Sardis: The Church in Reform

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 restored Roman gymnasium at Sardis.

The restored Roman gymnasium at Sardis.

Sardis (today called Sart) was the capital of the province of Lydia, situated some 40 kilometers southwest of Thyatira. The city stood on a hill, and at the foot of that hill were the temples of Artemis and Zeus.

In view of Sardis’ location and natural protections, the people of Sardis considered the city impregnable. They felt so secure that their guard was not always up in time of crisis. History reveals that the city was conquered without resistance by both Cyrus and Antiochus, and in this lies a spiritual lesson. In its opening address, the letter to Sardis says, “I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead” (Revelation 3:1).

This mention of death takes us into the post-Reformation period, from the close of the Council of Trent in 1563, to the beginning of the great religious awakening in the 18th century. This period has been fittingly described as “the age of dead orthodoxy.” Instead of the reformers continuing their work of restoration, they submitted to the protection and support of the civil authorities. While separating from Rome, the Protestant Church became subject to the state.

The Reformation was rooted in Christ. It is the Gospel of Christ that led the reformers out of the spiritual darkness that had all but extinguished the flame of Christianity. Sadly, this early fervor was gradually replaced by formalities as the community and the state accepted the new churches.

The inability of the various reform factions to find unity based on the Word also led to the formation of numerous denominations, each adopting the creed of its founders. The great work of reform faltered and even resulted in bitter infighting.

Added to this, the Counter Reformation launched by the Roman Catholic Church gradually eroded faith in the Scriptures and even set the tone for tolerance and acceptance of the teachings of Rome. The Church of Sardis was given this warning:

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 (Revelation 3:2-3).

The Reformation had failed to fortify itself against complacency and became the easy prey of those who wished to destroy it. In the midst of persecution, many courageous reformers were willing to lay down their lives rather than to deny Christ. It is to these that Christ says, “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” (Revelation 3:4).

The message to Sardis is a message calling believers back to the truth and to steadfastness in faith:

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 (Revelation 3:5). –Walter Veith, Walking Through Revelation

Continue to: Philadelphia: The Church Revival