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A Spiritual Evaluation—Evaluating Ourselves and Our Churches by Jesus' Evaluation of the 7 Churches in Revelation - Part 3

Revelation 2 and 3

Part Three: Sardis—Looking Back on "Glory Days"

by Pastor Paul Petersen

Sardis had the greatest history of any of the cities in the first two chapters in Revelation. During the time John wrote the book of Revelation, the Roman Empire ruled these cities. But 600 years earlier, and up until 546 BC, Sardis was the capital of a small kingdom called Lydia. This was the height of Sardis' power and influence. Interestingly, it reached its peak while the Jewish nation was in exile in Babylon; during the time of Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah and Ezra. It was located in the foothills of a mountain range at an elevation of about 1500 feet. Three of the sides leading up to this plateau were made of sandstone, which became a natural defense for the city since it was difficult to scale. The fourth side was where the city built its strongest defenses, since that was their greatest vulnerability.

Sardis was twice destroyed by the Persians who were able to scale the sandstone in surprise attacks during the night. After these defeats and a devastating earthquake in AD 17, the city never regained its prominence and by the time of the New Testament, Ephesus and Smyrna had become the prominent cities (like Los Angeles and New York to us).

The church was set in a city in decline, and seemed to have a similar history as it looked back on its spiritual "glory days."


The Cause for Praise

1] "To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars."

Jesus holds "the 7 Spirits of God," referring to the power that was prophesied would rest on Jesus in Isaiah 11:2-5; or in general means Jesus' "full range of power."

The good news is that Jesus is still the head of this church. We've been noting in this series that the vision of the "Son of Man" in Rev. 1:9-20 is dependant on Jesus' Spirit in us and not ourselves. Churches and individuals are not the light, Jesus is. Churches and individuals are simply the lampstands that hold up the light of Jesus. The ability for the light of Jesus to shine is dependent on how we allow the Holy Spirit to reflect through us.

The seven stars are interpreted as "angels" in Rev 1:20, and this Greek word could refer here to human messengers (i.e., pastors) or heavenly representatives (i.e., angels).

Sins to Repent Of

"I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive,but you are dead."

look spiritual but dead inside

yes no sometimes

They had fallen prey to the most deceptive religious malady—outward forms of religion but inner emptiness. This is a common theme in scripture: 2 Tim 3:5 affirms that "in the last days... (they will have) a form of godliness but deny its power"

Eugene Petersen tells of a church with this problem in Reversed Thunder (p. 52: "They were going through religious motions after Spirit motives were gone. Their sluggish lives were propped up by termite riddled timbers of a once vigorous religion."

Ask yourself this question. "If the Holy Spirit were removed from my life and ministry, would anyone notice any difference? Would I notice any difference, or have I become used to an outward form of godliness?"

2 "Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3a Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent."

The remedy is found in five imperatives:

  1. Wake up. This was significant because of how the city had twice fallen to surprise attacks. You cannot appeal to a dead man to wake up, so there's always hope for the religious person who at least has a spiritual pulse. Lk 12:38 "Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes." (RSV)
  2. Strengthen what remains - Most Americans say that our country has, at least socially, been in decline over the past 30 years. I believe some of the renewal in movements such as the Promise Keepers is because God is trying to stem the decline. The principle is, strengthen the Good. No nation is totally depraved. There is always a point at which Christians can jump in and strengthen the good. The same is true of churches.
  3. Remember what you have received and heard - we've received the Holy Spirit. "You will receive Power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you." (Acts 1:8) John Stott has written, "He can enter the sanctuary of the soul. He can come into the inner shrine of the human personality and remake us from within. He can be an indwelling, abiding presence to fill us with love, peace and faith; to subdue our passions and transform our character; to change us into the image of Christ." The principle is, the Trinity isn't a doctrine, it's a reality of how God lives in us.
  4. Obey it. Carry out the instructions. Long time follower of Jesus, have you quit carrying out the instructions? Where do you put the instruction manuals you get with household appliances and electronic stuff? Ever found those manuals in some file years later?
  5. Repent. The shortest road to repentance is remembrance. Remember what God has done in the past. The church at Ephesus was to remember its first love.



These five imperatives describe normal "maintenence functions" of the Christian life. Live this way and any church or individual will not have to live from the lows of disobedience to the highs of spiritual revival. There is a consistent Christian life that learns these disciplines as "muscle memory"—habits.

3b "But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you."

"Thief" here doesn't refer to the second coming of Christ like it does in Matt.24:42 and 1 Thess 5:2. Here Christ's coming will happen if this church doesn't repent. The judgement of God is based on our freedom. What should be the greatest joy for any church/ individual had become the greatest fear for Sardis. The church was caught now in an empty state. The Christian life is meant to be lived with a clear conscience, not fear of being found out.

This is a like me and my sons, left alone for the day or a weekend. As my wife's return approaches, there are clothes around the house, dishes in the sink, pizza boxes on the counter, and chores not done. The race is on to get it done before Mom arrives. Unfortunately, more often than not we make the choice to lie around and not begin to clean up until we hear my wife open the garage door.

Why live with unfinished business when you can do something about it?

The Qualities to pray for

to be pure, wholesome, Christlike, in the middle of sinful surroundings

yes no sometimes

4] Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy.

In spite of the church's failings, there are "a few" in Sardis who are pleasing God. The "non-soiled clothes" refer to those who've been redeemed (bought back) (See Rev. 3:18, 6:11, 7:9, 13.)

5] He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels.

Matt 10:32 repeats the concept; "Every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven" and also "before the angels of God" (Lk 12:8) Ps 69:28 references "the book of life" and Rev. 21:27, the "Lamb's book of life."

6] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Jesus holds out this wonderful seed of hope to this church. The inner life can be renewed in spite of outer hypocrisy. Jesus is always welcoming the repentant.


What will be the legacy of Hillcrest when someone looks through our scrapbook of the Chalk Revival in 50 years?

On to Part Four on Philadelphia


Ephesus—Rev. 2:1-7. Jesus holds the churches in His hand and walks among us. Ephesus—Rev. 2:1-7.
a. forsaking love of Christ, i.e., the quality/intensity of love has weakened—v. 4
yes no sometimes

b. solution: vv. 5-7

Smyrna—Rev. 2:8-11. Jesus is the first and the last (Alpha & Omega). He was dead (crucified) and came to life (resurrected). Smyrna—Rev. 2:8-11.
a. no sin to repent of
b. encouragement: vv. 9-11
Pergamum—Rev. 2:12-17; Heb. 4:12. Jesus has the sharp, two-edged sword, a sword He gives to us (the Word of God). He also has power over life and death—Rev. 1:16; 19:15,21. Pergamum—Rev. 2:12-17.
a. compromise which leads to sexual immorality—v. 14
yes no sometimes
b. pushing Christian liberty to an extreme/self-indulgence—v. 15

yes no sometimes

c. solution: vv. 16-17

Thyatira—Rev. 2:18-29. Jesus has eyes like a flame of fire—sees through seductive arguments. His feet are like burnished bronze, i.e., He has strength and splendor; rules with authority—v. 27. Thyatira—Rev. 2:18-29.
a. tolerating false teaching and sinful behavior rather than confronting it—vv. 20-21
yes no sometimes
b. Would you like to be singled out by Christ by name?
c. solution: v. 21
Sardis—Rev. 3:1-6.
Jesus holds the 7 Spirits of God (Is. 11:2-5; or it means full range of power of H.S.); & the 7 stars, i.e., pastors. He never erases an overcomer's name from the Book of Life, but acknowledges his name before the Father/angels.
Sardis—Rev. 3:1-6. 
a. look spiritual but dead inside—v. 1
yes no sometimes
b. solution: vv. 2-6
Philadelphia—Rev. 3:7-13.
Jesus is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What He opens no one can shut; what He shuts, no one can open. He knows our deeds; no plan/project/scheme succeeds if He uses the key to shut it out (or vice versa). Writes on us a new name—v. 12.
Philadelphia—Rev. 3:7-13. —nothing to repent of
Laodicea —Rev. 3:14-18.
Jesus is the Amen; the faithful &true witness; the ruler of God's creation.
Laodicea—Rev. 3:14-18.
a. neither hot nor cold - lukewarm in faith—v. 15
All churches/people—Rev. 3:19-22. Those He loves He rebukes and disciplines. He stands at the door and knocks—v. 20. He gives the right to sit on His throne to all who overcome, as He did—v. 21.