Seven Churches - Sardis
The fifth study about the seven churches of Revelation is concerning the letter to the church at Sardis.
To the Church in Sardis - Revelation 3:1-6 .....'And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; these things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.'
The Sardis period of the church is thought to commence at the time of the Protestant reformation in the 16th century and end when the Roman Catholic Church losts its power in 1798.
Jesus says that this church "has a name, but is dead". This is fitting for the time of the church after the Protestant reformation, during which the evils and false teachings of the Roman Church had been exposed and the Protestant church became great throughout the world and had a "name" that was exalted with the precious truths that God had revealed to the people of this time. Salvation by faith in Christ Jesus! What greater name can a church have than this!
So why did Christ say that this church is "dead"? Coming out of the formalism and error of Rome, the people of this church should have been alive in Christ and ever moving forward in their faith. But no, Christ says they are dead! Why? Decades after the reformation began, doctrinal differences began to separate the churches, and new denominational churches began to form. Eventually, differences of opinion were settled by the adoption of definitive creeds that tended to discourage the search for important additional truths. As well as this, a "counter reformation" had begun by the Roman Catholic Jesuits to "re-interpret" scripture and invent new doctrines in order obscure the truth again. This worked very well, unfortunately, as even today many of the false teachings invented by the Jesuits still abound and are held in high regard by many professing Christians. Teachings like the rapture, where Christians believe that Christ is going to secretly rapture away the church before He physically returns to earth. The teaching concerning Israel in end times prophecy, where Christians believe that end time prophecy is centered in the Middle East, concerning the literal nation of Israel. And also the teaching concerning the Bible antichrist, where Christians have rejected the great light that God gave the early Protestant reformers and now embrace a future antichrist theology. Amongst many other false teachings.
Now when God reveals precious truths to us, we are not to say, "I have aquired enough truth now, I do not need any more." This is what happened to the majority of people in the Protestant churches during this time period. They settled upon their "great name" and chose not to seek further precious truths that God was wanting to open up to them. And this is the state of the Protestant world today. Many believe that all they need to do is "believe" in Jesus and they will be saved. They reject the Biblical teaching of self-denial and turning away from sin, obedience and doing good works, in favour of being saved by "believing" only and "onced saved always saved".
"Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent."
Jesus is telling this church to strengthen the things that remain, to seek new truths, to "hold fast" the truths that God had given them during the reformation and move forward in their new faith. Jesus had not found their works perfect because even though the early years of Protestantism gave great promise of turning away from the error of Rome and pressing forward toward perfection in Christ Jesus, in understanding revealed truth and applying it to their lives. That initial zeal waned and nearly died. Which is why Jesus is warning them to repent, to remember what they had received, to hold fast, and strengthen the truths that remained.
"If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee."
We need to be ever watching and waiting for our Lord and Saviour. We need to watch "lest we enter into temptation". We need to watch for the signs of His coming. Because if we do not watch, we will be caught unawares and end up being lost.
Christ says that there are a few people in this church who have not "defiled their garments". These would include the original great Protestant reformers like Wycliffe and Luther who, once God had revealed new truths to them, they lived according to those truths, and exposed the errors of Rome. There were also those who lived up to the faith and truth that they had received. They didn't just settle for what they had received. They were ever searching for new truths, daily studying God's Word like the Bereans of old. These, Christ promises, will be clothed in white raiment and will walk with Him in the Kingdom. The sad part is in the fact that there were only "FEW" who held true to their faith during this church age, considering the great promise from where it began!
"Lonely Christian, with none of like precious faith with whom to commune, do you ever feel as if the hosts of the unbelievers would swallow you up? You are not unnoticed or forgotten by your Lord. The multitude of the wicked around you cannot be so great as to hide you from his view: and if you keep yourself unspotted from surrounding evil, the promise is sure to you. You shall be clothed in white, - the white raiment of the overcomer, - and walk with your Lord in glory." (Uriah Smith, Daniel and Revelation, p 392-395)
"He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life."
This is an interesting promise, as it shows one of the major Protestant doctrines of today to be false. Many believers think that once you are in a saved position, you CANNOT lose your salvation. But the fact that Jesus says He will NOT blot out your name if you overcome, SHOWS that you CAN have your name taken out of the book of life. What does it mean to have your name IN the book of life? It means you are in a saved position. What does it mean to have your name blotted out of the book? It means you have LOST your salvation. Pretty clear.
We CAN lose our salvation if we do not live up to the faith we proclaim.
So what should we learn from this study of the Sardis church? We need to learn that we cannot settle for the truths we already know and say, "that is enough for me, I do not need anymore truth", because this kind of thinking will lead to a stale faith that goes nowhere. We MUST press on in our faith, holding onto the precious truths that we already have and strengthen them through daily Bible study and being open and ready to learn more truths that God has in store for us. We must be ever willing to leave "traditions" behind in favor of new revealed truth. We must be clothed with the righteousness of Christ and allow Him to transform our characters into His likeness. We must be ever watching and waiting for our Lord!
This concludes the Bible study on the fifth of the seven churches of Revelation - Sardis. For the Bible study on the next church, see Seven Churches of Revelation - Philadelphia