Sardis, a dead church

by Mike Ratliff

1 Καὶ τῷ ἀγγέλῳ τῆς ἐν Σάρδεσιν ἐκκλησίας γράψον·
Τάδε λέγει ὁ ἔχων τὰ ἑπτὰ πνεύματα τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ τοὺς ἑπτὰ ἀστέρας· οἶδά σου τὰ ἔργα ὅτι ὄνομα ἔχεις ὅτι ζῇς, καὶ νεκρὸς εἶ. Revelation 3:1 (NA28)

1 And to the angel of the Sardis Church write,’ These things says the one having the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. “I know your works that you have a name that you live, and are dead.”’ Revelation 3:1 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

My brethren, the message from Revelation 3:1-6 goes contrary to most of what is taught in Evangelicalism today. The church at Sardis had a name that it was alive yet our Lord bluntly said that even so, they were spiritually dead. Some would argue that that was not what our Lord really meant. Let’s take a close look and see, comparing what was going on there with what we see in the visible church in our time.

1 Καὶ τῷ ἀγγέλῳ τῆς ἐν Σάρδεσιν ἐκκλησίας γράψον·
Τάδε λέγει ὁ ἔχων τὰ ἑπτὰ πνεύματα τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ τοὺς ἑπτὰ ἀστέρας· οἶδά σου τὰ ἔργα ὅτι ὄνομα ἔχεις ὅτι ζῇς, καὶ νεκρὸς εἶ. 2 γίνου γρηγορῶν καὶ στήρισον τὰ λοιπὰ ἃ ἔμελλον ἀποθανεῖν, οὐ γὰρ εὕρηκά σου τὰ ἔργα πεπληρωμένα ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ μου. 3 μνημόνευε οὖν πῶς εἴληφας καὶ ἤκουσας καὶ τήρει καὶ μετανόησον. ἐὰν οὖν μὴ γρηγορήσῃς, ἥξω ὡς κλέπτης, καὶ οὐ μὴ γνῷς ποίαν ὥραν ἥξω ἐπὶ σέ. 4 ἀλλʼ ἔχεις ὀλίγα ὀνόματα ἐν Σάρδεσιν ἃ οὐκ ἐμόλυναν τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτῶν, καὶ περιπατήσουσιν μετʼ ἐμοῦ ἐν λευκοῖς, ὅτι ἄξιοί εἰσιν.
5 Ὁ νικῶν οὕτως περιβαλεῖται ἐν ἱματίοις λευκοῖς καὶ οὐ μὴ ἐξαλείψω τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἐκ τῆς βίβλου τῆς ζωῆς καὶ ὁμολογήσω τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ ἐνώπιον τοῦ πατρός μου καὶ ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀγγέλων αὐτοῦ. 6 Ὁ ἔχων οὖς ἀκουσάτω τί τὸ πνεῦμα λέγει ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις. Revelation 3:1-6 (NA28)

1 And to the angel of the Sardis Church write,
’ These things says the one having the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars. “I know your works that you have a name that you live, and are dead. 2 Be watchful and strengthen the things remaining which are about to die, for I have not found your works perfect before my God. 3 Remember, therefore, how you have received and heard and keep it and repent. Therefore, if you do not watch, I will come as a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come upon you. 4 But, you have a few persons in Sardis which did not soil their garments and they will walk with me in white because they are worthy.
5 The one who overcomes in similar manner will be clothed in white garments and I will never blot his name out from the Book of Life and I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. 6 The one having an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’ Revelation 3:1-6 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

Sardis was a wealthy city and this church probably had a name for being a leading church, however, the church in Sardis was dead, that is, unredeemed unregenerate people, for the most part, populated it. That does not mean they were irreligious. They considered themselves Christians, but that was not based on Christ’s criteria. What are Christ’s criteria? We have our answer in v2, “Be watchful and strengthen the things remaining which are about to die, for I have not found your works perfect before my God. ” The Greek word that I translated as “perfect” is πεπληρωμένα or peplērōmena the Accusative, Perfect, Participle of πληρόω or plēroō, “fulfill, complete”. In other words, their “works” were of the flesh not of the Spirit, which they would be if they were in him. However, notice that our Lord reminds them  that they have heard the gospel and now they need to repent and obey it. Notice also that there are a few there who are found worthy. These are genuine Christians so not all are dead.

Here is Charles Spurgeon’s take on this passage from Spurgeon’s Morning by Morning for December 8th.

“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.”-Revelation 3:4

We may understand this to refer to justification. “They shall walk in white”; that is, they shall enjoy a constant sense of their own justification by faith; they shall understand that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to them, that they have all been washed and made whiter than the newly-fallen snow.

Again, it refers to joy and gladness: for white robes were holiday dresses among the Jews. They who have not defiled their garments shall have their faces always bright; they shall understand what Solomon meant when he said “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart. Let thy garments be always white, for God hath accepted thy works.” He who is accepted of God shall wear white garments of joy and gladness, while he walks in sweet communion with the Lord Jesus. Whence so many doubts, so much misery, and mourning? It is because so many believers defile their garments with sin and error, and hence they lose the joy of their salvation, and the comfortable fellowship of the Lord Jesus, they do not here below walk in white.

The promise also refers to walking in white before the throne of God. Those who have not defiled their garments here shall most certainly walk in white up yonder, where the white-robed hosts sing perpetual hallelujahs to the Most High. They shall possess joys inconceivable, happiness beyond a dream, bliss which imagination knoweth not, blessedness which even the stretch of desire hath not reached. The “undefiled in the way” shall have all this-not of merit, nor of works, but of grace. They shall walk with Christ in white, for He has made them “worthy.” In His sweet company they shall drink of the living fountains of waters.

The promise in v5 is not only for these found worthy but for those who are being warning if they repent and believe.

My brethren, yes, the visible church in our time is worldly and full of spiritual darkness. The world loves it so we know that it cannot be doing what is supposed to be doing. However, even in Sardis there were a few found worthy. I believe that this is the remnant that our Lord always has no matter how bad things get. Again, look at the warning, yes those people were pretenders. They were unregenerate and unredeemed even though they had a name that they were alive. That is called hypocrisy. That is rampant in our time my brethren. We tend to look at how popular a Christian leader is before we look at how are they doing in the Christian fellowship department. Do they love one another at their Church? How about how they treat Christians from other churches? How’s their humility doing or are they way too arrogant? Lastly most never bother to look at their fruit, their doctrine, what they really believe and teach. All of these things are overlooked due to a severe lack of spiritual discernment and wisdom within the visible church.

In any case, we must examine ourselves first, put everyone else ahead of self,  while standing firm in the Lord then we examine closely those we allow to teach and preach in our churches.

Soli Deo Gloria!