The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2

Page 23

The Church of Dead Orthodoxy

Revelation 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.

     Sardis was a wealthy and wicked city, famed as the capital of ancient Lydia, the home of King Croesus and of Aesop.  It was located about thirty miles southeast of Thyatira.  A small remnant of the city still exist, but most has been in ruins for over 500 years.

     The Sardis letter contains no specific commendation whatever of the church at Sardis.  Whatever the church had once been, it now retained only a remnant of its original zeal and spirituality.  The deadness of the church perhaps is the reason why the Lord identified Himself as the one with the seven Spirits of God (that is, the omnipresent and all-seeing Holy Spirit) and with the seven stars, or seven angels.  The church was in dire need of the quickening power of the Holy Spirit, as well as the protection of its ministering angels.

     The church had once been known as a strong, Christ-honoring church.  They still used the name of Christ, and were outwardly a church of Christ, but the life was gone.  Evidently most of the members were professing Christians, but not truly regenerate, and thus only going through the motions of religion.  This situation is sadly true also of multitudes of churches today.

Revelation 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.

     Each of the four previous churches had been commended by Christ for certain good works.  Sardis, however, had none that were sufficient to warrant any approbation at all.  Some of its works might have been outwardly impressive toward man, but not “before God,” for the motivation was wrong even when the works were good.

     There were some in Sardis, however, who were genuine believers and were halfheartedly trying to maintain a testimony.  Evidently they were discouraged and about to give up; the ungodly environment in which they lived and the lethargic church in which they served were altogether deadening.

     Note also that these in the remnant at Sardis were admonished to
“be watchful.”  The implication is to
become watchful.  The remedy for lethargy and routine religiosity is an awakening to the imminence of Christ’s return.  Long before, Christ had told His disciples: “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matthew 24:42).

Revelation 3:3.   Remember therefore how thou hast 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.

     The promised return of Christ is sure; the time of that return is unknown.  It could have taken place in the lifetime of those living in Sardis at the time it was written.  As time goes on, the probability of Christ’s return at the time of the then living generation becomes ever greater, and thus the more urgent it becomes for believers to watch for Him.  “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.  But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief” (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 4).  One of the saddest things a Christian could contemplate is the prospect of being engaged in some Christ-dishonoring activity at the moment of Christ’s return, thus to “be ashamed before him at his coming” (1 John 2:28).

     Christians in such all-but-dead churches must not only awaken to the truth of Christ’s second coming but must also look back to their own conversions, when they received Christ and heard His voice.  To these great truths they must hold fast, repenting of their spiritual indifference.

Revelation 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 gracious Lord, as at Sodom, was glad to acknowledge even the very few whose garments of salvation (Isaiah 61:10) were genuine.  Their names were still in the book of life (see next verse) and their robes had been washed and made “white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:14).  Their worthiness was not in their own good works, which had been pronounced imperfect before God (verse 2), but in the Lord, who alone is truly worthy (Revelation 4:11; 5:9, 12).  These would be included at the marriage of the Lamb, when to the true bride of Christ it will be “granted” (not bartered) that she should be “arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints” (Revelation 19:8).  Those who truly have eternal life through faith in the atoning blood of the Lamb will, of course, also demonstrate in their redeemed lived the evidence of good works, the “righteous acts of the saints.”

Revelation 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.

     It is infinitely important that one’s name be in the book of life, for at the last judgment, “whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).  Thus the term “he that overcometh” applies to all who are not finally cast into the lake of fire, for it is only these whose names will remain “in the book of life of the the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).  During the coming reign of the beast, those believers living at that time will demonstrate their overcoming faith by not worshiping the beast, even at the cost of their lives (Revelation 13:15).  In any age, the overcomers are those not afraid to confess Christ (Luke 12:8).  The “fearful,” however, will have their part in the lake of fire (Revelation 21:8).

     But what is the meaning of “blotting out” these names from the book of life?  Are certain people saved for a while only to be lost forever when the judgment comes?  This seems to be the most obvious meaning of these words, but such an interpretation would contradict many other Scriptures (such as John 10:28, 29 and Romans 8:35-39) which teach clearly that anyone who is genuinely saved is eternally saved.

     This is a controversial passage, but a possible harmonization can be made by noting the special circumstances of infants who die before the age of “accountability.”  The book of life, as its very name implies, probably contains the names of all those for whom Christ died – in other words, all who have ever been conceived in the womb, and who thus have received God’s created spirit of life.  Since Christ died for the sin inherent in every person conceived, a child who dies before becoming a deliberate and conscious sinner does not need to be “saved” from sin, since he has never sinned, and since Christ has made propitiation for his innate sin.  When a child does become a conscious sinner, however, he thenceforth is lost and needs to be saved; he needs to be “born again.”  His name is still inscribed in the book of life, because he is still living and may, before he dies, trust Christ to save him and give everlasting life.  If he continues in his sin and his unrepentant, unforgiven state until death, however, then his name will finally and irrevocably be blotted out of the book of life, and he will experience a second death (Revelation 20:14) as well as physical death.

     Those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ unto salvation and everlasting life (John 10:28), however, will indeed “overcome” in whatever test the Lord may allow them to experience.  Their names are not blotted out, and therefore the Lord will be able to confess their names before His Father.

Revelation 3:6.   He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

     Even in such a church as Sardis, where both belief and practice have deteriorated to mere form and only a handful of its professing members really possess eternal life through trust in the name of Christ, the Spirit still calls men to repentance and revival.  “He that heareth my word,” saith the Lord (stressing genuine hearing in obedient faith) “is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24).

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