Sardis was a city prone to pride. It was the first city to mint gold and silver coins. It was famous for its architecture. The acropolis rose 80 feet above the northern section of the city. The temple to Artemis equaled the size of the one in Ephesus, but it was never completed. Sardis also had a Necropolis which bore the name, “The Cemetery of One Thousand Hills” owing to the thousands of burial mounds which were visible on its skyline. In contrast to the turbulent areas where the churches of Smyrna and Philadelphia were located, the church at Sardis co-existed peacefully with both their pagan and Jewish neighbors. It appeared that Sardis was destined for a long, wealthy and healthy life as a city. But Sardis was safe only in appearance. The great earthquake of 17 A. D. ruined Sardis both financially and physically. Although Rome sent a huge amount of money for aid, the city never really recovered. Sardis looked good on the outside but it in every other way it was in decay. Likewise, the believers in Sardis may have looked strong and healthy on the outside but in Rev. 3:1-6, Jesus sends them a strong message: WAKE UP!
Jesus’ reproof to the church of Sardis contains a variety of local associations. Many of the prominent local pagan religions focused on the seasons and the renewing of life. Also, one might see the contrast between the hill of the living (the Acropolis) and the hills of the dead (the Necropolis). Even the physical appearance of Sardis bore the mark of a city that was once alive but was now dead in that the evidence of the earthquake was never fully removed from its landscape. The contrasting images of life and death represented the believers of Sardis who appeared alive, but were actually dead (v.1).
Jesus warns the church that He is coming and they must prepare themselves for His return. Lack of preparation will result in an unexpected visit, like a thief in the night (v.3). His warning is similar to warnings of other scriptures (Matt. 24:43; Lk. 12:39; 1 Thes. 5:2; 2 Pet. 3:10; Rev. 16:15). Sardis had prided itself in the past on the fact that it had never been conquered by war. But twice it had been overtaken by surprise: first by the Persians in 549 B. C., and a second time three centuries later, by the Romans. Sardis had fallen because it failed to watch its borders adequately. Now the Christians were being warned not to fall prey to the same kind of complacency. In contrast to the uncompleted temple to Artemis, Christ exhorts the believers in Sardis to “complete their deeds in the sight of God” (v.2).
In closing a word of encouragement is spoken to those who have “not soiled their clothes” (v.4). Another local characteristic is pictured here. A great woolen industry flourished at Sardis. Those who overcame in Sardis need not fear approaching Christ in soiled clothes, which was an offensive thing in pagan religions. Instead Christ promises to dress them in white (v.4), that their name will not be erased from the Book of Life (Rev. 20:12-15), and that He will confess the name of the believer before God the Father and His angels (Mt. 10:29-33; Lk. 12:8-9; Rev. 3:5). In other words their perseverance will keep them spiritually alive.
The question set before us today is “Do we have the appearance of being alive when we’re actually dead?” The questions Christ asked the believers in Sardis can be posed to us too. Are we remembering what we have seen and heard in God’s Word (v.3)? Have we persevered and not become complacent in protecting our “spiritual borders” (v.2)? In Matthew 25, Jesus tells three sobering parables about His return. His warning to the church at Sardis reminds us of the first parable- the Parable of the Virgins (Mt. 25:13; Rev. 3:3). But the other two parables (the Talents and the Sheep and Goats) remind us to pay attention to our actions for they truly represent what we believe about Christ and they stand as a testimony to both God and man as to how we live what we believe. Let’s make sure we are worthy to receive the rewards (v.4) which Christ has promised to those who are faithful!
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 11/26/2017