Sardis - The City
The city of Sardis was one of the wealthiest and powerful cities in the ancient world around the sixth century B.C. It is believed that gold and silver coins were first pressed there. It also claimed to be the first city that discovered the art of wool dyeing.
The city is located on top of a high mountain. It was a fortified city with nearly perpendicular walls reaching 1500 feet above the lower valley which provided a natural fortress. Over time as the city grew, they developed a lower city at the bottom of the mountain it was located on.
Archaeology has discovered that the lower city had a theater, a stadium and a large temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Artemis (which was destroyed but some pillars remain today). The patron god of Sardis was Cybele (who is identified with Greek goddess Artemis).
Cybele was believed to possess the power over life and death.
In 546 B.C. Cyrus defeated the city and thus becoming the seat to the Persian governor. In A.D. 17 an earthquake destroyed the city. It was rebuilt with the help of Emperor Tiberius who gave the city about $1 million and five years of tax reduction. In A.D. 26 the city put in a bid for the privilege of building an imperial temple but lost out to Smyrna. Naturally it was a very pagan city and this culture had some major influence on the church as we will see Jesus has some harsh words to the city.
Sardis – The Letter
This is the fifth letter of the Apocalypse written by the Apostle John and spoken by Jesus. Sardis is the first of two churches in which receives only criticism and no commendation.
Vs 1: Having a reputation can be a good thing or bad. The church of Sardis had a reputation; however, it was not a good one. They have the appearance of being a church that is alive but is actually spiritually dead. From the outside looking in everyone would think this church was doing fine and seemed healthy, but Jesus saw through this façade and brought to light the true nature of this church… He saw that they represented spiritual death and decay. Their works were anything but pleasing to Him.
Vs 2: Jesus tells the church to wake up… This is significant because Jesus is speaking a language the people of Sardis understood. Twice in Sardis’ history the city was defeated (546 B.C. & 218 B.C.) due to inadequate watches. As I mentioned earlier that it was a city that was nearly impregnable however due to slumber the city was overtaken. Both times the enemy struck while the city watch was not paying attention or possibly sleeping. Because of their unwatchful eye they were overthrown by the enemy unexpectedly. Jesus is calling the church of Sardis to awake from their spiritual slumber. They are called to strengthen the areas that seem to be salvageable (there must have been some) for if they do not, they are about to die along with the church. As I have noted already the church may seem like they are alive to everyone around them, but Jesus sees their works and they are not favorable in his sight.
Vs 3: The call to remember… Jesus tells the church of Sardis to do the same as Ephesus and remember. They are to remember what they have heard and what they have received. This was most likely the message of salvation through faith. We are not told what works are unfavorable to Jesus, but He certainly calls them to return to the message of hope and faith in Jesus Christ. They seemed to have lost sight of the message that was given to them and that was once received with open arms. He tells them to keep it and repent. One would think that all is lost with the church of Sardis, but Jesus is not finished with her. He exhorts them to not only wake up from their spiritual slumber but also to repent of their evil works. Repentance is always one of the first steps to returning to a right relationship with Jesus. The warning… If they do not wake up, then Jesus is going to execute imminent judgment that will come swiftly and unexpectedly (Like a thief).
Vs 4: The majority of the church was not walking with God however there are some who remain faithful. They have not soiled their garments. In Asia Minor soiled clothing would disqualify one from worshiping their god and was also a sign of dishonor to their god. Robert Mounce sees this as a reference “to the danger of contaminating the Christian witness by accommodation to the prevailing standards of a pagan city mind.” The church was in a wide state of compromise and most of the individuals in this church were living double lives. They wanted the best of both worlds. Those who do remain faithful in this pagan filled church are promised garments of white because they remain faithful and ultimately will walk with Jesus. They are considered worthy because of Jesus and his grace. The garments of white are symbolic of victory, justification and walking with Jesus equates communion and fellowship with Jesus. It is very important to note that those who are “worthy” are not considered worthy because of anything they have done it is only by the grace of God that some did not compromise their faith.
Vs 5: The promise to the one who remains faithful and obedient; he will have his name written in the book of life. Jesus assures them that they are secure because they belong to him. He will confess them before God the Father, and they will receive eternal life.
Church of Sardis Today
So, what does all of this have to do with us today?
In this letter of rebuke to the Church of Sardis we can apply a lot of what is said to our own lives personally and as a Church. In this I believe there are warnings and promises that we should heed today. If the Word of God truly is sharper than a two-edged sword, we should see that what Jesus says cuts to the heart of the believer and the Church today.
 Gregg, S. (1997). Revelation, four views: A parallel commentary (Re 1:20). Nashville, TN: T. Nelson Publishers.
 The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Revelation (1977) Mounce, Robert: Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing. P. 108 - 109
 Ibid p. 112
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
Preview or purchase Jeff's Books