The Promise to Sardis

A Three-Fold Promise

In Revelation 3.5, a three-fold promise is pronounced to the believers in Sardis. First, they will receive white garments that are not spotted or soiled. We have this thought embedded into our culture already as a bride walks down the wedding aisle dressed in a white gown.

Secondly, their names would not be removed from the book of life. The idea of blotting out carries the idea of erasing a name that was already in the book. God is not promising to enter their names as a reward; He’s promising to not erase it – more on this in a moment.

Finally, the Lord would acknowledge these believers before His Father and the angels in heaven. The text says He would “confess,” a word that carries the idea of to say the same word about a topic; to agree. Just as these faithful overcomers had professed His name, He would later profess theirs before the Father. Now, it’s time to answer the most important question: “So what?”

The first promise mentioned is more than just the Lord saying, “I’ve picked out some new clothes for you in heaven!” John doesn’t just record the fact of a new garment; he also records their color. The color is not an insignificant detail. White doesn’t just represent purity; it also signifies faithfulness in the temptation to compromise.

This theme of God providing clothes for His children begins in Genesis and concludes in Revelation. In Genesis 3, the first couple tried to cover their sinfulness, shame, and nakedness by sewing fig leaves together. From their perspective, they were “covered.” Yet, the works of their own hands could never provide a covering for sin.

God steps into man’s dilemma. Adam learns of the grace of God in the middle of judgment. God clothes His believers in new clothing, with blood being shed. The innocent animal dies for the guilty humans and a principle is set in motion throughout Scripture.

As we come to the end of the Bible narrative, God rewards the overcomers with white clothing. In Revelation 7.14, the martyrs there are wearing white robes that have been made clean in the blood of the Lamb. The story of redemption has come full circle.

Yet, there is a second blessing in this promise. The Lord speaks of their name in the book of life, and the assurance that it will not be erased.

Granted, this verse has occasioned many competing interpretations. Theories range from the loss of one’s salvation and spiritual life, to the loss of physical life – and just about everything in between is covered as well.

The interpretation of this this verse must consider the cumulative revelation already given. In Psalm 69, David is reminding God of the wicked. He is offering up an imprecation against those who have worked against God’s plan and God’s anointed. Specifically, in verse 28, David says, “Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous…”

Consider the implications of David’s prayer. Both the wicked and the righteous had their names written in the book of life. David understood that the wicked would have their names removed. Seen in that context, Christ is not offering a veiled threat to the church at Sardis. Rather, He is offering them hope because their names wouldn’t be erased. They would not be counted with the wicked, but with the righteous. This is a blessed assurance.

There is yet a third promise offered to the overcomers in Sardis. Not only are they destined for white garments and eternal life, but also their names will be acknowledged before the Father and the angels in heaven.

This promise was not a new one. It’s found in the Synoptic gospels already (Matthew 10:32; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26 and 12.8). The picture here may be one of a glorious celebration where the attendees have their names announced for all to hear as those who have received God’s salvation. Whereas some in Sardis had not been faithful to remember Christ’s name, those who had would have their names remembered forever.

Today, when Sardis is mentioned in a sermon, preachers often refer to it as “the dead church.” I remember growing up and hearing preachers say, “Why would you ever name your church Sardis?” As a side note, the same thing was said about Corinth as well.

Let’s be honest…Sardis (and Corinth, and just about every other New Testament church) had its problems. Sardis had lost that soul winning fervor and they had not finished the works that they had started. Yet, let’s also remember that even in Sardis, there was a faithful remnant who did not deny Christ’s name…they can anticipate the reward for the overcomer.

As Christ concludes the message to Sardis, He does so like He’s done every other time – He points the warning and the promise to every church. And here’s where that gives hope to you and me two thousand years later…we could be in a church that’s dying; in a town known for its wickedness and part of a moral minority. Yet, for all that, we could still experience personal revival and live as the overcomer God’s called us to be.

We can live as victors, not victims!

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