life.
May they be blotted out of the book of life and may they not be recorded with the righteous. (Psalm 69:28)
Daniel the prophet was given extraordinary revelation about the end of the age and the coming Kingdom. He refers to the book of life.
I kept looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire.
A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him; thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him; the court sat, and the books were opened. (Daniel 7:9-10)
Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.
Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.
Those written in the book will receive everlasting life. When the 70 disciples returned to Jesus from their missionary trip, they were thrilled that the demons were subject to them and that they had so much success in the name of Jesus. Our Lord gave them another perspective to rejoice over.
The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name…
Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven." (Luke 10:17-20)
Paul again reveals that those who are faithful are written in the book of life.
Indeed, true companion, I ask you also to help these women who have shared my struggle in the cause of the gospel, together with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. (Philippians 4:3)
Some have asked if it is possible to be written in the book and then eliminated or erased? Based upon the verse in Revelation 3 that we have been considering, the answer is obviously yes.
He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. (Revelation 3:5)
If we accept the lordship of Jesus and remain faithful to the end, by God’s grace and mercy, we will be overcomers whose names are written in the book of life. The message to Sardis ends like those to the other churches in Asia. Do we have ears to hear?
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.' (Revelation 3:6)