REVELATION STUDY (LESSON #6 – Letter to the church at Sardis): Sardis is the fifth church addressed in these letters in Revelation. The name of Sardis means ‘remnant’. The ancient city was located some thirty miles south of Thyatira. The original city was thought to be impregnable because it was built on top of a high plateau. On all sides but one the rock walls of the plateau are smooth. As it grew wealthy, the plateau was considered too small and so they built a bigger city to the west at the base of the plateau and used the original city as the acropolis. Sardis was ruled by the Persians under Cyrus, by Alexander the Great, by Antiochus III the Great, and finally by the Romans in 133B.C.
The Greek historian Herodotus tells us that the Lydians were the first people to mint coins. According to Herodotus, King Croesus, who ruled Lydia from Sardis during the years 560 to 546 B.C., was the first person to issue pure gold and pure silver coins. Sardis was a leading producer of gold. The river Pactolus, wrote Dio Chrysostom, swirled down from the heights of Mount Tmolus laden with gold dust, right “through the middle of Sardis,” bringing unimaginable riches to Croesus just “for the taking.” They called these “the golden sands” and according to legend the gold was there because an earlier king of Lydia named Midas used to bathe there. Even today, a memory of that wealth lingers in the expression “rich as Croesus.” The carpet industry was another important industry of the city.
Christ introduces Himself with “These things saith he that hath the seven spirits of God, and the seven stars” (3:1). Isaiah 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; He is about to remind a church, alive in name only, that they had form without the power of the Holy Spirit and so He introduces Himself as He that hath the seven spirits of God.
G. Campbell Morgan observes that there is a change in approach beginning with this letter:
“There is a marked change in our Lord’s method of address to the church at Sardis. Hitherto He has commenced with words of commendation. Here, He commenced with words of condemnation. In the other churches, evil had not been the habit, but rather the exception, and therefore it was possible first to commend. Here the case is reversed, and no word of commendation is addressed to the church as a church.”
J. Vernon McGee writes:
“This is a picture of Protestantism. The great truths which were recovered in the Reformation have been surrendered by a compromising church. Although the great denominations and churches still repeat by rote the creeds of the church; in mind, heart and life they have repudiated them. Imposing programs, elaborate rituals, and multiplication of organizations have been substituted for the Word of God and real spiritual life. There is activity, but no actions, motion without movement, promotion without progress, and program without power. Although the outward form remains, the living creature has vacated the shell.” (Reveling Through Revelation, p. 28)
The condemnation here is that “Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (3:1). They were professors and not possessors. The Lord Jesus knows the difference! 2Timothy 2:19 Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his…
The counsel of Christ is: “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee” (3:2, 3). This is a word of warning which had particular meaning in Sardis. Sardis was located on the top of a mountain plateau. It had one entrance on the southern side which was the only way you could get into the city in those ancient days. Therefore, all that Sardis had to do was to place guards at that one entrance in order to protect the city. But on two occasions in their history they had been invaded by their enemies because they had false sense of security and the guard went to sleep when he should have been watching. In 549 B.C. the Median soldiers of Cyrus climbed the secret path, and then again in 218 B.C. Antiochus III the Great captured Sardis because a Cretan slipped over the walls while the sentries were carelessly asleep. What the Lord says to this church at Sardis is similar to Paul words in Ephesians 5:14 “Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”
Christ’s commendation is “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments: and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy” (3:4).
God always has his remnant in every church and church age:
-Genesis 7:23 And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven; and they were destroyed from the earth: and Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark.
-1Kings 19:18 Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.
-Isaiah 1:9 Except the LORD of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.
-Romans 11:5 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.
Here is a call to the professors to become possessors. He had just spoken in the previous verse of the believing remnant and is therefore here reminding the larger remainder of professing church goers of the promises to true possessing believers. Overcomers are simply those who, by grace through faith, are born again. 1John 5:4,5 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? The promises in verse 5 are two-fold.
(1) His name would remain in the Book of Life. This does not imply that we can lose our salvation, rather it is Christ’s affirmation that the truly converted need not fear removal from the family of God. Jude 1:24,25 Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen. John 10:29 My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.
You cannot lose by your own efforts what you did not gain by your own efforts.
(2) His name would be confessed by Jesus before the Father (Lk. 12:8, 9).
Just as Ephesus represented the early Apostilic Age (Pentecost-100 A.D.), Smyrna the time of persecution (100 A.D.-313 A.D.), Pergamos the time from 313 A.D at the signing by emperor Constantine of the Edict of Toleration (Edict of Milan) to about 590 A.D., and Thyatira the time when the Roman church reached a pinnacle of its power, Sardis represents the church period from 1517 to about 1700 (the period of the Protestant Reformation). Champions of the faith include Martin Luther who on October 31st, 1517 nailed his 95 thesis on the church door in Wittenburg, John Calvin, John Knox, and Roger Williams.
The Protestant Movement is exemplified by Sardis in that its fire for reform and desire for the truth of God’s word eventually waxed cold. Lutheranism at its beginning advocated a doctrine of justification “by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone.” But by the 1800s rationalism became popular and many in this denomination began to trust in self over God’s word.
As the years passed, the truths expressed in creeds such as the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646 became mere words repeated in churches as a sign of loyalty with tradition rather than heartfelt truth. Protestant churches which once believed in the infallibility and inerrancy of God’s word were slowly becoming more liberal in their theology finally abandoning, in many cases, this belief in favor of the heretical teachings of the so-called higher critics. They had a form of godliness but in fact denied the power thereof. In summary, they had a name that they lived, but were dead.
Part of the problem is that many of the early Protestant denominations such as the Lutherans and Anglicans did not fully separate themselves from the doctrines and rituals of Roman Catholicism. For instance both of these groups believed in baptizing infants. Christ in His message to Sardis, called on the individual to repent or to step away from, not reform, the wrong being done in the church. I believe that the denominations and churches of Protestantism that have left the truths of God and the churches of Romanism will usher in Mystery Babylon, the apostate church.
Just like Sardis, Christ exhorts us to watch and pray. Matthew 24:42 Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. 43 But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. 44 Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.
“THINK ON THESE THINGS…”