Revelation 3:1-3 The Church of Sardis was said to be alive, but the Lord declared it to be dead. Romans 1:18 describes a downward spiral when man ignores the Truth of the Gospel revealed both inwardly and outwardly. How much more that downward spiral occurs when we deny the truth that we know as Believers. Sardis was known to be filled with the sins of unbelief and false doctrine.
The letter begins, as all of them do, with a description of the Author of the Letter. He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, once again the description comes from Revelation 1:12-17.
The seven Spirits likely refers to Isaiah 11:2, where the Holy Spirit is described as “the Spirit of the Lord” and may also refer to the depiction of the Holy Spirit as a lamp stand with seven lamps (a menorah), in Zechariah 4:1-10. In both cases, it speaks of the Spirit’s fullness. Jesus is represented in His church through the Holy Spirit.
Sardis like the other churches probably was founded through the work of God through Paul in Ephesus (Acts 19:10). Sardis at one time was one of the greatest cities in the ancient world, it was capital of the Lydian kingdom. Aesop, the writer of fables, was believed to have been from Sardis.
Gold and silver coins were first minted at Sardis and it’s greatness in antiquity is rooted in the vast amounts of gold that was stored and mined in the areas surrounding Sardis. It was a center for wool production and the garment industry and they claimed to have discovered how to dye wool. The early city was built on top of a hill that rose, some fifteen hundred feet above the valley floor, so its location made the city all but very defensible and easily able to resist attack. The drawback of its location was that there was no room for the city to expand.
Sardis then expanded by moving to a new site at the foot of the hill while the old site remained as a refuge when danger threatened. It was deemed impregnable but was defeated by Cyrus, king of Persia, who laid siege against Sardis and conquered the city when the Persians scaled the steep walls that were left unguarded, permitting the climbers to ascend unobserved because they were believed to be inaccessible.
The physical setting that the people of Sardis felt secure in but fell because of their lack of vigilance was similar to the Church’s fall. We see this in the indictment by the Lord to the Church. “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. … For I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. (Revelation 3:1d, 2b).”
The Church was spiritually dead and though its outward appearance may have fooled many with its reputation for being alive, they could not fool the Lord who knew their deeds. Like many churches today they were defiled by the world, and filled with inward decay, they were a church filled with unredeemed who were good at playing church.
They were like the field that the Lord described in Matthew 13:24ff. They were a church that had an outward form of spiritual reality, but lacked a living relationship with the Lord. They were focused on material things and knew little about spiritual things. They were more concerned about the opinion of men than on what God thought. They were focused on doctrine and theology but not on the Word of God and actually obeying it. They were doing deeds, but those deeds were incomplete.
Those deeds were liked the lives and actions of the Pharisees that Yeshua excoriated in Matthew 23 and were living a lie. Like Samson who did great things in the name of the Lord their lives were filled with contradiction and hypocrisy. Like Samson they ” did not know that the Lord had departed from him ” (Judges 16:20).
Revelation 3:4 This verse tells us that there were a few in the church not stained their garments with the sin of the majority, a remnant. Garments speak of the clothing that the Lord gives to those who love Him. We think of how the Lord clothed Adam and Eve after they had tried to clothe themselves. We shall receive heavenly garments given to us by the Lord (Revelation 6:11;7:9,13;19:8,14).
If the Church at Sardis was going to survive it would have to wake up – They had to see what was happening in their church and make the necessary changes. This meant confronting sin and error.
This is an overriding theme to the seven churches that they must involve themselves in discipline. They needed to strengthen the things that remained. That which was good and positive needed to reinforced and supported. They were called to remember what they had received and heard. They needed to go back to the basics of the gospel and the teaching of the apostles.
They were to review the letters sent by Paul that were already being considered as equal to all other Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16). They needed to restudy and affirm their trust in the truth about Messiah, sin, salvation, and sanctification. They needed to obey the Scriptures that they had believed and affirm without obedience there could not be renewal. They needed to repent, turn from going in one direction and turn back to the Lord.
If they failed to do these things the consequences would be severe. Yeshua would come to them like a thief in the night, a picture of something frightening. This is not a reference to the Lord’s second coming, but one of judgment similar to what happened to Israel, when the Lord became her enemy. This is a warning not just to Sardis but to all churches and believers that fail to respond to what the Spirit is saying to them.
To encourage them Jesus describes the rewards awaiting those who respond to His call. The reward will be the receiving of the garments that we will wear at the great wedding reception given to us by our King (Matthew 22:1ff). Moreover their name will not be erased from the Book of Life. Some people assume that this verse teaches that a Christian’s name can be erased from the book of life and see a promise turned into a threat.
Exodus 32:33, it is argued by some, supports the idea that God may remove someone’s name from the Book of Life. The book referred to in Exodus 32:33 is not the Book of Life described here, and in Philippians 4:3. It is rather a reference to the book of the living, the record of those who are alive (Psalm 69:28) this is the basis of the traditions surrounding Rosh Hashanah and the greetings given to one another.
The threat here is not eternal damnation, but physical death. When a member of voting organizations dies, in most cases he is removed from the membership. Scripture tells us that we cannot be removed from our identification as children and told that we shall never perish (John 10:28;14:17;Romans 5:7-10;8:28-39;Ephesians 1:4-5;7;4:30). The letter to Sardis ends, like the other six, with an exhortation to heed the counsel, commands, and promises it contains.