The Revelation of Jesus Christ
Seven Churches (Part II)
V. The church at Sardis (the dead church, Rev. 3:1-6). The next church that we see in our study of the seven churches of Asia Minor is the church at Sardis. The city of Sardis lies about 100 miles east of Smyrna and Ephesus. It was at one time in ancient history a great capital city to the flourishing kingdom of Lydia. During the Roman dominion it had diminished somewhat, at this point in history it was still, according to Johnson, “a considerable city.” It was the city where the kings of Lydia would keep their courts. So there is a certain amount of pageantry and pomp that goes along with this city and perhaps that is best seen by the name itself. The name Sardis derives its name from a precious stone. Gill, “there may be some allusion in the name of this church to the precious stone “sarda,” which, Pliny says, was found about Sardis, and had its name from hence; the same with the Sardian stone …. This stone, naturalists say, drives away fear, gives boldness, cheerfulness, and sharpness of wit, and frees from witchcrafts and sorceries….” As we consider the meaning and nature of the name Sardis we remember the truth that not all things that are pleasing to the eye are good. Lucifer could boast of having every precious stone for his covering at his creation, but the seed of death was in him. Here this church was seen as a precious jewel but it was of no value. This is a simple church for us to label in our outline; this is the dead church. Christ sends a message to the preacher of this church, the angel. The last great hope for the dead or dying church is the sound preaching and exhortation of Christ. The identity of this angel is not known. Those who take the dispensational view of these seven churches would say that this represents the Reformation era. Gill summed it up well. “This church represents the state of the church from the time of the Reformation by Luther and others, until a more glorious state of the church appears, or until the spiritual reign of Christ in the Philadelphian period; under the Sardian church state we now are: (this was published in 1747, Ed.) that this church is an emblem of the reformed churches from Popery, is evident not only from its following the Thyatirian state, which expresses the darkness of Popery.” We only point out that such a view makes it hard to reconcile some of the prophetic utterances of Christ to this church (His coming as a thief) and the fact that every church of every age (any one that has an ear) is said to hear what Christ says to her.
First, Christ is known to this church as the one who has and that holds the power and means of dealing with His church. “And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars….” There is no real excuse for lifelessness in any church that claims Christ as their king. Henry wisely put it like this: “Churches have their spiritual stock and fund, as well as particular believers; and, this epistle being sent to a languishing ministry and church, they are very fitly put in mind that Christ has the seven spirits, the Spirit without measure and in perfection, to whom they may apply themselves for the reviving of his work among them.” With Christ comes the Spirit. If any man or church does not have the Spirit, then they do not belong to Christ (Rom. 8:7). There is no reason for a dead church when their Lord owns the means of searching and the means of convicting men. It is the Holy Spirit of God that searches the hearts of men. It is the Holy Spirit that convicts men of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. How can the church be dead when Christ has the quickening Spirit of God! The sad indictment against any church that lacks life is that Christ possesses all that they need for life. The blame for deadness lies at the feet of those who do not seek life through Christ. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him” (Luke 11:13)? Christ stands with a vast oasis in front of thirsty people. He offers to them freely. How foolish for them to refuse! Not only does Christ have the power to quicken His church but He also holds in His hands the means of quickening. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. In the hands of Christ are the stars, angels, or messengers of the churches. He leads and guides men to preach His word. Christ is never without a witness. The second indictment to the dead church is all the services in which the people have sat where the Word of God was preached in sincerity and truth. Christ would also have His church to know that He knows the true state of the church. “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.” As with every church He tells them that He is well acquainted with them. He knows what they do. He knows what they claim. He knows what they are. Considering the context of this church the statement that He knows their works is a searching statement. This is a church that went through the motions at least but had no life or meaning in it. God knew what they were really doing. It was not worship it was mockery. It was not service to God but a show. He knows that the songs they sing are really lies. He knows that the hearing they do is actually an exercise in boredom. He knows that the fellowship they partake in is nothing more than self edification. Christ also knows their claims. He hears their boasting. We have a name that signifies that we have life. We call ourselves Christians or disciples. A name is a definition; it defines or describes something. Israel is a Prince and Nabal is a fool. This church had named the name of Christ; they were defining themselves as being alive. Christ also knows what they are; they are dead. Their name did not match their reality. Gill defined it like this: “the most part, or greater part of the members of these churches, are dead in trespasses and sins; and as for the rest, they are very dead and lifeless in their frames, in the exercise of grace, and in the discharge of duties; and under great spiritual declensions and decays, just as it were ready to die; and but few really alive in a spiritual sense, and especially lively, or in the lively exercise of grace, and fervent discharge of duty; yea, dead as to those things in which they had a name to live.” They are dead then in that many of them are lost. They are dead in the fact that they are alienated from God both in things secular and things sacred (if such a division could be imagined). They were not meeting with God when they came to church and their prayers were just words.
Next we see that Christ will direct His church to a means of life. “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.” We have heard of the false path of enlightenment peddled by the nonsense of Buddhism. They offer an eightfold path to a person they say does not really exist to make “right” decisions that they say that they cannot really make to make it to a place that does not really exist (the whole thing is absurd but such is the metaphysical system of eastern religion). Christ offers a real path for any dead church member to follow; a five-fold path toward real revival and the enjoyment of a real person called God. First, there is a call to prayer which is what we gather by the command to be watchful. In the garden Christ told the disciples to watch with Him in prayer and marveled that they slept. Could we not watch with Christ in this hour? The first step toward revival is a step back into the prayer closet. The need is for Christians to keep night watches of prayer again (Ps. 63:6). The advice of Paul to the church at Colossians was this: “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving…” (Col 4:2, see also Eph. 6:18). The advice of Peter was for us to “watch unto prayer” (I Pet. 4:7). This is the first call of Christ for it is connected directly with the His coming and is directly related to the warning to this church that we shall shortly see: “Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come” (Matt. 24:42). Prayer is more than asking and receiving. Prayer is the Christian side of communication with God; it is relational. When we are keeping watch with God we are more in tune with the leading of the Holy Spirit and we are more expectant and ready for the blessed hope. Secondly we are called to exercise to strengthen the things that remain and that are ready to perish. There is spiritual atrophy occurring here. There is sparks of life that remain that will perish if they are not exercised. There is a need to get back to Christian activity; to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. The works of this church were not found to be perfect in the eyes of God. They were weighed in His balance and found wanting. They were not ready for heaven and they were not fit for use on earth. They need training; they need exercise. This to be strengthened is first of all to be fortified or supplied by the divine activity of God. God strengthened the fountains of the deep and so we rely on God for this as well (Eph. 3:16). How do we exercise ourselves in spiritual things? Two ways are given us in the book of Hebrews. We exercise ourselves by diligently studying the Word of God (Heb. 5:14). We also exercise ourselves in spiritual things by responding to the chastening of God in our lives (12:11, when God deals with you about something in your life yield fully to Him). Thirdly, Christ calls His church to remembrance. Just as we saw with Ephesus God wants to stir up the holy remembrance of this church. He wants them to remember how they first received and heard the word of God. “O! The love that drew salvation’s plan; O! The grace that brought it down to man!” It would do well for us to keep in mind the grace God showed us “the hour we first believed.” It was precious indeed. Fourthly, there is a call to endurance. The church is called to hold fast; as good soldiers to fight the fight of faith, to run the race with patience. Buy the truth and sell it not no matter what the price. Lastly, there is a call to repentance. The church is called to turn from its known sin and turn to Christ. The next thing we see in our text is that Christ has a judgment reserved for those who will not 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.” Note that the whole five-fold path above is all summed up under the first heading of being watchful. If one will not begin with watching neither will they go any further toward revival! From there comes the threat of judgment. There is a two-fold threat here. First, there is a threat of a quick coming. He will come at a time when no one is watching; as a thief in the night will He come on the unprepared. Jamison stated it like this: “As the thief gives no notice of his approach. Christ applies the language which in its fullest sense describes His second coming, to describe His coming in special judgments on churches and states (as Jerusalem, Matthew 24:4-28) these special judgments being anticipatory earnests of that great last coming.” The second part of the judgment is the ignorant servant. To the servant that watches Christ will not come as a theif, but to the servant that does not watch they will be ignorant of His coming. Augustine said this: “The last day is hidden from us, that every day may be observed by us.” The dead church does not suppose that the coming of Christ is near and it will come at such a time. Lastly, Christ would have His own encouraged. “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.” Again here is the remnant for which Christ really cares. They are just a few but they are the subjects of the greatest encouragements. They are described as those who have not defiled their garments. That is a great description for a Christian. Christian we have been made white by Christ. We have been sanctified and clothed with “the garments of salvation” and “covered … with the robe of righteousness” (Isa. 61:10). The garment of the Christian is the outward life. He is has enjoined us to keep our garments white for Him. “Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment” (Ecc. 9:8). How does one spot or defile their garments? The garments are defiled or spotted in several ways. First garments are defiled by un-confessed sin: “wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). Garments are spotted by friendship with the world which according to James is enmity with God: “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). Garments are defiled by bitterness: “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled…” (Heb 12:15). Garments are also spotted by the indulgence of the flesh: “hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 1:23). The promise to such that keep their garments clean is that they will walk with Christ in white. They will have special fellowship with Christ in His purity and holiness. Christ is dressed in white (Matt. 28:3). And those who keep themselves will walk with Him. “Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried” (Dan. 12:10). Gill pointed out that the Jews have a saying somewhat like this; “they that walk with God in their lifetime are worthy to walk with him after their death.” There is a reward for those who will keep their watch in times of deadness.