Join us as we study through Revelation verse by verse. Our Bible study guides contain discussion questions, verse by verse commentary, and applications which can help you or your small group get the most out of this book as you grow in understanding and obedience.
Revelation 3:1-6 Bible Study Guide With Questions – Letter To Church Of Sardis
Revelation 3:1-6 Video Bible Study
Revelation 3:1-6 Podcast Bible Study
I. Greeting (1a)
II. Criticism (1b)
III. Counsel (2-3)
IV. Commendation (4)
V. Promise and Reward (5)
VI. Hear (6)
I. Greeting (1a)
- What does the description of Jesus as having seven spirits and seven stars mean?
- Who are what are these spirits? These stars?
- Why does Jesus give this specific description of Himself to this specific church?
Revelation 1:20 – As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.
Revelation 2:1 – To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
Revelation 5:6 – And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. The angel of the church in Sardis – The leader or messenger of the church.
2. Him who has the seven spirits and the seven stars –
The seven spirits are mentioned four times in the book of Revelation (1:4, 3:1, 4:5, 5:6). Each of the other three instances refers to these as “the seven spirits of God.” The Greek word for spirit here is “pneuma,” which can mean “wind,” “spirit,” or “breath.” The most normal use is when “Holy” is attached to it and it means “Holy Spirit.”
There are various interpretations of what the seven spirits of God refer to.
A. It could refer to the Holy Spirit Himself. Seven is used in the Bible over 800 times. Many of these references are in Revelation. The number seven is often used to denote completeness or perfection. So it could be a way of referring to the Holy Spirit as complete and perfect. We know that there is only one Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:4). If this is a reference to the Holy Spirit, it shows that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are united in ministry. And we see this that each letter is concluded with the phrase “let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
B. Some see this as a reference to what they call the seven-fold ministry of the Holy Spirit as seen in Isaiah 11:2.
Isaiah 11:2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
The seven-fold ministry would include:
- Spirit of the Lord
- Spirit of wisdom
- Spirit of understanding
- Spirit of counsel
- Spirit of power
- Spirit of knowledge
- Spirit of fear
This would be an obscure reference if this is the case. Also, if you look at Isaiah 11:2 carefully it would seem that the Spirit of the Lord is mentioned as having 6 ministries, not 7.
C. It may be a reference to seven spiritual beings (angels) that are not described in detail here or elsewhere.
The first or third option seem the most likely, but we cannot be dogmatic. There are some aspects of Revelation we will not fully understand on this side of heaven.
The seven stars – These stars are defined in Revelation 1:20 as being the “angels of the seven churches.” The word for angel is “messenger.” So the seven stars are the seven messengers, or leaders of these churches. It is a reminder that Jesus holds the leaders of the church in His hand, supporting, sustaining, and strengthening them.
3. Jesus’ description of Himself shows the specific need of the church in Sardis – The problem with the church in Sardis is that it was largely dead. Thus it was important for them to know that Jesus would send the Holy Spirit to revive and regenerate them (Titus 3:5), if they were willing. And if they would rely on Jesus, He would help and strengthen them. Many churches are dead because blind tradition or rules are followed instead of a dependence on the Jesus. A church without the Holy Spirit is not a church at all. The church of Sardis needed a spiritual revival.
Jesus’ description as having the seven spirits of God and the seven stars was a clear reminder that He could bring about that revival. If they would wake up and turn to Him, He could give them spiritual life.
Application: The solution to a dead, robotic Christianity is Jesus. He sends the life giving Spirit. There is no other place to get spiritual life. Nothing else brings revival. Programs and music don’t bring revival. Jesus does. If you are in need of spiritual revival, come to Jesus.
II. Criticism (1b)
- Why was it important for the church of Sardis to hear that Jesus knows their works?
- What criticism does Jesus give this church?
- What does it mean that they are dead? How can a church be dead?
- What would cause a church to die?
- Could there be some individual believers within a church body that is mostly dead?
- Did this church look dead?
- What warning should we ourselves take from this?
- How can we ensure that we are alive spiritually?
Psalm 115:17 – The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence.
Romans 5:12 – Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.
1 Corinthians 15:22 – For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Romans 12:1 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
John 11:25-26 – Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. I know your works – Once again, we see this phrase repeated. Jesus says the same phrase to every church. It is a double edged sword. It means He is well aware of and appreciates the good, but He also knows the bad. We can keep no secrets from Him.
Application: Whatever you are doing, remind yourself that He knows. That awareness itself will help keep you on the right track.
2. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead – For most churches, Jesus started off with a commendation and then moved to criticism. But here Jesus starts off with the problem of this church. And it is a big one. They are dead spiritually. To be dead, clearly means to be without Christ.
So the church’s problem is that they aren’t a church at all! Most people in the church were not real believers. In verse 4, Jesus says that there a “few” who were. But most were just going through the motions.
That is a serious problem! We see that they had a reputation for being alive. In other words, they thought they were saved. And others looked at them and thought they were saved. On the outside they looked good. They did the things that Christians do. They said the things that Christians say. But Jesus knew the truth. And the truth is they were spiritually dead. Although they were in church and active, they were on the way to hell.
There is nothing worse than thinking you are in and then hearing from Jesus, “depart from Me; I never knew you.”
Matthew 7:21-23 – Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Reflect: Why do many people think they are saved, but aren’t? How can we test ourselves and make sure that we are alive spiritually?
Some things do not prove or disprove salvation. Here are some things that do not show a person is saved and alive in Christ:
- Attending church
- Taking communion
- Singing worship songs
- Calling oneself a Christian
- Reading the Bible.
And here are some things that are evidences of genuine belief:
- Walking in the light (1 John 1:6-7)
- Confessing sin (1 John 1:8-2:1)
- Keeping His commandments (1 John 2:3-4)
- Loving the brethren (1 John 2:9-11)
- Pursue holiness (1 John 3:3-4)
- Having the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:13, 5:10-11)
- Having good fruit (Matthew 7:17)
- Loving God (John 14:15, 1 John 5:3)
To be alive, we must objectively have real faith (John 5:24). And if that faith is real, it will be followed with action (James 2:14-26).
Some churches are composed of primarily spiritually dead people. One can visit Europe and see huge buildings and they have church services. People show up for Christmas and Easter. People call themselves Christians. Many believe that Western countries are primarily Christian. They may have this reputation. But there is very very little life in many of these churches. There is a sad, lifeless, dead Christianity. And may congregations around the world are similar to this.
Application: Evaluate your church and your own life. If your church is mostly dead, then you probably need to find one that is alive! And if you are just going through motions, come to Christ for real spiritual life.
III. Counsel (2-3)
- What advice did Jesus offer this church?
- How does a church or an individual believer wake up?
- What can church leaders do to wake up and keep their congregation awake spiritually?
- What does Jesus say is the way to wake up?
- What would happen if the church doesn’t wake up?
- What application can you personally make from this?
Genesis 2:7 – Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
John 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
John 15:5 – I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Luke 13:6-9 – And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
Matthew 24:42-44 – Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. Wake up and strengthen what remains and is about to die – There was a bit of life left in the church. There were a few believers. But they seemed to be decreasing in number and perhaps also in spiritual zeal. Before long the church would die out unless there was revival.
Many congregations and some entire denominations are like this. Death of a church or denomination is often slow. It generally starts with compromise. Poor teaching and a lack of hunger for the Word are also major factors. Leaders start going through the motions. And the congregation follows. Few new people join. The congregation ages. Because there is no power in the preaching and life of the church, people drift away from the Lord. The gospel isn’t preached so transformation doesn’t happen. What is left is a few people who are Christians in name trying to sustain something of the past. Sometimes there are also a few real Christians mixed in. But if revival doesn’t happen, they can’t save the church. So it dies off. Without reproduction, there is nothing new. What is left is a bunch of empty facilities. And finally these are sold off.
We see this happening all over the West, especially Europe. Hundreds of church buildings are being sold and converted into inns, clubs, bars, and even mosques.
What is Jesus’ counsel?
Wake up! Strengthen what remains! Believers need to wake up. They need to strengthen themselves by coming back to the Word. They need to soak in the true gospel. Then they need to preach it boldly with the power of the Spirit. Through them, revival can still happen. But if they believers do not wake up and zealously seek and proclaim the truth, the entire thing will die with them. They will leave nothing behind for future generations.
And that is very sad. It is a sad thing to die and leave no lasting impact on the world for Christ.
Now the city of Sardis is in ruins. There is no church and no city there at all. The Christian movement there did die out.
Application: How can you strengthen what remains? What can you do to make an impact for Christ that will last into the next generation?
The only way to get strength is from Jesus (John 15:5). We must come to Him for spiritual nourishment. Apart from Him we can do nothing. That is the root problem of many churches and individual believers. No amount of programs can replace our innate need for Christ. He is the bread of life. He is the living water. He is the resurrection and the life.
2. I have not found your works complete – Here we see a connection between their spiritual life and their works. Real faith will result in real works. Because they weren’t alive, they didn’t do the work God was calling them to do. A nominal believer may do something which looks good (for example some charity work), but he will not do the thing which is most important, sharing the true gospel.
3. Remember and repent – The people at the church of Sardis had heard the gospel. They knew the truth. But somewhere along the way, they had forgotten it and been distracted. Image became more important than substance. The counsel was simple, remember and repent. They needed to remember the gospel. Salvation from sin is in Christ alone. We are saved by grace through faith and not of works (Ephesians 2:8-9). And in remembering that, they then needed to repent.
Galatians 3:3 – Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
4. Warning –
This seems to be a reference to judgment. The church of Sardis would be judged. And that judgment would come without warning. God is gracious and patient. He gives many opportunities to repent. However, those opportunities are limited. At some point, the line will be crossed and there will be no more chances. This is true for every person. We don’t know when our very last opportunity will be, but He knows. So for the church of Sardis, He gave them more time, which demonstrates His mercy toward them. But that time is limited. They would be wise to repent while they still could.
Application: We don’t know how much time we have. And we don’t know how many opportunities to repent God will give us. Prudence demands that we come to Him for salvation and that we repent as soon as possible. Do not put God to the test. Now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).
IV. Commendation (4)
- Was there anything good in this church?
- What does it mean to soil one’s garments?
- Based on this verse, what should a believer do who finds himself surrounded by a dead church?
- How can we walk with Him?
Revelation 6:11 – Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
Revelation 19:8 – It was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. You still have a few – Not everyone in the church was dead. Some were living holy lives. Jesus was pleased with them and promises that they would walk with Him in white. He commends them as being worthy.
From this we can learn about God’s character. He is fair. He doesn’t judge the righteous along with the wicked. He doesn’t condemn the entire group if the entire group is not guilty. God judges people individually. We see this in Abraham’s interaction with God about the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. God spared the only righteous in the city (Lot and his family). In the same way, you will not be judged for your parents’ sins. And a parent will not be judged for his child’s sins. (Deuteronomy 24:16)
That truth is encouraging. You may be a member of a church or of a family that is not walking with the Lord. It may be discouraging to see that you are the only one or one of only a few who are serving the Lord. Perhaps the sins of those around you bother you, and they should. And you know that God is not happy and consequences are going to follow. Even in the midst, you can be reminded that God knows your works. If you are faithful in the midst of that situation, He knows. He will be pleased. And He will reward you. You will not be condemned for the sins of others, even those closest to you.
V. Promise and Reward (5)
- What specifically do the believers in Sardis need to conquer?
- Where will the white garments come from?
- What is the book of life mentioned here?
- What does it mean that their name will not be blotted out from the book of life?
- Will someone’s name be blotted out from this book?
- What other promise does Jesus make to the one who conquers?
Revelation 20:15 – And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Revelation 21:27 – But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Philippians 4:3 – Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1. The one who conquers – This phrase appears in each letter. The saints in Sardis lived among a dead and lifeless “Christian” culture. They needed to conquer the temptation of falling into apathy, losing their zeal, and just following tradition rather than Christ.
2. Will be clothed thus in white garments – God is the one who provides the garments (Matthew 22:1-14). He is the only one who can make us suitable for entering into His kingdom. We cannot make ourselves acceptable through any amount of self-effort.
This was part of the problem of the church of Sardis. They looked good. They had some works. They followed some traditions. But they did not come to the source to get their white robes. In the end they tried to clothe themselves. And God would not accept that.
Application: Come to the Lord for salvation. There is salvation in no one and nothing else (Acts 4:12).
3. I will never blot his name out of the book of life – The book of life is the book that every believer’s name is written in. This is the record of who has eternal life. According to Revelation 13:8, the names of believers are written there before the foundation of the world. Thus there is no more important record than this. If your name is written in it, you will go to heaven. If your name is not there, you won’t.
So the question rises from this verse, can a person lose their salvation? Is it possible that a person’s name could be in this book and then blotted out?
The verse means that if you conquer, God will not erase your name from the book. You will be safe. You are protected. You are secure. That is an important promise. God is not arbitrary. He will not just decide to blot out your name. Those who persevere, will remain in the book.
Does that mean that someone who does not persevere, will be removed from the book? It actually does not mean that.
We see in this verse that those whose names are not in the book of life will worship the beast, but those whose names are written there will not. Because their names are in the book of life, God will give them strength to resist. They will not worship the beast. God will keep those people from folly. He will cause them to persevere. Being in the book, means you will not deny the faith finally. To have your name in the book, means God will protect you from apostasy.
If your name is in the book, you will conquer. If you conquer, your name will stay in the book. God is the one who puts your name there before the world begins. And He is the one who gives strength to stay the course. This is a promise that God will never delete the names of those who remain faithful to Him.
In the Word, we often see these two sides of the coin. God is sovereign. He saves. He secures your salvation. He enables you to persevere and to conquer. At the same time, you have a responsibility to. You must conquer. You must persevere. And the true believers will.
For more on this, you can read this interview with John Piper at: https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/can-i-be-blotted-from-the-book-of-life
Application: Do not take perseverance lightly. Never think to yourself, “I professed faith, so I am safe. I am in.” Real warnings in Scripture are meant to keep us vigilant. God secures us. But we must not be foolhardy or presumptuous. Trust in Him. And at the same time, press on.
4. I will confess his name before my Father – Jesus will personally declare that those saints who conquer are His. What a precious promise.
VI. Hear (6)
- What is the Holy Spirit saying to you personally in this letter?
Application: What is the Holy Spirit leading you to do in response to this letter?
7 Churches Of Revelation E-Book Study – If this study is helpful, you can download our letters to the 7 churches study in PDF or other E-book versions.
Revelation Study Paperback
We want to help you study the Bible, obey the Bible, and teach the Bible to others. We have therefore created a library of almost one thousand (and growing) inductive Bible studies, which are available for free. This takes a lot of time and hard work.
Help us continue to create Bible study resources by supporting Study and Obey for as little as $1.