To the Church at Sardis
Sardis was named after a fiery red stone found near the city, and it also represented Israel’s firstborn son Reuben. In addition, it was the first stone used in the breastplate of the high priests. The city was 30 miles southeast of Thyatira in a fertile valley that meant “those escaping”. It was also on a hill 1,500 feet above the valley below, which meant it could only be attacked from the south and this made the residents of Sardis extremely overconfident. History shows that the city of Sardis was under constant conquest, and it was first taken over by the Cimmerians in the 7th Century, but later captured by the Persians. The Persians were empire builders so under their rule Sardis became the ending point for the Royal Road that led to Persepolis. Eventually it was surrendered to Alexander the Great, and later fell to Antiochus in 218 B.C. When this letter was written to the Church at Sardis it was securely in the hands of the Roman Empire, and it was the major hub between several major cities of its day. Having been built on a plateau high above the Hermus Valley, the city was a natural fortress with only one road leading into the city. However, it grew beyond the area that the plateau provided so a second city was built in the flatlands below it and this is why the name of the town went from “Sard” to “Sardeis” or “Sardis”. The city received gold from the Pactolus River and when mixed with silver it made Electrum, which was used to make plating for pagan statues and idols. The town was so wealthy just before the Persian takeover that King Croesus became the person behind the legend of ’King Midas’. However, the king was captured by Cyrus all his wealth was taken by the Persian Empire. During the reign of Tiberius Caesar (17 A.D) a massive earthquake destroyed both cities, however only the lower city was ever rebuilt. When John wrote his letter to the Church at Sardis in 96 A.D the population was roughly 120,000. According to some Biblical scholars Sardis was a representation of the Church from 1517 to 1750. In 1517 Martin Luther published his “Ninety-Five Theses” and put it on the door of the Church of Wittenberg in Germany. His “Theses” outlined his grievances against the Roman Catholic Church, and led to the Protestant Revolution and its breakaway from the Catholic Church.
1) And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.
2) Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.
3) 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.
4) Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.
5) 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.
6) He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
Chapter 3 Verse 1
Chapter 3 Verse 1
Jesus in this verse tells the Church at Sardis that it is He who holds the seven messengers and the seven Churches. However, he reveals to us that they are not obeying Him because this is the first Church that wasn’t commended for anything. If we look at the verse we see that right after Jesus declares His position he tells them that “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and are dead”. The first thing we notice is that Jesus tells them that even though they are physically “alive” they were in fact spiritually “dead”. If we look at the earlier Churches Ephesus had left its first love, Pergamum was known for its worldliness, Thyatira tolerated many sins, and finally they reached a new low at Sardis. Another aspect is that even though it isn’t written we can surmise that the Church of Sardis didn’t know that they were dead in His eyes. Finally, Jesus said by omission that the Church of Sardis had nothing good in their walk with God. Imagine that on the Day of Judgment that they as they plead their case the Lord’s reply is “Depart from me you workers of iniquity, I never knew you”. To me that is the scariest verse in the Bible because many on that day will say “But Lord we did this, and we did that”, and off they will go into eternity lost forever. So I have one question, are there churches like this is America today and if so would we recognize them? Remember the Church at Ephesus? Even though they had “left” their first love (became busy in the work and not in the relationship) they still on the whole doing the work of Jesus. However, Sardis not so much because once again Jesus said “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead”.
Over time the Church of Sardis had compromised so much of itself with the pagan society that it didn’t even look like a church of Jesus Christ. We must remember that a lot of churches may look good from the outside, but they are actually highly ineffective in the workings of the Kingdom. Some simple signs are when the members would rather sit back than to do the work of the Lord, when they are more concerned about ritual than the Spirit, when they are more worried about social ills than changing lives, and finally when they are more worried about what man thinks than what the Word of God says. A Church like this can be very deceptive because even though they may be going through the motions of looking alive they are in reality “spiritually” dead. Many people may not be able to see this church in the world today, but I can assure you that the “Sardis” church model is very much a part of mainstream churches all over the planet. Deception is sweeping the land, and Believers need to be real careful in these last days what Church they give their allegiance too because a “Falling Away” is not coming; it already started many years ago and the apathy of Sardis was the Churches undoing.
Chapter 3 Verse 2
In this verse Jesus tells them to be watchful and strengthen the things that remain that are about to die. In the Greek it reads “Pay strict attention to and make firm the things that remain that are ready to spiritually or eternally die”. Even though this Church was totally off track; Jesus still offered His Grace to them. The Church at Sardis apparently was like a sapling on the side of the road about to breathe its last breath of life, and if the story ended here it would be sad indeed. So the question remains, why were they dying? Because their works were not perfect before God. When you break it down it basically says that “there undertakings were not overflowing or filled to the brim”. When we are called to serve the Lord he demands ALL of us, not just the parts we want to give him. As my old Pastor used to say “Jesus is Lord of All or He Isn’t Lord at All”. Now I will warn you here that when you are born again there will be areas of struggle (old habits and sins), but if your heart is in sync with the Spirit you WILL overcome all those struggles. So in the case of this Church we can pretty much tell that they were giving lip service to Jesus, and not serving Him with their whole heart. So what was His answer?
Chapter 3 Verse 3
In the Church of Sardis very few people apparently had stayed true to Christ, and there wasn’t enough of them to turn the Church around. However, this is a key verse because it can be applied to many areas of our Christian walk. Remembrance is crucial for everything we will ever do because in remembrance is the knowledge of what our Heavenly Father has done for us in the past, which gives us hope for the future. In Hebrews 10:32 it tells us to “But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions”, but why? Because in verse 34-35 it tells us that “For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance. Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward”. Once again the remembrance of things God has done for us in the past will give us strength to endure the things of the present, and the reward that comes with it will be ours. So here in Revelation he is telling the Church at Sardis to “Remember what they have received and heard”. This is God’s Grace reaching out to try and bring Sardis back home. Two things that will help us is to always keep in remembrance God’s goodness to us, and remember that God puts US in His everlasting remembrance (Psalm 112:6). If we are to live a victorious life we need to always remember what Jesus has always brought us through in the past and that he will never leave us or forsake us. The next step is to hold fast and repent.
Once they began to move back toward sound doctrine they then had to make a conscience effort to “stand fast” and “repent”. The word “hold fast” here means to “attend carefully and to guard”. Does this sound familiar? In 1 Peter 5:8 it says “Be vigilant” or “be watchful” for the devil is roaming around looking for someone to devour. It is easy to see that the Church at Sardis was spiritually asleep because the Lord had to tell them that they needed to start being on guard. Proverbs 4:23 tells us to “Guard your heart, for out of it flows the springs of life”. Once they were awake to this fact, they like all other Churches were told to repent (change their mind on their current course). If not, the Lord then tells them that “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”. The Lord is good to his people, however there comes a time when he will no longer strive with them. I will not get into the “once saved always saved” doctrine here, but let me simple say that we should not take the chance. An interesting point here is that twice Sardis was taken over, once by the Medes and once by the Seleucids because the guards on the “impregnable” cliffs had fallen asleep. If you identify with this Church then you must remember what you have been taught, hold fast to that sound doctrine, and finally turn around and come home. There is no better time than today, and tomorrow is not promised to any of us.
Chapter 3 Verse 4
Even though most of the Church of Sardis was spiritually dead there was still a remnant that was not. No matter how bad a city, nation, or even the world becomes there will always be a remnant that will not bow their knees to the evil forces of God’s enemy and like Sodom he is willing to come to the aid of those who have not walked away from Him. In this verse the word defiled means to “pollute, contaminate, or stain” so he is says that the remnant did not allow themselves to be contaminated like the others had done. A note here is that even though we strive for spiritual perfection and we will obtain many levels of it on this earth, we must always remember that the enemy will try and trip us up from time to time. However, if a righteous man falls down seven times he always gets back up!!
Chapter 3 Verse 5
The promise here is as straight forward as you can get… Whoever repents and stands fast will be clothed in white, and Christ will NOT erase his name from the Book of Life. Once again not getting into the “once saved always saved” debate, but it does say he that Jesus would not “erase” his name so does this mean that He will be erasing some names from the Lambs book of life? Also he promises to acknowledge them before his Father and the angels because Jesus himself said that “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33). We must remember that the “Falling Away” has already begun (2 Thessalonians 2:3) so since sinners are already fallen who then is going to fall away? We need to check ourselves daily to make sure we are following the Lord daily, and not just doing it like this Church was because we do not want to think that we are alive when we are actually dead.
He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.
“Write to Sardis,” saith the Lord, And write what He declares,
He whose Spirit, and whose word, Upholds the seven stars:
All thy works and ways I search, Find thy zeal and love decay’d;
Thou art call’d a living church, But thou art cold and dead.
“Watch, remember, seek, and strive, Exert thy former pains;
Let thy timely care revive, And strengthen what remains;
Cleanse thine heart, thy works amend, Former times to mind recall,
Lest my sudden stroke descend, And smite thee once for all.
“Yet I number now in thee A few that are upright;
These my Father’s face shall see, And walk with me in white.
When in judgment I appear, They for mine shall be confess’d;
Let my faithful servants hear, — And woe be to the rest!”
By William Cowper