1 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. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. ~ Revelation 3:1-2
We return to our study of the book of the Revelation, particularly Revelation 2-3. In the beginning of this book are the visions that the Apostle John received. The first vision sets the stage for the remainder of the book. It is a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ in His church.
In what we know today as the country of Turkey, there were seven churches that had been established in seven cities. Basically, when Paul founded the church in Ephesus, that church became a strong church and took the gospel, according to Acts 19:10, throughout all the rest of Asia Minor – which is Modern Day Turkey. Seven of them are mentioned here. Some thirty years had passed since the founding of those churches. And those churches had settled into their own identities. The key is to discover who was defining them.
Each of these churches mentioned in chapters 2 and 3 is a real church and a real place. Each of these churches had particular characteristics and particular needs. Five of them were in some serious trouble. Two of them are only commended: the church at Smyrna and the church at Philadelphia. The other five are condemned in some way.
The Lord Jesus recognizes the makeup of each church, the issues in each church, and sends a message to each one; and they’re contained in Revelation 2-3. These are unique churches, and yet they’re the kinds of churches that exist in all periods of time, including now. So, in a sense, these letter are timeless, and they have literally spoken to every generation since.
Sardis was once one of the greatest cities of the world. It was rich in gold and silver. It is said that Sardis may have been the first place where gold and silver were minted into coins. There was a river there that was rich in gold from which the gold was mined. Because of its wealth, and its geographic location, Sardis was most often victorious because it was built on a mountain about 1500 feet above the valley floor.
Sardis was regarded as virtually impenetrable to military assault. But, Sardis was complacent, and was twice invaded by the Persians and by the Greeks. And, both victories were achieved by stealth. Sardis was so confident it could not be overcome that it failed to guard its walls adequately. Much like the city, the church was invaded by false teaching which lead to hardened hearts. In this address to the church at Sardis, the Lord Jesus finds nothing good to say about them.
In v.1 we read, "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."
The Lord Jesus introduces Himself to the church at Sardis in a different way. You will remember that the "seven spirits" are a symbol of the Holy Spirit in His fullness. He identified Himself in this way because this is exactly what the church at Sardis was missing. Here was a church without the power of the Holy Spirit. What this church at Sardis desperately needed was the life of the Spirit in it. So the Lord Jesus here identifies Himself as the one who possesses the fullness of the Spirit.
As in all these letters, the life of the church is revealed in its deeds. The Lord Jesus said to them, "I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead."
The church at Sardis was comfortable. And, they were being led by false leaders void of the Holy Spirit. The life and power of the Holy Spirit was not present. And, without the Holy Spirit and without godly leadership, the church was dead, although there would be some believers there who were faithful.
The church at Sardis was a "nominal church" or a church known as Christian in name only. There were no trials going on there. This is revealing due to the fact that trials are one part in the process of the believer growing in his faith in the Lord Jesus.
A light year is the distance light travels in a year, moving at 186,000 miles a second; that’s a light year. There was one particular star that astronomers estimated was 33 years away from earth. It would take 33 years for light from that star to reach earth. That star could have been plunged into darkness 25 years ago. It could have died. But light would still be pouring down to earth from it. It would be shining in the sky as brightly as if the star was still alive. The church at Sardis was much like that star. It was dead, but it was still shining by the light of a brilliant past.
In v.2 we read, "Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God."
The first need of a church that is dying is to be awakened to its condition. The words, "Wake up", in the Greek is a staccato command, much like a slap in the face, designed to startle one to action.
Then, the Lord Jesus said, "Strengthen what remains." Their works were incomplete, unfinished. Their actions were right, but their motives were wrong. They were not doing good works for the right reason. As we read this we can see that here is a church that is busy doing good things, but doing them to impress the wrong audience. They were trying to display and enhance their image, but they lacked the approval of the most important audience, and that is the Lord.
Throughout the Scriptures we are told that God judges, not the things we do, but the reason we do them. He reads our hearts. He judges whether our work is done out of love and gratitude in response to what He has done for us.
Finally, a church like Sardis can recover from this condition because the Lord gives the prescription for the rekindled life. The church at Sardis needed the fresh oil of the Holy Spirit. They needed an oil change. Tomorrow, we will consider the steps involved in turning this type of complacent condition around.