Revelation 3:1-6


January 22, 1997


As we've seen, there's an outline given to us about this book:

John was to write down things in three categories: (1:19)

1) The things which thou hast seen (ch.1) - the vision of Jesus

2) The things which are (chs.2-3) - things which pertain to current history, the times of the church.

3) The things which shall be hereafter (chs.4-22) - the prophetic portion of the book.

We now dive into the second portion of the book - the "things which are", dealing with issues about the church, and the age of the church on earth.

Introduction to the Letters

As we've seen, each letter, written to a different church, has things in common with the letters written to the other churches.

Seven common characteristics (nice number, huh?)

We won't review them this week ...

How do we interpret these letters?

1) Applied to specific churches.

They are written to real, historical churches that existed in AD 95.

2) Applied to the whole church.

Because there are seven letters, the number of "completion", the letters are applicable to the "complete" church. In a sense, there are the same seven churches in existence today, just as their have been throughout history.

3) Applied to each of us individually.

Each letter applies to each individual church today. Jesus says in each letter: He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; - and in this sense, each letter also applies to each of us, as individuals.

4) Prophetic application.

The flow of the church through history is amazingly parallel to the flow of issues from church to church.

The church of Ephesus, meaning "jewel" or "precious one", was a picture of the church during the time of the apostles, through John's death, around A.D. 100.

The church at Smyrna, meaning "myrrh", a spice used in embalming, was the period of persecution from John's death until the time of Constantine, around A.D.300

The church at Pergamum, meaning "mixed marriage", seems to parallel that period from A.D. 300 to 600, when the church came under the umbrella of protection from Constantine, the beginning of the marriage of the church with pagan doctrines and practices.

The church at Thyatira, meaning "daughter", might parallel the church of the middle ages, A.D. 600 to 1500, the church that was the offspring of more spiritual immorality and paganism, perhaps the Roman Catholic church . Those unrepentant in this church will go through the tribulation.

We now move on to Sardis.

3:1-6 Letter to Sardis

:1 And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write;



It was in a strategic location, being at the junction of the royal highways linking Ephesus, Pergamum, and Smyrna with central Asia Minor, about 30 miles southwest of Thyatira.

It's patron gods were the goddess Cybile, known as Diana in Ephesus, and her son was Midus ("midus touch").

The town was situated on a 1,500 foot spur of Mt. Tmolus (now Boz Dag) above the Hermus Valley, and was easily defended from invading armies since it could only be approached from one side. The other three sides had shear cliffs down to the valley below.

The feeling in Sardis was that they were untouchable, they had a false hope. They only had to guard one side of the city, and practically left the other three sides undefended, since nobody could get up the cliffs.


650 years before writing this letter, Sardis was one of the greatest cities of the world.

The city probably dates back to 2000 B.C.

It was the ancient capitol of the Lydian Empire (1200 B.C.)

It was in Sardis that the first coins, Lydian staters, were made, somewhere around 600 BC.

The prophet Ezekiel mentions the Lydians around 580 BC as "men of war" ("Lud" in Eze. 27:10), and as mercenaries who fought to defend Tyre (27:10)

At the height of it's strength, it was ruled by King Croesus (560-546 BC), a man known for his great wealth, mostly gotten from the gold in the Pactolus (now Baguli River), a river which flowed through the city.

In 549 b.c., Croesus began hearing about the great Persian army, and how they were steadily growing stronger, and getting closer and closer.

He decided to consult the "oracle at Delphi" (no, it was not an online service) in Greece, and the oracle replied: "If you cross the Halys (river) you will destroy a great Empire." So he went to war, hoping he could keep the Persians from coming any closer, and was promptly defeated. He quickly retreated back to his fortress at Sardis, and was surrounded by the Persian army.

When Cyrus the Great was unable to get through the Sardian defenses, he offered a reward to any soldier who could figure out how to get into Sardis.

One man, Hyroeades, had been watching the city from below, and had observed a Lydian soldier accidently drop his helmet from the city wall, then climb down the cliffs and retrieve it. Hyroeades watched the path he took, and that night climbed the cliff himself, with his troops following him. That night Sardis fell.

Seven years later, Cyrus captured Babylon, and allowed the Jewish captives to return home.

In 214 BC, those same cliffs were climbed and the city was conquered by Antiochus.

In 133 BC, they allied themselves with Rome, and became a Roman administrative center.

Then in AD 17, there was a big earthquake, destroying most of the city, and by John's time, the city was only a fraction of what it was in it's glory days.

Historical church records show that there was a church in Sardis as late as the ninth century AD, but few if any Christians remained in Sardis after that.

The town was destroyed by the Mongol conqueror Tamerlane in 1402.

Archaeological excavations were begun at the site in 1910, but the city itself was not uncovered until 1958.


Sardis was a "has-been" city.

It was living off it's past glories.

It was one of the world's best history lessons of not being overconfident, because you could be taken by surprise.

Historical/Prophetical Application:

In the past I've pretty much stayed away from old commentaries, because it never seems the older commentaries had a clue when it came to prophetical things, perhaps because they were still so far from the fulfillments. But I had a surprise this week:

John Gill (writing in 1747): "This church represents the state of the church from the time of the Reformation by Luther and others, until a more glorious state of the church appears, or until the spiritual reign of Christ in the Philadelphian period; under the Sardian church state we now are: that this church is an emblem of the reformed churches from Popery, is evident not only from its following the Thyatirian state, which expresses the darkness of Popery, and the depths of Satan in it; but from its being clear of Balaam, and those that held his doctrine; and from the Nicolaitans and their tenets, and from Jezebel, and those that committed adultery with her; things which the two former churches are charged with; but from these the present church reformed."

Hmmmm. Interesting. Even Gill saw the pattern of the churches as far back as 1750, and he was only halfway through the sequence!

:1 These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God

seven Spirits of God - We mentioned back in Revelation 1:4, that this seem best understood as a reference to the Holy Spirit.

Seven is the number of completion.

Isaiah refers to seven ministries of the Holy Spirit (Isa 11:2)

Why does Jesus refer to Himself in this manner?

Because it's the Spirit of God that gives us life.

Without the Holy Spirit, we are spiritually dead.

The church of Sardis is the "dead church", they need the power of the Holy Spirit.

:1 and the seven stars

It should be noted that Jesus repeats here a description of Himself that He used with the church at Ephesus.

Some have suggested that the church of the Reformation at one point kind of like the early Apostolic church, the beginning of a new era.

:1 I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead.

This is as close as Jesus gets to a commendation to the church of Sardis, which isn't really much of a commendation.

There are only two churches where Jesus doesn't have anything good to say, and this is one of them.

thou hast a name that thou livest -

A church is to be a place that's alive, that's full of the Holy Spirit, that is full of grace and joy.

That's what a "church of Christ" should be all about.

It's like an organization that calls itself the "Young Men's Christian Association".

and art dead -

But this church, though it has the outward trappings of a live church, is really dead inside.

The form is there, but it's an empty shell.

It's kind of like what Jesus said to the Pharisees:

(Mat 23:25-28 KJV) Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. {26} Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. {27} Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. {28} Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.

They're one way on the outside, but inside, they're quite different.


This is something that if we're not careful, we can throw around lightly.

It's common to hear people talking about this church or that church, and call them "dead" churches.

We need to be careful about our criteria for "deadness".

It can become a very subjective thing.

Some people think that a dead church is where people aren't running around wild in the aisles, or laying on the floor barking like dogs.

Some people think that a dead church is where people don't raise their hands during worship and sway from side to side.

Some people think that a dead church is where they don't sing the latest Christian worship songs, or where they don't have a rockin' worship band.

Deadness is when the Spirit of God isn't working.

It's the Spirit that gives life.

(2 Cor 3:6 KJV) Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.

How do we know if the Spirit of God is working?

1. There will be spiritual births.

New life will be given to people as they're born again, born of the Spirit (John 3)

2. There will be the fruit of the Spirit.

(Gal 5:22-23 KJV) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, {23} Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

:2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die:

watchful - gregoreuo - - to watch; give strict attention to; it comes from the word egeiro which means to "rise up" or "wake up".

It's used when the disciples were sleeping and Jesus was praying:

(Mark 14:37-38 KJV) And he cometh, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, Simon, sleepest thou? couldest not thou watch one hour? {38} Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak.

strengthen - sterizo - (steroids!) to make stable, place firmly; to strengthen

the things which remain, that are ready to die:

In other words, this church isn't completely dead yet.

There are still some signs of life in it.

After all, if it were completely dead, it wouldn't be one of the lit lamps that Jesus was walking among.

:2 for I have not found thy works perfect before God.

perfect - pleroo - to make full, to fill up; fill to the brim

In other words, they've been doing good things, good works, but they haven't been finishing what they've started.

They haven't done enough of what they set out to do.

It's a picture of someone pulling into the gas station and telling an attendant to "fill 'er up!", and then only getting a half tank of gas.


Finish the work.

You know what God has called you to do.

If you've started something, but haven't finished it, pick it up again and get moving.


My kids somehow think that if they've taken one bite of their dinner, they can convince me they're done.

They like to get up and go back to playing.

But we don't let them leave the table until they've eaten enough.

Perhaps it's a ministry

(Col 4:17 KJV) And say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which thou hast received in the Lord, that thou fulfil it.

Perhaps it's an area of repentance

(2 Cor 7:11 NKJV) For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.

Finish the work.

before - the usual word for "before" isn't used, but an interesting one (enopion) meaning "in the presence of".

Perhaps the works look finished to others, but in God's presence, it's clear that they're not done yet.


Spend time "before" God.

Perhaps if we make sure to stay in God's presence, then we will see for ourselves which works are not complete.

I know that often while I'm having my Quiet Time, the Lord will put all kinds of things on my heart that I need to be doing, people I need to call, letters to write, etc.

:3 Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard

It's through faith and the Spirit of God.

(Gal 3:1-5 KJV) O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? {2} This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? {3} Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? {4} Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. {5} He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

It's kind of ironic to think that Galatians was one of the big cornerstones of the Reformation.

:3 If therefore thou shalt not watch

Again, the word carries the idea of waking up and taking notice.

:3 I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.

This kind of reminds us of the history of Sardis.

They were kind of overconfident in their "impregnability".

They didn't guard themselves from all sides.

And they left open a weak spot.

We kind of think of this "thief in the night" in terms of the Rapture, but I think it's not always the correct idea.

It's the idea of coming in judgment.

Jesus used the idea as well:

(Mat 24:42-51 KJV) Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. {43} But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up. {44} Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh. {45} Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? {46} Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. {47} Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods. {48} But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; {49} And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; {50} The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, {51} And shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.


We need to be ready, faithful stewards.

If He came back tomorrow ...

It's okay to be a little "uncomfortable" at times.

It's when we're "uncomfortable" that we stay alert and on target.

The city of Sardis was famous for being "too comfortable" and "too secure".

:4 Thou hast a few names even in Sardis

Note that at the beginning of the letter, addressing the "angel" Jesus said that the "angel"

"that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead"

And now, there are some "names" in Sardis who haven't been defiled.

If the "angel" is the pastor, could Jesus be also talking about a church where the pastor is not a true believer?

This happens more than we'd like to think.

I've read stories in Charles Finney's autobiography of pastors who had never been born again.

Men who get into the ministry to "do good" and to "help others", but men who don't know God.

Yet there are some in this church who do know the Lord.

:4 which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.

In Sardis, as in all the churches, there are a few who aren't going along with the majority.

defiled their garments - the Bible often uses the idea of garments to talk about the kinds of deeds that we are going to be "clothed with" in heaven.

Bad deeds are seen as dirty garments:

Isa 64:6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

There were some in Sardis who hadn't quite walking with the Lord.

They had not soiled their lives with the things of the world.

What if I've gotten my clothes dirty?

(Rev 7:13-14 KJV) And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? {14} And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.


Take your clothes to the laundry.

(1 John 1:9 KJV) If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

God always offers a new start. A clean start.

:5 He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment;

We see this again further on in Revelation:

Re 19:8 And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.

:5 and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life

Can you lose your salvation?

I know, this is kind of a copout, but I'm going to give you two possible answers:

1. No.

Those whose names aren't in it have been so since eternity past. (Rev.17:8)

Revelation 17:8 The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.

And after all, just how long does "eternal life" last anyways?

2. Yes.

It means what it says.

You can't blot out what hasn't been written down.

Revelation 22:19 And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book (NASB - tree) of life, and out of the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book.

BUT, keep in mind, this is a promise of security.

The point that Jesus is making is that those who overcome have His assurance that their is no way their name could be blotted out from the book of life.

He promises security.

If you want eternal security, don't mess around with the things of the world.

I wonder why we try so hard to avoid the possibility of saying that someone could lose their salvation, when people are playing with very dangerous things!

:5 I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.

This reminds us of:

(Mat 10:32-33 KJV) Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. {33} But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

:6 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.

Are you listening?