Understanding The Apocalypse

Revelation 3:1-6
Chapter 6

Some years ago, my family moved into a new home, so we decided to visit a church in our neighborhood rather, than drive across town to our usual place of worship. It was one of our most uncomfortable church experiences.

We arrived a few minutes early and had our choice of seats, which we selected near the back of the auditorium. We sat down, feeling very conspicuous, huddled together, shoulder to shoulder, as if afraid to move for fear we would break something, or get the blame, if someone else did. While we sat there, no one greeted us, introduced themselves or in any way acknowledged our presence.

As the service progressed, it became apparent people were simply putting in their time. There were no visible smiles, no "amens," no joy or rejoicing to be in the congregation of the Lord. Following the service, we approached the preacher to introduce ourselves but he ignored us as he continued to exchange comments with those around him. We went out the door convinced that we had just witnessed a dead or dying church.

The letter to Sardis contains insights into why and when a church is dead, for the Church at Sardis was dead.

I. The Presentation of Christ

"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 has a name that thou livest, and art dead" (Revelation 3:1).
The phrase, "Seven Spirits of God" is better rendered, "Sevenfold Spirit of God." This is a reference to the seven works of the Holy Spirit in our Lord Jesus Christ, defined in Isaiah 11:2.
"And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord."
This Sevenfold Spirit speaks of the completeness or fullness of the Spirit of God in our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of this fullness He knows the works of the Church at Sardis and is able to righteously evaluate the works of the Church.

Also, Christ holds the seven stars and according to Revelation 1:20, these are the messengers or pastors to the seven churches. Here, the Lord is reminding pastors that their works will also be evaluated. Because the Church at Sardis is a dead church, certainly the pastor has to bear his share of the responsibility for what has happened.

According to 1 Peter 5, our Lord Jesus Christ is the Chief Shepherd who will one day come to personally take charge of His flock. But until that day, He has placed the pastor as His under shepherd and has charged him with the responsibilities of feeding the flock, taking the oversight of it, and being an example.

Failure to do these things is to invite the wolf into the sheepfold and perhaps, this is what happened at Sardis. Therefore, the presentation of Christ in Revelation 3:1, is a warning to both the pastor and the membership, warranted by the condition of the Church.

When a church dies, it is only because the leadership and membership allow it to happen.

II. The Conditions That Exist in a Dead Church

I mentioned earlier, my family left the neighborhood church we visited, convinced it was either dead or dying. We came to this conclusion because it was small in number, demonstrated no friendliness, and seemed to have little concern for ministry.

Often, we judge the vitality of a church by these criteria. Notice, Revelation 3:1, plainly says that the church at Sardis was dead. Yet, there is no mention of declining attendance, lack of friendship or concern. On the contrary, Revelation 3:1, says,

(1) "I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest."

Sardis was a church that cared what people thought. They made a name for themselves and they worked hard to keep their reputation by living up to that name.

Because their name or reputation was all important to them, we can imagine they had a building program second to none. Envision a great cathedral with stained glass windows, marble columns, works of art and sculptures, cushioned theater seats, an enormous fellowship hall and furnishings that would compliment royalty. A building where anyone would be proud to invite friends and relatives.

Surely, the music program was "par excellence," designed to generate excitement in anyone when the full orchestra and choir numbering in the hundreds began their performance. No doubt, the perfect harmony and accompaniment produced a beautiful blend that could be heard blocks away and made everyone in the church proud.

Only the best orators of the day would have been acceptable for their pulpit. Men whose public speaking skills could excite emotion and create the desire to become a part of this great organization. Men that anyone would have been proud to introduce as pastor, teacher or preacher.

It is likely attendance grew weekly as people flocked to join this church of great reputation that worked to make itself a name.

Whether all of this is true of the church in Sardis is not known, but we do know the Bible says the Church had built a name and was dead. Therefore, it is unlikely that this church was indifferent to guests, unfriendly or declining in membership because a church does not work for and live up to a reputation in those ways. Rather, the Church at Sardis was taking seriously the statement found in Proverbs 22:1, "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches."

Wait a minute! If a good reputation is more valuable than riches, why would anyone think the Church at Sardis was dead because it worked to maintain its name or reputation?

The answer is pride. They were concerned with their name because of pride, not because they wanted to work for the Lord. They were not interested in upholding and glorifying the name of the Lord, but in building their own name and reputation.

Genesis 11, tells about another group concerned with making a name for themselves. The place was Babel and the result of their act was that God confused their languages and scattered them abroad.

In Genesis 11:4, we read, "And they said, come let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven and let us make us a name."

The key to understanding what happened at Babel is the word "us." The folks at Babel were not interested in glorifying God but in building an edifice to establish their own name and reputation.

That is exactly what the people in the Church at Sardis were doing. They were building their own reputation, which in short, equates to pride in themselves.

(2) "I have not found thy works perfect before God" (Revelation 3:2).

This statement does not mean there were no works occurring in Sardis. On the contrary, these people were working hard to have a reputation. Their problem was a wrong motive for their works. Therefore, their works were not perfect.

I read an article in a pastor's journal, wherein the author tried to make the point that to accomplish a greater good, it is sometimes necessary to team up with those who have a different approach to the Scriptures. Also, I have often heard Christians say it does not matter so much how we accomplish something, if what we accomplish is good.

There is a time honored theological word that is appropriate to use here. Baloney! This viewpoint is one of the biggest lies circulating among Christians today. There is never a greater good accomplished by compromising Godly principles. There is no such thing as a white lie because God always expects purity in motive as well as purity in actions.

Be assured, those who work in the Church for any reason other than to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ are going to have imperfect works before God, just as Sardis did.

The two primary deficiencies in the Church at Sardis were: Pride and improper motives in service.

Like Sardis, a church may have a growing and seemingly thriving membership and still be dead because it is prideful and has the wrong motives for service.

III. The Solution To The Death of The Church

"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" (v:3).
In the Scriptures, the church and the individuals in it have three primary responsibilities that are inviolate. Fail in any one of these areas and the church begins to die. Then, it becomes just a matter of time until the church fails in the other areas and finishes dying. These three primary responsibilities are:
(1) "Preach the Gospel" (Mark 16:15).

(2) "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).

(3) "Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God. which is your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1).

With these three primary responsibilities in mind, let's look to the text for the solutions to the dying church.
(a) "Remember, therefore, how thou hast received" (Revelation 3:3).

Do you remember how you received Christ? It was through believing what you heard about Him. You heard and believed He died in the place of sinners to pay the penalty for their sins and rose from the grave, victorious over death.

What you heard and believed is the Gospel. The result of that belief or faith is everlasting life in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When John calls on the Church at Sardis to remember "how thou hast received," I think it safe to say they were not in the habit of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. How do you preach something you do not remember?

Sardis had a problem common in so many churches today. They simply do not remember to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

W. A. Criswell, then pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas once preached a very dynamic sermon at the Oklahoma State Baptist Convention. As he spoke, he began to tear the pages from a Bible he was holding, until finally, when the pages were gone he said he had nothing more to preach.

Without the Bible, Criswell said he could only render his opinions on current events. He could be philosophical. He could talk about politics or he could offer his viewpoints on morality. But without the Word of God his whole purpose as a preacher, to point people to the Lord Jesus Christ, was gone.

So it is today, as it was in Sardis yesterday. Many churches are not preaching the Jesus of the Scriptures, who died and rose again to save people from the penalty of sin. Rather, they choose to preach a social gospel that focuses on health, wealth and good times, they say are available if you have enough faith to claim them.

One of the signs of a dead or dying church is not preaching the pure gospel of Jesus Christ.

(b) "Heard and Hold Fast" (Revelation 3:3).

The only source of Eternal truth and wisdom is God and the written record He has given is the Bible. The Apostle Paul told Timothy, "Study to show thy self approved." This agrees with what John said to the Church at Sardis. Holding fast and showing thyself approved are the results of hearing and studying the Word of God.

So often, people think knowing what the Word of God says is sufficient, but in reality that is just the first step in being obedient. The proof is in the result, which is holding fast to show yourself approved. All the knowledge in the world is of no value until used. Therefore, everyone in the church has the responsibility to study the Word of God for the purposes of knowing His will and being obedient. A dying church will first fail to be obedient to the Lord's will and then cease to study His Word because they no longer care about His will.

(c) "Repent" (Revelation 3:3).

To present ourselves as living sacrifices we must turn to God, which is what John is calling for when he says "Repent." Part and parcel of repentance is confession of sin, or agreement with God that sin is just that, sin.

We read in 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." When cleansed, we become fit to be living sacrifices.

In the Old Testament economy, the sacrificial lamb was to be perfect, without spot or blemish. This spotless or perfect sacrifice was a foreshadow or type of our Lord Jesus Christ who was without spot or blemish, that is, no sin was in Him.

Though we can never be a perfect sacrifice on our own merits, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to us through faith. This allows us the opportunity to present ourselves for His service by turning to God and confessing our sins. This is only reasonable. God did not give His Son to die for us so we could go on living as servants of sin. Rather, He died to free us from the bondage of sin, to serve Him. Again, this is only reasonable.

A dead or dying Church is not interested in being a living sacrifice. Because it is swelled with pride its members see no need for repentance and confession.

The mere fact that Sardis was told to repent indicates their need to do so, and many today need to do likewise.

IV. The Promises to The Church
"Thou hast a few names even in Sardis that have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with me in white; for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels" (Revelation 3:4-5).
There are three promises made in these two verses: One is an affirmation of salvation by grace through faith. One deals with reward for faithful service. The last is the promise of eternal security.

The first promise we need to look at is in Revelation 3:5, "He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment." In 1 John 5:5, we are plainly told he who overcomes is he who believes in Jesus.

With this information, we can understand Revelation 3:5, to mean all who believe the Gospel that Christ died for their sins and rose from the dead are clothed in white raiment, or a robe of righteousness.

This righteousness is imputed to them at the same time their sin is imputed to Christ. The moment they believe the Gospel, Christ takes their sin upon Himself and becomes the perfect sacrifice. At the same time, the sinner is cloaked in the righteousness of Christ and God views that individual as righteous because of what Christ has done. The righteousness of Christ promised to the Believer in this passage is not based on the merit of the sinner, but on the merit of Christ.

Notice, in Revelation 3:4, there were a few in Sardis who had not defiled themselves. That is, there were a few who were doing the right things to Glorify God and our Lord Jesus Christ. To these the promise is to "walk with Me in white."

To, "walk with Me in white" is a reference to walking with Christ in the whiteness of His Glory. According to the text, this is conditioned on not defiling the garment. The garment is the cloak of righteousness that covers all Believers from the moment they put their faith in Christ. Sin is the thing that defiles or soils one's cloak of righteousness. As dirt on one's coat tail, sin does not remove the garment from the Believer, but it does make it unpresentable.

The Bible tells us in Revelation 19 and 20 that Christ is coming in Glory to establish His Kingdom on earth. It is during this Kingdom Age that those who have been faithful to Him (proven by the undefiled garment) will be rewarded by reigning with Him (walking with Christ in the brightness or whiteness of His Glory).

One does not march in a parade wearing a dirty uniform and one does not reign with Christ wearing a defiled garment. To, "walk with Me in white" is not a promise of everlasting life based on sinless perfection. It is a promise to reward those who remain faithful to repent and confess sin in their lives.

The third promise is also to those who overcome and is fundamental to salvation. "I will not blot his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels."

This promise is fundamental to salvation for this reason: It verifies the Lord will never remove one who is born again from the book of life. It means everlasting life is just that - everlasting.

"I will NOT blot his name out of the book of life," does not imply that God will remove anyone from His grace, who does not live up to a certain standard. Rather, it is written to reaffirm the promise, made over and over to those who simply put their trust in Christ. Jesus said it well in John 6:47, "He that believeth in me hath everlasting life."

Those who would remove everlasting life from salvation, by saying it can be lost when once received, simply do not understand the meaning of the word. By definition "everlasting" means "without end." Therefore, if it ends it cannot be everlasting.

Moreover, if everlasting life is less than forever then God is also less than forever because the Bible teaches He is Everlasting (without end) and Eternal (without beginning or end). If there is no everlasting then there is no eternity and therefore, no God.

But there is an everlasting, and an eternity, and there is a gracious God who promised everlasting life to all who will depend on the substitutionary death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

"He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."

From "Understanding The Apocalypse"
A book of sermons by Pastor Jim McColloch, Th.M., Th.D.
© Copyright 1994, 1999, 2006