Allen Raynor Weblog: “Sardis: The Dead Church” (Pt. 1)
(Aug. 7, 2019)
Space is almost incomprehensible to our minds. The nearest stars to the earth are trillions of miles away. These vast distances forced astronomers to come up with a new term – “light year.” It is the distance light travels in the span of one year. One light year is 6 trillion miles! If a star thirty light years away from the earth exploded and died five years ago, we could not be able to tell by looking at it for another 25 years! Though no longer in existence, the light from that star would go on shining as if nothing had changed. The light at the church of Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6) appeared to be shining, but the church was dead.
Scripture teaches that sinful mankind, apart from Christ, is dead in trespasses and in sins (Eph. 2). That same passage also teaches us that God is the one who has “made alive” all those who are spiritually living. Sometimes the things that appear alive are really dead. In other words we, as human beings can be fooled. But, God does not judge things by the way they look on the outside. He looks at the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7b says “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” When the Lord looked at the “heart” of the church at Sardis, He apparently saw a church that was comfortable, content, cold, and coasting. It was a church that had reputation without reality. In America today about 80 percent claim to be believers, but the reality of that claim is nowhere to be found. Jesus, the Great Physician takes the pulse of the church at Sardis and finds none.
Sardis was located 30 miles southeast of Thyatira. It had been a capital city (of Lydia). An emperor worship cult was very active there. Also, was worship of Artemis, the goddess of fertility. Sardis was a very wealthy city, as gold was refined from the nearby Pactolus River. It’s location made it almost impervious to being conquered by an outside force. Probably the wealth and strength of the city led to complacency and ultimately its downfall. The church was probably founded as an outreach of Paul’s ministry (Acts 19:10). Christ is described to this church as “He Who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars.” The “seven Spirits” may be reference to the Holy Spirit (7 being a number signifying completeness). This would perhaps be another way of saying “The Holy Spirit is His total completeness.” The 7 stars are “the angels of the 7 churches,” which is most likely the pastors of the seven churches. Jesus sought to remind the Sardis church that they were lacking the Spirit and without the Holy Spirit of God, the church was dead.
Jesus has no good words to give the whole church; however He does single out a few as being genuine and sincere. Even in the worst of situations, and even in the most unfaithful churches, there seem to always be a few that are faithful. A small remnant in Sardis had overcome sin and had demonstrated a true righteousness. There were a few who had not had their garments soiled/stained with sin. The Lord Jesus promises these people they will “walk with Him in white, because they are worthy.”
Through its outward appearance, this church may have fooled many people into thinking it was alive, but they could not fool the Lord. MacArthur says “Like so many churches today it was defiled by the world, characterized by inward decay, and populated by unredeemed people playing church.” (John MacArthur; MacArthur New Testament Commentary; Revelation Vol. 1; 111) Spiritual death in the New Testament is always connected with its cause – Sin! Ephesians 2:1 describes unsaved mankind as those “Who were dead in trespasses and sins.” The church at Sardis was merely performing deeds; they were going through the motions. The deeds they did were apparently enough to fool other people, but not enough to fool God.
Samson, one of the Old Testament Judges, provides a good illustration of the situation in Sardis. Samson had been empowered by God with great strength to be used for God’s glory. But Delilah pressed him daily (Judg. 16:16) to reveal the secret of his strength. Eventually he told her. She cut his hair and he lost his great strength; not because of getting a haircut, but because of the disobedience to God. Then the Philistines came to seize Samson; he tried to stop them but they captured him, tied him up, and put out his eyes. Sadly vs. 20 sums up the tragedy of Samson’s disobedience. He said “I will go out as before at other times, and shake myself free!’ But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.” (Judg. 16:20) Although Samson was the same man with the same name; his power was gone. Although Sardis was the same church with the same name; its power was gone.
Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor