Isaiah 1:11-15,11:2-5; Matthew 15:8-9; Mark 7:6; Titus 1:16; Revelation 3:1-6
Summary: The church at Sardis received not words of commendation from the Lord Jesus Christ but instead rebuke and condemnation, as well as a warning to wake up and strengthen what remains of its effectiveness, testimony, and purpose. Does this describe the church you attend?
The fifth church mentioned in Revelation 2-3 was located in the city of Sardis, fifty miles east of Smyrna and thirty miles southeast of Thyatira. Like the other churches, it was located in western Asia Minor, now known as the nation of Turkey. Sardis was on the major commercial and trade routes of the region and was the capital city of the province of Lydia. It was a wealthy city known for its textile, dye, and jewelry manufacturing.
Like the other cities of the region, Sardis was also a hub of pagan worship, with numerous temples dedicated to the Graeco-Roman deities, along with mystery cults and secret societies. This was a city and people surrounded by gross immorality, and seemingly was a place ripe to hear the Gospel. A church had been established in Sardis some time ago, but as we read in Revelation 3:1-6, it seemed to have forgotten its purpose and mission. Instead, it had become comfortable with what was going on. It had not stood against the evils and wickedness of the city and its people, and as a result, lost its witness, effectiveness, and reason for being there.
The Lord Jesus, who sees all and from Whom nothing is hidden (Matthew 10:26), came to them not with words of commendation but with a message of rebuke and warning.
Verse 1 shows that these words originate from “He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.” This is a reference to Isaiah’s revelation of the “Rod from the stem of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1-5), a prophetic reference to the Son of David, the Messiah (Isaiah 53:1-12), God’s anointed, found in the person and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What are the “seven Spirits?” Isaiah tells us that the “Rod” will have the “spirit of the Lord rest upon Him. He will have the spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, and the spirit of knowledge and fear of the LORD” (Isaiah 11:2). His delight is in the fear (reverence) of the LORD. He will not administer judgment based on physical sight and hearing, but He will judge in righteousness towards the poor, give equity to the meek of the earth, strike the earth with the rod of His mouth (certain judgment of sin), that with His breath, He will slay the wicked, and that righteousness and faithfulness are carried out forever (vv.3-5).
Sardis, like the other churches, is receiving a direct word from God Incarnate and not just a rebuke from the apostle John while in exile at Patmos. The Lord Jesus expects accountability from His church and those who claim to be His followers. There are no exceptions, and He will accept no excuses or alibis for failing to do what He commands.
He tells them that they have an appearance of being alive; that is, they look active and thriving, but in reality, are dead. The Greek word for “dead” is NEKROS, which not only means physical death but also describes the low moral character of one’s life, poor quality, or uselessness. On the surface, this church seemed to exude spiritual vibrancy, but their work, testimony, and manner of conduct was, in the LORD’S eyes, useless work that reeked of poor quality and merit. He cared enough about this church, which was on spiritual “life support,” to call it back to life and be of genuine service to Him.
In verses 2-3, He tells them to WAKE UP.” Like a doctor in a trauma unit working with a patient on the brink of death to “stay with me here,” the Great Physician tells this church not to continue going down the road to spiritual unconsciousness and rot, but to hold on, be revived, and return to the purpose for which it was established.
Sardis needed to hear the Gospel, and the Lord Jesus would not allow His witness to be silenced by apathy, contentment, and compromise. They were told to remember what they had received and heard, which was a reference to the preaching and teaching of the Word of God, and to abide by it.
If a church truly wants to be effective for the kingdom of God, it MUST be a church where the Bible is proclaimed as coming directly from God. He speaks to us through His Word, giving us direction, counsel, and rebuke in order to have us return to Him, remain faithful, and stay on the narrow road (Psalm 119:105; Matthew 7:13-14; John 17:17; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 4:1-2; 2 Peter 1:19-21).
Jesus warned this church to “repent.” He tells them to get right with Him and to have a sincere and honest change of mind and heart. He tells the remnant believers not to let the world allow them to continue in their slumber and contentment. Souls were in the balance. Sardis was no different than the other churches that had received a word from the LORD.
Complacency does not belong in any church, nor anyone who professes Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. He tells Sardis that it’s time to get back to work NOW. No church that is serious about pleasing Him can afford to remain passive, silent, or indifferent while the world goes down the broad road and the certainty of eternal death.
The few faithful Christians in Sardis who had not allowed themselves to get content or comfortable with wickedness (vv.4-6) were commended for their work. The Lord promised to adorn them with white clothing, which represented their faith and trust in Him. They were also given the assurance that their faith was real, and their names were written in the Book of Life. They were known personally by Jesus, and the same principle applies to you if you truly know Him as Lord and Savior.
He knows you by name. He created you and gave life, purpose, meaning, and significance to your being and existence (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 139:13-18; John 1:1-4; Acts 17: 25-27; Colossians 1:16-18).
Why would you allow the world and its cesspool of deception to keep you from accomplishing that which the LORD has called you to do? We cannot afford in these last days to hold on to a “Sardis” type of mentality. We cannot have a list of “programs,” “events,” seminars,” “activities,” and works be the measure of our effectiveness as a body of believers. We cannot afford to look “busy” and yet not be doing the work of the LORD in winning souls, reaching out to the community with the Gospel, teaching the Word of God to everyone, and remaining steadfast in our convictions (Joshua 24:15) regardless of the viciousness that the world, the flesh, and the devil want to throw at us.
Sardis is a “wake-up” call to the last days’ church. To refuse to hear what the LORD has to say to both them and us is to allow the church to drift off into death, uselessness, and irrelevancy.