Its name Sardis has three meanings: ‘1-prince of joy’ but not God’s joy, ‘2-that which
remains’ and ‘3-those escaping.’ Sardis, also spelled Sardes, in Turkey’s Manisa Province and it’s
currently known as modern Sart. It’s about 50-60 miles (i.e., 80-90 km) west of present İzmir of Turkey where Ancient Smyrna was and about 30 miles (or 50km) southeast of Thyatira. Towards the west side of Sardis is where River Pactolus flows, a river famous as it contains gold dust from Mount Tmolus. Currently, this city is uninhabited and left with much historical ruins.
History of Sardis
Sardis was the capital of the Ancient Lydian Empire which stood on the northern slope of Mount Tmolus. Its pride was in its military position atop a high hill of about 1,500ft (480m) making it a fortress on the mountain. Its wide and fertile land was brought about by the River Hermus, two miles northwards. Later, it was conquered by the Persian Empire under King Cyrus the Great and followed by the Greeks, under Alexander the Great, in 334BC and in around 214BC the Seleucid Empire, Antiochus III the Great, captured it. The city of Sardis source of water comes from this river and this river is known for its golden sands of which gold was discovered near its banks. As a result of this, Sardis became very rich. It was also a place where gold and silver were minted into coins and many other stuffs. On top of being rich in gold, the early Lydian kingdom was known to be very advance in manufacturing. Its chief trade included the making of dye, the dyeing of delicate materials especially for the houses of the rich like carpets. In fact, the art of dyeing wool could have been invented there. In the ancient world, gold nuggets panned or mined were used as currency and most of which was an alloy of gold and silver where the percentage of silver and gold could not be determined. It was in Sardis that the discovery of separating of silver from gold started during the reign of King Croesus. Thus historically, Sardis was where modern currency like coins were first invented in Asia Minor. In 17 AD, an earthquake destroyed Sardis and the Romans allow the people there to rebuild this city and the Romans even made a town below the hill. In fact, Emperor Tiberius remitted the taxes and the people there were exempted from paying taxes for five years for them to rebuild the city. Thus, to honor Emperor Tiberius, the citizens of Sardis and the neighboring towns erected a large monument of him there. Sardis was one of the great cities of western Asia Minor until a new route was built on the eastern Asia Minor where Constantinople became the capital of the East. That caused Sardis to lose its importance during the Byzantine times.
Sardis was a large city with big population – people came mainly for trading. It was super wealthy, one of the richest cities of the ancient world and also a place where certain famous poets and authors lived. One example is Aesop, who wrote Aesop Fables.
It was also a city centre for the worship of Greek Goddess Artemis, an equivalent to Roman goddess Diana, the fertility god. A great temple of Artemis was erected in the city. Pagan worship impacted every aspect of their daily life in their society. Besides the gold found near the bank of River Pactolus, the ancient city was also known for other products like fruits and wool. It had the largest Jewish Synagogue outside Palestine. According to historians, the luxury of this synagogue could be seen from its mosaic remains where the most impressive was its marble court entrance. This huge synagogue was just side by side to the gymnasium where nude athletes would compete. The Roman culture, similar to the Greek, values the beauty of naked bodies as Art. After the sports or games in the gymnasium, the athletes would go to the Roman bathhouse situated just across it. At the Roman bath house, it’s where male prostitutes could be found. So, you can think what could happen there, right?
Moving on, let’s look at the church of Sardis. How did the church in Sardis started? There was no evidence to show who founded the church. Some stated that the gospel could have spread to it from Ephesus (referencing to Acts 19:10) Apparently, the church of Sardis integrated harmoniously into the Roman culture. The Christians in Sardis practiced inclusiveness of the Roman Empire which had many gods and goddesses; and also, they worshipped any non-Roman pagan god.
Exclusiveness would be deemed as intolerant. Well, it is important then for us to examine our lives to make sure we do not compromise our faith with that of the world. Living in bliss is wonderful, but if it is by compromising our faith with that of the world and devil, then this “bliss” is certainly not a blessing but a curse. This synagogue was located right next to the Roman Gymnasium which was considered offensive to the Jews since Gymnasium was a place where competitions were held in nude. By them having their synagogue right next to this gymnasium confirmed that they have chosen the easy way out by blending into the world, not only avoiding all persecution, but also maintain personal comfort and prosperity.
In Revelation 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. Also in Revelation 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. It is interesting that the names of those who overcome are mentioned. This is significant given the fact that Sardis has her name changed twice: Once after the AD17 earthquake where Emperor Tiberius was honoured, During the excavation of Sardis, a synagogue was discovered. From the pillars at the synagogue was found written the names of the Jews, but instead of written in Hebrew, it was written in Greek. This was the sure sign that the believers at Sardis have chosen to compromise and blend in to all the pagan practices. You see, for the Jews, names are very significant and they would not change it since it was a source of their identity and destiny. Therefore, when Jesus mentioned that there are few names and also confessing these names, this marked their identity and final destiny. Not only that, Jesus promised those who did not defile their garments; symbolizing those who had compromised their faith, and that they will be clothed in white garments; a sign of worthiness. Also, during the Romans era, white was a symbol of triumph. In other words,
to be given the white garments for those who overcame, Jesus was declaring their ultimate
triumph in Him.
Isaiah 61:10 says, “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness”
In short, the church of Sardis was compromising and thus they integrated well in the polytheist culture and was reputed as alive. As a result, they thought that they were doing well according to their own human standards and their own ways. Yet, Jesus said they had soiled or stained their garments, meaning contaminated by the environment. What a contradiction! Can you see how easily deceived humans can be! And it is for this reason, we must be plugged in to a church community so that we can encourage, spur, and hold each other accountable. That’s right. We need to be grounded in a church with a community of believers. Afterall, Jesus is coming back for His bride, the church and not a stand-alone isolated person.
Rev 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.
Here, Jesus addressed himself as one who has ‘the seven spirits’ and ‘the seven stars’. The seven spirits is found in Rev 1:4 as ‘the seven spirits before God’s throne’. The ‘seven spirits’ represents Holy Spirit in His fullness or completeness. As we grow and mature in Christ, we grow in the traits of the Holy Spirit until the fullness of the Holy Spirit is formed in us. In other words, we become more and more like Jesus who has the fullness of the Holy Spirit. How do we know? It is explained in Eph 3:16-19 & Col 2:9-10.
Eph 3:16-19 where Paul prayed for them to ‘be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height -19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
Col 2:9-10a “9 For in Him (Jesus) dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him (Jesus)”
In the same verse, Jesus also called himself as one who ’has the seven stars’ – which we have learnt are the messengers of these seven churches in Revelation. These 7 churches as a whole is a representation of all churches in this world.
In the second part of Rev 3:1, Jesus says, “I know your works. You have a name of being alive, but you are dead’
Jesus knows their work/deeds, He knows all our work too. Their work had gained them earthly reputation to be alive. This tells us that Sardis church was well known as a very vibrant church; one that was doing good works and likely a happy church – sounds good, right? BUT to God, it’s DEAD! How shocking! What is dead? No life. Jesus says that He has come to give us life, life in abundance. This life is through the Holy Spirit living in us – yet, this church has no life, which also means void of the Holy Spirit. They are operating in their flesh to gain earthly praises. The work God desired is ‘work of faith’ and ‘labour of love’ as mentioned in 1 Thess 1:3. Our work are not for gaining status or praises of men. #Let’s be reminded to constantly ask ourselves why we are serving; why we are doing what we do. Is it ‘work of faith’ and ‘labour of love’? Do we do because we love God or is it for the appreciation from men? If our motivation is not right, just go to God, repent and get things right first.
Don’t be led by our emotions, not even our hearts cos the Bible said that our hearts are deceitful and wicked and God sees our hearts & tests our minds (Jer 17:9-10). He’s omniscience, He knows. Let Jesus, who is also the Word through His Holy Spirit is in us, lead our hearts. Be led by the Holy Spirit, not our emotions, nor our hearts. Emotions, not only will lead us into deception, but also to self-deception. For today we’ll take a closer look at self-deception.
As we are in the last days, deception and self-deception will increase. Self-deception can be a deadly snare to all mankind. What is self-deception? In short, it’s a self-believed false positive or a molded mindset/emotion to keep believing in a specific lie. How does self-deception come about?
The emotional bond to a certain mindset is very strong as emotions make the person feels good about the lie or the false positive which they believe as true, Then, self-deception is forged. How self-deception stays on someone:
1) As long as one does not humble oneself; one chooses not to be corrected by God, nor corrected by the Word of God, nor godly counsel in line with God’s word. Self-deception will remain.
2) As long as one keeps one’s emotion attached to the lie or false thinking and simply choose to rationalize/reason this false positive, self-deception will persist. We must always remind ourselves not to rationalize anything that contradicts God’s words so as to make it seems right. God never needs a helping hand from us, He needs our obedience and submission for Him to accomplish His will in our lives.
3) Finally, self-deception will remain to hold one in bondage if one continues to give earthly reasons or excuses, clinging on to them and refuses to acknowledge it. It’s toughest when it becomes your mindset.
Is it easy to get rid of self-deception? NO, it is not easy at all. Why? Firstly, you may not even know it unless someone tells you. Secondly, it’s not easy to cut off emotional attachment to anything. But in Christ, we have the victory. Jesus can set captives free and He can set us free. Choose to be humble, be accountable, be teachable and give room for Godly correction that aligns to God’s word and His will. Be led by God so that nothing can hold us captive.
#So today, repent and get rid of anything that doesn’t align with God’s word & leave no room for self-deception. Whatever contradicts God’s Word, do away with it – whether it’s a behavior or a habit or culture, we just have to do away with it. Choose to humble ourselves and ask God to expose any falsehood and show us if there’s anything in our lives that does not align with His Word, or His ways. It’s for our good to humbly make room for godly counsel or godly correction so that we leave no room for self-deception.
Take-home Point No. 1-
Leave no room for self-deception – Be humble and make room for Godly counsel
Moving on to Rev 3:2, “Wake up (or be watchful KJV), and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works perfect/complete before God or in God’s sight.”
A closer look into the different versions of translations for the word ‘wake up’ or ‘be watchful’: The Greek word is Grēgoreō which means to keep watch, to be cautious/vigilant, or to take heed lest through remission and indolence, some destructive calamity suddenly overtakes one. That’s to say, God wanted them to wake up and be watchful or be prepared. What does it mean to be watchful or be prepared? It’s to watch our attitude, our behaviours and our ways – make sure we don’t bear grudges or harbor any unforgiveness or have ill feelings of people; make sure we don’t compromise or have any form of idolatry; make sure we have oil in our lamp daily. Oil represents the anointing of the Holy Spirit and lamp is the Word of God. Make sure we have God’s words in our hearts and we’re aligned with His Words and His Ways. Allow the Holy Spirit in us to lead us, to transform us to mature in Christ. Remember in Matt 25, the parable of the ten virgins? Let’s be like the wise virgins who always keep watched or be prepared. So,
Take-home Point No. 2- Live right – Be watchful [of our attitude, our behaviour and our ways]
In the same verse Rev 3:2, Jesus also says, “strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete (or perfect KJV) in the sight of my God” That’s to say, God found their works unacceptable to Him – Why? Because these were work of the flesh done according to their own ways, not in obedience to Him. They are neither ‘works of faith, nor labour of love for God’ (1 Thess 1:3). They are done to build their reputation and to be praised by men. Although they have gone off-track, yet God was gracious to want them to get back on track before it’s too late where the remains also die. Their spiritual condition was extremely bad but not hopeless. Our God is a God of Hope. HE does not give up on us. Yet, very often, one gives up on himself/herself by refusing to repent and return to God, by refusing to humbly acknowledge that he/she needs Him. God is love and love hopes all things, endures all things, love never ends. BUT we need to humble ourselves and repent and return to Him in order to get back on track, to be restored, to be blessed. It only takes one step to come back to God.
#Today, if you have distanced from God and gone off-track, it’s time to come back. If you have gone your own ways chasing after pleasure and worldly things, come back, repent and get back on track. Don’t continue in your own self-seeking way. It’s God’s heart desire to get you back on track and on the right track. It only takes one step back. So,
2- Live right – Be watchful [of our attitude, our behavior and our ways]
Continued on Rev 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’
Jesus wants them to remember how they had received His Word, the Truth, to remember the sound doctrines taught to them. Not only receive, we need to keep His Words in our hearts (Ps 119:11). Also, the Holy Spirit and our belief in the truth sanctify us (2 Thess 2:13).
Be like the Bereans as mentioned in Acts 17:10-12, receiving the word of God with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures diligently.
Continuing Rev 3:3b 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’ meaning if they don’t, judgment will come to them like a thief without them knowing.
For Sardis, apart from taking pride in their wealth, the other prominent problem was the pride of their so-called impregnable fortress built by the wealthy Lydian king Croesus. King Croesus believed that this fortress was consecrated by ancient prophecies to never be captured. This is another deception, a superstition.
Going on to Rev 3:4-5 “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled (soiled/stained) 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.”
> Jesus would walk with and cloth the few who have not soiled their garments meaning they were not contaminated by compromising with the world, nor by living like the pagans.
Here, we also know that OVERCOMERS will be clothed in white garments, and JESUS will NEVER blot his name out of the book of life. In ancient times, victory procession would have all the followers dressed in white robes in celebration but for the few Sardis overcomers, they will march in a heavenly procession in white robes clothed by Jesus. It paints the picture of Jesus with His Bride (the church, the overcomers).
Again, the mercy of God is evident. God’s heart is always for sinners to repent and return to Him, and not to blot out their names from the book of life. For His desire is that none shall perish; YET He always gives man a choice. HE will NEVER force us.
#How about you and me? Are we like these few or are we like the majority who are stained by the ways of this world? Do we follow what the world does – chasing after the material stuff and pleasures? Chasing after wealth, power, status or any other worldly things? These will wear us out and cause us to lose sight of God’s purpose for us, that is, to be a polished vessel where His blessings can flow to touch lives, to win souls for eternity.
*A very important reminder for ourselves is ‘Don’t be caught in a lifestyle of comfort and convenience in this temporal world.’
Coming back to the church of Sardis, do you think they started that way? Dead right from the beginning? No, I don’t think so! They were first stained by the things of this world; and as they continued to flow along, they follow along. Little by little, the poison of this world got on to them till they were almost completely dead in the Spirit.
Remember Jesus said, a little yeast works through the dough and we need to purge out the leaven so that it won’t hinder us from obeying the truth. (See 1 Cor 5:6-7; Gal 5:7-9)
I believe the church of Sardis did not get into such a terrible stage overnight. It’s always little by little. It brings to mind Psalms 1:1-2 NKJV “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; 2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
This verse tells us that in order to be blessed by God, do not let any of these 3 things happened and taking a closer look, I realized it could be little by little, stage by stage: First, one starts to walk in the counsel of the ungodly/pagans by listening to their advice. After that, one stands with them (those who lives a sinful lifestyle) in the same path by agreeing and accepting their ways. It gets so comfortable that finally, one sits in the seat of the scoffers and mock others like they do. Maybe, even mock Jesus with ways and actions by adopting what the ungodly do; even things that’s against God’s words. In doing so, there’s no longer any delight in God, nor any delight in His laws. Thus, little by little, stage by stage, sin including self-deception can get on us. So, let’s not only check our hearts to uproot any deception, but also check our garments to make sure it’s not stained by worldliness.
That’s to say, for the church of Sardis, little by little, through the years, from the lack of communication with God, perhaps no concern for God’s Word or the Gospel, more concern of earthly and worldly things than God’s. Then compromising and bringing these compromises into the church; such gradual poisoning had killed them. They had forgotten God, forgotten the Cross, forgotten the great commission, forgotten their whole purpose on this earth and the worst was: They had forgotten Jesus and lowered Jesus to such an unworthy place or perhaps, even no place in their lives as compared to the world. Does Jesus have His rightful place in our lives? in our church? For their personal convenience, physical comfort, peace, pleasure and prosperity in this world, the majority in Sardis church were so self-deceived, thinking that they were doing great, reputed as alive but was actually dead. They have reduced God to almost no place in their lives and in the church.
#Let’s check our hearts – Have we compromise God’s word or His ways, little by little?
Are there areas we need to come to God and repent? Do you serve God only if it’s convenience? Does Jesus really have His rightful place in our lives? In our church?
Many years back, I remembered one day in my time with God, I asked God this question, ’How do you see me?’. God asked me back, ‘Child, how do you see ME?” I could not answer so I took time to ponder over it for days. Well, we first need to know in our hearts ‘How do we see GOD?’ Each one of us need to ask ourselves: How do I see GOD? “Do I treasure or value GOD? Do I really see God as one who is most worthy of the highest respect, the highest praise? Or have I reduced Him to my servant that I will be upset whenever HE doesn’t give me what I want; or whenever HE disagrees with what I think; or whenever HE makes things happened not according to my ways? At times, it happens to me. Hey, don’t tell me it does not happen to you. Com’ on – let’s be honest. Are we not similar to the church of Sardis who has their fleshly and worldly ways instead of God’s ways? Excavations showed the paganistic decorations on the walls and floors and around their Synagogue. History told us about their worldly lifestyle of compromise? How could God be pleased? Who was Christ to them? Just another one of the many idols there. Scriptures clearly tell us that our God is a jealous god – we shall have no other gods besides Him. JESUS will not remain there when HE’s not given the rightful place. As a matter of fact, He does not need us but because He loved us, that’s why He comes to us. But, Jesus will never tolerate, nor compromise sin and darkness.
Jesus won’t be there if He’s not given the rightful place. So,
3-Let JESUS take His rightful place (in our lives & in our church)
#Even in serving God, please don’t be like those who think that serving God is doing Him any favour, or doing someone or the church any favour; we serve because we love Him. The wrong motive in serving is incomplete works, works of the flesh. We don’t serve for status, nor out of convenience, nor feeling obliged to. We serve because we want to be the vessel HE can use for HIS glory.
Let JESUS take His rightful place, the highest place in our lives. Let’s give GOD the glory and honour that’s He’s worthy of.
While Ephesus left their first love; Pergamum brought the world into the church; Thyatira tolerated sin; Sardis was directly the opposite of Smyrna. Smyrna was persecuted to the point of death, yet alive in Christ; Smyrna was in physical poverty yet rich in Christ; BUT Sardis was reputed to be alive, yet Jesus himself said that the church was dead and what was left was going to die. Sardis was then super wealthy in this world but bankrupt in God. If they don’t repent, God will leave them alone till judgment comes except for the few mentioned. Even the devil will leave them alone, there’s nothing for the devil to steal, kill or destroy. The devil will leave them to rot by itself. Yes. It is very pathetic! A solemn lesson to learn from them.
- Humble ourselves and pray: Ask God to expose any self-deception and deal with it.
• Reflect and check ourselves if God has the rightful place in us and is HE, and only HE is our refuge and strength or are we depending on our flesh. I suggest that you discuss with your disciple/ fellow believers.