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Lesson Six • The Church at Sardis

Dr. Randy T. Johnson

The city of Sardis was notable for three main things (Alan Johnson, “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary”). First, it had a temple to Artemis which equaled the size of the famous temple of Artemis in Ephesus. It is not as well-known because the one in Sardis was never finished.

Second, the city of Sardis was known for its necropolis. This was referred to as a cemetery of “a thousand hills” because of the hundreds of burial mounds visible on the skyline some seven miles from Sardis.

Third, the city of Sardis was known for its impressive acropolis. This fortified structure provided a militarily strategic advantage. The acropolis rose about eight hundred feet and was virtually impregnable because of its rock walls, which were nearly vertical. The city was often attacked but only captured twice. In the sixth century B.C., Cyrus desired to attack Sardis. A Persian soldier observed a soldier of Sardis descending a hidden winding path to retrieve his fallen helmet. The Persians followed his path back up to the summit and captured the whole city, taking them quite by surprise.

Revelation 3:1 addresses the church at Sardis, “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”’’

1. Does the church at Sardis receive a compliment?

The only compliment that appears stated for the church at Sardis is that they had a good reputation. They were believed by others to be alive and healthy. The Lord sees this church differently. William Ramsay describes them, “No city of Asia at that time showed such a melancholy contrast between past splendor and present decay as Sardis.”

Revelation 3:1-2 records the criticism concerning the church at Sardis, “I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.”

2. What is the criticism against this church?

3. What could be some examples of what goes on at a church like this one?

Matthew 23:27-28 says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”

4. How does this passage relate?

Paul says something similar in Ephesians 5:14, “For anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’”

5. How does this passage give hope to those who are sleeping?

Revelation 3:3-4 gives the command to the church at Sardis, “Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.”

6. What command is given to the church?

7. What does “soiled their garments” mean?

8. How could that image apply to use today?

Finally, Revelation 3:5-6 gives the consequence of making the right choice, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

9. What promises are given to the ones who conquer?

John Walvoord makes an encouraging insight, “The statement that their names will not be erased from the book of life presents a problem to some. But a person who is truly born again remains regenerate.” He continues, “While this passage may imply that a name could be erased from the book of life, actually it only gives a positive affirmation that their names will not be erased.”

Several passages support this claim.

• “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” John 5:24

• “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.’” John 6:35-37

• “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” John 6:39

• “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” John 10:28-29

Alan Johnson gives a cultural insight and perspective, “The pure relationship to Christ is permanently guaranteed: ‘I will never erase his name from the book of life.’ In ancient cities the names of citizens were recorded in a register till their death; then their names were erased or marked out of the book of the living.” Paige Patterson adds, “In Athens the name of a condemned person was deleted from the town registers prior to the execution of that individual.”

For Christ to say that he will never blot out or erase the conqueror’s name from the book of life is the strongest affirmation that death can never separate us from Christ and his life.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

10. How can one get their name in the “book of life”?

“And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:15