5B.   Letter To The Angel Of The Church In Sardis (3.1-6)


(3.1)    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; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.


1.   “And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write”  


a.   Sardis was a wealthy city thirty miles southeast of Thyatira. In the sixth century B. C., it was one of the great cities of the world, ruled by the fabled Croesus, called Midas by the Greeks and known for his golden treasures. However, the glory of Sardis was past, for the city had fallen to the Persians in 546 B. C. and to the Greeks in 334 B. C. In A. D. 17, Sardis was destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt by Tiberius Caesar. . . By the time John wrote the Revelation, the local church that had been started on the gospel was spiritually “dead.” This clearly indicates that John wrote this message long after this church was founded, an important consideration in dating the book of Revelation.[1]


b.   Situated on a natural acropolis rising 1,500 feet above the valley floor, the city (modern Sart) was nearly impregnable. Around 1200 B.C. it gained prominence as the capital of the Lydian kingdom. Its primary industry was harvesting wool, dying it, and making garments from it. The famous author, Aesop, came from Sardis. . . .[2]


c.   Sardis means “escaping ones” or “the ones who got out.” Now, remember, I     indicated that there is no direct evidence that these seven letters to the angels of the seven Asian churches necessarily represent periods or phases of church history. However, there are some similarities that exist between what churches have gone through and periods of history, for no other reason than because there is nothing new under the sun. Such similarities would be the result of congregations being tragically led into decline by such pastors as this church in Sardis had.


d.   With that noted, let us keep in mind that there will be some similarities between the Sardis church’s experience and a critical turn in church history. If this Sardis situation is similar in any respect to a period of church history, it would probably correspond to that period of time when Protestantism escaped Rome and the Papal religious system.


2.   “These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars


a.   In this letter, the Lord Jesus Christ introduces Himself as the Possessor of “the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars.”


b.   We know that seven is oftentimes a significant number in the Bible. In addition, we have already seen that this phrase “seven spirits of God” represents the Holy Spirit of God. References for that would be Isaiah 11.2, which reads,


And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD


c.   And Revelation 1.4, which reads,


John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne


d.   Of course, the seven stars refer to seven messengers, which we take to be the seven pastors of the seven churches. The Lord Jesus Christ is reminding His preachers that both the Holy Spirit, Who empowers the gospel ministry, and the man who physically leads the church’s ministry, conduct their ministries under His leadership.


3.   He says to that pastor, “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.


a.   Notice that this man is the first pastor mentioned thus far in John’s revelation who receives no commendation from the Lord. There is no praise, no slap on the back, of any kind. Instead, the Lord Jesus begins His message to this man with a harsh pronouncement:


1)   “I know thy works”   So, apparently, we have a man who at least is not lazy. But our Lord’s omniscience is again emphasized. He knows.


2)   “that thou hast a name that thou livest”   The man has every external appearance of being alive. He was hustling and bustling.


3)   “and art dead.”


i.    This man is dead, in some sense of the word, and apparently does not even know it. This can happen in a church, as well. William Barclay observed that a church “is in danger of death when it begins to worship its own past . . . when it is more concerned with forms than life . . . when it loves systems more than Jesus Christ . . . when it is more concerned with material than with spiritual things.”[3] May our Lord spare our congregation from that kind of death.


ii.    Such might have been the case with this pastor. Either that or the Lord Jesus Christ is letting this pastor know in no uncertain terms that he is lost. Lost? Many churches vote into the pastorate men who are not genuinely saved. Come to think of it, the complete absence of any attempt by the Savior to persuade this man to repent and clean up his act may be the strongest evidence there could be that he was a lost man, but for the next couple of verses.


iii.   My own opinion tends toward surmising that what we have here is a lost man in the pastorate. He is going through the motions, functioning in an apparently orthodox ministry, with the church possibly thriving because the pastor is clever and has organizational skills, without actually knowing Jesus as his Savior and possessing eternal life.


b.   Oh, my friends, make sure you carefully scrutinize the conversion testimony of the next pastor of this church. Listen carefully to how he says he was converted. Question him, interrogate him, interview him, examine him. Then come back at him a week or two later and do it all over again. Do not call him to be the pastor based upon his speaking skills, based upon his past successes, based upon his organizational skills, based upon his sense of humor. Hire a private investigator to thoroughly check him out in every conceivable way by doing a background check, running a credit report, questioning his neighbors and relatives and former employers and past subordinates. Then, when you question him on his doctrines and practices and satisfy yourselves that this is the man God would have us to call . . . examine his conversion testimony all over again, more thoroughly than you have ever examined anyone’s testimony. Why? You do not want a man like the pastor in Sardis to be your pastor.


c.   What kind of man do you want dealing with your grandchildren about their eternal destinies? It is rational and reasonable for someone to love and be loyal to the man who guided him to Christ, and anyone who does not love and exhibit loyalty to the pastor who guided him to Christ, who is his father in the faith, is likely not truly converted. But what about the man who replaces me? What about the man who you will want to guide your grandchildren to Christ? You will want to be as sure about him as you have ever been about anything you have ever considered, because if you are not careful, and if you are not cautious, and if you are not critical in your evaluation (not of the man’s personality or gifts, but of his relationship with Jesus Christ), you may end up with the kind of pastor who is being rebuked here. . . or worse. If that happens, do not lay the blame at Jesus’ feet, but at your own.


(3.2)    Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.


1.   “Be watchful


a.   Perhaps this pastor was not lost, just evidencing so little spiritual life and vitality that he was, insofar as his pastoral ministry and effectiveness as an undershepherd was concerned, just about as good as dead.


b.   The construction of this phrase, according to the old Southern Baptist Greek scholar A. T. Robertson, is “regularly durative.”[4] If that is the case in this verse, then the Lord Jesus Christ is not commanding or demanding that this fellow wake up spiritually, as to suggest that he get saved, for that would be something that took place at a point in time. “Regularly durative” suggests that this fellow is being commanded to wake up and to stay awake; something commanded one who is already converted.


c.   Thus, the Lord seems to be commanding watchfulness to a man who had ceased being vigilant. He wants those things which were almost dead to be strengthened before it is too late. “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die.


d.   How would a pastor do this type of thing?  I can only think of emphasizing evangelism as the antidote the Lord Jesus is recommending. Nothing enthuses a congregation more, injects vitality more quickly, than when someone is converted and new blood comes into the church.


2.   “for I have not found thy works perfect before God.


a.   My friends, the Lord Jesus Christ is not pleased with this man. He is not pleased with the behavior of any Christian whose works are not perfect before the Lord. And Jesus is the One Who must be pleased. Amen?


b.   This statement speaks to any person who behaves in such a way as to indicate that his purpose for existence is something other than the fulfillment of the Great Commission and serving God. Pleasing Jesus by serving God is the reason for our existence.


c.   I believe this message speaks very strongly to me, to members of our staff, and to our entire church. It is for this reason that I seek to bring folks to Christ and to restore sinning Christians. It is for this reason that every paid staff member of our church and everyone who is involved in a ministry here participates in our evangelism. We want to set the example, by our visible participation in this church’s evangelistic outreach, so that folks will see that getting people converted is important. Because it is important. Amen?


d.   This pastor was not properly fulfilling his role as a watchman, warning the lost of their impending doom and destruction unless they flee to the safety of our city of refuge, Jesus Christ.


(3.3)    Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and 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.


1.   When the Lord moves in judgment, He is often swift. This warning has special significance for this man in that city, if you recall the city’s history. Being an impregnable fortress city with cliffs on three sides, Sardis thought itself unconquerable. Nevertheless, twice in their history the city was taken by small forces when, being overconfident and cocky, they failed to post guards.[5]


2.   So, the Savior is reminding this pastor, and by extension this church, using a history lesson from the city’s past. The effect the Savior desires to produce? Fear that will lead to action. No one wants judgment or chastisement. Yet, one of the most powerful motivations for doing right is very properly the fear of what consequences may befall you if you do wrong. That motivation is being used in this verse.


3.   Let us learn from this. Let us never becoming so confident that we can stand without the Lord that we fail to be on guard for our spiritual welfare.  I am not an impregnable fortress, guaranteed to withstand all the assaults that Satan throws my way. Neither are you. Neither is this church. For those reasons, our faith must be anchored in the Savior, not in mere men. As well, we must constantly be on guard. Remember, it is only when you do not post guards that you will be taken, and you will fall.

[1] See footnote for Revelation 3.1 from Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible, (AMG Publishers, 2000), page 1368.

[2] See footnote for Revelation 3.1 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 1996.

[3] Quoted in John Walvoord, The Revelation Of Jesus Christ, (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1966), page 80.

[4] A. T. Robertson, A Grammar Of The Greek New Testament In The Light Of Historical Research, (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1934), page 890.

[5] John Walvoord, The Revelation Of Jesus Christ, (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1966), page 81.

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