In the last episode we saw the importance of humility in the story of Elijah & Jezebel. In this episode we move onto the ancient church of Sardis. This church does not get a favorable description in The Book of Revelation, it is described as a place that seems alive but is actually dying. We go through Revelation’s response to being spiritually dead. Why do we claim faith but don’t live it out? How can we improve the consistency of our lives? The warning to the church of Sardis is the same for us – it is time to come alive.
So we’ll keep going in Revelation today.
We’ve seen that this is a very simple book; it has a very simple message. It’s Jesus speaking to us, and Jesus says, “I’m writing this to my servants, not to other people’s servants, my servants.” It’s written to believers, those who follow Jesus.
It has a very simple message. His message is, “I want you to be a good witness”.
Then he gives us instructions on how to be a good witness. He gives us instructions from two basic eras: what was and what is and then what is to come.
We’ve been talking about the what-was-and-is part, which is the seven churches from the Roman province of Asia, now Turkey.
We’ve looked at Ephesus, the church that had truth. They had a truth culture. Jesus is really clear: I like the truth culture. I want you to keep the truth culture, but it’s not enough.
When you have a truth culture, you need love too, or you just can’t be the witness I need you to be.
And then we look at Smyrna, the age of persecution in the church. Ephesus was the apostolic age.
Jesus says, look, I know people are dying. You’re under tremendous duress in this era. I just ask you to do one thing: embrace death. Just embrace it. Because in dying you live. Die to the world, die to self, that’s the real source of life.
We look at Pergamos, the capital of the Roman province of Asia, he says where Satan’s throne is. He says, you’ve got a Balaam problem in this era. This is the era after Constantine made Christianity the official religion. People wanted it both ways. They want to have the world and Jesus. We don’t want to leave Jesus. Balaam didn’t want to upset his prophetic office by saying something untrue. And yet, he wanted the world and the things of the world, particularly the money. Jesus says, “you can’t really have it both ways. What I want you to do is reject the world, embrace the kingdom.”
Then we saw Thyatira, the corrupt church, the middle ages, where power became the primary thing that people were after, and we had, not just Balaam, who wanted it both ways, we had Jezebel who is actually a false prophetess. The church became a place where offices were bought and sold, and people ascended to power for the purpose of land conquest. And it wasn’t a spiritually-oriented office, it was a politically-oriented office.
Jesus says, when you have abusive authority, and you have a position from which you can speak out, you need to do it. Speak out against corrupt authority because truth is the basis of being a good servant.
Sardis, the church that seems alive but isn’t
So in this episode we’re going to look at Sardis, and this is now Revelation 3.
And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you’ve received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’
The angel in the church of Sardis. Of course angel is the word for messenger, and we said earlier that this is likely the spiritual messenger appointed in this church. Jesus introduces himself in this particular church as the one who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.
We can look back in chapter 1, and we can see that the seven Spirits are in the throne room in chapter 1 verse 4. It introduces this scene, and there’s Jesus in the throne room in heaven, and he has the seven Spirits there.
Perhaps the emphasis here is that Jesus is the spiritual authority over all. He’s the one that’s going to decide what’s righteous and what’s not righteous.
Here we have an era where, as far as people are concerned, it seems like a very righteous era. It seems like an era where things are being done the right way. Everything is Christian. Everything is holy. But that’s just a reputation. It’s not the reality.
Why is it not a reality? Because it’s just a reputation. It’s not real. He says, I know you have a name that you’re alive, but you’re actually dead.
Let’s look at the overall message here. It’s really interesting. They have a name that they’re alive, but they’re dead. The key here is, what Jesus wants is a living church. He wants us to live life alive. He wants our works to be alive—this is all written to believers—not to be dead, which means we have a choice on a daily basis whether our faith can be living and active or whether it can be dead.
He says here, what you’re focusing on is having a reputation for being alive when actually you’re dead.
Let’s look at the consequence to this because this is pretty interesting.
The Book of Life and the lake of fire
Verse 5. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments—that’s good—and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life—
That sounds very scary. Here’s why that sounds very scary. If you look at Revelation 20:15, you’ll see why. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
That doesn’t sound good!
If we go back up just a few verses and start in verse 11—This is the Great White Throne judgment. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them.
Here we have a time where Jesus’ face causes heaven and earth to melt. That’s a powerful face.
And I saw the dead, small and great—so everybody’s here—small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. Books plural. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life.
So you’ve got all these books and this Book of Life.
And the dead were judged according to their works.
So it appears all dead will be judged according to their works, believers and unbelievers.
There are people who think that this is just unbelievers that are at this judgment. I’m not sure myself. I think the principles are the same.
Verse 13. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them.
I don’t know what it means that the sea delivers up the dead. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t mean the ocean because the heaven and the earth are gone.
Metaphorically, the sea’s often used for the world (in the scripture, I’m talking about). The world is a chaotic place where you never know when the next storm is going to come up. There’s no real form to it. It’s just ebbing and flowing.
So, perhaps what this means is the dead come from—and Death and Hades come, and then everybody else comes, wherever they are.
And then Death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire. We tend to think of Hades as the place where people remain forever who are condemned; but, actually, Hades is thrown into the lake of fire. It’s actually the lake of fire that’s the thing that continues on.
Verse 15. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
So, since this was written to his servants, what do we conclude from this? I think there are two possible conclusions:
One is that he can fire his servants. If you don’t measure up, he’s going to throw you into hell. He’s going to throw you into the lake of fire. It’s all about performance. It’s all about keeping up with what he’s given us to do. That’s one possible conclusion.
That conclusion, however, flies in the face of, basically, everything else that the scripture says. So that one’s probably not really available to us.
The other conclusion, I think, is to marry this with one of the other churches that we saw where it says that the second death will not hurt you. And this is the persecuted church in Smyrna. And that’s in Revelation 2:11.
So, he’s saying here embrace death. Embrace death, and death won’t hurt you.
In this Sardis he’s saying, embrace life, true life. If you embrace false life, you’re going to have your name blotted out.
In Smyrna he’s saying embrace death, and the second death will not hurt you.
And I think what’s happening here is he’s saying the same thing.
The second death is the lake of fire. I showed you when we went through in Smyrna, these verses that show the Beast in the throne room, and fire comes from the throne and consumes them. That’s in Daniel.
Then I showed you that in Revelation it says that the Beast and the false prophet are just thrown straight into the lake of fire.
The lake of fire is the consuming fire of the universe
I showed you the passage in Revelation that says there’s no more need of sun in the new earth because Jesus is so bright. The conclusion that I’ve drawn is that the lake of fire is the presence of the consuming fire of the universe: God himself and Jesus, particularly, the one from whose face the whole heaven and earth melts. Does that sound hot?
So here you’ve got the presence of Jesus, and there will be those who bask in the presence, who revel in the presence, who have joy, who take energy and life from the presence; and those who hate the presence, like Golum, the creature in Lord of the Rings that can’t stand the sun. Even the moon bothers him because he has become a creature of darkness.
When unbelievers are judged, it appears that their works are judged as well. And there are lesser and greater stations for them.
It’s very interesting. There’s a lot of times where it says Jesus will say something like, “It will be better for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for you, Capernaum.” So here you’ve got Capernaum, a righteous Jewish city. Humanly speaking it was very righteous.
That’s the place Jesus chose to be his headquarters. And he said you know in the judgment, it’s going to be better for Sodom and Gomorrah. Sodom and Gomorrah was a wicked place! He couldn’t find ten righteous guys. He said, “If I can find ten, I’ll save it.”
But he said, it’s going to be better for you in the judgment than Capernaum because what you saw should have made you do this, and if Sodom and Gomorrah had seen that, this is what they would have done.
You don’t get told what would have happened very often, but it’s going to be better for them!
There’s another verse where it’s talking about Satan. It’s the passage where it says O Lucifer, star of the morning, how you’ve fallen. You said you would ascend to the most high but your heart was corrupt. Then it says, what’s going to happen is you said I’d be high but what’s actually going to happen is we’re going to bring you down low. In fact, you’re going to be so low, people are going to walk by and look at you and say, “Is that the guy that made the whole earth tremble? That guy?” And I think, when is that going to happen? Who’s going to be walking by saying that? Is that going to be the demons walking by saying that?
The conclusion I’ve come up to—it’s just a model. It’s just a model—because the point of Revelation is not to figure out the system so we can game it. That seems to be what our normal approach is.
The point is to read, hear, do. And so the conclusion I’ve taken from it is, the new earth is going to be a place where everybody’s there. There’s this verse that we’ll get to later in Revelation that says outside the city are the dogs, the sexually immoral, those who love and practice a lie. They’re not allowed to go in the city. Well, that’s the new earth, after all this white throne stuff happens. After everybody’s been thrown into the lake of fire. Well, who’s that? Who’s that that’s outside, not allowed—?
My conclusion is, it looks like the lake of fire is living in the new earth alongside the redeemed in the presence of Jesus and not having been restored to the point where it’s a good thing.
Therefore, it would seem to me like that if you’re an unbeliever—you know, Satan would be like the worst of the worst, and he’s the guy people go by and say, is that who—? And maybe for others, it’s not so bad.
I don’t know. We just get hints, the point is not “let me tell you what’s going to happen.” The point is “here’s what you need to be doing now.”
Being blotted out
The way I take this is, if you get blotted out, it doesn’t mean you weren’t written in to start with. Because there’s another place in Revelation that says everybody whose name is written in the Book of Life was written in the foundation of the world. Nobody will snatch you out of my hand.
It’s over and over again.
Here’s the point. The point’s to believers, and what he’s saying is “if you won’t embrace death, you’re going to miss out on life. If you won’t let the threat of death hurt you in this life, then the second death, which is the consuming fire, will hurt you in the next life.”
And if, as in this church in Sardis, you will embrace true life, then you get life as a reward. And if you embrace false life, the façade of life, making people think you’re alive when really you’re not, what you’re going to get is blotted out, and you’re going to lose all these rewards.
In fact, we’ll see crowns. Let’s just look at verse 3. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.
There’s another principle here: If we’re not watching to be judged and living as though to be judged, it’s going to come on us in a way that’s totally unexpected.
A crown for those who watch for his appearing
Look at 2 Timothy 4:8. This is Paul writing. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge—this idea of God as judge is something that’s on every page—will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved his appearing, those who are watching.
Are you watching? It’s interesting because Sardis was a city that was impregnable. It had a wall, and it was built on a cliff. I don’t know the particulars. But it was considered an impregnable city. And it was breached twice. Both times because they got so complacent about being impregnable, they stopped watching, and people snuck in.
It’s a very graphic depiction.
We are also impregnable. We have the Holy Spirit. We have the truth of God’s word. Nothing shall prevail against us, and greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world. But only if we’re watching. And if we’re not watching, bad things can take place.