(Unless otherwise stated, all Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version).
The church in Sardis was one of the seven churches in Asia Minor that was personally addressed by the Lord Jesus Christ, in a letter, through the apostle John, while he was on exile in the island of Patmos. The Sardisian church had some unique features that merit close examination. We shall therefore examine the special characteristics of this church in the book of Revelation, with a view to learning from its unique features and experiences. We will start by reviewing Christ’s letter to the church in Sardis.
And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: 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. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. 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.
Now, let’s briefly analyse Christ’s letter to the church in Sardis. After a brief introduction of himself, the Lord delved straight into the works of that church. The first thing the Lord brought up, in relation to their works, was that what they claimed they were, or were reputed to be, was way different from what they really were. They had the reputation of being a ‘living church’ (how many times have we heard that expression?) that was spiritually alive and well. However, though they claimed to be doing well spiritually, the Lord’s diagnosis was that they were dead! Spiritually dead! Here was a dead church claiming to be alive! What delusion! What deception! This church was totally out of sync with spiritual reality!
Now, how does a Christian die spiritually? How does a church that was once full of life become dead? Well, for a Christian to die spiritually, the person has to be disconnected from the source of spiritual life. A church dies when it’s severed from Christ, like a branch of a tree dies when it’s cut off from the trunk. That’s what Jesus taught us—that except we continually abide in him and let his word abide in us, we shall have no life in us, and we would be unfruitful and become like dead branches of a tree that men cut off and cast into the fire. That was the state of the Sardisian church—they were no longer abiding in Christ and no longer holding unto his word, and were now dead! Dead like the severed and disconnected branch of a tree!
I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.
How do we know the church in Sardis was dead because they were no longer abiding in Christ, and his words were no longer abiding in them? The Lord himself said so, right there in verse 3—“Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you”. The church had forgotten what they once heard and received (the word of God), and were no longer keeping it. They were no longer living and abiding by the word of God. They had fallen asleep spiritually. Like the writer of Hebrews warned against, they had drifted away from the message of salvation because they had ceased to pay attention to it; they had slumbered spiritually, had backslided and were now in danger of falling away. What a terrible state this church that was once apostolic had degenerated into, all because it had abandoned its source of life, the written and the living word. This is a reminder that our life is in the Son of God; he that has the Son of God has life, and he that departs from the Son is dead spiritually, and only the wrath of God abides upon such a person.
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
1 John 5:11-12
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
What’s the Lord’s remedy for Sardis’ comatose state? There’s only one way for a dead church or a dead individual (spiritually speaking) to be revived and to come back to life again—to embrace the source of spiritual life again! Get connected back to the vine—Christ. Repent and go back to keeping (observing) and living by the word of life again. The church in Sardis was admonished to retrace its steps and go back to abiding in Christ again, for that’s the only way to be revived and to be fruitful again. There’s no other way of revival for a dead or dying church than the word way! Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.
In conclusion, the church in Sardis was a church that once was alive and well spiritually, but became disconnected from the source of spiritual life and died spiritually. Even though this church was spiritually comatose, it still thought it was alive, and was calling itself a ‘living church’, when there was no life in it! The church in Sardis could deceive itself and other carnal people, but not the Lord, who knew it to be a dead church! The church was in danger of being completely cut off from Christ, unless it repented and got back to living and abiding by the living word of God, for therein is the life of every believer. May we abide and remain in Christ always, that we may have life and have it in abundance. Amen.
John 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
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