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Lowell Brueckner

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Revelation 3:1-6


Chapter 3

The Church in Sardis

1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. I you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Alive in name, dead in reality

Sardis, capital of ancient Lydia
We learned that Thyatira was on the north border of a territory called Lydia, which was an important and prosperous kingdom in ancient history, and now we go 30 miles southeast to the city of Sardis. Sardis has a very long history, beginning about the time of the fall of the Assyrian Empire, surviving the Babylon and Persian Empires and then was burnt to the ground by the Greeks. It once was the capital of Lydia and was the first place in the world to mint silver and gold coins.

Alexander the Great rebuilt a temple to Artemis (Diana), which still can be seen today. Sardis became part of the Roman Empire in 129 B.C. and was one of its wealthiest cities, due to its location on the trade route between the Mediterranean and the East. It lay 1,500 feet above the junction of five main roads on a plateau that was almost impregnable, but actually, it was rapidly losing its renown.  Romans improved the temple of Artemis and used it for its Caesar-worshipping cult. However, the temple was never completed. A modern town of 5,000 called Sart is only a mile away from the ruins of Sardis. There is not one Christian in the town. May the sovereign Lord move once again in power over Asia Minor!

For the second time, Jesus introduces Himself to a church as the One who has the seven stars. The previous church, to whom He stated this, was Ephesus. He was reminding Ephesus of the necessity of His presence, leadership and of a love relationship, upon which all churches must be built. Their leaders, though zealous, had taken responsibility upon themselves and were functioning according to their own concepts and standards of truth and righteousness. They were not taking direct instruction from the Head of the church.

Sardis, similarly, seems to have forgotten the lordship of Christ over the leadership and the Father’s purpose that they be transformed into the image of His Son. A church is not a church because it is successful and prosperous. A true church emphasizes quality over quantity and strives after godly holiness.

They were negligent in looking to Christ as the One who bestows the life-giving Spirit upon the churches. He is the One, who breathes the Holy Spirit into the believer and baptizes him in the Spirit. For this reason, Sardis is in the throes of death, already more dead than alive.  The water of life has been drained from its structure and almost all that is left is a dry corpse. It is badly in need of the Spirit of Life. The activities of a church cannot infuse life and power into it. Until His people look to Christ and implore Him in prayer to pour the Spirit upon them, they cannot survive.

The Lord has nothing good to say to Sardis, nor does He mention false doctrine among them. They are simply lifeless. If they have a name, it means they had fame… a reputation of having life, somewhat as the city itself, living by its name and past glory (v.1).  “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zech.4:6). Christ, the anointed One, has no method or program for His church, but a walk in the Holy Spirit.

All else brings death and the Old Testament shows that death breeds death. There were many laws touching death and His priests, especially, but also the people in general, were to avoid dead bodies of animals and people. Jesus came to this earth to bring abundant life. John concludes his Gospel, giving its highest purpose: “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn.20:31). When Jesus came out of the tomb, death died and He holds its keys. Life typifies Christianity.  

I have suggested in chapter 1 that possibly John had Isaiah 11:2 in mind, when he writes of the seven-fold Spirit: “The Spirit of the Lord… of wisdom and understanding… counsel and might…. knowledge and the fear of the Lord”, seven in one. John borrowed the term seven Spirits from Christ Himself, as He stated here, “Him who has the seven Spirits of God”. We must accept this, then, as the best description possible of the Holy Spirit, as He relates to the seven churches. It is a depiction of His seven-fold fullness

Please notice these comments from Warren Wiersbee: “We are still listening to what the Holy Spirit has to say to the churches; for these messages from Christ belong to our day as well as to the first century. Churches are people, and human nature has not changed. We must not look on these letters as ancient relics. On the contrary, they are mirrors in which we see ourselves.” Notice also his quote of Vance Havner: “Spirit ministries often go through four stages: a man, a movement, a machine, and then a monument.”

The first words of counsel from the Lord is for them to wake up. They are words meant particularly for the overseers, the bishops, who are the sentinels for the church. The first step on the road to revival is an awakening to the true state of the church. Paul admonished Christians to wake up: “The hour has come for you to wake from sleep… Wake up from your drunken stupor… Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead” (Ro.13:11; 1 Co.15:34; Eph.5:14).

Deception is spiritual sleep and the only way to recover is by an openness that allows us to see the reality of the situation. This is not a pleasant message and many times it is rejected. If anyone points at a needy area in a group or a movement, it will bring on a justification by the members and a referral to areas that they think are their strengths. We had better not turn off the alarm and roll over on the deceitful bed of spiritual complacency.     

A. W. Tozer said of the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day: To reprove them was to insult them. They were beyond reproof. It is safe enough to apply the principle of rebuke to Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes, or to read from the Bible, “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead”, as long as it is a message to a first century church. But Tozer continued: If anyone imagines that we are merely playing with words let him approach at random any religious leader and call attention to the weaknesses and sins in his organization. Such a one will be sure to get the quick brush off, and if he dares to persist he will be confronted with reports and statistics to prove that he is dead wrong and completely out of order.

Six statements towards revival in Sardis

Ruins of the Temple of Artemis, never completed
There can be no doubt that the Lord has the well-being of the Sardis church in mind, as he extends to them this ‘wake-up call’. He goes on with counsel to stir up the dying embers. He offers hope, if they will reach out and grasp it. There is no arguing with the assessment of the Son of God. He is totally accurate, when He refers to the imperfection of their works in the sight of His God (v.2). Certainly, their works are not complete, because they are not done in the power of the Holy Spirit and in faith. James gives us instruction concerning godly works: “You see that faith was active along with (Abraham’s) works, and faith was completed by his works” (Jm.2:22). The works that are done in faith have the touch of heaven upon them; they cannot be explained by anything less than as something supernatural.

The next step that Jesus offers is the step of remembrance. The doctrine of remembrance is of great importance to a Christian. Here again, the work of the Holy Spirit is required. “He will… bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn.14:26). Peter was particularly aware of the need of this grace: “I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things… to stir you up by putting you in remembrance… to have these things always in remembrance… stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance(2 P.1:12, 13, 15; 3:1). There can be no doubt that scripture memorization is included as a work of the Spirit in the believer. It is a great thing to have in mind verses of Scripture to recall and to have spiritual memories to fall back on.

The next piece of advice is to hold fast to these things. Concerning the church in Thyatira, we learned something of the value of a steady and faithful pace forward. There is little that is glamorous about faithfulness, but it is of great value to the Lord. Finally, the Lord demands repentance. The Christian life is not only a life of faith, but also of constant repentance. Those who walk in the light are the ones, who can see the need for continual repentance. We can apply the principle of 1 John 1:5-10 to what we are considering, which culminates with this statement. “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 Jn.1:10).

The counsel of Christ Himself is of incalculable value. Let us summarize: 1) Wake up from a comfortable, yet deceptive spiritual state. 2) Stir yourself; get out of bed! Begin moving desperately in the direction of the Holy Spirit and righteousness. I say desperately, because it is a matter of life and death. 3) Cease from the works of man, which are temporal, and do the full, eternal work of God. 4) Take time to think back on former days, when there was life, power and love. Think all the way back to the Scriptures and remember the Christian life that is exemplary in the book of Acts. 5) Settle into a habit of walking and functioning in the Spirit. Stay there! 6) Repent, not only of what is popularly considered sin, but from a walk of dead works and dead traditions.

For Christ to come to His people as a thief, is not His preferred approach (v.3). He seeks friendship with them and continual communion. “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn.15:15). See how Paul taught the Thessalonian church about the day of the Lord: “You yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night… But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief” (1 Th.5:2, 4). You see how well the teaching of John and Paul coincide with Christ’s message to Sardis. There is death and darkness on the one hand and life and light on the other. Choose light and truth!

The modern town of Sart, without a Christian witness
Death bred death in Sardis and the overwhelming majority have succumbed to it. Jesus has already addressed them and now He focuses His attention on the small minority, who still possess spiritual life. Those who work in the Sardis woolen garment factory will understand His statement about walking in white with unsoiled garments. Those who desire to walk with Jesus, must choose the walk of purity. He has a white garment that reaches to the feet and His disciples must totally ignore the trends of the world. They must not compare themselves to their surroundings, but only look to Him, who never changes. “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” (Jn.5:44). The only ones who are worthy to walk with Him are those who are single-mindedly in the same yoke with Him (v.4).

There is a viewpoint that the Book of the Living existed from the beginning of time and contains the names of all the living, good and evil. The Psalmist seemed to hold that position (Ps.69:28). While there is life, there is hope, but the names of unbelievers are removed, when they die. By the time of the Great White Throne Judgment, the book will only contain the names of believers. The few conquerors in Sardis, who have conquered over conformity to the world, will not have their names blotted out. They are conquerors also over the state of their church… they have not conformed to its deadly practices.

The individual again is addressed in the end. Jesus will confess his name before His Father in heaven and before the angels. How important is it to you, to have heavenly fame, rather than earthly? The heart condition that yearns for heavenly approval is individually picked out of a crowd for divine recognition. Then, let the athletes and actors, the businessmen and politicians, receive a time of praise now. Let the best of them have their names written in the history books to be read by future generations. The Lamb’s Book of Life will endure for eternity and the names of the redeemed are enrolled with indelible ink (v.5). We need to recognize the value of the eternal.

In a dead church, there are only a few, who possess hearing of the heart. The message to the church of Sardis, from beginning to end, concerns the vital necessity of a true church to have the Holy Spirit and to walk in Him. The Bible, including the book of Revelation, is written for those people. It is the most enviable characteristic in a human life… that is, the ability to capture words from heaven and the glorified Christ (v.6).


Martin Luther on October 31, 1517 A.D. nailed his 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenberg, Germany. From that date, the Reformation became official and public. It was a great step in the right direction doctrinally, in that it established five “solas”… 1) Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), 2) Sola Fide (faith alone), 3) Sola Gratia (grace alone), 4) Solus Christus (Christ alone), and 5) Soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God alone). Each one of these points was essential to true Christianity and this obviously was a great doctrinal return to the faith of the New Testament.  It certainly was a movement that encouraged and circulated the Scriptures among the general populace.

The reformers, particularly Martin Luther, sought to reform the Roman Catholic Church. They were called Protestants, because of their protest against the abusive practices of Catholicism and Rome’s manipulation and dominant authoritarianism over the common people. It fought the damning assertion that salvation is by works, which was at the heart of the Roman Church and was the chief motivation for its membership.   

However, in a practical manner, the Reformation was far from being a pure spiritual movement. Much was political and continued with the position that the Kingdom of God could be established on earth by dominating the world’s society. So the Reformists were post-millennialists. In basic doctrinal theory, they supported that, which would give them a name that they lived. To a large degree, however, it was simply a change of religion that greatly altered the political world, even dividing whole countries. To the vast majority, grace meant license to sin and faith was simply a mental assent to points of doctrine. Sadly, those who experienced true New Testament life, were in the minority.

The movement continued holding on to many Roman Catholic traditions and having taken these first major doctrinal steps and, having seen much success throughout the western world, they settled down and refused to advance. As the Sardis church, their works were not complete. They accepted Roman Church baptism and themselves baptized infants. The church and the state continued to be united and therefore polluted by the world. The church was a visible, external institution for all of society, some of which were true believers, but many more, who were never regenerated. In other words, they were not a separate people.

The Reformists were as intolerant of other beliefs as the Catholics and many physically and mortally persecuted those who didn’t agree with them. They were particularly violent against those who sought to advance the cause of Christ beyond the Reformists’ teaching. Thousands of true believers were martyred. Many Reformists were anti-Semitic, including Luther himself.

Perhaps now we can see, that the Sardis message fit the period from 1517 to about 1750, and the Sardis church fell short of being a truly evangelical movement. The period of Thyatira totally lost its place as a testimony for Christ in the world, and a minority from Sardis took their place, while the majority had a name that they lived, but were spiritually dead. They were largely inspired by political zeal, rather than motivated by love through the Holy Spirit.

To this day, Sardis survives in the Reformed Churches, with a small minority of true believers. There was, however, a growing and persecuted people, outside the Reformed church, who were becoming, not only numerous, but spiritually alive. These were to play a part in the next period of church history.   


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