“And 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 work 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 that have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed with 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.” ‘ (NKJV)
1. The City of the Epistle, v. 1.
Sardis was situated on a small plateau which rose some 1500 feet above the surrounding country and was directly accessible only from the south. Except for this approach, the plateau was atop nearly perpendicular walls, which were unclimbable except under exceptional circumstances. The approach itself was narrow and heavily fortified, making the city virtually impregnable. Yet the city was conquered, not once, but twice, because of the complacency of the defenders.
The plateau on which the city sat was affected by the weather. From time to time, an oblique crack would appear in the perpendicular cliffs, thus affording access to the top to an experienced climber or to one willing to risk it. Even then, the sides could have been easily defended, because it took all one could do to climb, let alone having to fight his way up. However, the citizens of Sardis were careless and self-confident, and there was no continuing defense, except on the south. The city was conquered twice.
The name “Sardis” means “a remnant” or “those who have escaped,” and characterizes the church. Only a few had “escaped” the defilement which infected the church in general; the majority had a name, but no reality. Sardis typifies Protestantism after the initial fervor had died down. The Established Churches all had the name of defenders of orthodoxy, but there was generally little more than lip service. Ritual and form were the important thing, and Morality was all the “gospel” that was preached.
There are many good and godly people in the Reformed movement. And there are Baptists who don’t believe anything at all of the faith once delivered to the saints. It isn’t “my church” or “your church.” Our ultimate authority for spiritual truth isn’t this or that catechism or confession of faith. It isn’t this preacher or that scholar. Our ultimate and final authority must be the Word of God. With Paul, we must ask, What does the Scripture say? Romans 4:3. It is our rule and practice of faith. Nothing else is.
2. The Christ of the Epistle, vs. 1.
He Who is the Lord of the Church is portrayed as the One Who has –
The Seven Spirits of God. Some versions have “spirits of God.” There weren’t originally any capitals in Greek. So it’s a matter of interpretation how to print this phrase, which also occurs in 1:4; 4:5 and 5:6. I’ve given my thoughts in my comments on 1:4, so won’t repeat them here.
There is something I do want to say, though. In spite of the uncertainty of what this phrase means, I think it has a clear message. Before I started the blog, I contributed to another website. It was a general discussion site. Someone would ask a question or make a comment and others would answer. One of the other contributors closed a comment with the phrase, “God bless America.” I responded, “How can God bless America when we’re doing everything we can to bring about His judgment?” Someone else responded, “What does God have to do with it?”
“What does God have to do with it?”
The description John uses, along with the rest of the book, tells us that He has everything to do with it. We’ll see that, Lord willing, as we go along.
The Seven Stars. As we saw earlier, these “stars” refer to the pastors of the seven local churches. The Spirit works life, and its activity, only through the Word, hence, the pastors of the churches, those who minister the Word, are included because spiritual life is to be revived.
3. The Contents of the Epistle, 3:1b-6.
Condemnation, vs. 1b-2. Sardis has nothing good said about it, except perhaps that there were a few of its members who hadn’t been “defiled.” It was worse even than Thyatira.
1. It had a false name. Sardis was a church with a reputation for orthodoxy, yet there was nothing on the inside; there was a form of godliness, but denying its power, 2 Timothy 3:5. How true this was, and is, of a great deal of Protestantism. With good beginnings in the Reformation, it has deteriorated, generally speaking, into a cold, lifeless formalism.
2. It had a failing vitality, vs. 2.
– be watchful, be awake, as after being roused. And it is a command signifying, “keep on being awake. Don’t go back to sleep.”
– ready to die, about to lose the last spark of life.
– strengthen, take strong, immediate, effective measures.
– perfect, complete, satisfactory. As good as it was, the Reformation fell far short of returning to the simplicity of the New Testament. I read Reformed authors who want to go back to the Church Fathers of the second and third century. No doubt, there is much they could teach us. At the same time, why not go back to the “original” Church Fathers, in the New Testament? That’s what I want to do.
Counsel, v. 3a.
1. Remember, how, with what zeal and eagerness you received the truths of the Gospel. Does the Word mean as much to us as it once did?
2. Return, to that first fervor and desire for the Lord. The Psalmist wrote, delight yourself also in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart, Psalm 37:4. It might be easy to look at that and think that this means that, if we “delight” in the Lord, He’ll make us rich or famous or some other thing greatly sought after by the world. But, if we truly delight in the Lord, wouldn’t the thing we desire most be Himself? That was Paul’s great desire, that I might know Him, Philippians 3:10. There’s a wealth of material in the word “also” as well as in what else Paul said in his verse, but we leave that to your further thought.
Consequences, v. 3b. “As a thief” doesn’t refer to the Lord’s coming, though He does use that analogy about it elsewhere, but to visitation in judgment like that of Ephesus in 2:5 and Pergamos in 2:16. That is exactly what Christ has done with this church. Though it did last for a long time, it is long gone.
Yet we believe there is a wider application to that promise: to unregenerate, formal, ritualistic Protestantism, Christ threaten that aspect of His coming which belongs to the world, 1 Thessalonians 5:4, 5.
“State churches must be to a considerable extent political in principle and practice. If, therefore, Protestantism identifies itself with the world, sharing its fortunes, it must also share in its doom” (Walter Scott, Exposition of the Revelation of Jesus Christ, p. 95.)
We admit that there is considerable discussion of and disagreement in views of the future. Without getting into all that, we’ve done that elsewhere, let me just say that truly born-again Christians will not enter the Tribulation Period. There are, however, countless numbers not only in liberal churches but also in churches which call themselves “conservative” or “fundamental” which bear no evidence of a work of God in their lives. Though we cannot know for certain the true spiritual condition of folks like these, nominal Christians, those who’ve just gone through the motions or the ritual, will enter and endure this time of trial on the earth. We will have more to say about this, Lord willing.
Considerations, vs. 4, 5.
1. Fellowship with our Lord, v. 4. The glory and wonder of heaven isn’t streets of gold or the fact that “bad” things are forever gone. That which will make heaven “heaven” will be the fact that HE is there, and His people will have eternal and unbroken fellowship with Him.
2. White raiment, v. 5. Changed forever will be these fallible, fallen bodies. We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is, 1 John 3:2. No more death, disease or departure from purity and righteousness.
3. Name not blotted out, v. 5. This is not the loss of salvation, but rather the showing the falseness of their profession of life. Remember, the Lord is referring to those with only the name of “Christian,” but who in reality are “twice dead”: in sin and to righteousness.
4. Name confessed before God and the angels, v. 5. This is the other side of what has just been said. Not only will true Christians be “blotted out” of the book, but their names will be confessed before the Father. As one has said, “I am not ashamed to confess Christ, but my wonder is, How can he ever confess me!”