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Revelation 3:1–6

“I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you” (vv. 1–3).

Sardis, the city where the church addressed in today’s passage was located, had a reputation as a center of glory and wealth and was associated with several famous Greek kings. By the first century, however, Sardis was a shadow of its former self. Though the city had wealth, it was no longer as important in geopolitics as it once was. Its legendary reputation no longer matched its reality.

Residents of Sardis, including the Christians, knew this well. So, unsurprisingly, Jesus uses a metaphor based on this when He addresses the church in Sardis. We read in Revelation 3:1–3 that the church’s reputation of being alive did not match its true condition. To put it another way, the church in Sardis possessed only a nominal faith at the time Revelation was written. Its works were incomplete (v. 2)—the church as a whole failed to live up to its Christian profession.

Consequently, Jesus warns them to “wake up,” to repent and possess the faith they professed, for He would come at an unexpected moment to hold them to account (v. 3). This refers not to our Lord’s second coming at the end of history but to a coming in judgment on that specific congregation. Furthermore, the warning is especially pertinent in light of the city’s history. In centuries past, the Persians captured Sardis unexpectedly when they breached defenses thought to be impregnable. Jesus warns the church that it will be caught in judgment unaware if it does not repent.

Yet, not every professing believer in Sardis failed to live up to his profession. Some had unstained garments and would be clothed in white garments if they were to persevere in true faith (v. 4). White garments are associated with purity, the condition of those who enjoy eternal life and its glory (Dan. 12:10; Mark 9:2–3; Rev. 19:14). Those whose Christianity is not merely nominal, whose possession of faith and practice match their profession, will live forever. Moreover, Christ will never blot the name of such people out of the Book of Life but will confess them before the Father (Rev. 3:5–6). We should not read this as a statement that Jesus actually does blot out names, as an affirmation that someone who has been united to Christ can fall away from salvation finally. Our Lord is simply borrowing the common idea that God has a Book of Life that lists His saints in order to emphasize the surety of salvation. Those who persevere never need to fear that they will fall away in the future. All those whom Christ brings to glory will be kept in glory forever.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Nominal faith is a threat that is ever present in the church. Many people profess faith in Christ, but their lives reveal that they likely do not possess faith. True faith evidences itself as we continually repent of our sins, seek to follow Christ, and love God and our fellow Christians. Doing such things is the necessary and inevitable fruit of saving faith. Such things are the mark of true, not nominal, Christians.


For Further Study
  • Zechariah 3
  • Matthew 7:21–23
  • Luke 12:35–48
  • Revelation 20:11–15

To The Church at Thyatira II

To The Church in Philadelphia

Keep Reading Covenant Theology

From the October 2020 Issue
Oct 2020 Issue