Sardis

The city of Sardis was situated approximately sixty kilometers south of Thyatira, near the crossroads between Smyrna and Pergamos, and commerce was vital to its economic and cultural life. Sardis is mentioned in Obadiah, with the name “Sepharad” being its Hebrew form (“They of the captivity of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad shall possess the cities of the South”).

In addition to commerce, the city derived its wealth by mining gold from the river Pactolus. According to legend, gold coins were first minted at Sardis by its ancient king, Gyges (716-678 B.C.). In Assyrian inscriptions, Gyges is spelled Guguand, and most likely it is the source of the biblical name “Gog” - (Ezekiel 38:1-2, Revelation 20:8).

In antiquity, Sardis was the capital of the kingdom of Lydia (‘Ludim’ - Genesis 10:13). Later, it became the regional capital of the western Persian Empire. The famous Persian “royal road” began in Persepolis in the east and terminated at Sardis in the west.

Sardis remained under Persian rule until its capture by Alexander the Great in 334 B.C., and it became part of the Roman world when the region was organized as the province of Asia in 133 B.C.

Sardis featured a temple to the goddess Artemis, also known as Diana, and sometimes worshiped as Cybele. Also prominent was the temple dedicated to the Roman emperor. The veneration of Caesar played key political and economic roles in the city.

  • (Revelation 3:1-3) - “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These things says he that has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: I know your works, that you have a name, that you live and are dead. Be watchful, and establish the things that remain, which were ready to die: for I have found none of your works perfected before my God. Remember, therefore how you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. If therefore you will not watch, I will come as a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.

THE SEVEN SPIRITS OF GOD


In the letter, Jesus describes himself as the one “who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.” The “Seven Spirits” are referred to three times in the Book of Revelation. He possesses them because of his victory over death, and they now serve him.

The description of Jesus possessing the “Seven Spirits” alludes to the “seven eyes of Yahweh” that were said to be sent throughout the “land” or “earth” in the Book of Zechariah. The Hebrew term can refer to a specific territory or the entire earth itself.

Thus, the Risen Jesus exercises the power to observe, correct, comfort, and deliver his people wherever they are located - (Zechariah 4:1-12, Revelation 1:4-5, 4:5, 5:6).

The seven stars” represent the seven “angels” or “messengers” of the “Seven Churches,” and they are held tightly in his right hand. He has both his “messengers” and events firmly under control - (Revelation 1:16-20).

NO COMMENDATION


Jesus knows the messenger’s works, “that you have a name; that you are living and are dead.” But this “messenger” receives no commendation. The church may appear healthy to human eyes, but the one who commands the “Seven Spirits” sees its true condition. Jesus was once dead, but now lives, whereas, Sardis once lived, but now is dead.

He must “become watchful.” If the “messenger” fails to “wake up and repent,” Jesus will “come like a thief.” This simile is from the teachings of Jesus. The “coming” refers to his visitation in judgment on the congregation, not necessarily to his arrival at the end of the age.

And the conditional clause confirms this understanding of his “coming” - “If you do not wake up, I will come as a thief” - (Matthew 24:42-44, Luke 12:39-40, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6, 2 Peter 3:3-10).

The adverb rendered “how” or pōs has the sense “in what manner.” It refers to the way in which the congregation received the Gospel. Considering its past, Jesus now summons it to repent, watch, and remain awake. The exhortation suggests spiritual slumber is the problem in Sardis, as in the parable of the ten virgins when all ten fell asleep before the arrival of the bridegroom.

  • (Revelation 3:4-6) - “Nevertheless, you have a few names in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white because they are worthy. He that overcomes shall thus array himself in white garments, and in nowise will I blot out his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”

The problem in the assembly is not pagan opposition but Christian apathy and accommodation to the city’s idolatrous culture, and this is borne out by the description of the faithful few in Sardis who have not “defiled their garments.” No mention is made of external opponents or internal deceivers. The problem is the loss of faith and zeal.

UNDEFILED GARMENTS


In Sardis, most members of the congregation are in poor spiritual condition, and only a few continue to possess “undefiled garments.” The term “defile” suggests compromise with idolatry, pagan ideas, and even immortality. Those who follow Christ faithfully are characterized by their “undefiled garments” - (Revelation 14:4).

The description of Jesus coming “like a thief” anticipates the “Sixth Bowl of Wrath” in Chapter 16 that culminates in the “war” at “Armageddon.” In the middle of that “bowl,” the same warning is heard - he is coming “like a thief.” Therefore, the saints must “watch” and keep their garments free from all defilement lest Jesus arrives to render judgment on the assembly - (Revelation 16:12-19).

In contrast to believers who compromise, the saint who “overcomes” is “arrayed in white garments and his name will not be blotted out from the Book of Life.”

Greek cities kept official lists of citizens, and when a citizen committed an egregious crime, his name could be expunged from the roll of citizens. Likewise, the “Book of Life” lists the citizens of “New Jerusalem.” Anyone who fails to “overcome” and array himself in undefiled garments will have his or her name blotted out of that “scroll” – (Revelation 21:27).

We should note that names inscribed in his “scroll” can be added to or “blotted out” of the “Lamb’s Book of Life.” Watchfulness and obedience are necessary for one’s name to remain on the list of citizens of the holy city.

And as with the other six letters, this one ends with the exhortation to “hear what the Spirit is saying to all the churches!” It is a message for all the churches of Asia if not all churches throughout the present age.


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