When the ascended Lord Jesus Christ addressed the fifth church in Asia Minor he offered eternal rewards to the faithful “few” in Sardis. “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.” (Rev. 3:4). The all-knowing Judge knew of a “few names… in Sardis who” had “not defiled their garments” and “shall walk with”Christ “in white” because they are “worthy” or deserving. This cannot refer to salvation because no one deserves to be saved from hell. The Bible clearly says that salvation is a free gift apart from any works (John 4:10-14; Rom. 6:23b; 4:5; Ephes. 2:8-9; Rev. 21:6; 22:17). Instead, walking with Christ in white is a privilege reserved for the faithful believer who is undefiled in his Christian life.
Then the Lord Jesus says, “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 Hisangels.” (Rev. 3:5). The risen Lord Jesus promises to the “overcomer” who is “worthy” (3:4) to be honored, the following eternal rewards:
– “Clothed in white garments.” “White garments” are symbolic of one’s works (cf. 19:8) and are pure and free of defilement (cf. Rev. 7:9, 13; 19:14; Matt. 22:11-12). In the ancient world, white robes also connoted festivity and victory. Sardis boasted of her trade in woolen goods and dyed stuffs. Only the believers who remained faithful to Jesus Christ until the end of their lives on earth could enjoy His intimate fellowship in His coming Kingdom (“walk with Me”; cf. Rev. 7:14;22:14).
Bob Wilkin writes, “Would you not want to be identified as closely as possible with the Lord Jesus and glorify Him, even in your clothing? The quality of your eternal garments will be determined by what you do in this life. Once this life is over, it will be too late to influence your worthiness to walk with Christ in white.” (Robert Wilkin, The Road to Reward: A Biblical Theology of Eternal Rewards Second Edition [Grace Evangelical Society, 2014 Kindle Edition], pg. 46).
– An honored name that is supremely secure. When Jesus says He will “not blot out his name from the Book of Life,” Arminians teach that Jesus is saying a non-overcoming (unfaithful) believer will lose his salvation. (see J. B. Smith, A Revelation of Jesus Christ [Scottsdale, PA: Mennonite Publishing House, 1961], pp. 329-331). But this would contradict Jesus’ clear teachings in John’s writings elsewhere.
For example, Jesus taught, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35; cf. 6:38-40; 10:28-29). Christ guarantees that those who come to Him in faith “shall never hunger” or “thirst” for eternal life again because the need He met can never reoccur. The results of believing in Christ are permanent even if we are unfaithful to Christ (cf. 2 Tim. 2:13).
Christ also said, “38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.” (John 6:38-39). Jesus came down from heaven to do His Father’s will which was that all whom the Father had given Him should lose nothing, including their salvation. If Jesus failed to keep believers from losing their salvation, He would have failed to do His Father’s will. And that presents a moral dilemma. For if Jesus failed to do His Father’s will, then He would have sinned and could no longer be God. But Jesus Christ has never lost one believer and He never will because He is God (John 1:1; Titus 2:13) and He always does the will of His Father.
If a believer ever lost his or her salvation, Christ would have failed to keep this promise and many more (John 3:15-18; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40, 47; 11:25-26; et al.). To properly understand Jesus’ words, “and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” (Rev. 3:5), it is important to answer an important question.
What is the Book of Life? There appear to be several “books” or records that God keeps in heaven (cf. Rev. 20:12). Since God is all-knowing, He does not need to record things in books. People keep books for later recollection, so the figure of a “book” is an example of contextualization: giving revelation in terms the recipients can easily understand.
There is the “Book of the Living,” namely, those who are presently alive on the earth, including the unsaved (Exod. 32:32-33; Deut. 29:20; Ps. 69:28; Isa. 4:3). To have one’s name removed from this book refers to physical death. But the “Book of Life” in Revelation refers to all those who have believed in Jesus for everlasting life (Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27; cf. Luke 10:20; Phil 4:3).
Since Jesus taught that eternal life can never be lost (John 3:15-18; 4:10-14; 5:24; 6:35-40; 10:28-29; 11:25-26; et al.), it is best to understand Jesus’ words, “and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life” (3:5), as a figure of speech called a litotes (cf. 2:11) which is an understatement in which a positive affirmation is expressed by negating the opposite. If it is true that one who overcomes (i.e., remains faithful to Christ) will not have his name blotted out from the Book of Life, then what happens if one does not overcome or remain faithful to Christ? Would it not follow that he would have his name blotted out from the Book of Life? If this is truly a litotes, then the answer is, “No.”
For example, if we say, “Michael Jordan is not a bad basketball player,” we mean he is a very good basketball player. However, the reverse does not follow, “If you are not Michael Jordan, you are definitely not a good basketball player.” A litotes cannot be read in reverse (see Joseph Dillow, Final Destiny: The Future Reign of The Servant Kings: Fourth Revised Edition [GraceTheology Press, 2018 Kindle Edition], pp. 684-688, 962-963).
Jesus is saying in Revelation 3:5, “If you remain undefiled to the end of your life, I will reward you with the opposite of having your name blotted out of the Book of Life. You will be given an honored name that is supremely secure.” Such an honored name will be forever cherished by Jesus throughout eternity, which leads to the third reward.
– A name that is publicly confessed or honored before God the Father and His angels. Christ said, “I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels” (3:5b; cf. Matt. 10:32-33; 25:21, 23; Luke 12:8; 19:17, 19). Only worthy or faithful believers will have their name publicly confessed or honored before God the Father and His angels. Having one’s name acknowledged is not the same as being declared saved. Rather, it refers to the public testimony by the Son of God to the faithful life of the obedient Christian. Conversely, not having one’s name acknowledged is to forfeit the Master’s “Well done” (cf. Matt. 25:21, 23; Luke 19:17, 19).
The Bible teaches that believers in Jesus during this church age will appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ in heaven to receive rewards according to their works (I Cor. 3:8-15; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 22:12) during the Tribulation period on earth. Believers who lived in disobedience and failed to grow spiritually, like the believers in Sardis, “will be saved, yet so as through fire” (ICor. 3:15). Although they have eternal life by believing in Jesus, they will suffer the loss of rewards and be denied the praise that Christ could have given them before His heavenly Father and the holy angels if they had been faithful to the Lord’s calling in their lives.
Imagine being on the new earth with King Jesus in the future (Rev. 21-22), and He publicly honors you by acknowledging your name before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity. If you are the kind of person who likes to receive approval, praise, and recognition before others, this acknowledgement or confession of your eternally honored name in the future by the glorified Lord Jesus Christ, will greatly motivate you to persevere in faithfulness to the risen Lord Jesus now, no matter what the cost. Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. He understands our hearts and what will motivate us to live faithfully for Him, even when people dishonor or forget our names on earth now.
Praise Jesus for offering us eternal rewards in the future that consist of dazzling eternal clothes and an eternally honored name which will be publicly praised by Him before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity to motivate us to remain faithful to Jesus now no matter what the cost. To hear Jesus’ praise in eternity is far greater than any praise we could ever receive on earth.
Prayer: Precious Lord Jesus, only You are qualified to judge Your church. Thank You for warning us of the loss of reward and for giving us the remedy for our spiritually immature condition. Lord Jesus, we do not want to compromise our faith and waste our Christian lives by living selfishly. Please help us to stay spiritually alert and remember what we have been taught by godly teachers in the past. Thank You for offering us eternal rewards in the future that consist of dazzling eternal clothes and an eternally honored name which will be publicly praised by You before God the Father and His angels throughout eternity to motivate us to remain faithful to You now no matter what the cost. To hear Your praise, Lord Jesus, in eternity, is far greater than any praise we could ever receive on earth. May we hear and practice what Your Spirit says to us so You will receive maximum honor and glory in eternity. In Your mighty and most honorable name we pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.