Rev 3:1-6 – To the Church in Sardis

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Rev 3:1

  1. The Greek word “angelos” means “messenger” or “emissary” and normally refers to an angel, but it can also refer to a local church pastor, as he is a “messenger” who preaches the word of God to the congregation.
    1. Most likely, in my opinion, it is the pastor of the congregation who is being referred to. He is the leader of the congregation and also the one who receives the letter from John and also the one who reads the letter to his congregation.
  2. The city of Sardis was located along important trade routes in Lydia, modern-day Turkey, and was a relatively wealthy and prosperous city with a temple dedicated to Artemis. Previously, Sardis had been the capital of Lydia and also one of the most important cities in the ancient world, but by the time of Revelation its importance had declined considerably.
    1. The city of Sardis is today associated with the invention of money. It was during the reign of King Croesus that metallurgists in the city invented how to separate gold and silver. Previously, it had not been possible to know exactly how much silver or gold was in a gold nugget, and so the value of the nugget could never be known exactly, but with the invention in Sardis, coins could be made with an exact value, which led to King Croesus becoming enormously rich and today his name is associated with wealth.
    2. In the centre of Sardis stands an altar dedicated to the mother goddess Cybele, who was worshipped through various sexual rites.
    3. The combination of wealth and sexual immorality led to the population of Sardis becoming notorious for laziness and decadence.
      1. It is impossible not to see the resemblance between Sardis and the modern Western world with all its wealth, fixation on money, luxury living, sexual immorality and decadence.
      2. Anyone who is a Christian and lives in an environment like Sardis and the West should therefore take note of the message Jesus is bringing to the church in Sardis and consider whether they feel met. If you do, you should also listen to Jesus’ call to repentance and revival.
    4. When the Persian king Cyrus came to Sardis in 549 BC to take the city, he realised that it was virtually impossible because the city was protected by impregnable natural rocks. So Cyrus offered a reward to the soldier who could find a way to take the city. When one of the soldiers accidentally saw a Sardinian sentry drop his helmet down one of the rocks and climb down a secret route to retrieve it, he took a group of soldiers with him under cover of darkness and climbed up the same route. Once on top, he found that Sardis’ guards were so sure that the city could not be taken that they had not bothered to keep watch, which meant that Cyrus could take the city with ease. This embarrassing incident was repeated when Antiochus the Great captured the city in 216 BC.
      1. From this we can learn that when a congregation lives in a world of wealth, luxury living and sexual immorality, it must continue to “guard” against sin, false teachings, etc. Otherwise it risks being caught off guard and soon facing the fait accompli; the congregation is taken over by false teachers or has died spiritually.
      2. It is often in the area where we think we are strongest that we fail to defend ourselves and end up sinning in that very area. One should not be surprised, for example, if a pastor who often preaches against sexual immorality has problems in that particular area himself.
  3. The number seven in the Bible symbolizes “completeness”, “perfection”, “totality”, “perfection”, “all”, etc.  So when Jesus describes himself as having “the seven spirits of God” and “the seven stars” it shows that he has the Spirit of God in full and is in control of all the pastors of the churches (Rev 1:20). So Jesus does not have the Spirit of God only in part or when needed, but always, constantly and totally. In the same way, he does not only control the churches when he feels like it or when the pastors of the churches think it is appropriate, but Jesus is Lord of the churches regardless.
  4. Just as Hillsong is known today for its worship and Timrå Pentecost is known for its mission, so Sardis was known as a living church.
    1. To a person who looked at the church in Sardis in a superficial way, one could get the impression that everything was going well, that the church was alive and thriving. But to Jesus, who knows the church and has a complete and total insight into the church, it looks quite different. Jesus sees that the church is dead even though it is known to be so alive.
  5. To many of the other churches in Revelation, Jesus addresses an exhortation to resist a false doctrine or a sin or something similar, but the church in Sardis seems to have had no problem with either this or any form of persecution. Sardis’ problem seems to be that they have slowly but surely died in a comfortable existence. The devil has had no reason to attack and persecute the church in Sardis because they have died to themselves like a frog that jumps into a pot of warm, comfortable water but slowly but surely gets hotter and hotter until it is too late and the water boils the frog to death.
  6. There is an obvious risk for Western congregations to slowly but surely adapt to Western luxury living, sexual immorality and decadence. To the outsider observing the congregation, you might be fooled into thinking that all is right because the pastor is so charismatic, the worship is so good, everyone seems to have a smile on their face, but beneath the surface, members have begun to cohabit without thinking it’s wrong, people have stopped caring about being generous with their money because they need to buy a new iPhone, and the church’s mission is becoming less and less important. By the time you realize that everything is not right, it has already gone so far that you are unable to do anything about it; you have killed yourself by slowly but surely getting used to the hot water like a frog until the water finally starts to boil.

Rev 3:2

  1. The first thing Jesus tells the church in Sardis to do is to “wake up”. If the church wakes up, it will be, in the true sense of the word, a “revival”.
    1. A Christian who is “asleep” cares little for God’s Word, prayer, worship, evangelism, mission, service, etc., and needs to be “awakened.”
    2. In different times, revivals have looked different. When the Spirit of God breathes life into us Christians, it shows up in a few different ways.
      1. The end of the 2nd century saw the start of what might be called a “desert revival”. Many young men were moved by God and longed to spend more time with him in peace and quiet, so they went out into the desert and lived alone in caves. Imagine how absurd it would be if we Christians today still complained that there was so little revival because so few young men today go out into the desert and live in caves. Exactly how a revival manifests itself is often culturally conditioned and it is therefore foolish to try to mimic these expressions in an attempt to recreate a revival, but its inherent longing to draw closer to God, that is something to strive for and long for.
  2. Jesus was dissatisfied with the “works” of the church in Sardis. Probably it was not the deeds themselves that were at fault, but the fact that they did not do these deeds based on love.
    1. No matter how much activity a church has, it can go wrong if it does all these things for the wrong reason.

Rev 3:3

  1. Jesus wants the church to go back to the original message they had previously received. Jesus gave a similar message to the church in Ephesus: “Repent and do your first works” (Rev 2:5).
    1. These “first works” are about returning to what was so important when you were a new believer: reading the Bible because you love God’s Word, praying because you love God’s voice, witnessing to Jesus because you love your neighbour, helping those in need because you love your fellow man.
  2. If the church does not stay awake, it will, like the city of Sardis, be quickly conquered. When Sardis’ guardsmen failed to take their mission seriously due to negligence, they were caught off guard by the enemy and quickly lost the impregnable city. When a congregation does not take its mission seriously because of laziness and neglect, there is a great risk of being overtaken by the enemy and losing so quickly that there is no time to react.

Rev 3:4-5

  1. The color white symbolizes purity and is a recurring color in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 4:4, 6:11, 7:9, 7:13, 19:8).
    1. One does not become pure, holy and righteous by being good or by doing good deeds, but by believing in Jesus. Those who had soiled their former white garments have thus fallen so far from faith in Jesus that Jesus now declares them “dead”. But by repenting and going back to the original faith in Jesus, their clothes will become white again. In other words, it is never too late to repent.
  2. Although Jesus says that the church as a whole is dead, he also notes that there are a few left in Sardis who are still alive. One can imagine how difficult it must have been for these faithful Christians when the rest of the church indulged in sin and immorality. In the same way, it is difficult even today for a Christian who wants to live purely and be faithful to Jesus when all his Christian friends become sambos. But if the church in Sardis understands its own good, they should repent and listen to them and learn from them how to live their Christian life.
    1. If you recognize yourself in the situation of these few believers, you should take heart and remember that Jesus knows your situation too. Continue to be faithful and pray to Jesus to show the rest of your congregation that they need to repent.
  3. Ancient cities often kept records of their citizens. When someone died or committed a criminal act, they were struck from the city’s books and were no longer a citizen.
    1. The book of life is mentioned in several places in the Bible, and to be struck out of that book means that one is no longer a citizen of the kingdom of God (Exodus 32:32-33, Psalm 69:29, Luke 10:20, Revelation 20:12-15, Revelation 22:19).
    1. Imagine the joy of standing before the Lord God and hearing Jesus call your name!

Rev 3:6

  1. We in the West really need to be on our guard so that we don’t let our laziness slowly but surely lead to apathy, decadence and eventually spiritual death. If we recognize ourselves in Sardis’ situation, we should also heed Jesus’ call to repentance.
    1. Even for the spiritually dead there is hope, since Jesus has a habit of raising the dead to life again (Mark 5, John 11)!
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