Let’s continue on in our study of the letters to the churches in Revelation. Up to this point, we have studied the church that lost its first love; the church under intense pressure; the church where Satan’s seat of authority ruled; and the church that tolerated Jezebel.
Now, let’s look inside the message to the church at Sardis.
Sardis was situated in the middle of Hermus valley, at the foot of Mount Tmolus, a steep and lofty spur which formed the citadel. It was about 2.5 mi. south of the Hermus. Today, the site is located by the present day village of Sart, near Salihli in the Manisa province of Turkey, close to the Ankara – İzmir highway 45 mi. from İzmir. The city was captured by the Cimmerians in the 7th century BC, by the Persians in the 6th, by the Athenians in the 5th, and by Antiochus III the Great at the end of the 3rd century BC. Sardis was the chief seat of manufacturing. The most important of these trades was the manufacture and dyeing of delicate woolen stuffs and carpets. A woolen garment called the himation (outer garment worn by men and women) was produced in Sardis. Sardis was the oldest, possibly the wealthiest, and best defended city which we will study.
The message to the church in Sardis contains no warnings against the doctrine of Balaam; no commands to stop the ministry of Jezebel; no direction to avoid the deep secrets of Satan; no message to a pastor who is in fear; no warnings regarding the existence of a synagogue of Satan. The reputation of the church was impeccable. It appeared that all was going well in Sardis. Even though there was a large Jewish synagogue in Sardis, we are given no indications of persecution. There was no poverty and no internal conflict.
Jesus begins the message by reminding those in the church that He is the One who possesses the seven Spirits of God.
The seven spirits of God are not specifically identified, so it’s impossible to be dogmatic. Revelation 1:4 mentions that the seven spirits are before God’s throne. Revelation 3:1 indicates that Jesus Christ “holds” the seven spirits of God. Revelation 4:5 links the seven spirits of God with seven burning lamps that are before God’s throne. Revelation 5:6 identifies the seven spirits with the “seven eyes” of the Lamb and states that they are “sent out into all the earth.”
There are at least three possible interpretations of the seven spirits of God. The first is that the seven spirits of God are symbolic of the Holy Spirit. The Bible, and especially the book of Revelation, uses the number 7 to refer to perfection and completion. If that is the meaning of the “seven” in the “seven spirits,” then it is not referring to seven different spirits of God, but rather the perfect and complete Holy Spirit. The second view is that the seven spirits of God refer to seven angelic beings, possibly the seraphim or the cherubim. This would fit with the numerous others angelic beings that are described in the book of Revelation (Revelation 4:6-9; 5:6-14; 19:4-5).
A third possibility is based on Isaiah 11:2, which says, “The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.” This could possibly explain the seven spirits of God: (1) Spirit of the LORD, (2) Spirit of wisdom, (3) Spirit of understanding, (4) Spirit of counsel, (5) Spirit of power, (6) Spirit of knowledge, (7) Spirit of the fear of the Lord. The Bible doesn’t tell us specifically who/what the seven spirits are, but the first interpretation, that they are the Holy Spirit, seems the most likely.
Jesus identifies Himself as the owner of the seven stars. The fact that the stars are in Jesus’ right hand indicates that they are important and under His authority. The right hand is a sign of strength and control. Jesus explains to John that the “stars are the angels of the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20). An “angel” is literally a “messenger.”
Jesus is the perfect leader of the church, the final authority, the controller of the church’s destiny, and the agent that makes all things happen in the church.
Jesus tells the church at Sardis that, although their reputation is one of vitality and life, they are actually a dead body. They are not dying they are already dead in His eyes!!
Jesus command to the church is: “Wake up!!” The church at Sardis had gone to sleep just as the apostles went to sleep on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Personal comfort and need has taken precedent over the gospel. While there are a few things in Sardis that appear to be biblically functioning, they are on life support – they are ready to die. Their works – while having an appearance of function, are dead in motive and authority.
Jesus states: Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent.
The people in Sardis have forgotten what it is like to be changed by the power of the Word of God.
Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.” Luke 8:18
The Word of God was no longer the final authority and therefore, they were having their authority and freedom taken from them. The Word of God cannot be changed; we must hold fast to its truth.
If our lives and the Bible are in conflict, what must be changed is our behavior not the Word of God.
When a church reaches this point, changing programs is not the answer. Repentance is the answer. It must be immediate and visible to the congregation so that the congregation sees the need to repent as well.
Jesus states that if they do not wake up to the call to repent, He will come upon them as a thief, and they will not know when the discipline will appear. As stated earlier in our talk about Sardis’ history, the people of this city knew what it was to be conquered – to be brought down. Jesus said that they must remember their history and repent.
Just as in most churches, there is a remnant that love the Lord and are obeying Him. These folks will not be held responsible for the sins of the church or its condition.
Note: If God tells you to stay in a unrepentant situation, you will not be held accountable for the sins around you.
As Jesus speaks to the overcomers in Sardis, He again uses a local reference to hammer home His point. Sardis was a leading textile city – a maker of garments that were popular for men and women. Jesus states that He who overcomes will be clothed in white garments that He has made – garments which represent the righteousness and purity of those who wear them. Jesus also states that the names of those who overcome will remain in the Book of Life.
It stands to reason that those who do not will have their names blotted out or removed from the Book of Life. Those who remain in the Book will be confessed by Jesus as His own before the Father and His angels.
If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” Mark 8:38