The Letter to the Church at Sardis
Click on link to read the whole letter at once; I will cite them as I explain each.
The Historical Focus on the City of Sardis vs 1a
1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis… .
It may be unnecessary to state, but a city does have an effect on the church in it for good or bad. “The attitude of the city had infected the church.” (See Beale, p. 78, below).
Sardis was one of the most powerful cities of the ancient world around the 6th century B.C. It was 30 miles SW of Thyatira. It was the Persian capital in the West after Cyrus defeated the legendary King Croesus.
Sardis and its wealth became mythical in the ancient world much like Croesus. For instance, “he is as rich as Croesus,” is still a proverb in the modern world. By N.T. times, Sardis was in decay, living on the residue of its former reputation, and not on the reality of its actual condition.
When I first came to county in which I live someone told me that “after the Civil War, the people lived on cow peas and past recollections.” Sardis lived on its past recollections. It had no accomplishments in the present.
The inner city had an 800 ft. high acropolis which was virtually impregnable. It was only captured twice, once by Cyrus, in the 6th cent. B.C., and once by Antiochus, in the 4th cent. B.C. The city also possessed a necropolis (a cemetery), called the “cemetery of a thousand hills,” about 7 miles outside of the town. It was visible from the acropolis. Wm. Ramsay referred to Sardis as “the city of death.” (See Robertson below).
It passed under the control of the Romans in 133 B.C. It was a center for the worship of Cybele — “the great mother of the gods” (pictured left/above) — who was often also identified with Diana. Her cult rivaled Christianity for a while.
Sardis was also a city of great wealth gold and silver coins were first struck there and corpses were discovered with jewels still on them in their tombs.
The letter to this church is the most critical of the seven sent to the seven churches. Sardis was a city of peace. But, not the peace won through battle, but “the peace of the man whose dreams are dead and whose mind is asleep, the peace of lethargy
and evasion.” (See Barclay below). “The mere absence of war is not peace.” (J.F.K.)
Christ knows our present condition vs 1b
3:1b The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
Sardis Necropolis pictured below, 5 miles from the ancient city (public domain).
Christ’s character that addresses this church’s spiritual condition:
(1) he has the Holy Spirit
(2) he has the seven stars
The vision of the Risen Christ in Chapter One does not state he holds the seven spirits. It states he holds the seven stars. John sees a close relationship between the Risen Christ, his church, and the Holy Spirit. Sardis needs a fresh touch of the warm hand of God by the Holy Spirit. they aren’t dead yet, but they are getting colder by the minute.They are at death’s door. (see Fee, p. 46, below)
I know your deeds — could be either:
(1) the church’s past deeds; or
(2) the church’s present deeds.
You have a reputation … but you are. Sardis was “the church with a lifeless profession.” It had so accommodated itself to the paganism around it that it had almost lost the conscious presence of the living Christ. This letter gives us a picture of nominal Christianity.
A pastor-friend once related to me am example of nominal Christianity. He said a pulpit committee was interviewing a potential candidate for their church. They asked him his views on several areas of his beliefs. He was vague at best. In desperation, they pinned him where he couldn’t but give them a specific answer. He replied to them, “Just tell me what the church believes. I can preach it any way they want.” He didn’t get the call.
Christ isn’t vague about what he has revealed in his Word! He stands between his church and the Holy Spirit who inspired his Word. If we want Christ, we must have his life-giving Spirit at work in our church.
More on Sardis next week.
Barclay, W. (1976). Accessed February 9, 2019 from https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/revelation-3.html
Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: A Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids: MI Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.
ESV. English Standard Version retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/
Fee, Gordon D. Revelation (New Covenant Commentary Series). Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures In The New Testament, Vol VI. Accessed February 9, 2019 from https://archive.org/
© 2019 C. Richard Barbare All Rights Reserved