There was a sovereign work of God in the faithful remnant of the church world during the time of the Reformation. It was the energy and action of the Holy Spirit to bring enlightenment and rediscovery of certain basic divine truths. One was the divine authority of God’s written Word as the only standard of faith and practice. Another was justification by faith for the individual. When Romanism placed divine authority with the established church structure and infallible popes, the light of God comes in and shows that it is still Jesus who has all authority in heaven and on earth. When Jezebel declared herself to be the sole interpreter of Scripture and systematically kept the written Word from the masses, God comes in to place His Word in the hands of the faithful. When the Roman Catholic church pretended to dispense the grace of God through fleshly ordinances, their priesthood always standing and continually ministering, God demonstrates His grace in justifying through the one time and eternal sacrifice and death of His Son (Heb.10:10-12). The Reformation was the work of God in sovereign grace.

However, like the first estate of the church that resulted from Pentecost, the Reformation is not found or judged in the addresses to the churches. God does not judge His own work, nor does Christ judge the work of the Spirit. Yet what is always judged (and this in relation to the earth) is the responsibility of man when he is given care for the work that God has done. The faithful remnant were despised and persecuted for hundreds of years during the rise of the Jezebel state in Christendom. They were called and labeled every irreverent and ungodly name that could be thought of by priests and popes. They were hunted and endured much suffering and isolation. But God would do a new work.

The Reformation: a new sovereign work of the Spirit

Jezebel was given time by God to repent, but she would not (Rev. 2:21). The Lord had to set Christendom aside as hopeless. This corrupt ‘state’ of the corporate body existed for more than nine hundred years before the Reformation. Sardis represents what resulted in Christendom out of the Reformation. This was separate and distinct from Jezebel and her corruptions. Although Jezebel continues on with barely an interruption, the woman represents a corrupted ‘state’ of professing Christianity that no longer was a light or testimony for God in the earth. The Reformation was God working anew and afresh by His Spirit in the faithful remnant. Sardis represents the time after the Reformation, from about the early 1700’s, when God’s new work is placed in man’s hands, and the particular result of responsibility is produced. God is looking for fruit resulting from man’s previous blessing.[105]

Revelation 3:1-6

“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. (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) 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. (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. (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.

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

The Characters of Christ in the Messages

The character of Christ presented for Sardis gives us hints that there was a new sovereign work of the Spirit previous to this state. The seven stars in His possession are similar to His character in the first church, which followed the sovereign work of Pentecost. I believe this is the sovereign spiritual representation of the church in the mind and counsels of God – what the church will be once glorified and found in the kingdom of His Father (Matt. 13:43). The stars in His possession show that He has all power and authority in sovereign divine grace for the church. It shows that Christ will build the true church and it will not fail, even in the midst of corporate corruption or spiritual deadness of the general body on the earth.

           Ecclesiastical Characters                                         Personal Characters

Holding the seven stars in His right hand or in His possession (Ephesus and Sardis). This points to a sovereign work having previously been completed The Son of God (Thyatira) – this is both personal and ecclesiastical and is used in the message to the transition church
Walking in the midst of the seven golden lampstands (Ephesus) – responsibility judged He who possesses the seven Spirits of God (Sardis) – His providential and sovereign authority
The First and the Last (divinity – Smyrna) He who is holy, He who is true (Philadelphia)
He who was dead and came to life (Man – Smyrna) He who has the key of David, He who opens and no man shuts, and shuts etc. (Philadelphia)
He who has the sharp two-edged sword (Pergamos) – the authority of Christ and the Word These things says the Amen (Laodicea) – personally all God’s promises are in Christ.
He who has eyes like a flame of fire and feet like fine brass (Thyatira) – judgment of man’s works of corruption in the professing church The Faithful and True Witness (Laodicea) – the corporate church has failed in its responsibility of testimony and Christ takes back this title
There are others found in chapter one that are not used in the messages The Beginning of the creation of God (Laodicea) – He is Head of both the old and the new creation

A Faithful Remnant Separated

When we saw the seven Spirits previously it was the providential power of God in the earth issuing forth from His throne of government in heaven (Rev. 1:4). When we see the slain Lamb in the midst of the throne possessing the seven Spirits, it is the perfection of power and intelligence for the exercise of the government of the earth, having Himself prevailed to open the book of inheritance (Rev. 5:6). But the character of Christ presented to Sardis is what is available for the faithful remnant in this particular corporate state. If God is working in the earth at this time, it would have to be in and through the vessel of the church and not the world. But the outward body is either corrupt or dead, so it would have to be through the small remnant that He keeps. The seven spirits of God in His possession speaks of the unchangeable fullness and perfection (the #7) of the sovereign grace of the Spirit in His control (John 16:13-15). Both the seven stars and Spirits speak of His divine power to bring forth a new sovereign work such as the Reformation.

Again we should observe that the character of Christ possessing the seven Spirits of God is not one of the ecclesiastical characters of Christ among the candlesticks. The seven Spirits do not represent the Holy Spirit dwelling in the midst of the church – the habitation of God by the Spirit (Eph. 2:22). Rather this speaks of the qualities and power of the Holy Spirit as the direct agent of Christ to bring about the will of God in the earth. It is that which is personal to Him, and in reference to His own power and rights, but even apart from the church world. It is comfort and assurance to the faithful that He alone is the real source of strength. His characters become more personal, indicating that the faithful remnant’s security is not in the outward body of Christendom, but only now having Him personally. He alone has the power to sustain and support the remnant.[106]

Seeing clearly the Ruin of the Professing Church

Colossians 2:5-7

“For though I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the steadfastness of your faith in Christ.

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.”

The ‘steadfastness of your faith in Christ’ has the meaning of faithfulness. Being ‘rooted and built up in Christ’ and ‘established in the faith’ is the same. The true believer must develop a deep understanding and appreciation of the value of all that is in Christ for the individual. This knowledge will open his eyes to the failure of the professing church and give him confidence in the midst of it. When he fully sees all that Christ has done for him, he will know that Christendom is not the faithful and fruit-bearing witness it had responsibility to be. His proper understanding and deep sense of the failure of the church world will enhance rather than weaken his confidence in the Lord. He will be steady and calm through all the pretense of the corporate institution. His confidence is no longer in man’s work or the religious structure but in the grace that Christ personally gives that is sufficient for him (II Cor. 12:9-10).

When God finds the corporate structure of Christendom either corrupt (Thyatira) or dead (Sardis), then it remains that the individual believer is a testimony for Christ in the world. This is no longer a comparison to the book of Acts, Pentecost, and the apostolic church. All those comparisons ended with Pergamos. Christ does not look for or expect the remnant to do great and heroic things for God. He knows that this is not possible. Rather, it is in accordance to what the remnant has received in grace from Christ now, in their present situation and for their situation. His grace is always sufficient for the need, and He sees the present need as sustaining and supporting the faithfulness of the few in the midst of corporate failure until He returns.[107]

Protestantism: a Diverging Path from Jezebel

We should notice concerning the characters of Christ applied in the last four churches just how many of them are personal to Him. They are not the previous ecclesiastical characters.

                                   The # of Ecclesiastical Characters in the Progression

Ephesus    Smyrna Pergamos Thyatira    Sardis Philadelphia Laodicea
       2        2          2        2/1          1          0          0

On a technical note concerning the characters of Christ and how they are used in the structuring of the seven messages, we see that the first three churches have only ecclesiastical characters. In these three the corporate body is acknowledged by God as vital. The possibility of repentance and return are held out to them. Thyatira and Sardis both have one church character and one personal. These two churches represent times of transition. Thyatira is the total corruption of the original blessing of Pentecost, while Sardis is the responsible outcome of man’s care for the second blessing of the Reformation. Sardis is immediately judged by God as spiritually dead. Both churches have a faithful remnant that God distinctly marks and acknowledges (Rev. 2:24, 3:4) because He chooses out of the world and knows those that are His (John 15:19, II Tim. 2:19). In the final two churches the character of Christ is all personal and there is no church character.

It is easy to see the progressive pattern and why we can say that Christ views the professing church, as it goes along in time, less and less as a corporate entity. Christendom loses any acknowledged church character. When the professing church has been found corrupt beyond any reasonable hope and no longer represents the glory of Christ before the world, then what comes forth as applied character is what Christ is in His person. His personal character is the resource and encouragement of the individual or small remnant. The general body of Protestantism had a certain outward profession and appearance of Christianity, but was spiritually dead, having no living power. The character of Christ presented stands in stark contrast to this condition. But His character is not for the outer body of Protestantism. It is for the few names in Sardis that have not defiled their garments.

The corporate church as Jezebel has been set aside, having no true testimony for God and having lost any true church characteristics that could be acknowledged. Therefore, except for the seven stars here in Sardis, the remaining churches see none of the original ecclesiastical characters of Christ. The general professing church that is Jezebel is not acknowledged; yet it exists, and remains, and goes on to the end. We have to be mindful that Jezebel is Romanism, and is the greater part of Christendom. Therefore, the Reformation starts a divergent path away from Jezebel, and Sardis is the human outcome in responsibility, so to speak, of the new work of God.

Protestantism: a Reputation and Appearance

Protestantism is the great public result that is looked at and judged by Christ in the time of Sardis. Protestantism is the work and responsibility of man resulting from the Reformation. It has a name, which is a certain reputation in the eyes of men. It has a name to be alive, but it is dead. It is not the corruption and evil of Jezebel. But it has no life and no fruit to answer to the previous work of God. All is spiritually dead. There is no moral power in the professing church. Jezebel is corruption. Sardis is a dead carcass.

The story of Sardis is easily told. It is not a state of corruption, although there was individual evil involved. Rather, it was a reputation of great moral activity on the part of men to deliver Christendom from the previous corruption and evil. That is what it was, just a name for something it really wasn’t. The Reformation was the sovereign work of God’s grace. If man takes credit for it as his work, then he has a reputation in the world and a reason for glorying.

The Exaltation of man and his Religion

Jezebel is Romanism, which is the complete judaizing of the Christian faith. By adding Judaism to Christianity man exalts himself by what he does and accomplishes, making his additions to the simplicity and efficacy of Christ. By adding Judaism man again has a religion he can perform by human effort and accomplishment, and the gaining of status and glory in the world. Man will desperately hold on to and fight for religion that he can accomplish by human effort. This isn’t the case with true Christianity, and so man in the flesh will not be happy unless he can make it so.

In Sardis and with Protestantism men were prone to do the same, just not in such an outward corrupting degradation of the faith as is Jezebel. In Protestantism you eventually have the false leaven of Arminianism. It is a subtle form of judaizing, new and fresh, but accomplishes the same results – the glorifying of man in and by what he does. The Arminian leaven is everywhere in Protestant doctrines and teachings today, especially the Evangelical side of things. There is also the direct influence of Judaism, with its rituals, fleshly ordinances, earthly traditions, sabbaths, and holy days. One of the greatest impacts on Protestantism is the judaizing use of the teachings and doctrines of Israel, by which the separate and distinct callings of Israel and the church are confounded. We cannot leave Jezebel totally off this list. Although the Reformation was a divergent path away from her, man in his responsibility and care in Protestantism did not see it necessary to rid himself of all of Jezebel’s ways and worldliness.

Protestantism, although having a great reputation, is spiritually dead. The orthodoxy in Protestantism is essentially this – a name, a reputation, a certain appearance, but no living Christ. There is no real life in it. When you establish state religions where entrance into the church is given to all with barely a commitment or profession, there will be no life of God in it. God calls, God chooses, and God works, not the state or country or empire.

The general body of Sardis is warned to “Be watchful and to strengthen the things that remain, that are ready to die…”Even what little spiritual life they had was about to be lost (Matt. 13:12). Their works were not truly Christian in character and pleasing to God. “…for I have not found your works perfect before God.” God’s standard is not being met and He will not compromise, in holiness and love. As it can be said, there are very many who profess Christ, comparatively few who live Christ.

“Remember therefore how you have received and heard.” This is another reference to the previous sovereign work of God in the Reformation. Sardis is instructed to remember the previous blessing of God in grace and in a sense recover the truth of it. Yet the public body is found to have no answer to what they previously saw and heard. It is judged as failed and dead. They are to hold fast to whatever remains, and repent.

Sardis treated as the World

The most sobering part of the message to the corporate entity of Sardis is the threat that Christ “…will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour…” Here Protestantism, as the corporate system, is reduced to equal status with the world (I Thess. 5:1-3). This is God’s estimate of it. In I Thessalonians the contrast is between the true church and the world – between what is the light and what is in darkness. In Sardis it is the contrast between what professes and has a reputation in the eyes of the world and the faithful remnant. Sardis will be judged with the world.

Christ’s Profession of the Remnant

The issue in Sardis is having the name, the reputation, the profession of Christ, and whether it is truly of God or not. This difference is observed when the faithful overcomers in Sardis are addressed:

§  He …shall be clothed in white garments – the righteousness of the saints.

§  Their names will not be blotted out of the Book of Life – in its use here it is a general archive of Christian ‘profession’ and all names written in it include all the wheat and tares of Christendom. This is not the book that God writes in before the foundations of the world. The one God writes in is the one of His eternal counsels and purpose.

§  I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels – this is the profession that counts, where Christ Himself acknowledges and confesses you as His own.

The hearing ear phrase is again found at the end of the message, indicating that the corporate body of Protestantism is not a witness for God in the world and its candlestick will soon be removed (Rev. 3:6). Only the remnant is acknowledged by Christ (Rev. 3:4). The corporate body is not.

Do not count on or rest in religious reputation. Listen and hear what the Spirit says, and act accordingly. Do not turn around and become a judge of God’s Word.[108] This was Protestantism’s demise. The Reformation holds God’s word up as the sole authority on earth. When man is made responsible he sinks down into private interpretation of the word. This is soon perverted into men becoming judges of God’s word, judges of its true meaning. This leads to the dividing of the body in denominationalism. Protestantism was a form of godliness without any life or power, and brought in the wholesale dividing up of Christ.

                                                           Chapter 10: Endnotes

[105] The principle of responsibility remains the same for Sardis as it was for Ephesus. A sovereign work of God and blessing by the energy of the Holy Spirit is done first.   Now it is placed in the hands of men for the care of it. What is judged is man’s care for the original blessing. Sardis is new ground, because it is man’s responsibility following a new work of the Holy Spirit.

[106] Israel made the golden calf and failed before Moses brought the tablets down the mountain. As a consequence of this corporate corruption Moses moves the tabernacle outside and away from the camp of Israel. There the glory would come down and Moses would enjoy face to face communication with God (Ex. 33:7-11). In the understanding of intimate relationships, this was not the experience of the rest of Israel.

[107] The seven messages to the churches in Revelation 2 and 3 is God’s judgment of the responsibility of the professing church in its time on the earth. This is the judgment of its work and its moral condition as a witness for God. Jesus Christ Himself is the One speaking the messages through the Spirit. He is the one walking in the midst of the candlesticks. In discussing and judging the responsibility of the corporate church He mentions certain subjects and categories – first love, false doctrines, evil deeds, worldliness, idolatry, and enduring suffering. Jezebel is the utter corruption and evil of the corporate body. Protestantism becomes the other part of the corporate body that is spiritually dead. When the corporate body failed, the remnant in the last four churches is then encouraged to faithfulness, holding on, and expecting and looking for Christ’s coming for them.

My point is this: These are the things that God sees as important concerning the responsibility of the church and worthy of His notice. These are the subjects He chooses to discuss. This actually represents the responsibility of the corporate church. Why don’t we understand this point? Why have we created other topics and things to emphasize as the will of God? Has God given an inadequate evaluation of the corporate responsibility of the professing church? Has He judged incorrectly or left important things out? Has He given incomplete instructions to His remnant as to what they should be doing in the midst of failure in order to sustain them?

Nothing in Revelation 2 and 3 is incomplete or needs any additions, especially adding the wayward thoughts and aspirations of men. It is the responsibility of the judged church world. We should have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches. Do you have ears to hear? Our problem is that we want the Spirit to say something different or something new. There isn’t anything different from what we have in these seven messages or anything new that is different from what the Spirit has said. This is it. If you come up with something different, it isn’t the Word of God. If you think you have something new from the Spirit, say from prayer and fasting, it isn’t from God. Again, this is it. From the time of John on Patmos this is the history of the works and responsibility of the professing church on earth. This is the history of its candlestick until it is removed.

Further point: Why wouldn’t we emphasize what God tells the faithful remnant to do? Why wouldn’t we teach the same thing as God encourages the remnant with? I simply do not get it. We make up a new agenda with a different emphasis and call it the will of God. It doesn’t agree with what God has said to do. By this we actually walk away from God. The remnant is what God counts as His and He preserves it to the end. Why wouldn’t we pay close attention to what He says about it? His instructions are for the care of the remnant. He knows what it needs in order to keep it in His grace and faithful to Him.

Faithfulness to Christ is the key characteristic of the remnant. In Thyatira they are to keep free of the corruption of Jezebel (Rev. 2:24) and have no involvement with her. He says to the remnant,”…I will put on you no other burden.” The only burden is faithfulness. They are told to “…hold fast what you have till I come.” This is faithfulness in the midst of corruption (Rev. 2:25). In Sardis the remnant is marked out by the Lord as those who have not defiled their garments with the false profession and religious orthodoxy of Protestantism (Rev. 3:4). His encouragement to them is they are worthy and they should look forward to walking with Him in white. Again, not defiling your garments is remaining faithful to Him. When we get to Philadelphia, the remnant church, it is nothing other than faithfulness that He calls for – nothing else!

Over the course of our Lord’s life here on earth, His ‘reputation’ in the eyes of men diminishes more and more until they hate Him and put Him on the cross. One friend betrays Him, one denies knowing Him, and all desert Him (John 16:32). He was the faithful and true witness of God always, but certainly of no reputation in the world. The believer’s faithfulness to God will have a similar effect. Your faithfulness will lower other’s opinion of you. It causes a certain amount of isolation. It will not give you a reputation in the world’s eyes. You will be seen as odd and strange, even to other believers. Few will understand your walk. There are afflictions that are brought on by faithfulness: this is suffering with Christ because His faithfulness as the true witness of God caused the same for Him. All who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. It is the believer’s portion, while on the earth, to share in the sufferings of Christ. But through faithfulness you will walk closer to Christ and have more of His grace for others.

The final point: Faithfulness to Christ in the midst of the evil of the church body is what should be taught today. It is what Christ emphasizes. “Hold fast what you have until I come” is the other part of faithfulness. This is remaining true to Him while you are looking and expecting His imminent return for the body of Christ. His return to gather up the true church and take us to the Father’s house needs to be taught more. The practical effect of this teaching is faithfulness to Christ and separation from the world and from worldliness (I John 3:1-3).

There are many teachings in the Christian world today about what the responsibilities of the church are. Very few of these teachings agree with what the Spirit has said to the churches when its responsibility is looked at, or even more importantly, how He instructs the faithful remnant in the messages. I see this as a real problem and a major disconnect. If we see fit to teach other things as our responsibilities, we are not agreeing with God. For example, if we do not see the general corporate body of Christendom as corrupt or spiritually dead, then we do not agree with God. God sees it as just this and He refuses to acknowledge it. He sees it as hopeless.   But we teach that the corporate body has all kinds of hope and potential, all kinds of strength and power. If you take the corporate church body and wrap it up in Arminian thoughts of human achievement and great works to be accomplished for God, then I say you are not agreeing with God and are actually denying what God has said. But these are the things we actually teach, the winning of America and the winning of the world.   The Arminian leaven sweeps us up into many pretentious thoughts which, when closely examined, do not have a true basis in the Word of God or the thoughts of God.

[108] One of the doctrines of Jezebel is that the authority of Christ on the earth resides in the church organization – church authority is held by the ecclesiastical structure and assumed by the men who controlled that structure. The infallibility of popes secured this earthly power and mechanism. With the Reformation God brings out, in sovereign grace and truth, the authority of Scripture alone –sola Scriptura.  Protestantism diverges from the pretentious authority of the Catholic church, but soon sank down into private interpretation and personal judgment of the Word of God. Both views are wrong. The authority of Christ does not reside in corrupt Jezebel. Neither do we possess a personal right to judge God’s Word. If God has spoken, we do not judge it, only obey.

With Protestantism’s premise of private interpretation, men devise ‘crucial rules’ in the so called ‘science’ of hermeneutics to ‘properly interpret’ the word of God. I see the wisdom of man and the world in this. God did not give these clever rules and drop them down to us. I do not see one hint of their existence or divine use in Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 2. These rules are not God’s thoughts, the mind of Christ, or the Spirit of truth teaching the things of God. They amount to the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of the Greeks (I Cor. 1:19-31), and even a vague reference to the Greek god, Hermes. It is worldly intelligence and how the professing church copies and makes use of it. As I said before, this is where things break down in departure from the leading and teaching of the Spirit, and denominations were the result. Look what we have today. Christ is divided (I Cor. 1:13). And this was done by man, not by God.