24 July 2012

Revelation 3:1-6

"Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent." (v. 3)


This is the fifth of seven messages to churches throughout Asia Minor (contemporary Turkey), with the number 'seven' in Revelation signalling their universal relevance.  Although a strange book for contemporary readers, Revelation fits into the ancient literary genre known as 'apocalyptic' in which bizarre and colourful images are used to describe God's ultimate triumph, often taking place against the backdrop of persecution for God's people.

The message is addressed to the "angel of the church in Sardis", the spiritual representative of this particular community of God's people. The message is both a warning and encouragement, and begins with a description of Jesus as the one who has the "seven spirits of God and the seven stars" (v. 1). Although its interpretation is debated, the "seven spirits" could refer to the fullness of the Holy Spirit, possibly alluding to Zechariah 4:1-6. The "seven stars" are symbols of the angelic representatives of each church (Revelation 1:20), over whom Jesus has authority.

Jesus warns Sardis that its image does not match reality. Seen as a church that is "alive" (v. 1), the risen Jesus announces that it is dead or at least "on the point of death" (v. 2). It falls far short of its calling. The Christians at Sardis had "soiled their clothes" (v. 4), a reference to compromising with pagan culture or the imperial cult. Some interpreters suggest that Christians at Sardis might have even offered cultic sacrifices to the emperor. If they do not change, Christ will come "like a thief" (v. 3) - a reference not to the second coming, but to Jesus judging the church.

The church of Sardis, then, needs to 'repent' through returning to what it had received and heard, and only then the church will conquer. Victory requires faithful perseverance in the calling the church has received, standing firm in the face of the temptation to compromise. There are some within Sardis who have remained faithful, and the erring majority are called to take heed of the faithful minority. If they do, then they too will be "clothed in white robes" (v. 5), whole and holy before God (Revelation 1:14; 7:9).

To Ponder

  • What do you think a church needs to 'remember' to remain faithful to Jesus?
  • What are the harmful compromises that today's Church might make with culture?
  • Can you imagine Jesus criticising today's church as he criticised Sardis? Why or why not?

Bible notes author

Ed Mackenzie

Dr Ed Mackenzie is the discipleship development officer for the Methodist Church, a role that involves developing and promoting a range of resources to help Christians grow as followers of Jesus. His previous experience includes working as evangelism, spirituality and discipleship officer at Methodist Church House, lecturing in New Testament Studies at Birmingham Christian College, and working as associate leader of B1, a 'fresh expression' of church in Birmingham.