Exposition of Revelation: Revelation 3:1–3

Revelation 3:1–3
“To the angel of the church in Sardis write the following:
“This is the solemn pronouncement of the one who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a reputation that you are alive, but in reality you are dead. 2 Wake up then, and strengthen what remains that was about to die, because I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3 Therefore, remember what you received and heard, and obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come against you.’”
 (NET Bible)

The Church at Sardis

Jesus has said a great deal to each of us, but we must admit that it got by us. Had we understood him better, then we would be more mature people and together a more vibrant Church. But Jesus is not lacking in recourse; he knows our strengths and weaknesses and may deal with them decisively at any moment! Are you ready?

From the beginning of its existence, Sardis had a military reputation that kept being dashed. Its fortress was situated on an impregnable hilltop. But this natural advantage apparently made its guardians lazy, and attacking armies repeatedly managed to sneak someone into the fortress to open the gates. Similarly, Jesus says they have a reputation for being spiritually alive, but in fact they are dead (3:1).

Perhaps Jesus uses the warning offered by Sardis’s history when he says, “Be on the alert!” (3:2a, my translation). Greg Beale explains, “The imperative to ‘become one who is watchful’ shows that the readers have become lethargic about the radical demands of their faith in the midst of a pagan culture.”[1] They must immediately strengthen what remains because their mortal danger is extreme (3:2b).

Jesus explains the basic things the so-called Christians in Sardis must do: “remember what you received and heard, and obey it, and repent” (3:3). It could not be plainer that Jesus was thinking of a body of revealed knowledge to which Christians must respond with repentance and obedience.

The failure to become alert will have a severe answer from Jesus: “I will come against you” (3:3). Making matters worse, Jesus adds, “You will absolutely not know the hour when I will come” (my translation).

In spite of the spiritual problems, Jesus declares a remnant of the Christians in Sardis to be worthy (3:4). This confirms once again that there is a way of life that is pleasing to God, and believers can live that life by the Spirit!

The book of life (3:5) is a subject deserving of longer treatment than can be given here. The Bible clearly states that records are kept in heaven concerning deeds (Rev. 20:12; 20:15) and also identifying who will live with God in eternity. Since God’s memory and knowledge need no assistance, these books may exist for our benefit so that God’s judgments may be seen to be based on fact not whim.

By contrast, Islamists deny the fact that Allah saves and condemns by whim. But one Muslim who understood the whimsical approach was the Persian mathematician and poet Omar Khayyam (1048–1131 AD), who set his chilling views down in stanzas 68–70 of his famous poem Rubaiyat.

I cannot help expressing my admiration for the NET Bible’s translation of Rev. 3:6: “The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” Did you hear what the Spirit said?

How are your ears?

It is a serious question whether the contemporary church could follow the remedy Jesus commands in Sardis (“remember what you received and heard, and obey it, and repent” 3:3). How could we remember what we scarcely knew in the first place? How can we repent if we do not know in detail what God requires of us?

There is still time for us to listen to Jesus! It takes time to learn and implement what Jesus tells us, but that is all the more reason to start today.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


Craig S. Keener, Revelation, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000)

[1] G.K. Beale, The Book of Revelation, The New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 273.

Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:25-26

Matthew 5:25-26

Reach agreement quickly with your accuser while on the way to court, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the warden, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I tell you the truth, you will never get out of there until you have paid the last penny!
(NET Bible)

Who needs to avoid the danger?

The nature of being human is that we do not always know how things are going to turn out. We may think it is manly to plunge forward, heedless of danger. Any of us knows how to play the big man until we run into something bigger still. (Women can do this as well.)

Jesus commands his disciples to settle one issue swiftly, while the matter is still in their hands: what claim might others have on you before God? But will his disciples listen?

Jesus imagines a dispute in which two Jews are on their way to a court to have their dispute adjudicated. But what court? In this context, there can only be one answer: Gods court of divine judgment. In effect, Jesus says do not show up before Gods judgment with matters still in doubt. You cannot afford to lose there!

R.T. France points out one clue when he says, The inclusion of I tell you truly . . . alerts us to a more important purpose than merely avoiding imprisonment: like the other parable of debt and imprisonment (18:23-35), it is a pointer to the divine judgment on those whose earthly relationships do not conform to the values of the kingdom of heaven.[1]

Who would be likely to find themselves in such danger? The wealthy and the powerful had little to fear in any earthly court, but, in the court of heaven, even the smallest might bring them down. How else may we understand Jesus words to the Pharisee: Give from your heart to those in need, and then everything will be clean for you (Luke 11:41). The Parable of the Rich man with poor Lazarus lying at his gate, unaided, will surely account for the rich man ending up in hell (Luke 16:19-31) and Lazarus in paradise.

Under the law, the rich were responsible before God to care for the poor, the fatherless, the widow and the alien. How can they expect anything but ruin when the matter comes before God?

If this is the case, then how could the wealthy and powerful settle with others who had a claim on them? First of all, they could repent of their disobedience to the law and begin to practice the love, justice, mercy and humility that God demands of us all (Micah 6:8). Only by showing mercy can they have hope of finding mercy before a holy God.

The closing warning (5:26) is dire. It begins with the solemn words I tell you the truth. It continues with the most powerful negation in Greek: you will absolutely not get out of there until you have paid the last penny (my translation of Matt. 5:26b). The amount of money mentioned was 1/64 of a denarius, which was one days wage for a laborer. In our country, minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, and 1/64th would be a little over 11 cents.

Thinking theologically, we must ask how a disciple could discharge such a debt, one gained over a lifetime of neglect. The only chance was to repent and seek Gods mercy. Such were the powerful demands that Jesus brought upon his disciples.

Act while time remains!

In all of his teaching about resolving differences within relationships (5:21-26), Jesus has stressed the need for unity and the peaceful resolution of differences. Indeed, broader social obligations must be met before they arrive for adjudication before Gods throne.

Cain rhetorically asked God, Am I my brothers guardian? (Gen. 4:9). Gods unspoken answer was Yes! Many of us do not talk like Cain, but on this question we may manifest his values.

How do some find it possible to live with such self-focus when the one we call Lord set aside the splendor of heaven to die in our place, paying a price we could never pay? How should we live to show him that we understand what he wants?

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 203-204.


Books: Love Wins by Rob Bell is reviewed by Darrell Bock

Rob Bell’s book Love Wins is getting lots of attention out in the evangelical blogosphere. I have not read the book, and I don’t intend to do so after reading the extended reviews by Darrell L. Bock of the Dallas Theological Seminary faculty. Bock has posted seven long blog entries so far, and they are available [link deleted due to malware report at site]. If Hell and judgment are issues that trouble you, make sure to read Bock’s analysis.

The title Love Wins probably gives you the big idea. Bell emphasizes God’s love and mercy in Christ and generally presents a minimal picture of Hell or divine judgment. That is certainly what a lot of people would prefer to believe. Of course, the only problem is that God’s Word says otherwise!

While I don’t always agree with Bock on progressive dispensationalism or on philosophy of Bible translation — it’s like a gnat bothering a bull elephant — I really admire his ability to do biblical and theological analysis of a book like Bell’s.  Bock skillfully expresses his ideas in a way that reaches a non-seminary audience and does so using the Bible as his basis for disagreement or agreement.

In short, read Darrell Bock (both blog and books) but not Rob Bell.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.