The Book of Revelation

Program # 6 
  

by: Ronald L. Dart


"And unto the angel of the Church in Sardis write, "These things saith He that has the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars. I know your works, that you have a name that you live and are dead."

This is from the great book of Revelation, the speaker, the one that has the seven spirits of God and holds the seven stars in his right hand, is nobody else but the risen Christ.

The letter is the fifth of seven letters, written to seven churches in Asia minor, that place you and I call Turkey, late in the first century. They are part of the vision given to the apostle John, who was told to write down everything he saw and heard, and to send this writing, this letter, to these seven churches.

They were real churches in real time. They were composed of real people, with real problems. They lived real lives. They had real names. They knew one another, and so if a name of a person was mentioned in a letter, you could turn and look at that person and they would be there, right in church with you on this day.

ALL of the Church

But these seven churches were symbolic of something else. If you know very much at all about the Bible you know that the number seven is a number of wholeness or completeness. In other words, when they bring it in, they are talking about all, ALL there is. So what these seven churches symbolize is all of the church.

Church Eras

All of the church, when and how and how to look at it? Because they certainly were not all of the church at their own time. Some say they symbolize the church down through time, each one of these churches representing a successive era of the church, that the Philadelphia church was there for some dozens of years, or scores of years and they faded from the scene and were replaced by, the church that followed them, and so on down through each of these eras, as it were, until sometime we would come to a church called the Sardis era.

Others say "No that can't work, because you know it traps people in time. If you're born in a certain century, you are stuck as a part of a given church and you don't have any choice in the matter. You can't be expressive of your own successes or failures, because that's just where you are."

Others say, "Well they are symbolic of the entire church all right, but they are symbolic of the entire church at the end time." That is, as you look at the time of the end, you will find the church, in different places, with different spirits, different attitudes, different problems, different things to overcome, different successes, and in fact, that's not far from the way things are, as you look around the world, at those churches that call themselves Christian.

Start with the Seven Churches

Whatever the case may be, it seems to me, that the place you start, is with the historical churches, the seven churches on the ground in Asia. The place to start is to view the letter from a first century perspective, before you start off with anything else, and only then consider the latter end of it.

So here we are. We are sitting in church, and some fellow has shown up here from the Isle of Patmos, with a letter in his hand from the apostle John, and he's going to stand before us, and read this letter to us.

Now bear in mind, this is not like your church. There will be no high vaulted ceiling with stained glass windows. No giant organ in the front with pipes reaching up to the ceiling and with power to rattle those stained glass windows in the church. Not with the great long polished wooden pews with cushions on the seat of them to sit on, not like your church at all. I feel safe in saying that, in fact, it would have been more like a synagogue than like your church, and yet it may not be like your synagogue either.

It probably was a lot more like, if you visit the Middle East perhaps, or if you have seen pictures of some of the places, the old old synagogues of many years ago, where the Jewish people met, practiced their religion in Palestine and in that part of the world. They would've been a lot more like that, more like Jews at a time, when the Jews were oppressed, at a time when they were, sometimes prisoners in their own land, they were captives in their own land, they were poor. They were downtrodden by an invading army, that kind of synagogue would be a lot more like the church that you would have been sitting in, in Sardis, because to be a Christian, meeting together, at that time was a dangerous thing, a hard thing, and to live a Christian life was a hardship.

The Reader Begins to Read

So here we sit, on whatever it is they had there for us to sit on, and this fellow was standing before us to read, as the custom of the time was, one would read and the rest would listen.

Let's turn to Revelation 3. And so he read, "Unto the messenger of the church in Sardis write,"

Here we are. We're in Sardis, and we lean forward with a little more interest to these words.

"These things saith He that has the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars. I know your works."

A little thrill at that point of realization. I don't know if I'm all that happy with my works. I wonder how my works look to Christ, because this letter has been given to us. It's come to us, and because we know who John is and we know who this man is, we know that this has come from Christ.

"I know your works, that you have a name that you live and are dead."

The thrill, the goose flesh, take on a different feeling or a response at this time.

"You have a name that you live, and you are dead."

Gates of Hell

But I thought that could not happen. Didn't Jesus say that He would build His church and the gates of hell could not prevail against it? (Matthew 16:18). Yes. Yes He did, and yet this church is pronounced dead. Maybe it would be good for us to understand, what Jesus meant, when He said that 'the gates of hell could not prevail against the church?'

Here's what Jesus said in its context. It is found in Matthew 16 and I'll begin reading at verse 13, "When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, He asked his disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of man am?" {14}And they said, "Well, some say you're John the Baptist. Some say Elijah and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets."

Oh, I can imagine that, with what Jesus was doing, with what He was saying with the power and the charisma of His personality. He was a man much talked about and a man that had to be explained. You didn't just take Jesus or leave Him. If you are going to believe in Him, you had to explain Him, if you were going to not believe in Him, you had to explain Him and so their explanations ran the whole gamut.

He asked his disciples, saying, {15} "Okay, that's what they say. Who do you say that I am?" {16} Simon Peter, who always had an opinion, said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." {17} "And Jesus answered and said, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father which is in heaven." You are right. You've seen what is right and{18} "I say unto you, that you are Peter."

There is a play on words that takes place in this verse that is sometimes misunderstood. Peter's name, 'petros' meant 'rock or stone', this really was the meaning of that word. The other word 'rock,' or 'petra' is a feminine form and has to do more with a crag of rock than with a stone. So what Jesus is saying here is that, "You Peter are a stone, but I'm going to build my church upon this Rock!"

There has been a lot of disagreement among theologians over this down through the years. One point of view is that Peter is the 'rock' and that he is the foundation upon which the church is built. Others say, "No, that's not possible. Christ is the Rock, He was speaking of Himself." Others say it was Peter's confession upon which it was built. Well, we can talk about that, but what Jesus said is, "You are a 'stone,' and upon this 'rock' I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

What did he mean by that? Now 'hell' in the language here, does not refer to the place of torment, but to Hades the place of the dead, or the grave. It's a far better translation to say, "The gates of the grave shall not prevail against my church," that is to say, Jesus Christ will return and unlock the gates of the grave and will release the church. In other words, death has no power over the church, you cannot hold the church. That doesn't mean you can't die, to say that death has no power over you, it means that death cannot control you. Death cannot hold you, death cannot retain you, because there is a resurrection of the dead.

Unfortunately, there is nothing here to say that a given church cannot die or be killed. So here we said, if a man looks at us over the top of his paper and he says, or rather reads, "You have a name that you live and are dead."

How Does a Church Die?

Well individuals grow old and die, but they are replaced, and the church goes on. Individuals get sick and die, but they are replaced and the church goes on. Individuals are arrested and taken down to the magistrate and false witnesses are sworn against them and they are thrown to the lions and they die, but the church goes on.

How does a whole church die? Well, a church can die when it is no longer replacing those who pass away. A church that is no longer active, a church that is no longer teaching its young people and keeping its young people in the faith. As children are born and they are brought up to adulthood, if they then just go on out into the world and leave the faith and do not continue to believe in Christ, they are not there to continue to keep the church alive. If the church is not carrying the message of Christ to the world as a whole, then they are not doing anything to keep the church alive. A church can die through the simple process of attrition! A church can die when it is no longer replacing those people who pass away or who pass on or who go away. In other words, the end result of no growth is, it is a dead church!

Now there is another key in this statement, it says in Revelation 3 verse 1, "That they have a name that they live but are dead." I guess, rather, I should back up and say, "Since we are sitting here in this church, Jesus looks at us and He says, "You have a name, that you live, but you're dead."

You know, it is possible, to begin to trust in the fact that you are called a Christian. In other words, I can say to someone, "I'm a Christian. I have the name." Is it possible then that I could carry the name and yet not be a Christian? A follower of Christ? Or putting it more closely to this, this particular metaphor, that you actually have the name of Christian but spiritually you're dead?

Well, Jesus said that it is possible to worship him in vain (Matthew 15:9). That means that we are actually worshiping Him, not somebody else, that we fall on our knees before Him and not somebody else. Yet we do all the things that we do. We go to church. We keep whatever rituals or ceremonies or rites there are of our church. We go through the motions of being a Christian, or we say we are a Christian and yet we are dead? How can this be?

Well it can be, because simply bearing the name, does not make it so. A church can have the name, but it can stop listening to God. It can stop working for God. It can stop obeying God. And when it does, it can die.

Oh, Christianity doesn't die, the church in the sense of the mystical body of Christ, that is of everybody anywhere in the world who is of Christ and in Christ which are the church at large, that will never die!

But our church. Your church, my church, where we sit, can it die? Yes, I'm afraid it can. Now you say, "But I'm a Christian." But how can you tell? How do the teachings of Christ actually affect your life? Do they touch the way you do business? Do they touch the way you treat your wife? Do they affect your ethics in the workplace?

Is There Still A Spark?

Listen to what else Jesus says to the church at Sardis, Verse 2 of Revelation 3, "Be watchful, and strengthen the things that remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God."

So everything was not dead. There was still a spark. There was an ember that might be fanned back to life. Well of course there was, in fact, there is no point in writing a letter to a dead man and there's no point in writing a letter to a dead church, when Jesus says, "You have a name that you live and are dead," He is speaking of the things that could be, as though they are, and the warning is a warning that anyone who has ears to hear, ought to listen to, but there's hope. There is a spark, when there is an ember, whenever you find yourself somewhere in your being concerned, just concerned, about your Christianity. The spark is still there. You may need to blow on it, but it is still there.

So you have a spark of life. You're not really dead. There is an ember there that could be brought back to life, if we just fan it. Well, how do you fan it? How do you blow on this ember to keep it alive.

Well the reader up there looking over his paper at us continues to read and he says in verse 3 of Revelation 3, "Remember therefore, how you have received and heard, and hold onto it, and REPENT. If therefore you shall not watch, I will come to you like a thief, and you will not know in what hour I will come unto you."

Ah, that would raise the goose flesh on the back of your neck.

Remember

But there is that, 'Rememberí in verse 3 of Revelation 3.

You know it's odd how often, the way back to God, when you find it in the Bible begins with the word, 'remember.' I suppose it's because the fundamental reason for why people grow cold, the final reason they get dead, they fall away from Christ, it starts with forgetting. We forget God. We forget what we're here for. We forget what He's doing. We aren't thinking about God. He does not have a place in our lives, He is NOT in our thoughts and so we all forget about it. Well, then the way you get over it is to 'remember,' but you know that's a tough thing to do. Remembering God is no simple task.

Ask me, they tell me that I'm a very forgetful person and so what I have done to try to cure my forgetfulness is, I have this little book and I write down in the little book, the things that I'm supposed to do, and then guess what I do? I forget to look at the little book.

So forgetting and failing to remember, this is no simple thing to overcome. Remember, how you have received and heard. Okay now. Now here is something that I can do. I can take a cup of coffee and go to my chair by the window and sit and stare out at the trees outside and I can deliberately go back and think and remember those days when I first came to know God. The first time when the Bible suddenly became a book alive, the first time when I said He is really there! I can remember how He blessed me, I can remember how He affected my life. I can remember the changes that I made and in working my way through all of that, I can fan that old ember that was down in there in my life.

REPENT

Jesus continues in verse 3 of Revelation 3 and says the next thing is "to hold fast and REPENT."

Ah, that wonderful word 'REPENT.' It has a good Calvinistic sound to it, doesn't it? REPENT. Look at your life, condemn what you have done, turn yourself around and go the other way!

Well is that easy? Or is that hard? Well, I can't say that it's easy but it's relatively simple. It involves an evaluation of your life. It involves saying, "Well I have been doing this and I really ought not to be doing that. Well then, why don't I stop. Now I may need help. I may need counseling. I may need a friend to work me through it, but repentance is something within our grasp. Repentance is something God is willing to extend to us and help us with, so if you're prepared to 'remember' and to turn and REPENT, then these things can begin to help you to work your way back into doing the right things.

Remembering

You know, in the law of Moses, so much of that law had to do with remembering. 'Remember the Sabbath Day' was a reminder, the Passover was a reminder, Pentecost was a reminder. You know God had them wear a fringe of blue on their garments. The fringe of blue was to remind them of the commandments of God.

They were supposed to write the commandments on the doorpost of their houses. They were supposed to teach them to the children. The children were supposed to memorize portions of Scripture and the commandments and so forth. The work of remembering was a part of the religious work of the people of the time. In other words, you work at remembering. It's not something you just do. You either apply yourself to it or you will forget.

The natural state of a man. The natural consequences of doing what comes naturally are, you will forget. To remember requires work.

For a Christian, the Lord's Supper, we call it the New Testament Passover, is a reminder of the death of Jesus.

The apostle Paul in first Corinthians 11, when he's talking to the Corinthians about the Passover service, where they came together to partake of the bread and the wine, which were symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, said, "As often as you eat this bread and drink this wine, you show forth the death of Christ, until He comes."

It's a time of self-examination, a time of reflecting on the sacrifice of Christ. It's a time of connecting with Jesus and realizing that this One came down from the Father in heaven, lived his life on this earth, carried out His ministry in about 3 1/2 years, and at the end of that period of time, He went to the stake, the cross, and He died.

He died for me and when I partake of the bread and I partake of the wine, I acknowledge His death. I confess my sins. I confess that He is my Savior and I remember!

You know the whole idea of ceremony is, that we should not forget. The little things we do in church, the Lord's supper or the Passover service as we observe it, if you're in a church that actually washes one another's feet (John 13) in connection with this service, you will remember, and it's supposed to help you not forget, that we are servants, that we are not to lord it over one another, but we are to be servants, foot washing servants of one another. The whole idea of ceremony is that we should not forget.

And so the reader before us in church says again, Revelation 3 verse 3, "Remember therefore how you have received and heard and hold fast and REPENT. If you do not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you."

Church Eras

Now this little short passage here does some violence to the idea that these are seven successive eras of God's church, because Sardis, we know that's the fifth one in line. It should be a couple hundred years ago, at least, maybe longer in time.

WATCH

And yet Jesus says to His church in Sardis in Revelation 3 verse 3, "If you don't watch, I will come upon you as a thief." He implies that He's coming up on the Sardis church, that they'll be around, when he returns. Now if we are sitting there in the first century listening to this letter being read, we're going to conclude that Christ is going to come in our lifetime. We are not going to think that the world's going to go on for 2000 years. We are going to believe that the things we see about us here are things leading directly to the return of Jesus.

Now what does He mean, {3} "I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know, and what hour I will come upon you."

Well the warning to watch is a warning that Jesus has repeated elsewhere. There's a long prophecy back in the gospel accounts called the Olivet Prophecy. You'll find it, for example, in Matthew 24. Jesus' disciples ask Him, "What would be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?" And He gave them all sorts of signs, you probably have heard some of them, wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes.

Toward the end of this prophecy, Jesus said this, {32} "Now learn a parable of the fig tree, when its branch is yet tender, and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near. {33} So likewise you, when you see all these things that I've been talking about and this prophecy, know that it is near, even at the doors, {34} Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled."

What Jesus means by that is, the generation that sees these things BEGIN to take place, in that generation those things will take place in that generation..

Jesus says, {35} "Heaven and earth shall pass away. but my words shall not pass away."

Later in this chapter, Matthew 24 in verse 42, He says this, "Watch therefore, for you don't know what hour your Lord will come."

Remember the warning of Revelation, "Watch!" Keep your eyes open! Now to watch, you have to know what to watch for and one of the very purposes of the book of Revelation, is going to be to help us to know what to watch for. We look at the Olivet prophecy in Matthew 24. We compare it with the book of Revelation, we compare it with Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel and we watch what's happening around us. And at least in theory, if we are watching, we may not be caught entirely unawares. We might be ready in the time when Christ returns.

Revelation 24 verse 42, "Watch," He says, "for you don't know and what hour your Lord is coming, {43} But know this, that if the good man of the house had known, in what watch (hour) the thief would come, he would've watched and he would not have permitted his house to be broken into. {44} Therefore be you also ready for in such an hour as you think not, the Son of man comes."

When is Jesus Coming?

Now down through generations, there have been a lot of people who thought they figured out when Jesus was coming. They have set dates, they said Jesus is going to come on this particular date, July 4, 1900 and whatever it is. I'm taking dates out of the air, but they pick dates and they have set times when they said, "Jesus Christ was going to come." You know you would think, "Here I am, I am a prophet, and I'm up here telling you," "The Lord has spoken to me brethren and He's revealed to me that the Lord is going to come back next January the first." You would think that I would look at the Scripture in verse 44 of Matthew 24, "In such an hour as you think NOT, the Son of man comes," that I would have determined by forecasting January 1, 2024, shall we say, as the year in which Christ would come, that I have determined that that is when He will NOT come.

But nobody thinks that way, they get all their scriptures together, and all their prophecies and all their visions and dreams and they say, "No, no, the Lord has revealed to me. This is when He is going to come."

But this is what Jesus says, in Matthew 24 verse 44, "You had better be ready all the time, because in such an hour as you think not, the Son of Man is coming. {45} Now who is a faithful and wise steward, whom the Lord has made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? {46} Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he comes shall find him so doing."

Do you know what this says? It says that whatever job it is that God has given you to do, Jesus would like to come back and find you carrying on with the job. Not having quit and gone off and hidden somewhere, not having stopped work, not having thought you figured out when He was coming and you didn't have to work anymore. But He wants to come back and just find you plugging away at whatever it is He gave you to do.

Later Jesus says, {48} "If that evil servant shall say in his heart, my lord delays His coming, {49} And shall begin to smite his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken, {50} The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looks not for Him, and an hour that he is not aware of, {51} And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Some in the Church of Sardis are Worthy

Jesus continued in Revelation 3 verse 4 by saying, "You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments, and they shall walk with Me in white, because they are worthy."

As powerful as group psychology is, it is not all powerful. There will be those who won't give in. There will be those who will stubbornly hold on to what is right, when everyone around them is going crazy. Think about this. If you're in the majority and there's one fellow over there that stands apart and won't participate, think about it. He may not be a nutcase. He may be the only sane person there.

God does not intend for us to lose in our battle with the world. The struggles are given to us for us to win! With God on your side, setbacks are not failures, they are another chance to grow. If life isn't working for you, it may mean you are destined for greatness. Don't give up. You were Born to Win!

This article was transcribed with

minor editing from a Born to Win Radio Program by: Ronald L. Dart

Titled: The Book of Revelation -Program #6

Transcribed by: bb 8-1-23


Ronald L. Dart was an evangelist and is heard daily and weekly on his Born to Win radio program. 
The program can be heard on over one hundred radio stations across the nation.

In the Portsmouth, Ohio area you can listen to the Born to Win radio program on 
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