The Letter to Sardis (Rev. 3:1–6)

The Letter to Sardis (Rev. 3:1–6) 

Sardis was the capital city of Lydia in western Asia Minor (modern Turkey). During its days as a Roman city, Sardis became an important Christian center. However, the city’s complacency and reliance on past glory affected the church at Sardis: “You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Rev. 3:1).

Sardis, the dead church, was like “whitewashed tombs which... appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones” (Matt. 23:27). Its thriving, healthy appearance masked an inner decay.[1]

The Correspondent

3:1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.

The Lord Jesus Christ draws His descriptions from the vision of “the One like the Son of Man” (Rev. 1:12–17). The letter to Sardis outlines an additional component from the salutation, in (Rev. 1:4, where the phrase, “the seven Spirits,” also appears.

The Seven Spirits

The seven angels are mentioned in the Book of Revelation in many places.[2]

Some see “the seven Spirits” as the fullness of the Holy Spirit described in the sevenfold expressions in Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord” (Isa. 11:20, NIV).

The Seven Stars

Once again, “the seven stars” are the seven angels, the priests, or the elders of the seven churches (Rev. 1:20). They likely carried a copy of the Book of Revelation back to their respective churches.

The imagery shows Christ as the head of the church, having the fullness of the Spirit. He is working for the perfection of the churches through their godly priests or elders. That introduction served as a reminder to the Sardis church of what it lacked. Without the Spirit, the church at Sardis was dead.

The Concern

3:2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God.

The outward appearance of the angel of the church in Sardis may have fooled men. He had a name or reputation of being alive, but he could not deceive the Lord Jesus Christ, who knew his deeds. Therefore, with His infallible knowledge, the Lord Jesus Christ pronounced him to be dead.

The New Testament always connects Spiritual death with its cause, sin. Eph. 2:1 describes the unregenerate as “dead in [their] trespasses and sins” (Luke 9:60, 15:24,32; Col. 2:13; 1 Tim. 5:6; 1 John 3:14). Sin killed the angel and the people of Sardis church.

The church’s angel in Sardis was probably performing many activities or routine rituals. However, Christ declared, “I have not found your works perfect before God” (Rev. 3:2). Those deeds were sufficient to give him a reputation before men but were insufficient and unacceptable in God’s sight. He was a corpse. He had been weighed on the scales by the Righteous Judge and found wanting (Dan. 5:27).

The Command

Christ commanded the church’s angel in Sardis to “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die” (Rev. 3:2). He gave him five steps to spiritual restoration, which, if diligently practiced, would bring about revival:

To Be Watchful

First, he needed to “be watchful” to wake up. Then, he needed to look at what was happening in his church, evaluate the situation, get involved in changing things, confront sin and error, and make a difference.

To Strengthen the Remaining Things

Second, he needed to “strengthen” the things that remained, which were about to die. These things are the spiritual services from their hearts.

3:3 Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore, if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.

To Remember How he Received

The Lord Jesus Christ told the angel of the church in Sardis, “Remember therefore how you have received and heard” (Rev. 3:3). He needed to go back to the truths of the word of God, remembering the gospel and the teaching of the apostles. Paul’s letters and the New Testament were available before writing the Book of Revelation (2 Pet. 3:15–16).

The church’s angel in Sardis needed to reaffirm his belief in the truth about Christ, sin, salvation, and sanctification. In Paul’s words to Timothy, he asked him to guard what had been entrusted to them (1 Tim. 6:20). He needed to establish a solid doctrinal foundation to serve as a base for renewal.

To Hold Fast

Having gone back to the truths of Scripture, he needed to “hold fast” (Rev. 3:3) to keep those truths. Thus, orthodox theology, apart from obedient lives, will not bring about renewal.

To Repent

Finally, he needed to “repent” (Rev. 3:3). Thus, the church’s angel at Sardis must confess and turn away from his sins with remorse and sorrow.

If revival did not come, Christ warned him, “Therefore, if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you” (Rev. 3:3). The picture of the Lord Jesus Christ coming like a thief always carries the idea of imminent judgment (Matt. 24:43; Luke 12:39; 1 Thess. 5:2,4; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 16:15).

The threat here is not related to His Second Coming. It means the Lord would come against the angel of the church in Sardis if there were no revival. It can also be a warning of the judgment that faces all dead churches at Christ’s return.

The only way to avoid the stricter judgment that awaits those who know the truth and turn away from it (Heb. 10:29–30) is to follow the path to spiritual life.

The Commendation

3:4 You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.

The Remnant

Amid this dead church, the Lord Jesus Christ found a few true Christians who remained faithful to Him, for God’s preserves His faithful remnant (Mal. 3:16–17; Heb. 6:10). The faithful remnant is a frequent theme in Scripture, as it also happened in the days of Elijah (Rom. 11:1–6).

God had His remnant even in the dead church at Sardis. A few were sincere among the hypocrites, a few humble among the proud, a few separated among the worldly, and a few stalks of wheat among the tares.

Christ described the faithful remnant as those who “have not defiled [soiled] their garments” (Rev. 3:3). “Soiled” was a word that would have been familiar to readers in Sardis because of the city’s wool-dyeing industry. “Garments” symbolize character in Scripture (Isa. 64:6; Jude 23).

The faithful remnant could come into God’s presence because they had not defiled themselves. They “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14). Christ says of the faithful remnant that “they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy” (Rev. 3:4).

The Counsel

3:5 He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life, but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.

As encouragement, Christ described the rewards awaiting those who overcome as white garments. The Lord Jesus Christ Himself (Matt. 17:2; Mark 9:3) and the holy angels (Matt. 28:3; Mark 16:5; Acts 1:10; Rev. 19:8) were dressed in white garments when they appeared. The white clothes express the purity, holiness, and righteousness of God.

True Christians, as already noted, will be clothed in white garments. In ancient times, people dressed such garments for celebrations and festive occasions such as weddings. The Spirit calls the faithful remnant to the heavenly banquet, “the marriage supper of the Lamb!” (Rev. 19:9), where true Christians will wear their white garments (Rev. 19:7–9).

The martyrs under the altar in heaven (Rev. 6:11) and the great multitudes of the victorious standing before God and the Lamb dressed in white clothes (Rev. 7:9,13).

Christ promised those faithful remnants that He would not blot out their names from the Book of Life. Instead, He will confess them before God and before His angels (Rev. 3:5).

In St. John’s day, rulers kept a register of the citizens of a city. If someone died or committed a serious crime, they erase his name from that register. But the Lord Jesus Christ promises never to erase a faithful Christian’s name from the roll of those whose names were “written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (Rev. 13:8).

On the contrary, the Lord Jesus Christ will confess every believer’s name before His Father and before His angels (Rev. 3:5), declaring they belong to Him. Here Christ affirmed His promise, “Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32). 

3:6 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

The letter to Sardis ends, like the other six, with an appeal to heed the counsel, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 3:6). The spiritually dead church needed to heed Christ’s warning. The indifferent believers were required to wake up before it was too late to save their church. Until Christ returns, it is not too late for other dead churches to find the path to spiritual renewal


[1] Simmons, Brian. Revelation: The Unveiling of the Lord Jesus Christ, The Passion Translation. Broad Street Publishing Group LLC.

[2] Rev. 8:2; 8:6; 15:1; 15:6; 15:7; 15:8; 16:1; 17:1; 21:9

 

Excerpt from: Revealing the Father through the Book of Revelation, by Hegumen Abraam Sleman, With God's grace, the book is available on Amazon. I would be blessed if you could get a copy of the book and review it. For more information about the book, please visit frsleman.net. I am looking forward to hearing your feedback. Pray for me!

Blessings to you,

Fr. Abraam Sleman
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