The Church at Sardis: Part 4 of 5 (series: Lessons on Revelations)
by John Lowe
The church as a whole might not heed the Lord’s call, but there would always be a remnant (“a few people”) here on earth, and there always will be until the Rapture of the Church. The Lord always has those who refuse to bow the knee to Baal. As it was in the days of Noah, as it was in the days of Lot, so shall it be in the day when the Son of Man shall appear. In Noah’s day, eight people were saved. In Lot’s day, the number was cut from 8 to 3. As it was, so shall it be. The Word of God asks, “When Jesus returns to this earth, will he find faith?”
The first thing about the remnant at Sardis worthy of note is that they were a virtuous remnant. The Lord acknowledges, “You have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy” (3:4). They are the aristocracy of heaven.
This remnant, moreover, was a victorious remnant. They are the overcomers who have remained faithful in their service to the Lord. The one who overcomes by the blood of Christ, of course, never does it because of his own strength, cleverness, or ability. Overcomers will wear “white.” Their names will NOT be blotted out of the Book of Life. True life in Christ Jesus is proven by victorious living by those who possess His life (Colossians 1:276). We live victorious lives because “greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” True born again saints of God do overcome, and they will be rewarded; they shall receive the same reward as they who “have not defiled their garments” (v. 4). Think of it! To be taken by the hand by the Lord Jesus, to be led past the assembled ranks of the angels, up along the golden boulevards of glory, past the cherubim and the seraphim, up, up to the throne of God Himself and to hear the Lord Jesus call you by your name and present you in person to His well-beloved! Then, to hear the Father say, “Bringing the best Robe and put it on him.” Think of it, a robe of white, bright as the day, pure as the light! When the Lord Jesus was transfigured on the Mount, something happened not only to His countenance, something happened also to His “clothes.” His raiment became white as the light. What a reward for faithfulness, to have a robe like that draped around the shoulders and to be invited to walk the shining ways of glory in light-transfigured clothes! Solomon in all his Glory was not arrayed like one of these.
The statement “they are worthy” could be made only about persons washed in the blood, saved by the grace of God. “They are worthy” with a worthiness that is not their own but that which Christ has put on them (7:147). Even though these “few” might be as “a brand plucked from the fire,” they would “walk” in “white” because there is no degree of redemption. There are degrees of rewards—but when people are saved their sins are washed away and they are as white as snow. Even though these few were cold and indifferent, seemingly almost dead spiritually, they would walk with the Redeemer, dressed in white robes, on that glorious resurrection morning. This concept of a special reward of this nature is also found in Daniel 12:10, where we read that during the time of testing and persecution the faithful “shall purify themselves, and make themselves white.”
5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.
Not every believer in Sardis was being condemned for complacency and compromise with the world. Christ pointed out that some have not soiled their garments with evil deeds. These believers were being faithful. It must have been encouraging to those few who had been attempting to live for Christ in this dead church that Christ was commending them as worthy of His name. Christ promises a threefold reward for these faithful few.
• They will be clothed with white raiment (clothes). The “white” raiment” promised here is probably the body transfigured into the likeness of Christ body, and emitting beams of light reflected from Him. It is said of the righteous that “they will shine forth like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43); and it is said of God that he covers Himself with light as with a garment (Psalm 104:2). What do the white robes signify? To be “dressed in white” means to be set apart for God, cleansed from sin, and made morally
and spiritually pure. Revelation mentions white robes several times. The believers in Laodicea are told to buy white robes to cover their shame (3:18); the martyrs awaiting justice wear white robes (6:11); the twenty-four elders in heaven wear white robes (4:4) as do the people in the great multitude who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white (7:9, 13). The armies of heaven are also clothed in white (19:14). The white of these garments symbolizes the purity that comes when one has been “washed” in Christ’s blood.
In the ancient world “white” robes stood for festivity. “Let your garments be always white,” said the preacher, “and let not oil be lacking on your head” (Ecclesiastes 9:8). The white robes may stand for the fact that the faithful will be guests at the banquet of God.
In the ancient world “white” robes stood for victory. On the day when a Roman triumph was celebrated, all the citizens clad themselves in white; the city itself was called urbs candida, the city in white. The white robes may stand for the reward of those who have won the victory.
In any land and time “white” is the color of purity, and the white robes may stand for the purity of those whose reward is to see God. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
It has been suggested that the “white” robes stand for the resurrection bodies which the faithful will someday wear. They who are faithful will share in that whiteness of light which is the garment of God Himself.
Evil deeds soil garments, but Christ can clean those sins away. Isaiah had said, “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool” (Isaiah 1:18, NLT). Only those who have allowed Christ to cleanse them from their sins and clothe them in “white” will be able to reign with Him (2:278
). In pagan religions, it was forbidden to approach a god with soiled garments, so a person had to be clean in order to come into a temple. Christ, however, invites soiled, sinful people to come; he will give them clean clothing.
• Their names will NOT be wiped out of the “Book of Life.” “The Book of Life” refers to the heavenly registry of those who have accepted salvation in Christ. The “Book of Life” is an expression which occurs often in the Bible. Moses is willing to be wiped out of the book which God has written, if by his sacrifice he can save his people from the consequence of their sin (Exodus 32:32, 33). It is the hope of the Psalmist that the wicked will be “blotted out” of the book of the living (Psalm 69:28). In the time of judgment those who are written in the book will be delivered (Daniel 12:1). The names of Paul’s fellow-laborers for God are written in the book of life (Philippians 4:3). He who is not written in the book of life is cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15); only they who are written in the “Lamb’s book of life” shall enter into blessedness (Revelation 21:279
). This book symbolizes God’s knowledge of who belongs to Him.
In the ancient world, a king kept a register of his citizens. When a man committed a crime against the state, or when he died, his “name” was erased from that register. For the citizens of heaven, however, death is not a cause for one’s name to be removed; instead, it is the way of entrance. To have one’s name written in the book of life is to be numbered amongst the faithful citizens of the Kingdom of God.
Names, according to contemporary usage, are synonymous with ‘persons.’ The blotting out from the book of life brings to mind Exodus 32:32, where the book is a register of the citizens of the theocratic kingdom; here it is the register of the eternal kingdom, as in Daniel 12:1 and many New Testament passages (see Luke10:20; Philippians 4:3; Hebrews 12:23). Some have suggested that Christ’s statement that he will “never blot out” (erase)” certain names leaves open the possibility that he might erase some name, and may imply that people can lose their salvation. I don’t think so. It would appear that God’s “Book of Life” contains the names of all the living, the wicked as well as the righteous (Psalm 69:2810
). Revelation 13:811
and 17:8 suggest that the names of the saved are written in the book from the foundation of the world—that is, before they had done anything good or bad. By God’s grace, they have been chosen in Christ before the beginning of time (Ephesians 1:412
; see also Matthew 25:34).