Is Your Name in the Book of Life?
1. What is the spiritual condition of the congregation in Sardis, and how does Jesus begin his message?
SOME 30 miles south of modern Akhisar (Thyatira) is the site of the next congregation to receive a message from the glorified Jesus: Sardis. In the sixth century before our Common Era, this city was the proud capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia and seat of the enormously wealthy King Croesus. By John’s day, it has fallen on hard times, and its former splendor under Croesus is mere history. Similarly, the Christian congregation there has become spiritually impoverished. For the first time, Jesus does not begin his message with a word of commendation. Instead, he says: “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.’”—Revelation 3:1.
2. (a) Of what significance is it to the Christians in Sardis that Jesus has “the seven spirits”? (b) What reputation did the Sardis congregation have, but what were the facts?
2 Why does Jesus identify himself as the one “who has the seven spirits”? Because these spirits represent Jehovah’s holy spirit flowing in its fullness. Later, John describes them also as “seven eyes,” indicating the penetrating vision that God’s holy spirit bestows on Jesus. (Revelation 5:6) Thus, he is able to uncover and handle any situation that may exist. (Matthew 10:26; 1 Corinthians 4:5) The congregation in Sardis has the reputation of being alive, active. But Jesus can see that it is spiritually dead. Evidently, most of its members have relapsed into an apathy similar to their condition before they became Christians.—Compare Ephesians 2:1-3; Hebrews 5:11-14.
3. (a) Why should “the angel of the congregation in Sardis” take special note of the fact that Jesus has “the seven stars”? (b) What strong counsel does Jesus give the congregation in Sardis?
3 Jesus also reminds “the angel of the congregation in Sardis” that He is the one who has “the seven stars.” He holds those congregation elders in his right hand, having authority to direct them in their shepherding work. They should set their hearts to ‘knowing positively the appearance of the flock.’ (Proverbs 27:23) Hence, they had better listen carefully to Jesus’ next words: “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.”—Revelation 3:2, 3.
4. How would Peter’s words help the congregation in Sardis to “strengthen the things remaining”?
4 The elders in Sardis need to remember the joy they first had when they learned the truth and the blessings they then received. But now they are dead as to spiritual activity. Their congregational lamp is flickering because of lack of works of faith. Years before, the apostle Peter wrote to the congregations in Asia (likely including Sardis) to build appreciation for the glorious good news that Christians had accepted and that had been declared “with holy spirit sent forth from heaven”—as represented by the seven spirits of John’s vision. Peter also reminded those Asian Christians that they belonged to ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession, that they should declare abroad the excellencies of the one that called them out of darkness into his wonderful light.’ (1 Peter 1:12, 25; 2:9) Meditating on such spiritual truths will help the congregation in Sardis to repent and “strengthen the things remaining.”—Compare 2 Peter 3:9.
5. (a) What happened to the appreciation of the Christians in Sardis? (b) What will happen if the Sardis Christians do not respond to Jesus’ counsel?
5 At the moment, their appreciation and love of the truth are like a fire that has almost died out. Just a few embers continue to glow. Jesus encourages them to fan the spark, stir up the fire, repent of the sins into which their negligence has led them, and become a spiritually alive congregation once again. (Compare 2 Timothy 1:6, 7.) Otherwise, when Jesus comes unexpectedly—“as a thief”—to execute judgment, the congregation in Sardis will be unprepared.—Matthew 24:43, 44.
Coming “as a Thief”
6. How did Jesus come “as a thief” in 1918, and what situation did he find among his professed followers?
6 Jesus’ warning that he would come “as a thief” reaches down into modern times. It had a special application for Christians who survived into the Lord’s day. Soon after 1914, there was a fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy: “‘Suddenly there will come to His temple the true Lord, whom you people are seeking, and the messenger of the covenant in whom you are delighting. Look! He will certainly come,’ Jehovah of armies has said.” (Malachi 3:1; Revelation 1:10) As “messenger of the covenant,” Jesus came to inspect and judge those who claimed to be his followers. (1 Peter 4:17) At that time, in 1918, Christendom was embroiled in the shedding of blood in World War I and was completely dead, spiritually speaking. Even true Christians, who before the war had preached so zealously, went through a time of spiritual drowsiness. Some of their prominent elders were put into prison, and the preaching activity almost stopped. When Jehovah’s spirit awakened these Christians the following year, not all were ready. Some, like the foolish virgins of Jesus’ parable, were not equipped spiritually for the privilege of serving Jehovah. Happily, though, there were many who, like the discreet virgins, had heeded Jesus’ warning: “Keep on the watch, therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour.”—Matthew 25:1-13.
7. Why do Christians today need to keep awake?
7 The need for a Christian to be alert did not end early in the Lord’s day. In his great prophecy concerning “the sign when all these things are destined to come to a conclusion,” Jesus gave a strong warning: “Concerning that day or the hour nobody knows . . . Keep looking, keep awake, for you do not know when the appointed time is. But what I say to you I say to all, Keep on the watch.” (Mark 13:4, 32, 33, 37) Yes, up to this very hour, each one of us, whether of the anointed or of the great crowd, needs to stay alert and fight against drifting into spiritual sleep. When Jehovah’s day comes “as a thief in the night,” may we be found wide awake so as to receive a favorable judgment.—1 Thessalonians 5:2, 3; Luke 21:34-36; Revelation 7:9.
8. How has the John class today stimulated God’s people to keep spiritually alive?
8 The John class today is itself awake to the need for stimulating God’s people to keep spiritually alive. To this end, special gatherings are arranged throughout the earth several times each year. In a recent year, attendance at 2,981 district conventions totaled 10,953,744, and 122,701 new believers were baptized. For more than a hundred years, the John class has used the Watchtower magazine in announcing Jehovah’s name and purpose. In response to bitter persecutions during the two world wars, The Watchtower aroused Jehovah’s Witnesses to renewed zeal by publishing articles such as “Blessed Are the Fearless” (1919), “A Call to Action” (1925), and “Defeat of Persecution” (1942).
9. (a) What should all Christians be asking themselves? (b) What encouragement has The Watchtower given?
9 As in Sardis, so in the congregations today, continued self-examination is vital for all Christians. All of us should keep asking ourselves: Are our “deeds fully performed” before our God? Without judging others, do we personally cultivate the spirit of self-sacrifice and strive to render whole-souled service to God? In this connection, the Watchtower magazine has given encouragement by discussing topics such as “Keep Proving What You Yourselves Are” and “Living No Longer for Ourselves.”* Having such Scriptural help, let us probe our innermost selves as we try to walk humbly and prayerfully in integrity before Jehovah.—Psalm 26:1-3; 139:23, 24.
“A Few Names”
10. What encouraging feature did Jesus note in the congregation in Sardis, and how should this affect us?
10 Jesus’ next words to the congregation in Sardis are most encouraging. He says: “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. 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.” (Revelation 3:4, 5) Do not these words arouse us and strengthen our determination to be faithful? Because of negligence on the part of a body of elders, a congregation as a whole may fall into deep spiritual sleep. Yet, some individuals therein may strive courageously to keep their Christian identity pure and unspotted and thus continue to have a good name with Jehovah.—Proverbs 22:1.
11, 12. (a) Even during the great apostasy, how must some have been like those faithful “few names” in Sardis? (b) What relief came to wheatlike Christians during the Lord’s day?
11 Yes, those “outer garments” refer to a person’s righteous identity as a Christian. (Compare Revelation 16:15; 19:8.) It must be heartwarming for Jesus to see that, despite the apathy of the great majority, “a few names,” a few anointed Christians in Sardis, still manage to keep this identity. Likewise, when professed Christians were absorbed into Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion, during the long centuries of the great apostasy, there must always have been a few individuals who tried, against great odds, to do Jehovah’s will. These were righteous like wheat hidden amid a profusion of sectarian weeds.—Revelation 17:3-6; Matthew 13:24-29.
12 Jesus promised that he would be with these wheatlike Christians “all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” He knows who they are and what good names they made for themselves. (Matthew 28:20; Ecclesiastes 7:1) Imagine the joy of those faithful “few” who were still alive at the start of the Lord’s day! They were finally separated from spiritually dead Christendom and were gathered into a righteous congregation more like the congregation in Smyrna.—Matthew 13:40-43.
13. What blessings are in store for anointed Christians who do not “defile their outer garments”?
13 Those in Sardis who are faithful to the end and do not sully their Christian identity attain the realization of a wonderful hope. After the establishment of Jesus’ Messianic Kingdom in 1914, they are resurrected to spirit life and as conquerors are arrayed with white outer garments in symbol of their flawless, untainted righteousness. Having walked the cramped road that leads to life, they will enjoy an eternal reward.—Matthew 7:14; see also Revelation 6:9-11.
Forever in the Book of Life!
14. What is “the book of life,” and whose names are recorded therein?
14 What is “the book of life,” and whose names will be retained therein? The book, or scroll, of life refers to the record of Jehovah’s servants who come in line to receive the grant of everlasting life. (Malachi 3:16) Here in Revelation specific reference is made to the names of anointed Christians. But the names of those in line for everlasting life on earth are also recorded therein. Moreover, names can be ‘blotted out’ of that book. (Exodus 32:32, 33) Nevertheless, those of the John class whose names remain in the book of life until their death receive immortal life in heaven. (Revelation 2:10) These are the names that Jesus specially acknowledges before his Father and before His angels. How magnificent that reward!
15. How will members of the great crowd get their names indelibly written in the book of life?
15 The great crowd, whose names are also written in the book of life, will come out of the great tribulation alive. By exercising faith throughout Jesus’ Millennial Reign and during the decisive test that follows, these will be rewarded with life everlasting in Paradise on earth. (Daniel 12:1; Revelation 7:9, 14; 20:15; 21:4) Their names will then remain indelibly written in the book of life. Knowing what is here presented by means of holy spirit, do you not respond with enthusiasm to Jesus’ repeated exhortation: “Let the one who has an ear hear what the spirit says to the congregations”?—Revelation 3:6.
See The Watchtower, July 15, 2005, and March 15, 2005.
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May your name remain in the book of life