OVERVIEW - The church at Sardis received no commendation, only warnings and calls to repent – Revelation 3:1-6

Roman Temple - Photo by Antonio Sessa on Unsplash
city of Sardis was located approximately sixty kilometers south of Thyatira, and near the crossroads between the cities of Smyrna and Pergamos. This situation made regional commerce vital to the economic and cultural life of the city. Woolen goods figured prominently in local trade. Sardis was first mentioned in the Bible in the book of Obadiah - (“They of the captivity of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad shall possess the cities of the South”). “Sepharad” is the Hebrew form of the name ‘Sardis.’ - [Photo by Antonio Sessa on Unsplash].

In addition to commerce, the city derived wealth from gold harvested from the nearby river Pactolus. According to legend, gold coins were first minted at Sardis by its ancient king, Gyges - (716-678 B.C.). In Assyrian inscriptions, Gyges is spelled Guguand, most likely, the source of the biblical name “Gog” - (Ezekiel 38:1-2, Revelation 20:8).

Sardis was at onetime the capital of the kingdom of Lydia (‘Ludim’ - Genesis 10:13). Later, it became the regional capital of the western Persian Empire. The famous Persian “royal road” began in the east in Persepolis and terminated in the west at Sardis. The city remained under Persian rule until its capture by Alexander the Great - (334 B.C.). The city came under Roman rule when the region was organized as the province of Asia - (133 B.C.).

Sardis featured a temple to the goddess Artemis, also known as Diana, and sometimes worshiped as Cybele. Also prominent was a temple dedicated to the Roman emperor. The imperial cult played key political and economic roles in the city.
  • (Revelation 3:1-6) - “And to the angel of the assembly in Sardis, write, These things saith he that has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars: I know your works, that a name you have, that you are living and are dead. Become watchful, and strengthen the things that remain, that were about to die; for I have not found your works fulfilled before my God. Remember, therefore, how you have received and heard, and keep it and repent. If then, you shall not watch, I will have come as a thief, and in nowise will you know during what hour I will come upon you. Nevertheless, you have a few names in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white, because they are worthy. He that overcomes shall thus array himself in white garments, and in nowise will I blot out his name from the book of life; and I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”
The letter begins with the description of Jesus as the one “who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.” The “seven spirits” are found a total of three times in Revelation – (Revelation 1:4-5, 4:5, 5:6).

Jesus possesses the “seven spirits” due to his victory over death - These “spirits” serve at his command. It is the “Lamb” who sends them “out into all the earth.” The image alludes to the “seven eyes of Yahweh” sent throughout the land described in the book of Zechariah. Now, Jesus exercises this power to observe, correct, comfort, and deliver his people - (Zechariah 4:1-12).

In the vision of the Throne, the “seven spirits” were identified as the “seven torches” or “lamps” situated “before the Throne.” Presumably, the “lamps” sit on top of the seven “lampstands” to illuminate their surroundings.

The seven stars” represent the seven angels or “messengers” of the seven churches. They are held tightly in the right hand of Jesus - He has both his “messengers” and events firmly in hand - (Revelation 1:16-20).

Church ruins - Photo by Isaac Burke on Unsplash
Church ruins - Photo by Isaac Burke on Unsplash

I know your works; that you have a name; that you are living and are dead.” He knows the “deeds” of the “angel” of Sardis. However, he received no commendation. The church may appear healthy to human eyes, however, the one who commands the “seven spirits of God” sees its true condition. Jesus was once dead, but now lives, whereas, Sardis once lived, but now is dead.

Become watchful and strengthen the things that remain that were going to die.” If the “angle” fails to “wake up and repent,” Jesus will come “like a thief.” This simile originated in the teachings of Jesus. This “coming” refers to a visitation in judgment on the congregation, not necessarily to his arrival at the end of the age. The conditional clause confirms this understanding - “If, therefore, you do not wake up, I will come as a thief” - (Matthew 24:42-44, Luke 12:39-40, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6, 2 Peter 3:3-10).

The adverb rendered “how” or pōs has the sense “in what manner.” It refers to the way in which the congregation received the gospel. Considering its past, Jesus summoned the church to repent, watch, and remain awake. The exhortation suggests spiritual slumber was a problem, like the parable of the ten virgins when all ten women fell asleep before the arrival of the bridegroom.
The problem was not pagan opposition, but Christian apathy and accommodation to the surrounding culture. This is borne out by the description of the faithful few who had not “defiled their garments.” No mention was made of external opponents or internal deceivers - The problem was internal, a loss of faith and zeal.
In Sardis, most members of the church were in poor spiritual condition - only a few still wore “undefiled garments.” “Defile” or molunō suggests accommodation with idolatry and immorality (Strong’s #G3435). Those who follow the Lamb faithfully are characterized as wearing “undefiled garments.”
  • (Revelation 14:4) – “These are they that were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they that follow the Lamb whither soever he goes. These were purchased from among men, to be the first-fruits unto God and the Lamb.”
The preceding descriptions anticipate the “sixth bowl of wrath” that culminated in the final battle - ‘Armageddon.’ In the middle of the “sixth bowl,” a warning rang out – Jesus was coming just “like a thief,” therefore, the saints must “watch” and keep their garments free from defilement:
  • (Revelation 16:12-19) – “And the sixth poured out his bowl upon the great river Euphrates; and its water was dried up, that the way might be prepared for the kings who were from the east. And I saw out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false-prophet three impure spirits like frogs; for they are spirits of demons doing signs, which are to go forth to the kings of the whole habitable earth to gather them together to the battle of the great day of God the Almighty. Behold, I come as a thief! Happy he that is watching and keeping his garments, lest naked he be walking, and they see his shame. And he gathered them together to the place that is called in Hebrew, Har-maggedon.
The saint who “overcomes” will be “arrayed in white garments and his name will not be blotted out from the book of life.” Greek cities kept lists of citizens. When a citizen committed an egregious crime, his name was expunged from the roll of citizens. Likewise, the “book of life” list of the citizens of “New Jerusalem.” Anyone who fails to “overcome” has his or her name blotted out of the “book of life” – (Revelation 21:27).

Names inscribed in the scroll can be “blotted out.” Watchfulness and obedience are necessary to remain on the list of citizens of the holy city. As with the other letters, the one to Sardis ends with the exhortation to “hear what the Spirit is saying to all the churches!” It is a message for all the churches of Asia and beyond.


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