Sardis, Part 2
Dec 24, 2015
God commends the church in Sardis, saying in Revelation 3:4, 5,
4 But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white; for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life; and I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.
God first gave garments to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:21. These, of course, were substitute garments made of skins, which represented physical flesh. Later, the priests were instructed to wear white linen garments when ministering to God in the tabernacle and the temple (Leviticus 16:32). Even the common people were instructed to wash their garments before approaching God at Mount Horeb (Exodus 19:10).
Having clean garments symbolized having clean hearts and being clothed on the outside with righteous works in daily life. In fact, they were all supposed to put a blue cord or string on the tassels of their garments in order to remember God’s commandments (Numbers 15:38-40). No garment was complete without this, and this was a symbol of their obedience to God and to His law.
Garments of Salvation
Isaiah 61:10 prophesies,
10 I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, My soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
These garments necessarily include the blue cord to show lawful (obedient) behavior. But perhaps more important is the fact that it is God Himself who clothes His people with these garments. In the Old Testament type and shadow, men clothed themselves with physical garments, but under the New Covenant, it is God who does it by His grace.
Further, these are garments of yesha, “salvation.” The word yesha is just another form of Yeshua, which is translated later as Jesus. So Paul says in Galatians 3:27,
27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
This clothing also represents the New Creation Man, which is to say that we have become new creatures, new beings having new identities, and no longer of the old Adamic man. So Paul says in Ephesians 4:24,
24 and put on the new self [anthropos, “man”], which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
This is repeated in Colossians 3:10,
10 and have put on the new self [anthropos, “man”] who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—11 a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.
These new garments are thus available on an equal basis to all men, regardless of their ethnicity or social class. All have equal opportunity to put on the garments of Jesus Christ—or rather, for God clothe them with the garments of Jesus.
Yet no one is clothed with these garments until they are begotten by the gospel, for it is only the new man that can receive such garments. The fact that all will eventually receive these garments does not contradict this, because God has not yet drawn all men to Himself (John 12:32). Neither do we yet see all things subjected to Christ (Hebrews 2:8). This divine plan is necessarily done in steps, because not all men live in a single time or generation. Neither do all who live in a given generation come to believe the truth of the gospel.
Furthermore, even believers in Christ are not necessarily worthy to receive these garments, as we see in the message to Sardis. This does not mean that they will lose their salvation, but that they will not be changed at the time of the first resurrection (Revelation 20:4-6). Those who do not qualify for the first resurrection will be given immortality in the second resurrection, where all the dead are summoned to the throne (Revelation 20:12). That resurrection will include both believers and unbelievers (John 5:28, 29; Acts 24:15), and the believers at that time will be “saved yet so as through fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15).
The message to the Sardis church makes it clear that only a few people in that church were walking in clean garments—that is, living lawfully according to the commandments of God, rather than living legalistically by the traditions of men. These few “will walk with Me in white; for they are worthy” (Revelation 3:4). The clear implication is that the others in the church will NOT be clothed in white, for they are unworthy of such garments. Only “he who overcomes shall thus be clothed in white garments” (Revelation 3:5).
Not all believers are overcomers.
The Book of Life
Revelation 3:5 says of the overcomers, “I will not erase his name from the book of life.” Putting this as a negative statement implies that He intends to erase the names of non-overcomers from the book of life. One cannot erase a name unless it is already pre-written. This implies that some believers, those who were genuinely begotten by the seed of the word, those who truly had Christ in them as their hope of glory, can lose their place in the book of life.
Here we have stumbled upon the centuries-old dispute between Calvin and Arminius. Calvin taught “once saved, always saved,” while Arminius said that one may lose his salvation if he repudiates Christ. Both were half-right. What they did not understand was that the finished work of Christ on the cross sealed the fact that all men would be saved in the end, but that the timing of their salvation was yet to be determined (from man’s perspective).
Hence, “once saved, always saved” is absolutely true if we tie it to the cross. Even if they are “lost,” Jesus will find them in the end (Luke 15:4-7). Likewise, believers may lose their salvation (temporarily) if they renounce Christ. They may find their name erased from the book of life, but not forever. The book of life records the names of those who are currently eligible to receive the garments—the immortal body—that Christ secured for them by His death and resurrection.
It is obvious that if names can be erased from the book of life that this book is constantly being updated, as it were. It is not a book that records the ultimate goal, which is the salvation of all men, for then it would never need updating, nor could any name be erased. So Arminius was partially correct in saying that salvation could be lost. His error was in not recognizing the power of the cross to save all mankind.
In fact, that was Calvin’s main error as well. The Restoration of All Things was the missing ingredient in both of their teachings, which, if they had known, would have gone far to reconcile the two teachings and bring peace between the two reformers.
Confessing Names Before the Father
Revelation 3:5 says of the overcomers, “I will confess his name before My Father, and before His angels.” This confession comes in a divine court setting. Obviously, no name will be confessed unless it is written in the book of life.
The word “confess” is from a compound Greek word homologeo, which means “to say the same thing as another; to agree with, assent.” Therefore, this idea of confessing one’s name in the divine court establishes the fact that two parties are in agreement. This is, of course, the prime characteristic of the overcomers. Those believers who have experienced Passover have faith in the blood of the Lamb. Those who experience (true) Pentecost are the obedient ones, being led by the Spirit. But those who experience Tabernacles are in agreement with Christ.
In Matthew 10:32, 33 Jesus says,
32 Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. 33 But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.
In other words, everyone who is in agreement with Jesus in this present age, and is not afraid to state this publicly, will hear Jesus’ testimony telling the divine court, “I am in agreement with him/her. This is my son, one who has been begotten of Me, a new creation.” When will Jesus’ public confession be made? In a sense, of course, He backs His people in all ages, regardless of time. However, the context of Revelation 3:5 shows a specific divine court setting, which fully manifests at the Great White Throne in Revelation 20:12, where the book of life is opened.
So the Sardis church—the church of the remnant of grace—is warned not to presume that their names are all written in the book of life. The overcomers among them are in agreement with Christ. The rest need to “wake up” and “repent,” lest Jesus come upon them “like a thief” to “steal,” as it were, their names from the book of life. It is far better to pray that Jesus steals and removes all things that hinder our understanding of His grace, so that we may come fully into agreement with His will and His plan for creation.
Revelation 3:6 concludes,
6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
This is part 29 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Revelation." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones