The bath-gymnasium complex at the archaeological site of Sardis - Wikimedia Comons


Previous: Revelation 2:26

To Sardis 3:1-6 (Reformation Church 1517- Mid 1700's)

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. 2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. 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. 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. 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.
6 "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."'

Next, Jesus addressed the pastor of the fifth church: "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write..."

In the 8th Century BC, Sardis was the capital city of Lydia, a stronghold of western Asia Minor (modern Turkey) between the emerging empires of the Persians and the Greeks. It was located in the Hermus Valley, about 50 miles east of Smyrna.

The Pactolus River flowed through its market place and sparkled with gold dust carried from Mt. Tmolus, a source of gold and silver. From 595 BC to 547 BC King Croesus became rich and famous because of the discovery by metallurgists of a way to separate gold from silver, and improve the purity of both. Sardis is known as the place where modern currency was invented. They were able to produce gold coins that had a consistent purity.

Part of the city was built on a rocky spur of Mount Tmolus. It was well fortified and easily defended. In fact, historians say that the only times invading armies were able to enter the city were when the unworried citizens were too sure of their safety and too involved with comfortable living to even post a guard at the steep face of the mountain that invaders had to climb.

Ruins of the ancient city have been excavated for tourists to see. One of the most impressive features is the huge bath/ gymnasium. This structure, built soon after the time of this letter, illustrates the luxurious lifestyle that may have led the citizens to complacency.

During the expansion of the Persian Empire, Sardis was conquered by Cyrus the Great. It became the terminus of the Persian Royal Road which began in Persepolis, the capital of the Empire.

The most impressive building of ancient Sardis would have been its massive Temple of Artemis (Diana), which was built in the fourth century BC. It was the fourth largest Ionic temple in the world, measuring 327 feet long and 163 feet wide. It had 78 Ionic columns that were 58 feet high. Some of these are still standing today. As we noticed during our study of Ephesus (see the notes on chapter 2, verse 1), the worship of this pagan goddess was very immoral.

Sardis is only mentioned in Revelation 1:11 and in this brief letter. It is not found in the list of churches planted by the Apostle Paul and his associates in the Book of Acts. However, it is likely that it began with Paul's evangelism in Ephesus and the other cities in Asia. Demetrius, a silversmith who made images of the goddess Diana complained,

Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. - Acts 19:26

In the study of Church History, Sardis represents the period of the Reformation, from 1517 until the mid-1700's, when the great revivals and modern missions movement began. We will consider this in the next verse.


'These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars:' - Revelation 3:1b

The message begins on a stern note: "These things says..." The importance of what one says depends on the authority of the one who is speaking. A good parent can say things to an errant child that no one else has the right to say. The child may not realize the importance of those words, but if not, he or she is unwise, and heading for trouble.

Jesus reveals Himself to this church as "He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars." As seen in chapter 1, verse 4, the expression "Seven Spirits" refers to The Holy Spirit, and the seven stars, refer to the pastors of the seven churches (chapter 1, verses 16 to 20). These images indicate His sovereignty and His right to tell them to repent and change their ways.


"I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive - Revelation 3:1c-d

Just as He said to each of the churches, Jesus reminded them, "I know your works." Of course He knew what was in their hearts as well (John 2:24-25), but this constant reference to their works illustrates the proverbial concept that "As a man thinks, in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7). In fact, Jesus taught this same principle:

45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

"But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say? - Luke 6:45-46

In more recent times English Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher expressed this idea with these words:

Watch your thoughts for they become words. Watch your words for they become actions. Watch your actions for they become... habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny! What we think we become.

See the notes on "works" in chapter 2, verse 2 and verse 26.

Jesus told them, "You have a name that you are alive." Some commentators feel that this is not really a commendation because, even though they gave the appearance of vitality, they no longer had any spiritual enthusiasm.

In earlier days, when they first received the Gospel, they must have been full of life. And perhaps they had still been excited about spiritual things for some time. But, like many churches in our own generation, their reputation rested on previous accomplishments - perhaps great Bible teaching, community outreach, and missionary zeal. Those days were past, but they were still known for their earlier activities.


"But you are dead." - Revelation 3:1e

Unfortunately, in spite of their good reputation, Jesus had to say, "But you are dead." We discussed death earlier as a "separation." See the notes on chapter 1, verse 18. Spiritual death is separation of man's spirit from God. That is the condition of those who have not yet received Christ as Savior. They are dead - separated from God because of their sins (Ephesians 2:1). In a church like this one at Sardis, people may still be attending services and perpetuating the boring rituals, but they don't experience the presence of the Lord Jesus and the fullness of the Holy Spirit. What they do on Sunday does not have a great impact on how they live the rest of the week.

Next: Revelation 3:1c,d


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