“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11)
“Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and 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” (Rev. 3:3).
But a handful of the saints in Sardis were still in good shape, as we will see in the next verses. They are the ones to whom this exhortation applies because they were the ones who could hear it.
The exhortation is an odd combination of “hold on” and “repent.” If you had held on to this point, what is the need for repentance? If you need to repent, shouldn’t the charge be to grab on? The solution to this is to remember that this is a letter to a congregation that was both dead and virtually dead. There were many who needed to grab on, and a small number who needed to hold on. In that kind of situation, where you have a basic identity shared with those who are far away from God, the charge is to repent. We might describe this as vicarious repentance. Those in Sardis who had not defiled their garments were repenting on behalf of those who had.
The prophet Daniel offered a great prayer of confession (Dan. 9:4) even though there was no evidence that he had done any of the things he was confessing. This is because we are not just distinct individuals. He was an Israelite and Israel had sinned. The saints in Sardis were in a church that had a reputation for being alive and yet was dead. American Christians belong to a church that has grievously backslidden. How can you tell which Christians have not backslidden? They are the ones who are willing to admit that they have.