We are in the midst of an exhaustive bible study of the book of Revelation. Today we will look at the church in Sardis. We have been studying the seven letters written by Jesus to the seven churches in Revelation 2-3. There are a couple of things we have to remember. The number seven means completeness or wholeness. If the church would heed to words of Jesus found in these letters they would become whole. I also want you to remember: the primary meaning of these letters is to you as a person and us as a church. We are studying these letters as being loosely representative of seven different prophetic church ages. But that does not mean that we relegate all of the meaning of each age to that age and it doesn’t apply to us. It does. And then the secondary meaning of this is as a prophetic church age. And we have already looked at four out of seven of those church ages.
Today we will look at the church at Sardis or the Dead Church Age. Let’s take a minute to review.
The first church age is the Apostolic church age. This was from 30 A.D. to 100 A.D. This is from the letter to Ephesus. Now Ephesus means “desired one.” This church age was a desired church age because of their focus on evangelism. The gospel spread in a powerful way. Even though they did leave their first love.
The second church age was the persecuted church age. This was from 100 A.D. to 312 A.D. This is from the letter to Smyrna. You can hear the word myrrh in the word Smyrna. Myrrh was a tree resin used in burial and a symbol of death. Because Christianity spread so fast, it became a threat to other religions. There were ten different Roman Emperors who persecuted the church during this period.
The third church age was the indulged church age. This age began in 312 A.D. when Constantine supposedly became a Christian and declared the whole world Christian and lasted until 606 A.D. Instead of persecution the church now had the favor of the state. Money, and wealth and buildings and power flowed into the church. This is represented by the letter to Pergamum. Pergamum means elevation or marriage. The church became married to the state and elevated in its position. Many pagan influences came into the church during this time.
The fourth church age is known as the Pagan Church Age. This age began in 606 A.D. and lasts up until the present day. This is important that you should really know. The last four church ages will last into the Tribulation period. This Pagan church age is represented by the letter to Thyatira. Thyatira means continual sacrifice. This church age was dominated by the church at Rome. The great doctrinal error of the church at Rome is that they do not fully accept the finished work of Jesus Christ. Thus we see the continual sacrifice of the mass, and the required penance of those who must sacrifice in order to find salvation.
Today we are looking at the church that was found in the city of Sardis. Revelation 3:1-6 “To the angel[a] of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits[b] 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.”
There is nothing worse than a dead church! Imagine in the desert who is literally dying of thirst and thinks he sees an oasis in the desert that will have water, only to get there and find none. There are a lot of thirsty people in our world who have stumbled into churches that are dead, thinking they will find life and they do not find it. Yet this is precisely what Jesus called the church that met in the city of Sardis and the Dead Church age.
Sardis was the capital city of Lydia and was very prominent in Asian minor. This city had a thriving carpet industry and was very wealthy. The city was destroyed by an earthquake. The local church there had the reputation of being full of life, but Jesus who knows the truth about everything saw that this church actually was dead. How can that be when Jesus himself had said in John 10:10, “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full.” Where was the abundant life Jesus had promised? We do know that there were some who were faithful and had not “soiled their clothes.” But the majority were dead.
As we look at the dead church age we must examine the meaning of the name Sardis. The name Sardis means “escaping ones” or those who “come out”. Prophetically, it refers to those churches that came out of the Roman Catholic Church during the Reformation. On Oct. 31, 1517, the small-town monk Martin Luther marched up to the castle church in Wittenberg and nailed his 95 Theses to the door, thus lighting the flame of the Reformation — the split between the Catholic and Protestant churches.
This was a good thing. Due to the continued emphases by the church of Rome on Pagan doctrines, the next group of churches left the Roman Catholic Church after attempting to reform it. And so we start this church age around 1520. Martin Luther had preached strongly from Romans 1:1 “But the righteous will live by faith.” He had taught and contended that salvation was by faith alone and not by works. He also reemphasized the Bible and the study of scriptures. This church age started out great. They had a reputation for being spiritually alive and many were.
But we must ask ourselves this important question. Why were these churches and this church age considered as “dead”? There are two reasons. First of all, they became state churches. The Roman Catholic Church had a powerful influence on the government at this time. And Luther sought the favor of political leaders and eventually the Lutheran church or the protestant church became the state church of Germany. This was not a good thing. This included everyone in the population as part of the church and eliminated the need for personal salvation. Also, the tendency is then for the church to please the government and not God. Other protestant churches did the same thing, seeking power from the government. Our power doesn’t come from any government. Our kingdom is not of this world. While we shouldn’t to antagonize the government, we should do God’s will first.
Secondly, the reformation churches did not sufficiently change many customs and teachings of the church at Rome. Infant baptism was continued. There is no scriptural basis for baptizing children. A person is first to believe and then follow the Lord in water baptism. Transubstantiation or the belief that the elements mystically turned into the blood and body of Christ at the blessing was changed to Consubstantiation or the belief that the elements are transformed when they enter a person’s mouth. Ritualism and formality was continued in the church with candles and ceremony. These are characteristics of pagan worship. The main purpose of the church is to propagate the gospel of Jesus Christ. Worship must be led by the Holy Spirit. Yet in the escaping churches there was a “mystery of worship” that was continued. People left church having a mysterious feeling of worship and yet never encountered Jesus Christ in a personal way. That is spiritual death.
Today, many of these churches are the leaders in the ecumenical movement which seeks to unite all faiths under one banner. Currently this is called the World Council of Churches. During the Tribulation this movement will meld into a one world religion that worships the antichrist.
JESUS REFERS BACK TO HIS CHARACTERISTICS
As Jesus begins to address each church. He reaches back to the complete vision that John had of Jesus in Revelation chapter one. He selected two characteristics of himself. He spoke of the seven spirits and of the seven stars. Revelation 3:1a,b, “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.” When we went through chapter 1 we learned that the seven spirits of God refer to the Holy Spirit. We looked at a verse in Isaiah 11:2 that describes the Holy Spirit. Seven denotes wholeness or completeness.
“The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—”
Jesus was reminding them that they had the Holy Spirit to depend upon. They did not have to depend upon the state for support. The Holy Spirit could have led them into further understanding and reformation of the false teachings that were present at the time. We know that the Holy Spirit enlightens the Word of God. They had begun by study of the Word, had they continued, they would have not been considered dead.
Jesus also referred to the seven stars. Revelation 1:20 says, “The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches…” This shows that there are supernatural forces that will assist the church in every church age to follow and obey. These churches had adequate backing and opportunity to fully obey the Lord had they heeded his words. But rather than depend upon the words of Jesus and the Word of God they chose to trust in the state in times of economic difficulty. What would have happened had Luther and the other reformers depended solely on the spiritual resources available through the Holy Spirit and the spiritual force of the angels sent by God? Perhaps they would have achieved a great deal more!
WAS THIS A COMMENDATION?
Revelation 3:1c “I know your deeds;” This is the shortest commendation from our Lord found in any of the letters. In fact, some bible scholars don’t really see it as a commendation. I think that it was a commendation. This may refer to the beginning of the Reformation when Martin Luther and others risked their lives to obey the teaching of salvation by faith. Many actually were martyred by the Catholic church for choosing to obey the Word of God. So, I think that this was a commendation. Every deed that is done for God is seen by God. If he sees someone giving cold water in His name and determines a reward, how much more for the deeds of those who stood up at risk of their own life for the Word of God and its teachings.
A SERIOUS CONDEMNATION OF THE CHURCH IN SARDIS
This church age had a serious indictment given to them by Jesus. In Revelation 3:1c He said, “…you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” Reformation churches are known as being faithful to Christ, particularly in the early days of the movement. Obviously there once was life there, and those who placed their faith in Jesus “lived”. But the church itself became dead as it failed to completely come out!
When we go on to verse 2 of chapter three, we see how serious this condemnation was. Revelation 3:2 says, “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.” The reformation churches did not complete what they began. They should have continued in the Word and being taught by the Holy Spirit to continue their deeds of reforming the practices of the church.
That church age was the church age when scriptures began to come into the very hands of the people. The printing press was available and many scriptures were being translated into various tongues and dialects. 2 Timothy 3:16 -17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The leaders of the reformation churches have the scriptures and yet they did not continue their work of reformation. To this day, many of these churches are still not heeding the Word of God in many of their doctrines and practices.
And they have the Holy Spirit. John 14:26 tells us, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Why would they stop short?
JESUS COUNCIL TO THE REFORMATION CHURCHES AND DEAD CHURCH AGE
We are going to look at five things that the Lord told the dead church age to do. Let me begin by reading Revelation 3:3 “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, 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.” This is obviously a warning that shows that the reformation churches will be taken unaware when the Lord comes. This is a reference to the rapture of the church. He is coming for his church and we do not want to be overtaken like a thief in the night.
Four things that Jesus told the church in Sardis to do.
An asleep church soon becomes a dead church. In other passages the idea of being awake indicates the attitude of life that should characterize His children in view of His promised return. Romans 13:11 “And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.” That word salvation has to do not only with being saved from sins, but saved from the very wrath of God. We cannot be asleep.
The parable of the ten virgins is a powerful means of telling the church to be spiritually awake and spiritually prepared. You may remember the parable. There were ten virgins. Five who were wise and five who were foolish. The bridegroom was slow to come, and the night became long and they feel asleep. And when it was that the bridegroom was coming, the foolish virgins realized that their lamps had went out. Their light was extinguished. They tried to borrow oil from the wise virgins but could not. Is the light going out not another metaphor for spiritual death.
There is but one reason I love to teach the book of Revelation. It reminds all of us that we cannot slumber, sleep, or not be ready. If you are asleep spiritually you need to wake up. If you play with sin, if you toy with the world, if you are lackadaisical in your spiritual life you need to wake up. Jesus is coming! The bridegroom is coming. Don’t be asleep! That was Jesus advice to the Dead Church Age and we must heed it as well. Revelation 16:15 “Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.”
Revelation 3:2 reveals further counsel from the Lord, “…Strengthen what remains and is about to die…” Evidently this refers to the need to strengthen those good doctrinal teachings of the early days of the reformation: Salvation by faith alone, the total depravity of the human race, and the authority of the Word of God. Had they strengthened those things, in particular the authority of the Word of God, they would have continued in their search for understanding and have done further reformations.
- Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard!
Revelation 3:3 reveals how important it is for us to take close heed to what has been given us. Jesus said, “Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard…” If the reformation churches would have done this they would be reminded that what they received and heard came from searching the scriptures, giving them further desire to study God’s Word. They could have returned to the days of blessing that resulted when they studied the Word. It is the tendency of organizations to forget.
They should have held fast to the Word of God and what God had shown them. Unfortunately many of these churches today rarely proclaim the true gospel and have even given up scriptural positions that their founders had. Many of the reformation churches of today have compromised greatly the Word of God, and are dead.
Jesus clearly told them in Revelation 3:3b “…hold fast and repent.” The act of repentance is not just turning to God, but also having a submissive heart. The reformation church needed to submit their thinking and preconceived ideas to the Word for more truth. Had they sought God, had they searched the Word of God, they would have repented. I believe that the Holy Spirit would have guided them into all truth.
This speaks volumes to anyone today who is listening to this message. It is not just enough to start well, we must finish well, there will be moments in our lives when we have to repent of our wickedness, repent of our lack of study, repent of our uncomplete deeds. And as we do this God will guide us.
THE GOOD NEWS
Revelation 3:4 “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.” All church ages have individuals who find Christ and live for him, keeping themselves unspotted from the world. They will walk with Jesus dressed in white. Of course, we know that white represents the righteousness of Jesus Christ that has imputed to them and not a righteousness that they have earned by living correctly. We are worthy only through the shed blood of Jesus.
But on the other hand, this does speak to us of the extreme importance of not taking our clothes, those clothes being white, those robes of righteousness that we have put on in Christ, and taking them and soiling them in the world. The day I wrote this I was just back from a three day long Royal Ranger campout without a shower. Let me tell you that being dirty ought to make us uncomfortable. Unfortunately, many in our world no longer care that they keep their robes white. But obviously the church at Sardis and the dead church age had those who saw through the pageantry and the ceremonies and determined to live a life that was separated and pleasing to God.
A PROMISE FOR US
This letter to the church at Sardis ends with a promise not only to the Dead Church Age, but also to you and me. Revelation 3:5-6 “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
This raises a great question for us that we should really look at. Can you be blotted out of the book of life? I know that there are many who hold to the once saved, always saved teaching. But perhaps they should look at these three scriptural reasons the bible says, that someone can be blotted out of the book of life.
- For continual sin that you refuse to repent of
Jesus came to set us free from sin. Exodus 32:33 “The Lord replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book.” While it is not within the purview of this teaching to talk about losing one’s salvation, we are warned not to neglect it, and to work out our salvation with fear and reverence. Whether you believe you can lose your salvation is not as important as believing that a Christian should have a lifestyle that is reflective of obedience to God and his word, and not a lifestyle that is reflective of sin and iniquity.
- For not being an over-comer, which is synonymous with being born again and putting your trust in Christ
1 John 5:1-4 “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.”
2 Corinthians 5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
- For taking away from the words of the prophecy of Revelation
Revelation 22:19 “And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” If you had a share in the tree of life and it was taken away, then obviously your name was written and then blotted out.