Summary: The analysis of Christ's message to Sardis as set forth in Revelation 3:1-6 teaches us that a church may be orthodox but dead.
We are currently in a series of messages titled, “Christ’s Message to the Seven Churches,” that is based on the first three chapters of the Book of Revelation.
In Revelation 1 the resurrected and glorified Christ revealed himself to his Apostle John, and told him to write letters to seven churches in Asia. Today, we shall examine the fifth of those letters, and learn about Christ’s message to his church in Sardis.
Let’s read Christ’s message to Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6:
1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
“ ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. 4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’ ” (Revelation 3:1-6)
Dr. John MacArthur gave the following illustration:
The vast distances of interstellar space are unimaginably immense. The nearest stars to us are trillions of miles away. Those large distances have forced astronomers to come up with an appropriate measurement unit, the light-year. One light-year equals the distance that light, traveling at more than 186,000 miles per second, travels in one year – more than 6 trillion miles.
The enormous distance to even the nearest stars presents an interesting possibility. If a star thirty light-years away from the earth exploded and died five years ago, we would not be able to tell by looking at it for another twenty-five years. Though no longer in existence, the light from that star would go on shining as if nothing had changed.
That illustration perfectly sums up the situation in many churches. They still shine with the reflected light of a brilliant past. Looking at them from a distance, one might think nothing had changed. Yet the spiritual darkness of false teaching and sinful living has extinguished the light on the inside, though some of their reputation may still remain.
Christ’s assessment of the church in Sardis was that it had a reputation for being alive, but was in fact dead. Every Christian church ought to take a careful look at the church in Sardis to learn what caused the Lord Jesus Christ to make such an assessment.
The analysis of Christ’s message to Sardis as set forth in Revelation 3:1-6 teaches us that a church may be orthodox but dead.
Let’s use the following outline:
1. The Address (3:1a)
2. The Description (3:1b)
3. The Complaint (3:1c, 2b)
4. The Command (3:2a, 3a)
5. The Warning (3:3b)
6. The Commendation (3:4)
7. The Promise (3:5)
8. The Appeal (3:6)
I. The Address (3:1a)
First, let’s look at the address.
Christ said in verse 1a, “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write. . . .” The letter was addressed to the angel, which also means “messenger.” In context of the letters, I take it to mean that each letter was addressed to the pastor of the church.
John Stott describes the city of Sardis as follows:
The town of Sardis lay about 30 miles south-east of Thyatira and 50 miles due east of Smyrna. Situated at the foot of Mount Tmolus and in the fertile valley of the River Hermus, it was also the converging point of several inland roads, so that it had become a busy center of trade and traffic. But its ancient history was more distinguished still. The capital of the old kingdom of Lydia, it was here that the fabulous King Croesus reigned amid his treasures until it fell to the swift attack of the Persian conqueror Cyrus.
Later in its history, Sardis had the distinction of being captured by both Alexander the Great and Antiochus the Great. But it gradually fell on evil days and lost its earlier renown, until in A.D. 17 it was devastated by an earthquake. Through the generosity of the Emperor Tiberius, who remitted its taxes for five years, the city was rebuilt, and flourished again to the extent that the ancient historian Strabo could call it “a great city,” though it never regained its former glory.