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Revelation 3:1-6 | Free Grace Bible Study

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A friend of mine recently told a story about growing up on a farm. When his dad went into town he would leave a list of chores for his sons to do. My friend was one of those sons. There were certain easy chores, and there were some that no one wanted to do. The worst of all was weeding the corn fields because it was an endless job for which a day’s labor could make hardly a dent. 

It was important that the sons of the farmer stayed busy because when he arrived home at unpredictable times, he would survey what had been done and either compliment or confront his boys. If he found them working hard in the field and the other chores done, he was pleased, and he would tell Momma how good his boys had done. If he arrived home to find any of his boys sleeping in the porch swing, he was not pleased, and they’d more than hear about it. 

Much like the farmer’s sons, in today’s passage we are going to look at a church that was struggling to live like Jesus was coming back soon. 

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Lesson Description

We'll explore the profound messages Jesus has for the church in Sardis, as revealed in Revelation 3:1-6. Jesus, with His complete knowledge, addresses the church's outward activity versus its spiritual reality. He calls for vigilance, remembrance, and repentance, emphasizing the importance of being prepared for His return. Through simple truths, we'll understand the significance of wearing white garments, overcoming spiritual battles, and the assurance of our names in the Book of Life. Our study aims to inspire a deeper faith and readiness for Jesus' coming, guided by His words to hold fast to what we have received and heard.

If you would like to lead a group through this Bible study, this page gives you the basic tools to help your friends, family, small group, or church grow in God's word. We encourage you to take what is written and make it your own. If you have any questions please contact us through the contact form on our website: freegrace.in. Whether you are leading a group or going through the material as an individual, we're glad you've joined us, and hope you enjoy.

Passage | Revelation 3:1-6

3:1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. 

3:2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. 

3:3 Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. 

3:4 You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 

3:5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.

3:6 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’

Bible Study

3:1 Jesus speaks to the angel of the church in Sardis first about who He Himself is. He reminds them of an aspect He revealed about Himself in chapter one. He’s the One who has the seven Spirits of God. This seems to be a reference to the omniscience of the Holy Spirit (Revelation 1:4, 4:5, 5:6). The Holy Spirit is occasionally called the Spirit of Christ in the New Testament (Romans 8:9, 1 Peter 1:11). Jesus possessing the seven Spirits of God shows His almighty knowledge of all things. Jesus also holds the seven stars in his hand. Those stars represent the angels of the seven churches (Revelation 1:20). The point is that Jesus knows the intimate details of the ones He’s addressing.  

He knows their works. They are an active church. They have a good reputation. They’re busy with church activities. As far as everyone else knows, they are hard at work for Christ, but Christ knows better. Their reputation is that they are alive. A modern equivalent might be the popular phrase, “That church is on fire for the Lord.” Their reputation says they are alive, but in reality, they are dead. 

Some teachers have tried to teach this verse as if it’s saying the Sardinians had either lost their salvation or were never saved in the first place, but that cannot be the case, as seen in verses two and three. 

3:2 The Christians at Sardis are commanded to be watchful. These believers are to remember that their Lord will return at an hour they do not know. They are also to strengthen the things which remain. While Jesus said they are dead (vs 1), they must not be completely so, since there are still parts of the church that remain alive but are ready to die. It seems this church is on life support, but he’s trying to keep them from pulling the plug. 

When looking at the last half of this verse, some might break into a cold sweat when they read what seems like a call to be perfect. However, no one’s works are literally perfect (Romans 3:10, 23, 1 John 1:8-10). So when Jesus says, I have not found your works perfect before God, it seems to be an example of a figure of speech we call litotes. Some examples of litotes are, “It’s not all bad,” or “You’re no spring chicken,” or “He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed.” These use a form of ironic sarcasm to show how someone falls short of an ideal. It seems Jesus is showing the Sardis believers that not only are they not perfect, but they are far from perfect. We shouldn’t get the idea from this that the only option to please God would be absolute, literal, moral perfection. On the other hand, we should notice that Jesus has a high expectation for believers. 

3:3 Those who think the Sardis church members were unsaved should be silenced by Jesus’ words in this verse, as he calls them to remember how they have received and heard. Hearing and receiving are often associated with salvation in the New Testament (John 1:12, Act 2:41, 1 Thessalonians 2:13). These people possess eternal life, because they’ve heard and received the gospel. He instructs them to hold fast and repent. They do not need to hold fast to maintain their salvation since their eternal life is held in the hand of Christ and God the Father (John 10:28-29). Here, holding fast is about discipleship. Only a few verses later, Jesus says that holding fast is associated with receiving a crown (vs. 11). It’s about being faithful now so we can later receive eternal rewards. In addition to holding fast, they are told to repent. This is not because they need to get saved. It’s a call to get their daily living back on track with Christ. Their repentance would be the sign that they were holding fast. 

At the beginning of the verse, Jesus told them to be watchful. They needed to live as if Jesus could return at any moment. He now tells them the consequences if they don’t. If they do not watch, Jesus’ would come upon them and us as a thief. For those not constantly anticipating His return, it will be an embarrassing surprise because they will not know what hour Jesus will come upon them (Matthew 24:43-44, 2 Peter 3:10, Revelation 16:15). While He seems to be talking about His second coming, He may also mean that His discipline or even the death of the backsliding believer will come upon them suddenly, and without further warning. Either way, the point is clear: live like Jesus is coming soon. 

3:4 To understand the connection between being watchful and having clean clothes, we need to see what Jesus says in chapter 16. “Behold, I am coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches, and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame.” (Revelation 16:15). So, when He says that there are a few in Sardis who have not defiled their garments, He is saying that they are watching for Christ’s return, which also means they are holding fast (vs. 3). For those believers who are watching for Christ’s return, and holding fast there will be a special privilege when they come into the Kingdom. First, they shall walk with Jesus in white. We take walks with those we love. It’s a sign of fellowship and closeness. So walking with Jesus, especially in white clothes, connects to the incredible closeness faithful believers will have with Jesus when He returns. Notice those who watch and hold fast will be considered worthy. This makes it clear that He is not talking about the mere act of getting eternal salvation since salvation is not given based on worthiness. Jesus calls the saved to go beyond, overcome, win, and strive to be worthy of the privilege offered. For those who do, their great reward will be a closeness with Christ in the Kingdom to come. 

3:5 Only the ones who overcome will be clothed in white garments. This privilege is not for lazy Christians, but those nike-believers, those conquerors of temptation, the winners of spiritual battles, and God’s ever-ready watchers who keep an eye on the sky for their Lord to return. 

Jesus will not blot out the name from the Book of Life of those who overcome. Some have taken this to mean that those who do not endure will have their name blotted out of the book of life. This is not what the verse says. Eternal life is an irrevocable gift given at the moment of saving faith (John 3:36, 5:24, 6:47), and we can be assured that this verse isn’t a threat to remove less successful Christians’ names from the Book of Life. There is only one way to ensure that your name will be in the Book of Life when it really counts: to put your faith in Jesus so that you can receive eternal life (John 3:16).

Instead of seeing this as a threat, it and the next words express the two most opposite outcomes that a human can face. On the one hand, unbelievers’ nameswill beblotted from the Book of Life, but at the other end of the spectrum, Jesus will confess the overcomer’s name before His Father and before His angels. Jesus uses the two ends of a broad spectrum to show the Sardinians how incredible the privilege will be to have Jesus talk favorably about them to the Father and the angels (Matthew 10:32-33). 

We should not be confused by Jesus’ mention of only the two extreme ends of the spectrum. While it is true that on one end of the spectrum rests the unbelievers whose names will not be in the Book of Life, and on the other end, faithful overcomes who are praised for their faithfulness before the Father, there are also other outcomes in between. This can be seen in the parable of the minas where, in addition to the faithful servant on one end, and the king’s enemies on the other end of the spectrum, there are also unfaithful and moderately faithful believers (Luke 19:11-27). Jesus’ use of the two extremes is designed to bring attention to the best possible outcome. What a fantastic reward to one day overhear Jesus talking to His Father about how faithful you were during your life. This will be a reward that only overcomes will receive. 

3:6 Jesus wraps this section by reminding anyone who has an ear, or in other words, anyone who can understand what is being said, that they can learn from what the Spirit says to the churches.

I pray we take Jesus’ instructions to heart. Let us be eagerly watching for His return. Let us hold on to what we’ve heard and received. Let us be motivated by the opportunity to receive the reward of Christ’s compliments in Heaven and the chance to take walks with him in White. May we live like Jesus will be back soon!

Discussion Questions

  1. Jesus is described as having the seven Spirits of God, indicating His complete knowledge. How does knowing Jesus has almighty knowledge of all things impact your understanding of His awareness of our lives and actions?
  2. The church in Sardis is active and has a good reputation, yet Jesus says they are "dead." Discuss the difference between having a good reputation among people and being truly alive in Christ's eyes. What lessons can we learn from this contrast?
  3. Jesus commands the Christians at Sardis to be watchful and to strengthen what remains. In what ways can we, as modern believers, stay spiritually vigilant and strengthen our faith?
  4. Reflect on the idea that our works are not perfect before God, yet Jesus sets high expectations for us. How can understanding Jesus' use of litotes (understatement) help us strive for improvement without being discouraged by our imperfection?
  5. Discuss the importance of remembering how we have received and heard the gospel. How does holding fast to our faith and repenting play into our daily walk with Christ?
  6. Jesus warns that He will come like a thief to those not watchful. What does this metaphor teach us about the urgency and readiness with which we should live our lives in anticipation of Christ's return?
  7. There are a few in Sardis who have not defiled their garments. Discuss the symbolism of wearing white garments and how it relates to living a life that is watchful and faithful to Christ's teachings.
  8. Only those who overcome will be clothed in white garments. Discuss what it means to be an "overcomer" in the context of faith and the spiritual battles we face.
  9. Reflect on the significance of Jesus promising not to blot out the names of overcomers from the Book of Life. How does this assurance affect our motivation to live faithfully?
  10. Jesus emphasizes the importance of listening to what the Spirit says to the churches. How can we ensure we are open to and learning from the Holy Spirit's guidance in our own church communities and personal lives?

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