Have I feared the crowd or the contempt of the masses, so that I kept quiet and stayed indoors? (Job 31:34 NLT)

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Incomplete Works In Revelation 3:1-3

In Revelation, Jesus is going to repeat almost verbatim twice what we read in the last few chapters [of Jesus' Words on Salvation]. Judgment is by works, just as Jesus said: “every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” (Matt. 3:10; 7:19.)

First, in Revelation 3:1-3, Jesus tells the church at Sardis:

And to the angel of the assembly in Sardis write: ‘These [things] says the One having the seven spirits of God and the seven stars [i.e., Jesus is speaking]: I know your works, that you have a name that you live, and you are dead. (2) ‘Become watching [fig., Wake up], and strengthen the rest which you were about to be throwing out, for I have not found your works having been completed before My God. (3) Therefore, be remembering how you have received, and be keeping [tereo, obey] it, and repent. Therefore, if you will not watch, I will come upon you like a thief, and you shall by no means know what hour I will come upon you.” (Rev 3:1-3 ALT. Cf. DLNT.)

It is obvious that the Spirit is present, but the Spirit is going out. What is bringing about the Sardisians’ spiritual death is their works were not complete in God’s sight. In fact, Jesus says they have a reputation for being alive, but they are “dead.”

The Sardisians’ spiritual condition is similar in one respect to the third seed in the Parable of the Sower. This seed has thorns choke it. Jesus says the third seed did not telesphourousin. (Luke 8:14.) This means the third seed fails to produce to the end, or fails to bring its fruit to completion. (For more discussion, see my prior book, Jesus’ Words Only (2007) at 171.)

        The picture of the Sardisians is very interesting:

  • They are dead.
  • Something still flickering in them is about to be quenched.
  • Their works are not complete.

Let’s make a reasonable inference on what these points mean. The first point means their faith is dead. The second point means the Holy Spirit is about to be quenched and depart. The third point means they have no completed works or mature fruit to show.

The threat is implicit that damnation will follow unless they “repent” and “obey.” The spirit will be utterly gone soon, and they will be totally dead spiritually.

We know this explicitly from the parallel Parable of the Ten Virgins. It tells us that when the spirit departs — when the “virgins” (innocent born-again Christians) suffer the oil (Holy Spirit) in their lamps being finally quenched — then damnation results.[2]

        So Revelation 3:1-3 sounds a lot like a dead faith without completed works does not save. Where have we ever read that before?

Jesus’ Rejection Of Faith Alone In Revelation 3:15-18

        Where else does Jesus say a Christian without deeds has a faith that is dead and such faith cannot save? That a tree without good fruit is sent to the fire to be burned?

Jesus says it again just a few verses later addressing believers of Laodicea on what they lack.

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. (16) So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. (17) Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: (18) I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. (Rev 3:15-18 KJV.)

Jesus unequivocally rejects faith alone here. He is talking to believers at Laodicea. He is equating them to the third seed from the Parable of the Sower. In the parable, the third seed has gone further than the second seed in growth. The second seed “believed for a while.” (Luke 8:13.) Yet, while the third seed started similarly but grew more, it was later choked by the “cares, riches and pleasures of this life,” bringing no fruit to completion. (Luke 8:14.)

In Revelation 3:15-18, Jesus identifies similarly that “riches” have led the Laodicean church to become lukewarm in works, just like happened to the third seed in the parable. Jesus tells you that He is cutting off those who have lukewarm works, spewing them out of His mouth. Unless they repent, their nakedness will be visible. This is a lost condition, because they lack the proper garment — the white raiment. (Rev. 3:18.) Jesus previously disclosed how crucial that white raiment is to salvation:

He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. (Rev 3:5 KJV.)

Hence, Revelation 3:15-18 is all about the essential necessity of zealously adding works to faith. It refutes clearly that a faith which started well can suffice if alone later.

Is There A Familiar Echo To Jesus’ Words?

Where else have we heard this same message that faith without works does not save? Indeed, it is familiar to all of us. It is in the often resisted James 2:14-25 passage. James 2:17 reads: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” James asks rhetorically “can such faith save?” which calls for a negative answer. Thus, faith without works, James says, cannot save.   

        In Revelation 3:1-3 and 3:15-18, what must those with a faith that has become dead and who lack completed works do to awaken spiritually?

        Revelation 3:3 says they must “remember what you have received and heard; obey it and repent.” In Revelation 3:18, they must ‘buy eye-salve’ from Jesus so they can see. They are blind and in darkness. The latter verse says the way out of darkness is going to cost them. They will have to chew on the words of Jesus — in fact, upon these harsh words about the shallowness of their works (lack of obedience). 

 

 

Melding These Passages With The Parable Of The Virgins

Accordingly, Jesus is teaching in the Parable of the Ten Virgins and Revelation 3:1-3 and 3:15-18 that faith without works is dead. You are spiritually about to have the Spirit totally quenched. Jesus gives a precisely parallel message in Revelation 3:1-3 and 3:15-18 that duplicates the Ten Virgins Parable. However, this time Jesus speaks plainly in declarative statements. While in the parable we are not sure what it means for “virgins” (born-again Christians) to have the spirit flickering out, Revelation 3:3 tells us precisely: the Sardisians are lacking completed works. Revelation 3:15-18 then tells us those with “lukewarm works” among the Laodicean church members will be spewed out of Jesus’ mouth. Their condition is lost because they lack the proper garment — the white robe which zealous works would have given them.

Furthermore, those statements in Revelation 3:1-3 about not completing your works contain one more piece of crucial information. It says that despite the Sardisians’ reputation for being alive they are dead. They have “incomplete works.” Something is flickering out in them. These additional facts let us see a precise overlap to James 2:14-17 which was written prior to the Book of Revelation. Jesus was obviously aware of His brother James’ epistle. Jesus was clearly affirming James’ position that faith without completed works is dead and cannot save. Jesus used virtually identical language. Therefore, Jesus intended in Revelation 3:1-3 and 3:15-18 to affirm the correctness of James 2:14-17.

So what do these three passages mean? They boil down to James’ message that faith alone...cannot save. Jesus is endorsing James’ principles. Hence, if you do not add works of charity which James mentions, your faith is dead. The Spirit is about to leave you. Quicken what little remains. If not, you will suffer spiritual death and be left outside the New Jerusalem with the unbelievers and sinners, to be sent on judgment day to hell itself. Jesus’ warning is to be ready and watching as well as to repent and obey. Bring the works assigned to you to “completion.”

Has God given you a task that is only half-completed? Then finish it!

Jesus Says The Final Judgment Is Based On Your Practices

In accord with these passages, Jesus in Matthew 16 states:

For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall give / reward every man according to his works  /  the practice of each. (Matthew 16:27)

The ordinary translation is lacking in two respects. The word translated commonly as reward is actually “give” or “pay.” In Greek, it is apodidomi. Also, the word rendered as works is not the word for works used in the New Testament. Everywhere else, the word works in the New Testament is erga in Greek. Here, instead, the word is praxis. It means practice. On Judgment Day, Jesus will give to each according to “the practice of each.” Jesus promises to judge by your practice, not according solely to your faith. It is the pattern (practice) of your life that Jesus will judge.

In sum, Jesus judges by the practice you had for works. He will reject you for lack of fruit. You will be judged by your practices, not your faith. You are judged by your faithfulness, not your beliefs. This is the same message Jesus gave in His warning of a judgment by works on everyone in John 5:28-29. For a thorough discussion of this passage in John, see the chapter beginning at page 395.



 


[2]See “What is Outer Darkness Where There Is Weeping and Gnashing Of Teeth?” on page 280 et seq.

[3]Scholars in ancient Greek who are Christians admit that James’ meaning is that faith without completed works cannot save, i.e., works are not merely a forensic proof of your already saved condition. James means works (besides faith) are indispensable for you to be saved. See my prior work, Jesus’ Words Only (2007) at 250 et seq.