The Letter to Sardis

The ancient city of Sardis was built at the top of a very steep hill. Its defensive position was thought to be impregnable, for there was only one small access point which was easily defended, and as a result, its inhabitants were proud and over confident. It was the capital of Lydia because of its invulnerability to attack; oh yes, the people there were over confident. We have quite a few ancient records of the persecution of the church in Asia Minor, but the funny thing is that Sardis is never mentioned, for it would seem that the church there never bothered anybody enough to be persecuted.

Here’s another funny thing about Sardis, the impregnable fortress of a city: It was conquered in 549 BC in a night time surprise attack… and again in 218 BC. Apparently all had been forgotten by the time John wrote these words down, because Jesus hints at another kind of surprise in store for them.

To the angel of the church in Sardis write:

Preamble (3:1b)

These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

The seven spirits (or sevenfold spirit) represents the wholeness or fullness of the Spirit: the Holy Spirit, The stars represent the messengers (angels) of God.

Historical Prologue (3:1c, 2b, 4a)

I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead… or I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God… Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes.

You will have noticed that the covenant elements of this letter aren’t as neatly distinguished from one another as they are in most of the others, but they are present nonetheless. The Sardis church has a good reputation, they seem to be in good shape by all outward appearances, but they aren’t in reality, for they are dead. This shouldn’t be overly challenging for us to understand, because it well describes the modern church in an awful lot of places. They have wonderful services, they maintain grand old traditions and say all of the right things, but the love, the light and the life are simply not there. Yet even in the midst of such a congregation, there are a few who have not become stagnant, who have not become overconfident and who are spiritually alive.

Stipulation (6:2a, 3a)

Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die… Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent.

Curse (3:3b)

But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

This is a common theme in the New Testament; take a look at Matt. 24:43; Luke 12:39; 1 Thess. 5:2, 4; 2 Pet. 3:10 and Revelation 16:15. All of these liken Christ’s return to the surprise of a thief in the night, who pops in when you least expect it. He could come at any time without warning which puts to bed any thought that there will be a bunch of signs to announce the imminence of His return as so many modern commentators would suggest. The message therefore is “Wake up and get ready.”

Blessing (3:4b-5)

They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.

White is the color of purity or holiness, so those clothed in white will be pure in God’s sight at the time of His coming, as opposed to those in dirty clothes that bear the stains of sin. These are the ones who were ready, who remained awake in their faith and in their spirit; they were not over confident, and they reap the reward of eternal life.

Witnesses (3:6)

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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8 Responses to The Letter to Sardis

  1. John says:

    Jesus tells them to wake up, and if they didn’t, his coming would be like a thief in the night. From the context of this verse, it’s a conditional statement:

    “But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.”

    From this context, it seems if they watched for the signs, they would see the Day approaching—the same thing stated in passages like Heb 10:25.

    Jesus states the same signs in Revelation in the Olivet Discouse. In Matt 24:3, the disciples ask him specifically, ““Tell us, when will these things be? What is the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?” and Jesus responds with what signs to look for.

    It is true, no one knew the exact day or hour, but from all the N.T. writings, it seems the signs were readily apparent to those who were “awake.”

    • Don Merritt says:

      John, I’m afraid we’ll have to disagree on this one…

      As for what Revelation says on the subject, I’ll discuss it when we get there in our adventure together. As for the Olivet Discourse, I’ve done an entire study of it here, and went into excruciating detail relative to its context. You might notice in the question the disciples asked Jesus that there is more than one question (Matt. 24:3) The first one is addressed in Matt. 24:4-35 and relates directly to His comments in 24:1-2 which have nothing to with the second coming. The second question is answered in 24:36 – 25:46 and says you will be surprised in every which way you can think of!

      The clear and consistent message in Scripture is that Jesus may return at any moment: Be ready, for you know not when He will appear.

      • John says:

        Thanks Don.

        I agree to disagree (at least for now) :).

        For me, both of those sections in Matt are talking about the same time period.

        24:27 “…so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”
        24:37 “…so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”

        I see where you’re coming from, and I’m learning things I hadn’t noticed before from your commentary. You’ve inspired to keep researching this to understand it better.

        • Don Merritt says:

          That’s OK by me 🙂

          This stuff is so interesting to reflect upon, whatever one’s view might be. For instance in your two verses there, (…so will be…”) wouldn’t that be an odd thing to say if there is only one event being discussed? It would almost be redundant… unless He was comparing one thing to another…

          Well John, the way I see things, my job is done when a reader looks more carefully at the Scriptures and thinks and reflects on these things, whether they agree with my conclusions or not. Keep at it, and follow the trail where the Lord leads you 🙂

      • John says:

        Sorry, that last sentence should have read: You’ve inspired *me* to keep researching this to understand it better.

  2. gretahartmann says:

    Hi Don, I’m just now catching up with the letters, so I will go back to the beginning and then comment as I go. So far, starting in the middle of your series, I am intrigued😀
    Blessings to you, Greta

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