Read Revelation 3:1 - 6
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 that receives only criticism and no commendation.
Verse 1: Having a reputation can be a good thing or bad. The church in Sardis had a reputation; however it was not a good one. This church had the appearance of being alive but were 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… Jesus saw that they represented spiritual death and decay. Their works were anything but pleasing to Him.
Verse 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 it was a city that was nearly impregnable but 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 in 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.
Verse 3: The call to remember… Jesus tells the church in 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).
Verse 4: The majority of the church was not walking with God, but there are some who actually did remain faithful. They did not soil 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.
Verse 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 for Today
So what does all of this have to do with us today?
In this letter of rebuke to the Church in 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.
Alive but dead… We may be able to fool some into believing we are right with God by our outer appearance and right speech but it is God who truly sees us for who we are. There are many individuals and churches who seem alive on the outside but are dead and rotten on the inside. Jesus spoke to the Pharisees harshly about this very thing. He referred to them as hypocrites, he equated them to white washed tombs. The religious leaders of his time may have given the appearance of being holy men who are walking with God on the outside but their hearts were wicked and they were on the inside dead and decaying. He was very specific in stating that it is not the outer person that matters so much, it is the inner heart of the person and his relationship with God that matters. When the heart is right with God then the outer appearance becomes a mirror of who we are on the inside.
This is one of the most subtle ways that we can be distanced from God. So often we fall into a slumber for one reason or another without us fully realizing we do. When we neglect our relationship with Jesus Christ and allow compromise to settle into our lives spiritual slumber quickly sets in. Spiritual slumber leads to compromise and eventually tolerance of full blown sin in our lives. May we remain watchful and on guard for our faith so we do not allow our faith to fall asleep.
This is one key component to having a restored or right relationship with Jesus Christ. The word repent means “To think/act differently. To change one’s mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins.” Repentance doesn’t mean being sorry. It means being sorry enough to change. This is a painfully freeing process. Repentance can hurt, it can cause tears, it can break your heart but it always leads to freedom and forgiveness. Jesus calls us to repentance. May we never neglect this call on our lives?
Obedience = Victory
The obedient follower of Jesus will have fellowship with Jesus and is victorious because he has the promise of eternal life to those who overcome or conquer. For those of us who are walking in a right relationship with Jesus can be assured that we are justified, we are triumphant and we have fellowship with him.
 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 ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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