The letter to the Church in Sardis in Revelation 3 includes a five-fold path to spiritual renewal (verses 2-3) and a closing warning (verse 3).
The Lord gives this local church five commands (in verses 2-3) to help them shake off spiritual indifference and hypocrisy. These commands make up a formula for spiritual renewal for churches and believers.
- Wake up! (v. 2). This is a command to “be constantly on the alert” like 1 Peter 5:8 and Hebrews 3:12 – “See to it, brothers and sisters…” Christ wants them to shake off their indifference and to start paying attention to what is taking place around them! The urgency of this command is related to the 2nd command.
- Strengthen the things that remain which were about to die – Things were dire but not altogether hopeless. They needed to resuscitate the spiritual life they had left. We know a few individuals were hanging in there. The hope for revival is with the living minority (in the few that were loyal in heart to Jesus Christ), not the dead majority. If they don’t wake up to this point, the flickering flame of what testimony remains may go out altogether. “A dynamic minority of awakened and responsible Christians is able by prayer, love and witness both to preserve a dying church from extinction and to fan its flame into a fire” (John Stott, What Christ Thinks of the church, p. 85).
- Remember what you have received and heard – We dare not underestimate the value of an active spiritual memory! Scripture testifies to this time and again (Mt. 16:9; Lk. 17:32; Jn. 15:20; 16:4; Ac. 20:31, 35; Eph. 2:11; II Peter 1:9; Hebrews 13:7). But this is not a call to vaguely recollect their spiritual accomplishments of the past. (It is an insight into their past.) This is a command to concretely fix their attention on the biblical instruction they received. “What you received and heard” speaks of the Gospel and the apostolic instruction they received. This command is so important because permanent change must rest upon biblical instruction—upon divine revelation. Why? Because then it becomes an issue of obedience to God (it provides the standard). This is where the fourth command fits in.
- Keep it (N.A.S.B.), hold fast (K.J.V.), obey it (N.I.V.) – Not only do they need to recall specific biblical instruction, they need to re-establish a pattern of obedience to that instruction. Two essential ingredients to getting back on the right path, though spoken to a local church, it’s true on an individual level. In Revelation 3:8, 10, twice to the church of Philadelphia (the church that received no condemnation), Christ will acknowledge the fact that they have “kept” His word. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me keep My commandment.” In John 14:23, “If a man loves Me He will keep My words. In John 17:6, “They have kept Thy word.” Fifth and finally:
- Repent – this sets it all into motion. Repentance makes the difference. And repentance doesn’t mean to merely feel sorry. A change of perspective involving a repudiation of a life that doesn’t please God resulting in a redirection to a life does please God (a turning away from sin and turning to God). Sardis needed to radically change the way they thought about their condition. They may have deceived themselves into believing the hypocrisy of which they were trying to convince others.
In case they were thinking of ignoring this course of action, Jesus gives an ultimatum in verse 3; if you don’t wake up, I’ll come like a thief.
Obviously this is not the Second Coming because it is contingent on their lack of repentance. But if it’s not the Second Coming, what is it? It is a warning to come in discipline (Look at Rev. 3:19 (to Laodicea). Probably like Rev. 2:5 with Ephesus or like Rev. 2:16).