Week - 7 "A Corpse May Be Beautiful, but it is Still Dead!" Revelation 3:1-6
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
Authored by Jerry Marshall
MacArthur, in his commentary on the book of Revelation, began the chapter that relates to our study today by speaking of the unimaginable immensity of the vast distance of Interstellar space.
He stated that…” the nearest stars to us are trillions of miles away. Those large distances have forced astronomers to come up with an appropriate measurement unit, called the light year.”
“One light year equals the distance that light, traveling at more than 186,000 miles per second, travels in one year – (which is) more than 6 trillion miles.”
“This enormous distance presents us with an interesting possibility. If a star thirty light years away from the earth exploded and died five years ago, we would not be able to tell by just looking at it for another twenty-five years. Though no longer in existence, the light from the star would go on shining as if nothing had changed.” This illustration perfectly sums up the situation that exists spiritually in many churches today.
In their past, they were once vibrant and alive spiritually speaking, but then something changed that resulted in their death. Looking at them from a distance, one might assume that they are fine and perhaps increasing – but in reality, spiritually speaking, they may be nothing more than a decorated corpse housed in a palatial casket – the best that money can buy.
The church in Sardis was a lot like a museum in which stuffed animals are exhibited in their natural settings. They appear to be alive when in fact they are dead. We may assess a church to be vibrant and successful on the basis of the size of its building, the numerical growth of its congregation and its many ministries.
But the Lord of the Church who sees all and knows all is aware of the true heart condition of every local assembly. He knows that some have a reputation that is not in touch with reality. Some may appear to be alive when in fact they are spiritually dead; a death that occurred years ago.
I. The Condition of this Church
(3:1) As in the previous letters to the churches in Asia, the Lord addresses this letter to the angel of the church in Sardis. By now you know that the angel here is not a spirit being but rather a human messenger – perhaps the pastor of this church or some significant leader in this particular assembly.
The church was located in the city of Sardis which was located about 30 miles south of Thyatira. The city was situated a top of an acropolis about 1500 feet above the valley which made this city like a fortress, which was virtually impregnable because of its rock walls, which were nearly vertical, except on the south side.
This fortress like city was only captured twice in its history. In both cases, it was because of an attitude of over confidence that resulted in its military not being as watchful as it should. It was a wealthy and prosperous city. Like the other cities of Asia at this time, polytheism was the influential theology of their day.
The Greek historian Herodotus tells us that “the inhabitants of Sardis had over the course of many years acquired a reputation for lax moral standards and even open licentiousness.” So, they were economically rich but spiritually bankrupt.
Its primary industry was harvesting wool, dying it, and making garments from it. The famous author, Aesop, came from Sardis, and tradition says that Mileto, a member of the church in Sardis, wrote the first-ever commentary on certain passages in the book of Revelation.
Drawing us back to the vision of the Lord recorded in the first chapter, the Lord addresses this church as “the One who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.” The seven spirits of God take us back to Revelation 1:4. Most Bible scholars understand the Holy Spirit being the one referred to as the seven spirits of God based upon the seven-fold description of the Holy Spirit found in Isaiah chapter 11. In this chapter the third person of the trinity is described as the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and strength, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
The seven stars refer to the seven angels or the seven human messengers or pastors, one from each church addressed in Asia (See Revelation 1:20). The imagery of the ascended and glorified Lord having or holding the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, demonstrates that the Lord sovereignly works in His church through the Holy Spirit and the godly leaders that the Spirit raises up in to mediate the authority of Christ to the church.
The Lord says to the church in Sardis, “I know you deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.”
This is the true condition of this church as opposed to the reputation of this church. Take note of the fact that the Lord does not begin with a complimentary statement as He did with the church in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum and Thyatira. The Lord has nothing complimentary to say to a church that is spiritually dead. The absence of spiritual life has left this church void of any type of deeds that the Lord of the church would find to be worthy of His compliment.
The church in Sardis had a name or a reputation of being alive. No doubt that was true of them in the past, but it is no longer a present reality. In the 40-year history of this church, it had gone from a position of spiritual vitality and fervency to being primarily populated with unredeemed people, who were playing church, who were defiled by the world, and apparently into religion, but lacked a life-giving relationship with the Lord.
1MacArthur, John Jr: The MacArthur Study Bible. electronic ed. Nashville : Word Pub., 1997, c1997, S. Re 3:1
Like today, there are plenty of people who are into church but not willing to live in submission to the Lord of the church. There are plenty of people today who are into Jesus, but they are not too keen in obeying Jesus. There are some today who carry Bibles to churches that are dead, who cater to those who are dead, yet all consider themselves to be alive and enlightened.
How sad it must be living off of a past reputation that is no longer a present reality. Like a church that exists today in the heart of New York City. At one time it was filled with thousands of people who came to hear the Word of God, who were in relationship with the living Lord and who were filled with the Spirit.
But in the process of the life of this church, some essentials of the faith were put aside. The theologies of the fallen culture polluted their beliefs. Ministers who no longer believed in the authority of God’s Word were allowed to lead. And now about 40 people gather each week in a church made for thousands to practice a sort of faith that is eclectic in nature – where Jesus is supposedly worshipped alongside of Brahma, Shiva and Krishna, as well as the creation at the prompting of various shamans, priests and pastors.
“The church, while still outwardly performing rituals of godly pretense, has lost faith and heart toward Christ and His Word.” Warren Wiersbe
II. The Commands given this Church
The Lord provides a clear pathway to spiritual restoration (Vs. 2-3a)
1. Wake up (Gk. Gregoreuo), to be watchful; to take heed lest through remission and indolence some destructive calamity suddenly overtakes one. This is in the present tense and so the idea here is to be constantly alert.
This exhortation of the Lord perhaps had some sort of a veiled reference to those two occasions in history when this supposedly impregnable fortified city was conquered because of negligence in being watchful.
No doubt this exhortation is directed so that small remnant within the church who were truly saved and possessed spiritual life. There is no point addressing the spiritually dead to take action to bring spiritual life to this church once again. It would have to be by that small group within this church who were alive spiritually.
Perhaps this exhortation is directed to a few of the leaders in this church, or the angel of this church addressed in verse one, who through their own negligence were not being vigilant and let into this church that kind of sinful behavior and corrupt teaching that robbed this church of its spiritual life.
2. Strengthen What Remains. The word “Strengthen” is a translation of the Greek word, sterizo, which means to establish, to make firm, to revitalize. It is in the imperative mood, indicating that this is a command that must be done now. The spiritual life of this church was in intensive care. Quick action needed to be taken immediately in order to fan the flame of the dying embers of a flickering spiritual life.
The spiritual lives of the truly redeemed people in this church needed swift attention to those essentials that rekindle the fire of spiritual progression toward Christlikeness.
3. Remember – The word that is translated “remember” means to call back into the mind, to be mindful once again. This is a command, a present imperative. The idea being that this church was to do this and keep doing it.
They were to recollect what they have received (which is a reference to the glorious Gospel message), and what they heard (which refers to the Apostolic teaching which we now have in the New Testament).
They needed to obey the teaching that they received. The basis of their spiritual renewal depended upon a willingness to reaffirm the truths about Christ, man, sin, salvation, the church, the Second Coming of Christ. In keeping with what they received, they needed to allow these truths to recalibrate their thinking; to cause them to repent, to undergo and radical change of their minds. Their true repentance would be manifested by their restoration of the Gospel and the apostolic doctrine to its rightful authority over their lives. But there was a consequence if they neglected this path to spiritual renewal.
“But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.”
The Lord was not referring here to His Second Coming but rather to a specialized coming for the purpose of judging this church, no doubt to remove from them the privilege of being light bearers to a world.
III. The Remnant in this Church
As bad as the spiritual condition of this church was, there was still a glimmer of hope. There were yet some in this church who had not soiled their clothes, which is a metaphor meaning that they had not defiled their character with the sinful behavior and false teaching. That was the source of the spiritual death of others in this church.
Those who remained faithful to the Lord are promised by the Lord that they will walk with Him (a reference to being in fellowship and union with Him), and they will be dressed in white. The white that they are dressed in symbolizes the moral purity bestowed upon them through the redemptive work of Christ and their faith in that work (Revelation 7:19-14).
IV. The Commitment to the Overcomers
He who overcomes will, like them, dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.
As you will recall, the overcomers mentioned in this passage is a general descriptive term for all believers. Theses overcomers, like those faithful few in Sardis are promised that they too will be dressed in white.
They will be clothed with the very righteousness of Christ, standing before God in the brilliance of the moral purity bestowed upon them by the Lord.
Further, the Lord promises these overcomers that He will never blot out their names from the book of Life. This is not a statement of potentiality, but rather a statement of promise. To assume that this statement means one can have his name erased from the book of life is to turn a promise into a threat.
The implication of this promise is not that you can lose your salvation and have your name erased from the book of life. The implication of this statement is that those who are overcomers (true believers) are guaranteed that their names will never be blotted out from the book of life. It also guarantees that Jesus will openly confess them as being in relationship and fellowship with Him before God the Father and His heavenly host.
The book of life is mentioned in other places in the book of Revelation, which we need to examine so that we might gain a better insight into what this registry of names is all about.
The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come.
All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lame that was slain from the creation of the world.
The book of life will be referenced at the time of final judgment of the Lord. Rev. 20:11-15 And it’s only those whose names are recorded in the book of life that can enter the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21; 23-27). The book of life then, is the heavenly register of God’ elect. Those who are saved, born again, reconciled to God, those who are His adopted sons and daughters.
The letter to Sardis is a searching message to churches today that are full of activity and housed in beautiful buildings but are so often lacking in evidences of eternal life. Christ’s word today is to “remember,” “repent,” and “obey,” just as it was to the church in Sardis.
What are the Signs of a Dying Church?
2Walvoord, John F. ; Zuck, Roy B. ; Dallas Theological Seminary: The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL : Victor Books, 1983-c1985, S. 2:939
1. When the focus of a church is on curing social ills rather than the changing of people’s hearts by proclamation of the life giving Gospel message (1 Corinthians 9:16 John 5:21,24, 39-40).
2. When the only true source of spiritual nourishment is ignored, neglected and set aside for some other insufficient substitute (Matthew 4:4; John 6:33, 35, 47; 1 Peter 2:2).
3. When the values of this fallen world are assimilated into the body life of a church. (Romans 12:2; James 4:4).
4. When the desires of the leadership of the church is winning a favorable reputation from a fallen culture rather than the praise of God (John 12:43).
Spiritual death in the church is caused by the tolerance of sin in the community of Christ, the neglect of important spiritual disciplines, the lack of spiritual leadership, the loss of Biblical discernment, and the loss of trust in the sufficiency of God’s Word as the primary diet for spiritual growth.