Summary: Sardis was the fifth church Jesus addressed in the Revelation. While the letter was shorter than the others, this one was the most severe. Apparently, Sardis has assimilated into the culture - with little difference known between the church and the world.
Sardis: Socially Active but Spiritually Dead
Revelation 3: 1-6
As we continue to examine the churches to whom John sent letters, we come to the fifth – the church at Sardis. Of the seven, the message to Sardis was the most severe. They were content to rely on prior works and a reputation from the past to justify their spiritual decline. There is no mention of persecution from the world, nor is there any evidence of false doctrine being promoted from within. Over time, Sardis had assimilated to the surrounding culture – there was no difference in those within the church and unbelievers within society.
"Sardis was located about thirty-five miles southeast of Thyatira and a little over fifty miles inland from Ephesus and Smyrna. In the sixth century BC, Sardis was capital of the Lydian kingdom and one of the wealthiest and most powerful cities of the ancient world. It was eventually conquered by the Persians, then the Greeks under Alexander the Great, and finally the Romans. In AD 17, however, this influential city was devastated by a severe earthquake and became indebted to Rome, which financed the reconstruction. Artemis, the mother goddess associated with reproductive power, was the patron goddess of Sardis, which may have contributed to its preoccupation with immortality. A massive temple to Artemis rivaling the one in Ephesus was begun but never finished." (i)
Jesus rebuked the church regarding their compromise, leading to spiritual decline, but He was faithful to reassure the few who held fast to their faith. As we examine the admonitions within this letter, I want to consider: Sardis – Socially Active but Spiritually Dead.
I. The Lord’s Ability (1) – 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. The church at Sardis, for all intents and purposes, may have been dead, but that didn’t affect the sovereignty of Christ. Notice:
A. His Preeminence – Here we see Jesus, once again, proclaiming His deity. He possesses the seven Spirits of God. This is clearly a reference to the Holy Spirit in His fullness – the perfect, complete, and powerful Spirit. We can understand this better with Is.11:2 – 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.
Jesus possesses the fullness of the Spirit. He reminds us that apart from Him, we can do nothing. We need His power in our lives and services. All the talent in the world will profit little without the power of God, available through the Spirit.
B. His Provision (1) – Jesus also holds the seven stars. Remember this refers to the messengers, the pastors of the churches. A God called man is held up by the Lord, but he must allow God to direct his ministry.
God has all the resources we need to be successful. We need to pray that God will raise up some great preachers in this dark day. However, if we are to be a vibrant, living church, one that reaches sinners, Christ must be at the helm providing what we need to be effective. It’s not about preachers or programs, but the power of Christ!
C. His Perception (1) – I know thy works. This is the fifth time we’ve heard this. Maybe we ought to pay attention! He is aware of all we do. He knows whether we are serving with our lives or simply with our lips. That should challenge us to give Him our best every day. A half-hearted effort doesn’t fool or satisfy the Lord. He has given Himself; the best heaven had to offer. Surely, we can give our best to Him.
II. The Church’s Reality (1b-3) – The church was situated within the crown jewel of Sardis. It is likely that in such a wealthy city, the place of worship would’ve been a sight to behold. We’ve all heard the saying, “Things are not always as they appear.” Notice:
A. Their Reputation (1b) – Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. By all appearances, the church at Sardis was alive and well. They likely had a strong presence in the city. There is no mention of the false doctrines that were referred to at Pergamos and Thyatira. The city, as well as the church, thought things were in order. They had a name for God, but they were dead! Physically they were diligent, but spiritually they were dead.
I fear there are many churches, bearing the name of Christ, who are very active, but have no spiritual life. A dead church lives in the past, satisfied with things as they are. They are more concerned with comfort than conviction, in keeping traditions instead of committed service. They desire to please men more than God. They aren’t concerned with sound doctrine as long as they leave feeling good about themselves.