And to the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These things says the one having the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, “I know your deeds, that you have the characterization that you are alive, and yet you are dead. Be watching, and strengthen the things that remain which are about to die. Indeed I have not found your works having been complete in the sight of my God. Remember therefore what you have received and heard, and keep it and repent. Therefore, if you shall not watch, I will come like a thief, and no, you shall not know at what hour I will come upon you. But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, because they are worthy. The one overcoming thus will be clothed in garments of white, and no, I will not blot out his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. The one having an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
We’ve been through four of these letters already, and I just noticed that at the beginning of all, we see Jesus speaking. Then, at the end, it is the Spirit speaking. Thus, the words being spoken are being claimed to come from both Jesus and the Spirit, for the two are one.
The church in Sardis is being called a church. Though the sharp rebuke of being dead, though they claim life, resounds, the letter is addressed to the church in Sardis. We do find later (verse 4) that there are some who already walk worthily of Christ.
The charge to wake up reminds me of Gethsemane. Jesus asks the disciples to keep watch, and yet they don’t have the ability. Their flesh is weak – meaning they aren’t able to stay awake. Likewise, this church has a reputation of being alive – think of Peter and all of his zeal for God – and yet is dead. Their flesh is weak. The spirit might indeed be willing.
What deeds might be spoken of that are not complete? I assume a correlation between this church and Ezekiel 34. While they probably had great outreach, and while they probably were a church with marvelous worship services, they were also a church that “has not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost… I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”
This is something that I find myself occupied with a lot. I, for some reason, continue to find people that have left the church system, and weren’t even lost. They were forgotten as soon as the door closed. They left hurt, bruised, burned, and sometimes questioning the reality of God. You look back at the buildings and find them to continue clapping their hands, claiming to be “blessed by the best”, and they don’t even know.
The Greek τα λοιπα (the things that remain) does not speak of persons, but that the entire community needs to be reconstructed on a sound foundation.
Also, σου τα εργα (your works) might be from Daniel 5:27, “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.” The “your” refers to the community as a whole.
What they have received and heard has a tense change that needs to be noted (in the Greek). It refers to the time they received the Gospel (1 Thessalonians 1:5-6, 2:13) and concedes that they still possess this gift. “Come like a thief” is a direct phrase from the mouth of Jesus, also quoted by Paul and Peter. This is told to us that only those who don’t keep watch, because of their love of the darkness, will suffer such a fate (1 Thessalonians 5:1-6).
The “soiled garments” reminds me of Zechariah 3:3 and Isaiah 64:6.
Note that at the end of verse 4 there is a promise given, for the first time, due to worthiness and not overcoming.
What are these white garments? There is no doubt they are the resurrection bodies. 1 Corinthians 15:42-44, 52-54, 2 Corinthians 5-1, and Philippians 3:20-21: “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body… Now, we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. There we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord… But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
We see these white robes in Revelation 3:4-5, 6:11, 7:9, 13-14, and 19:8. The idea may go back to Psalm 104:2, where God clothes himself in light. Also compare Mark 9:3, 16:5, and Acts 1:10.
For the book of life compare Exodus 32:32-33, Psalm 69:28, Isaiah 4:3, Daniel 12:1, Philippians 4:3, Luke 10:20, and Hebrews 12:23. Also, a record is kept of good and evil: Psalm 56:8, Malachi 3:16, Nehemiah 13:14, Isaiah 65:6, Daniel 7:10.
“Confess his name” is reminiscent of Matthew 10:32 (Luke 12:8).
He who has ear, let him hear what the Spirit s saying to the churches…