Part 009 – Sardis


A Study

Part 009

To the church in Sardis …white garments, and …I will not blot out his name from the book of life (Rev.3:1-6)

When we carefully read this message to the Church in Sardis, we find in it a continued view of the children of the adulterous woman, Jezebel, from the previous message to the Church in Thyatira. The believers in Sardis possessed a name that they lived (v.1), but they were really dead. However, there were a “few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments” (v.4); and this remnant is comparable to the seven thousand who had not bowed their knee to Baal during Elijah and Jezebel’s day (1Kings 19:18). This message to the Church in Sardis, points to the Reformation period in Church history, which began during the sixteenth century with the recovery of the pure doctrine of salvation by grace through faith. Numerous truths surrounding “that blessed hope,” the glorious return of Christ, were gradually opened up during the following 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

In this message to the Church in Sardis, the emphasis is placed on two areas of Church history:

1) The majority of them in Sardis had a name that they lived (v.1), but they were really dead. They continued to dominate the whole of Christendom from the days, represented by the preceding message to the Church in Thyatira, from the days of Constantine, and will terminate as shown in the message to the Church in Laodicea.

2) There were a “few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments (v.4).” This was that which would ultimately result within a small segment of Christendom. This began during the days of the Reformation/the days of Martin Luther, and will terminate as shown in the message to the Church in Philadelphia.

There is nothing bad said about the Church in Philadelphia, and there is nothing good said about the Church in Laodicea. The state of affairs portrayed by these two Churches will exist side-by-side right up to the time of the rapture.

The Dead …and the Undefiled

The thought of many being “dead” (v.1) in the message to the Church in Sardis must be looked upon in an opposite sense to the thought of a few in the Church having “undefiled garments” (v.4) — “dead” could be equated with defiled and “undefiled” could be equated with living. The Scripture refers to all the unregenerate/unsaved individuals as being “dead in trespasses and sins” because of unbelief (Eph.2:1). But the unregenerate/unsaved individuals cannot be a part of the Church; and in Rev.1-4, when the whole Church stands before the Judgment Seat of Christ, no unregenerate/unsaved individual can be found there at all. All the regenerate/saved individuals of the Church alone will be present there and they will be segregated into two groups; on the one side there would be many who were dead (defiled/non-overcomers) as well as on the other side there would be few who were with undefiled garments (living/overcomers). The distinguishing characteristic between those who were “dead” and those with “undefiled garments” is in their “works” — note the words, “I know thy works…”  in all the seven messages (Rev.2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 15). And to properly understand the entire matter, one must understand the relationship between faith and works in James, chapter two.

Works and the salvation of the soul

James is an epistle dealing with the present continuous aspect of salvation, the salvation of the soul rather than the past completed aspect of salvation, the salvation of the spirit (see James 1:12, 21, 22; 5:19, 20). Both are wrought on the basis of works. The past completed aspect of salvation, which we presently possess, which is the salvation of the spirit, is wrought on the basis of Christ’s past, completed work. The present continuous aspect of our salvation, the salvation of the soul, will be wrought on the basis of the present works of those who have been justified on the basis of Christ’s past, completed work. These works performed by all the saved individuals, will be reviewed at the Judgment Seat of Christ to determine the salvation or loss of the soul. And without the salvation of the soul, you cannot have any part in the coming glorious kingdom of our Lord (Matt.16:24-27).

Faith without works is dead

James is also the great epistle dealing with faith and works in the sense that they are presented in the messages to the seven Churches in Revelation, chapters two and three. We are saved from eternal condemnation by grace through faith (Eph.2:8, 9). By simple faith on the finished work of Christ, we have received the free gift of eternal life (John 1:12; 3:16). From that time onwards, we must love and obey the One who loved us and bore the full cost of our redemption. Thus, living by faith would ultimately result in the salvation of the soul (Heb.10:38, 39). If we do not trust Him and obey Him on all matters, our faith is not genuine. In James 2:14-26, we are repeatedly warned that “faith without works is dead” and these are the works — works of obedience — done by continually hearing Him and obeying Him. When we fully obey our Lord, and keep on doing His will, we cannot do what is pleasing or profitable to ourselves or to those around us; we cannot yield to the wisdom of this world; and as a result, we may have to suffer shame and reproach (Matt.16:24-26; 2Tim.3:12). After hearing the word of God, if we are overcome by the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the pleasures of life and become disobedient and unfruitful, then our faith can only be termed as dead faith (Luke 8:14; 2Pet.2:20, 21).

White Garments

The “white garments” in which the overcomers in Sardis are to be clothed (Rev.3:5) can only have to do with the wedding garment mentioned in Matt.22:11, 12 and Rev.19:8. The “fine linen, clean and white” is specifically said, in Rev.19:8, to be the “righteousness (righteous acts) of the saints.” The word translated “righteousness” is plural in the Greek text. But the imputed righteousness of Christ possessed commonly by every believer, is a singular righteousness (Rom.3:22; 5:17). But the “righteous acts” which comprise the wedding garment is not possessed by all believers; such “righteous acts” are synonymous with works emanating from faithfulness to one’s calling. But the works emanating from unfaithfulness are comparable to “wood, hay and stubble” and such works will be burnt up at the Judgment Seat (1Cor.3:12-15), and those believers will appear naked and ashamed in the presence of Christ on that day. But all those with defiled garments are called to “remember …and hold fast and repent” (v.3). The overcomers alone will possess the “wedding garment” and this garment alone will be recognized as the proper attire necessary for admittance into the coming glorious, millennial kingdom of Christ and participation in the marriage festivities.

The Book of Life & the Lamb’s Book of Life

The Lord has also promised to the overcomer, “I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” (Rev.3:5). The possibility of believers having their names blotted out of the Book of Life has troubled many individuals. Most of us have wrongly assumed that the Book of Life is the record of the names of all who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and are saved according to John 1:12; 3:16; Eph.2:8, 9; etc. And if the Book of Life contains only the names of such saved individuals, no name can ever be blotted out of the Book of Life, because we know that one’s eternal salvation is just as secure as the finished work of Christ.

But, God has many books; and in these books He keeps record of many different things (Psa.56:8; 139:16; Zech.5:1-3; Mal.3:16; Rev.3:5; 5:1, 2; 13:8; 20:12). “The Lamb’s book of life” (Rev.13:8; 21:27) appears to be the place where the names of all the redeemed individuals have been inscribed. On the contrary “the Book of Life” is entirely a different book that will be opened at the judgment of both the saved and the unsaved (Rev.3:5; 20:11-15) and judgment will be done according to their works, which are recorded therein. From the emphasis placed upon the book of life in connection with both the judgments, we can conclude that this is God’s primary record book containing all the deeds/works of every individual, the saved as well as the unsaved.

The blotting of one’s name out of the Book of Life in Rev.3:5 is strictly for the non-overcomer, with the Messianic Era in view, and has nothing to do with eternal verities. When we all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ, the Book of Life will be opened and on the basis of our works recorded in it, we will be rewarded. The non-overcomers will be shown on the basis of his own works that his name will be blotted out of the Book of Life; and he will be among those denied a position of power and authority with Christ in the kingdom.

Confession or Denial

Another promise of Christ to the overcomers in Sardis is, “I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (Rev.3:5). The Lord has referred to this future event, along with its negative aspect (denial) on two occasions during His earthly ministry (Matt.10:32, 33; Luke 12:8, 9; also see Matt.7:21-23; 25:10-12). From the context in the Book of Matthew (Matt.10:38, 39), this confession or denial refers to the salvation or loss of one’s soul. Paul calls attention to the same thing in 2Tim.2:10-13; and the contextual setting has to do with a future salvation, the glory of Christ, and the coming reign of Christ, awaiting those who confess Christ before men and patiently endure all things for the elect’s sake (v.10, 12). Confessing Christ before men implies a life lived in total submission to Him, bringing praise, honor and glory to Him; patiently enduring all things for the sake of fellow-believers in order that they may obtain the salvation set before them (the salvation of the soul) and occupy positions of power and glory with Christ in His kingdom.

Concluding Remarks

The day is coming in the near future when all the saved individuals will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ, and our lives will be reviewed from the records the righteous Judge will have on hand. Every one of us will either receive rewards and positions in the kingdom or suffer loss and denied positions in the kingdom. The realization of these decisions and determinations will be brought to pass in “the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ.”