Revelation 3:1-6 Sardis: The Dead Church
Sardis was a dead church. To be dead, in its most simple definition, means to be void of life. To be a church means to have the very life of Christ within you. The phrase "dead church" is a grammatical oxymoron. An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction (jumbo shrimp, pretty ugly, found missing, liquid gas, deafening silence, etc…). Sadly, it is too great a reality that many churches today are just that…spiritually dead.
Sardis was once one of the greatest cities in the ancient world. It has been the capital city of the ancient empire of Lydia. It was ruled in the 6th Century BC by King Crosus (Kreesus) between 560-547 BC). King Crosus was so wealthy that he (not his empire) funded the building of the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. His name became synonymous with having uncountable wealth.
Sardis was built on a mountainside, some 1500 feet above the valley floor. The city was regarded as being impregnable, as were the cities of Babylon, Jericho and Nineveh. Sardis fell in defeat twice in its history, once to the Persians and a second time to the Greeks. Both of those victories shared two common traits: stealth and complacency. Stealth is the act of proceeding furtively, secretly or imperceptibly. Look at how the following verses describe Satan, our enemy:
2 Corinthians 11:3 Satan is a cunning deceiver
2 Corinthians 11:14 Satan masquerades as an angel of light
John 10:10 Satan is a thief
Genesis 3:1 Satan is a serpent
2 Corinthians 4:4 Satan binds the minds of unbelievers
2 Corinthians 2:11 Satan hatches clever schemes
Complacency is a calm satisfaction with oneself or one's lot in life. Take a moment to look up the following verses and allow God's Word to speak to your heart.
Zephaniah 1:12 Deuteronomy 8:14
Jeremiah 10:21 1 Corinthians 5:1-2
Revelation 3:15-17 Proverbs 1:32
Far too often, Christians believe that their church, or their personal walk with Christ is too strong for the attacks of Satan. Satan seldom comes through the front door. Satan will never reveal his true identify. Satan will never show you the consequences of your actions. Satan desires to move you one inch at a time.
Christ gives us a two-fold description of Himself (Revelation 3:1). First, Christ has the seven Spirits of God (Revelation 1:7, Isaiah 11:2-5, Zechariah 4:2 and Zechariah 4:10). Second, Christ as the seven stars. The stars are a reference to the messengers (the pastors) of the seven churches. This speaks to Christ's sovereign control.
Christ speaks a powerful word of rebuke to the church in Sardis (Revelation 3:1). He begins by stating the He knows their deeds. There is absolutely nothing that we have or will ever say, think or do that is not known by Christ. Christ tells the church at Sardis that they have a reputation of being alive, but in fact they are dead. A reputation is a widespread belief that someone or something has a particular habit or characteristic. Your reputation stays with you, sometimes long after it no longer is true.
What does an "alive" church look like to the world? It is the church that has an overflow of people each and every Sunday morning for worship. It is the church that has a large bank account, with plenty of money to spare. It is the church that has large, beautiful buildings. It is the church that is constantly busy with lots and lots of programs. That's what the world thinks of when it thinks of a church that is "alive".
What does an "dead" church look like in the eyes of God? It is the church that is no longer passionate about Christ and His Word. It is the church in which the Great Commission has become the Great Omission. Their focus is on their past, not on what Christ is doing or wants to do. It is the church that focuses more on rituals than on relationships. It is the church that focuses more on numbers than on discipleship.
The church at Sardis had no apparent struggles. The city of Sardis has a large Jewish population, but yet there is no mention of believers there facing Jewish persecution. There is no mention of the believers in Sardis dealing with heretical teachers or teachings. There is no mention of the believers in Sardis facing persecution at the hands of the Romans. The church at Sardis was no threat to Satan's kingdom, so there was simply no reason for them to be spiritually attacked, let alone face any level of persecution.
Christ speaks five words of encouragement to the believers in Sardis (Revelation 3:2-3). First, He tells them to wake up. This phrase means: keep being watchful and be continually watchful. Every time this phrase is used in the New Testament it is with the idea that God's people are asleep when they should be awake (Matthew 26:41 and 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8). Being asleep spiritually means to be unconcerned, apathetic and indifferent. Second, Christ tells the believers at Sardis to strengthen what remains. To strengthen means: to establish, to stabilize and to reinforce where you are weakest. No matter how an individual or a church may have failed, God still has a purpose for them as long as they return to a right relationship with Him. Third, Christ tells the believers at Sardis to remember. This means to constantly call to mind. Christ is telling the believers at Sardis to remember those spiritual truths that they have been taught. Fourth, Christ tells the believers at Sardis to keep what they have been taught. To keep something means to guard it. Look at 1 Corinthians 16:13, Proverbs 4:23 and 1 Peter 5:8. Finally, Christ tells the believers at Sardis to repent. To repent always means a change of thinking and behavior. To repent always implies replacing our disobedience with obedience.
Christ gives a word of warning to the believers at Sardis (Revelation 3:3). Christ tells them that He will come like a thief in the night. Coming as a thief always denotes an unexpected coming in judgment. John 10:10 tells us that the thief (Satan) comes to steal, to kill and to destroy. God's Word never shows Christ coming for His church as a thief. At the rapture Christ comes for His church as a bridegroom coming for His bride. At the second coming Christ comes as a thief for the apostates and unregenerate. I believe that this verse is a reference to Christ's coming in judgment (the Day of the Lord) (Daniel 12:1, Luke 10:20, Philippians 4:3, Revelation 13:8 and Revelation 20:15).
In Revelation 3:4 Christ calls the believers to walk with Him in white. God never lumps the faithful in with the errant in either His assessment or in His judgment. God always has a remnant which He will never forsake. White is a symbol for purity and righteousness (Daniel 7:9 and Matthew 17:2).
Those who overcome (Revelation 3:5) will be clothed in white garments, will not have his name removed from the book of life and will have Christ confess his na