INTRODUCTION:  The book of Revelation was written by the Apostle John in 95 AD, on the Island of Patmos, a bare rocky Greek island in the Aegean Sea, located off the western coast of Turkey.   

All the seven churches addressed in Revelation 2-3 were all located in Asia Minor, Modern day Turkey.  The Apostle was banished to the Island because of his Christian faith. There the Lord Jesus Christ appeared to him in a vision and dictated to him the seven letters to the seven churches.  These were not John’s letters but Christ’s letters to His churches. 

The Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the church, which he purchased by His precious blood walks in and among His churches (Rev. 2:1).  He knows their works, love, faith, labour, troubles, heart etc.  These letters to the seven churches are just as relevant to each individual Christian, each local assembly, and all church ages, since the Lord Himself says repeatedly: “He who has an   ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”  And  “To him who overcomes.”  May all followers of Christ and all local assemblies heed His word, more so, as His coming is at the very door.

The Dead church – Rev. 3:1- 6.

Sardis at the time the letter was written.

In order for us to understand some things about the situation of the church in Sardis we would need to go back about a few centuries before the Book of Revelation was written. 

Ever had of these phrases “the Midas touch?”  Or “as rich as Croesus.”  Those two adages came from the story about the King of Sardis, known for his gold and immense wealth.  The city of Sardis is the fifth of the seven cities Jesus told John to address seven letters to in the book of Revelation. 

The legendary King Croesus or king Midas was a very wealthy king who lived in the middle of the 6th century BC.  He was the richest man in the world. 

The city of Sardis was situated in the western central Asia Minor, located about 30 miles southeast of Thyatira.   It was a very wealthy and important center of commerce in Asia Minor and was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia, where the famous and wealthy king Croesus reigned.   

Sardis wealth was as a result of the trading and commercial activities made possible because it was on a trade route with five roads which led into the city. The city was famous for its textile manufacturing and dye industry. To crown it all, the city also had a river called the Pactolus, from where gold was gotten in abundance.   Sardis is where the concept of money was born. The father of Croesus, king Alyattes, minted the first gold and silver coins in the western world.   

Many kings and armies tried to conquer Sardis to get its wealth but to no avail.  Sardis was known as an impregnable fortress.  It had a natural defense and the people of the city felt secure because of these natural defenses.

The city was built on a hill or mountain about 1500 feet above the Hermus valley and was surrounded by towering steep rock cliffs that made it very impenetrable.  There was only one way to access the fortress – a cleft in the rock, which was a single and narrow path that ran up along the south side, which was well hidden from the view of the enemies below and which could easily be guarded by one man. As the city grew on the hill it expanded to the valley below.

Unfortunately, Sardis had been conquered twice – first by the Persians and later by the Greeks, this is because of the failure to watch, due to overconfidence that the fortress was impregnable; they got careless.

During King Croesus reign, king Cyrus of Persia conquered the city in 549 BC.  Having already conquered the lower city in the valley, Cyrus’ army laid siege to the city.  After a two week siege, one of the Lydian soldiers accidentally dropped his helmet from the wall.  When he went to get it he unknowingly revealed the way up to the Persian soldiers below.  That night the Persian military climbed the very same route the soldier had taken.  When they got to the top they found the wall was unguarded, everyone was sound asleep.  They were caught unprepared and the Persians took the city easily.

200 years later, in 214 BC, history repeated itself, the walls were once again unguarded and the soldiers of Antiochus the Great of Syria took the same route and captured the city.

In 133 B.C. the city came under Roman rule when, Attallus lll Philomentor, having no heir bequeathed his kingdom to Rome.  By the 1st Century AD, during apostles John’s days Sardis had 120,000 inhabitants. The city had a marble road about 1500m long filled with beautiful buildings.  It had a theatre, bath-gymnasium, public baths and the gigantic Temple of Artemis or Diana, believed to have been built by King Croesus, it was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world – the ruins can still be seen today.

Although the city of Sardis never regained its former glory, it nevertheless was a very rich and prosperous city, rebuilt in the valley, having wealthy inhabitants who were complacent and at ease. The famous impregnable fortress remained only an ancient monument on the hill top – a reminder of the glory of the former days. 

 Sardis was a pagan city filled with many mystery cults.  The city was devoted to the worship of the mother goddess Cybele and Artemis. Both goddesses are commemorated on the city’s coins.  Today Sardis is a small village called Sartmustafa or Sart in modern day Turkey.

No commendation, only reproof.

 And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. – vs. 1.

Unlike the other four letters we have studied, this particular church’s letter started with a confrontation or rebuke from the Lord, there was no general commendation at all.  Even the Ephesian church had some commendations.  Pergamum and Thyatira though compromised and had false teachers had commendations.  But this church had none at all. 

They had a good name or reputation in the city as a living, thriving, church.  Perhaps like many churches today, they were full of various activities and had one programme after the other; and may be they had a large congregation too and several eloquent teachers preaching a social gospel and lots of music. The church’s doors were always opened on Sundays and for weekday services, but they were just routine, rites performed by the church elders and congregants.  And yes, they would have done lots of charitable works in their city too.   All these were to the Lord just empty noises. 

These Christians lived in a prosperous and carefree city and had no threat of persecution neither from imperial Rome nor from their pagan community.  They practiced their religion freely with little or no opposition.  They had no problem making their livelihood and living a good life, no excuses whatever for their laxity or complacency, yet they were like the fruitless fig trees in Mark 11:14 and Luke13:7.

The city of Sardis had a glorious past history, and was still living in the reputation of that past glory.  So was the church in their city living in her past glory.  The church was once a living one, but over time it gradually died. The fire became a flickering flame which got dimer and dimer, until it was completely quenched.  And by the time the Lord was dictating this letter to John, the church was already dead.  The church, however, was still living under the impression of being a living church.  The whole city saw them as a great church and good people.  Notice that the Lord didn’t rebuke them for compromise or any sinful living.  No these were decent people.  But they were dead as far as their faith was concerned.

The same spirit that pervaded their city breathed in their church:  Influence and affluence, overconfidence, complacency, lethargy, apathy, unguardedness, ease and false security etc.  Just like the city was captured and conquered because of lack of watchfulness this church had become complacent, unwatchful and was dead.  They had become a social club, they just played church.  They made no spiritual impact in their pagan society therefore they had no opposition. They failed to be the light and the salt in their city (Matt. 5:13,14).  They were already under Satan’s deceit of a false security and so had been conquered by him unaware.

What’s the lesson to learn from Sardis church?  Don’t be too sure of yourself.  Watch and pray. Be careful that the fire which once burnt brightly begins to be a flickering flame, begins to dim and your lamp goes out.  Stay awake, be watchful lest complacency begins to creep in and you begin to drift, and start to experience gradual spiritual decay. 

We all should heed the many Biblical injunctions urging us to be watchful always( Matt.24:42, 26:41:2 John 1:8; 1 Cor. 16:13 ; Gal.6:1; Luke12:15; I Thess. 5:1-8; Col.4:2; 1Pet.4:7,5;8,).

Is your church dead or alive?  Are you just making a loud noise in you locality and to the world, but Jesus sees death and not life?  Is it all about performance, the outward show, a popular name, praise and acceptance of people? Are you preaching trendy, motivational messages people want to hear-  God loves us all as we are, no preaching about repentance or against sin?  Perhaps that was what they preached at Sardis City Church too.

Pastors, elders what do you think Jesus would say to you if He comes to your church, walking from the pulpit to the pews?  Well, truly speaking, Jesus still walks in the midst of His churches today.  What are those things His fiery eye will see?  Will He have commendations for your assembly?  What are the reproofs you think your church might have?  Will He see death and no life?  Ask God to reveal this to you by His Spirit.  And do the needful.

Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he falls “(1 Cor. 10:12).

A wake up call.

Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.”- Vs. 2

This church’s work was not perfect before God.  All they had was just religion.  They were Christians in name only.   Their city failed to watch on the two occasions it was captured and conquered because they fell asleep, the Lord is telling this church to wake up and become watchful.

However there were a few things which still had some feeble breathe in them.  Here the Lord tells them to wake up, be vigilant and strengthen those few things before they also die. 

What are those things in your life that you did with passion for the Lord, when the fire was still burning bright and clear, but now they are losing their strength?  Prayer life, studying the word, evangelism, fellowship, love for Christ and people – is something beginning to die?  They need to be revived and strengthen lest they die.

A call to repentance.

Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. –vs. 3a.

This church once was alive.  They heard the true gospel preached to them by the Lord’s apostles and prophets and they received the truth they heard.  The Lord tells them to recall and go back to the message they heard, received and hold fast to it and repent.

What about us?  We need to be sensitive, to be alert to the voice, promptings of the Holy Spirit in our christian journey.  We need always with the help of the Spirit to take spiritual inventory about our spiritual state.  We need to examine ourselves if we are still in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5, 2 Pet. 1:10).  Has our love for the Master gone or becoming cold?  Are the things of God becoming a ritual/rite we perform without life, passion, and deep devotion to our Lord? 

We need to recall the simple, sound message of the cross we heard and received, and how we walked with the Master wholeheartedly and with deep devotion to Him in the past.  Those things we knew were unpleasing to the Lord we dared not touch then, are we touching them now?  We need to remember and repent if we’ve been found wanting.

Failure to repent will bring Christ’s judgement.

Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. – vs. 3b.

If they refuse to repent and watch, He was going to come upon them swiftly, stealthily as a thief comes upon one unaware and unprepared, just like on the two occasions Cyrus’ and Antiochus’ militaries came upon their city because they were unwatchful and unprepared as a result of their overconfidence in their impregnable fortress.

“Therefore He says: “awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”  – (Ephesians 5:14).

The faithful minority.

You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. – vs. 4.

There always will be a few who do not defile their garments even in such churches.  The few who love the Lord devotedly, and cry out to Him daily concerning the backslidden state of His church.  Sardis still had that few.  However, these are in the minority.  These ones will walk with Him in white, for they are counted worthy.  Unlike the other churches at Ephesus, Pergamum and Thyatira who even though compromised still had the faithful in the majority the church at Sardis was almost a completely backslidden church if not for the faithful minority.

Promises and rewards.

He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. – vs. 5.

Those who repent and overcome will also be clothed in white garments like the faithful minority who were counted worthy.  Jesus will confess such ones names before His Father and before His angels.  Imagine the Lord Himself presenting you by name before His Father and His angels, and giving you a wonderful personal commendation.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. – vs.6. 

These very words Jesus said on several occasions when He walked the earth, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” – Matt. 11:15.  These are the same words He gives to all the churches, including you and me and every local assembly called by His name.  

“And What I say to you, I say to all: watch!” (Mark13:37).

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