A Study on the 7 Churches (Sardis)

A Study on the 7 Churches (Sardis)

The Church at Sardis

This is part five in a seven-part study on the Churches in the book of Revelation.

The notes below compliment this live worship-hour video recording of a teaching on the Church at Sardis.

Almost 2000 years ago Jesus shared a message to seven churches in seven cities located in present-day western Turkey. That message is presented in Revelation 2-3. When John wrote the book of Revelation, there were about 100 churches in greater Asia. So then, the question is: Why these seven churches?  These churches were not the largest or most notable—two of the seven churches had grave issues. Many believe Jesus chose to speak to these churches because their location and ministry are representative of both future periods in church history and the major issues individuals and churches struggle with today.

Sardis was a divided city that perceived itself as being better than it was. The word ‘Sardis’ is plural. The city of Sardis had upper and lower sections—separated by a relatively short distance, but because one half of the city rested high on a cliff, required more than an hour’s travel time. Both sections referred to themselves as Sardis.

This rather strong strategic position of the upper city (perched 1500’ above the lower section) led city leaders to boast of their invincibility. However, their great wealth (King Midas and gold are said to have come from there) and location did not save them from military conquest (multiple times). Historians reference Sardis as a city of false pretensions. This false-sense-of-security mindset crept into the heart of the church and is reflected in Jesus’ stern exhortation: “You think that you are alive—but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1b). The Church at Sardis was evaluating itself against man’s standards, not God’s.

The message to the Church at Sardis reminds believers that a divided city is not a great city, that false pretenses lead to disaster, and that having a reputation for good is not the same as actually being good. It is the united and faithful church that will be blessed. In evaluating our effectiveness and spirituality, believers must not seek man’s assessment, but God’s. It is God’s expectations and standards that believers must strive to meet. 

The Church at Sardis is said to represent the age of division, false pretension and near death (1517—1648 AD). It is during this church age that the Holy Roman Empire fades and the Protestant Reformation begins. It also represents a time of false pretensions as the 16th century Catholic Church saw no need to reform. This position led to a split (Protestants and Catholics), and within 200 years the Protestant arm became fractured by the rise of various denominations. Though there are some positive happenings in this church age, it is known as a dark period in church history.

THE HISTORY

  • Sardis was an ancient city with notable history (located 30 miles south of Thyatira)
  • Sardis was one of the oldest cities in the region
  • Sardis was the notable capital city of the Lydian empire (600BC)
  • Sardis was a well-fortified and wealthy city. Mythical king Midas is said to have ruled from there. Gold was abundant
  • The name Sardis is plural. The older part of the city rested on a cliff. The newer part of the city was
  • Their wealth and naturally well-fortified location (the city rested atop a 1500’ cliff) led city leaders to believe they were invincible.
    • Historians have referred to the city as being marked by ‘pretensions ’
    • The historian/theologian Ramseys noted that city leaders betrayed their people by a false sense of self-confidence.
    • Historians note that the city was sacked in:

– 549 BC (By the Persians)

– 501 BC (By the Ionians)

– 334 BC (By Alexander)

– 322 BC  (By Antigonus)

– 214 BC (By the Seleucids)

  • In time the city was destroyed by wars and earthquakes and soon lost to history. The city was found by archeologists in 1958.

WHAT HISTORY REVEALS:

  • Just as the city of Sardis was divided and marked by a false sense of accomplishment and security, so does the church age Sardis represents (the Age Of Reformation, roughly 1517-1648AD).
  • This was a time of division for the Christian Church (the Protestant Reformation led to a split with the Catholic faith, and within 200 years the Protestant Church fractured into many denominations).
  • The 15th-16th centuries were a time of false pretension. Though entreated to by multiple reformers, the Catholic Church saw no need to reform.
    • A false sense of security (or purity) can be seen in the church today (particularly the church in the west. For example:
      • America has “In God We Trust” on its coins but in many ways, has rejected God.
      • Many churches have been started in America, but attendance, outreach, and evangelism levels in churches across America are waning.
        • Rev 1: The Ephesian Church commended for being watchful.
        • Acts 17: The Bereans were commended for their study and diligence.
        • The church at Sardis received no commendation. What would Jesus say to the church today?

WORDS OF PRAISE:

  • Commendation to this church is minimal, but though “dead,” still Jesus offers words of hope. Jesus told them to “strengthen what remains.” Jesus did not cut them off, He challenged them to turn.
  • The call was not to turn and flee, but to turn to God.
    • “…you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments…” (3:4a)
    • Jesus prayed: “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” (John 17:15-18).
    • Believers are to be in the world as Jesus was in the world, and not be of the world, just as Jesus was not of the world. Only by focusing on Christ, and being committed to prayer, study, and fellowship with other believers, can we fulfill the John 17:15-18 directive.

WORDS OF CHALLENGE AND WARNING:

  • “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” (3:1b)
    • See Proverbs 22:1; Ecclesiastes 7:1
  • “…Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.” (3:3b)
    • See Revelation 3:16; Galatians 6:9
  • “Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent.” (3:3a)
    • See Matthew 9:9; Psalm 50:15
  • “I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.” (3:3c)
    • See Matthew 24:42

WORDS OF PROMISE:

  • …Some will walk with Jesus—dressed in white (3:4b)
    • Application: Do not walk/serve/witness/live in your strength. Seek His strength and leading and you will share in His blessing. (See Galatians 5:16-17; 2 Corinthians 5:7)
  • Some will be called ‘worthy’ (3:4c)
    • Application: We are not made worthy by what we do—we are made worthy by what Christ has done. To be called, ‘worthy’ results from being faithful and true to our calling in Christ. (See Colossians 1:12; Ephesians 2:4-7)
  • Some names will not be ‘blotted out’ of the ‘book of life’ (3:5a)
    • Application: The true believer will have a pure heart. He/she will not be perfect and may suffer significant failings in life, but will always seek forgiveness and are quick to forgive. The true believer will seek after God and bear fruit for God. Judas Iscariot proved himself to be a false follower—curious but not committed to Jesus. The true, faithful, and persevering believer will not be ‘blotted out’ of the ‘book of life.’ (John 10:28-29).
  • Some will be acknowledged ‘before My Father and His angels’ (3:5b).
    • Application: Do your best to ‘finish well.’ Of the more than 400 personal stories in the Bible, less than 25% end well. It’s not about how one begins the race; it’s about how we finish. (See Hebrews 12:1-3).
      • “His lord said unto him, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.’” (Matthew 25:21)

 

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