Summary: A call to readiness
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Many times during my Army career my sleep was disrupted by a phone call informing me that my unit was having an alert, otherwise known as an Emergency Deployment Readiness Exercise. I had to drag myself out of bed, put on my combat gear and report to the company HQ. In these letters to the 7 churches Christ is calling us to be on high alert status. In chapter 3 we read His rousing call to the slumbering saints of Sardis.
The city of Sardis was located 50 miles east of Ephesus and 30 miles south of Thyatira, overlooking the plain of Hermuz and situated at the foot of Mount Tmolus. Excavations of the city have unearthed a Roman theater, stadium, and a large but unfinished temple to Cybele, a fertility goddess and the patron deity of the city. The most prominent section of the city was the necropolis, or cemetery "of a thousand hills", just outside the city and so-named because of the large number of burial mounds visible from the city walls. The citizens of Sardis were preoccupied with death.
Sardis was the ancient capital of Lydia (13th Century BC); in 546 BC it fell captive to Cyrus and became the seat of the Persian governor. In 133 BC the city fell to Rome. Sardis was a prosperous center of trade and industry. The art of dyeing wool was invented and perfected by Sardis merchants.
Very little is know about the Christian congregation of Sardis. Melito, a 2nd Century pastor of the church of Sardis wrote the first known commentatary on the book of Revelation.
In verse 1 Christ describes Himself as the One "who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars." The 7 stars are identified in 1:20 as the angels or messengers of the 7 churches, and most scholars interpret this to mean their pastors. The 7 spirits perhaps represent the Holy Spirit (7 in the Bible is the number of perfection). Isaiah describes the character of the Spirit as having many qualities (11:2).
Our Lord writes to a congregation which had lost its vitality and was a corpse instead of a living church. Nearly all that remained was a mere façade. The church had become a spiritual graveyard. How does a church die? They believed in God, but weren’t actively living out their faith. They were content with mediocrity. They weren’t making an impact in the community. The church at Sardis is a perfect model of inoffensive, complacent, nominal Christianity.
The pagan goddess Cybele was believed to have the power to raise the dead. The Risen Christ writes to those who claim to have been raised from spiritual death to life; yet in reality, their appearance didn’t match their true condition. It’s possible to profess Christ but not possess Him; genuine faith results in an active Christian lifestyle. Our Lord’s rebuke is similar to one recorded by Isaiah: "This people say they are Mine; they honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me" (29:13).