Lesson 7 - The Church at Sardis

Lesson 7 - The Church at Sardis

(Revelation 3:1-6)

The fifth church to which John wrote was in Sardis.  Sardis was a city on the decline, having once been a place of active commerce.  The city had been destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt in 17 A.D., but had lost much of its prominence over the years.  However, they did still have an industry for wool making and wool dying.  There was also a large population of Jews in Sardis.  Temple worship and emperor worship were also a part of the culture of this city.  The city of Sardis, like the other cities in Asia at the time, was involved in pagan worship and all the evil that went with it. 

The description that Jesus used about Himself was that He was the One Who had the seven spirits and the seven stars.  We have previously studied both of these in chapter one of Revelation.  The seven stars are a reference to the essence of Jesus Christ or perhaps the Holy Spirit and the seven stars are a reference to the ministers (pastors) of the seven churches.

Jesus said that He knew their works and they had a name that they lived, and yet they were dead.  The Greek words in this passage are extremely important in order to get the accurate meaning.  The key words are name, lived and dead.  The Greek word for name is “onoma” and means rank, authority or character.  In other words it means all that a name implies or a person’s reputation.  The Greek word for lived is “zes” meaning your inner life (not biological life, “bios” in Greek).  And the Greek word for dead is “nekros” and can refer to physical death, spiritual death or temporal death.  In our passage it refers to the temporal death of the believers in the church at Sardis.  Temporal death is defined as being out of fellowship with God in a state of carnality (controlled by the sin nature) and not producing divine good.  This was the state of the church at Sardis.  What Jesus was saying was, this group of believers had an outward reputation for being “good Christians” but were really in a state of carnality.  We see this in the verses that follow. 

Jesus went on to say that these believers needed to “wake up and strengthen what remained that was about to die (what remained of their spiritual lives).”  He also said that their works were not perfect (complete) before the Lord.  Notice that there was no mention of outside enemies opposing them as in the previous churches.  This is not to say that it didn’t occur, but does not appear to be prevalent.  “Ta loipa” are the Greek words for remaining things, which are in the neuter gender meaning the “things” could be persons or principles.  Perhaps Jesus was referring to both, since they go hand-in-hand.

This group of believers had a need to restore to their former state the principles of their spiritual lives (Bible doctrine resident in their souls), which would lead to the restoration of their spiritual lives.  Their good works were not complete or fulfilled in the sight of the Lord.  This was a reference to the quality of their works, as much if not more than, the quantity of their works.  Apparently much of their good works were not done under the control of the Holy Spirit, which gave them a reputation before men as “good Christians,” but not before God.

This group was then encouraged to remember what they had heard and learned (Bible doctrine) and to obey it.  They were also told to change their minds (repent) about their current spiritual state and to once again start obeying God’s mandates, which was obviously what they had learned in the past.  The consequence of not waking up and getting their spiritual lives back on track would be that the Lord Jesus Christ would come to them like a thief, when they least expected it, to judge them.  This was a reference to divine discipline.

Though most of the believers in this church had slid into a state of carnality, there were some who had remained faithful to the Lord.  Jesus drew the analogy of a person clothed in white, clean garments.  He said these believers were walking with Him dressed in white because they were worthy.  Their worthiness was a result of their faith in Christ and fellowship with God.  Both of these are non-meritorious, grace functions of God for which He receives all the glory.  The “overcomer”, which we know refers to all believers, will also be dressed in white.  The only seeming difference was the “unfaithful” believer was not said to walk with the Lord.  The overcomer’s name will not be blotted out of the Book of Life, but his name will be acknowledged before God the Father and the elect angels.  White garments obviously refer to the perfect righteousness of Christ that the believer receives at salvation.  (II Corinthians 5:21)

The word “righteousness” is translated from the Greek word “dikaiosune”.  Righteousness is an attribute of God that denotes His perfect character.  Originally it was spelled “rightwiseness”, which clearly expresses its meaning.  It also means “right action”, which in the case of God means that He always does the right thing.  Righteousness is one half of God’s holiness and justice is the other half.  Many times in the Scriptures, God’s righteousness and justice are interchangeable because they are so closely associated.  Righteousness is the standard or principle of God’s integrity and justice is the function or action of God’s integrity.  Because God is righteous, He must condemn sin wherever it is found.  God’s justice carries out that condemnation.  And God always does the right thing, whether condemning sin or providing salvation in the Person of Jesus Christ.  Justification is the theological term for declaring the believer to be righteous before God. 

The Book of Life is a book referred to in Exodus 32:32, Psalm 69:28, Philippians 4:3 and Revelation 20:12.  Every person’s name is written in this book and only rejection of Jesus Christ as Savior causes a name to be blotted out of this book.

The soul of every human being will live forever.  The question is where will it live?  The answer, of course, is found in God’s Word.  The Bible declares that the soul that sins will surely die and that we all die in Adam.  (Ezekiel 18:20; I Corinthians 15:22)  So there is a seeming contradiction - since the soul of man lives forever - unless you understand that there is more than one kind of death in the Bible.  There are at lest seven different kinds of deaths.  It is, therefore, important that we identify to which death a passage refers. 

  1. Physical death – soul and/or spirit leaving the body.  Philippians 1:21; II Corinthians 5:8; Luke 17:22; James 2:26
  2. Spiritual death – separation from God without the ability within yourself to do anything about it.  Ephesians 2:1; Romans 5:12, 6:23
  3. Temporal death – the believer temporarily out of fellowship with God.  Romans 8:6,13; Ephesians 5:14; I Timothy 5:6; James 1:15; Revelation 3:1; I John 3:14; Luke 15:24,32
  4. Second death – perpetuation of spiritual death into eternity for the unbeliever. Revelation 20:12-15
  5. Positional death – the believer being “dead with Christ” in identification with His deaths (spiritual and physical) due to our union with Him. Romans 6:1-14; Colossians 2:12, 3:3
  6. Operational death – lack of divine production in the believer’s life. James 2:26
  7. Sexual death – the inability to procreate. Romans 4:17-21; Hebrews 11:12

If “the soul that sins will surely die” and “we all die in Adam” refers to physical death, we would all be dead.  So this is not referring to physical death.  This death is not the second death since that occurs in eternity, it’s not sexual death and it’s not positional death since we are not identifying with Christ.  So it must be spiritual death, temporal death or operational death.  Which one?  Since these passages refer to ALL mankind, it cannot be operational or temporal death.  Those refer only to believers.  It is, therefore, spiritual death (separation from God).  And as stated, spiritual death is parlayed into the second death in eternity for those who fail to take the salvation solution of faith in Christ.  So the seeming contradiction is solved and we see that those who reject Jesus Christ as Savior will exist forever separated from God.  Their names have been blotted out of the Book of Life for all eternity. 

Jesus also said that He would acknowledge the overcomer (believer) before the Father and the elect angels.  Jesus Christ is our defense attorney in the “Supreme Court of Heaven.”  He is the One Who comes to our defense when Satan brings accusations against us.  Acknowledging the believer before God the Father and the elect angels means that Jesus Christ is acknowledging us as ones who have believed in Christ for eternal life.  Those who reject Jesus Christ as Savior will not be so acknowledged before the Father or the angels.  (Revelation 12:10)

“And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (I John 2:1)  “If” is a third class condition meaning , maybe the believer will sin and maybe he won’t (at any given moment).  The previous verses make it clear that the believer will sin.  However, when the believer does sin he has a legal defense attorney (Jesus Christ) that will present his case before the Supreme Court of Heaven.  The Greek word for advocate is “parakletos”, which means to call to one’s aid in a legal sense.  Christ will cite the judgment that was placed on Him by God the Father as the payment for all sin.  By citing His judgment for sin, Jesus Christ is stating that the believer is free from condemnation and no payment can be required of him for his own sin.  This in no way absolves the believer from acknowledging known sins to God after salvation.  It is actually on the basis of Christ’s substitutionary spiritual death that the believer receives forgiveness for post-salvation sins, when he confesses them to God.