Revelation 3:1-6

Letter to Sardis
The End Times

In my last post, we examined the letter to the Messianic Community at Thyatira.    In this post, Yeshua’s letter to the Messianic Community at Sardis will be examined.

Historical Setting [1]
 sardis_overview  sardis3

Ancient Sardis
(Pictures Courtesy of Google)

Sardis, near the junction of the roads from central Asia Minor, Ephesus, Smyrna, and Pergamum, was the capital of Lydia under its last king, Croesus, and the seat of the governor after the Persian conquest.  Sardis was certainly one of the more prominent cities of that day.  Because of its location, the city was thought to be impregnable; however, several times during its history it was conquered by outside forces.  Sardis was known for its great prosperity, which came from wealth from the textile, dye, and jewelry industries.  It is also known to have been a center of pagan worship, as the ruin of a pagan temple still survives.  The city’s reputation for loose moral living was well known.

Sardis was famous for arts and crafts and was the first center to mint gold and silver coinage.  So wealthy were the Lydian kings that Croesus became a byword for wealth.  Unfortunately, Croesus also became a legend for pride and presumptuous arrogance, when his attack on Persia led to the fall of Sardis and the eclipse of his kingdom.  Cyrus and the Persians captured the citadel in a surprise attack in 549 BCE, as did the Romans three centuries later, which may have provided the imagery for Yochanan’s warning in Revelation 3:3 (I will come like a thief).  The great earthquake of 17 CE ruined Sardis physically and financially.  The Romans contributed 10 million sesterces in relief, an indication of the damage done, but the city never recovered.

Sardis was a dead church that was alive in name only – although there were a few who have not soiled their clothes (v. 4).  To such a church, Yeshua presented Himself as the Empowered One, who has the “seven Spirits of God” (v. 1) and can remove them from heaven’s roll.

There are people in all types of churches today who call themselves Believers but who do not know what it means to become a new creature in Yeshua (2 Corinthians 5:17).  This may be the reason that thousands of people are leaving dead churches today and returning to Bible-based, Gospel-preaching churches which are alive with the Spirit of Yeshua.  Just sayin’.

1 “To the angel of the Messianic Community in Sardis, write: ‘Here is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars: “I know what you are doing – you have a reputation for being alive, but in fact you are dead! 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains, before it dies too! For I have found what you are doing incomplete in the sight of my God.  3 So remember what you received and heard, and obey it, and turn from your sin! For if you don’t wake up, I will come like a thief; and you don’t know at what moment I will come upon you.  4 Nevertheless, you do have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; and they will walk with me, clothed in white, because they are worthy.  5 He who wins the victory will, like them, be dressed in white clothing; and I will not blot his name out of the Book of Life; in fact, I will acknowledge him individually before my Father and before his angels.  6 Those who have ears, let them hear what the Spirit is saying to the Messianic communities.”’ ~ Revelation 3:1-6 (CJB)

Here is the message from the one who has the sevenfold Spirit of God and the seven stars.  Remember, the number seven represents completeness and, in addition, it was considered by the Jew to be a sacred number.  Therefore, the sevenfold Spirit of God is obviously a reference to the completeness of the Spirit’s ministry.  G. E.  Jones writes that the sevenfold Spirit of God represents:

The seven different characteristics of Yeshua which shall be manifested during His reign on earth.  This is seen by reading the eleventh chapter of Isaiah.  1 But a branch will emerge from the trunk of Yishai [Jesse], a shoot will grow from his roots. 2 The Spirit of Adonai will rest on him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and power, the Spirit of knowledge and fearing Adonai (emphasis added) ~ Isaiah 11:1-2 (CJB).

Yeshua also has the seven stars under His charge.  The message is clear and is one of which we all need to be reminded from time to time.  The question: Who is in charge?  It is not the pastors or the deacons, nor the church, but Yeshua Himself.

I know what you are doing – you have a reputation for being alive, but in fact you are dead!  This church by the world’s standard was a great church.  But God does not judge by outward appearance!  This church had a physical plant, but no spiritual power; they were attuned to the city, but not to God.  A church can be full of activity and still not be pleasing to God, as it is so easy for a church to forget their true purpose for being.  Although the reputation of earlier ministries lived on, there was no spiritual life in the Sardis church by this time.  This church had a good reputation, but it was spiritually dead.  Our Lord is never so impressed with a well-kept institution that he forgets what church is all about.

Wake up, and strengthen what remains, before it dies too! For I have found what you are doing incomplete in the sight of my God.  So remember what you received and heard, and obey it, and turn from your sin!  Yeshua’s gives the church at Sardis a four-fold admonition:

  1. Wake up. When a church begins to die, the first thing it must do is to admit that a problem exists. If the people do not realize there is a problem, the ministry of the church will continue to decay.
  2. Second, our Lord admonishes the church to strengthen what remains. There must have remained some hope for this church, but, on the other hand, if they didn’t take some positive action soon, even what little light they possessed would be extinguished.
  3. Remember. They were to remember what they had received and heard. Far too often we forget our humble beginnings, when we had nothing. And yet, so often, those humble beginnings were the days of greatest power, exciting service, and a continual outpouring of God’s blessings.  Too often, we acquire buildings, property, prestige, and pomp and leave the Holy Spirit out of it all.  It is no wonder the Ruach has been referred to as the forgotten member of the Trinity.  The church at Sardis, as well as the church today, must hold on to the fundamentals of the Word of God.  Departure from the Word of God will kill a church quickly, for when the truth is not upheld, doctrinal error comes sweeping in.  The life of any church depends upon the correct preaching and teaching of the Word of God and the ministry of the Ruach.
  4. Finally, our Lord admonishes the church at Sardis is turn from your sin. The church must begin to change somewhere and that change begins in a genuine act of repentance.  God’s method of recovery is always the same; to return to where we were in the past, we must repent of our sins.  This is good advice for any church at any time as, so often, we are not alert and think we are strong.  Because we fail to reflect upon the past, we rationalize our present condition too much and fail to see the need to repent.

For if you don’t wake up, I will come like a thief; and you don’t know at what moment I will come upon you.  I have been reading through the Minor Prophets this year and have been amazed at how patient God is.  Prophet after prophet warned Israel and Judah over and over to change their evil ways before destruction and exile was meted out as His judgment.  God waits and pleads with man to repent.  He waits…  and waits… (see 2 Kefa 3:9).  Yet even here in Sardis, as long as some life exists, there is still opportunity to avert the judgment (see Jeremiah 18:8).  The coming of Yeshua to Sardis for judgment is like a thief in one respect only; they both come without warning, suddenly, and as a surprise.  In this respect, also, the Second Coming of Yeshua will be like the midnight arrival of a thief.  Suddenly He will come at the rapture for His church (see Matthew 24:43-44) and suddenly will He come upon the unrepentant in the judgment of the Tribulation Period (see 1 Thessalonians  5:2).

Nevertheless, you do have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes; and they will walk with me, clothed in white, because they are worthy.  Thank God for the faithful remnant that seems always to be present in each generation.  There were those in Sardis who refused to compromise their faith or go along with the hierarchy which was very prevalent in that day.  It was probably this steadfast group who remained faithful that our Lord had in mind when He gave the five-fold admonition in verses two and three.  Any hope the church had to experience repentance and change was in the hands of this group who would not compromise.  Yet, they themselves were in danger because of their association with those who had already lost all spiritual awareness of what God was doing.  It is amazing how an unbelieving group can pull true believers down until they totally lose their testimony.

White is the color of dazzling light, in opposition to darkness and night.  It may reflect purity and innocence, but more often joy and triumph.  God dwells in light unapproachable (see 1 Timothy 6:16).  Yeshua’s garments in the Transfiguration were white (see Mark 9:3).

He who wins the victory will, like them, be dressed in white clothing; and I will not blot his name out of the Book of Life; in fact, I will acknowledge him individually before my Father and before his angels.  This verse creates a problem for some people, because it teaches that there will be names blotted out of the Book of Life. Some use this verse to claim that a person can lose his salvation, which would infer that our salvation is based on works rather than grace.  I addressed this issue in my series on Eternal Security indicating that I do believe it is possible, although highly unlikely, that a Believer can become an apostate by his own free will.

Don Jones believes that there is a distinctive difference between the Book of Life (Revelation 3:5) and the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 21:27).  This book of life contains the names of all who have ever lived.  When one dies without having trusted Yeshua his name is blotted out.  The only exception to this will be those who have never reached an “age of accountability” before death; their names remain in the Book of Life.  It is this Book of Life that will be used at the Judgment of the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15).

On the other hand, the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 21:27) is the personal record our Lord maintains of all who are saved.  In Luke 10:20, Yeshua told His disciples to rejoice because their names were written down in heaven.  The Lamb’s Book of Life could be compared to a personal diary that belongs to Yeshua.  He has earned the right to possess such a book through His death at Calvary.

Special Comparative Note on Chapters 3:1-6 [2]

The Historicist and some Futurists see Sardis as representing the church at the time of the Reformation (1517-1793).  This extends from the time of Luther to that of Wesley.  This movement ended the Dark Ages and brought refreshing signs of life to the church.  However, it is said Yeshua did not find its works perfect before God.  The Reformation went a certain distance in discarding unscriptural traditions and in restoring biblical authority in the church, but, in the opinion of some (e.g. the Anabaptists), it did not go far enough.  [Why does this remind me so much of Yeshua’s attach on the P’rushim distorting the Word of God with man’s traditions recorded in the Gospels?]

In my next post, we will look at the letter to the Messianic Community in Philadelphia.

Click here fr PDF version.

[1] Halley’s Bible Handbook: Deluxe Edition

[2] Material in this section is taken from “Revelation: Four Views, Revised & Updated” by Steve Gregg

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