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"Then Is Finished The Mystery Of God"



Chapter 12

To the Angel in Sardis

Revelation 3:1-6

SOME thirty miles south of the city of Thyatira and about one hundred and fifteen miles northeast of the island of Patmos lay the city of Sardis, the onetime wealthy capital of Lydia. Along with Phrygia and Mysia, Lydia was one of the early centers of the worship of the nature goddess Cybele, the so-called mother of the false god Zeus or Jupiter. Her pagan worship was licentious. Toward the end of the first century of our Common Era the Christian congregation in Sardis had fallen into a bad spiritual condition. For this reason the apostle John in exile on the Isle of Patmos was told to send the following message to the starlike overseer of the Sardis congregation:

"And to the angel of the congregation in Sardis write: These are the things that he says who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars, 'I know your deeds, that you have the name that you are alive, but you are dead. Become watchful, and strengthen the things remaining that were ready to die, for I have not found your deeds fully performed before my God. Therefore, continue mindful of how you have received and how you heard, and go on keeping it, and repent. Certainly unless you wake up, I shall come as a thief, and you will not know at all at what hour I shall come upon you.

" 'Nevertheless, you do have a few names in Sardis that did not defile their outer garments, and they shall walk with me in white ones, because they are

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worthy. He that conquers will thus be arrayed in white outer garments; and I will by no means blot out his name from the book of life, but I will make acknowledgment of his name before my Father and before his angels. Let the one who has an ear hear 'what the spirit says to the congregations.'" — Revelation 3:1-6.

To the congregation in Sardis the glorified Jesus Christ identifies himself as the one who "has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars." As such, he held in the control of his right hand all the angel-like overseers who were symbolized by the "seven stars." So he had both the right and the obligation to direct himself to the "angel" of the Sardis congregation and to call to his attention what the condition of the congregation was in actuality and not just in name. The glorified Jesus Christ could discern the actual condition of it, for he has the "seven spirits of God." These seven spirits are first said to be before the throne of God, where they are pictured as being "seven lamps of fire burning before the throne." (Revelation 1:4; 4:5) They are illuminators, having power to enlighten and to throw light upon hidden things. For example, concerning the "things that God has prepared for those who love him," the apostle Paul wrote: "For it is to us God has revealed them through his spirit, for the spirit searches into all things, even the deep things of God."  — 1 Corinthians 2:9, 10.

However, the "seven spirits of God" are later pictured as eyes, "seven eyes" possessed by the symbolic Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ, when he approaches God's throne and takes the scroll of mystery out of God's right hand. As to the meaning of those "seven eyes" the apostle John says: "which eyes mean the seven spirits of God that have been sent forth into the whole earth." (Revelation 5:1-7) The "seven spirits" would accordingly picture the full, complete power of observation, of discernment, or detection that the glorified Lamb of God now has, so that

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throughout the "whole earth" nothing escapes his notice. Nineteen centuries ago he was perfectly able to see the spiritual condition into which the "angel" had let the Christian congregation in Sardis come.

Yes, the Sardis congregation had a name for being something that it actually was not. In its membership it had a "few names" that were well known to the Lord Jesus Christ and that could be mentioned with credit. Each of the other members was in danger of having his name blotted out "from the book of life," and his name was becoming unworthy of being acknowledged by Christ in heaven before his Father and before his angels. This put the Sardis congregation and its angellike overseer in a serious situation, because a good name with God the Father is critically important.

Proverbs 10:7 says: "The remembrance of the righteous one is due for a blessing, but the very name of the wicked ones will rot," become an odious stench and not be worthy of a blessing. A favorable name with God is most precious: "A name is to be chosen rather than abundant riches; favor is better than even silver and gold." (Proverbs 22:1) While a Christian is alive, he can and should make a good name for himself with the Giver of life, Jehovah God. Correctly Ecclesiastes 7:1 advises: "A name is better than good oil [ointment], and the day of death than the day of one's being born."

Of course, the members of the Sardis congregation were alive as humans, but what were they as far as being real Christians is concerned? Their being alive as humans prospering in the things of this world and having a fine place in which to hold their congregational meetings was not the thing of central concern. What were they spiritually? Were they alive spiritually?

The deeds and works that they had been performing must have been "dead works," works not contributing to spiritual life, works that might appeal to the unchristian people in Sardis but that were

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not the special works that a Christian should perform as a follower of Christ who was born and came into the world, that he "should bear witness to the truth." (Hebrews 9:14; John 18:37) Jesus Christ had not found the deeds of the Sardis congregation "fully performed before my God." With the worldly people of Sardis the "angel" and the congregation that he represented may have had a name for being alive, but Jesus Christ, who has the seven spirits of God, saw and knew that they were dead in a spiritual way, as real Christians.

Except for a "few names" in the Sardis congregation it would really be dead spiritually, not shining like a lighted golden lampstand. Those "few names" may have been "the things remaining that were ready to die." They could be mortally affected by the dead spiritual condition of the majority of the congregation. From that standpoint, they were "ready to die." The overseer or "angel" who represented the congregation was asleep, as far as Christian responsibilities are concerned. He needed to wake up, to see the actual state of things, and to "become watchful" and to wake up the sleeping ones of the congregation and help them to "become watchful." The "angel" needed to "strengthen" those who were in danger of dying spiritually. Then he should use and cooperate with these in strengthening all others to live, act and serve as genuine Christians. To this end he needed to "repent."

WHY THE NEED FOR REPENTING

For the purpose of bringing himself around to sincere repentance, the angel must do something and must remind the others to do something. What was this? "Continue mindful of how you have received and how you heard." (Revelation 3:3) They had heard the message of God's kingdom that he will use for restoring his universal sovereignty to this earth and putting in perfect order all the affairs of mankind. They had heard the message of everlasting salvation

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that comes through the ransom sacrifice of God's Son, Jesus Christ. They had heard of how God was taking out from all nations of mankind a "people for his name" to be united with his Son Jesus Christ in the heavenly kingdom as his joint heirs.

Also, by now they had received almost the complete Bible, only the final writings by the inspired apostle John being yet to be produced and added. They had received water baptism in symbol of their full dedication of themselves to Jehovah God. They had been taken into the "new covenant" with him through the Mediator Jesus Christ and thus had become members of the "people for his name." This meant, too, that they had received the adoption as the spiritual sons of God and had been anointed with the spirit of God to be preachers of the Word of God to all the nations in order that other disciples of Christ might be made. They had received the wondrous hope of having a spiritual, heavenly resurrection from the dead and being made kings and priests with him for the blessing of all the world of mankind, living and dead. — Acts 15:14; Hebrews 8:6-13; 2 Corinthians 1:21, 22.

What precious things and O how many things they had received and had heard! But now because of verging on spiritual death they were in danger of losing these things forever. So they needed to become mindful again of these things and then "go on keeping" these most valuable things. They must have a change of mind. As Jesus Christ said to their "angel" overseer, they must repent! This would make them grieve over their having become so ungrateful and unappreciative to God from whom they had received so much favor and heard so much truth. Their repentance would lead to their reactivating themselves spiritually and then really living up to their name of being alive, truly alive as Christian personalities. They would awake from a spiritual deadness and would take part again in the right Christian works

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and would fully perform them before God. — Ephesians 5:14.

For the moment, Jesus Christ was warning the "angel" overseer of the Sardis congregation; but suddenly, at an unknown future hour, Jesus Christ as Chief Inspector would come upon the Sardis congregation for the final inspection and then take due action. At that time it would be too late for any unrepentant, spiritually dead Christians to repent and regain what they were in danger of losing. "Certainly," said the Inspector Jesus Christ, "unless you wake up, I shall come as a thief, and you will not know at all at what hour I shall come upon you." (Revelation 3:3) By coming at this unknown, unannounced time for final inspection he would find out whether they were living as true Christians, "not with acts of eyeservice, as men pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, with fear of Jehovah." (Colossians 3:22) "In the sincerity of your hearts, as to the Christ, not by way of eyeservice as men pleasers, but as Christ's slaves, doing the will of God whole-souled." (Ephesians 6:5, 6) They must not be hypocritical Christians, Christians in name only and for outward show. They need to be true Christians, because hypocritical ones will be rejected.

Today, in this twentieth century, Christendom or the so-called Christian world is filled with religious hypocrites. When World War I ended at eleven o'clock in the morning of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918, Christendom had made a bad record for herself as a professed Christian institution. Christianity was then due to enter the most difficult period of its history. Would it survive? It was a most pressing time for a warning to come from Jesus Christ at God's spiritual temple to all those who professed to be Christians. Christendom, which claims to follow the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, had failed to prevent or stop World War I. It was really HER war, all twenty-eight nations taking part in that war being members of Christendom

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except four. As a force for the promoting of true Christianity she had proved to be dead. In fact, during World War I she showed herself to be a persecutor of true Christians who would not join her in bloodshed but who preached God's kingdom. Instead of God's kingdom, Christendom proposed a League of Nations for world peace and security and voted for it in the first postwar year, 1919.

What about the anointed remnant of dedicated Christians? During the critical war years of 1914-1918 they had undergone the persecution foretold by Christ in his prophecy found in Matthew 24:7-12. In the various lands at war much or all of their literature, as published by the Watch Tower Bible & Tract Society, had been banned. In the United States even the president and the secretary-treasurer of this Watch Tower Society and other members of its headquarters staff had been imprisoned at the height of the war hysteria. A fear toward the political authorities of the world acted as a restraint upon much of the public activity of this persecuted remnant of spirit-anointed Christians. Christendom hoped and trusted that she had silenced them forever as being a heretical, nonconformist religious group. Would her hope and trust prove true?

At the end of World War I on November 11, 1918, the warning message of Jesus Christ to the Sardis congregation was very appropriate. During the world conflict just ended the deeds of true Christianity had not been "fully performed before [Christ's] God" by the anointed remnant. Whatever features of the real Christianity were remaining with them "were ready to die," unless they would be strengthened. Would the remnant consider that their work on earth was ended? Would they form themselves into a restricted religious sect, thinking that the limit of Bible understanding had been reached? Would they stop all further preaching of God's kingdom, and stick strictly to themselves until their numbers died out? Would they finally have the name of being alive as a mere

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little, insignificant religious sect but really be spiritually dead to the worldwide Kingdom work that was then due to open up in the postwar era? There was actual danger of this. Therefore, the warning to the Sardis congregation was most suitable for the anointed remnant at that decisive time. — Revelation 3:1, 2.


There was dire need to be mindful of what they had received and what they had heard particularly since the first publishing of the religious magazine Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence in July of the year 1879. The "times of the Gentiles"


as foretold by Christ in Luke 21:24 (AV) and as emphasized in the Watch Tower magazine had indeed ended in early autumn of the epoch-making year of 1914. At that time the invisible presence of Jesus Christ in his heavenly Messianic kingdom had begun. The anointed remnant had received the divine commission to preach, yes, to herald world wide, not Christendom's League of Nations as "the political expression of the Kingdom of God on earth," but the Messianic kingdom of God as now established in heaven at the end of the Gentile Times in 1914. (Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10) It was indeed the urgent time for the anointed remnant to "repent" over its re-

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cent failures and any tendencies to deadness and to wake up and take the action now due. Otherwise the reigning King Jesus Christ would come upon the anointed remnant at a future unannounced hour and consign them to real death. — Revelation 3:3.

WALKING IN WHITE GARMENTS

In the case of the anointed remnant then, the situation was not one of spiritual death on the part of all members thereof. Neither was it so in the case of the Sardis congregation. Jesus Christ knew this, for he said to the "angel" of the Sardis congregation: "Nevertheless, you do have a few names in Sardis that did not defile their outer garments, and they shall walk with me in white ones, because they are worthy." (Revelation 3:4) These "few names" or persons had not made themselves unsightly as Christian personalities. They lived up to what they openly professed to be, imitators of Jesus Christ. Their "outer garments" would symbolize their outward profession, their religious claims. Despite all the defiling pagan influences of materialistic, idolatrous Sardis, they held onto a clean, irreproachable Christian appearance. They did not defile or pollute their "outer garments" of Christian profession. So doing, they brought no shame or reproach upon the Sardis congregation. They truly lived their Christianity.

For the comforting and strengthening of these undefiled living Christians, Jesus Christ said that they would at last "walk with me in white ones, because they are worthy." This meant that, after the establishment of his Messianic kingdom, he would resurrect them from their sleep in the graves to clean, spotless life with him in the heavens. They would then be clothed upon with shining righteousness, and with the office of underpriests to serve under him who, in the Revelation vision, is seen "clothed with a garment that reached down to the feet, and girded at the breasts with a golden girdle." (Revelation 1:13) In harmony with this, Revelation 6:9-11 states that

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'white robes' were given as a reward to the martyred Christians whose souls were pictured as being under the altar. The worthy "few names" were an example to the rest of the Sardis congregation, who apparently had defiled their garments with the worldliness of pagan Sardis and who needed to repent and to clean up their "outer garments" of Christian profession. After World War I similar things applied to the surviving anointed remnant.

The closing words of encouragement to the "angel" of the Sardis congregation fittingly stress the importance of the "outer garments" of Christian profession. To this "angel" the glorious one "who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars" says: "He that conquers will thus be arrayed in white outer garments; and I will by no means blot out his name from the book of life, but I will make acknowledgment of his name before my Father and before his angels. Let the one who has an ear hear what the spirit says to the congregations." — Revelation 3:5, 6.

For those members of the Sardis congregation of the first century and for the members of the anointed remnant of this twentieth century, "he that conquers" means an anointed Christian that has not defiled or polluted his symbolic outer garments that identify him as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. He may be in the midst of this world of mankind, of which the city of Sardis was once a part, but he does not let himself become a part of this world, any more than Jesus Christ himself when on earth as a man was a part of this same world. (John 15:19; 17:14-16) He practices the pure and undefiled Christian religion by keeping himself "without spot from the world," not loving the world nor the "things in the world." (James 1:27; 1 John 2:15-17) Because of his inborn sinfulness and weakness he may unknowingly or unwillingly sin; but when he realizes that he has sinned, he repents and asks God's forgiveness and gets cleansed of sin through the "blood of Jesus

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his Son." (1 John 1:7 to 2:2; Revelation 1:5) In this manner he keeps his outer garments undefiled.

The expression "he that conquers" also means the anointed Christian who without shame acknowledges Jesus Christ as his Ransomer and Lord and Master before all the world, even in the face of the danger of death by violence at enemy hands. In harmony with acknowledging Christ and in proof of it, the conqueror refuses to become the slave of political, religious and military men on earth. Paul says: "He that was called when a free man is a slave of Christ. You were bought with a price; stop becoming slaves of men." (1 Corinthians 7:22, 23) The conqueror also takes seriously Jesus' words: "Everyone, then, that confesses union with me before men, I will also confess union with him before my Father who is in the heavens; but whoever disowns me before men, I will also disown him before my Father who is in the heavens." (Matthew 10:32, 33; Mark 8: 38; Luke 9:26) Since the conqueror is acknowledged by the glorified Christ before his heavenly Father and before his angels, it must be because he conquers by acknowledging Christ on earth.

All conquerors of such kind will be preserved for all eternity. Because of having followed Christ's steps and gone in through the narrow gate and got onto the cramped road that leads to life, they already have their names written tentatively in the "book of life." (Matthew 7:13, 14) By continuing on that cramped road and by conquering this world through Christian faith and faithfulness, the conqueror is assured of having his name kept in that "book of life." The Lord Jesus Christ assures him: "I will by no means blot out his name from the book of life." His heavenly inheritance of life will be immortality, and thus to endless eternity he will be able to walk "arrayed in white outer garments" as a worthy associate of the Lord Jesus Christ. This information is something worth being heard by the "one who has an ear" to hear what the spirit says to the congregations.



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