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9 - Sardis

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Rev 3:1-6  And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.  (2)  Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.  (3)  Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.  (4)  Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.  (5)  He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.  (6)  He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

1.              The Commission

a.       The word Sardis means “those escaping” .

b.      Escaping what? Thyatira means continual sacrifice. So in Sardis, we will see those who escaped the corruption of Jezebel and her false doctrines.

2.              The City

a.       Historically  -

                                                               i.      Sardis was the capital of the great kingdom of Lydia and one of the oldest and most important cities of Asia Minor.

                                                             ii.      It was located inland and built on a small, elevated plateau which rises sharply above the Hermus Valley.

                                                            iii.      On all sides but one the rock walls are smooth, nearly perpendicular and absolutely unscalable. The only access is on the southern side by a very steep and difficult path.

                                                           iv.      As the civilization and the commerce grew more complex, the high plateau became too small, and a lower city was built chiefly on the west side of the original city.

                                                             v.      The old city was used as an acropolis. Actually this made it a double city, and it was called by the plural noun Sardeis or Sardis.

                                                           vi.      The plain was well watered by the Pactolus River. It became the center of the carpet industry and was noted for its wealth.

                                                          vii.      Coins were first minted there.

                                                        viii.      Its last prince was the wealthy Croesus who was captured by Cyrus. He was considered the wealthiest man in the world, and everything he touched seemed to turn to gold.

                                                           ix.      Sardis was ruled by the Persians, by Alexander, by Antiochus the Great, and finally by the Romans. It was destroyed by an earthquake during the reign of Tiberius.

                                                             x.      Extensive excavations have taken place at Sardis. They are rebuilding the gymnasium and also the synagogue. And they have dug up the Roman road that is there. The thing that thrilled me when I looked at that road was that I knew the apostle Paul had walked up and down it.


b.      Commercially -

                                                               i.       Sardis was in very early times an important commercial city.

                                                             ii.      Pliny says that the art of dyeing wool was invented there, and it was the entrepôt of the dyed woolen manufactures, carpets, etc., the raw material for which was furnished by the flocks of Phrygia.

                                                            iii.      It was also the place where the metal electrum was procured. Gold was found in the bed of the Pactolus. Silver and gold coins are said to have been first minted there, and it was at one time known as a slave-mart.

c.       Religiously -

                                                               i.      The impure worship of the goddess Cybele was celebrated there, and the massive ruins of her temple are still to be seen.

                                                             ii.      In our day the ruins of the temple of Cybele and also of the temple of Apollo can still be seen.

                                                            iii.      It is one of the few double temples that you will find in the world. Cybele was known as Diana in Ephesus, but when you get inland, she becomes a nature goddess. She was the goddess of the moon, and Apollo was the god of the sun—they were brother and sister.

                                                           iv.      This was a very corrupt worship, much like the worship of Diana at Ephesus.

                                                             v.      The city is now a heap of ruins. In 1850 no human being found a dwelling there.

3.              The Character of Christ

a.        Seven Spirits of God

                                                               i.      that is, He is the One who sent the Holy Spirit into the world.

                                                             ii.      As we have seen, Sardis represents the Protestant church. My friend, the church today needs the Spirit of God working in it. We think we need methods, and we have all kinds of Band-Aid courses for believers in which you put on a little Band-Aid, and it will solve all your problems.

                                                            iii.      What we really need to do is to get to the person of Christ whom only the Holy Spirit can make real and living to us. This is the thing Protestantism needs today.

                                                           iv.      Following the dark night of the Dark Ages, the Holy Spirit was still in the world doing His work. He moved in the hearts of men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and many, many others.

                                                             v.      Isa 11:2-5  And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;  (3)  And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the LORD: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears:  (4)  But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked.  (5)  And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.

                                                           vi.      Rev 1:4  John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne;


                                                          vii.      The seven stars;

1.       Dan 12: the ministers of the Gospel;  these were filled by Christ at this time with evangelical light and knowledge; and were sent, and held forth by him as lights in the world; and were instruments in his hand for great good; and were wonderfully held, kept, and preserved by him, notwithstanding the greatness of their work, their weakness in themselves, and the power, rage, and fury of the antichristian party;

4.             The Commendation

a.       I know thy works; good works chiefly; the nature and imperfection of them; and also bad works: that

b.      thou hast a name that thou livest:

                                                               i.      The church in Sardis was a dead church.

                                                             ii.      It had a name for spiritual living, by faith on Christ's righteousness only for justification, t and here was in them an appearance of liveliness, by their zeal for Gospel doctrine and worship, and a form of living according to godliness; they were esteemed, were celebrated, and famous for these things, especially for living by faith on Christ's righteousness:

c.       and art dead; or "but art dead";

                                                               i.       for, the most part, or greater part of the members of these churches, are dead in trespasses and sins; and as for the rest, they are very dead and lifeless in their frames, in the exercise of grace, and in the discharge of duties; and under great spiritual declensions and decays, just as it were ready to die; and but few really alive in a spiritual sense, and especially lively, or in the lively exercise of grace, and fervent discharge of duty; yea, dead as to those things in which they had a name to live:

5.              The Condemnation

a.       This is the second word of condemnation, and it is a word of warning which had particular meaning in Sardis.

                                                               i.      As I have said, Sardis was located on the top of a mountain. It had one entrance on the southern side which was the only way you could get into the city in the old days.

                                                             ii.      Therefore, all that Sardis had to do was to put a detail at that one place to watch the city.

                                                            iii.      But on two occasions in their history they had been invaded by their enemies because they had felt secure, believing that the hill was impregnable, and the guard went to sleep on the job.

                                                           iv.      In 549 b.c. the Median soldiers of Cyrus scaled the parapet, and then again in 218 b.c. Antiochus the Great captured Sardis because a Cretan slipped over the walls while the sentries were careless.

                                                             v.      What the Lord says to this church at Sardis is this: “You wake up and watch out!” This was embarrassing because of the two occasions in their history when they had been caught napping. He says to the church, “Don’t you go to sleep!”

b.      Protestantism, as a whole, has turned away from looking for the coming of Jesus Christ, and they have built up these systems that certain things must be fulfilled before He can come.

                                                               i.      My friend, it is tissue-thin from where we are right now to the coming of Christ for His church. He could come the next moment or tomorrow.

                                                             ii.      Don’t say that I said He is coming tomorrow because I don’t know. It may be a hundred years, but, my friend, His imminent return is what we are to look for.

                                                            iii.      Sardis didn’t know when the enemy was coming, and we don’t know when Christ is coming—we have no way of knowing at all.

                                                           iv.      In view of the fact that the Rapture could take place at any moment, the church is to be alert. The date is not set, nor even the period in which He will come, and the reason for that is that the church is to be constantly on the alert for His coming—“Looking for that blessed hope …” (Titus 2:13).

                                                             v.      You see, anyone can make ready for a fixed hour, but you must always be ready for an unexpected hour. The Lord Jesus is saying to Protestantism that they are constantly to be on the alert.

                                                           vi.      “For I have not found thy works perfect before God.” Protestantism did recover the authority of the Word of God, the total depravity of man, and justification by faith, but there are many other things that they did not recover.

                                                          vii.      The Reformation was not a return to the apostolic church.

c.       Be watchful (γίνου γρηγορῶν)  become awake and on the watch. See on Mar_13:35; see on 1Pe_5:8. Become what thou art not.

6.             The Counsel - Rev 3:2 – 3

a.      Strengthen (στήριξον) See on 1Pe_5:10, and compare Luk_22:32; Rom_1:11; 2Th_3:3.

b.      That are ready to die (ἃ μέλλει ἀποθανεῖνwere ready or about (to die).

c.       I have not found thy works (οὐ εὕρηκά σου τὰ ἔργα)

d.      Perfect (πεπληρωμένα) Lit., fulfilled. So Rev.

e.       Thou hast received and heard (εἴληφας καὶ ἤκουσας)

                                                               i.      The former of these verbs is in the perfect tense: thou hast received the truth as a permanent deposit.

                                                             ii.      It remains with thee whether thou regardest it or not.

                                                          iii.      The latter verb is ill the aorist tense, didst hear (so Rev.), denoting merely the act of hearing when it took place.

f.        Watch -  See on Rev_3:2

g.      As a thief (ὡς κλέπτης) Thief, as distinguished from hp λῃστής robber,

                                                              i.      a plunderer on a larger scale, who secures his booty not by stealth, but by violence. Hence the word is appropriate here to mark the unexpected and stealthy coming of the Lord. Compare 1Th_5:2, 1Th_5:4; 2Pe_3:10.

                                                            ii.      in the night, and at unawares, unthought of, and unexpected; which must be understood of coming to her in a way of rebuke and chastisement, by bringing some affliction, or suffering some sore distress to fall upon her

h.      Thou shalt not know what hour l will come upon thee - 

                                                              i.      which, though applicable to the spiritual coming of Christ in the next church state, and to his second coming in his kingdom and glory, which will be both sudden and unexpected,

                                                            ii.      yet these will be to the joy and comfort of the church; whereas what is here spoken is by way of threatening, and must relate to some severe dispensation on her; and which we might now justly expect, were we not in the unwatchful, unthoughtful, and ignorant situation here described.

i.        Thou hast a few names -  notwithstanding the general apathy of the Church, thou hast a few, etc. Compare Rev_3:1, thou hast a name, and see on Rev_11:13. Names is equivalent to persons, a few who may be rightly named as exceptions to the general conception.

j.        Garments - See the same figure, Jud_1:23. The meaning is, have not sullied the purity of their Christian life.

k.       In white (ἐν λευκοῖς) - With ἱματίοις garments understood. See on Rev_2:17, and compare Zec_3:3, Zec_3:5. “White colors are suitable to the gods” (Plato, “Laws,” xii., 956). So Virgil, of the tenants of Elysium:

l.        The same shall be clothed (οὗτος περιβαλεῖται)  For οὗτος this, or the same, read οὕτως thus: “shall thus be arrayed.” so Rev. The verb denotes a solemn investiture, and means literally to throw or put around.

m.    Book of life -  Lit., the book of the life. For the figure, see Exo_32:32; Psa_69:28; Dan_12:1; Phi_4:3. Compare Luk_10:20; Heb_12:23.

                                                               i.      I would like to give you now an excerpt from Dr. John Walvoord’s book The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which is a very good explanation of what is meant in this verse:

                                                             ii.      Some have indicated that there is no explicit statement here that anybody will have his name blotted out, but rather the promise that his name will not be blotted out because of his faith in Christ.

                                                            iii.      The implication, however, is that such is a possibility. On the basis of this some have considered the book of life not as the roll of those who are saved but rather a list of those for whom Christ died, that is, all humanity who have possessed physical life.

                                                           iv.      As they come to maturity and are faced with the responsibility of accepting or rejecting Christ, their names are blotted out if they fail to receive Jesus Christ as Saviour; whereas those who do accept Christ as Saviour are confirmed in their position in the book of life, and their names are confessed before the Father and the heavenly angels.

n.      I will confess (ἐξομλογήσομαι) Openly confess (ἐξ). See on Mat_11:25; see on Act_19:18; see on Jam_5:16.

In the panorama of church history, Sardis represents the Protestant church during the period between a.d. 1517 and approximately a.d. 1800. It began, I believe, when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses onto the chapel door of the church at Wittenburg, Germany. It is an era which started with the Reformation and takes us into the beginning of the great missionary movement in the history of the church.[2]


[1]McGee, J. V. (1997, c1981). Thru the Bible commentary. Based on the Thru the Bible radio program. (electronic ed.) (5:912). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[2]McGee, J. V. (1997, c1981). Thru the Bible commentary. Based on the Thru the Bible radio program. (electronic ed.) (5:912). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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