In the book of Revelation, the Church of Sardis has a name that it’s alive, but it’s dead. John writes about it in Revelation 3:1-6. Just six little verses tell a whole lot of information, not only about the church of that time, but also the churches of America and the West today. See, Sardis was a prosperous church, a thriving church, and a secure church within a fortified city. But all that wealth had made them comfortable and soft. All those works had made them self-satisfied, and the high cliff walls that surrounded the city made them confident without a watch. Like many churches today, the church looked like one thing on the surface, but was totally different underneath. But not all the congregants of the Church of Sardis were dead, just going through the motions of Christianity. Some had a little life in them still. And some had a true, passionate walk with the Living God. Which kind are you?
The City of Sardis
At one time, the city of Sardis was synonymous with money. Not only was it the birthplace of wool-dyeing, creating a great industry of colored carpets used in wealthy homes, but some believe it was the origination of modern money itself. As often comes with great wealth, there was a desire for luxury and the finer things of materialism. Added to that was the general atmosphere of immorality and apathy created by the large temple to the pagan goddess Cybele there. The end was a city dedicated to pleasure-seeking and decadence instead of the dedication and self-discipline that keeps a society for very long.
Then there was very metaphor that was the position of the city itself. Sardis was surrounded by cliff walls that were, at first glance, impenetrable. Since this was the case, the people felt no need to set a night watch on the actual walls of the city. Historian Herodotus tells of King Cyrus II’s attack on the city in 547 BCE. He simply offered a great reward to any soldier who could find a way into the city despite the cliffs. A soldier watched and waited until he saw a Sardis soldier drop his helmet down a cliff and then retrieve it by way of a small, hidden trail. King Cyrus led his army up the cliff and quietly took the city. Interestingly enough, 200 years later, Antiochus took the city again by the same exact means. They still hadn’t learned their lesson about keeping a vigilant guard.
Some Were Dead
“…’I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.’”Revelation 3:1
This wasn’t a worn-down building with ten people in the pews. This church was vibrant, thriving, and full of works. Imagine the modern churches of today with programs, home groups, outreach, bookstores, and gourmet coffee and muffins on Sunday mornings. It “had a name.” That means there was a reputation there, or at least had the word “Christian” on the sign. But despite the outward appearances of vitality, it was dead, absent of the life found only in Christ. Think of it like the inoffensive churches today that speak the same humanistic messages as the world. In the spiritual battle, they weren’t losing to Satan and his forces. They were dead, not even worth the time and attention of an attack or persecution by the enemy.
These were “professors, not possessors” as the saying goes. People who went through all the motions of church and religion, identifying as Christian in Name Only (CHINO), but inwardly had no personal walk with God. Their mouths said all the right things, but their hearts were infected by the sin of the world. One might imagine a congregant patiently explaining to Jesus on that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?” (Matthew 7:22). But the Lord will reply “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).
About Ready to Die
“Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works 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.”Revelation 3:2-3
But not everybody in Sardis was just going through the motions. There were some true believers in the mix, but they were weak. These Christians had works and some heart, but they weren’t “perfect before God.” That means that the works were not done with the right motives and a purity of heart. He told them to watch. Maybe like the city itself, these Christians had gotten over-confident, lazy, neglectful. I once heard a saying that went something like, “Nobody stands still in the Lord. Either you’re getting closer to Him or further away with every step.” Instead of moving closer and growing in God, maybe they just sat down on a metaphorical curb to rest, confident that their past walk with the Lord was “enough.”
Jesus told them to strengthen the things which remained. They should remember when they first received Christ and stay that course. They should repent of the sin and complacency that had crept into their lives and seek a closer walk with Him. Matthew 5:8 says that the pure in heart will see God. Pure just means focused solely upon the Lord Jesus Christ and doing His will. We have to sell out, be all-in, and hold nothing back from our God. I read an amazing quote recently from an Enduring Word commentary. It said, “The pure can have greater intimacy with God not because they have earned it, but because they are simply more interested in the things of God.” How profound, and at the same time convicting.
Alive and Faithful
“You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.”Revelation 3:4
God always has a remnant, a group of believers who are faithful to Him no matter what’s happening during their time. Those in the Church of Sardis hadn’t defiled themselves with the debauchery of the age. Instead of the nakedness of sin, they were covered in the garment of holiness, washed white in the blood of Jesus. They had forsaken compromise and lukewarm, half-focus on the things of God. They were worthy to walk with Jesus.
Notice the difference between those who are dead and those who are alive. It’s not in the things they say and do. It is in the inner relationship with Jesus Christ. John 6:53-54 says, “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.’”
Eating His flesh and drinking His blood are symbolic of feeding on the spiritual things of God. It’s about satisfying our spiritual needs with Him alone, not defiling ourselves by looking to the world in whole or even in part like those others. 1 John 5:12 says, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” Having the Son means having a relationship and walking through every part of life with Him each day.
Jesus Can Raise the Dead
“These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars…”Revelation 3:1
Jesus tells the Church of Sardis that He holds both the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. Seven means to be perfect and complete. The stars, or angels, can be interpreted as the human leaders of all the churches. That means in one hand, He has empty vessels. On the other hand, He has the power and ability to fill those vessels with the fullness of the Spirit of God.
If you are going through the motions without a true, living relationship with the Son of God, He can bring you to life. God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32). We just have to ask. Luke 11:13 says, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
If you have become over-confident in your past successes, complacent without growth or fervor for the things of God, set a watch. Examine yourself, repent, and hold fast to your first confession of faith. Renew your first love and ask Him to fill you afresh in His precious Holy Spirit.
If you are currently walking with Jesus as your Lord and Savior, full of the Holy Spirit and striving to do His will in every area, be encouraged. That walk won’t end with the last breath of this life. It will continue into eternity.
Check Out These Other Resources
Like articles about 3’s? Try The 3 Levels of Sampson and Submission to God. Or, try The 3 Things to Remember When Iniquity Abounds. Please subscribe in the upper right corner (or at the bottom on a phone). Also, check out my YouTube Channel. There, I read my blogs out loud and have a playlist of hymns from my church. Far from boring, they are fast, sassy, and anointed hymns and gospel songs.