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Saturday, 16 July 2016 21:27

22. Church in Sardis, dead and exposed * Revelation 3:1-6, Part 1 of 2

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1 And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things says he that has the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know your works, that you have a name that you live, and are dead.

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

3 Remember therefore how you have received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore you will not watch, I will come on you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.

4 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.

5 He that overcomes, the same shall be clothed in white clothing; 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 has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says unto the churches.




*** Historical setting ***: Sardis, or Sardes, was located about 30 miles southwest of Thyatira, on Mount Tmolus. Today, its ruins are near the village of Start, in Turkey. At the end of the Assyrian Empire, around 612 BC, Babylon dominated Mesopotamia, and Sardis became the capital of the Lydian kingdom. Sardis was a natural citadel. The common citizens lived at the foot of the mount, near the Pactolus river, while the royalty and the wealthy lived on the top. The city stood strategically located, at a junction point for trade. Sardis was very advanced, and it was the industrial center of the manufacturing and dyeing of wool fabrics and carpets. The industry of metallurgy also grew under the reign of king Croesus, as they discovered how to separate gold from silver. They were able to coin pure gold and pure silver coins. This made Sardis very rich, and the birth place of modern currency.

The citizens considered their city impregnable, and so their guards were not always at their posts as they should. Cyrus the Great (the king who conquered Babylon and initiated the Persian era) conquered Sardis at some point between the years 546-548 BC, without much resistance. The city remained under Persian rule until 334 BC, when Alexander the Great conquered the region. The Greeks did not face much resistance either. The city was once again easily conquered in 218 BC by Antiochus, because the guards were not keeping watch. The lower city was rebuilt, but at a new location, and eventually they built a new city wall. Even though it was growing under these different empires, Sardis never quite reached the level of importance it once had under Lydian rule. But it remained living in the shadow of its former glory. In 133 BC, Sardis fell to the Romans. An earthquake destroyed the city in 17 AD. Sardis was so rich that they funded their own reconstruction. To aide with relief efforts, the Roman Empire offered Sardis exemption from taxation for some time. In 616 AD, the Persians attacked and destroyed the city.

The goddess of the city was Cybele, who was believed to be the mother goddess, and among other things, the mediator between the worlds of the living and the dead. Sardis had a temple for Artemis and very likely one for Zeus. We also know that there was a very large Jewish synagogue in Sardis. Archeologists excavated its ruins in 1962.

The most widely accepted meanings of the name Sardis are “those who escape”, or “those who come out”, or “that which remains”. But according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, the name Sardis is a “plural of uncertain derivation”. Without complete certainty of what its actual meaning is, we can understand that Sardis is just a name.

*** Biblical View ***: The city of Sardis is not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. Jesus started His assessment by saying that the church was nothing but a facade. The result of pressing on the dangerous road of lovelessness, started in Ephesus, is fully demonstrated in Sardis. 1 John 3:14 says that we remain spiritually dead if we don’t have love. We can now see more clearly, after studying the previous 4 churches, what happens when we live without love for others and for the truth. We lose focus on what is central to the Christian existence: Jesus. Without Him, what is left in the church are traditions, and meaningless talk (1 Timothy 1:3-6). This loveless frame of mind opens the door to the introduction and tolerance of false teachings, elevation of Self, and ultimately death. And those were exactly the steps the churches had taken up to that point. With the exception of Smyrna, we see this pattern with each of the churches leading up to Sardis. When we are not nourished with the Bread of Life, through the life-giving Spirit (Romans 8:6-10), we perish. There is no way around that. Jesus is calling this dead church to come back to life. Ephesians 2:4-5 tells us how we can be revived: “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved”.

It is interesting to note that the problem group in the church was no longer those following Jezebel, or Balaam, or even the Nicolaitans. The issue went deeper than that. The majority of the members in the church was no longer filled with the Spirit, and that was a big concern. The danger here was that they looked alive. This was actually in itself a source of deception. We read Jesus’ urgent call in the letter: “repent”. He was calling them to ask God for forgiveness, and to walk with Him. He was, and still is, ready to forgive our sins.

Jesus’ message reminds us of the story of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-31). The father was patiently waiting for his son to come back home. When the son finally comes back home, the father asked his servants to bring his son a new robe, and to prepare a great party. The father announced to everyone “For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24). The parable does not indicate that the son was surprised to see his father waiting by the road. The goal of his journey back home was obviously to return to his father. And the first words out of the son’s mouth to his father were words of repentance. Now, we can only imagine that the son would have been caught by surprise had the father arrived right at the moment when he was considering eating the pig’s rations. The thought of meeting with father there, next to the pigs, probably didn’t even cross his mind. Jesus doesn’t want us to be caught by surprise when He returns. Jesus’ message is: be watchful, be vigilant, and pay attention! We will not know He is coming if we are not looking in the right direction. When we develop a relationship with Christ, He will point us to the right direction. If we don’t seek Him, we can’t find Him. If we can’t find Him, we won’t be clothed in white, and our sinful nature will be uncovered. Without our Savior, we are not only dead, but also exposed. Jesus said: “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.” (Revelation 16:15).

*** Overview ***: Sardis lived in the shadow of their past fame, sustained by their own riches. The church was seamlessly blended with their city. The city and the church could be described in the same way. We don’t see any more contrasting opposites when comparing both of them. In this letter, Christ reminds the congregation of how Sardis had been conquered in the past, all because of their overconfidence and lack of proper vigilance. The church members were told to keep watch, and not leave their post unattended. Lack of diligence is sufficient reason for people to need repenting. Those who overcome will receive clean robes of righteousness. Jesus is also telling this same message to us today: to keep the truth we received, and to repent. God is powerful enough to raise us from spiritual paralysis, lethargy and even death. We will not be alone, as He promised to walk with us. But we need to make the decision ourselves to return home, just like the lost son did. We need to wake up, look up, get up, own up, and walk up to our Redeemer. Jesus said: “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37).

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