The Lord’s Fivefold Command to Sleeping Christians

Wim Malgo (1922-1992)

An interpretation of the last book of the Bible. Part 33. Revelation 3:1-6.

The Lord doesn’t end with His devastating verdict: “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” No, He wants to save, for He says, “because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19b). He also wants to impart His eternal life to us who are spiritually dead. His Spirit is calling into our often indifferent, cold, and proud hearts. It is a fivefold categorical command. 

The first command is, “Be watchful” (Rev 3:2), which other translations render as, “Wake up!” Whoever Jesus Christ awakens from the sleep of death is capable of getting up! The mighty call “back to life” was heard by Lazarus, who had been in the grave for four days and had already begun to decompose. When the stone was at last rolled away from the tomb, the Lord Jesus, after thanking the Father, cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43). And the dead man rose up, his hands and feet bound with graveclothes, and his face covered with a head cloth (v. 44).

The Lord is also calling this message out to you: “Wake up!” Isn’t it a terrible affront to Him, who poured out His life’s blood on Calvary’s Cross, to have to again awaken us from the sleep of death when we fall asleep? And at this point in redemptive history, when He could return at any moment! Jesus’ disciples were sleeping at that other point in redemptive history, when the Lord was sweating blood and agonizing over death in the Garden of Gethsemane before going to Calvary. When He found His disciples sleeping, he lamented, “What, could ye not watch with me one hour?” (Matt 26:40b). Wake up.

The second command: “And strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God” (Rev 3:2). It’s distressing how many are slowly slipping into apostasy today. Ezekiel was commissioned by the Lord to be the watchman over all the house of Israel (cf. Ezek 3:17-19; 33:7-9). The Church of Jesus has exactly the same task. According to Revelation 1:1, the Church has been entrusted with the prophetic Word, and should be warning the world and nominal Christianity of the approaching judgment: “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to show unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass…” We’re on guard duty!

The Church in Sardis was asleep. Of course we’re supporting missionaries, of course we’re somehow functioning, but aren’t we still sleeping? Sardis was sleeping and allowed itself to remain asleep— allowed itself to die. Hence, the Lord’s call to “strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die.” In other words, “When you wake up from dead works and all of your useless activity, from sham Christianity, begin to strengthen the other things that are on the verge of death immediately!”

People are constantly dying all around us. They would have liked to have heard about Jesus and accepted Him, but they heard nothing because the Church is asleep. The effects of death are streaming from her instead of streams of life. Hear the Lord’s penetrating call: “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die.” Stop the spiritual death within and around you!

“For I have not found thy works perfect before God.” Christ’s works are always the Father’s works. The Lord Jesus always speaks from a place of unity with the Father. He has the seven spirits, the Holy Spirit, and speaks the words and does the works of the Father, the triune God. When the Lord says to Sardis, “I have not found thy works perfect,” it means that their works are predominantly dead. Hebrews 9 teaches us that we are cleansed from dead works by the blood of Jesus.

So, what are dead works? Anything that is oriented toward the world (self-promotion, all attachments and passions such as greed, stinginess, pride, idle chatter, as well as wasting precious time). Specifically, dead works are everything not oriented toward the Lord. “I have not found thy works perfect before God.”

The lazy servant buried his talent, and some of us are doing that as well. As a result, much of our worship consists of attending Sunday morning service, listening attentively, and then getting on with our lives. Everything more or less revolves around ourselves and our own well-being. “For I have not found thy works perfect before God.”

The Lord’s third command is, “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard” (Rev 3:3a). The awakened person is able to think normally again (spiritually). A sleeping person can’t be expected to think clearly and discern, since they’re unable to perceive reality. But as soon as he’s awake, he’s able to think. “Remember therefore,” says the Lord, “how thou hast received and heard.”

Perhaps God’s “lost” words need to be extracted from the dark corners of your heart. Anyone who does this by sincerely allowing the precious Word of God to stir his heart anew and listens to it, will be led to a saving and liberating repentance. Many fail to repent because they’re unwilling to respond to what they’ve heard. But for the ones who are willing, the path to true change opens up before them.

This was also true of Peter. He was a truly pious man, who was self-righteously full of himself. He was also very self-aware of what he was achieving for the kingdom of God. He was always the first and the most zealous before the Lord. But then it came to light that it had all been an illusion. When he was put to the test, he denied the Lord.

When did he become able to repent? When he remembered the words of the Lord, after denying Him and swearing an oath that he didn’t even know Him, as Luke 22:61 so poignantly describes: “And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.”

Then “Peter went out, and wept bitterly” (v. 62). This is true repentance! The Word of God is like a hammer that shatters stone (Jer 23:29). The church in Sardis was denying the Lord and His wonderful redemptive power, only keeping His name alive. What about you? Consider the Word you’ve heard so often. Don’t just bear the name or appearance of Christ, but become an epistle of Christ for others to read. Remember what Paul says of people in the end times: “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Tim 3:5).

The fourth command: “and hold fast” (Rev 3:3). What should Sardis—and we—keep? The Word! We must shed our fleeting, superficial nature and go deeper. May the Lord not have to lament over us as He did through Jeremiah: “Will a man leave the snow of Lebanon which cometh from the rock of the field? or shall the cold flowing waters that come from another place be forsaken? Because my people hath forgotten me, they have burned incense to vanity, and they have caused them to stumble in their ways from the ancient paths, to walk in paths, in a way not cast up” (Jer 18:14-15). Therefore, hold fast to the Word!

The fifth command: “and repent” (Rev 3:3). When reading the Bible prayerfully and attentively, it’s noticeable that the call to repentance doesn’t ring out immediately as in the letters to the other churches, but instead comes after the various commands. This is because no one is able to repent while asleep (spiritually dead). Jesus Christ only enlightens us to repentance for salvation if we heed His wake-up call. In this context, it’s worth remembering Ephesians 5:14, which says, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”

When you awaken and arise, Christ will draw you into His light. Then He will shine into your being, right down into the furthest and darkest corners of your soul, so that you’re able to repent wholeheartedly from all deception.—Whether about the fact that Jesus Christ was in your life in the past, but is not currently a living presence, or by humbling yourself under His mighty hand, because you’re inwardly frozen after a promising beginning.

Finally, the Lord issues another threat in Revelation 3:3 by saying, “If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee…” It’s strange that He didn’t say, “If you don’t repent” as he did for the other churches but, “if thou shalt not watch.” He knows that when they awaken, they will repent.

“If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.” This is the Lord’s warning to us as well: If you don’t wake up, you’ll be caught by surprise when I return. Then, when that great moment suddenly comes, you’ll be like the five foolish virgins who hadn’t brought oil with them. They weren’t ready, so they couldn’t go with the bridegroom and attend his wedding. It’s in this sense that the Lord speaks of a thief, whose presence is only noticed after he’s already gone. The opportunity to prepare is stolen away. When Jesus comes, everything will be decided. So, listen to the Holy Spirit, who is calling to prepared hearts, “Come!”—“And the Spirit and the bride say, Come” (Rev 22:17a).

Midnight Call - 10/2022

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