“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”Hebrews 3:12-13 NIV
Welcome to SARDIS
Known for its woolen, textile, and jewelry industries, Sardis may have been wealthy at one time, but that was in the past. Its location on top of a hill surrounded by steep cliffs gave it a false sense of protection. Twice attacked and conquered due to its arrogance and lack of watchfulness, this church perfectly illustrates how pride goes before a fall (See Proverbs 16:18).
Worship of the false mother-goddess Cybele, also known as Artemis, engaged the people in festivals of the most debased and impure kind. One of Sardis’ most important temples in the first century honored Artemis (i.e., Diana, goddess of the Ephesians). Additionally, this temple was twice as large as the Parthenon and the seventh largest Greek temple ever built. Unless worshippers donned clean, white clothes, the temple banned them from participating in temple activities.
Like Artemis, Christ expected His people in the church at Sardis to also approach Him wearing white garments, which represented a righteous life and heart. The problem focused on the majority of this church who had defiled their clothes through their apathy to the things of God.
The Sleeping Church
To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
Revelation 3:1-3 NIV
The way Jesus appeared to each church pinpointed its problems, and the same is true for Sardis. The reference to the seven spirits and seven stars explains this church’s lack of the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.
The Seven Spirits of God
Although there is one Holy Spirit, He has a seven-fold ministry that allows us to experience genuine spirituality. As we walk by faith, the power of God enables us to deal with the sin in our lives through honest confession so that we don’t grieve and quench the Holy Spirit within us. (“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30 NASB). “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19 NASB)). Therefore, we see that this church was grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit’s ministry.
The Seven Stars
As Jesus told John in Revelation 1:20, “the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches.” Many believe the stars also refer to spiritual leadership, who brings forth the Word to the congregation. So, we can assume that the leadership failed to deliver the Word in a way that motivated believers to apply and respond to it. The lack of both the presence of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God resulted in its spiritual deadness. (See Ephesians 3:16-19; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; Hebrews 4:12.)
As busy as worker bees, Sardis looked good on the surface and enjoyed a stellar reputation as an alive church. But her deeds were not like the other churches, which Christ commended. Instead, these were unfinished and about to die. Christ commanded them to repent and return to the basic teachings of the gospel and again find the joy of salvation through obedience to the Word of God..
Let’s remember that deeds alone do not save us, but they are the basis for how we will be judged at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we did in righteousness, but in accordance with His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He richly poured out upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.Titus 3:5-8 NASB
Like Sardis, are we arrogant in our walk with the Lord, believing that we are elevated above evil to such a degree that we can relax and coast in our spiritual lives? Do we believe that we are so secure on our mountaintop that the enemy can never find a way to slip in and take us by surprise? Jesus warned sleeping Sardis that unless they repented, He would come like a thief in the night and swiftly bring divine judgment on them.
Promise to the Overcomers
‘The one who overcomes will be clothed the same way, in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. The one who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’Revelation 3:5-6 NASB
Although the remnant of true believers in Sardis was weak, Jesus recognized them and promised three things:
#1: Their white garments represent the forgiveness of their sins through the shed blood of Christ.
- Here they specifically refer to those who boasted in Christ and not in their past achievements. White garments mentioned in Revelation 7:14 refer to overcomers of the great tribulation; the twenty-four elders in 4:4; the martyrs in 6:11; and the church in 19:7-8 at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
#2: Christ assured them that He would never erase their names from the Book of Life.
- The names of overcomers will never be blotted out, but those names not included were never there to begin with. In Revelation 13:8, the names of those who worship the beast are only found in the books of judgment, and never written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. (See 17:8 and 20:12.)
#3: Jesus promises to call out the names of believers to His Father and His angels in heaven.
- He had made this same promise to His disciples in Matthew 10:32: “Therefore, everyone who confesses Me before people, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.” And in Luke 12:8: “Now I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before people, the Son of Man will also confess him before the angels of God;” He will commend each believer with the words each one longs to hear in Matthew 25:21: “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.”
In conclusion, may we always examine our lives so that we find the confidence of our salvation in Christ and His shed blood alone. Let’s also remember Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi which exhorted them to not become like a Sardis church.
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to desire and to work for His good pleasure.Philippians 2:12-13 NASB
Dear Lord, may we always be mindful of our spiritual lives so that we keep the fire of Holy Spirit and the Word of God alive in our hearts. May we be overcomers and stand before You, unashamed, on that glorious day. In Jesus’s Name, Amen.
A Survey of Revelation: The Church at Sardis by Karen Jurgens copyright © 2023 All rights reserved.