Revelation 3:1–5 (NKJV)
1 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 haven’t 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 haven’t 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.’”
These verses seem to focus on good works, on the idea of being watchful, not defiling our garments, and overcoming. Verse 5 specifically says that only those who overcome will be clothed in white, their names will not be blotted out of the Book of Life or the book of the saved, and Jesus will confess their names before His Father and before His angels. One of the most common interpretations of this verse in the Christian world is that some born-again people will not be watchful enough, will not overcome, and eventually their names will be blotted out of the Book of Life, even though they were once truly saved. At first glance, this seems a plausible conclusion. But let’s take a closer look at each verse.
These words were addressed to the pastor of the church of Sardis, who represented, in fact, the whole church from that city. It consisted of two kinds of people: (1) genuinely saved, (2) and those who called themselves Christians and did all kinds of good, moral works, but they didn’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ and had never been born again spiritually.
In Verse 1, Jesus told this church in Sardis it had some works and a reputation for being alive, but it was dead.
There might have been a time when the church of Sardis was fully alive, meaning most of the people in it were born again and effective in the Kingdom. However, in time, through teaching that was maybe too inclusive and too negatively influenced by the society’s culture, the church became dead. That doesn’t mean people who were born again lost their salvation, but it means the church as a whole became dead in the sense that some believers left from there, new people were added, and in time, the spiritually dead outnumbered the spiritually alive. Verse 4 highlights that even in that dead church of Sardis, a few people still didn’t compromise their faith and relationship with Christ by doing works out of self-righteousness. This says they were worthy. Nobody can ever be worthy by works, even if those works are done through faith.
In Verse 2, Jesus encourages the church to be watchful and strengthen the remaining things that are ready to die. What does it mean to be watchful? Let’s suppose being watchful refers to good works born-again people do to maintain their salvation. This means the people in that church had to watch over themselves and over their actions to make sure they were as holy as possible in order to overcome and remain saved. This presupposition creates a few significant problems. First, we add their imperfect works to the faith in Christ as a condition of maintaining salvation. God’s standard is perfect holiness, which no man can attain even after salvation. Only Jesus accomplished this. Second, they couldn’t have known if they were still in or out of salvation at any moment in time. They would have always wondered: “Are we watchful enough, or do we need to be more watchful? Are we above the average ‘unknown’ threshold of watchfulness that God has, if there is such a thing?” They could not have known. So “being watchful as a church” cannot refer to born-again people and good works as a condition of salvation.
Verses 2 and 3 expand on what being watchful means as a church. First, strengthen the things that remain, which are about to die. What are these things? They are related to accurate teaching about faith in Christ, righteousness, and repentance so people can first be born again and become alive spiritually. Second, remember how you first received and heard the message of salvation, and then hold fast to that and repent as a church, not as an individual. The writer doesn’t refer to what you received and heard, but to how you received and heard the message of salvation—that is, by faith alone and by the confession of the mouth. Third, another proof the target audience consisted mainly of unsaved people can be found in the last part of Verse 3, which says the following: “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.” However, 1 Thessalonians 5:4–5 says the day of the Lord will not catch like a thief those who are in Christ because they are not in darkness, but they are sons of light:
1 Thessalonians 5:4–5 (NKJV)
4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief.
5 You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness.
This passage clarifies that, for people, watching or being watchful, meant coming into Christ and making sure they were in Christ. In that way, Jesus’s second coming would not take them by surprise like a thief in the night.
Verse 5 from our initial passage (Revelation 3:1–5) says he who overcomes will not have his name blotted out of the Book of Life. Overcome what? The temptations to forsake God and forsake salvation because of the many problems and trials in the world that might come their way? No, of course not, but rather overcome sin, the devil, death, and the world. Who are the overcomers in the Bible? Who has already overcome all these things? Those people who first and foremost have come into Christ and have become born-again believers. Without this, nothing can be overcome, no one can even attempt to overcome anything. 1 John 5:4–5 says this:
1 John 5:4–5 (NKJV)
4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
According to this passage, it’s certain that those born of God overcome the world, there is no question about it. Faith in Christ is what assures that victory, and these people are the ones whose names will not be erased from the Book of Life. Let’s see a few more passages about being victorious.
1 John 2:13 (NKJV)
13 I write to you, fathers, because you have known Him Who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you, little children, because you have known the Father.
In this verse, the verb “overcome” is in the past tense, meaning those young men have already overcome the evil one, just by being in Christ. This is furthermore proved by Romans 8:37:
Romans 8:37 (NKJV)
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
Christians are more than conquerors through Him Who loved them. They don’t overcome, but they have already overcome in Christ because He has conquered the world. So, overcoming means coming into Christ, not them trying to keep their salvation to the end through good works. In the light of everything said so far, Revelation 3:5 can be understood in the following way: “Those who are born again of God and believe in Him are the ones who overcome and will never be blotted out of the Book of Life.” It’s a promise and a blessing, not a threat.
Now, since we are on the topic of the Book of Life, let’s try to shed a little more light on it and on who and when gets to be recorded there. Most Christians believe God has a so-called registry called the Book of Life, where He adds people as they become saved throughout human history or deletes them when they lose their salvation. Only those who remain recorded there will get to inherit the new heaven and the new earth. Let’s see what the Bible has to say about this and if these assumptions are valid.
First, according to Revelation 20:15, 21:27, and Philippians 4:3, it’s true that God has a Book of Life, and born-again believers are for sure written in that book, also called the Lamb’s Book of Life. It’s also true that only saved people will remain recorded there until the day of judgment. Let’s read these passages:
Revelation 20:15 (NKJV)
15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
Revelation 21:27 (NKJV)
27 But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Philippians 4:3 (NKJV)
3 And I urge you also true companion, help these women who labored with me in the Gospel, with Clement also and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the Book of Life.
Second, according to Revelation 13:8 and 17:8, it seems there is a certain category of people who were not included at all in the Book of Life from before the foundation of the world:
Revelation 13:8 (NKJV)
8 All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names haven’t been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
Revelation 17:8 (NKJV)
8 The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.
Third, the Bible doesn’t mention anywhere that people, throughout history, have been added, or are being added, in the Book of Life at the time of their salvation. Based on these Revelation scriptures, we can safely conclude the rest of the people outside of those who worshipped the beast were written in the Book of Life from before the foundation of the world, irrespective of whether they were going to be saved or not (I will explain this later).
Fourth, in Luke 10:20, Jesus tells the seventy disciples, rejoicing that the devils were submitted to them, rather to rejoice that their names were recorded in heaven.
Luke 10:20 (NKJV)
20 Nevertheless don’t rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
We can again safely assume Jesus was referring here to the Book of Life, otherwise, there would not be any reason for rejoicing if they were just recorded in the general book of the living or in the books for judgment. At that moment in history, none of the disciples were yet saved because Christ had not died yet on the cross. However, it seems they were already recorded in the Book of Life. To complicate things even more, Judas Iscariot was among those disciples, and it’s known clearly he ended badly and didn’t get saved, although he was recorded in that book. He was the son of perdition:
John 17:12 (NKJV)
12 While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
Then we have people in the Old Testament, like Abraham, King David, Daniel, and so on, who died physically before Christ died on the cross, and yet the Bible reveals they are saved for sure and thus must have been written in the Book of Life. To summarize: (1) some people were registered in the Book of Life before they became saved (i.e., the disciples of Jesus); (2) other people were written in the Book of Life but didn’t get saved ultimately, although they had the opportunity to do so, and we know about them that they are forever lost (i.e., Judas Iscariot); (3) and other people didn’t have the opportunity to get saved during their lifetime, but they are forever saved and written in the Book of Life (the Old Testament fathers and prophets).
Now, if we attempt to put all these facts together, one possible interpretation that would connect all of them logically and consistently, without contradicting any of them, and would make sense of all these verses in the context of the security of salvation, is the following one:
- God either foreknew clearly or He determined specifically (for His purposes) that some people will never be saved. So, He didn’t include them in the Book of Life from before the foundation of the world. These are the beast worshippers from the end of times.
- The rest of the people from all human history who would either get saved OR NOT, He included them all anyway in the Book of Life from before the foundation of the world. This assumption is supported by 1 Timothy 2:3–4, where God says He desires all men to be saved, although they will not all be saved. He gives a chance and the benefit of the doubt to all people:
1 Timothy 2:3–4 (NKJV)
3 For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,
4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
- Then, starting from there, God has been erasing from the Book of Life the people who died physically and left this world without ever having a saving faith or manifesting any type of trust in God, corresponding to the level of revelation they had during their lifetime. What I mean by that last phrase is that the Old Testament people who lived before Christ’s Crucifixion had a limited revelation of God and of salvation and didn’t have the possibility of redemption. However, according to the revelation they had, they made some steps of faith toward God during their lifetime, they came into a covenant with Him, and that faith was counted to them as righteousness. So, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Enoch, Noah, Moses, Joshua, David, Daniel, Rahab, and others like them, remained written in the Book of Life because, after the cross, salvation was granted to them even though they were already dead physically. Now, the erased people were never saved in the first place—it’s not that they were saved and then lost their activated salvation, but they lost their potential salvation. They didn’t take advantage of it during their lifetime.
This interpretation displays God’s abundant love and mercy toward all people, ensures those who received Christ will never be erased from the Book of Life, and explains why the disciples, including Judas Iscariot, were already in the Book of Life before their actual salvation. I believe Judas Iscariot was removed from the Book of Life after his physical death.
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