Summary: Sardis was full of corpses that had been propped up in the pews.



TEXT: Revelation 3:1-6

Revelation 3:1-6 KJV 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.


Made a personal reference to a patient I worked with in the hospital that outwardly looked fine but on the inside had a terrible condition of severe heart disease. She was not even aware of it and it almost proved to be fatal to her.

-We come now to the fifth church along the postal route in Asia Minor.

-From all of these churches that we have looked at to this point, there is a prevailing lesson: We can look at the outward appearance of things but God looks on the heart. We also have to point out that God is not nearly as impressed with the things that impress us.

-That was the lesson of Sardis. . . it looked like it was alive but it was dead. . . it was literally a church populated with corpses sitting up in the pews. They looked alive but they were dead.


-If we were to make a comparison of the other churches, it might be like this:

• Ephesus—Loss of their first love

• Pergamos—Gripped by worldliness

• Thyatira—A toleration of sin

-But Sardis had reached a new low. It was a church dominated by sin, false doctrine, and unbelief. It was the church of the living dead.

• It was about 30 miles on around the horn from Thyatira.

• It was one of the richest cities in the entire world because it had become a major trade center.

• It had a river that could be panned for gold, it had a thriving wool industry, and makers of costly dyes for the wool were there as well.

• It may have received its name from the sardis stones found in the region which were used as amulets to drive away evil spirits.

• The climate and the elegant palace were the center of attraction here.

• One of its famous citizens was Aesop (6 B.C.), who is still remembered for his fables. He was a slave who had been given freedom because of his accomplishments. His fables had such ability to negotiate peaceful relations between warring leaders that he would be called to places like Corinth and Athens.

• King Croesus used Aesop as one of his royal advisers, a cabinet member, in his courts.

• Aesop was sent to Delphi on what would be his final mission. He had been directed to deliver some gold to the people from King Croesus. But when he arrived he was so disgusted by their greed that he refused to give it to them. They took it from him and executed him as a public criminal.

• It was the center of worship of Cybele who was considered the mother of the gods.

• These people literally lived in the lap of luxury and spent their lives working so they could spend it on pleasure.

• Sardis was a place for slack and effeminate living.

-The church in Sardis was not threatened by any dangers or perils:

• There was no worship to Caesar or persecution

• There weren’t any Jews slandering them

• There was no internal heresy in the church

• There was no pressure from inside or outside

• The church was completely at peace but it was a place of the living dead.

-Perhaps things were too well in Sardis.

A. Revelation 3:1—The Counselor

Revelation 3:1 KJV 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.

-Throughout these messages so far to these churches, it has not escaped my attention that the Lord is speaking to the angel of the church. . . He is speaking to the pastor of the church. . .

-It is a strong point that ministers have to pay attention to. Furthermore, it would be safe to say that not only is the Lord looking in on the office of the pastor but the ministry and elders of that church as well.

-There is very little possibilities of a dead church really coming alive until the pastor, the preacher, the minister gets set on fire with the Spirit and power of God. There can be little awakening, little stirring, little quickening, little life within a church unless the minister is totally committed to the Lord. Revival is not likely unless the pastor is first revived.

-But on the other hand, this pastor of Sardis is still in the hand of the Lord:

• He has been chosen by the Lord to do a work exactly as the Lord desires

• He has been placed in a dead church by the Lord

• He has been put there for a reason, to be awakened himself and to awaken the church

-A commitment to an awakening and a revival cannot be a single decision that is made “back in the day” but it has to be a passion, a constant state that lasts on and on until the Lord comes back.

-Again we have to look at the description of the Lord as he evaluates this church at Sardis. He is the one who has the seven Spirits of God. Just as with the previous four churches this is a reference back to Revelation 1. . . Revelation 1:4. . . the seven Spirits which are before his throne.

-There are a couple of Old Testament references that give us insight into this expression of the seven Spirits of God. Seven is the number of perfection and it expresses the perfect way the Holy Ghost will work.

Isaiah 11:1-3 KJV And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots: [2] 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:

-In Zechariah, he spoke prophetically about the way the Spirit would work:

Zechariah 4:6 KJV Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.

-But there is one more passage that I would point out to you that expresses some of the characteristics as to how the Holy Spirit works. The Lord told the apostles in the upper room principles (John 13-16) as to how the Spirit would help them accomplish the task of advancing the Kingdom of God:

• John 14:16—The Comforter, a helper.

• John 14:17—The Spirit of Truth.

• John 14:18-20—The personal presence of the Lord, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are one and the same.

• John 14:21-22—The work of the Spirit in every believer.

• John 14:23-24—The Spirit would abide in them.

• John 14:25-26—The Spirit would serve as a teacher.

• John 14:27—The Spirit would give them an abiding sense of peace.

-The message of to the angel of Sardis was that the only hope the church had was for the Spirit to come to their aid. A lifeless and dying church is in great need of the work of the Spirit.

• A need of the Spirit to quicken life—Rom. 8:11

• A need of the Spirit to convict them of sin—John 16:7

• A need of the fruit of the Spirit to grow—Gal. 5:22-23

• A need of the guidance of the Spirit—John 16:13; Rom. 8:14

• A need of revival by the Pentecostal fire of the Spirit—Matt. 3:11; Acts 2:3-4

• A need for the witnessing power of the Spirit—Acts 1:8

-The only way a church can awaken is through the work of the Holy Ghost!

B. Revelation 3:1c & 2b—The Concern

Revelation 3:1c-2 KJV . . . I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. [2] . . . the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.

-John MacArthur gives the following illustration in his Revelation 1-11 New Testament Commentary:

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.

-Sardis had a name, a reputation, a status, a standing, and a prestige about them of being alive. The Lord looks to them and said he could see their works but they were dead.

• Her fame was known throughout the region.

• It was “the” church to attend.

• If it had been modernized, its parking lot would have been full. Policemen would have been present to direct traffic at the end of the services.

• The community knew where the church was.

• It was popular and well attended.

• People would have enjoyed telling you that it was the church they had joined.

• The pastor probably would have been a rock star preacher who wooed in the crowds.

• He probably would have had a weekly religious television program and would have written a host of books on self-help and self-esteem.

• They probably would have had a huge Easter production and a Christmas drama that the city showed up to see.

• It would have been the church of the highly visible movers and shakers of the city.

-While the citizens of the city would have looked at them one way, the Lord looked at them entirely differently . . . I know your works . . . You have a name that you are alive but you are dead. There are some things that are just barely alive but they are ready to die . . . Your works are not perfect. They are not complete, they are spoiled, they are flawed, they are faulty, they are damaged, and they are defective.

-He goes on to make a further assessment, what you do have remaining is almost dead. Have you picked up on the fact that there are no compliments the Lord notices about them?

-The alarming thing about Sardis was that it was an active church. Active churches can seldom be convinced they are dead and lifeless because of all that is going on in them. But the Lord notes they are dead. . .

-There are some danger signs that a church is dying:

• Content to rest on past accomplishments

• More concern with ritual than spiritual reality

• Focus on the social ills of the day rather than the spiritual change needed in the heart

• More concerned with material things than spiritual things

• More concerned with what men think than with what God said

• More concerned with creeds and systems of theology than what the Word says

• The loss of conviction that every word of the Bible is the Word of God Himself

• The denial of the only source of spiritual life, Jesus Christ

-The church at Sardis had works but no life.

C. Revelation 3:2a-3—The Correction

Revelation 3:2-3 KJV Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die. . . [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.

-The Lord has a correction for this church that comes in the form of a warning. In these two verses, there are five keys to revival.

-Be Watchful—Literally “wake up!” The Lord wants them the fully awaken so that they can see the condition of their church. Amplified Bible states, “Rouse yourself and keep awake.”

Dr. Rod Mattoon relates a story in his commentary in Treasures from Revelation: Several years ago a woman, with her little baby, was riding in a stage coach in western Montana. The weather was bitter cold, and in spite of all the driver could do to protect them from the cold, he saw the mother was becoming unconscious from the cold. He stopped the coach, took the baby, and wrapping it warmly, put it under his seat. He then seized the mother by the arm, and dragging her out on the ground, drove away, leaving her in the road. As she saw him drive away, she ran after him, crying for her baby. When the driver felt sure she was warm, he allowed her to overtake the coach and resume her place with her baby. Sometimes God will bring life shattering circumstances into our life to wake us up too.

-Strengthen the things that remain—Find the spiritual graces in the church and support them. Get them active! Pursue the fruit of the Spirit in life and go after revival and spiritual awakening.

-Remember how you received and heard the gospel—It is crucial for Sardis to think back to the spirit of devotion, the alertness and energy they had at conversion, stir up that hunger and thirst that was present early on, think of the witnessing that used to be done, think of the passion in your prayers, and remember the desire you had for spiritual service. Re-establish the love you had for the truth and for the apostolic doctrine.

-Hold fast—this is a command for obedience. Be obedient to the principles that were taught to you concerning Christian living.

-Repent—The Lord wanted them to have great remorse and sorrow over their sin but he also wanted them to confess their sin and turn away from it.

-If Sardis did not do these five things, the Lord was going to come to them like a thief. Those people in Sardis knew exactly what this meant.

-Sardis had only been conquered twice in its history. As a city, it had sat 1500 feet straight up the side of a mountainous cliff, and it was perfectly safe from any enemy. But the two times it had been defeated was due to a false sense of security. They failed to past adequate watchmen to overlook the hills of the steep fortress-like city.

-Under the attack of Cyrus of Persia, a guard was seen to drop his helmet over a steep wall and climb over the crevice to recover it. The soldier was overwhelmed by a small band of Cyrus’ men and they climbed the same crevices and got into the city. The city was taken again in the very same way by one of Alexander the Great’s leaders who had remembered how the Persians had gained access.

-The Lord was clear to this church, “Watch!!!”

D. Revelation 3:4—The Commendation

Revelation 3:4 KJV 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.

-We might wonder who would have even managed to live for the Lord in a place like this. There was at least one man named Melito of Sardis. He was a second century pastor who wrote one of the first commentaries on Revelation. He was a lonely pastor at his post that was doing his best to turn people toward the Lord.

• Can you imagine living for the Lord surrounded by spiritual deadness?

• Can you imagine the absence of any real saints of the Lord being around you?

• Can you imagine a place that worshiped without any reverence at all?

• Can you imagine going in and out of a place where there was no spiritual depth at all?

-That was Sardis and it was where only a few in Sardis had not defiled their garments. We can be sure of the fact that the Lord had not forgotten them:

Malachi 3:16-17 KJV Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name. [17] And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.

Hebrews 6:10 KJV For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.

-Garments in Scripture symbolize character (Isa. 64:6; Jude 23). The Lord had noticed that there were a few stalks of wheat among the mass of tares. Soiled is from the Greek word, MOLUNO, which means, “to stain,” “to defile,” “to smear,” or “to pollute.” It was a word that would have been familiar to Sardis who knew what dye would do to wool.

-The Lord promises these faithful few that they will walk with him in garments of white because they are worthy. Even in the middle of the dead church, the Lord commended those who were committed to personal holiness.

E. Revelation 3:5-6—The Commitment

Revelation 3:5-6 KJV 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.

-In the conclusion of every one of the letters to the churches, the Lord always concludes with the concept of those who overcome. He determines here that those believers who continued to walk in holiness despite the spiritual decline around them were going to be clothed in white raiment.

-The vast majority of commentaries on this passage go through all sorts of hoops to try to home in on eternal security. They want to assure anyone and everyone that there is no way that someone can lose their salvation.

-They say that there are two books, the book of life and the Lamb’s book of life. My response to this is fairly elementary. I ask myself, “Who is speaking?” and the answer, “Jesus Christ, the Lamb!” There is a Lamb’s book of life that would be the same as the book of life. There are eight verses in the KJV that mention the book of life and two of those references make the book of life as that of the Lamb’s book of life.

-Don’t fool yourself into wanting to believe it does not matter how you live. The church at Sardis is a very clear example of people who were once alive in the Spirit but have allowed sin to capsize them and make them enemies of the Cross. It is a church that filled with deceived backsliders.

-Turn yourself back to the highway of holiness:

Isaiah 35:8 KJV And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.

Isaiah 35:8 ESV And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.


-It would be easy to look outside of our own church and make a few observations and contend that other churches are dead. . . But our church is in constant need of revival!

-The easy thing to do is to look and say, “The church I go to is dead!” or “My pastor is not anointed by the Holy Ghost—so it is not hard to understand why the church is dead.” Sometimes leaders can look at churches and think that all of the people he is trying to lead are dead.

-The problem is always with someone else. The greatest question is not how would the Lord classify our church, our pastor, or our congregation . . . The greatest question has to become, how would the Lord classify me—as dead to Him or alive to Him?

-It is so easy for us to fall into the trap of living the Christian life in our own power, rather than staying in close contact with the Lord through His Word and through our own prayer life.

-The American apostolic church at large is generally a prayerless church, a church that has a famine for the Word of the Lord, but is filled with a maddening busyness.

-“Give us this day our daily bread” has been replaced with “Give us a good message today through our pastor and that will sustain us for a week.” Instead of daily communion with the Lord, the church is living on one or two meetings a week to attempt to cover the gap.

-No longer do we seek a daily visit to the overflowing river of God’s presence. Jeremiah pointed out the problem, we have “hewn for ourselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:13).

-Instead our life comes from materialism, sports, television, entertainment, and possessions. We may do all the Christian things—send our children to Christian schools, listen to Christian music, and attend a Christian church—but deep within us there is no real hunger for the Spirit, no desire for prayer, and little interest in God’s Word.

-Like the believers in Sardis, we may have the appearance of being spiritual—but God can see the fa├žade and is aware that the empowering life of the Spirit is not in us and our works have become dead. . . Wake up. . . Repent. . . Strengthen the things that remain.

Philip Harrelson

October 21, 2016