CHURCH AT SARDIS
to the angel of the church in Sardis write, These things says He who has the
seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: I know your works, that you have a
name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the
things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works
perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold
fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a
thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. 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. 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 His angels. He who has an ear,
let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. (Revelation 3:1–6).
leave the lengthy letter to the Church of Thyatira and come to the letter to the
Church of Sardis. In the previous four letters we saw a progression of
conditions leading to a state of total apostasy. In each of those churches we
found varying degrees of false doctrine and/or corrupt behavior. The Church of
Sardis is quite different in that there is no false doctrine and there is
nothing improper with its outward behavior. So, what is the problem? The
Glorified Christ says to them, “you have a name that you are alive, but you
are dead.” In other words, this church was nominally Christian; a condition we
find all too rampant in our time.
is located about 40 miles east from Smyrna at the foot of Mount Tmolus. Sardis
was once the capital of the Lydian kings and one of the most important cities in
the Persian Empire. Today, the city is named Sart.
was advanced in the industrial arts during the early Lydian kingdom. Most
important of its trades was the manufacture and dyeing of delicate woolen
material and carpets. A stream called Pactolus ran through the city contained
gold dust from Mount Tmolus. Metallurgists discovered the secrete of separating
the gold from silver that produced the purist gold and silver ever known before.
Sardis minted coins from the gold and silver making the city wealthy and famous
as the inventor of modern currency.
the Roman Empire, Sardis became the seat of a proconsul, an official who acted
on behalf of a consul, the highest elected political office of the Roman
Republic (509–27 b.c.).
city was important for three reasons: (1) Its military strength, (2) Its
location on an important highway leading from the interior of Asia Minor to the
Aegean Sea, and (3) It controlled the fertile Hermus valley at the foot of Mount
of the letter
verse 1 The Glorified Christ reveals Himself as He who has the seven Spirits of
God and the seven stars. He lays the accusation that they are dead even though
they have a name that they are alive.
verses 2 and 3 He offers them the solution to their problem.
in verses 4–6 He gives a promise to those that are faithful.
Glorified Christ presents Himself to the church as “He who has the seven
Spirits of God and the seven stars.”
the Apostle John saw the Glorified Christ in chapter one, he saw that Jesus held
seven stars in His right hand. In verse 20 of that chapter, Jesus tells John
that the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.
verse 4 of that chapter we see the opening greeting from the Trinity of which
the Holy Spirit is called “the seven Spirits who are before His throne.” The
symbolism is not that there are seven separate Spirits of God, but that the one
Holy Spirit corresponds with each of the seven stars, which represent the
ministry of His church.
one accepts the concept of seven church ages, this suggests that Christ has a
Spirit-called and led ministry in each of the church ages. Being that the number
seven indicates completion or perfection as suggested by the seven days of
creation, the symbolism in this letter suggests that Christ has a Spirit-called
and led ministry throughout the gospel dispensation, whether or not it consists
of seven church ages. The result is the same.
appearance to the church at Sardis informs them that no matter how fallen a
church might be or how desperate spiritual conditions may be, He is still
retains control in spite of the efforts of men to defeat or overthrow His
Glorified Christ brings His accusation against the church in the later part of
verse 1, “you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead”. As stated
above, the charge against this church is that they are only nominally Christian.
There is no spiritual life in this church except for just “a few names . . .
who have not defiled their garments”.
4 tells us this church is not polluted with the doctrinal errors and practices
of the Balaamites and Nicolaitans; their doctrine is sound and their religious
practices are correct. Doctrine is very important for the Christian church. We
must believe something and what we believe must be sound or correct doctrine
according to the Word of God. A church may have its confession or doctrinal
statement that conforms to the Word of God; it may baptize people and confirm
them into their church; it may have its services which its people attend with
regularity, but those things are not what make people Christians. Jesus taught
that you must be born again, born of the Spirit. (John 3:6, 8). This church had
lost sight of that truth, even though it may have been written in their
doctrinal statement. It is the Holy Spirit that regenerates people, giving them
spiritual life. Jesus tells this church it is dead; its ministering does not
bring people spiritual life.
Apostle Paul saw the beginnings of this kind of a problem at the church of
Corinth. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:4–5,
my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but
in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in
the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
did not teach the Corinthians using the persuasive reasoning of human wisdom;
yes, he used words, he had to because that is how people communicate. However,
he did not use the kind of eloquence that would captivate and charm the minds of
the people. He preached “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified”. (Verse 2). He
concentrated on teaching the atonement in Christ, why people need it and how
they can receive its benefit. In doing that, he was not relying on his speaking
talents; he relied on the Holy Spirit, “in demonstration of the Spirit and of
power” (Verse 4). As The Living Bible renders what Paul said, “I did this
because I wanted your faith to stand firmly upon God, not on man’s great
tells the Sardis church that He knows their works, but He says nothing about
those works other than “you have a name that you are alive, but you are
dead”. It appears this church was looking upon its works as proof of its
Christianity, its spiritual life. In fact, it may be that the church was
concentrating more on its works to win people than on preaching the gospel.
Philip Mauro makes an interesting observation in his book Of Things Which
Soon Must Come To Pass,
Sardis-like condition is very prevalent in our own day. For there be many
congregations that have the name of life in that they bear the Name of Him that
liveth, and in that they have also the name in their respective communities of
being a “live church”, because of their various activities, and of their
numerous enterprises, both social and religious. But, in the eyes of Him whose
Name they bear, those activities are but “dead works”, whereof they have
need to “repent”, and from which their consciences need to be “purged”
various activities and various enterprises both social and religious in churches
were prevalent in 1933 when Mauro wrote his book, how much more is it so in our
time? It is appropriate for a church to have Sunday school, young people’s
ministry, and such as part of its overall ministry, but today it seems churches
have expanded activities so much that those things have become the tail that
wags the dog. It seems the church exists to support activities rather than to
preach the gospel and bring people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
Glorified Christ admonishes this church, “Be watchful, and strengthen the
things which remain, that are ready to die”. Albert Barnes comments on what
Jesus says here: “The true piety that still lives and lingers among you.
Whatever there was of religion among them, it was of importance to strengthen
it, that the love of the Saviour might not become wholly extinct”.
and programs certainly can be helpful means of furthering the gospel, but they
must not become an end in themselves. Jesus tells the church to “remember how
you have received and heard”. Notice that He did not say WHAT you have
received and heard, but HOW you have received and heard. He gives them a pointed
reminder: hold fast and repent. You have your statement of faith in which you
explain gospel salvation. Remember that you came to faith in Christ through
repentance, not church suppers, the church baseball team, the ladies sewing
circle, etc. Jesus does not command the church to stop the activities; He is
commanding the church to get back to teaching the gospel and let God pour out a
“demonstration of the Spirit and of power”.
the apostasy of the other churches was bad, there is a real danger in the
complacency of religious activity. We may say or brag on the following:
We commit our activities to God;
We are seeing new people come to church because of these
It surely looks as if we are doing a great work for God.
Jesus expresses His doubts about this church: “if you will not watch, I will
come upon you as a thief”. Barnes captures the essence of what Jesus is
speaker evidently supposed that it was possible that they would not regard the
warning; that they would presume that they would be safe if they refused to give
heed to it, or that by mere inattention and indifference they might suffer the
warning to pass by unheeded.
warns the church that He could come at any time. His statement sounds very much
like 1 Thessalonians 5:2, “For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so
comes as a thief in the night”. But Jesus is not necessarily speaking of the
Second Coming at the end of time; He is speaking of a judicial coming, a time
when He will pour out His judgment on nominal Christianity. Matthew Henry
judicial approach to a dead declining people will be surprising; their deadness
will keep them in security, and, as it procures an angry visit from Christ to
them, it will prevent their discerning it and preparing for it. Such a visit
from Christ will be to their loss; he will come as a thief, to strip them of
their remaining enjoyments and mercies, not by fraud, but in justice and
righteousness, taking the forfeiture they have made of all to him.
in spite of all their activities, those activities are worthless when they
supersede the preaching of the cross.
Few That Are Faithful
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. (Verse 4).
with even the most apostate of the other churches, there are some in the
environment of nominal Christianity that are worthy to walk in white with
Christ. White garments appear elsewhere in the Revelation.
6:11. “Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them
that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their
fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was
completed”. This is written of those under the fifth seal that were slain and
seen under the altar.
9:7, 14, regarding those that have “come out of the great tribulation and
washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb”.
19:8. The marriage of the bride of Christ where she is “arrayed in fine linen,
clean and bright”, which is here defined as the righteous acts of the saints.
in the ranks of the nominally Christian, there are those that have died to sin,
been washed in the blood of Christ, and live righteous lives.
promise to the overcomers is given in verse 5, “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 His angels”.
a church we must overcome the tendency to emphasize activities at the expense of
teaching the gospel. We might attract more people with activities than with the
gospel, but our goal must be to reach out to those who will accept the gospel
and be saved from sin; not just entertaining people in a religious environment.
want people’s names inscribed in the Lamb’s book of life and we want for
people to leave from this church into eternity where Christ will receive them in
the presence of the Father and all the hosts of heaven.
us hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches; our mission is to teach the
gospel, not to entertain people.
Mauro, Philip, Of Things Which
Soon Must Come To Pass, Wm. B.
Eerdman’s Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, MI,
1933, pg. 116