In our ongoing study in the book of Revelation, we come to the third chapter and the last three of the seven churches the Lord sent messages to through His servant John. As we have previously stated these seven churches while certainly literal congregations, also were chosen as representative of the entire Church Age. These last three represent the Reformation period (1500 – to present day); the Missionary period (1800 – to present); and the Apostate Church (We are not certain at what point it began, but it certainly continues to the present hour.)
At the risk of sounding overly negative, I believe that the vast majority of the modern church would be in the Laodicean group, in an apostate condition. We will speak more to this when we get to the letter to the church of Laodicea. You will recall in chapter 1 the Bible says, Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands. [Rev. 1:12 NKJV] These would have actually been seven golden menorahs. It appears from the text that this would not have been one seven-branched menorah, but seven separate menorahs. The next verse tells us where Jesus stood in relation to these menorahs. And in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. [Rev. 1:13 NKJV] Jesus was in the midst of these churches. Each of them, problems and all, still had a little light. Every period of Church history has had a remnant, albeit often small. [For more on the menorah of Revelation, I recommend, Mystery of The Menorah by Gary Stearman and J.R. Church]
We come in our study this week to the church in Sardis. To them the Lord said, And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” [Rev. 3:1 – 6 NKJV]
The name Sardis means, remnant. Another interesting point here is that the word, name will appear throughout this letter. Apparently this would be the denominational church. These seven churches were in a bit of a circuit in terms of how they were positioned. Sardis was about thirty miles southeast of Thyatira. Sardis was a wealthy city. In fact by the sixth century B.C. It was one of the great cities of the world, ruled by the fabled Croseus, called Midas by the Greeks and known for his golden treasures. However the glory of Sardis was indeed a past glory, for they fell 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 was rebuilt by Tiberias Ceasar. Why is all of this background relevant to the Church at Sardis? The church in Sardis, like the city, was in constant danger of internal decay and collapse. Its inclusion in the seven I believe can be attributed to the fact that many local churches are so similar to it, and it best typifies the churches that start out well but lose their spiritual fervency after a generation or two and begin to live on their past laurels. Such was certainly the case at Sardis.
It is quite appropriate that the church of Sardis would typify the Reformation Church. In a time when the Church at Rome had introduced such heresy and doctrinal perversion to much of the known world, the Holy Spirit began to stir the hearts of men like John Wycliffe, John Hus, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, and George Fox. Were they perfect men? Absolutely not. They were flawed vessels like the rest of us, yet God in His sovereign grace and mercy chose these men to bring reformation to the Christian Church. He used John Wycliffe to finally get the Word of God unchained from the pulpit and the clergy and translated into the common tongue and back into the hands of the people. He used John Hus to spread the gospel far and wide and to encourage the people to search the scriptures for themselves. He used a lowly monk named Martin Luther to reintroduce the truth of justification by Christ alone through faith alone by grace alone back into the earth.
He used John Calvin to bring much needed organization to the Church and to teach people to serve God in all areas of life. He raised up John Knox who battled queens to gain the right to preach what he believed. He used George Fox, the founder of the Quakers, who lived through persecution after persecution, and yet humbly shared the Holy Spirit with everyone he met. Like the heroes of the “Hall of Fame” of faith in Hebrews 11, the world was not worthy of such men as these. Yet, thank God for all they contributed to the rich spiritual heritage we all freely enjoy today. [For more on the reformers, I recommend God’s Generals, II The Roaring Reformers by Roberts Liardon]
The works that these great men established are still present today, yet in many cases far from what they once were. The fire of revival is hardly a smoking ember. The modern church for the most part is in the worst spiritual condition it has been in since before the Reformation. I know that is quite a statement, but I believe it to be true. Someone says, “But Pastor Kevin, what about the “Mega” churches we have, Christian TV and radio, Christian publishing, etc?” It would seem that the gospel is being proclaimed far and wide. Is it really? Stop and think what is being preached from the pulpits of many of these churches. Stop and think about the message that is being preached over much of Christian TV and radio. What about the best sellers in our Christian book stores? Is it truly the gospel that is being proclaimed, or a little gospel mixed with a lot of New Age psycho babble and aberrant doctrine?
You could say that Sardis is the mother of dead orthodoxy. During the Reformation entire countries became “Protestant” without being born-again. Protestantism was embraced by multitudes who didn’t know the truth. What was the remedy? God immediately called for a five-step revival plan: 1) Be watchful – (Rom. 13:11); 2) Strengthen the things that remain and are ready to die; 3) Remember how they had received and heard; 4) Hold fast – to what? The simple truth of the gospel; 5) Repent – This wasn’t so much about personal repentance as it was the entire church. I find it interesting that the Lord mentions coming on them as a thief. Why? Because many of the Reformation churches have stopped preaching prophecy in general, and the catching away or rapture specifically. As a result, even this event will catch many unaware. 1 Thess. 5:1 – 9. Finis Dake points out that rather than referring to the Second Advent, it probably refers to the Lord coming in sudden judgment upon this church.
Verse 4 lets us know that there were a few in Sardis who had not “defiled their garments”. In every age there has been a remnant. There are a few of who have managed to rise above dead orthodoxy to walk in holiness.
Look at verse 5. John writes, He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. [Rev. 3:5 NKJV] First of all, “White garments” refers to the righteousness of saints. It is an imputed righteousness. It is the righteousness of Christ credited to our account. We cannot earn or merit it on our own. At the Cross Christ credited our sin to His account, and His righteousness to our account. It is the great doctrine of imputation. Notice also He promises, I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life. This proves that it is possible to have your name blotted out or removed from the Book of Life. I don’t want to debate anyone over the issue of, “Once Saved Always Saved” or, unconditional eternal security. I know there are differences over these doctrines among sincere brethren. I would have to say that I believe in conditional eternal security, as opposed to unconditional. I would rather let the scriptures speak. [See Ex. 32:32, 33; Ps. 69:25 – 28, Cp. Acts 1:20; Rev. 22:18, 19] He ends with the promise, I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. The key to this great “confession” is putting the entirety of your faith in the finished work of Christ on the Cross.
Next time we will look at the letter to the church at Philadelphia.