The Church at Sardis: Part 1 of 5 (series: Lessons on Revelations)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

The Church at Sardis

Book of Revelation
By: Tom Lowe Date: 6-5-2015

Lesson: II.E: The Church at Sardis (3:1-6)

Revelation 3:1-6 (NIV)

1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.
3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.
5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.
6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.


Sardis lay about 30 miles southeast of Thyatira. It was a city in degeneration. Seven hundred years before this letter was written Sardis (modern Sart) had been one of the greatest cities in the world. There the king of Lydia ruled over his empire in oriental splendor. At that time Sardis was a city of the east and was hostile to the Greek world.

Sardis stood in the midst of the plain of the valley of the River Hermus. To the north of that plane rose the long ridge of Mount Timolus; from that ridge a series of hills went out like spurs, each forming a narrow plateau. One of these spurs, 1500 feet up, stood the original Sardis. Clearly, such a position made it almost impregnable. The sides of the ridge were smooth and steep; and only where the spur met the ridge of mount Timolus was there any possible access into Sardis and even that was hard and steep. It has been said that Sardis stood like some gigantic watch-tower guarding the Hermus Valley. The time came when the narrow space on the top of the plateau was too small for the expanding city; and Sardis grew around the foot of the spur on which the citadel stood. The name Sardis is really a plural noun, for there were two towns, one on the plateau and one in the valley beneath.

The wealth of Sardis was legendary, but it eventually led the way to moral decadence. The city had become lethargic, its past splendor a decaying memory. Through the lower town flowed the River Pactolus, which was said in the old days to have had gold-bearing waters from which much of the wealth of Sardis came. Greatest of the Sardian kings was Croesus, whose name is still commemorated in the proverb, “As rich as Croesus.” It was with him that Sardis reached its zenith and it was with him that it plunged to disaster.

When John wrote his letter to Sardis, it was wealthy but degenerate, and it was experiencing spiritual death. Despite its reputation for being alive, Sardis was infested with sin. The church’s deeds were evil, and its clothes were soiled. The Spirit had no words of commendation for this church that looked so good on the outside but was so corrupt on the inside. Even the once great citadel was now only an ancient monument on the hilltop. There was no life or spirit there. The once great Sardinians were soft, and twice they had lost their city because they were too lazy to post a guard. In that debilitating atmosphere, the Christian Church too had lost its vitality and was a corpse instead of a living Church.


1 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.

As mentioned in the introduction, the city of “Sardis” (those escaping or renovation) was actually in two locations. The city had been built on a mountain. When its population outgrew that spot, a newer section had been built in the valley below. The newer section boasted a theatre, a stadium and a large temple to Artemis that had been started but never finished. The older city on the mountain had become an emergency refuge for the city’s inhabitants when under attack. Sardis was also known for its impressive necropolis, or cemetery, with hundreds of burial mounds.

In the introduction to this letter, the Risen Christ is described in two phrases.
• He is “Him who holds the seven

spirits of God.” We have already come upon this strange phrase in Revelation 1:41. It has three aspects to its meaning.

It denotes the Holy Spirit with His sevenfold gifts, an idea founded on the description of the Spirit in Isaiah 11:2. There is only ONE Holy Spirit (Ephesians is 4:4), but the number seven demonstrates fullness and completeness. The Holy Spirit gives life to the church, and life is exactly what the people at Sardis needed. The sevenfold Spirit of God is pictured as seven burning lamps (Revelation 4:5) and as seven all-seeing eyes (Revelation 5:6).

It denotes the Spirit in His sevenfold operation. There are seven Churches, yet in each of them, the Spirit operates with all His presence and power. The “seven spirits” signifies the completeness of the gifts of the Spirit and the universality of His presence.

• He is “Him who holds . . . the “seven stars.” Our Lord’s description of Himself as the One who has the “seven stars,” was given to remind all who were in the church at Sardis that the oversight brethren are in His right hand (1:16, 20). They must take their orders from Him. He is the sovereign Head of His Church; He sent the Holy Spirit into the world, and through the Holy Spirit He carries out His program (Acts 1:8). The “stars” stand for the churches and their angels—the messengers, pastors, or leaders of the churches. The Church is the possession of Jesus Christ. Many a time men act as if the Church belonged to them, but it belongs to Jesus Christ and all in it are His servants. In any decision regarding the Church, the decisive factor must not be what any man wishes the Church to do but what Jesus Christ wishes to be done. Many a local assembly can attribute its lack of life and love to the fact that Christ is no longer acknowledged as the Head and Lord over the people.

Christ has both the “seven Spirits” and the “seven stars.” All light and all ministry proceed from Christ. Whatever may be the ministry in the church, if it is successful and it should be, it proceeds from the Lord Jesus Christ in whom all fullness dwells, “in whom ye are complete” (Colossians 2:8-102).

The Phrase “him who holds the seven spirits of God” takes us back to the vision of Christ recorded in the first chapter where we see “the seven Spirits . . . before His throne” (v. 4). “Seven” is the divine number for expressing completeness, fullness.

The terrible accusation against the “Church in Sardis” is that, although it has a reputation for life, it is, in fact, spiritually dead. The New Testament frequently likens sin to death. In the Pastoral Epistles, we read: “She who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives” (1 Timothy 5:6). The Probable Son is he who was dead and is alive again (Luke 15:24). The Roman Christians are men who have been brought from death to life (Romans 6:13). Paul says that his converts in their pre-Christian days were dead through trespasses and sins (Ephesian is 2:1, 5).

Sin has been described as death in three ways:
• Sin is the death of the will. If a man accepts the invitations to sin for long enough, the time comes when he cannot accept anything else. Habits grow upon him until he can no longer break them. A man can come to hate his sins and to love them at the same time. There can be few of us who have not experienced the power of some habit into which we have fallen.
• Sin is the death of the feelings. The process of becoming the slave of sin does not happen overnight. The first time a man sins he does so with many misgivings. But the day comes, if he goes on doing that which is forbidden by God that he will do, without so much as a qualm that which once he would have been horrified to do. Sin, as some put it, “petrifies the feelings.”
• Sin is the death of all loveliness. The terrible thing about sin is that it can take the loveliest things and turn them into ugliness. Through sin the yearning for the highest can become the craving for power; the wish to serve can become the intoxication of ambition; the desire of love can become the passion of lust. Sin is the killer of life’s loveliness.

Wherever sin and failure mark a local assembly, one can be certain the Holy Spirit has not been in command in the hearts of the people. The Word of the Lord to Zerubbabel needed to be re-emphasized in Sardis, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). It is only by the grace of God that we can escape the death of sin.

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