1 "To the angel of the church in Sardis, write this: "'The one who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars says this: "I know your works, that you have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Be watchful and strengthen what is left, which is going to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.

3 "Remember then how you accepted and heard; keep it, and repent. If you are not watchful, I will come like a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come upon you.

4 "However, you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; they will walk with me dressed in white, because they are worthy.

5 "'"The victor will thus be dressed in white, and I will never erase his name from the book of life but will acknowledge his name in the presence of my Father and of his angels. 6 '"Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches."'  Version: New American Bible.

COMMENTS

General:

  • The fifth of the seven Asian churches (representing the church universal) is Sardis. Sardis is the oldest as most renowned of the seven churches.
  • Once again, Jesus Christ is the speaker, knows their deeds, and has much to say (v.1)! Yet the situation is so dire that Jesus offers no words of encouragement at all!
  • Sadly, this church is riding on its reputation (v.1).
    • Apart from a few who have not compromised (v.4), the church is morbidly ill (or moribund).
    • Overall they lack the good deeds that accompany faith (v.2). As throughout these seven letters, the Lord is looking for action, not just good intentions.
    • Notice the recurrence of the word "name":
        • 3.1b: "You have a name [reputation] of being alive, but you are dead."
        • 3.4a: "You have a few names [persons] in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes."
        • 3:5b: "I will never erase the name of that person from the Book of Life."
        • 3:5c: 'I will confess thew name of that person before my Father and before his angels."
  • The church is called to repentance (v.3). If they do not listen to Jesus' message, they will be judged. Repentance is not:
    • Something you can delay till the end.
    • Something another can do for you.
    • Optional if your reputation is still intact.
    • Equivalent to membership in a Bible-centered church.
    • Very popular these days! For more, read Ed Anton's excellent book Repentance.
    • Not everyone is called to repentance; some have not compromised (v.4).
  • Historically, the impregnable fortress (upper city) of Sardis was taken twice, both times through carelessness on the part of Sardis. The first time it was take by Cyrus, the second by Antiochus III. This happened through their lack of watchfulness.
  • The overcomer will be rewarded (v.5):
    • He will be dressed in white, the color of the great multitude in heaven (7:9). White represents purity and holiness (19:8) . The Laodiceans (3:18) will be advised to get white clothes.
    • His name will never be erased from the Book of Life. That is, he will never lose his salvation. This book is mentioned multiple times in Revelation (3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12,15, 21:27) as well as in early Jewish literature (1QM 12.3; 1 Enoch 47:3; 104:1; Jub. 19.9; 30.19-20; 36.10).
    • Jesus will acknowledge him at the Judgment in the presence of the Father and the angels. (See a similar idea in Luke 9:26.)
  • As said many times before, Listen!

Advanced:

  • Ginou gregoron can be translated "wake up" or "be watchful." Perhaps both senses are intended.
  • Regarding the Book of Life (v.5), see also 13:8; 17:8; 20:12,15; 21:27; Philippians 4:3. For the O.T. background, see Exodus 32:32-33: Isaiah 4:3; Malachi 3:16; Nehemiah 13:13; Daniel 7:10, Similar N.T. passages may be found in Luke 10:20; Philippians  4:3; Hebrews 12:23. In familiar extrabiblical literature see Jubilees 30.20,22, 36.10; 1 Enoch 47.3, 108.3. The fact that one's name may be added or subtracted shows that it is truly possible for someone to gain or lose salvation.
  • Sardis is actually two cities, not one; Sardeis is plural (an upper city and a lower city). For more on Sardis, click here.

Thought questions:

  • What is my spiritual reputation? Does it match my true self, my inner being?
  • Do I need to "wake up," or am I watchful?
  • If my church is not "dressed in white" (living holy lives), am I striving to sound the clarion call (as Jesus does in this letter)?

NEXT: The penultimate letter in the series, that to the Philadelphians.

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Exodus 32:32-33: Isaiah 4:3; Malachi 3:16; Nehemiah 13:13; Daniel 7:10; Luke 10:20; Philippians 4:3; Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 3:5, 13:8, 17:8, 20:12,15, 21:27. In familiar extrabiblical literature see Jubilees 30.20,22, 36.10; 1 Enoch 47.3, 108.3.